Study: Methodology

About the Study:  The Details

A class of 200 students at the University of Maryland, College Park, undertook an assignment that asked them to go media-free for 24 hours.

Students had to go media-free for a full day (or had to try to go media-free), but they were allowed to pick which 24 hours in a nine-day period, from February 24-March 4, 2010.  By coincidence that period saw several major news events, including the earthquake in Chile on February 27, and the close of the Vancouver Olympics on February 28.

Some students, worried that they wouldn’t be able to make it through a 24-hour span without using media, picked a weekend day to go without media, believing that they could distract  themselves by playing sports or going on a road trip.  Others picked a week day, believing that the loss of media would be less difficult because they would be in class and at work and so would have little time to “miss” the media they had to forgo.

After their 24 hours of abstinence, the students were then asked to blog about their experiences: to report their successes and admit to any failures.  What had they learned about their own consumption of media — and how did they feel about to being forced to go without?

In answer to those questions, the 200 students wrote over 110,000 words on class blogs sites: in aggregate, about the same number of words as a 400-page novel.

The University of Maryland is a large state university campus, and the class, JOUR 175: Media Literacy, that undertook this 24-hour media-free assignment, is a “core course” for the entire student body — which means it enrolls undergraduate students across majors. It is, in short, a class of 200 students, characterized by a diversity of age, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and every other way you can slice and dice college demographics.

As a result, the experiences of the students who went unplugged offer an intriguing glance into not just life on campus in the 21st century, but how media are changing how students work and socialize… and how they feel and think.

.   .   .

The Study:  The Methodology

This study began with this assignment to students:


THE ASSIGNMENT: This week your assignment is to find a 24-hour period during which you can pledge to give up all use of media: no Internet, no newspapers or magazines, no TV, no cell phones, no iPod, no music or movies, etc. And definitely no Facebook. Although you may need to use the Internet for homework or work, try to pick a time when you can go without using it. This should be an interesting experience for you and examining your own dependencies, so really try to give yourself a chance to do the whole 24 hours.

You will write a post about your experiences. Feel free to do some outside research on the effects of Internet or cell phone dependence and share those links with your fellow students.

If you do NOT make it the full 24 hours, be honest about it. How long did you make it? What happened? What do you think it means about you?

In general, reflect on the following questions: What about your day was different in terms of logistics? What about psychological effects? Were you surprised either by how hard or how easy it was? What does your use of media reflect about our society and its use of communication media? If you are tied to media, what about those in our society who are not connected? Is there something they’re missing? Is there something you’re missing out on by being so entrenched in media?

You will post your comments to your section’s Google Site under Homework #5 by [date/time]. Unless you are the first person to post your analysis, you must consider the given questions, but do so in part by reading and responding to the comments of all those above you. Your comments should be no less than 300 words.

By posting my comments here, I pledge that went “media-free” for 24 hours, or made an attempt to do so, any shortcoming in said attempt being acknowledged and explained in my post.


Students posted their responses to the Google Sites’ blog of their discussion sections and afterward filled out a consent form (allowing research use of their comments) and a separate demographic survey. The six teaching assistants for the course, all PhD students in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, then began a qualitative content analysis of the student responses–all 111,109 words of them. Several textual analysis tools at IBM’s ManyEyes’ site – Word Tree, Tag Cloud, Phrase Net and Word Cloud Generator — were employed to help sift through the students’ reportage.

The members of the research team individually coded the responses of their own students. In order to ensure reliability, the entire aggregated document of all the student responses was evaluated by all the team, and the document (104 pages, Times Roman, 10-pt type, single-spaced) was secondarily coded by the research team leader, Dr. Moeller, the course instructor and a full professor at the university. In addition to using a color-coded system to evaluate six different aspects of student responses, the multiple coders also kept written observations on each aspect. Two research members went through the original findings to check the evaluations and results.  Results were reviewed and checked to make sure the observations were consistent.

Once the coding was finalized the results were formatted and made ready for review.

Note that all the quotations on this site are actual quotations from students in this class.  Grammar has not been changed, but spelling, capitalization and punctuation have been regularized.  Note too that the authors of this study have put certain parts of quotations in Boldface; the bolded words are an effort by the study authors to highlight key themes in the students’ comments.

.   .   .

The Study:  Demographics

According to separately obtained demographic data on the student class, 75.6 percent of the students self-identify as Caucasian/White, 9.4 percent as Black, 6.3 percent as Asian, 1.6 percent as Latino, 3.1 percent as Mixed Race and 3.9 percent as Other.  Students who self-reported themselves as non-American, said they were from China, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia.  Women outnumbered men, 55.9 percent to 44.1 percent.

44.1 percent of the class reported that their parents or guardians earned over $100,000 or more; 28.3 percent reported that their parents or guardians earned between $75-$100,000; 22 percent reported coming from a household with an income between $50-75,000; and 5.5 percent reported that their families’ income was between $25-50,000.

40.9 percent of the students who responded to the demographic survey reported that they were first-year students, 40.9 percent reported that they were sophomores, 11 percent reported that they were juniors, and 7.1 reported that they were seniors or beyond.  Most students reported their ages as between 18-21; the average class age was 19.5.

When asked about what types of media devices they own, 43.3 percent of the students reported that they had a “smart phone” (i.e. a Blackberry or an iPhone), and 56.7 percent said they did not.


The “iTeeth” header image was taken by ∆ toma01.
And the “Seksi Eyes” image was Photoshopped from an image by arkworld.

6 responses

27 10 2010
Without access to the Internet, kids just “go around the house in silence – and they really hate that.”

[...] pilot study in Maryland looked at how students react when they can’t go online or check their email on [...]

26 10 2010
Vote My Story, Students lonely, frustrated after unplugging for a day | Vote My Story

[...] this year, a pilot study in Maryland revealed that many students reported symptoms similar to drug and alcohol withdrawal. Bournemouth [...]

3 05 2010
Social Media Withdrawal: What Happens When Kids Give Up Their Connections « The Ddeok is Always Greener on the Other Side 남의 떡이 더 커 보인다

[...] about their experiences, and they were quite prolific. Here’s a Wordle visualization of the more than 110,000 words they [...]

29 04 2010
Thad McIlroy - Future Of Publishing

[...] to the post on the study’s methodology: A class of 200 students at the University of Maryland, College [...]

29 04 2010
More Fuzzy Logic | Boilerplate 3.0

[...] magazines, newspapers, and *music*—that’s right, MUSIC. Here’s how the assignment was actually written: THE ASSIGNMENT: This week your assignment is to find a 24-hour period during which you can pledge [...]

25 04 2010
'Students addicted to social media': Oh c'mon, this again?

[...] as an academic outcome. If I’m honest, the methodology used is pretty rock solid, with only one yet crucial factor in that the results [...]




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