Pa. college: Social media blackout wins converts

Dec 10, 2010 By KATHY MATHESON , Associated Press

(AP) -- A social media blackout at a small Pennsylvania college won over some skeptical students who initially disliked it, with some reporting better classroom concentration and less stress during the weeklong experiment, school officials said Friday.

Forty-two percent of students responding to surveys at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology ended up supporting the exercise, which temporarily blocked sites like and Facebook on campus. Only 23 percent approved before the blackout.

"Even though people initially were angry ... even the most cranky student had to admit some good came out of it," Provost Eric Darr told The Associated Press.

Results released Friday showed that 25 percent of respondents reported better classroom concentration that week, while 23 percent found lectures more interesting and 6 percent reported eating better and exercising more.

The 800-student private school in Harrisburg, about 95 miles northwest of Philadelphia, had drawn both ridicule and admiration for the blackout in September. Staff and students alike were affected by the ban, which included and instant-messaging but allowed e-mail, texting and other .

Critics noted students could visit the sites with smartphones or by walking to nearby buildings with free WiFi. But Darr said the point was not to prevent access so much as to get people to think critically about the role of social media in their lives.

The statistics released Friday were based on in-house surveys conducted before and after the blackout, with additional anecdotes gathered from focus groups, e-mails and personal conversations.

One-quarter of students and 40 percent of faculty and staff responded to the surveys. Though Darr acknowledges the results are far from scientific, he said the trends and personal accounts are evidence that social media "can take over your life."

About two-thirds of respondents said they use Facebook each day, while 10 percent reported daily use of Twitter. Thirteen percent of students said they used Facebook to avoid boredom between classes.

But during the ban, 33 percent of students reported feeling less stressed. Twenty-one percent said they used their normal social networking time to do homework, while 10 percent said they read online news.

Some students changed their study methods. Darr cited a Facebook-based tutoring effort that was failing to explain a complex biology process to students; they grasped the concept only after a face-to-face meeting during the blackout, he said.

In another account, who had been using Facebook to work on a business plan found a better way to collaborate during the ban. They realized made it difficult to manage documents and to distinguish between social- and work-related posts, the report said.

Ashley Harris, a senior, said in a September interview that the blackout helped her focus better because she didn't feel pressured to constantly check tweets and status updates.

On Friday, Harris said surviving - and in some ways thriving on - the ban gave her the strength to go back on a social media diet this week as she studied for exams.

"I've been able to really cut back on it during finals I think because of not using it during blackout week," Harris said.

Darr noted are integral parts of modern life that he both uses and monitors in his roles as an administrator and a parent. The blackout served its purpose by starting a conversation about these powerful tools, he said.

"To all the social scientists out there," said Darr, "this is a fertile ground for research."

Explore further: LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

More information:

4.7 /5 (3 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Face-to-face or Facebook?

May 12, 2008

Can online networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, help new students settle into university social and academic life and minimise the chance of them withdrawing from their courses?

New study examines use of social media in the classroom

May 05, 2010

A recent study by the Lab for Social Computing at Rochester Institute of Technology indicates that the use of social media in classroom settings has little effect on building connections or social capital among students.

Recommended for you

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

Apr 18, 2014

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

Apr 18, 2014

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

White House updating online privacy policy

Apr 18, 2014

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

( —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...