Keeping the constantly-connected student truly connected

Rashid Ajami discusses the importance of helping students to not get overwhelmed by being ‘constant connected’

By Rashid Ajami, CEO and Founder of Campus Society

Young people today are constantly connected – for many, smartphones have almost become extensions of themselves. Research from Google shows that 90% of millennials venture online daily, with 75% going online via a smartphone at least as often as a computer. Now, your location might change but you’ll always remain online – how often do you hear someone ask for the Wi-Fi code as soon as they enter a hotel, café, restaurant or friend’s house?

How often do you hear someone ask for the Wi-Fi code as soon as they enter a hotel, café, restaurant or friend’s house?

In response to this, we’re seeing more educational institutions modernise their technology and infrastructures to support the demand and dependence students have for their smart devices. Many UK universities, for example, have established a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approach, where they welcome students’ personal smartphones, tablets and laptops to campus and lectures. 

As the Skills Minister, Robert Halfon MP, emphasised in his BETT 2017 speech, this is a positive move; these technologies present more opportunities to enhance the educational experience and allow greater flexibility for learning. 

Issues with over-connectivity

While in theory there’s nothing wrong with being attached to your phone or smart device, there does need to be some element of caution. Take having access to social networks 24/7, regardless of where you are: recent research from the Journal of Youth Studies showed that one in five young people now regularly wake up during the night to check social media. And studies suggest that ‘regular use’ of social networking can negatively impact on your emotional health and satisfaction with life. 

When healthy, natural sleep is interrupted and fluctuations in mood are evident, there’s cause for concern. This is especially true of students who, at any time, could be juggling the stress of exams, heightened social anxiety and, if starting university, the challenge of making an unfamiliar and exciting/intimidating environment work for them. Indeed, an AXA PPP poll found that 18-24 year olds are four times as likely to feel lonely ‘most of the time’ compared to those aged over 70, and every year a small but significant amount of young people drop out of their first year of university due to feeling alone, depressed, or unable to cope. 

At this crucial age, where we grow, develop, and start to shape the future of our adult lives, we need all the support we can get. A report from The Mental Health Foundation stresses that people who have quality connections to family and friends, including regular face-to-face interaction, are happier and healthier than those who do not. This is something to be acknowledged and considered for the ‘digital native’ generation.

The growing prominence of mental health, its implications and how tech can support this on campus

This is not to downplay all the positive, innovative and exciting possibilities that come with having powerful, connected technology in your hands (or pockets) at any time. In fact, following the growing national awareness of mental health issues and the need for effective treatment, we’ve seen mental health applications come to the fore. The NHS, for example, promotes the use of computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (CCBT) for the treatment of depression, generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder. This is delivered via computers, tablets, and phone, usually online, with research suggesting this can be just as effective as having face-to-face therapy with a therapist if you are supported by a remote therapist.

It’s a matter of getting the balance right 

So, it’s a matter of getting the balance right. There is tremendous value to be found from a modern, ‘connected’ lifestyle – from keeping in touch with friends and family across borders to utilising applications for everything from learning a language to training yourself to become more ‘mindful’ in how you approach your daily tasks. 

The danger is letting this replace, rather than enhance, personal interactions – especially for when it can feel easier to ‘like’ a post than take the time to talk to someone. 

This is why we’re starting to see a shift in how online platforms are designed. For example, it’s my belief that there’ll be a movement away from social networking as a means of reinforcing existing, familiar relationships towards using online platforms to make new connections that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Campus Society, for example, is about discovery – it’s structured by channels of interest and aims to bring students from around the world together to collaborate, learn and share knowledge. 

With this approach in place, there’s no reason today’s students cannot be truly connected. That’s connected to the friends and family around them, that they can physically meet with, to people further away geographically, and also to the wealth of knowledge and information from around the world that can help them grow and develop during this crucial stage of their lives. 

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