How can digital technologies impact teachers’ wellbeing?
A coin has two sides. This idiom is perfectly matched with the emergence of digital technologies in this disruptive era. The advancement of digital technologies does not only provide benefits but also harms toward the human. Therefore, we can balance them to minimize the harms by developing, using, and encouraging alternative spaces for expression and continue exploring ways to build a more equitable and critical ecology for our digital lives (Ticona & Wellmon, 2015).
In the education context, embracing digital technologies in the classroom is more challenging as classrooms have become emotionally, psychologically, and behaviourally more complex places for teachers to teach and students to learn. The optimists believe that we can build better worlds conducive to human flourishing and a plurality of values through digital technologies (Frischmann & Selinger, 2020).
Therefore, my reflection on digital wellbeing is to address the ISTE standard for Digital Citizen Advocates. This standard coaches model digital citizenship and support educators and students in recognizing the responsibilities and opportunities inherent in living in a digital world. Particularly, point 7b points out that coaches partner with educators, leaders, students, and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Digital Technologies
It is inevitably debated on the emergence of digital technologies worldwide. We agree that we get some benefits from digital technologies. On the other hand, we also realize the disadvantages of digital technologies towards the human. Being wiser to the advancement of digital technologies is a must to minimize the opposing sides.
Let us review some perspectives on this debate. Anderson and Rainie (2018) revealed some concerns over harms regarding digital deficits, digital addiction; digital distrust/divisiveness; digital duress; and digital dangers (see Themes about the future of wellbeing and digital life). Teachers may certainly identify these issues, but they might also be fundamentally associated with particular approaches to and management of teaching. Besides, cited in Passey (2021), Mackin (2018), looking at the effects from an adolescent perspective, highlights other potentially harmful effects on learning that have been raised in a range of previous studies: mental health problems, shallower engagement with written material, shortening of attention spans, reducing reliance on memory, and sleep disruption. Indeed, Harding et al. (2019) pointed that teacher wellbeing affected by student wellbeing and distress could be partially explained by teacher presenteeism and quality of teacher-student relationships.
In contrast, the effects of digital technologies on learning can be positive. Anderson and Rainie (2018) revealed some benefits of digital life regarding connection; commerce, government, and society; crucial intelligence; contentment; and continuation toward quality (see Themes about the future of wellbeing and digital life). Also, as cited in Passey (2021), Mackin (2018) states there is insufficient evidence about impacts on mental processes. However, ways that digital technologies are used can affect mental processes; as Howard-Jones (2011) says in his report on the impact of digital technologies on human wellbeing, “it is how specific applications are created and used (by who, when and what for) that determine their impact” (p. 7).
What is Wellbeing and Digital Wellbeing?
Ryan and Deci in Passey (2021) provide a conceptual basis for considering wellbeing in a broad sense. They identified three essential needs—competence, relatedness, and autonomy. These aspects are essential for facilitating optimal functioning of the natural propensities for growth, integration, constructive social development, and personal wellbeing. In the context of digital technologies, particularly in a teacher practice context, the reviewed literature areas that follow relate to these needs and describe teacher wellbeing, digital wellbeing, practical uses of digital technologies for teaching and learning, digital literacy, and digital agency, all areas that offer varied perspectives.
Exploring the concept of wellbeing through another lens, Dodge et al. (2012, cited in Passey, 2021) propose that wellbeing is “the balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced” (p. 230). These authors consider the resource pool and challenges faced to arise from psychological, social, and physical sources. Furthermore, in terms of measuring wellbeing, Longo, Coyne, and Joseph (2017) identified fourteen constructs from previous wellbeing models that they used within their measurement instrument. The instruments included happiness, vitality, calmness, optimism, involvement, self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-worth, competence, development, purpose, significance, congruence, and connection (Passey, 2021).
Meanwhile, JISC (2015, cited in Themelis and Sime, 2019) defines digital wellbeing as the capacity:
- to look after personal health, safety, relationships, and work-life balance in digital settings,
- to use digital tools in pursuit of personal goals (e.g., health and fitness),
- to participate in social and community activities,
- to act safely and responsibly in digital environments,
- to negotiate and resolve conflict,
- to manage digital workload, overload and distraction;
- to act with concern for the human and natural environment when using digital tools.
In other words, digital wellbeing refers to an understanding of the benefits and risks of digital participation concerning health and wellbeing outcomes. It is a complex concept that can be viewed from a variety of perspectives and across different contexts and situations, as seen in Figure 1:
- Individual perspective: personal, learning, and work contexts: this involves identifying and understanding the positive benefits and potentially harmful aspects of engaging with digital activities and being aware of ways to manage and control these to improve wellbeing.
- Societal or organizational perspective: providers of digital systems, services, and content are responsible for ensuring that these are well managed, supported, accessible and equitable. In this regard, the providers need to empower, build capability, engage users to support and improve their wellbeing.
Figure 1: Model showing four aspects of digital wellbeing for individuals (Jisc, 2019)
Teacher wellbeing is related to all three needs of competence, relatedness, and autonomy; digital wellbeing is related more to competence and autonomy, and practical uses of digital technologies for teaching and learning are related similarly; digital literacy is related to all three needs, while the digital agency is similarly related (Passey, 2021). The relationship between teacher wellbeing and innovative uses of digital technologies can be seen in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Model relating teacher wellbeing with innovative uses of digital technologies
(Source: De Pablos et al., 2013)
Factors Influencing Teacher Wellbeing
Passie (2021) proposes a conceptual framework detailing factors influencing positive teacher wellbeing when using digital technologies. There are five key factors influencing teacher wellbeing: digital literacy, digital agency, digital wellbeing, activities and outcomes, and effects on physical, social, and psychological wellbeing.
- Having a choice of digital technologies
- Having skills to deploy and use the digital technologies
- Supporting information and data literacy
- Supporting communication and collaborations
- Supporting digital content creation
- Supporting safety
- Supporting problem-solving
- Supporting interactions with parents and guardians
- Feeling more responsible for one’s actions
- Feeling security and privacy are ensured
- Feeling that there has been a positive impact on learning
- Feeling motivated from digital technology use
- Feeling the use has value for learning
- Feeling the school culture and climate is favorable to the use
- Feeling personal satisfaction
- Feeling professional satisfaction
- Feeling positive emotionally
- Supporting collaboration
- Supporting recording of evidence
Activities and outcomes
- Support for planning
- Support for professional learning
- Feeling safe and responsible
- Feeling access is easily feasible
- Having access to digital technologies to support interactions in class or beyond
- Having ideas of how positive impact will arise
- Supporting explanations and modeling
- Supporting pupil practice
- Improving assessment and feedback
Effects on physical, social, and psychological wellbeing
- Feeling more able to switch off and relax
- Reducing long weekday hours
- Finding more time to be with family and friends
- Reducing weekend working
- Reducing holiday working
- Reducing anxiety
- Reducing depression
- Reducing exhaustion
- Reducing stress
- Reducing workload
- Offering a better work/life balance
- Improving pupil/student behavior
- Reducing unreasonable manager demands
- More positively handling rapid change
- Reducing problems with parents or guardians
- Reducing colleague bullying
- Offering more opportunities to work independently
- Gaining more trust from managers
- Reducing discrimination
- Enabling more physical exercise
- Reducing reliance on ways to alleviate stress
Taking into account some factors influencing the teachers’ wellbeing, I would say being wiser in incorporating digital technologies in the classroom is compulsory. The wisdom in using technology can balance the impact of digital technologies to increase teachers’ wellbeing. In line with Curts (2019), the first step toward digital wellbeing is understanding the potential adverse effects of technology in our lives and healthily managing our usage. Passey (2021) highlights that four alternatives should cover contexts where teacher wellbeing arises from digital technologies. Firstly, in a purely face-to-face classroom environment, secondly in a purely online environment, thirdly through a blended model where face-to-face and online happen at different scheduled times, and fourthly through a hybrid model where face-to-face and online are happening concurrently. A deeper understanding of how teacher wellbeing in each context can be supported is likely to match the needs for our future in education.
“The wisdom in using technology can balance the impact of digital technologies to increase teachers’ wellbeing”.
Anderson, J., and Rainie, L. (April 17, 2018). The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/04/17/the-future-of-well-being-in-a-tech-saturated-world/
Curts, E. (July 12, 2019). Digital Wellbeing – Tools to Balance Tech and Life. https://www.techlearning.com/news/digital-wellbeing-tools-to-balance-tech-and-life
De Pablos-Pons, J., Colás-Bravo, P., González-Ramírez, T., Martínez-Vara del Rey, C.C. (2013). Teacher well-being and innovation with information and communication technologies; proposal for a structural model. Quality & Quantity, 47, pp. 2755–2767. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-012-9686-3
Earp, J. (April 22, 2020). The impact of digital technology on student learning and wellbeing. https://www.teachermagazine.com/au_en/articles/the-impact-of-digital-technology-on-student-learning-and-wellbeing
Frischmann, B., and Selinger, E. (2020). Why a Commitment to Pluralism Should Limit How Humanity Is Re-Engineered. In K. Werbach (ed.), After the Digital Tornado: Networks, Algorithms, Humanity (pp. 155-173). Cambridge University Press. https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/AE64941488BD4012B4461FDACB7FB6AF/9781108426633c7_155-173.pdf/why-a-commitment-to-pluralism-should-limit-how-humanity-is-re-engineered.pdf
JISC. (2019). Digital wellbeing. https://digitalcapability.jisc.ac.uk/what-is-digital-capability/digital-wellbeing/
Mackin, S. (2018). Searching for digital technology’s effects on wellbeing. Nature, 563 (7733), pp. 138–140. DOI: 10.1038/d41586-018-07503-w
Passey, D. (2021). Digital Technologies—And Teacher Wellbeing?. Education Sciences, 11 (3), 117. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11030117
Themelis, C., and Sime, J. A. (2019). Mapping the Field of Digital Wellbeing Education: A Compendium of Innovative Practices and Open Educational Resources. Lancaster University. https://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/id/eprint/141210/
Ticona, J., and Wellmon, C. (2015). Uneasy in Digital Zion. The Hedgehog Review, 17(1), pp. 58-71.
Mun Shing Cheong
Hi Ignas, thank you for addressing this topic of wellbeing and technology. How ironic that the thing the very thing that makes our lives more efficient can also become the very thing that adds to our stress level. I love this definition of well-being presented as “the balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced.” The factors you laid out as having an influence on teachers’ well-being is very helpful to me in thinking through active ways to promote teacher well-being in my workplace.