Thursday, July 19, 2012

Screen Time=Game Time

This New York Times story from this spring is supposedly about a “digital divide” between children of more and less educated parents.  The lede is that children of less educated parents waste more time on digital devices.  But for me the interesting point is not a “divide” (which is actually rather small) but the huge amount overall that children (regardless of who their parents are) spend using multimedia/ digital devices: between 10 and 11.5 hours PER DAY! 
Children of more educated parents, generally understood as a proxy for higher socioeconomic status, also largely use their devices for entertainment. In families in which a parent has a college education or an advanced degree, Kaiser found, children use 10 hours of multimedia a day, a 3.5-hour jump since 1999. (Kaiser double counts time spent multitasking. If a child spends an hour simultaneously watching TV and surfing the Internet, the researchers counted two hours.)
In contrast,
The study found that children of parents who do not have a college degree spend 11.5 hours each day exposed to media from a variety of sources, including television, computer and other gadgets. That is an increase of 4 hours and 40 minutes per day since 1999.
For me, the larger point here is not the 90-minute difference between the two groups, but the large total for both groups.  Even if you discount Kaiser's method of double-counting the use of multiple devices at once, and even if you think that children's screen time is not harmful, or even beneficial, that is a lot of screen time.

And what are kids doing on their devices all that time?  Education policy-makers have long been promoting digital technology for its supposed educational value, particularly for disadvantaged groups, without (apparently, amazingly) considering the entertainment factor.
Like other researchers and policy makers, Ms. Boyd said the initial push to close the digital divide did not anticipate how computers would be used for entertainment.
“We failed to account for this ahead of the curve,” she said.
When computers first entered classrooms in the 80s when I was an elementary student, games were the most appealing aspect of the machines.  How did education policy-makers not notice this?

[I cross-posted this from my Tumblr, where I post links and articles that interest me, because I felt like ranting about it here!]


sarah said...

Hmm, interesting. That's a huge amount of hours! The thing is though, my unschooled child spends a lot of time on the computer (when she's not out and about in nature) and I worry about it ... except that she's learning design work and computer programming; she's researching subjects which interest her; she's watching informative videos and connecting with her friends. She doesn't play games (except a training simulator for her sport). She doesn't do Facebook. So I don't think it's always necessarily bad that children use computers, it depends on how they're using them and why.

Mom and Kiddo said...

This is an enormous amount of time, especially when I think my children are only awake for 13-14 hours a day!

I wonder what the age range of these children were. Teens and toddlers use screens in different ways -- some of which may for school assignments and such.

Fanny Harville said...

Yes, it does seem like an unbelievable amount of time, even if "10" hours is really only 5 because kids are using two devices at once. It would be nice if NYT would link to the actual study so one could investigate the findings further. All the article says about the age range is "children and teens," and M&K you are certainly right that toddlers and teens use screens in totally different ways.

My point here is not that it is wrong ever to use electronics for learning and social connection; I certainly use my computer and phone a lot for both. Rather I was shocked by the total amount of time noted in the article, and I am deeply suspicious of schools systems' (and universities'!) beliefs in technology as the cure-all solution to the challenges of education. The fact that education policy makers can profess to be shocked that so much of kids' screen time is spent on entertainment indicates to me that their technology cheer-leading has not been very well thought out.

Here's an excellent related NYT op-ed on the new fad for online courses at universities:

Adrienne Pilon ("A") said...

Wow! That's a lot of hours.

I've been investigating this topic for some time, as I teach high school and have a teenager who thinks that everything is better on a computer screen. In fact, reading online does not compare favorably with reading a book, nor does research, depending on how it is conducted, of course. Reading with pop-ups and hyperlinks has been shown to inhibit both comprehension and retention of information. I have noticed a decline in my students' research skills and think it a direct result of living online. I am currently reading a book called "The Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains" and the evidence is quite compelling. Further, the link between violent gaming and behavior is now well documented (I review a book on that topic on my blog). This is all very general, of course, and I don't mean to make sweeping statements, but FH, you are correct in critiquing the current fetish for all things technological in education.
The question parents and teachers should ask is this: how do I feel after spending a lot of time on the computer? Centered? Focused? Content? Energetic?
Oh, I could go on....

Fanny Harville said...

A, I look forward to hearing your thoughts about The Shallows! I haven't read it yet, but am very interested in it.

And here's food for thought on technology in the classroom from an old Slate column:
"Classrooms in countries with the highest-performing students contain very little tech wizardry, generally speaking. They look, in fact, a lot like American ones—circa 1989 or 1959. Children sit at rows of desks, staring up at a teacher who stands in front of a well-worn chalkboard."

The computer/internet can be an important resource for homeschoolers, but I am still wary of giving it much prominence in our homeschool. Even though our home "classroom" doesn't look much like those described above, it does feature the engaged pedagogy that is the secret to their success.