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Digital learning has some tremendous advantages. From supporting classroom teaching, to making education more affordable and personal for students, it has changed the face of traditional education. Though lately with the coming of COVID-19, it’s been challenging for students, teachers and parents as virtual learning has completely replaced in-person school!
Teachers struggle to engage students in the long hours of digital learning and students find it difficult to pay attention in virtual classrooms. While parents worry about students having learning gaps and the increased exposure to screen time.
Why does an extended virtual learning environment overwhelm students?
🔥Expert Tip: “We communicate a lot, not just with our voices, but with our bodies,” says Washington-based Denise DeRosa; founder of digital wellness advisory organisation Cyber Sensible . “So when we're on screens the brain has to work to fill in all those missing non-verbal communication gaps. And that's part of the drain.”
For instance when students are in virtual classrooms, it’s frustrating for them not to be able to just answer a question by putting their hand up!
Or having to perform technical tasks like chrome screen share just to show their homework.
On a virtual learning platform, teachers can also miss introverted students who might emote that they haven’t followed a lesson through their facial expressions.
While extroverted students aren’t able to express themselves fully in a virtual learning environment, that often takes away their motivation to learn.
🔥Expert Tip : “For every hour you’re on screens, you need an hour offline,” says Spain-based Joan Amorós, a psychologist and director of Desconnexions & Mobile Free Life – projects that promote disconnecting from screens and creating more people relationships. “The light, stimulus and rhythm of screens is very high. You need to see soft sights – the clouds, the leaves and other people for your brain to recover and rest.”
This essential digital rest has become more challenging than ever for students. Apart from being on virtual learning platforms for school, lockdowns and social distancing norms have also made access to open spaces where kids can play and interact with their peers tough. Students have been pushed to be more digitally active so they can stay connected with their friends.
Being digitally overconnected has its effects on mental and physical health.
Blue rays of screens not only disturb our sleep cycle but being on devices for long also causes behavioural changes in us.
Being in a digital world means that rewards are immediate; responses from chats online, winning a video game or access to content that never ends.
Rewards motivate us to do things but in the digital world the speed at which one receives these rewards are unnatural. So when students come back from the digital world to the real world they have less patience with the slow rhythm of everyday life. Have you noticed students being exhausted and irritable after a long day in virtual classrooms?
So how can parents protect students from the harms of digital overwhelm?
Try taking their devices away and we know it can turn into an ugly temper tantrum, often leaving parents feeling guilty and helpless.
We’ll show you ways you can support students through the digital overwhelm of the pandemic both inside and outside virtual classrooms.
🔥 Expert Tip : “I think kids in middle school are struggling the most because for them their peer groups are most important to them,” says DeRosa. “Not being able to have that interaction with fellow students and even teachers is making them feel isolated and even slightly depressed.”
More than academics, students look out for finding a sense of community at school – like hanging out with their friends in the hallway, attending club meetings or getting together for group projects.
So if they are disinterested in online learning that’s not because they are lazy, they just miss doing all these in-person school activities that motivated them to learn.
According to DeRosa it’s important that parents show empathy towards students by “considering their mental health above academics during this difficult [pandemic] time.”
Which means let students learn at their pace in virtual classrooms, without putting pressure on them being able to retain all the information of a lesson.
Once schools open up teachers will be going through major concepts again so parents needn’t to worry about students being left behind in their academic learning.
Amorós considers three essential boundaries parents should draw with students to help them live a more digitally balanced life.
✳️ Space boundaries
There are certain places where students (and even parents!) should not take their devices, like the bathroom, the dining table or your bed when you are about to sleep. If students use a device in these areas they are disallowing their mind and body to rest, relieve or connect with other people and energise themselves.
For online learning especially students should be given a designated space in the house where they can set up their learning device whether laptop or tablet and organise all their school materials around it. This will help them concentrate better as it establishes a bit of routine.
✳️ Time Boundaries
Agreeing with kids on how long they can use their devices doesn’t always work out – the ‘just five more minutes’ argument always stands with them! But as parents if we let time boundaries slip chances are the digital overwhelm only increases for students.
So if students agreed to watching one episode of their favourite show you must see that is all the screen time they get for entertainment. You should also know how long that single episode lasts so you are aware when students might be tempted to go on a binge watch.
Though if parents really want time boundaries to be honoured by students, it’s important that they make time with them without devices too. Kids often turn to screens to combat boredom but if they have parents willing to engage with them, students will be more willing to let go of devices.
There are some exceptions on screen time that can be made at present.
🔥 Expert Tip : “It's the quality of the screen time versus the quantity that parents should focus on right now,” says DeRosa. “If they [students] are using technology to connect to friends or explore their interests right now, it’s okay.”
✳️ Usage Boundaries
A single device can be used for multiple activities by students. But if they are attending a virtual classroom on one tab, playing a video game another and chatting with friends on the third, it’s exactly what causes digital overwhelm in them at the end of the day.
So assign certain devices for specific activities – laptops for virtual learning, tablets for playing games and if they have a phone then that for chatting with friends.
Also for creating a virtual learning environment in which students can concentrate all other distractive tabs on their device should be closed during the course of their virtual classroom.
Another way to incorporate boundaries and hold students accountable for them is through a “digital contract”.
This is a written agreement where all the conditions of space, time and usage boundaries are laid down and signed by both parents and students. Such efforts by parents become a powerful tool for students to feel more responsible for their digital habits.
👉Scheduling ‘No Screen-Time’
Even Though a pandemic pushes both parents and students to stay more digitally active, we must find spaces to “switch off” from devices. If technology is causing the overwhelm then the simplest solution is time without it.
How can you schedule no-screen time for students?
✳️ Have meals together as a family without your devices, remember space boundaries? This is so crucial because this is the ONLY time parents and kids are coming together consistently to share their space and time with each other. Taking this time off devices can make students feel more recharged to go back to digital learning and parents to their own office zoom meetings!
✳️ Use any socially-distant access to open spaces that lockdowns allow and leave devices at home. Go with your kids for a bike ride, a trip to the beach or just a plain simple walk down the road so they don’t need mobile phones to stay in-touch with you. If you can’t get out let students make time for exercise at home without screens. Whether that’s through yoga or just dancing in the living room!
✳️ Have conversations with students on how it’s okay to leave screens behind. While it’s true that students might understand the harms of being digitally overconnected only with maturity but kickstarting a dialogue about digital wellbeing can help them get to that point sooner. Here are some simple questions that can get students thinking about digital balance in their lives :
How do you feel after scrolling on Instagram for an hour?
❇️ Oh, did you play too many video games? Is that why you think your tummy is hurting?
❇️ Don’t you think you had more fun riding your bike with your brother than watching videos on YouTube today?
🔥 Expert Tip : “Through communication parents can help kids realise that it’s okay for them to digitally disconnect at times,” says DeRosa. “And that when people are together the energy helps them [students] thrive much more than when they are on screens.”
👉 Notice Behavioural Changes
Even though it’s natural for students to be more digitally connected in a pandemic they are also more susceptible to becoming addicted to technology.
It’s important that parents are aware of any drastic changes in behaviour – both verbal and non-verbal – that could indicate that digital overwhelm has severely affected their kids.
DeRosa points out some common indicators of possible screen addiction :
✳️ If students are playing video games online with strangers instead of playing with friends as a way to stay connected.
✳️ If students compromise sleep for more screen time – they don’t want to sleep so they can be on their device for longer or they wake up at odd hours so they can have screen time before their day begins.
✳️ They choose to be on screens over an opportunity of meeting friends and family.
✳️ Students are mindlessly scrolling on social media for hours.
Even if these indicators are not a sign that students are addicted to technology, it certainly does suggest that they are feeling too digitally overconnected and using technology to combat boredom or isolation.
In such cases parents should make immediate effort to help students digitally disconnect through some of the steps here, or seek support from child psychologists and digital wellbeing professionals.
Though DeRosa asks parents to be wary if students pick screens over meeting friends and family in a pandemic.
🔥 Expert Tip : “I've heard a lot of kids are really scared to go out anywhere,” says DeRosa. “They've heard so much about covid and how dangerous it is so they fear getting sick or getting people that they care about sick.”
👉 Be A Digital Role Model
🔥 Expert Tip : “It’s very important that parents are a digital role model for their kids,” says DeRosa. “So if you ask them not to use their phones in their bedrooms or on the table you have to do it as well for them to listen.”
🔥 Expert Tip : “If you are ignoring your kids through technology when you are together it's one of the worst things that can happen to them,” says Amorós. “And they might do the same to you.”
If parents want students to live a digitally balanced life then they must too! One of the ways of encouraging healthy digital habits in students is when you say no to screens during family and selfcare time. This means as parents you aren’t checking emails when you are at the dining table with your family, in the morning when you are exercising or when kids are telling you about their virtual classroom day.
When students see that you have time for them and yourself away from screens they will want to follow you too!
Our Advice : Parents must support students through the digital overwhelm of virtual learning and being overconnected online with empathy. As in a pandemic students are struggling to learn and stay in touch with their peers as much or even more than adults! ❤️
Despite the demands of digital learning and the need to stay connected on social media, parents must find daily consistent ways through which the family can digitally disconnect. While communication and being a good digital role model is key to students independently practicing digital wellbeing.
If parents support students to manage their digital overwhelm it will lead to a more focused and motivated virtual learning environment for them! 💪
At GoStudent our community of tutors recognise the struggles of virtual learning. We make sure we keep in mind the specific digital learning needs of each of our students so they can reach their full learning potential. You can book a trial lesson with one of our tutors here!
Payal is a GoStudent learning expert in the areas of mental health and digital learning. She drives our “Expert Series” where she talks to a global network of educational professionals. She presents the knowledgeable insights of these experts as a guide for parents, so they can support students to achieve their highest potential! Payal is an English literature graduate, edtech content writer and journalist. Her stories have been featured in The Guardian, The Washington Post & Al Jazeera, amongst others. You can read more of her work on www.payalmohta.com