How Can I Support Students if My Class Gets Zoombombed?

 

                                                  Image Source:  The University of Utah

What is Zoombombing? It’s a type of cyberattack where people intentionally come into a Zoom space to disrupt or harass, often by posting graphic, hurtful, offensive, or hateful images and language. Unfortunately, Zoombombing can happen in any course. There are some things you can do proactively to reduce the risk of such attacks, but it might still happen.  

To reduce the risk of Zoombombing make sure you are aware of the privacy and security settings in Zoom, and use these options to secure your Zoom space. If someone still manages to make an unwelcome appearance, report it to the IT Information Security Office at itprotect@umass.edu. For more information, visit Secure Your Online Spaces

Zoombombing can be a traumatic event. It can cause a sense of threat, and lead to disengagement and diminished learning. So, how do you respond caringly in ways that support your students psychologically and emotionally if such an attack occurs? 

STRATEGIES & EXAMPLES 

Proactive – Prepare yourself 

Secure your Zoom space. UMass IT offers some concrete recommendations for setting up Zoom meetings in ways that make Zoombombing less likely. You can find them on Secure Your Online Spaces - IT Webpage.   

Know how to silence or remove participants. You can mute all participants, put someone on hold (during which time that person cannot see, hear, or share anything), or remove someone from a session and lock it so that they cannot return. Familiarize yourself with this so that you can react quickly in the moment. You can access those functions by clicking on ‘Participants’ at the bottom of a Zoom meeting window. For more information, visit Secure Your Online Spaces

Practice your responses. Zoombombing can cause you to feel so threatened that you may simply freeze. Before an attack occurs, write down and speak out loud what you might say in the moment to your students to address the intrusion (Green, 2020).  

During Class – Respond with Compassion 

Look out for unwanted interruptions. Often, Zoombombing happens through the chat or the intruder taking over the screen. It can be overwhelming for you as the instructor to monitor the chat when being actively engaged with your students. If you work with a teaching assistant, assign them as co-host in Zoom, ask them to monitor the chat and screen space, and have them alert you about any suspicious activity. Otherwise, ask for student volunteers to take on this task.

Use the Security Icon . If you notice suspicious activity, immediately click on the security icon in your meeting controls to disable participants’ ability to use the chat, share the screen, or name themselves.   

End the meeting. If you feel too overwhelmed to take the security steps, quickly inform your students that you will end the session and then restart the meeting using the Waiting Room. The Waiting Room setting will allow you to have your students rejoin one-by-one.  

Ground yourself. Take a few deep breaths. Feel your feet on the floor. Look up and count three things that you see in the room (Green, 2020).  

Give yourself time. Use an activity to give yourself a “time out” to re-center and clear your emotions (e.g., take a break, ask students to do some reflective writing, have students do a pair-share, come back to issue next class). Use self-talk to manage the situation (e.g., “I can handle this…,” “Trust the process…,”).   

Acknowledge the situation. When we experience difficult situations, we often freeze, and our first impulse might be to ignore the situation and simply go on teaching. This may have an adverse effect on your students. It is important that you show your students that you are aware of what is going on and that you will address it immediately.  

  • Name how you are feeling and how this intrusion may cause feelings of fear, anxiety, rage, shock, confusion or shame, as well as physical stress responses. This helps to normalize such feelings and responses.  
  • Use the responses that you have practiced to respond to the intrusion in the moment. Green (2020) suggests avoiding general phrases, such as “despicable” or “horrendous acts,” and rather to name explicitly the intent and harmful impact of the attack.  
  • Point out that racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, homo-/transphobic or xenophobic language or images were used with the intention to demean, harass, and threaten people with particular identities and to destroy a sense of safety and trust.   

Use a mindful practice to help students re-ground themselves. Ask students to take a few deep breaths; feel their feet on the floor; look up and count three things that they see in the room. 

Monitor the emotional temperature in the classroom. Ask students to type a word, phrase, or emoticon into the chat to check in with students about how they are feeling right now. In smaller classes in which students have their videos turned on, you can use the Fist-to-Five technique (Teaching Tolerance, 2015) to quickly gauge the mood by asking students to give you a visual “fist-to-five” signal with their hands:  

Fist:         I am very uncomfortable and cannot move on. 

1 finger:   I am uncomfortable and need some help before I can move on.  

2 fingers: I am a little uncomfortable, but I want to try and move on.  

3 fingers: I am not sure how I’m feeling.  

4 fingers: I am comfortable enough to move on.  

5 fingers: I am ready to move on full steam ahead!  

Offer an opportunity for processing the incident. Encourage your students to take a moment to write down what they are feeling and thinking. If appropriate, invite students to share verbally and/or in the reactivated chat.  

Allow students to leave the session. Let your students know that you want to continue with class but that you want to check in with them about whether they are open to proceeding. Some students may feel so traumatized that they need to leave so that they can take care of themselves.  

Be mindful of who is targeted. Be especially sensitive to the experiences of underrepresented students in your class who may feel particularly targeted. 

Communicate approachability. Let your students know that you will follow up after this incident. Invite students to contact you to have a private conversation.  

Afterwards – Follow up  

Report the incident. Contact the Information Security Office (itprotect@umass.edu) to report the disruptions. 

Notify department, school, or college leadership - After reporting the disturbance to itprotect@umass.edu, please contact your department chair, dean, or supervisor. 

Check in with your students again. Students may feel triggered or even violated and experience a wide range of emotions after being subjected to a Zoombombing attack. Their sense of safety and trust has just been threatened. Send your students an email and ask them how they are doing now. Share your own thoughts and feelings to help normalize theirs.  

Let students know about available campus resources. Our campus offers a range of resources related to student wellbeing and resilience, such as the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health. Example: “Also, here are some resources that can help you cope with this experience.” 

Provide various opportunities for processing the incident. Some students may want to talk with you one-on-one. Consider offering an additional drop-in virtual meeting hour with you. Other students may need to process more on their own. Create a journal writing assignment on Moodle/Blackboard, asking students to reflect on this experience. How are they feeling? What do they need to regain a sense of safety that will allow them to engage in class moving forward? What does ‘safety’ mean to them? Assure students that you will take up what they need for the upcoming class sessions.   

Listen to your students and validate their feelings. When we feel hurt, we want others to take our pain seriously. Refrain from minimizing their emotions or telling them that it is not that bad. Let them know that it is okay to feel not okay right now. Repeat back to them what you heard from them. For example, say: “I hear that you feel…I’m sorry that this has been such an awful experience for you. I also feel…I am taking this very seriously and I will do my best to prevent this from happening again. How can I best support you right now?” 

Reassure students that you have taken appropriate measures in response to the incident.  Let them know that this will most likely not happen again because you took measures to secure the Zoom space. Example: “This is what I have done to hopefully keep Zoombombing from happening again in our class. Following the suggestions by the Information Technology group on our campus, I have…” 

Begin the next class session with a check-in activity. Ask you students to type a word, phrase or emoticon into the chat that represents how they are feeling now. Briefly summarize what you hear from them and reassure them that you are there for them. 

Develop class participation agreements or revisit them. All groups benefit from agreed-upon norms and expectations for participation. Use the incident as an opportunity to revisit or establish guidelines for respectful participation in the course.  

Use the incident as a learning moment. If possible, connect the Zoombombing incident to course content. Maybe your course topics address issues of oppression. Ask your students to explore, for example: What can we can learn from this experience? How does this connect to…? How is this an example of…? 

Please contact the CTL with any questions or for more details about the examples shared atctl@umass.edu

References 

Green, C. E. (2020, May 5). A plan for resisting Zoombombing. Insider Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/05/05/how-respond-effectively-zoombombing-incident-opinion 

Teaching Tolerance (2015). Toolkit for Ferguson, U.S.A. Teaching Tolerance Magazine Issue 49. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/spring-2015