Could five hours of mobile-free reading be a cure for screen-addicted students?
One by one, the students find their places in the collection room at the heart of the University Library in Blindern.
Within a few minutes, all phones and smartwatches in the room should be turned off and out of sight. They will lie there for the next five hours.
The reading course, which master’s students in social anthropology will complete today, is completely screen-free. And now the researchers want to know what really happens when students, who typically scroll TikTok and Instragram for hours each day, have to work completely analogue.
Silence gives way to calm
“It started with the feeling that my colleagues and I had the feeling that we couldn’t read these long texts in the same way we had done before,” says postdoctoral fellow at UiO’s Institute of Social Anthropology, Ståle Wig.
It turns out that the students felt the same way, which was the reason Wiig and his colleagues started the course—as a forum for getting into focus and flow.
Silence creates a space for calm to settle in the body. I get the impression that the world stops a bit while we’re here, and that time slows down, Weig says.
He does not think it is helpful to point fingers at students when they are struggling to read texts.
– I think something happened to the environment around us that makes it more difficult to be a student.
However, he doesn’t think the remedy is to adapt the teaching too much by dropping syllabus texts in favor of YouTube videos.
Wig points out that people have always been wary of new technology. He thinks we should have a more active relationship with her. And that’s exactly what he’s trying to do now.
Read more without a mobile phone
Student Ingrid Loves Rudd, 26, says she can sit through the entire session without looking at her phone as usual.
She’s deleted all social media apps, except for Facebook, on her phone, and doesn’t use them as much as you’d hear others her age do.
– I just checked my screen time and it’s not that high. Two or three hours a day, maybe, you say.
Ingrid Maria Beltrampa (25) and Egli Sacellari (23) also say they often try to put the mobile phone away while reading, but it’s hard to leave it there.
Both think they are reading more than usual without screens.
– I usually search for the things I am wondering about, and then more questions arise. It gets confusing, says Sacellari, and I quickly lose my train of thought.
“I think I allowed myself to work more through what I was wondering about myself,” says Beltrampa.
– I usually just google, and that would lead me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. But now I had to read on, and I probably finally got it anyway, says Beltrampa.
Freedom to have fewer choices
Unlike in the past, this time research will be done on what happens to students who take a reading course.
Wig hopes this is the beginning of developing an entirely new teaching method, which many can benefit from.
We often think that choice is freedom, but here you see the opposite. Cutting back on the list can feel very liberating.
Weig believes we place too much responsibility on each of the students if we expect them to fight screen time on their own.
Neither Beltrampa nor Sacellari missed their phones today. An hour after the course was over, they were still out of order. Once the screens turned on, disappointingly nothing happened.
– Although I have sat here and read for five hours, I am not exhausted, says the student Beltrampa.
Sacllary agrees. She says she feels a lot clearer than when she read all day on her laptop.
Are you distracted at any time today?
– Yes, several times, says Beltrampa, and adds:
– It’s not dangerous to get distracted for a few minutes, but then I get into it again after a short while, because I don’t satiate distraction with news or Instagram.
Italian Giulio Panettiere (25) is less enthusiastic about the reading course than his fellow students.
– I read a lot today, but the texts were boring, and the environment around me was very serious, he says.
At the end of the day he was more tired than usual.
– It may be because we haven’t spoken to each other. When I’m reading with others in the room, it’s impossible for me to isolate myself.
An alternative way of living
Now Wig hopes that younger and newer students can experience the pedagogy they are in the process of developing.
– Young people who sit on the tram here on the first day of school with TikTok on their phones and don’t read a text longer than they got in the Norwegian class have bigger problems than those here today.
He hopes the reading course will show students that there is an alternative to the way they normally live.
Then they can see if they like it and want to incorporate it more into their daily lives, says Weig.
Many of them have done so, albeit on a smaller scale. Beltrampa says a group of students have arranged reading evenings where they sit focused, without a phone, for 45 minutes, before having a fifteen-minute break.
—makes it a little awkward to pick up the phone before the break, she says, adding:
– I like this structure. It allows me to focus deeply and have a more relaxed approach to what I’m reading.
Wig is happy to hear that.
– Perhaps this indicates that they find something useful in this way of working, he said.
The next step is to look at how to conduct more rigorous research on what happens to the students who take the course.
There might be good arguments for creating a new kind of pedagogy, or developing this on a larger scale, says Wieg, and adds:
– What if we could build this as a necessary part of the higher education of our time?
Do you find it difficult to focus when reading?
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