This is Maura Thomas from RegainYourTime.com. This is part one of my interview with Charles Palmer, the Executive Director of the Center for Advanced Entertainment & Learning Technologies, of Harrisburg University of Science & Technology. Please click the link at the top for an introduction to this interview.
Please click below to hear the transcript, and come back tomorrow and in the coming days to read or listen to the rest of the interview.
MT: So I was just reading up on the Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies. It sounds like a really forward-thinking sort of center at the University.
CP: Yeah, we’re trying to really blur the line between education and entertainment. If you can keep the student engaged, you can teach them things. Prior to being here at Harrisburg I was at Carnegie Mellon and worked at a center where that’s pretty much what the focus was on.
MT: That’s great! I guess, before I get into the questions I sent you, I’m interested to know, now that I’ve read a little bit more about this, what you thought about the ban. Were you involved in the decision?
CP: I was not involved in the original decision but I was brought up to speed well before it went out into the public and just to get ideas and what we could do with it and I have to say, when it first came about, all I could think of was students with pitchforks and faculty saying that they were going to leave the university as soon as they could, but I was pleasantly surprised at how many people actually embraced it or it didn’t really affect them, in some ways.
MT: So you thought that there would be sort of a backlash on the part of the students but it didn’t happen…
CP: I think so because if you think of students in general, anytime they get a chance to bash something and voice their opinion, they will, and not in a bad way, but you know, they’re at that age group where they want to be heard and they want their opinion to be known. So yeah, I really did expect more students to have a problem with it.
MT: Do you think that the fact that it was an experiment, and they knew that it was going to end in a week had anything to do with…
CP: Well, yeah, there are two reasons that made it palatable to them…it was the fact that yes, it was only for a week, for five days, so hey I can do anything for five days.
CP: And the fact that banning it, we were banning it from our academic center, but that doesn’t stop our students from going home, or walking to the local coffee shop and getting online there.
MT: So the academic center, did that include the dorms?
CP: We actually don’t have dorms.
MT: You don’t have dorms, ok, so you’re a commuter school.
CP: We don’t have dorms, right, the majority of our students live within a five block or so…there are other facilities here that students rent apartments from, but we don’t…for another year we won’t have dorms. So you know, there are all those things that have to come into play to where someone…we’re really talking about a student saying, “ok, I guess I can stop doing this for 6 hours a day.”
CP: As opposed to how the media made it sound like it was…seven days of no access. But even then it was really bizarre…how many students could not be six hours away from some of these outlets.
MT: How did you see evidence of that? What kind of things did you see?
CP: Well, we did…throughout the week I sat down and the Provost and I we would sit down with different students and talk to them about how it was going…I brought it up as topics of discussion in my classes. And you get anecdotal evidence of stories of a handful of students that will walk two blocks down the street the hotel, the Hilton hotel, and would sit in the lobby and use the free wireless, which I find very funny because we get students that won’t walk two flights of stairs without taking an elevator between classes. But they find that they can walk all the way…walk two blocks down to get online just to check to see what was going on on FaceBook…you know, what were they missing out on? That was the most common thing that people said, was, “I felt like I was missing out on something.”
MT: Do you think that FaceBook is the primary internet resource that the students use, or at least the one that they miss the most?
CP: Socially, yes. That’s their social outlet and we as an institution completely understand that. It’s not that we were anti-FaceBook at all, it’s just that we wanted to bring light to our students, really we did not expect the media attention we got, but we really wanted our students to think about what these technologies meant to them and how it affected their means of communication. So, we have a number of students that have friends from back home or from high school and that’s their main way of keeping in touch is through FaceBook and letting everyone know where the party is this weekend, or “hey check out this photo of Guido that I took the other day,” that sort of thing and sort of really embracing their own community that they’ve created. Their digital community, the people outside of their circle of physical friends, if you will. So it was really interesting how the conversations changed, then, once we had that bit of their day-to-day lives turned off, for a short period of time and how many student actually came back and said “hey, we were having conversations with other students in the hall. Go figure. I don’t have to text someone to have a conversation.”
Please come back tomorrow for part 2 of my interview with Charles Palmer of Harrisburg University. Thanks for reading!