The Cognition and Technology Research Group is based in the Information Science department at Stellenbosch University. We conduct research projects concerning the interplay between human cognition and emerging digital technologies. Our current research themes include human behaviour around technology, the impact of technology engagement on human cognition, and the replacement of human labour with computer-driven machinery.
What have we been up to recently?
CTRG Presents Research at SOTL and Milton H Erikson Conference
In late October CTRG member Douglas Parry had the opportunity to present our work at two local conferences. At the Milton H. Erikson annual conference, he presented on the topic: Permanently Online, Permanently Connected: Media Multitasking and Distractibility – Is it so bad and What can we do about it? At the Stellenbosch University Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) annual conference he presented on the topic: Lecturer versus Smartphone: Towards a Policy for Teaching Distracted Minds.
Read the abstract
Personal use of mobile devices like smartphones and laptops is prevalent in academic settings like lectures, practical classes and personal study sessions (Abramova et al., 2017). When students’ media use aligns with academic tasks, it can promote learning outcomes (Kong and Song, 2015). Evidence suggests, however, that the majority of media use is unrelated to academic activities (Zhang and Zhang, 2012). This is referred to as off-task media use (OTMU) and, as is evident in recent studies, it presents as a disruption, distracting both users and those around them (Chen and Yan, 2016).
For both policy specification and lecture presentation OTMU poses a challenge for learning institutions. While some lecturers impose restrictive policies, others adopt passive stances, allowing students to use their devices as they deem appropriate (Berger, 2017). Researchers have called for investigations of policies that seek a solution which empowers students to leverage the value of media but curb the disrupting effects of unchecked OTMU.
In this study, we conducted an exploratory mixed-methods assessment of a media-use policy in a semester-long course. This policy divided the lecture theatre into two sections, one for those who wished to use digital devices and one for those who did not. Such a policy empowered students to leverage the value of media if desired while affording those who wished not to use media or be disrupted by their peers’ media-use, a degree of protection from distracting cues. Through attendance and mark analysis, it was found that those who consistently selected the same side performed better than those who moved from side to side. Additionally, through two focus groups, it was found that the policy heightened awareness of the possible distractions of OTMU, enabling the identification and maintenance of a strategy for in-lecture attentional allocation and behaviour. This study suggests that, while it is important to be aware of OTMU in lectures, it is also necessary to acknowledge the strategies students bring to lectures and how policies can be implemented and enforced to facilitate the acquisition and enhancement of attentional strategies aligned with a course’s learning outcomes.
CTRG Discusses Research on 702 Talk Radio
On 24 July Dr. Daniel le Roux was interviewed by Azania Mosaka on Radio 702. Listen below to hear him discuss automation and employment and how this might play out in South Africa.
Radio Interview about Automation and Employment
On 20 July 2018 Daniel le Roux was interviewed on Classic Business Breakfast with Moneyweb on Classic FM. The interview concerned his research on the potential implications of automation for the South African labour market. Listen to the interview below.
Panel Discussion on the 4th Industrial Revolution in South Africa
On 19 July 2018, the CTRG attended a Leader’s Angle panel discussion hosted by the University of Stellenbosch Business School. The panel discussion was facilitated by Martin Butler and featured Dr Albert Strever, Alison Jacobson, and Prof Thomas Thurner as speakers. The panel discussion was on the impact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will have on South Africa. The initial discussion was on the readiness of South Africa for 4IR. It was discussed that the capabilities of technologies will expand to not only replace routine jobs but those that also require creativity. There will be a need for labour to acquire skills that will complement automation. As the capabilities of automation continuously expand, labour will be required to adopt a mindset of continuous learning. The subsequent discussion was on the use of 4IR technologies in agriculture. Panelists pointed out that labour regulation obstructs the adoption of automation technologies. The final discussion was on the consequences and strategies from the adoption of 4IR in business. The main strategy amongst businesses with this revolution is that companies expand or innovate upon existing solutions in niche markets. This allows companies to collaborate and provide new solutions quicker. South African companies can, therefore, compete globally in niche markets for demand big companies are not fulfilling.
SACLA 2018, best paper and Springer CCIS publication
In a new article (soon to be published in an upcoming volume of Springer’s ‘Communications in Computer and Information Science’ series) by Douglas Parry and Daniel le Roux, the determinants of off-task media use (OTMU) in lectures are considered.
Daniel le Roux recently presented this paper at the 2018 annual conference of the South African Computer Lecturers Association, where it received the best paper award (Pictured: Douglas Parry with the award).
Read the abstract
A strong body of evidence indicates that university students frequently engage in off-task media use (OTMU) during lectures. While the bulk of research in this area has considered the frequency, and impact of such behaviour through quantitative methods, little work concerning the subjective and contextual factors that determine OTMU in academic settings has been conducted. In this study we adopt a qualitative approach to consider the determinants of this behaviour. We collected data through a series of focus groups involving undergraduate students. Seven key factors that determine students’ OTMU in lectures are identified: OTMU policy, OTMU norms, Fear of missing out, Grit, Control over technology, Quality of lecture, and Visibility of peers’ OTMU. We propose a model which specifies the interrelationships between these factors and discuss, on this basis, how institutions and lecturers can navigate the challenges posed by OTMU in lectures.
New Article Published on the Possible Future Impact of Automation on Labour Demand in South Africa
Daniel le Roux recently published a new article investigating the impact of automation on labour demand in South Africa. In the two centuries since the Industrial Revolution technological progress has had a major impact on the types of work humans perform. The invention of increasingly advanced machinery decreases, on one hand, the need for certain forms of manual labour while, on the other, creating new needs and new types of work. Through continuous cycles of this process advanced industries have emerged enabling standards of living to rise across the world. The most recent wave of technological progress is characterized by increasingly intelligent computers and computer-driven machinery. This has coincided with the rise of economic inequality in previously egalitarian countries, prompting debate over the implications of the computer revolution for low and medium-skilled workers. In this study focus falls on the possible implications of these developments for the South African labour market. By using an oft-cited index of occupation computerization probabilities in combination with Stats SA labour market data, a future outlook is determined and presented. Findings suggest that the occupations performed by almost 35% of South African workers (roughly 4.5 million people) are potentially automatable in the near future.
Daan le Roux discusses the effects of Media Multitasking with clinical team at Zithulele Hospital
In April 2018 Daniel le Roux was invited to present a talk on media multitasking to the clinical team at Zithulele hospital. The hospital is located in a rural part of the Eastern Cape province in South Africa. The clinical team at the hospital have, over time, organically developed an informal communication system based on instant messaging to ensure effective and efficient work systems in the hospital. However, they are wary of the effects that continuous media-based communication may have on the quality of their work and their well-being in the workplace. An interesting discussion ensued about the balance between the value of mediated communication and the negative effects of chronic media multitasking.
Winneke van der Schuur talks about her Research in Stellenbosch
Winneke van der Schuur recently completed her PhD at the University of Amsterdam in which she investigated the effects of media multitasking on four aspects of adolescents’ lives: attention, academic performance, socioemotional functioning and sleep. On 30 January 2018 she visited the CTRG in Stellenbosch and presented a talk on the findings of her study.
Read the abstract of her thesis
Juggling with media: The consequences of media multitasking for adolescent development
More than ever, adolescents juggle with media. They use multiple media simultaneously, for example, they send text messages to their friends while watching a movie. In addition, they use media during academic and social activities, such as watching YouTube videos while doing homework. Although this rise in media multitasking among adolescents is almost inevitable, researchers have expressed concerns that media multitasking may be harmful for several aspects of adolescent development, such as attention, academic achievement, socioemotional functioning, and sleep. Despite these concerns, empirical evidence regarding potential negative consequences of media multitasking on adolescent development was limited. All chapters of this dissertation show that media multitasking and adolescent development are cross-sectionally related. However, findings on the actual impact of media multitasking on adolescent development are more nuanced. This dissertation has solely yielded small long-term relationships between media multitasking and some aspects of adolescent development. Although the conclusion might be that media multitasking is less problematic for adolescent development than often assumed, the findings do emphasize that there is still reason for caution regarding specific developmental domains, such as attention and sleep. Considering that media and communication devices will become increasingly integrated into adolescents’ lives, it is expected that media multitasking will continue to rise among adolescents. Therefore, the question on how adolescents should deal with the omnipresence of media and communication devices becomes even more important in the upcoming years.
Visit to the University Potsdam in November 2017
In November, Dr. Daniel le Roux and Douglas Parry presented a seminar at the Chair for Business Informatics, esp. Social Media and Data Science at Potsdam University, on the latest research concerning media multitasking and cognition. This seminar focused specifically on the methodological state of research in this domain, and the implications this has for findings and future studies. A brief overview of the presentation is available on their website, with photos on the Facebook page.
CTRG Members present papers at CyberSpace 17
In November 2017 Daniel le Roux and Doug Parry presented papers at the 15th edition of the International Conference about Cybersecurity, Cyber-Warfare, Cybercrime, Digital Evidence, eCommerce, Government 2.0, eJustice, ODR, Intellectual Property Online, Privacy and Personal Data, New Media and Politics. The conference was hosted by Masaryk University and presented in Brno, Czech Republic.
The abstracts of the papers are available below.
Metaphors of Social Media - Read the abstract
The increasing agency of social media platforms in the lives of individuals, institutions and societies across all demographic spheres has cultivated a diverse and rapidly expanding domain of research. With the aim of advancing conceptual clarity in this domain this paper proposes four metaphors of social media to cultivate critical reflection about various aspects of these phenomena. Each metaphor is utilised as a lens through which the three primary affordance categories of prominent social media platforms (following, sharing and reacting) are analysed. This is done in relation to, firstly, users’ goals and, secondly, the implications of use behaviour for identity construction and social network formation. The four metaphors are social media as a Town Square; social media as a Beauty Pageant; social media as a Parliament; and, finally, social media as a Masquerade Ball. Social media as a Town Square concerns its role as a place where important, urgent or entertaining information is shared by influential sources and the dynamics of competition for viewers’ attention among content creators. Social media as a Beauty Pageant illuminates aspects of the presentation of self to others and users’ joint roles as judges and participants. Social media as Parliament concerns its role as a public space where competing perspectives are communicated as part of continuous debates over salient topics. Finally, social media as a Masquerade Ball explores the partial or complete obscuration of users’ true identities and the associated behavioural patterns.
Irresistible Media: Why do Students Media Multitask? - Read the abstract
Extensive, habitual off-task media multitasking has become a defining feature of today’s university students. Results from previous studies adopting quantitative methodologies indicate that media multitasking holds the potential to negatively impact academic outcomes. Against this backdrop, this study adopts a qualitative approach to investigating students’ behavioural beliefs surrounding media use; the triggers underlying media use; and, students’ behavioural patterns with media. To address these objectives five focus groups were conducted, involving a total of 30 undergraduate students. Discussion within the focus groups was guided by prominent theories of human behaviour, as well as the outcomes of previous studies. Following thematic analysis of the focus groups a number of notable themes were identified. The core finding emerging in this study is how students reason about the implications of media.
CTRG Presents a Seminar at the Whitaker Institute for Innovation and Societal Change at NUI Galway:
In November 2017 Daniel le Roux and Douglas Parry presented a research seminar to members of the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway. In this seminar they provided an overview of recent research concerning media multitasking and cognition, evaluating current methodologies, findings and interpretations. They concluded by offering suggestions of where research in this domain is moving in the near future.
Read the abstract
In the eight years since the publication of the Ophir, Nass and Wagner (2009) seminal study of the effects of high levels of media multitasking on cognitive performance, numerous subsequent studies have considered the relationship between these two constructs. But are we any closer to understanding their interaction?
One would expect that, over time, the nature of this relationship would become elucidated given the growth in the body of evidence produced through scientific inquiry. However, many of the subsequent studies produced inconsistent and disparate outcomes. In particular, two categories of hypotheses have emerged on the basis of recent empirical findings. The first category, which includes the breadth-bias, the self-selection and the strategic hypotheses describes how underlying individual differences drive media multitasking, and, that these differences, rather than media use behaviour, explain diminished performance on laboratory assessments of cognitive control. The second category, promoting a deficit-producing hypotheses, proposes that media multitasking leads to changes in cognition. While both of these categories hold interesting value for future research, empirical evidence is weak, inconsistent and based on small sample sizes. In particular, a number of methodological and conceptual factors are hindering progress in this regard. Nonetheless, either category of hypotheses poses challenges for the future of mediated interactions. If media multitasking causes reductions in cognitive control, there are profound ramifications for performance, both in academic, and in industrial settings. This talk will present and discuss state-of-the-art research on media multitasking and cognition, and suggest directions for future research.
CTRG Discusses Research on CapeTalk Radio
New article published in the Journal of Computers in Human Behaviour
A new article by Daniel le Roux and Douglas Parry has been published in the Journal of Computers in Human Behaviour. In the article we consider the role of subject area in the relationship between media-multitasking and academic performance. Our findings partly contradicts earlier findings in this area and indicate that students in the soft sciences may be more susceptible to the distractions posed by smartphones than their peers from other faculties.
The article is available here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563217304983
Read the abstract
The current generation of university students display an increasing propensity for media multitasking behaviour with digital devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. A growing body of empirical evidence has shown that this behaviour is associated with reduced academic performance. In this study it is proposed that the subject area within which an individual is situated may influence the relationship between media multitasking and academic performance. This proposition is evaluated, firstly, by means of a meta-review of prior studies in this area and, secondly, through a survey-based study of 1678 students at a large university in South Africa. Our findings suggest that little or no attention has been paid to variations between students from different subject areas in previous work and, based on our data, that subject area does influence the relationship between media use and academic performance. The study found that while a significant negative correlation exists between in-lecture media use and academic performance for students in the Arts and Social Sciences, the same pattern is not observable for students in the faculties of Engineering, Economic and Management Sciences, and Medical and Health Sciences.
Listen to a five-minute presentation of the study
CTRG presents findings at SACLA 2017
Doug Parry recently presented a paper on the norms and beliefs around media use in academic settings at the South African Computer Lecturers Association’s annual conference in Gauteng.
Read the abstract
The growing presence of digital media in the lives of university students signals a change in how use of such media in educational contexts should be viewed. Institutional focus on technologically mediated education and the promotion of blended learning initiatives further serve to encourage media use in academic settings. Scant attention has been afforded to the potential negative consequences arising from heightened media engagement. This is especially the case in areas of study where technological artifacts are often the medium and the subject of interest, for instance the computer and information sciences. In this study a survey methodology (n=1 678) is employed to investigate students’ use of media, as well as the behavioural beliefs, norms and motivators surrounding such use. Findings suggest that demographic factors are irrelevant as predictors of media use — off-task media use during lectures is the norm for all students. Furthermore, no link has been found between institutional attempts to curb off-task media use and changes in students’ behaviour. In terms of beliefs, our findings suggest that even students who believe use in academic contexts to be unacceptable, still frequently engage in media use in such contexts. While we acknowledge the value of, and certainly encourage continued blended learning initiatives, our findings raise a red flag regarding their implementation.
CTRG discusses research on RSG 100 – 104 FM
Daniel le Roux was recently interviewed by Heindrich Wyngaard for RSG about the recent research findings concerning how students, as millennials use media, and how this media multitasking impacts their academic performance.
CTRG welcomes new members
Four new members have joined the CTRG, working on some new and exciting projects! Wikus Du Plessis, Melissa Muller, Samantha Warmerdam and York Senior have joined the CTRG, specifically working in the New Media and Cognitive Control research theme.
CTRG Member Jean Louis Leysens graduates Cum Laude
Jaen-Louis Leysens, a member of the CTRG in 2014 and 2015 received his MA (Socio-Informatics) degree cum laude in December 2016. Here he is with supervisor, Daniel le Roux.
Visit to the University Potsdam in November 2016
Daniel le Roux visited the University of Potsdam in November 2016. He presented some of the CTRG research for the students to Prof. Hanna Krasnova, the Chair for Social Media and Data Science. A brief overview of the presentation is available on their website.
CTRG Participates in SoTL 2016
Doug Parry presented some findings from research within the CTRG relating to teaching and learning at the 2016 edition of the Stellenbosch Scholarship of Teaching and Learning conference.
CTRG discusses research on MFM 92.6
Jean-Louis Leysens and Doug Parry were recently interviewed by MFM, discussing their recent findings presented at SAICSIT 2016 and a call for participation in upcoming studies.
A recording of the interview is available below.
About Our Research
The growing prevalence of continuous media use has potentially detrimental effects for cognitive control. Our research adopts a variety of techniques and methodologies to investigate the implications of digital media multitasking for attention management, learning and task performance. A growing body of evidence suggests that high levels of media multitasking is associated with reduced concentration as a result of its implications for inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, working memory and attention control.
Parry, D. A., le Roux, D. B., (2018) In-lecture Media Use and Academic Performance: Investigating Demographic and Intentional Moderators. South African Computer Journal 30(1), 85-107. [Download Open Access Article]
le Roux, D. B. (2018). Automation and employment: The case of South Africa. African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development, 0(0), 1–11. http://doi.org/10.1080/20421338.2018.1478482 [Download Manuscript]
le Roux D.B., Parry D.A. (2017) A New Generation of Students: Digital Media in Academic Contexts. In: Liebenberg J., Gruner S. (eds) ICT Education. SACLA 2017. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 730. Springer, Cham [Download Manuscript]
Leysens, J., Le Roux, D. B., & Parry, D. (2016). Can I have your attention please? An empirical investigation of media multitasking during university lectures. In Proceedings of the 2015 Annual Research Conference on South African Institute of Computer Scientists and Information Technologists. Johannesburg. [Download Manuscript]
Parry, D. A., le Roux, D. B. & Cornelissen, L. A. (2018). Lecturer versus Smartphone: Towards a Policy for Teaching Distracted Minds. Paper Presented at the 11th Annual Scholarship for Teaching and Learning Conference (SOTL). 29-31 October 2018. Somerset West, South Africa.
Parry, D., Le Roux, D. B. (2017). Irresistible Media: Why do Students Media Multitask? Paper presented at the 2017 International CyberSpace Conference. Brno, Czech Republic.
Le Roux, D. B., Parry, D. (2017). Metaphors of Social Media. Paper presented at the 2017 International CyberSpace Conference. Brno, Czech Republic.
Parry, D. A., and le Roux D. B. (2017). Smartphones in lectures. Is Resistance Futile? Paper presented at the 10th Annual Scholarship for Teaching and Learning Conference (SOTL). 24-25 October 2017. Somerset West.
Le Roux, D. B., Parry, D., & Leysens, J. (2016). Smart Phones, Stupid People? Paper presented at the 14th International CyberSpace Conference. Brno, Czech Republic.
Parry, DA., le Roux DB, Leysens JL. (2016). Media Multitasking in Academic Contexts: An Empirical Analysis of Media Use Within University lectures. Paper presented at the 9th Annual Scholarship for Teaching and Learning conference (SOTL). 24-25 October 2016. Somerset West.
Parry, D.A. and le Roux D. B. (2018) Permanently Online, Permanently Connected: Media Multitasking and Distractibility – Is It So Bad and What Can We Do About It? Milton H. Erikson Annual Conference 2018. Somerset West, South Africa.
le Roux, D.B., Parry, D.A., (2017) The Relationship Between Media Multitasking and Cognition – What Do We Know? Seminar Presented at the Whitaker Institute for Innovation and Societal Change, NUI Galway.
le Roux, D.B., Parry, D.A., (2017) Media Multitasking and Distractibility: Where we are, how we got here and where we’re going. Seminar Presented at the Chair for Business Informatics, Social Media and Data Science, University of Potsdam, Germany.
Meet the Team
Dr. Daniel B. le Roux
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a range of projects that concern the effects of media multitasking on aspects such as cognitive control, anxiety, job satisfaction and personal productivity.
Mr. Douglas A. Parry
Personal site: dougaparry.me
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working towards a doctoral degree specifically focusing on media multitasking and cognitive control. Additionally, I am involved in projects concerning the implications of behaviour with media for learning, attention, and affective wellbeing.
Rapidly advancing computing technologies are starting to replace human workers in an increasingly great variety of occupations. In this project we’ll be looking at university students’ perceptions of the automation of work and how this influences their decision making about fields of study and career directions.
Anke Pretorius and Monique De Waal
Recent studies have shown that chronic media multitasking is associated with lower academic performance. This effect, some have argue, may be attributed to particular media combinations. In this project we’ll be examining this possibility in greater detail by looking at different forms of multitasking which involves particular pairs of media, and the relationship of these forms of multitasking with academic performance.
Mila Daly, MJ Nieuwoudt, Amy Broughton and Nickel Marx
The current generation of adolescents are utilizing multiple digital social media platforms to interact with each other. Has this form of interaction changed the desire for and nature of regular, face-to-face social interaction among members of this generation? In this project we are investigating individuals’ online and offline socialization patterns to identify trends that may indicate how social media influence the social lives of adolescents.
International Research Partners
Dr Eoin Whelan
Dr. Whelan is a Lecturer in Business Information Systems at the National University of Ireland, Galway. His research interests focus on understanding how technologies such as social media and big data influence productivity, innovation, and decision making. His publications on these topics have appeared in the 3* journals MIT Sloan Management Review, Information Systems Journal, R&D Management, Journal of Information Technology, and Information & Organization. His MIT Sloan paper has recently won the prestigious Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize for 2013, awarded to the authors of the most outstanding MIT Sloan article on planned change and organisational development.
Prof Hanna Krasnova
Hanna Krasnova is a professor at the Chair of Business Informatics Social Media and Data Science at the University of Potsdam. Hanna has got her doctoral degree and habilitation from the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in Germany, and was previously employed as an Assistant Professor at the University of Bern in Switzerland. In her research she addresses the issues of social, individual and enterprise value of the emerging social media applications. She is the author of over 40 research articles published in the Information Systems Research (ISR), Journal of Information Technology (JIT), Journal of Strategic Information Systems, Journal of Wirtschaftsinformatik (WI / BISE), Identity in the Information Society Journal, International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS) as well as other IS conferences. Her recent research about Facebook envy has been awarded the Best Paper Award at the International Conference on Wirtschaftsinformatik in 2013 and has been covered by all major news outlets worldwide, including CNN, NBC, and REUTERS. Hanna has also been awarded a prize from the Dalle Molle Foundation for her research ideas on the link between social media use and depression among adolescents.
We are always on the lookout for bright minds to join the CTRG!
- Prospective post-graduate students that are interested in conducting research in this area can do so by enrolling for the MA (Socio-Informatics) programme.
- We also welcome post-graduate students from other disciplines that share our research interests.
- Researchers from other South African or international institutions that wish to propose collaborative projects can contact Daan le Roux at [email protected] or +27 (21) 808 3803.