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The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Students Go Tech-Free for Class

At the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, students who enroll in a special course taught by Justin McDaniel, professor of religious studies, get to experience a taste of the monastic life, including a vow of silence. In what may be even more of a trial for digital natives, they also relinquish use of their phone, texts, Internet, computer, TV, and radio for a month.

Rather than phone-addicted students running the other way, the pool of applicants is larger than the class can accommodate.

The tech abstinence extends beyond just the course, which is called Living Deliberately: Monks, Saints, and the Contemplative Life. They aren’t supposed to speak to anyone, including family, classmates, or even professors teaching other classes (in the event of an emergency, they can speak to family members, police, or health-care workers). They can’t use the web or computers for other classes either, having to acquire printed copies of readings and use handwritten notes to communicate with instructors and workgroups.

Other aspects of the course include writing in a journal every 30 minutes as long as they’re awake and taking part in kindness projects on campus or in the community.

McDaniel told NPR that it was surprisingly easy for the students to go cold turkey on their electronics. “What is hard is a feeling that they are missing out on activities, chances to meet other people (in person), and loneliness,” he said. “They actually love not having the electronics.”

He added that very few students in the course try to sneak in tech use—and when they do he can usually spot it from their behavior and their journal entries.

As NPR noted, the course suggests that patterns of tech use, including addiction, may be shaped more by the communities of which we’re a part—in other words, by people—than by neural interactions with the technology itself.

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