This lesson uses the documentary as a springboard for a project-based research exercise, assigning students to investigate whether Internet addiction is a problem in their community.
Two class periods, plus time for of out-of-class research and writing. There is also an optional third class period for presentations.
- Examine claims of Internet addiction
- Conduct research about peer online time
- Reflect on the impact of their own online habits
Film clips from Web Junkie and equipment on which to show them.
1. Introduce the Activity
Begin by asking students if they've ever heard the term "Internet addiction." What do they think would qualify as being "addicted" to the Internet? Explain that China has been a world leader in developing treatment centers for Internet addiction. Tell students that they are going to view clips from the documentary Web Junkie, which follows the treatment of three Chinese young men who have been diagnosed with Internet addiction. They will then conduct a research project to investigate whether Internet addiction is real and, if it is real, whether it is an issue in their local area.
2. Show the Film Clips
Show the clips and invite initial reactions. (It might be helpful to have students view the clips in small blocks (i.e., four clips at a time), followed by discussion. Solicit initial impressions of the boot camp and whether students think Internet addiction is real or, as one of the young men in the film puts it, "just a social phenomenon." A few guiding questions that might be helpful after viewing the clips:
- Based on the clips, what is Internet addiction? Describe the various "symptoms" and behaviors that are associated with this "addiction."
- Do you think these symptoms and behaviors are a result of only the young men's engagement with the Internet? Discuss.
- Do you agree that what the young men have is an addiction to the Internet? Explain.
- What family issues seem to influence these teens' use of the Internet?
- Given these circumstances, why might the teens be driven to a virtual/digital world?
- In your eyes, do the young men have an Internet addiction, or are they simply participating in the "social phenomenon" of digital engagement? Explain.
- Do you think the young men need a boot camp to treat their Internet usage? Why or why not?
- Could the young men benefit from other types of services? Discuss.
3. Design the Research Process
Pose this question: How can we find out if Internet addiction is a problem among teens in our school or community? Tell students they will tackle this question as a research project.
Divide students into teams of five or six. Have them plan their research. During that process, they should consider:
- What background information do they need? (For example, what is the definition of addiction? Who counts as a "teen"?)
- Who might have answers? (Possible responses include parents, teens, psychologists specializing in treating addiction, teachers.)
- What do you need to ask each source?
- How and when will you do the asking?
- How will you present your findings?
4. Refine the Research Process
Ask the members of each team to present their plan to their classmates, taking comments and questions. The goal is for each team to improve its own research process and the other teams' research processes as well. Eventually they may incorporate each other's findings into their own reports, so everyone has a stake in every team doing well.
Depending on the level and experience of the students, this step should also include discussions of:
- Preserving the privacy of people they survey or interview (including any human subjects research protocols that exist in your school)
- Obtaining necessary permissions (e.g., if they want to conduct surveys of people at the mall, they need to get permission from mall management)
- What constitutes scientifically valid sampling (e.g., the difference between random sampling and just talking to their friends)
- The difference between investigative journalism that gathers information from secondary sources (e.g., psychologists or addiction specialists) and investigation that asks teens directly about their own experiences
- What to do if they encounter someone who is "addicted" or struggling with a problem
Set a deadline for students to turn in their research findings, either as written homework assignments or, if time permits, as presentations to the class. Teams may want to cooperate (e.g., everyone using the same survey questions so they can easily combine results at the end). Then let the research begin.
5. Presenting Findings (OPTIONAL)
Once research is completed, devote a class period to team presentations. Encourage students to take notes during each presentation (these will be useful for the final reflection, as well as the optional extension to create a news feature, which will need to include material from research conducted by the entire class).
After all teams have presented, discuss the findings and aggregate common results (e.g., if four teams each surveyed 25 students, combine results to give percentages based on 100 responses). If there are discrepancies, see if the class can come up with a logical explanation as to why those discrepancies exist.
Invite students to reflect on their research process. If they could do things over, is there anything they would change in order to strengthen their results?
6. Final Reflection
To wrap up the project, invite students to share what they learned about Internet addiction. Help them reflect on their own habits and whether or not they are making healthy choices.
- Have students compare their conclusions with claims made by researchers and cultural critics who deal with teens and media. They might read works by Danah Boyd, Douglas Rushkoff, Howard Gardner or Katie Davis.
- Have students review school policies related to Internet use with their new expertise and recommend any revisions that they deem warranted.
- Using a media format of their choosing, have each team prepare a news feature with the class research findings. For teams using video, the story should be no longer than five minutes. For teams using a print-based format, the story must also include pictures or embedded video clips. Each team should incorporate a reference to the clips from Web Junkie that they saw. Final features should be posted to a classroom website or wiki.
Encourage teams to submit their features to the school newscast or newspaper, or even offer them to a local news outlet (e.g., check your local PBS station to see if they might post it on their website).
- Learn more about teen life in China and compare experiences there with typical teen culture where you live.
POV: Media Literacy Questions for Analyzing POV Films
This list of questions provides a useful starting point for leading rich discussions that challenge students to think critically about documentaries.
American Psychological Association: "Is Internet Addiction Real?"
www.apa.org/monitor/apr00/addiction.aspx - This article summarizes current psychologists' thinking about Internet addiction.
The App Generation
http://theappgenerationbook.com - On the website for the book The App Generation,authors Howard Gardner and Katie Davis investigate the ways young people navigate identity, intimacy and imagination in a digital world.
http://www.danah.org - Danah Boyd researches teen online life and her website explores the intersection between technology and society.
The New York Times: "Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children"
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/06/screen-addiction-is-taking-a-toll-on-children/?_r=0 - In this 2015 article, Jane E. Brody examines the potential effects of screen time and Internet use on adolescents.
www.douglasrushkoff.com - Search the term "addiction" to find relevant articles and interviews on the website of this futurist who specializes in media effects.