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Posts Tagged ‘screen


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Here we go again. A representative of local mass media has a piece on screen time.

CNA propagated without first critically analysing what screen time is or means. It merely transferred responsibility by mentioning a local authority. I had to search for it.

The YouTube page mentioned the Academy of Medicine but did not link to it. That site seemed to be built from a portal template and was hideously cluttered. Good luck finding anything not about COVID-19!

Unfortunately, I was right. Neither “screen time” or “activity guidelines” yielded any returns. The search just froze at “Loading…”.

Screenshot of AMS empty search result.

Of the three major news sources, only one provided a direct link to the article titled Singapore Integrated 24-Hour Activity Guidelines For Children and Adolescents.

Here is a video screenshot of one such guideline as reported by CNA.

Screenshot of CNA programme on recommended screen time.

Such “news” makes me want to scream. But I recap what I have reflected on previously.

  • Using the two-hour limit is equivalent to spoon feeding parents with the “how much” without considering “what form” and “why”. It promotes lazy thinking.
  • The quantity-based guideline hides the quality of the task. I argue that consuming one minute of a self harm video is worse than three straight hours of pursuing a new passion like learning a new language. The nature of the task should precede its duration.
  • The information to limit kids to two hours does not actually inform. It feeds already uninformed and irrational fears, e.g., bad for eyes, anti-social behaviour.

The two-hour guideline is the fifth of ten items in the AMS article:

Segment from

While the guideline has good reason to promote non-screen activities like outdoor exercise and getting enough sleep, it does not emphasise good screen use habits like looking up and away (example: the 20-20-20 rule, see item 3) and establishing family rules [1] [2] [3].

Simply implying that screen time is bad does not take into account modern life. We need screens to work, school, and socialise — the current pandemic has made that clear. Some even exercise indoors with screens, e.g., stationary bike with screens, pilates on YouTube.

I say we use reason and longitudinal data on “screen time” instead of feeding into fears. Furthermore, if we suspect that that kids are not exercising as much as we once were, we need to first ask why our past behaviours or a number is the standard. We should also question the logic of blaming screen-based devices for causing physical or social ills — what else could be causal or a contributor, and why?
 

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If we remain level-headed, we stay open to contrary findings that kids do know how to find a balance, socialise conventionally, seek exercise, and adapt to the circumstances they are dealt with [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9].

But do not take my word for it. Consider just a few of the references I numbered above, this Nature article, and a researcher’s tweet thread below.

The association we find between digital technology use and adolescent well-being is negative but small, explaining at most 0.4% of the variation in well-being. Taking the broader context of the data into account suggests that these effects are too small to warrant policy change.

Now that my teaching commitments for the semester are almost over, I reflect on some Zoom habits I practiced.

I continued using fill-in lights, particularly for evening classes. I had two gooseneck LED lamps that I used on either side of my iMac to project even lighting on my face.

I also used a second camera option in Zoom. I connected my iPhone to my iMac with a cable and chose the advanced option of screen sharing. When I enabled this, I could demonstrate the ‘live’ use of apps. This option also meant that I could also provide another camera view, e.g., a top-down view of my table top.

Zoom advanced screen sharing.

Before I started the teaching semester, I was worried that my Zoom account (which was affiliated with one education institute) would have different rights or features compared with another organisation. I discovered that it was more important who the host was.

As a holder of a Pro account in one institute, I had many options and settings. Video recordings and chat transcripts of the session automatically saved to the cloud and to a folder on my iMac. This was because I was the host of each session I facilitated.

With another institution, an IT staff was the host and that person had to transfer hosting rights to me. However, the IT folks and administrators there chose not to allow recordings and transcripts. But other benefits, like holding sessions longer than 40 minutes, persisted. If there was no initial IT host (with the Pro account), our online sessions would have been short.

Zoom is still not made for basic but empowering classroom strategies like station-based learning. I shared my experiences on the new Zoom tool that attempted this and it was rudimentary at best.

I hope that competitors like Google Classroom and Meet provide better designed conferencing and cooperation. The feature in Google Workspace for picture-in-picture Meet in Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets will be a powerful enabler of cooperative activities. These are more valuable than listening to talking heads!

Sadly, Google and its suite of tools lost some ground to Zoom. There were already rumblings of discontent in the few years before all of us had to school and work remotely. I met folks who were almost irrationally dead set against it!

The only good thing I can say about Zoom is that it has given Google a kick in the pants it needed to up its game. I look forward to the competition.

Ah, screen time. Parents want to know how much time is too much, armchair experts offer numbers, and much of the mainstream media perpetuates ignorance around the issue [examples in this video segment].

When will the fear-mongering stop? If the constant refrain from the Pessimists Archive podcast is correct, the answer is that it will not. We take comfort in what is old and fear what is new.

But there are ways to break out of the fear and inertia. One way is to ask better questions.

The easy but wrong question to ask is: How much screen time should I limit my child/student to? There is no magic number because every person is different and a number (if it even exists) depends on the context. The context begs other queries, e.g., when/where to use, what is the screen use for, why it is used.
 

 
Consider scenario A. A person is watching a video on a mobile phone while waiting to cross the road and continues watching while crossing. If you stick to the how much screen time question, my answer is zero if you value that person’s life.

Now switch the context to scenario B. The same person watches the video while travelling to work on the train. I say watch as much as your ride, data plan, wallet, or sanity allows.

Let us consider social learning contexts next.

In scenario C, a group of students decides to meet at a neighbourhood McDonald’s to discuss a class project. They need their phones to fact check, but they get distracted with memes. How much screen time should they have? How is contextual use important?

In scenario D, the same group meets online to collaboratively build a world in Minecraft. This is part of their project on climate change. Again, how much screen time should they have? How is contextual use more important?
 

 
It can take hours to edit one YouTube video. You might be able to watch one hundred videos in the same time if you go down a YouTube rabbit hole. The quantity of time is the same, but the quality of the tasks are different.

If we learn to stop asking the how much question and focus on the how, what, where, or why questions, we learn to empathise with our children and students.

That is my rant. Now here is a real ranter’s rant.


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This op ed piece pushes the screen time debate to a better place than fear-mongering. It points a finger to the very people who fear out of ignorance.

The ignorance is not about the research on screen time or what growing up looks like now. It is about parental roles in oversharing, negatively modelling, and ignoring the collection and use of private data.

So instead of focusing on kids’ screen time, perhaps adults should screen their own habits and biases.


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This video is as much about misconceptions surrounding screen time as it is about:

  • Reading beyond headlines
  • Understanding how newspapers are not journals
  • Distinguishing engagement and accuracy; statistical significance and effect size; correlation and causation

It also illustrated how large sample sizes can make tiny effects statistically significant even though they have no practical significance.

For example, the video cited a study in Nature Human Behaviour that had a sample size of 355,358 adolescents. The video (also this article in Vox) highlighted how the study found that “wearing eyeglasses and eating potatoes also had significant yet small negative effects on teens’ wellbeing”. And yet we do not vilify either.

Add to that the fact that researchers have to decide where cut-offs are that distinguish statistically significant effects from non-significant ones (e.g., P value 0.01 vs 0.05). The same researchers or the agencies they work for might also make cut-offs like recommended screen times of no more than one hour before age five, even if the evidence does not support strict limits for any age groups.

TLDR? Newspapers oversimplify complex phenomena by providing easy answers. Real learning is not in taking these answers at face value. It happens when you explore nuance and depth instead.

According to these archived newspaper clips, there were people who feared for their young as the latter were drawn to reading off paper and books.

Do you see a pattern with respect to the worries about screen time now? If not, consider how people have always feared emerging technologies through the ages.

Fear of the New.

Note: I shared the graphic above in 2015 and it was originally created by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham in their book Bad For You. The image was shared here in 2013.

History repeats itself. Sometimes it has to because we do not learn. Sometimes it does so because we do not change.

Ignoring one another with papers and phones.

 
Saying that water is wet is to speak the obvious. What was obvious to me when I read this Wired article about screen time was how ignorant fear drives more policy than researched information.

In disputing one of the questionable findings about brain cortex thinning, the author wrote:

…the observation that an activity changes the structure or function of an adolescent’s gray matter is the scientific equivalent of observing that water is wet. Many childhood activities alter the brain; what matters is the downstream effects of the alterations.

Even a researcher behind the study cautioned against misinterpreting and misreporting:

“It’s a very complicated question, so people often oversimplify this kind of research,” says neurobiologist Gaya Dowling, NIH director of the ABCD project. “Like the cortical thinning I mentioned on 60 Minutes: We don’t know if it’s good or bad—we just know that it is. That’s one message that got lost in recent coverage of our study: We’re seeing these associations, but we don’t yet know what they mean.”

What is obvious to the research literate is that scientific studies often highlight more questions than reveal answers. They also reveal uncertainties and cast doubt, but all in a systematic way. If you do not realise or communicate this aspect, you cannot report the research or shape policy.

Fear and bad news sells. They also spread faster than fact and truth. These statements should be as obvious as “water is wet”. So read everything with a healthy dose of skepticism.

As one wise person once said to me: It is important to have an open mind, but not so much that rubbish falls in.

It is important to have an open mind, but not so much that rubbish falls in.

When it technologically rains, it technologically pours. Technologically bad things happen in threes. That is my way of summing up my three recent visits to an Apple service provider.

What would you do if you sent in your iMac with blown power supply only to have it returned with a crack on its screen? Those were two of the three first-world blows that shot my way.

In mid November, I discovered that my always on iMac was deadly off. I made an appointment with a local authorised Apple service provider to have it diagnosed.

It took just over a week to find out that the power supply component had blown and needed replacing. But I had to endure an unanswered email a week in and a full voice box when I tried calling. I was about to troop into the store when I received a call. Phew!

Not phew. When I collected my iMac, I had to send it right back because there was a crack on the upper left of the screen. I know it was Christmas season, but decorating my computer with a snowflake-shaped crack was pushing it!

The crack was not there when I sent it in. I know because I look at my computer several times every day. There were also some discolourations on my screen due to its proximity to a window at home, and short of that crack, the rest of the new screen was flawless.

This seemed to convince the customer service representative, but she had to convince her manager. To her credit, that happened fairly quickly and I was told that the screen would be replaced for free and at my convenience.

I had to catch up on some work so I used my iMac furiously for a week — I had to squeeze in a lost week of work AND see the crack winking at me as I worked. Then I lugged my iMac down to the service store again. This time I did not have to wait more than a few hours for them to right their wrong.

Actually, there is still something wrong. As I type this, I see a speck of dirt behind the screen. It is NOT a few dead pixels. The dirt appears to be between the glass and the backlight. But I am bearing with it for fear that another visit will result in some other anomaly.

Apple SSD programme.

Then about two weeks before Christmas, Apple-Santa sent me email about an issue affecting the SSD of my Macbook Pro.

I put the servicing off till yesterday because I work just as much in the silence of libraries or in the aroma of coffee. Even though the solution was a firmware update, I could not afford another have-one-ailment-get-another-free incident.

Thankfully, the process was painless. If painless is backing everything up on an external drive and restoring the SSD when I got home. It was all in a day’s work. Thanks for the “free” service.

Now who do I send my bill for MY time and effort to?

One might take a simple observation (like the one tweeted below) and turn it into a teaching moment.

At first glance, you might see nothing wrong with the set up and leave it at that.

As the Twitter personality points out human foibles like laziness or oversight, you might look for something wrong. So a second look might reveal how the rolled up screen cannot be lowered past the projector.

Even so, anyone who has used a short-throw projector knows that 1) it is typically used with a wall-mounted whiteboard (like the one in the same photo), and 2) the projection on the board is often interactive. The second point means that the presenter can tap or write on the board — this requires a stationary surface, not a dangling one.

Still, someone whose job was to install the projector could have also removed the old screen. But even that is not nuanced enough. Why replace one type of projector with another?

Administrators and policymakers have bought into the sales pitches of vendors who say that such interactive projections are the next big thing. They are not. They leave the teacher squarely at the front of the classroom, with little involvement of the learners.

To teach is the learn twice.

If the adage that “To teach is to learn twice” is true, then we understand why teachers become content experts. They are constantly unpacking and repacking content for others.

How about the learners? Would they not benefit from teaching one another more often than not?

If teachers have just one critical job (for the record, they have many), it is to ensure that students learn effectively and meaningfully. Presentations on screen do not ensure learning; performance using the new knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes do.

Learning is not a spectator sport. --Chickering and Ehrmann

This is a continuation of yesterday’s rant on a poorly conceived video by Channel News Asia (CNA), “Can e-learning make you dumb?”.

The presenter (and his writers, if he had any) equated educational apps with e-learning. Any apps might be used for e-learning, but they do not represent e-learning. Furthermore, labelling an app “educational” does not make it so. It is about HOW any app is used that makes it useful for schooling, education, or learning. This principle seemed to be lost on the makers of the video.

Today I critique the video in the order in which its ideas were presented.
 

 
The video started with the now iconic dragon playground as a representation of how kids used to play in the past. Its message was clear — nostalgic thinking was better even if it did not consider changing contexts and fallible memories.
 
Nostalgia quote.
 
The presenter then interviewed three sets of researchers and clinicians.

The first was a researcher from the National Institute of Education, Singapore. There was nothing new from this segment if you keep up with educator blogs or current papers on screen time.

The strategy was the same — highlight unwarranted fears and conveniently leave out the importance of supervised and strategic use of apps by children.

The most alarming segment of the video started with this question from the presenter:

These apps are just bad at teaching our children. What if they could also be messing our children’s brains in the long run?

The presenter started with a tiny sample of non-identical twins (n=2) to test executive function after one twin played with app and other sat and drew. He then showed how the app-using child seemed to have problems following instructions compared to his non-app kin.

The presenter claimed that his illustration was a “ripoff” of an actual study. So was the original study just as poorly designed and implemented? Any critical thinker or researcher worth their salt would ask questions like:

  • Were there no confounding variables that could have affected the results?
  • How can anyone control for all contributing factors?
  • Were the treatments switched after a sufficiently long rest period?

The only statement from the presenter that I agree with was his admission that “this is far from a scientific experiment”. His pantomime attempt to put the app-using child in bad light was neither valid nor reliable.
 
Texting Congress 1 by afagen, on Flickr
Texting Congress 1” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by afagen
 
The presenter then interviewed two clinicians. “Interview” might be too generous; it was more like selectively confirming bias.

The first item on the interview list was the fabled harmful screen time. In doing so, they conveniently lumped all devices with screens to harmful screen time and ignored more nuanced definitions and revised guidelines from authorities like the American Pediatric Association (see this curated list of resources).

For example, one of the two clinicians pointed out the harm of passive screen time from watching too much TV. However, this did not discount active screen time.

If you do not know what active screen time looks like, I share a snapshot of future instructors I teach and mentor. This group was using apps with their learners.
 
Active screen time.
 
The other clinician said active use involved two-way communication or interaction with the environment. However, the video producers opted not to balance their bias with examples of such active screen time. They seemed to focus on children only as passive consumers and not active producers of content.
 

 
Not content to fearmonger about short-term effects of using apps, the interviewer also asked how the apps affect the career prospects of children. Read that again: Career prospects of children. This tangent then led to children leading lives of crime. I kid you not.

Reasonably logical and critical people do not need research or “research” to realise that the interviewer was over reaching here.

As if to appease the interviewer’s agenda, one researcher gave an example of a distracted child in a classroom. Really? This could be any child, app user or not, or to a child with ADHD.

There is no research that says that children sitting still are ultimately successful. Nor should there be. Not only are such studies unethical, they are illogical. No one can claim that a single factor (like app use) determines a child’s career prospects.

That same researcher suggested that a distracted child could suffer from bad grades, have poor health, and end up committing crimes. How can anyone draw a single, clear, and unbroken line that links a child’s app use to an adult’s job prospects or likelihood to commit crimes?

If the researcher was prone to exaggeration, then the interviewer was prone to oversimplification. He declared on camera:

I didn’t realise that just more screen time can develop to more crimes in society.

The real crime was that Channel News Asia pushed such drivel on screen.
 

 
The final expert interviewed by the presenter did what most people do with the delayed gratification study — misinterpret it.  The emphasis of the study was not IF a child delayed gratification, but HOW they did so.

The expert used the misinterpretation to highlight how apps provide instant gratification. Both the expert and the video producers conveniently ignored that both rewards and app use can be about the decision-making processes and the choices a child makes.

The CNA video was an attempt to pander to base fears instead of challenging viewers to look beyond the obvious. The question (“Can e-learning make you dumb?”) was designed as click bait and was a misdirect.

The answers were like a poorly written General Paper by a scatter-brained junior college (JC) student. That JC student was not a distracted app user. She was not supervised by her parents nor guided by teachers. She was not taught to question critically or research thoroughly.

An app alone cannot teach; an adult needs to be involved to monitor, moderate, and mediate. An app alone cannot make you dumb. Uninformed use, uncritical processing of the CNA video, or misguided beliefs in misinformation make you or your children dumb.

Apps do not make you dumb or keep you ignorant. Only dumb people who choose to be wilfully ignorant do.


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