Statements of Opportunity
Overarching research priority
Digital devices and their associated use are commonplace within school settings around the world. NSW students are generally in-step with their national and international peers when it comes to the ownership of digital devices such as mobile phones. Digital device use, or screen use, is often problematised for its perceived impact on mental, physical and social health, but little is known about such impacts in NSW education settings. Likewise, the potential positive effect of screen use on children and young people remains understudied in school contexts.
The focus of the fund is to unpack the predictors, causes and effects of screen overuse in NSW schools, understand effective intervention practice, build a quality evidence base, and inform future policy development to transform lives through learning. Schools will be able to use the evidence generated to confidently apply device use policies and teaching practices, while parents, carers and children will be better supported to make healthy screen-related choices. This fund supports the department's commitment to strengthening student wellbeing and development and delivering outstanding leadership, teaching and learning through evidence-informed approaches. Research outcomes and resources will be made accessible to parents, carers and teachers through a data and research hub.
Several statements of opportunity have been developed that highlight where we most need research evidence to support our policy goals.
We require research that explores the evolving links between screen use, wellbeing and learning.
The relationship between screen use and wellbeing, such as mental health and belonging, is dynamic. For instance, definitions of what constituted an unhealthy amount of screen time in the past might now be viewed as a balanced amount. Screen use as an isolating activity is increasingly challenged by the importance of online connectivity in society, particularly among children and adolescents. Notwithstanding common acknowledgment that screens are now part of a young person’s ecosystem, facilitated and persistent access to gaming, online gambling and social media platforms, alongside the shifting behaviour norms and expectations that these platforms can encourage, are impacting learners in new and often unknown ways.
- In what ways do screens affect today’s students, and how are these different to the ways screens affected students in the past?
- In what ways are students learning differently nowadays, considering the effects of writing less, online/remote learning, and access to information?
- Which screen-related issues have the greatest impact on learning and wellbeing, and how do problematic screen behaviours develop, for students in NSW?
- What are the benefits and risks of restricting screen use in schools?
- Understand the contexts in which screen use can help or hinder learning
- Improved understanding of the changes to and trajectory of digital device use in schools across cohorts and groups, as well as the factors that predict and are associated with these changes
- Elucidate the evolving learning and wellbeing consequences of screen access and use in schools
- Better equip students and teachers to make informed decisions about ways to support students’ positive screen behaviour.
We require research that investigates the impacts of screen use on teaching, and the influence of teaching on screen use.
Digital learning through screen use has become a critical component of most curricula, and the challenges of teaching among new and transforming technologies are established. Research has indicated that a young person’s screen time and use is the result of an interaction between familial and social factors while being heavily influenced by their school environment. Where and how a young person’s screen use behaviours can be influenced by schooling requires further investigation, as do the teaching consequences of school–screen interactions.
- Where have digital technologies made teaching easier or harder?
- How have digital devices changed how students respond to teacher feedback?
- How are students’ screen use attitudes and behaviours linked to teacher-, classroom- and school-level influences?
- What teaching or school-level factors may mediate the influence of peers and other socio-cultural factors on students’ screen use?
- Identification of the importance of the education system, including policies, teaching and school environments, on students’ screen use
- Uncover ways screen use has influenced and continues to influence teaching
- Development of strategies to reduce problematic and enhance appropriate screen use among students.
We require research that explores how schools and school communities might use initiatives and interventions to support appropriate screen use and reduce problematic screen use.
Teachers’, parents’ and carers’ poor knowledge and understanding of how and why young people use digital technology has slowed the development of effective interventions to address problematic screen behaviours. Given most problematic screen behaviour happens outside school hours, it is important to engage families and communities when developing initiatives to address students’ screen use. It is also important to capture students’ voices when determining actions that will impact them.
- Which policies, practices and procedures, during which developmental windows, can be used to effectively prevent/reduce problematic screen behaviour?
- How can schools and communities support student help seeking and help provision when they or others they know experience difficulties/harm when using screens?
- How can screen use interventions be integrated with other school initiatives (for example, student wellbeing activities) to maximise cohesiveness, effectiveness and quality of implementation?
- Processes to actively engage student voice and leadership to shift norms associated with students’ problematic screen use
- Effective mechanisms to partner (and effective partner actions) with external agencies to help school staff reduce problematic screen use
- Tools to prevent/reduce the impact of problematic screen use on higher risk groups of students (for example, neurodiverse, LGBTQIA+) and students from priority populations.
We require research that can help us define, measure and improve screen use and screen time in education contexts.
The conceptual and methodological complexities of defining ‘screen time’ with regard to problematic mobile phone, tablet and computer use is scantly acknowledged in the broader digital device literature, which tends to be dominated by the health or psychological components of device use. Recent suggestions for understanding objective measures of screen time have called for the adoption of ‘use’ rather than ‘time’. Capturing ‘use’ in screen research can help to better understand the ways in which time and context affect users and lead to the development of effective intervention strategies.
- How should screen ‘use’ be captured and analysed in education research?
- Are all screen types equal when it comes to their impact on learning and wellbeing?
- More accurate classification and differentiation of screen uses in education research
- Support educators to identify different screen uses and to understand how they impact learning
- Development of educationally relevant measurement tools for screen usage that can help assess learning environments
- Facilitate future research by refining data capture techniques.
Other screen use research that strengthens trust and respect for the teaching profession and school support staff, and/or advances equitable outcomes, opportunities and experiences for students.