Is technology addiction just FOMO?

With colleagues at UCL Institute of Education I have worked with teachers at the City of London School for a few years on individual practitioner enquiries. Below is an edited version of Matt Kerr’s report.

To what extent are CLS boys in the Third Form at risk of exhibiting behaviour consistent with Technology Addiction?

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THE ISSUE

The idea for me to study the notion of Technology Addiction came when the School was about to embark on banning mobile phone use for some year groups. Up until quite recently the School’s approach to mobile phone use was somewhat light touch. Academic year 2017 – 18 was the first year that 2nd Form boys were not allowed to use their phones at all during the school day. Subsequently, this ban has been extended to 3rd Form boys for academic year 2018 – 19.

Technology addiction — sometimes called Internet addiction, Internet use disorder (IUD) or Internet addiction disorder (IAD) — is a fairly new phenomenon. It’s often described as a serious problem involving the inability to control use of various kinds of technology, in particular the Internet, smartphones, tablets and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Now that it’s effortless to text and access the Web and social media from almost anywhere, more of us are dependent on communicating via the tiny computers we carry with us. So it’s no surprise that health experts are seeing a rise in addictive tendencies that involve technology.

Technology addiction, and the related and more common term Internet addiction disorder, are not recognised as addictions or disorders in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the reference used by health care providers to diagnose mental health conditions. However, Internet Use Gaming Disorder – excessive playing of video games — was added to the DSM-5 in June 2018. Although my study does not look solely at Internet Gaming, but rather technology addiction in its broader sense, it is compelling to see the WHO recognise the dangers of too much time spent gaming.

Even if addiction to different types of technology isn’t yet a recognised disorder on its own, the problem has been on the radar of health professionals since the 1990s. In 1995, Kimberly Young, PsyD, established the Centre for Internet Addiction and created the first treatment plan for technology addiction based on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques. That same year, the term “Internet addiction disorder” was coined by psychiatrist Dr. Ivan Goldberg.

The way tech addiction is diagnosed can differ from country to country, but surveys in the U.S. and Europe show that between 1.5% and 8.2% of the population suffers from Internet addiction. Technology addiction is recognised as a widespread health problem in other countries, including Australia, China, Japan, India, Italy, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, which have established dedicated clinics to address this growing issue.

Like other types of addiction, technology addiction can range from moderate to severe, and some researchers say that like other addictions, people who use their phones or stay online for many hours a day experience a similar “high” — and also feel withdrawal when cut off. It’s not simply the amount of time spent with the digital device that defines an addict, though, but how excessive use adversely affects someone’s mental and physical health, daily life, relationships and academic or job performance.

According to Hilarie Cash, PhD., co-founder of an Internet Addiction Recovery Program, symptoms can include:

  • Compulsive checking of text messages
  • Frequent changing of personal social media statuses and uploading of “selfies”
  • A feeling of euphoria while on the Web
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in activities that don’t involve a computer, phone or gadget
  • Feelings of restlessness when unable to go online

We are living in an age where one simply cannot escape the use of technology and the enormous benefits it brings are obvious. I was keen to explore how CLS boys are interacting with each other, and using and over-using their mobile phones. I also wanted to get a boys perspective on their level of dependency and usage habits.

RESEARCH QUESTION

It appears that barely a day goes by without a report documenting the explosion in the use of mobile phones amongst teenagers in the UK. With technology so embedded into today’s youth culture I wanted to get a better understanding of young peoples attitudes towards and usage of mobile phones.

So I came up with the following research question:

To what extent are CLS boys in the Third Form at risk of exhibiting behaviour consistent with Technology Addiction?

 

WHAT DID I DO – IN CARRYING OUT THE ENQUIRY

Methodology – part one – Questionnaire

  1. I used Dr Richard Grahams Technology Addiction Questionnaire – questions below. The questionnaire is made up of 12 questions. The questions are designed to be given to individuals who think they may be at risk of suffering from Internet addiction. The questions require a yes or no response and if the respondent answers yes to four or more questions then individuals are said to be displaying a worrying relationship with technology.
  2. All boys in the 3rd Form were invited to take part in the research questionnaire. The questionnaire was sent to all boys via a link to a Google form.
  3. 107 boys completed the survey
  4. The answers to the questionnaire were all anonymous
  5. I then asked for volunteers to take part in a follow up group interview.

 

Methodology – part two – Group interviews

12 boys were selected from all the boys who volunteered to take part in a group interview. The interviews were arranged into two groups of six boys. As part of the group interview all volunteers were given the questionnaire again and then a series of questions were asked which led to some interesting discussions.

The questions asked include:

  1. What are your perceptions of healthy versus unhealthy use of mobile devices
  2. What does a typical 24 hour period look like in terms of your digital device usage.
  3. How do you feel when: you leave the house and you realise that you have forgotten your phone?
  4. How do you feel when / if your phone has been confiscated.

 

MAKING SENSE OF THE INFORMATION

I only used results from boys who had completed all of the questions. Any incomplete responses were not included in the final analysis. All of the boys answered yes or no to all 12 questions and this produced some interesting results which I have presented in pie charts.

(Remember: according to the design of the questionnaire anyone answering yes to four or more questions are said to be displaying a worrying relationship with technology.)

Group Interview data handling: I selected 12 volunteers from over 20 boys who were keen to take part in the group interviews. I first asked them to complete the questionnaire again. I then asked individual to share their responses with the rest of the group. I deliberately allowed the discussion to flow with little intervention from me. During the discussions I was taking notes and trying to ensure all members of the group had a fair opportunity to voice their views.

WHAT DID I DISCOVER

  1. 37 / 107 (35%) boys answered yes on 4 or more occasions.
  2. 5 / 107 (4.7% ) boys answered yes on 8 or more occasions.
  3. The average number of “yes’s” per person = 2.93
  4. 1 boy answered yes to all 12 questions
  5. 16 boys answered no to all 12 questions = (15% of boys)
  6. By the time the boys are in the Third Form the temptation to stay online longer than expected is increasingly difficult to overcome.
  7. “Only” 10% of boys would rather spend time communicating online rather than face to face. This is particularly concerning, however, if the individual has any socialisation difficulties. In addition, SEND students are known to be at a higher risk of Technology addiction and to take part in other risky online activities.
  8. 22.4% of boys sleep with their smart phone near or under their pillow. This contravenes all advice given to teenagers about healthy amounts of sleep, and best practice in terms of not having mobile devices in the bedroom.
  9. Probably the most worrying statistic is that 37.4% of boys secretly wish that they could be a little less connected to their mobile devices. This is a clear signal that they are not able to self regulate. The boys need and would appreciate help with curbing their own phone use.
  10. Almost 20% of boys hide or become defensive about their online activities. The secretive element of online behaviour is troubling for a number of reasons. 1. Secretive behaviour and actions online can result in boys encountering content or people that are not appropriate for their age. 2. Secretive online behaviour can increase the likelihood of technology addiction. 3. Many incidents of online bullying are carried out by lone individuals sending messages that they believe are anonymous.

 

Key results form the groups interviews. 

All of the people interviewed said that when asked the same questions again they answered differently and all of them said they gave more “no” responses. When asked about this, they explained it was easier to be honest on an anonymous survey. And when asked face to face they are more likely to give the response that they thought they should be saying. Some boys explained that some days they feel very attached to their mobiles and other days they don use them at all. This often depends on what game they are playing at the time and who else is playing with them.

  1. What are your perceptions of healthy versus unhealthy use of mobile devices

Healthy use is “normal usage” and this was described as the same time and amount of usage that their friends are spending. In reality this often means gaming before school, at break times and for large parts of the evening after homework has been completed.

Unhealthy use would be described as gaming all night and failing to hand homework in because of excessive use.

None of the boys surveyed believed they were unhealthy users.

  1. What does a typical 24 hour period look like in terms of your digital device usage.

It is not unusual for the digital day to start very early in the morning, before they have got out of bed and continue long after their agreed bedtime.  Some boys said that they would set their alarm on their phones for earlier than they needed to check messages and to play games before having to get up for school.

  1. How do you feel when: you leave the house and you realise that you have forgotten your phone?

All of the participants explained that they would never leave the house without their phone. Hypothetically speaking if they were to leave the house without their phone – they would return home to get.

  1. How do you feel when / if your phone has been confiscated.

Angry, unfair treatment, I would be worried because I couldn’t play my games and I would feel like I am missing out. (FOMO), having my phone confiscated is the worst thing that could happen to me.

None of the boys interviewed  expressed any feelings of relief if they were to have their phone confiscated.

One question that I did not ask but should have asked was: why did you volunteer to be part of the group interview research group?

Summary.

To what extent are CLS boys in the Third Form at risk of exhibiting behaviour consistent with Technology Addiction?

The short answer to this question is that I feel that the high level of mobile phone use by the boys surveyed is putting them at risk of developing behaviours that are consistent with Technology addiction.

 

 

 

We can rebuild it

As I write this, I note that Dr Rebecca Allen’s Caroline Benn memorial speech on teacher workload has received 60 Retweets and 107 Likes on Twitter. If you haven’t read it, do. Even if you are overburdened with your own workload.

Citing DiMaggio and Powell, Allen explains the isomorphic pressures which have resulted in schools becoming more alike, and how this has contributed to increased expectations on teachers. She points two fingers: one at reforms of Ofsted; the other at increased school funding under Labour. These are classic cases of unintended consequences, for I recall the little cheers we uttered when we heard the inspectors would come in smaller teams, and when we realized for once that we had a government that believed in investing in public services.

What went wrong?

Smaller teams and shorter notice meant that headteachers became a sort of chief inspector-in-residence. Schools engaged in continuous self-evaluation, so that they would be in a permanent state of Ofsted readiness. Heads looked across their boroughs at other schools to see how they had survived inspection, and concluded that they must do the same. They already had data on summative outcomes for pupils, and they already had a box full of policies, but – when asked to describe the quality of teaching and learning – how could they do that? They did what we often do when stuck for an answer for quality: they reached for quantity. They increased the frequency of data drops, the amount of marking, the numbers of boxes to be ticked on a lesson plan. They did this (I stress), not because they were bad people, but because they were good people being asked to do something they could not do. How many outstanding teachers do you have? What is the proportion of outstanding lessons taught in your school? These are Alice in Wonderland questions, particularly when we agree that we have not agreed on what outstanding actually is.

If ‘small Ofsted / big SEF’ was the cause of the change, a rapid increase in schools’ spending was the means, says Allen. Leadership teams mushroomed, and rather than let their hands be idle they were put to work on gathering, sifting and analysing all this data, inventing interventions and trackers to shift the data, and creating performance management systems  to hold staff to account for the data they had themselves fed in. This part of Allen’s speech makes for uncomfortable reading for some of us: this is the part that Ofsted did not force on us, the part we (i.e. those of us who were SLT) inflicted on ourselves (i.e. those of us teaching the lessons). How often did I demand information from colleagues in a certain format, by a strict deadline, for a purpose clear only to myself? How often did I conduct learning walks from which I learned little, and after which I shared even less? How many weights did I add to the wrong side of the work/life scales?

I don’t think Allen mentioned it, but I would point a finger at a third culprit here: analytics technology. We can now know how many homeworks the music teacher set last term, and at what point in the week year 11 students are more likely to access it online. We can now identify eight different types of disruptive behavior, and say which ones are favoured by the white boys, or the Greek girls, or the summer-born. We can now measure the rate of progress of every child, in every year, in every subject at any point in time. We can because, as with the Six Million Dollar Man, ‘we have the technology’. And, because we can, we must. And, because we do, we also have to do something with all the data we collect. We have to address the underperformance of the music teacher not setting the right amount of homework, and of all of those teachers (that is all of them) who have students not making the progress the flight path demands. We have to – we tell ourselves – because, if we have this knowledge and do nothing about it, we are letting down the students, the school and the profession.

bionic woman 3

We can rebuild it. Allen makes her own important suggestions about slowing the rate of curriculum change and rethinking teacher contracts. I make my own. With Amanda Spielman in charge, Ofsted have made many encouraging noises about investigating the consequences of their existence – the messages they communicate to schools about the sorts of things they ought to prioritise, for example. Justine Greening at the DfE has published excellent guidance on increasing flexible working. These follow reports and the poster on reducing teacher workload. I cannot fault this messaging, and I note also that the Department is tendering for bids through the Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund to address workload. They recognise the problem, but I am not sure they yet recognise the causes of the problem. These are undoubtedly the twin devils of external and internal accountability. We can address the inadvertent pressures school leaders apply to their staffs, and we can congratulate those who are ‘brave’ enough to run their schools as if Ofsted were not there. But, so long as Ofsted is there, there is a limit to how far that courage can take us. I doubt we will ever arrive at the day when the top line of an inspection report reads: ‘This is a great school because it ignores everything we say.’ School leaders do load too much on the backs of teachers, but they do so because of the load which is on them. Ofsted, were it to follow its own logic, would not just stop grading individual lessons: they would stop grading schools. Then, perhaps, schools could get back to the business for which they were built.

 

Ill Communication: Technology, Distraction and Student Performance

Fascinating study from LSE on the impact on student performance of technology. Amongst other things, it finds that bans on mobile phones in school improved test scores for students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. They say, “restricting mobile phone use can be a low-cost policy to reduce educational inequalities.”

http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/dp1350.pdf