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Professor Challenges Students to Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In

Robert P. Doede wants his students to get off Facebook and to skip the latest Harry Potter movie.
Mr. Doede, a philosophy professor at Trinity Western University in British Columbia, offers students extra credit if they don’t use social and traditional media while taking his course. That includes social-networking sites, television, movies, and video games, which they give up in exchange for an extra five percent on their overall grade.
What he found did not surprise him. In their diaries, which the students are required to keep in order to receive the credit, some who took his dare reported that their GPA’s had risen, and others said they had lost weight – probably because of “getting out for face-to-face socializing, and not mindless munching while transfixed the screen,” says Mr. Doede. The students’ overall anxiety levels diminished.
In recent years, he says, he had noticed students’ anxiety levels rising towards the end of class periods. “And one day it dawned on me that this swelling of anxiety might be attributed to the fact that their social lives were still online, owing to social-networking sites, even when they were offline in my class.”
Mr. Doede’s experiment in his course “Issues and Ethics” began two years ago, and he has repeated it with 10 classes of approximately 35 students each. About a quarter of the students attempt the challenge each semester, but only a handful make it to the end of the three-month course.
He says students who decline his offer say the thought of giving up the likes of Twitter and television “arouses panic in them.”
“Most who do take on the fast begin their journals confessing that, though they have invested more time in these technologies than they feel good about, they doubt that they will find it all that difficult to complete the fast,” he says. And nearly all the students who keep up the fast until the course ends conclude that they used to be addicted. “It’s interesting to identify in their journals some of the tell-tale symptoms of addiction withdrawal,” he says.

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