What is digital wellbeing and why does it matter more than ever? Higher education has been transformed in recent months in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as face-to-face teaching on campus has been abruptly moved online. For most educators, this has been a first-time experience, accelerating adoption of online education, often in a very agile way without the time and resources to allow for a carefully planned approach. Throughout this process students have also been compelled to change the way that they interact and learn, and many may lack the competences required to fully participate in online education. How can educational institutions support educators and students more effectively during this time?
Amongst the online education community a new term has emerged to refer to these transformations – emergency remote teaching. This recognises the extraordinary circumstances of these changes to teaching, learning and assessment practices and the rapid adjustments that have been required by educators and students under stressful conditions.
Many lecturers, trainers and postgraduate students who teach have experienced a steep learning curve as teaching has moved online while also adapting to substantial changes in working arrangements and how we interact with each other. Working from home has meant establishing new digital habits and has altered communications with colleagues, students and family. For example, there has been a sharp uptake in demand for video-conferencing services and people have found new ways to connect and feel a sense of belonging as seen in the increase in video gaming. Pre-pandemic, in face-to-face settings people connected with empathy and a smile but now working and learning from home, we must rely upon digital communications.
We are all staring into the camera, seeking connections with others, maintaining social bonds as well as teaching and learning online but we need to be aware of the challenges and opportunities of tele-proximity. Tele-proximity is defined as the psychological and physical need to feel close to people. The theory of tele-proximity is an expansion of the Community of Inquiry framework to include synchronous video communications and it is based on interviews with experienced online educators. Incorporating their perspectives on synchronous video communications in online distance education, it explains the important role of visual cues and face-to-face synchronous communications in online education for enhancing teacher presence, feelings of closeness, and trust in social interactions. The role of transmedia identity management is also identified as crucial for online teacher presence. Teacher identity is constructed across various sources of information online such as social media, professional networks and institutional websites.
For campus-based teachers, there are several possible scenarios for the coming academic year and blended or online learning options are likely to remain as they can facilitate catch-up plans and swift transitions in the case of further Covid-19 outbreaks. Online learning is here to stay, and proficiency in online or digital pedagogies and digital wellbeing has become a necessity for educators. Learning technologists and professional developers have already seen a large increase in the uptake of training and requests for support in this area.
The sudden transition in working patterns and increased use of digital tools in this period of lockdown has also left many professionals feeling drained and new terms such as ‘Zoom fatigue’ have been coined. Petriglieri believes that the lack of separation between home and work may heighten anxiety:
‘’The self-complexity theory posits that individuals have multiple aspects – context-dependent social roles, relationships, activities and goals – and we find the variety healthy says Petriglieri. When these aspects are reduced, we become more vulnerable to negative feelings” (Jiang, 2020).
This means that a balance with technology, that feels right for educators and their students, needs to be found to maximize the positive contribution of technology and reduce the barriers to learning education and to digital wellbeing.
Digital communications, smart phones and social media have transformed the way that students learn however, there are increasing reports in the media about issues such as cyber-bullying and internet trolls, the dangers of distractions and cyberloafing, fake news, threats to privacy, security and safety online and the addictive design of technology. While debate continues in the media over whose job it is to regulate and moderate online discussion spaces such as social media, we believe that higher education institutions and educators have a responsibility to equip students with the capability to thrive within online learning environments – this is especially important in the case of emergency remote teaching where students and educators may not be fully equipped for working and learning online. Now that the initial transition to online teaching has passed educators can reflect on their teaching and the support they provide for the digital wellbeing of their students.
The Digital Wellbeing Educators project is pleased to announce the release of a range of open educational resources to help educators and vocational trainers learn and teach about digital wellbeing and digital pedagogies. Our theory of change is that by building teacher capability, we can improve the abilities of students to manage their online time, stay focused, understand online netiquette, critically assess the media they consume, and become more responsible, confident digital citizens.
The Digital Wellbeing Educators Framework comprises a suite of Open Educational Resources (OERs) for the teaching of digital wellbeing to students and young people in the form of a modular course and a mobile app that includes a short course on digital wellbeing. The mobile app will be available shortly for Android and iPhones.
The Digital Pedagogy Toolkit showcases 20 of the best digital learning tools and provides practical guidance for educators on their use; and a short online Digital Pedagogy course to motivate and guide educators to pursue more innovative pedagogic strategies using mobile and digital e-learning resources. All resources are available in English and Spanish through the Digital Wellbeing Educators project website.
A series of talks on the topic of Digital Wellbeing and on the Open Educational Resources are available from the Digital Wellbeing Educators Summit.
This research has been co-funded by the European Union under the ERASMUS+ programme, grant 2018-1-UK01-KA203-48214. This blog reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
About the Authors:
Chryssa Themelis is a researcher at Lancaster University, professor/doctoral advisor at Bolton University and an expert of technology enhanced learning (TEL). She works as a researcher/trainer for EU projects such as Erasmus + and coordinates the annual VocTEL conference aiming to promote TEL in Europe. She holds a BA in Economics from Deere College, a MSc in Networked Learning and a PhD in the field of “E-research and Technology Enhanced Learning” from Lancaster University (department of educational research).
Julie-Ann Sime is a pioneer of online distance learning who has been teaching online for 25 years. She also has 30-year experience of researching into the use of new technologies in training and education, including: use of video for reflection, game-based learning and virtual worlds for training professionals. She is co-editor of a new book on Networked Learning: Reflections and Challenges (2018)