• September 5, 2015

Episode 75: Should Colleges Encourage Better Tech/Life Balance?

Naomi Baron

Courtesy of Naomi Baron

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Courtesy of Naomi Baron

Naomi S. Baron, a linguistics professor at American University, studies how cell phones and online messaging change social interactions. She talks to the Tech Therapy team about her concern that colleges push too much technology on students and professors. Should colleges encourage e-mail-free Fridays?

Download this recording as an MP3 file, or subscribe to Tech Therapy on iTunes.

Each month, The Chronicle's Tech Therapy podcast offers analysis and advice on what the latest gadgets and buzzwords mean for professors, administrators, and students. Join hosts Jeff Young, a Chronicle reporter, and Warren Arbogast, a technology consultant who works with colleges, for a lively discussion—as well as interviews with leading thinkers in technology.


1. paievoli - September 10, 2010 at 07:23 am

This is exactly what should be done right now. Since the entire world economic structure has switched to a digital platform what we as a country need to do to ensure our place on the global stage is to cut back every form and use of technology. We shouldn't try to catch up with countries like South Korea, Japan and the rest of Europe what we should do is stop using technology so that we can rightfully assume or role as the biggest and presumably wealthiest third world nation. Perfect idea.

2. paievoli - September 10, 2010 at 07:25 am

Oh by the way I love the fact that the lectures are available on iTunes - no cassettes, 8 tracks, 45s or 78s? What about microfiche?

3. qv_library - September 10, 2010 at 08:11 am

Sounds like an older academic who herself is somewhat overwhelmed by technology-change, and is projecting her anxieties through "the data" and "her studies." Do we want "better tech/life balance"? Depends on what you mean by this. Are people "pushed" by their colleges and universities to use more technology? In many cases, yes... but the institutions are not making this up on their own or promoting such usage in a vacuum, in a world where such usage has become part of "opportunity structures" in societies and in the economy. Professor Baron's approach sounds like a bit more sophisticated version of a typical complaint from a 'seasoned' professional now made anxious by a changing social context. As the now-classic YouTube video reminds us however, "Shift Happens."

4. landrumkelly - September 10, 2010 at 09:31 am

E-mail free Fridays would mean that we would have a mess in our mailboxes come the weekends.

5. jrlupton - September 10, 2010 at 09:31 am

A lot of common sense in there. We are in a sea change, and at the other end of it, a lot of norms will have fallen into place. Right now, in our classrooms, we need to set guidelines (and be willing to change them). We should also follow themselves (don't text during a faculty meeting!)

6. landrumkelly - September 10, 2010 at 09:34 am

The ideal would be that no one either mandates technology nor mandates against it, rather, makes it available with support and training.

It might be time to start pushing back against pushy administrations that keep meddling in the classroom.

7. tgroleau - September 10, 2010 at 09:41 am

Perhaps it's just me, but isn't it a bit ironic that we're using a virtual discussion tool to comment on potential overuse of technology?

On the other hand, perhaps it's totally appropriate. This forum might demonstrate both the pros and cons of virtual media.

Cons - I don't know who most of you really are. Even if I can decipher your name from your userid or your posts, I've probably never met you in the real world. One could say that this discussion would be more fruitful if I had it face-to-face with colleagues I already know and who's judgement I already trust (or don't). Time I spend reading and commenting on Chronicle articles could be time I lose in developing my personality, my network, and my career. It's also very difficult to carry on a dialogue on-line. There's a little back & forth but the timing is jumpy.

Pros - I don't know who most of you really are. In my day-to-day work world, I'm restricted to a rather small cohort of faculty colleagues. Many of us have been here more than 10 years and our common experience here could cause us to approach questions with the same viewpoint. By reaching out to near-strangers in the virtual world, I get a much broader perspective than I'd get down the hall. Since it's hard to carry on a traditional dialogue on-line, I can't easily interupt your thoughts (and vice versa) so the discussion might be cleaner with more complete thoughts.

Back to the main point - I don't want my students less versed in technology but I do want to them understand the limits and advantages of text-based media (or any asynchronus communication) and both the value and the risks of taking comments from strangers as expert input on any subject (i.e. crowdsourcing).

Maybe, just maybe, an occasional campus-wide "no electronic communication day" would be highly educational (I'd include television, landline phones and PowerPoint presentations as electronic).

8. der_gadfly - September 10, 2010 at 03:49 pm

Nice tongue in cheek work paievoli.... haven't seen anyone besides myself plant an intelligent red herring in a thread in a while. Made me laugh.

Email free Fridays..... how about memo-free Mondays? Telephone-free Tuesdays? Whiteboard-free Wednesdays? Committee-free Thursdays? Research-free evenings and weekends?

The technology train is on the tracks, with Casey Jones a-driving: Get on, step aside, or get run over.

If I am in a forest and I do not open my email, dod the tree really fall?

9. arrive2__net - September 10, 2010 at 07:52 pm

The central point is to make sure technology is serving you and not the reverse. Having a tech use policy in the course syllabus, and seeking some kind of administrative policy on it makes sense to me. Like Professor Baron said, enforcing it could be an issue, but in teaching there are always some kind of issue. I wouldn't recommend throwing a student's cell phone out the window into a snow bank ... or whatever. The prof will have to live with his or her own policy, you can't have your cell ringing while everybody else's is banned. Professor Baron also mentioned the technology oneupsmanship phenomenon. That's a tough one, but sometimes you do have to be tough in academe. Another issue in the age of adult students...and cell phones... is that most parents like to be able to answer an emergency call from home if it were to happen.

Bernard Schuster

10. landrumkelly - September 11, 2010 at 11:41 pm

"If I am in a forest and I do not open my email, did the tree really fall?"

No, the question is this: if you did not open and read your e-mail, did anyone really send you e-mail?

11. derekbruff - September 26, 2010 at 09:51 am

Just listened to the podcast. Prof. Baron makes a really good point that the technology should serve the learning objectives of the course. There are teaching contexts in which engaged, face-to-face discussions are the best way to go, and in those contexts, it seems perfectly fine to ask students to close their laptops.

In other teaching contexts, it's an important goal to have students learn how to find, evaluate, and use information available online. Sure, those skills could be shifted to out-of-class homework assignments, but given the near-ubiquity of laptops, smart phones, and Wifi, those skills can be explored in the classroom.

I like the idea that colleges and universities should do more to teach their students how to use technology appropriately and effectively. Students are making a transition from one social context (high school) to another (college) and looking ahead to year a third (the working world). The social norms around appropriate technology use are different in those different contexts. Why leave it to the students themselves to figure out those new social norms and operate effectively within them? Why not help them make those transitions?

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