During a survey in 2015, 70 percent of students ages 18 to 25 said that social media had no influence on their school or study. But that number has gone down to 49 percent in 2017. Last week, Statistics Netherlands reported that more than one-third (35.1 percent) says to have lowered performance because they are being distracted by social media. This figure was much lower in 2015: 22.8 percent.
On the other hand, there are also more enthusiasts who think social media is good for their education: their share doubled from 6.9 percent in 2015 to 16 percent in 2017. The biggest added value is found in the ease of contacting fellow students for questions regarding the lecture contents.
Are social media hindering the education of Wageningen students?
Rhea van der Dong, president of the Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (ISO), can imagine how social media can have advantages as well, but she does find the figures alarming nonetheless. ‘I knew that social media play a big role in the lives of my peers, but I had not expected it was this bad.’ According to Van der Dong, steps should be taken on the side of education as well. ‘Once people enter higher education, it’s too late; this is something they should learn in primary school.’
She thinks the problem is not recognised sufficiently at the moment. ‘Youths say that they are addicted. They will often be told: “stop overreacting and just put your phone away”, but many social media are designed to addict. This is something we should take seriously. We don’t say “stop overreacting” when alcohol or drugs are involved.’
Lies Leijs, president of LOShbo, the nation-wide organisation of student deans in higher vocational education, recognises the image of social media hampering education. ‘This conclusion does not surprise us’, Leijs says. According to her, students often experience the online interactions as an obligation. The pressure to participate is very high. ‘They cannot simply say: “I refuse to take part”.’
Rob Bovens, coordinator of the Academic Collaborative Center Addiction at Tilburg University and president of the Action Plan Student Welfare, shares this opinion. He carries out research into the influence of smartphone use on the quality of sleep of students. ‘It turns out that many participants drop out of our programme because they are unable to see through the mandatory two-week-long time-out away from their smartphone.’
He believes this goes to show how difficult it is to step away from social media, and that is why something should be done about it. ‘Some students get up at night to check whether they missed something. The first step is monitoring, to gain insight into the problem and help where needed.’ He therefore pleads for a voluntary health monitor among students.
Bovens absolutely sees the current use of social media as a problem. Student dean Leijs agrees but adds: ‘Each generation has their own problems – especially in the eyes of the previous generation. There are always people who succumb to it, but the majority eventually finds a way to deal with it.’
Younger people seem to suffer more because of their smartphones than the older generation, as only 8 percent of the working population thinks that social media are bad for productivity. One in three even finds it a benefit.