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UBC assignment asks students to leave cell phone at home for a few days

Last Updated Nov 24, 2019 at 8:03 pm PST

Courtesy of Malcolm Ford
Summary

UBC students in a third-year Business Communications class were given what's likely one of the hardest assignments

Their professor asked them to leave the phone at home for two to three days and journal about the experience

A previous assignment asked students to think about the sound of their voice while another was about watching behaviours

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Could you survive without your cell phone for a few days?

UBC students in a third-year Business Communications class were given what’s likely one of the hardest assignments they’ve ever been given two weeks ago when their professor asked them to leave the phone at home for two to three days and journal about the experience.

“I just thought it was funny. The whole thing was really hilarious,” Malcolm Ford, a third-year UBC business student who’s in the class, tells NEWS 1130. “The idea that he would ask this for an assignment so small, this big thing. It’s just crazy to me.”

The assignment is one of several small assignments given to students throughout the semester that tasks them with a challenge they then journal about. One previous assignment asked students to think about the sound of their voice while another was about watching behaviours.

Professor Cameron Morrell teaches the class after developing it in 2014 after noticing that seemingly every one of his students had phones attached to their hands, making their communication skills suffer.

“I knew this [assignment] would be problematic and many students gasped in the classroom when they heard they were supposed to put their phones away,” Morrell tells NEWS 1130.

“It’s well documented now what technology does to us. They’re like mini casino games in that they’re flashing lights and they really draw us in unless we’re very careful to keep our phones at bay.”

The idea behind the assignment is that students will learn just how reliant they are on their phones and how it impacts their day-to-day lives.

“When you have a phone in your pocket, the need to reach out and to ask questions and to engage with others and to have human contact is really diminished,” Morell says.

“We often see in students the challenges of living in the moment and you have the perception of having lots of connection when in fact that connection has always got a barrier between you and the person, which is the phone.”

But did students do the assignment? Ford wrote about living without a phone for a few days without actually living without his phone.

“I was 100 per cent sure that this was a creative writing exercise for the students,” he says. “It’s a 40 person class. I can’t imagine a single one of those students actually did the experiment. I would be blown away to learn that.”

Morrell says in a class of 40 students, he believes up to 10 per cent can be convinced to drop their phones, if he’s lucky. For the majority who just can’t let go, an alternate assignment is available, but he says that’s to their own detriment.

“lf we don’t live in the moment if we’re not present for conversations with friends, families, loved ones, business contacts, in a real human kind of way, we, bit by bit, chip away that feeling of empathy,” he adds.

“When empathy declines, we have unpleasant things happening because we don’t have a sense of the other.”