For my field research assignment I observed Temple University students who utilize Temple University’s TECH center, located at 12th and Montgomery on Temple’s main campus. The TECH center is a well-equipped facility with 600 fixed PC and Mac workstations, 100 wireless loaner laptops, and 10 IPad loaner devices available for students every day. The actual facility itself is 75,000-square-ft with areas partitioned, color coded (red, green, purple, yellow, and orange) and designated for different anticipated uses of facility equipment. These available areas have been designated as general lab areas, specialty lab areas, breakout rooms, and the internet lounge area. Temple University’s main campus hosts an enterprise class WIFI system that has steadily been growing to accommodate the multitudes of mobile devices, even more so at The TECH center with its array of access point devices; supporting heavier usage.

The student culture of the TECH center is fairly interesting, one could make an educated guess of the year, major, and even the age of a student based on which part they choose to work in and how frequently. Freshman to senior class students tend to have different social habits, different sets of responsibilities demand that a student be productive and helped me to produce such an assumption.  Students using the facility know it’s renowned for its social atmosphere, which make it a popular place to gather for anyone, regardless of race, religion, age, year, gender, or interests, there seems to be a selective social sphere for all to congregate and work in. Students usually ‘work’ in pairs, groups, or just alone depending on their location in the lab (general lab area vs. specialty lab area vs. breakout rooms etc.), interacting with their mobile devices similarly but at different frequencies. In largely the orange, yellow, red, and purple sections of the general lab area, students work in pairs or groups due to the arrangement of furniture. This allows students to sit side-by-side with clear views of friends close by and consequently causes them to be more chatty and active with mobile devices use; other parts of the lab have visual barriers. Students who work alone in specialty labs or with their group in breakout rooms tend to glance and quickly at mobile devices and resume their attention to the detail of their work.

Interaction tended to be similar with their mobile devices, as students compulsively check their social media, I visibly observed students detracted from computer screens and on their phones scrolling through newsfeeds on Instagram and Facebook. Students working in groups or pairs would tend to pause the flow of work to show a friend a message someone sent, an amusing post, or something worth conversing about; leading to procrastination. It was more infrequent however for students working alone to spend an exuberant amount of time on their phones, unless they were in the internet lounge area; a more social space and ironically where people also cocoon. One interesting point however was that unless students were in their selective sphere group they would not speak on the phone or take pictures of themselves; which could be seen as outside of the norm. Students in groups could be internally criticized for what looks like their sphere’s disruption of other spheres.  Students working in pairs generally facilitated favors in taking pictures and will talk on the phone for a reasonable amount of time. While students working alone wouldn’t do either, with the exception leaving a physical space answering or make a phone call; as not to disturb others.

Leaving physical spaces in the TECH center also means venturing away from your social sphere, and regardless of who it was they always seemed to use their mobile devices moving away or returning from their destination as some sort of pacification tool. Students I observed also tended to put their mobiles on the desk or away once reseated in their social sphere, reconnecting with those around them; unless they were alone. I observed this with students going to the Starbucks downstairs or heading to the wash room, even if they were paired or walked in a group they’d look at their devices respectively. This occurred even more frequently if a student was wearing headphones already, they’d be engaged both aurally and visually. There are keen dynamics to the way people operate and operate mobile medias in the TECH center, which lead me to question what social justice could be done or if one was even necessary.

But I did think of something, the TECH center with all 600 of its workstations, social atmosphere, and its constant liveliness of notifications, idle conversation and so forth can make it a noisy place. One key reason why some even avoid it is the likelihood that you can’t even begin your work because you procrastinate either on your phone or with people. What I think would help a lot of students is some sort of procrastination application, or something to measure your productivity. This could regulate how much time you put into unnecessary things and deny you access to them every x amount of minutes. It   could also politely gesture to others that you are busy and would not like to be bothered, and would considerably bring down disruptive noise among neighbors who are trying to actually do work. In a way it’s a social justice app that promotes responsibility, courteousness with mobile devices, and to help you meet deadlines and goals; essentially what college is all about.



  1. I think the social justice implications of the app could use a little “beefiing up.” One way to do that would be to talk about who might be particularly disadvantaged if the TECH center, which is a pretty remarkable space for students to work, turns too social. For example, people who only have access to the Internet or computers when they go there can’t afford to be distracted in the way others might (related to this your tweet from last semester about tree-based wifi powered by photosynthesis might help much more than an app, as people could do their work in more places… I still love that idea).

    Moreover, you could talk about the long term impact of those distractions on performance (i.e. more semesters of college, more loans, etc.). It is also worth thinking, through, whether a mobile device specifically would be the answer here. Would, for example, more “quiet” spaces in the TECH center help, areas where it was clear this is for people working on their own only?

    It is also important to remember that the college campuses are meant to be social, that is part of where learning happens. Is there a way to promote a simultaneously social and intellectual environment? Perhaps including an option to collaborate with people working on similar topics? The image of “work” being done in isolation isn’t how academic work really generates. A lot of it happens via social events (it’s why academics go to so many conferences) and talking over your ideas with someone else. Right now mobile media seems to be a distraction, that arguably could be a response to the draining experience of “focusing.” Perhaps rather than forcing people to shut down even more, you could think about what might promote a more generative social space.

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