Helping to Protect University Students From Online Harms

Photo of a group of people sitting down, looking and using their mobile phones.

Overview

RMIT’s Cyber Ready Cloud Innovation Centre powered by AWS, met with the Office of the eSafety Commissioner (eSafety) to discuss the online harms young adults now face with increased online activity while at university.

Similar to many organisations and industries, universities are now conducting their teaching and other functions online due to the COVID-19 situation. The online safety of staff and students is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic with reports of harmful online behaviours such as image-based abuse, cyber abuse and online hate speech increasing at an unfathomable rate during the pandemic.

Australia’s 1.4 million university students are often online to completing assignments, researching and connecting with classmates. Now they are learning online as well, with many using new platforms for the first time. Students and staff have adapted with incredible speed and skill, but more time online can increase people’s potential exposure to harmful behaviours. Over 35 per cent of image-based abuse report made to eSafety relate to young adults in the 18-24 age group – this group makes up 60 per cent of all enrolments at Australian universities.

As a result, eSafety developed a Toolkit for Universities to combat online abuse and its impact on students and staff at universities. eSafety collaborated with Universities Australia to distribute the Toolkit across universities, providing a strong foundation to create safer online environments for staff and students — and build on the sector’s efforts to provide a safe student experience. The Toolkit offers over a dozen resources that support students, academics and institutions to understand online abuse, prepare and respond to online safety incidents; protect online wellbeing and use social media and digital platforms safely.

Problem

eSafety wants to understand how to connect students, academics and institutions with information about online safety in an accessible, interesting and effective way. The challenge- What is a tool that can quickly be used to share information and build online safety capabilities amongst Australian universities, their workforce and their student cohort.

Approach

The RMIT CIC team ran Working Backwards Workshops with the challenge sponsor, eSafety, and arrived at a well-defined Press Release dated in the future, and a FAQ document which then was handed over to the students to begin their Solution Design Workshops.

How might we prevent university students experiencing or committing online harm, and improve access to, and accessibility of, support services?

The students were given the challenge problem statement to lead their ideation work: How might we educate students on identifying online harm and recognising appropriate online behaviours to support their online safety, while also encouraging help-seeking and reporting to their university and/or eSafety if an incident has occurred. The considerations were: International student/languages, empathetic understanding of the mental state of any victims, caution to avoid triggering a previous target.

The 10 students enrolled in the Cyber Ready CIC Program split into three separate teams to tackle this challenge statement. Two teams were participating as part of their Work Integrated Learning activities at RMIT (WIL) and one team participated just to pursue their interest & passion in the field of cyber security.

All three teams focused on developing a new multi-lingual platform that teaches awareness, provides support and provide a platform to support online harms, particularly image-based abuse, to university students across Australia.

As the teams worked on their solution prototypes, students had regular one-on-one time with eSafety to test their ideas and refine their approach, as well as weekly check-ins with RMIT supervisors, plus an AWS Solutions Architect and Digital Innovation specialist, and two RMIT interns.

Supporting artifacts created by the students

Press releases and FAQs

Visuals

Wireframe prototype

Outcomes

Three teams of RMIT students workshopped their ideas and presented their prototype solutions to eSafety at the Final Showcase.

One team, called Food for Thought, came up with the idea of using QR codes to connect university students to the language tools they need to be able to understand and respond to online incidents. The team launched a QR code campaign to would be implemented around campus. Users scan the code and will be directed to an eSafety mobile application. This application breaks down the language barrier that exists between a student’s understanding of online incidents and the official terminology used to describe the incident in online resources. Once the student has been connected to this official terminology via the application, they can then be directed to the relevant eSafety resources that are available to them and relevant to their experience. The terms that the university student will see in the application can be adjusted by an eSafety administrator in an operational portal to reflect current trends and adjust any changes in the use of the terms, as well as update details of any resources that are available. Amazon Services and other software used by this team were:

  • AWS Amplify
  • Amazon Cognito
  • Amazon DynamoDB
  • AWS Cloud9
  • GitHub
  • Balsamiq wireframes
  • Figma vector graphics editor.

The Challenge Sponsor was impressed with all the presentations, in particular with the solution proposed by the For Thought team. Conversations are continuing to be held to explore the possibilities of developing this project further.

About eSafety

eSafety can help Australians experiencing online bullying or abuse to take action or make a complaint. eSafety provides a wide range of online safety programs and resources. For more information, visit the eSafety website.

Thank you to:

Our challenge sponsors

  • Julia Fossi. Director, International, Strategy and Futures, eSafety Commissioner
  • Katherine Sessions. Assistant Manager, International Strategy and Futures, eSafety Commissioner
  • Tia Spanos - Senior Education Advisor, Education Strategy and Resources, eSafety Commissioner

The Cyber Ready CIC team

  • Matt Salier, Director, RMIT Cyber Ready CIC
  • Stacey Henderson, Program Delivery Lead, RMIT Activator
  • Mark Seddon, Senior Solutions Architect, AWS
  • Catherine Eibner, Digital Innovation Lead, AWS
  • Daamini Krishnaswamy, Business Innovation Support Intern, RMIT Activator
  • Aishwarya Ramesh, Technical Innovation Support Intern, RMIT Activator

Our students

  • James Bubear
  • Jessica Laksana
  • Tracy Tam
  • Tanaya Kale
  • Tien Tran
  • Joveen Jacob
  • Chaitrali Mhaske
  • Rithea Sorn
  • Sameen Farooqi
  • Pritish Chopra

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.