This week I have spent many hours checking by Twitter account for updates from my program colleagues and instructors, then looking for tweets that can be used in my blogs or to further my goals for this program. Often, I head over to my blog site, looking for comments on my posts – wondering if anyone will read my posts. As this happens, I can’t help but acknowledge the questions that are floating around in my head:
“Why hasn’t anyone commented on my recent post?”
“What if someone else’s blog gets more traffic and more comments?”
“Is my title catchy enough to inspire people to click on it?
“Does anything I say have value or relevance if no one reads it?”
I am reminded of a moment I had with a student last year. This student came up to show me a video they had posted of themselves, executing a very difficult sports skill. As I watched the video, they looked at me with a beaming smile and said, “Look how many ‘likes’ it got!” They weren’t concerned with showing me the skill itself (I don’t think), we never discussed how long or how difficult the road must have been to finally be executing it perfectly. They mentioned the number only…and then left. It seemed to be only about the ego and the public perception of having so many positive replies.
Here is a summary of three recent, quantitative research articles I found that address this thought (with a deep dive into the first one):
Data on 4 variables (sleep quality, mental health, self-esteem, emotional investment) were collected by online or written questionnaire and assessed and analyzed against well-defined scales utilized in associated fields and dependent on variable.
Individual correlations were found between both social media use and emotional investment (considered as “anxiety at missing out on new content”) and poor sleep quality, lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression. Important to my concerns, the authors found emotional investment as having a stronger correlation effect.
Looking at the research in more depth: participants were 467 secondary school students ranging in age from 11-17. Notably absent was information regarding specific selection processes for participants and randomization techniques. The research question could be described as inferential, while the study is descriptive – noting data of the percentage of participants classified as “poor sleepers;” predictive – in noting that social media use predicts poor sleep; and generalizable – as the large sample size can be used to make comparable inferences to other adolescents outside the study participants.
In my limited judgment, self-reporting statistics are less reliable than other quantitative techniques, especially as adolescents may misunderstand clinical terminology like “anxiety” and “depression” (as opposed to just being anxious and upset) and may have difficulty delineating the difference between deep sleep, light sleep and sleep hours in general. Considering the 4R’s, how would this study change if interviews were conducted, or open-ended questions given as opposed to a scale-based questionnaire? I believe the results would be stronger if students were given the opportunity to elaborate on their interpretation of the variables in questions, to ensure proper self-assessment – a mixed methodological approach may have been better suited to understand this topic. It would be interesting to see if students are able to recognize these effects in themselves or their peer group, which we could only get a sense of with a different research methodology. I also wonder if the correlations would be the same in a study of adults?
I found this study is useful for a couple of reasons. One, it clarifies the language of additive behaviour against other scholars, and lists these behaviour patterns (all of which will resonate with any teacher of teenagers): preoccupation with social media; used to improve mood; increasing usage over time; distress if its removed; prioritizing over other obligations; a desire to reduce dependence without success.
Two, the authors go to lengths in the literature review to discuss the positive addition of their research methods and scope in comparison to current research on the topic, and it had an enormous sample size (23,523 participants), strengthening the research.
In the conclusion, the following traits made it more likely to score highly on a social media addiction scale: lower age, being a woman, not being in a relationship, being a student, lower education, lower income, lower self-esteem, and narcissism. And while the study acknowledges that the “effect sizes were relatively modest,” addictive behaviour was predominantly about feeding the ego and dampening negative self-image, with the purpose of improving self-esteem having the highest statistical effect.
In general review of the results of this similar, questionnaire-based study on smartphone addictions: scale ratings on addiction showed a positive correlation with perceived levels of stress, and negative correlation with academic performance. So, students who had higher levels of addiction felt more stressed and did worse academically – Great! And interestingly, the authors conclude the study with this:
“(I)ntervention programs must be developed and implemented without further ado with the most vulnerable population segments children and adolescents.” Yep. Sounds about right.
Taken together (even if the effect in any of these studies were moderate), do I want to play a role in creating or supporting the behaviours that I already see emerging in several my students? And are they, themselves, aware and reflective about the changes to their lives?
It does not paint a pretty picture for social media usage and the lives of my students. So when Trevor Mackenzie came in to talk about inquiry this week and mentioned the use of Flip Grid – which interests me – and the ability to comment on each others work, I went back to these thoughts. And while I may not be utilizing social media in a meaningful way currently, I am considering blogging, vlogging and other reflective practices that would open to commenting, “likes,” and the kinds of emotional triggers that have been considered in these studies.
So, as I sit here, I think about what I am doing now, for these courses, this memory, and what it all means. Is it possible to remove the ego from online learning? Can you build a community for students online with open-education sources where focus can remain on collaboration, deeper learning, reflective thinking and NOT on how participation in the online world seems at times to be one giant ego-petting party?