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PI: Shadbolt, Nigel

Department: Computer Science

Students often struggle to manage their relationship with digital devices such as smartphones and laptops: while these devices are indispensable for academic work, they also present limitless distractions that can undermine students' capacity to focus, and compromise general wellbeing due to disrupted sleep, excessive social media use, etc.

Research in Oxford's Human Centred Computing group has demonstrated solutions in the form of digital self-control tools that help people manage their time and attention on digital devices. This research led to the creation of the 'Reduce Digital Distraction' workshop, which since 2019 has helped equip more than 400 students at Oxford with the tools they need to stay in control. In this workshop, students identify concerns about their digital device use and apply tools from a curated collection relevant to a university context. Data from the intervention shows a large, positive effect on experienced digital self-control (d = 0.6-0.9), suggesting that it could have a major impact in the educational sector, if deployed at scale. The workshop is likely to be especially effective for those who are less tech savvy or more attentionally vulnerable due to conditions like ADHD.

This project will address the remaining barriers to impact, by (1) building partnerships with major stakeholders in mental health in higher education to identify feasible models for sustainable roll-out across the UK; and (2) automating our workflows for participant communication and augmenting workshop materials in key areas (e.g., adding 'how-to videos'), such that the intervention can be deployed to greater numbers of people with maximum impact.

The main project partner is the Oxford University Counselling Service, which provides an ideal foundation from which to form additional partnerships, by leveraging existing relationships with organisations including Heads of University Counselling Services and the Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Expert Group.

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