Summer Technology Sabbatical


Digital technology and communications now permeate our lives and the lives of our students. Many students text or monitor their social media feeds even while studying or in class, and turn to their phones to fill any spare moment. Obviously, checking phones or surfing the internet during class can directly affect learning and comprehension. But the constant connection to phones and other devices throughout the day can also have far-reaching cognitive and emotional effects, such as diminishing the ability to sustain focused attention, interfering with relationships, and impairing sleep.

The provost's office invited proposals from faculty for Summer 2024 courses, as the intensive, short format of summer session can provide an opportunity for students to develop a more thoughtful relationship to their devices. At a minimum, these courses will require students to commit to refraining from using laptops or cell phones during class (with reasonable accommodations for emergency uses). More specifics pertaining to each course offered can be found below.

Technology Sabbatical Courses Offered in Summer 2024:

ENGL 2559: The Contemporary Essay

Instructor: John Casteen IV

Session: Session III

Time: 1030-1245

CasteenDescription: “The Contemporary Essay” acquaints students with the genre’s origins, formal considerations, conventions, experiments, and expressive potential. The essay’s elasticity, inclusiveness, and breadth allow fiction’s narrative arc to mingle with poetry’s associative reasoning. We’ll read a variety of living authors, focusing on aspects of narrative and discursive balance, locus of meaning, and conceptions of nonfiction and fact. In written work, students will explore the relationship between writer, subject matter, and reader; credibility and authority to speak; and the nature of claims based on evidence and first-hand personal experience. The course readings generally begin with more topically oriented writing driven by research, moving through the semester toward more abstract, personal, or formally inventive lyric essays. 

The in-class policy forbids the use of laptops and phones as a part of this tech sabbatical and as a way to foster improved class discussions. In addition to the in-class screen-free time, students will commit to twice that number of hours—85.5, approximately, for a summer term that includes 42.75 contact hours—away from technology during the course. The assignments for these daily hours will include analog reading, active notation, writing in place, and preparing fully for in-class discussion.


ENGL 3560: Studies in Modern and Contemporary Lit

Instructor: Adrienne Ghaly

Session: Session I

Time: 1300-1515


"Reading Climate and Humanitarian Crisis Fiction" explores contemporary global fiction as an antidote to encountering the effects of the climate crisis -- extreme weather, displacement, flooding -- primarily through social media, 'doomscrolling', and online discourses of climate despair. Students will examine the possibilities for fiction as a way in to engaging urgent planetary issues from climate displacement to climate-intensified conflict zones. This course has two aims: first, it explores whether long-form fiction can both build more durable engagement with the multiple crises arising from a warming planet; second, students will develop greater cognitive endurance for reading longer texts and participating in meaningful collective discussion in a seminar context. In this course, students will develop (or recover) techniques for increasing reading stamina (reading for longer, uninterrupted periods), stretch students’ abilities to read texts immersively (reading with different kinds of attention), and being intentional about different kinds of reading (skimming, reading for specific details, etc.). 

Consequently, students will not only practice close reading techniques that literature courses help develop, but also will discuss and practice different approaches to reading and asking what to read for in long-form literary texts. The class will periodically spend some time in class practicing different reading techniques and modes of reading, and then reflecting upon them.

Participants will commit to tech-free hours while engaged in reading and writing for class, silencing notifications, and refraining from using phone apps, social media, text/chat and messaging, email, etc.


ENWR 3500: Making Books: Introduction to Book Editing and Production

Instructor: Heidi Nobles

Session: Session III

Time: 1300-1515

NoblesDescription: Students in Making Books will gain a broad view of book editing and publishing in the 21st  century, with an emphasis on late-stage editing and material production. In particular, as a digital-minimalist pilot, this Summer 2024 section will focus on artist’s books as meaningful and meaning-making objects. 

By enrolling in this “tech sabbatical” course, you commit to turning off your digital devices for at least 4 waking hours each day for the duration of the course (July 15-August 9, 2024), beyond the digital-free classroom environment. No phones, no laptops, no tablets during class or for any 4 hours of your choice, not including when you’re asleep. Yes; we will help you figure out how to spend your time in ways you enjoy away from your phones! In terms of how we’ll actually conduct the class—we’ll use old-school methods to edit short texts on hard copy (think: writing notes over sentences and in the margins), and then we’ll produce custom editions of those texts through artisan methods including paper-making, hand-drawing, print-making, typesetting/printing, and sewing/binding according to each student’s vision.

This is a chance for you to get offline, slow down, and take pleasure in reading that is wonderfully tangible. Artistic prowess NOT required.


PSYC 4200: Neural Mechanisms of Behavior

Instructor: Adema Ribic

Session: Eight Week Session

Time: 1030-1245

RibicDescription: "Dialogues in Neuroscience" is focused on understanding high-level concepts in behavioral neuroscience, as well as using primary literature to broaden students’ knowledge. Students will use observations and simple experiments to discuss the neural mechanisms of sensory processing, learning and behavior. The objective is for students to get comfortable using prior knowledge to make observations and discuss their conclusions.

Neuroscience classes typically rely heavily on modern tech, but this class will avoid that by requiring no computers nor phones in class and preventing students from using online resources. Old-fashioned analogue props will help demonstrate the concepts being discussed, for instance glass prisms for discussing brain plasticity, stopwatches for discussing myelination, yarn for understanding sound localization, etc. Students will take notes in a notebook with pens/pencils and they will progress through the course material through simple, tech-free, "old school" experiments while discussing basic neuroscience concepts that are being explored in these experiments. Outside of the class, students will continue with the experiments started in class or conduct new ones (completely tech-free) in order to apply neuroscience knowledge everywhere and at any time, without the use of Google.