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This is Maura Thomas from RegainYourTime.com. This is part two 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 of the page to read earlier parts.

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.

Palmer Interview Segment 2

MT: Well before…I’m dying to hear about this…that kind of feedback and those results…can you tell me a little bit about how the idea came about?  Was there a specific…was there a catalyst? Or did it just sort of come out of a discussion?

CP: There was sort of a catalyst.  Our provost, Eric Darr, Dr. Eric Darr, Eric Darr was thinking about this for a while, but he said one day he was sitting there watching his daughter, and she had multiple chat windows open, her iphone was on, she was listening to music, she was, no, her iphone was on for another session, she was streaming Pandora, she was watching TV, and FaceBook open as well.  Doing all these things and just looking at her…I’m sorry?

MT: How old is his daughter?

CP: Oh, she is 16.

MT: 16, ok.

CP: Yeah, and this…just this idea of “holy heck, she is really engaged in all these things, but what is the level of that engagement, and how meaningful are some of those conversations that she’s having.  Is multitasking true?  Can people really carry on quality engagements at that level, at that frequency.”  So his idea was, well, our students do that at the university.  What if they didn’t have access to that?  What would that mean for them personally?  And what would that mean for them as a student at a highly technical university?

MT: The goal, at least as I read about it, the goal was to challenge the student body to think about their…and probably the faculty as well, to think about their reliance on social media?

CP: Exactly.

MT: Is that an accurate statement as a goal?

CP: Yeah, yeah, exactly.  How does it impact your daily life, and is it the best way of going about some of those things.

MT: Do you have a specific plan to measure that goal?

CP: We use the word “experiment” extremely lightly.  This was more of just “hey, let’s get together, let’s think about this, let’s try this little thing, because we’re a smaller university and…quite frankly, most of the larger…I can’t think of another university that could do it for an entire week, just shut everything off like we did.

MT: Did you just block FaceBook, or did you take away…you take away internet access, right?

CP: No, we blocked all the ports that the social networking applications use.  So, there are certain ports that FaceBook will hit on a firewall, and Twitter, and YouTube, and some of the chat, instant messaging softwares, they hit particular ports on the firewall, so those were just turned off.  And LinkedIn, LinkedIn was probably a huge one that people didn’t expect.

MT: Ok, so you still had internet access, you just blocked access to…primarily social media.

CP: Exactly.

MT: Ok.  Do you think that that goal, of challenging people to think about it, to think about their reliance, and the way that they communicated, was achieved?

CP: It was, yeah, we had a three focus groups, or two focus groups after the event, to try and find out what people thought about it, how it reallly impacted their day-to-day life.  We figured about 15% of our students actually engaged in the…abstinence is sort of a better word, of social media.  As as I said earlier, that’s not including of course those students who walked down the street to get access, or couldn’t wait to get home to get online.  But we did have a number of people who really did just stay away from it.  And we had a number of students who said, “you know what, it didn’t impact my daily life that much…I’m not tweeting, I’m not a big FaceBook user that I need to be accessing it all the time.”

MT: Did you ask them?

CP: Yes, we had a focus group…

MT: No, I mean did you ask them to refrain during the ban?

CP: Yes.

MT: Ok.

CP: Yes, so it was “hey students, there is this ban that’s going on in the building…” There were a lot of emails and a lot of conversation that went on and we’d love to hear your response.  They all knew that in a couple of our GenEd courses they were going to have a write a paper on the experience at the end of it.  So I think that’s why we got a number of students who really refrained from it.  We asked, we didn’t sort of say, “hey, you must.  We can limit you in the building but you can do whatever you want outside of the building.”  And, you know, as Jimmy Kimmel said, most of our students have smartphones.  So…

MT: Right.

CP: That doesn’t really hinder that usage except inside of the classroom.  Which was one of the things of interest, of note, that came out of the focus group, was how many students actually use social media in their classes as a means of distraction.  Yeah.  As a distraction from the lecture that was going on.

MT: Sure.

CP: It’s funny, the provost and I were sitting with a group of students, and one student said, “wow, I really have to pay attention in class now.”    We just stared at him.  He realized about the time that it actually left his mouth, what he had said, but were just like, “really?”

(Laughing)

Please come back tomorrow for part 3 of my interview with Charles Palmer of Harrisburg University.  Thanks for reading!

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