Logged out of Facebook to network with their neurons

September 23, 2010

Students at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology found themselves forbidden from using the Facebook social networking website at the start of the new semester as part of a week-long experiment.

Eric Darr, provost and executive vice-president of the Pennsylvania university, was inspired to initiate the project after witnessing his own daughter's avid use of social media. He said that the aim was to make people think about how they used social media rather than encouraging staff and students to ditch the technology altogether.

"It was never about blocking access; it is about focusing attention on the use of social media," he explained. "That is the bigger goal - not to get people to stop using Facebook, but to think about how they use it and how they can use it in a smarter way."

Charles Palmer, executive director of the university's Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies and associate professor of multimedia, said that the experiment had been "great" for the students and staff.

"This will affect my behaviour in the way I use Facebook, at least in the short term," he predicted.

Professor Palmer said that he had found it "difficult" to go without the networking tools that he used professionally, such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

Ashley Harris, a student in electronic business, said: "I thought it was going to be really difficult not being able to check in with my friends, but now that it is not there, it is actually quite relaxing."

Dr Darr confirmed that Harrisburg was definitely interested in running the experiment again. He said that elements of the project, such as the creative ways to circumvent the ban that some students came up with, may appear in future courses.

"It is clear from the reaction inside and outside the university that social media are important in our lives and worthy of study," he said.

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com.

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