Cyber school aims to bridge generation gap

Limerick coding and gaming event hopes to counter cyberbullying among young people

Tue, Mar 26, 2013, 00:00

More than 1,500 young people and their parents are expected to attend “cyber school” at Dell’s Limerick campus on Good Friday.

The event is the brainchild of a group of students in the Limerick Institute of Technology ’s Business Studies and Event Management course, and is an effort to promote positive mental health by examining issues around cyberbullying and online safety.

Several organisations and groups have lent their backing to the event, including CoderDojo, Dell and Think Big, which is a project funded by O2 and non-profit organisation Headstrong.

On the day, children and their parents will be invited to game and code using modern and vintage arcade technology, and coding and health-related workshops will be held throughout the afternoon.

So, the idea is that everyone is brought together in a comfortable environment and then targeted health-related information is given – kind of like the Men’s Sheds model but for the digital sector.


Common experience
One of the students behind the project is Fiona Heneghan (23) and she believes bullying is an issue of which the majority of people have had some experience.

“Every single person you talk to will remember some stage in their lives where they have gone through a situation at school or even in the workplace where they felt bullied or intimidated,” Heneghan says.

New ways of communicating mean that parents are often unsure of how to confront problems that they may be aware are developing but feel powerless to prevent.

“As a young person, I think it is important for parents and kids to communicate with each other outside of social media,” she says.

“We still need to have face-to-face conversations. Social media can be terrifying for some parents. Bullying could be happening in their homes right now and they don’t know how to approach it.

“What we are hoping to do with this event is arm parents with information and help them look out for telltale signs and try prevent bullying before it happens.

“Giving them this information in an environment where their children can also attend and feel comfortable is very important.”


Class project
Student Aoife Hayward (22) says that while she and her colleagues came up with the idea as a class project, it has the potential to become a template for a better engagement between the generations.

“Last September was a time when there was a lot of talk about cyberbullying and some speculation in the news that it had led to deaths in Ireland, ” explains Hayward.

“We wanted to create awareness for parents and children, so we had an idea of getting people of different generations to sit down together and then we could spark some health-related discussions.

“That’s why we called it ‘Generation Game’ and we have been able to get some expert speakers from CoderDojo and O2 to attend the event and give talks.”

A competition will also be launched in conjunction with the event, which will involve a phone app game and the person with the highest score will be announced at the event.

The goal is to raise €7,000 for the charities CoderDojo Volunteer Group and The Mid West Simon Community.


Broadening understanding


The main focus though will be to broaden attendees’ understanding of the positives and negatives of certain online engagements and demonstrate how the digital age can facilitate certain types of bullying.

“Sometimes, I think older people don’t understand the impact bullying has,” Heneghan says.

“Classic bullying could have meant shouting abuse or giving someone a shove. But with social media, people’s words can sometimes hurt so much more as once it is out there, it is very hard to control it.

“Plus, others can support the bullying by liking a post or whatever, so there is a mob mentality that wasn’t as prevalent in years previous.”

The first step then for the organisers of the event will be to acknowledge problems exist, and then introduce experts to speak about measures that could be taken to help address cyber bullying.


Reassurance
The event will also look at some of the steps being taken in schools around the issue and tease out what type of ICT learning needs to be promoted at primary and secondary school level.

For people going through a tough time at home or school because of bullying, it is hoped they will leave the event with some reassurance.

“When I think back to primary school or secondary school and where there was bullying, it seemed then like the be all and end all,” says Heneghan.

“We want to tackle cyberbullying and to give a message to parents and children that these times in your life do pass and you will make friendships and, well, frankly some aren’t as important as others.”



Generation Game will be run in partnership with CoderDojo and Dell and will take place in Dell’s Limerick Campus, Raheen Business Park on March 29th, 2013, from noon to 5pm.
For tickets see coderdojomidwest.com