The Unplugged Project

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Here’s an excerpt from “The ‘Unplugged” Project,’  a study I referenced in the latest issue of my email newsletter, The Brilliant Report. You’ll find a full citation at the end.—Annie

The ‘‘Unplugged’’ project helps students become more aware of the time they
typically spend using various media and the role digital media plays in their lives. The
project encourages students to become more thoughtful about how their media use
affects their communication and all aspects of their lives. While digital media is here
to stay, awareness and understanding its role is a first step toward becoming mindful,
critical and intelligent users of these powerful tools, rather than unwitting drones
mindlessly moving from device to device. This assignment has a two-part structure.

Part One
Students record their digital media use for a 24-hour period using a media log. Media include: social networking, emailing, cell phone calls, cell phone texts, music (e.g. radio, IPod), TV/movies, gaming, and other computer applications. Students use an asterisk to indicate when they are multitasking or using more than one medium at a time. At the end of the 24 hours, students total the time spent using a particular medium, the time engaged in media/digital communication during the 24 hours, the time spent sleeping and the amount of “unplugged time” while awake. They turn in the log, along with a two-paragraph response to the following questions: (1) What did you learn about your technology/digital communication use from keeping the log? Did anything surprise you? (2) Were you able to accurately record your multitasking using the log? Did the log accurately reflect your digital media use for the 24-hour period? If not, why not?

Part Two
This is the “Unplugged Challenge.” Students “unplug” from their technology for a 24-hour period (they select a 24-hour period of time on a weekend between Friday evening and Monday morning). For 24 hours, they are to refrain from all digital media use. Only the use of a landline (for emergency purposes) is permitted. Students are encouraged to tell family and friends about this project so they will not worry. Upon completion of this challenge, students reflect on this experience through writing either a short paper or journal entry.

Questions to guide those reflections include:

1. Describe the experience in one word, phrase, or sentence. In other words, sum it up. Now explain that reaction. Create a narrative and provide examples.

2. What was the hardest part about the 24 hours? The easiest part?

3. What, if anything, did you learn about mediated communication in your life? About communication generally?

4. Will you in any way change your use of technology based on what you have learned?
In addition to these four questions, instructors are encouraged to ask questions directly related to the content of their courses.

After students complete the assignment, instructors are encouraged to discuss the “Unplugged Challenge” in class with their students. Possible discussion questions include:

• What are the three most important impacts of digital technology in our lives?

• What does our use of digital technology satisfy in our lives?

• How do digital media affect human communication?

• How does the use of digital technology affect friendships? Family life? Our work lives?

• Describe how you multitask. How does your use of digital technology while multitasking affect the quality of your work on these different tasks?

• Some researchers suggest that digital media use can be addictive. What is your take on this position?

From: Wendy L. Bjorklund , Diana L. Rehling , Paula S. Tompkins and Renee E. Strom
(2012): The “Unplugged” Project, Communication Teacher, 26:2, 92-95.

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