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The Effect of Digital Confidence on Student Well-Being at Universities 

 September 18, 2022

By  James Brauer

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MAIN POINT: In a recent study, 417 university students were asked about their digital abilities, confidence levels, loneliness, and sense of well-being. The results showed that digital confidence and connectedness are predictive of student success. In other words, the more confident and connected students feel, the better they fare mentally and academically.


Student Well-Being and Digital Confidence

We all know that online learning can be a bit of a lonely experience. You’re not in a physical classroom with other students, and you might not even live in the same state or country as your classmates.

But what does the research say about how digital confidence and loneliness affect students in online learning environments? Let’s take a look by first looking at a story about Mary…

Mary and Her New-found Fear

Although she excelled in all her courses, Mary began to feel increasingly anxious as finals week drew closer. Despite knowing she was capable of doing well, she felt dreadful at the thought of taking her exams using a computer. She had always been able to handwrite her papers and exams in previous years, but the school required all tests to be taken on a laptop this year. 

Mary tried studying in the library as she always did, but it did not help this time. The constant clicking of keyboards and people talking on their cell phones made her feel even more anxious and isolated. Despite her best efforts, she could not concentrate on the material in front of her. Instead, she decided to study at home. While she aimed to focus on the material, her mind drifted, and she began thinking about all the possibilities of things going wrong during the test. 

In the end, Mary performed poorly on most of her exams because she was so concerned about using a computer. As a result, she began skipping classes and withdrawing from social activities. She realized how much anxiety cyberphobia (the fear of computers) was causing her only when she spoke to one of her professors about how she was feeling.

Cyberphobia: The Shocking Truth

Even though digital devices are increasingly ubiquitous in society, there are still many individuals who feel anxious about using them. This anxiety is called “cyberphobia” and can significantly impact an individual’s life.

A specific phobia disorder such as cyberphobia is more prevalent than you might think, particularly among university students. About one out of ten American adults and one out of five teenagers will experience a specific phobia disorder.

A variety of factors may cause the development of cyberphobia. Some people may develop it due to a negative experience, such as experiencing a computer crash in the middle of a significant project. 

The psychological effects of cyberphobia include:

  • Social isolation and loneliness.
  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Affecting a person’s ability to accomplish academic and professional goals.

As an example, the student in the introduction above illustrates how cyberphobia can negatively impact a person’s life.

Research

Due to the recent push toward online learning environments among students, a recent study examined if students’ well-being can be predicted. In one recent study, the purpose was to explore whether or not students’ well-being could be predicted in online learning environments, as online learning requires proficient digital capabilities and confidence.

According to the study, females were less proficient in data and media literacy, functional skills regarding applications such as software and services, and digital communication skills than males. According to previous research (van Laar et al 2020), gender is a significant factor in determining internet proficiency.

In addition, the results indicated that students with limited access to a suitable study space report lower levels of digital communication and collaboration.

According to research, students prefer individual study areas over group study rooms when high technology is used in these areas, as noise prevention strategies are needed. (Chaputula 2021).

The Implications of the Findings

Based on the findings of this study, several demographic and study-related factors affect digital abilities, confidence levels in using these technologies, and mental well-being. 

University students should be supported in developing their digital skills if online learning continues post-pandemic while ensuring equitable access to educational spaces conducive to learning.

A robust social support network for university students cannot be overstated. Students who feel more connected to others are less likely to experience anxiety and depression. Additionally, individuals confident in their ability to use digital devices also report higher levels of student well-being.

Sources:

Chaputula, A. 2021. “Effects of Digital Devices on Noise Levels in an Academic Library.” Digital Library Perspectives 37 (4): 401–415. ePub ahead of print. doi:10.1108/DLP-08-2020-0081.

Dinu, L. M., Byrom, N. C., Mehta, K. J., Everett, S., Foster, J. L. H., & Dommett, E. J. (2022). Predicting student mental wellbeing and loneliness and the importance of digital skills. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 46(8), 1040–1053. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877x.2022.2038780.

van Laar, E., A.J. van Deursen, J.A. van Dijk, and J. de Haan. 2020. “Determinants of 21st-century Skills and 21st-century Digital Skills for Workers: A Systematic Literature Review.” Sage Open 10 (1): 2158244019900176. doi:10.1177/ 2158244019900176.

    James Brauer


    James Brauer, Ed.D., MBA is currently Director of Graduate Education at Avila University. Previously he was a virtual school administrator of a public online school serving students throughout the state of Iowa. Brauer has also served as an assistant principal and special education teacher. He is passionate about leadership and management, health and wellness, and personal development.

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