USA: University of Maryland

Knight Hall: Philip Merrill College of Journalism

College Park, Maryland: Students from three different classes within the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park participated in the ‘the world Unplugged‘ experiment, led by Dr. Susan Moeller, the director of the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA).  Prof. Moeller is Professor of Media and International Affairs in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, an affiliated faculty member at the School of Public Policy and a faculty member of the 2010 Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change in Salzburg, Austria.  Arielle Emmett, a PhD candidate in the College of Journalism, was the instructor for one of the three courses.

Prior to conducting the Unplugged experiment, Prof. Moeller and other professors reviewed the parameters of the assignment to their respective classes. Like students from other schools, students at the University of Maryland, College Park, voiced their concerns regarding the assignment.  The primary concern among students was their inability to communicate with family and friends during the experiment.  After the experiment, student reactions varied.  Said Prof. Moeller, “Many students – perhaps even most – admitted that the exercise had prompted them to recognize that they were ‘addicted’ to media.  They did go on to say, however, that they saw no way they could change their habits.  Yet there were some few students who said that although the experiment was as challenging as they initially thought, that they had gained some important insights into their own behavior and habits, and hoped in the future to not be as distracted as they had been – especially around close family members.”

University background: The University of Maryland, College Park, has a student population of about 37,000.  It is a suburban university located in College Park, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C., the nation’s capital.  The students participating in the study were both racially and economically diverse. The campus is wireless; students have Internet access throughout the University and many computer clusters and computer classrooms exist.  Work online is essential for the completion of assignments in many departments. Essentially all students own cell phones; many own smart phones.

Students’ experience: The majority of students in the three classes participating in the study conducted the experiment in late September 2010.  Students were split on what days during the week they completed the experiment, with some believing leisurely weekends would be more suitable to media abstinence, while others felt busy weekdays engaged with classes might distract them from having to go ‘unplugged.’

Students had to go media-free for a full day (or had to try to go media-free), and then following  their 24 hours of abstinence, the students were then asked to blog about their experiences: to report their successes and admit to any failures, to consider what had they learned about their own consumption of media — and how they felt about to being forced to go without. 

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