A pole has a poster on it that reads "Good news is coming."

Learning with the Detox: A tool for critical reflection

Can you tell us a bit about your contexts and experience teaching the Detox?

At the start of Jan 2020, I was teaching a 3rd year Special Topics course at Thompson Rivers University on ‘Digital Sociology.’ I had pitched this topic to the Chair, as I had just completed my PhD at the University of Edinburgh, where I had been inspired by the work and efforts of Karen Gregory, Niamh Moore, and Angus Bancroft, based out of the Sociology department there. Looking back at the course outline, I was hoping to “sew seeds of inspiration for students to continue the important work of critically engaging with the digital world around them.”  In sociology, we try and flex our ‘sociological imaginations’ to draw connections between our own everyday lives and the wider world around us. I learned about the Digital Detox just before the course kicked off and could not believe my luck, frankly.

How do you think the students responded to the Detox? Did it differ from more traditional readings?

The Detox was perfect timing for the Special Topics course, as students could move through the weekly posts as part of their assigned readings and offer for credit critical reflections along the way. Brenna joined in our class as a guest early on that semester, helping to contextualize the challenge –we talked about surveillance technology, contract cheating and essay mills, and the predatory lengths some companies will go, all while claiming to support student needs. Of course, before the end of that 2020 semester, we had to ‘pivot’ to online learning and here is where the Detox really sparkled.

I hadn’t realized that while we were navigating the weekly posts, we were building a foundation that would help prepare us to critically reflect on our use and engagement with digital platforms. By assigning the Detox as part of the course required readings, we could draw connections between our own experiences teaching, learning, and living under COVID, and to the realities of the neoliberal post-secondary institution.

Do you think using the Detox had an impact on your classroom environment?

Every student in the room, virtual or not, has had experience with online learning platforms, and the Digital Detox is a tool from which to pull back the curtain and go behind the scenes—it helps to demystify the academy. It allows space to ask questions, flag tensions, and think through and imagine alternatives.

Now when I teach the Education unit for students signed in my introduction to sociology courses at Okanagan College, I talk about the Detox, share a bit about what I’ve learned, and continue to learn, and encourage students to learn more. One of the readings I recommend they take on for critical reflection is an article from the 2021 Detox: “E-proctoring Sucks, So Why Won’t It Go Away?” What strikes me each time, is how well the Detox challenge flushes out structures of power and inequality in the context of education and beyond.

What would you want other faculty to know if they were thinking about teaching the Detox?

The lessons I have learned, and continue to learn, by weaving the Detox into my teaching practice are lasting. With respect to compassion and care, there is simply no going back. But the Detox has also impacted my research practice and how I think through care. The Detox flags issues related to conditions of labour and conditions of learning, for both faculty and students. And as I watch friends and colleagues in the UK engage continue wide-scale strike actions across 63 universities over conditions of labour, I am reminded about the urgency for change, and the power of collective action.