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Back in Blackout: As Facebook Unveils Changes, Harrisburg University Blocks Social Media Access

Students, faculty and staff at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology will go without Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and MySpace now through September 28. This exercise, dubbed Back in Blackout, will conclude September 28, 2011.

PRLog - Sep. 22, 2011 - As millions of Facebook's 750 million users around the globe awakened on Wednesday morning to discover that the social-media sitehad made changes without any advanced warning, students and faculty at a small science and technology focused university in Central Pennsylvania were waking up to discover they had no access to Facebook or other social media sites.

Students, faculty and staff at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology will go without Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and MySpace now through September 28 as the University is  blocking access to the sites over its network  This exercise, dubbed Back in Blackout, will conclude September 28, 2011.

The intent of this consciousness-raising exercise is to inspire thinking about how, when and where the University community uses social media as well as awareness about uses and/or abuses of social media, says Dr. Eric Darr, Executive Vice President and Provost at the University.  

“It is not intended to be a punishment nor is it intended to be an indictment of social media. In fact, access to all social media sites was still possible over mobile wireless devices, proximate public networks or home-based networks.  The hope is to make habits and effects of social media use more visible and understandable, particularly in the classroom, through temporary abstinence.”

The sites being blocked include: Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Orkut, Hi5, Linkedin, Twitter, Twitxr, Plurk, Tweetpeek and texting outlets.  

“We believe that technology is not inherently good or bad. Rather, technology becomes useful or destructive in the hands of users. This exercise is an attempt to better understand an important technology, social media, that clearly impacts how we live and work It might inspire students, faculty and staff to think more about their social media habits and to further raise awareness about the impact that social media has on daily life and work,” says Darr.

This is the second consecutive year the University has conduct the “Blackout” exercise.  During the week of September 13 -17, 2010, the University shutdown access over its network to several social media sites.  In an attempt to understand basic usage patterns and opinions following the 2010 ‘blackout’ exercise, students, faculty and staff were surveyed about their social media habits and reactions to the blackout.  An initial survey was completed on the first day of the blackout, and a follow-up survey was completed during the week following the blackout.  Additionally, multiple focus group sessions were conducted with students and faculty in the middle of the blackout week.

One-quarter of the 822 students and 40% of the faculty and staff at Harrisburg University responded to the 2010 surveys.  The surveys revealed that the majority of students, faculty and staff are regular users of social media.  In fact, many are heavy users of various social media outlets. Specifically, two-thirds of the sample reported using Facebook on a daily basis, while 10% said they use Twitter on a daily basis.  Among Facebook users, 25% cited mainly “social” purposes, including contact with friends, as the primary reason for using the site.  Students and staff also use social media for “entertainment.”  In fact, 13% of student responders said they rely on Facebook to combat boredom between classes. Exactly half of student responses cited the use of YouTube regularly for “academic and social purposes.”  Instant messaging is also used by a large segment of the student body, with 35% usage among this sample.
Darr notes that one question that is routinely debated is whether people can become addicted to social networking.  The results from the 2010 survey suggest that this is possible.  Specifically, it is remarkable to note that 20% of the student respondents spend between 11 and 20 hours a day using social media sites.  

“One has to believe that this level of usage would likely interfere with school work and jobs.  Further, it is somewhat disturbing to note that several faculty and staff reported spending more than 20 hours a day on social networking sites.  Clearly, this level of usage would interfere with many of life’s routine responsibilities,” says Darr.

Initial reactions to the 2010 blackout were similar for students and faculty.  Both groups were skeptical and upset at the onset of the social media blackout.  And, both groups became more positive about the event after reflecting on the week.  

Information about student behaviors during the blackout was also collected.  The results suggest that a healthier, more productive life style was practiced by a significant portion of the students during the week-long social media blackout.  Specifically, 25 % of students reported better concentration in the classroom during the blackout week.  In fact, 23% of students found lectures more interesting.  Interestingly, 6% of students reported eating better and exercising more during the blackout week.  School work was given a higher-priority when social media was unavailable.  Specifically, 21% of the students used the time that they usually spent on Facebook to do homework, whereas 10% used the time usually spent on Facebook to read online news.

An obvious question is “Did anyone learn anything from the blackout?”  Survey results show that 44% of the students reported that they learned something, while 76% of faculty and staff reported learning something from the blackout.  Focus group sessions and student commentary uncovered several specific lessons learned during the blackout week.  Several students reported gaining a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of Facebook.  They used Facebook for its obvious ability to connect with friends, but they also used Facebook for collaborating on a business plan.  During the blackout, these students were forced to use another tool for working on their business plan, and discovered that it was easier than Facebook.  Additionally, they reported that it had become increasingly difficult to distinguish business related posts from social posts on Facebook.  These students learned that document management is not one of the core strengths of Facebook.

A second lesson learned was a better understanding of the value of face-to-face communications versus conversations carried out solely over social media.  Several faculty were reminded about the power of face-to-face dialogue when they discovered that complex biology concepts that had confused students for weeks when discussed over social media, were readily learned when explained in a series of face-to-face meetings.  In fact, 10% of the students reported enjoying face-to-face conversations during the time they would normally spend on Facebook.  

Further, an additional lesson learned was that social media use can cause stress. Nearly 33% of students reported feeling less stressed during blackout week.  

“Social media have become ubiquitous on university campuses.  These technologies have many strengths and weaknesses.  And like any tool, social media should be used with care and understanding,” says Darr.  

For questions about the exercise, contact Communications at 717.901.5146 or CONNECT@Harrisburgu.edu

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Established in 2001 to address Central Pennsylvania’s need for increased opportunities for study leading to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, Harrisburg University is an innovative and ambitious private institution.

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Source:Harrisburg University of Science and Technology
Phone:717-901-5146
Zip:17101
City/Town:Harrisburg - Pennsylvania - United States
Industry:Facebook, Education, Social media
Tags:social media, blackout, harrisburg university, disconnecting from social media, banning media, communication
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