Digital Detox 2: How To and Recap

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So the digital detoxes have kicked off at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) and Middlebury and they have my wheels turning. If you missed it, I proposed a digital detox here at UM-D a few posts back. It is just a series of blog posts exploring how our relationship with technology can sometimes be toxic and considering how to make it better. But rather than coming up with our own topics I decided that I would try to encourage digital community around what Middlebury and TRU are already doing and put anything that we did develop under the theme of “The Digital Learning Community in a Pandemic”. But Digital community is always tricky and can be confusing. I’m hoping that I can do some modeling with this post. What does it mean to participate in a community – well I think it is different for everyone but here is some of how I do it.

One of the biggest parts of community is just showing up but what does that look like online? For me, I’ve subscribed to the detox for both TRU and Middlebury and I’m reading their posts. TRU is also holding sync sessions so I signed up and put those on my calendar. My next assertion might be a little controversial because in courses we focus so much on engagement and interaction but I think for open digital community this kind of showing up can be enough. It is great if you want to do more “active participating” but just reading and thinking on your own is a kind of participation. No it is not visible to others and no facilitator can measure it but in community that really does not matter so much – motivation in community is more intrinsic and if that doesn’t start with paying attention I don’t know how it does. So we have to value this – even if others can’t see it right away.

After showing up the next part of participating in a digital community is participating in ways that are more visible to others. So, I’m writing this post and I attended the first of the sync sessions from TRU. One could also comment on posts (if allowed – I’m turning on comments for all our Digital Detox posts). I also think that this participation can show up in unexpected ways – especially if you have a small to mid-sized campus community. It can show up in conversations between colleagues, design decisions for courses, or as ideas shared in other ways.

So, for my active participation, in this post I’ll just be reflecting on and summarizing the Digital Detox content from both schools thus far. I don’t want every post I do for the UM-D Digital Detox to be a summery on what each of the other schools are doing but I thought this could be a way to start broad before getting more focused. 

TRU’s Digital Detox is facilitated by Brenna Clark Gray who is faculty at TRU as well as their Coordinator of Educational Technologies. Brenna explains in the first post that her first round of doing the Digital Detox last year was a way to introduce herself to the campus community (she was new to her role there) and that she largely focused on hope. This year Brenna is not as hopeful with so much tech overreach and disenfranchisement of students going on with the pandemic. There are some great links in this post citing research on the effects the rapid movement to online had on vulnerable student populations that I highly recommend. Brenna writes:

“The 2021 TRU Digital Detox theme is the post-pandemic university. I want us to imagine ourselves a year from now, living with the agreements we’ve signed and the rights we’ve signed away, and ask ourselves if this university we rebuilt in a moment of crisis is really the one we want to live and work in.”

Middlebury is already 4 posts in on their detox (whew) though I have only gotten to two. They take on the detox as a team with different posts by different people. Their first post takes on the infodemic and widespread mis/disinformation. Here they pull on the work of Mike Caulfield’s SIFT method which is a web-centric modern approach to combating misinformation – you can find out more at Mike has been doing great work in this area for some time now. Author of this post and Associate Provost of Digital Learning, Amy Collier writes:

“What I love most about Mike’s approach is that it is built on understanding how the web works and how limited our attention is–it’s not a 6-month course on digital literacy, it’s a set of practical easy-to-use strategies to help us better contextualize what we see on the web and to do so quickly, before we click the Share button.”

Their second post is co-authored by Sarah Lohnes Watulak, Director of Digital Pedagogy and Media and Amy Collier (who I already described and linked to above). The second post focuses on access and echos many of the points from Brenna’s post from TRU. Again there are links to stories of hardships that vulnerable students are facing and I think a big thing that I’m learning from these posts is that maybe the first step in the detox is to just look at what is toxic in our relationship with technology. Because if we don’t look these things in the face then there is no hope for reexamining that relationship with tech to look for something more healthy. This post ends with some great action items and so I’m going to repost them here.

Action advice from the Middlebury Digital Detox Digital Detox 2021/2: COVID and equitable access to education post:

Take Action

Deepen your understanding of accessibility and identify small moves that you can take to make your digital materials accessible

Join communities focused on equity in education, such as Equity Unbound founded by Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin, and Mia Zamora and the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice founded by Sara Goldrick-Rab

Photo by Philipp Berndt on Unsplash

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You can read more about Autumm Caines, the author of this post, on her author page

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