A research team led by Dr. Charmaraman and Drummond-Forrester conducted a survey of 100 middle school staff, administrators, and parents which indicated that healthy relationships—particularly online—and mental health were top priorities in the middle school years. This led Open Circle, a legacy program of WCW, and the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab to collaborate on analyzing data linking social and emotional learning (SEL) to student social technology use. Funded by the Morningstar Family Foundation, the researchers are now developing age-appropriate teaching methods of merging digital wellbeing with SEL in middle school.
In summer 2020, the researchers partnered with a Wellesley College computer science faculty member, Catherine Delcourt, to develop and pilot potential curricular units in a remote digital wellbeing workshop for middle school students. Those curricular units were further refined in a summer 2021 workshop, which featured small break-out group discussions and journaling activities exploring various Open Circle legacy units. The summer 2021 workshop also focused on the digital wellbeing of girls, with gender-specific units on online self-regulation, digital relationship skills, and digital citizenship.
The next phase of the work will be to develop lessons focused on online peer pressure/social regulation and promoting authentic online identities. The researchers plan to conduct a focus group with teaching and counseling staff from a wide pool of schools, both urban and suburban. They are also forming a Youth Advisory Board consisting of middle school, high school, and college-age youth who will engage with the team to co-develop and refine lessons and strategic planning. With this feedback, the researchers will aim to conduct an evaluation of the lessons in a middle school to collect feedback and inform the final curriculum development.