Why I asked my students to stop talking—for a month

It's not news that most people are addicted to their smartphones.

Even worse, a growing body of research suggests that heavy smartphone use hurts mental health and the ability to learn.

Maybe we should just give up technology altogether—for a month, at least.

That's exactly what Justin McDaniel, a religious studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania, asks his students to do, Barbara King reports for NPR. McDaniel's course, "Living Deliberately," offers students the opportunity to experience a monastic life, King writes.

For the monastic month, students cannot use any electronics or speak out loud, McDaniel explains to King in an email. For their coursework, students plan ahead to print copies of assignments, get permission not to speak aloud during discussions, and complete assignments by hand. Outside of class, students lead kindness projects where they garden for the community, volunteer, or make cheese for classmates, McDaniel notes. Finally, students must make a journal entry every 30 minutes while they're awake.

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According to McDaniel, his students actually love taking a break from their electronics. However, they do report feeling lonely during the experiment, he writes.

Self-selection bias may help explain why McDaniel's students succeed at living monastically, King argues. Students who were previously interested in going without technology and speech for a month might be the ones who self-elect to participate. Nevertheless, she concedes, the course offers an interesting glimpse at how our social networks and communities influence our technology use (King, NPR, 11/10).

Related: What's the best way to reward faculty for learning innovations?


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