Children, young people and families, Education, Teaching and learning

The digitally resilient student

Dr Sarah Hodge and Layla Johnson on the hidden struggles with technology use some people can experience at university.

01 July 2020

Going to university is a transition – the opportunity for students to develop learning and often to become more independent. Technology has given students the opportunity to interact in new and exciting ways while also opening up many avenues for students to both spend time and money on; from social media to gaming and gambling, with a variety of applications and platforms to engage with. Many offline activities have now transferred to a virtual context (for example online gambling). With more financial independence and much of the University schedule being unstructured, developing good habits and resilience with technology is a particularly important skill for students. 

Defining digital resilience

A recent article highlights the methodological issues around conceptualising technology use, including the concept of screen time; the role of time in an individual’s technology usage and consumption (Kaye et al., 2020). But that's only one factor involved with how we use technology. For example, technology use can be active and passive, but even these terms have conceptual issues (Trifiro, & Gerson, 2019).

Experiences of video game play can be very different for players due to platform, the genre of the game and, the age rating and more (Hodge et al., 2019, 2020). How might we encapsulate the diversity of technology usage and consumption? We like to take the term 'resilience', and adapt / apply it to technology use. How does the user develop an awareness to cope with adversity and challenges from technology? How migh they develop positive strategies for their technology use, whether that would be gaming, social media, or online gambling?

This resilience involves how to balance technology use with other commitments; including other virtual and technology activities (especially those which may have arisen from self-isolation and lockdown). We suggest this could be a fitting approach and terminology to use, as it relates to the psychological factors of how individuals are responding to technology as well as encompassing the diversity of the technology used. Resilience may be a particularly useful concept in a higher education setting, as previous research has suggested that higher resilience levels (from self-reported characteristics of resilience) can support the transition to university life (Rahat, & İlhan, 2016).

HE and the impacts of technology 

There is a growing concern that isolation and loneliness is a frequent part of the university experience. Recent research has suggested that loneliness for university students is increasing (e.g. Hysing et al., 2020). Hence, questions remain around poor digital resilience and using technology in ways which might relate to isolation and loneliness. Many students could feel reserved around discussing issues related to their technology use at university, especially if they feel their experiences could be met with stigma; the expectation to be more independent and be able to manage/balance studies with other commitments. A recent insight report (YGAM, 2019) explored this and found that some student’s reported gaming and gambling affecting their university studies and were related to feelings of isolation. Coupled with the current circumstances relating to Covid-19 of self-isolation and lockdown, digital resilience comes to the fore, with the extra technological demands from online delivery which would have been previously a face-to-face experience. In addition to balancing work/life commitments, especially if many of those commitments involve technology.

All in all, It is important that we create these opportunities for students to voice their experiences. 

Supporting digital resilience 

We have used Cyberpsychology research to support resilience, including running workshops for the local community for parents and secondary school students. We outline diversity between the different forms of technology use, and how this may change, for each individual and based on factors such as age (Hodge, et al, 2019, 2020). We're encouraging balance with their technology use, particularly between using technology for learning and technology for entertainment.

However, given the transition for university students they could benefit from more support with technology in HE; its use in lectures has been suggested to relate to procrastination (Rozgonjuk et al., 2018), and feelings of the Fear of Missing Out (FoMO; Alutaybi et al., 2019). Yet tech can also provide support for learning (Henderson et al, 2017) as well as transitioning to university life (Bond, 2019).

In one of our Cyberpsychology units, Psychology of Social Media and Video Games (#PSMVG), students are encouraged to reflect on their own technology use to support learning about how they interact with technology, such as through the reflective cycle (Gibbs, 1988). Students are also given practical examples to support their learning and understanding of how these psychological concepts apply to their own technology use and encourage psychological literacy (Taylor et al., 2018; Taylor, 2019). For example, students are encouraged to evaluate the role of screen time in their technology use, to become aware of the time spent on technology and how they feel about it (positive or negative). Students may have not considered this before, especially as, although technology use may seem intuitive, habits and routines with technology can form inadvertently from both the consequence of usage and the design of the technology (for example, buying 'loot boxes' to support progressing in a game).  

Peer support 

A partnership with Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM, 2020) was developed include their Community Development Manager (CDM) role at Bournemouth University. This role hires a student to support university students with their gaming, gambling and digital resilience. The role was taken on by one of us, Layla Johnson, a second-year undergraduate Psychology student.

Here's an opportunity for students to engage with topics of digital resilience, gaming, and gambling with the CDM. This includes encouraging students to build digital resilience and educate and safeguard them against problematic gaming and gambling, while signposting students to current university and national support systems. Such engagement has allowed staff and the research team to gain insight into student’s thoughts, perspectives and understanding of digital resilience and its impact on students, which previously were unknown. It has become apparent that students feel that it is a challenge to balance their technology use with studies and are not aware of where to go for support for these issues. These issues could be further challenged in these unprecedented times especially around balancing virtual learning with virtual entertainment.  

Fusion of the student experience and digital resilience

The CDM role has allowed for us to create fusion between our digital addiction, gambling, and cyberpsychology research groups and connect to the student experience. We have been able to voice the student experience. This has led us to make some changes to support students at Bournemouth University. This includes developing a study skills workshop to support developing digital resilience while studying. Trial workshops were planned over the Easter, specifically around the revision period when time management becomes important when balancing technology with revision. We anticipate that only some students would need this additional support on digital resilience, but this is still unknown to what extent this is needed, and it is hoped that the workshops would help develop this. These workshops aim to give students strategies and reflections on their technology use and how this can fit within revision. 

From the academic and peer experiences one of the key factors is encouraging balance, and we suggest the following tips to support digital resilience and balance in technology use: 

  1. Find out: What does your technology usage look like, how much do you use technology (this can include money spent as well as time), and on what platforms (the usage applications can be very helpful for this).
  2. Reflect and evaluate: What are your feelings about this usage what can it suggest, such as what is working well, what is enjoyable and are there any aspects which do not work as well. For example, if you notice you have more/frequent negative feelings after using a particular app. This includes challenging feelings such as FoMO.
  3. Considering change: What could improve your experiences of technology usage, are there any bad habits? What strategies could be applied, including creating realistic goals to facilitate change? For example, making time for non-virtual activities; planning time away from technology or setting a clear budget per session, and/or finding a free alternative; exploring where and what support is available.  

Moving forward 

On the most part students have been receptive to discussing and considering the role of digital resilience and their technology use, but we aim to create more opportunities for students to have these conversations. We will be running workshops in the future to help support this. As this is such a novel term there is still some debate over what digital resilience means, and what this might look like when supporting users. We are by no means offering a comprehensive strategy to support digital resilience. What this process has shown is that despite the CDM role being hugely beneficial in building digital resilience, educating and safeguarding students against problematic gaming and gambling as well as bridging the gap between student voice and support groups, there is still a lot more to be done. The role of digital resilience is very much a novel in developing idea and much more research and development is needed, including highlighting those who may be more vulnerable (first year students living in halls, perhaps). YGAM (2020) are keen to include the CDM role in more Universities to support students

Technology is very much a part of student’s lives and the focus should be around developing digital resilience and creating opportunities for students to build this while in HE. Partly, it's about creating balance and awareness. Rather than polarising technology into good and bad outcomes, digital resilience provides a descriptive term of how we can understand our interaction with technology, as well as an inclusive term which can encompass the many different forms that technology use can take. As more universities make the decision to move courses to online or at least blended delivery, digital resilience will only become more important.

Dr Sarah Hodge is a Lecturer in Psychology at Bournemouth University and the British Psychological Society's Wessex Branch Committee Member Dorset Hub Lead.
[email protected]

- Layla Johnson is an undergraduate student on a BSc Psychology course at Bournemouth University and the British Psychological Society's Wessex Branch student rep. 


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