Student Experience and Wellbeing Teaching and Learning

Pausing to reflect on digital wellbeing

Scott asks how we can support learners at this difficult time and encourage them to reflect on the positive and negative impacts digital can have.

Wellbeing is on everyone’s radar at the moment.

The coronavirus has brought wellbeing under the spotlight, but why does it take a pandemic for us to start taking note of our wellbeing?

I recently ran an online workshop about wellbeing with my colleague Esther Barrett exploring what we can all do to support our learners at this difficult time. We focused on digital aspects of wellbeing and how we manage the positive and negative impacts digital has on our lives (as per Jisc’s model below).

Jisc's digital wellbeing model
Jisc’s digital wellbeing model

At the heart of Jisc’s model is an individual’s awareness and capacity to change their digital practices.

Understanding how digital affects us, whether that’s emotionally, physically or mentally, requires us to pause and take stock. Digital practices often take time to evolve before they become habit-forming and we don’t always appreciate the longer terms effects they have.

How does social pedagogy help us to reflect on digital wellbeing?

Social pedagogy encourages us, as practitioners, to take a relationship-centred approach to wellbeing. Any situation in daily life is a potential learning opportunity, this applies in digital contexts too.

What I like about social pedagogy is the way it focuses on the personal growth of the individual and their place in society. When we think about our digital identity and wellbeing it’s axiomatic that these are influenced by the relationships we have with those around us.

So how does social pedagogy help us to reflect on our digital identity and wellbeing?

The Learning Zone model

One helpful tool developed by the German pedagogue, Tom Senninger, is the Learning Zone model. This model consists of the three zones below. If we apply it to digital we could describe them as:-

  • Comfort Zone – digital practices you’re familiar with and comfortable doing
  • Learning Zone – digital practices you have some experience with, but are still learning about
  • Panic Zone – digital practices you have little to no experience of and are least comfortable doing

I’m sure we can all think of familiar digital practices that fall within our comfort zones: accessing email, doing a basic Google search and so on. These kinds of practices take little thought on behalf of the individual and are done in auto-pilot. However, as we progress to more nuanced ways of communicating online, such as using synchronous live video chat or doing advanced searches requiring specific filters, we may find ourselves drifting more towards the learning zone, or even the panic zone.

In the workshop I challenged the participants to identify where they sit in this model in relation to their own digital identity and wellbeing. Why? Because it makes people think about which practices are in their comfort zone, but also which practices they might want to focus on if they are to learn and grow as individuals.

Learning and personal growth does not take place if we solely sit in our comfort zones …

How did the activity work in practice?

We were delivering the workshop online in Adobe Conect, so we made use of the drawing tools function. This kind of activity could work just as well in a face-to-face context though using flip chart paper, pens, post-its, etc.

I posed each of the following five statements to the participants and asked them to place their star in the appropriate zone for each statement.

  1. Posting a status on a social media platform to a select group of contacts (e.g. whether that’s an image on Instagram or an update on Facebook, etc)
  2. Exploring privacy and notification settings on platforms to ensure they don’t impinge on personal wellbeing
  3. Blogging about your subject area or topic of interest (e.g. on WordPress, Blogger, etc)
  4. Creating and sharing online videos (e.g. on YouTube, Vimeo, etc)
  5. Discussing confidently with learners the pros and cons of developing a digital identity
The Learning Zone model
The Learning Zone model

As we worked through the statements it became clear that the participants were being increasingly taken out of their comfort zones. Have you ever recorded a video of yourself online? I think it’s fair to say that for many this is outside their comfort zone.

The crucial thing is to be able to confidently discuss the issues with learners. If we can’t do this how can we support them?

Final thoughts

We did the activity anonymously in Adobe Connect. It wasn’t important for me to see whose star was in which zone. However, it was important for the participants, because it allowed them to see where they ‘were at’ in relation to others.

I want to stress that this is not an activity designed to be judgemental about an individual’s competency. It’s an activity to get people to recognise that having lots of things in their comfort zone is fine, but if they want to stretch themselves and learn we need to be stepping into the other zones too.

In the current coronavirus situation many staff will feel that they have been catapulted into the ‘panic zone’ when it comes to digital, but from a personal growth point of view could that be just what we need?

Useful resources

By Scott Hibberson

Subject Specialist (Online learning) at Jisc.

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