Change the world


With South Africans spending an average of 10 hours and 46 minutes daily online, compared to the world average of six hours and 48 minutes according to the latest statistics from Hootsuite, this may well be the case.

Professor Kerry-Lynn Thomson and Dr Dean von Schoultz

Nelson Mandela University PhD recipient Dean von Schoultz had wondered as much about his own online usage, but more so about new undergraduate students.

Young adults entering the higher education sector suddenly exposed to unlimited free internet access, new flexible schedules, and no parental oversight, were surely prone to possible internet addiction?

And, if so, what could be done to address this?

Just as web users can be drawn into new areas – or “rabbit holes” of discovery as they “surf” the Internet, so the then curious MTech software developer’s new research has taken him into new worlds – particularly those related to addictions and behavioural psychology.

“We know very little about internet addiction It has not even been formally recognised. But we do know it is a major problem and needs to be addressed,” says Dr Von Schoultz, who graduated in Gqeberha last month.

The former farm boy from Polokwane, who later moved to Gqeberha with his family matriculated at Alexander Road High School, was supported by Professor Kerry-Lynn Thomson as his supervisor and Professor Johan van Niekerk as his co-supervisor.

As a result of his research, Dr Von Schoultz has developed a framework to assist universities and other institutions of higher education in serving students with monitoring their own online behaviour towards academic success.

“There are very few studies in South Africa about student internet use. We do know that internet addiction (IA) can lead to social anxiety and depression, which are known comorbidities of IA. We need preventative solutions within higher education.”

He has personally witnessed varying degrees of this addiction among his own and fellow students, including neglect of others, anxieties, and reclusiveness.

He says to date, only internet gaming disorder has been considered for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Given the multi-faceted nature of the internet and its relative newness (from about 1995), it is going to be some time before “internet addiction” (IA) is officially included in the DSM and subsequent clinical practice.

“There is no consensus on internet addiction yet, but we do know that it expresses itself differently across cultures; ranges in severity and often coupled with social anxiety, depression, and impulse control disorders. IA is a world-wide problem recognised by numerous scientific domains,” says Dr Von Schoultz, who now lectures at Noroff, the School of Technology and Digital Media in Norway.

In the interim, as the scientists confer, there is no time to dally in providing the means for students to monitor themselves.

Dr Von Schoultz’s research largely focuses on the benefits of cognitive behavioural therapy, specifically self-observation which, thanks to technology can be made available through personal informatics (PI) at scale.

And so, enter the Personal Informatics for Academic Internet Self-Regulatory Efficacy (PAISE) framework, the result of Dr Von Schoultz’s research.

He is confident the PAISE framework can help students monitor, assess, and adapt their usage to avoid high risk addiction at a time when they should be focused on their academic studies.

While informatics on personal internet usage like Screen Time and Rescue Time already exist, the new PAISE framework seeks to help individuals reflect on their data – their behaviour – in an engaging but neutral way, and to monitor this towards academic success.

The study focuses on specific aspects of the data in helping students to respond to the feedback.

But, as Dr Von Schoultz points out, the sharing of personal data on web usage and how it is framed to ensure engagement with the individual, is far from straightforward.

“We are all so different. We react differently to information received depending on numerous factors such as personality traits, goal orientation and cognitive self regulatory strategies. Potentially negative feedback may motivate one person to change their behaviour, while similar information sent to another, may have the opposite effect. In addition, there are other variables, like context and energy levels. It is multi-faceted.”

That is why, going forward, such feedback will need to be personalised.

‘’Marketing campaigns are tailored to individuals for commercial gain. Going forward, it is not such a far stretch in personalising assessment and interventions when it comes to internet usage.”

In the interim, however, the PAISE framework may offer universities a scalable solution in helping students to monitor their own usage.

“Like other therapies, we have looked at observation, judgement, and self-reaction, and believe self-monitoring is the best solution as right now, there is a huge gap and undergraduate students are at considerable risk.

“We believe it is the responsibility of institutions to put measures in place to support their students and are hopeful that PAISE will assist them in this.”

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057