Toward a more balanced discussion on ‘Screen time.’

“Are today’s students spending too much time in front of computer screens? The more important question is: are students engaged in powerful learning experiences and, whenever possible, given voice and choice in what, how, and when they learn?” (read more here)

The popularity of opinions warning us against the dangers of screen time are nothing new.  Worrying about technology is what makes shows like Black Mirror fun.  For every opinion piece that warns about the perils of tech-addition, another is to be found which pitches an appeal for balance and a touch less fear-mongering:

For my children, technology is not mysterious. It doesn’t freak them out. It doesn’t control or oppress them. It’s a tool. They do homework on their iPads. They read books on e-readers for school and pleasure. They play games, watch videos, and chat with friends. It’s not a big deal. Screen time, for us, is still time spent together, just perhaps a bit different than how you do it.

Opinion pieces are just that: opinionated voices trying to drum up comments, likes and clicks.  It is important to remember that.  Moves are being made to make sure the research pushes beyond scare-tactics, and I’m happy to see reporting like this pushing for it.

Context matters.

Personally, I have found Moment app to be really informative. It keeps track of my phone pick ups, and usage.  But–I have to reflect also on what I do with my technology.

In the wake of studies that show digital applications can, in some circumstances, help with the very things critics claim they are destroying, Baird says it is important to keep an open mind.

“History tells us that agenda-driven science isn’t good science.” she says. “It’s important to remember that screens are a tool. Think of a hammer. Yes, you could murder someone with a hammer, but most people don’t. They use it to build and create and fix. There isn’t enough good science to tell us when, or even if, technology as a tool is going to be a problem yet.” (Keep reading here)

Overwhelmingly, my phone data goes mostly to two apps: my iPhone Podcast app and my Audible app.  I consume a lot of podcasts and a lot of narrated books.  If you looked at the hours spent on my phone in a given week, the numbers might be alarming, but if we discussed the podcasts and books I’m consuming–we’d be having a conversation about what I learned that week.  I hear a lot of people worry about screen time as ‘media consumption’ time, but I think actually as a blossoming podcaster, I’m better at making podcasts because I listen to them all the time.  I think I’m actually developing better communication skills because I’ve learned to craft better questions due to Desert Island Discs, and Hidden Brain.

A better question about screen time…

It’s now cliched to say ask about quality not quantity, but it bears repeating.

“We know the way that children develop best is through play, social interactions, unstructured curiosity, and structured family routines. We also know that there are some risks involved with heavy media use,” she says. “But just as it’s not appropriate to act as if no limits need to be placed, it’s not appropriate to say that all kids should have only 30 minutes of screen time per day and that’s it. There are so many different factors in play here—and each family needs to think proactively about the limits they want to set based on their children and their family.” (read more here)

Schools need to be asking about the ways that screens can be used to develop future-ready students.  And schools are getting better at reframing that question, inspired often by what we see students around the world doing:


Or check out this book that a 10th grader wrote and illustrated, available here.

Or check out how UWCSEA East’s Daraja GC group created their very own podcast, and share it with us via their GC digital portfolio here.

A UWC Context

When we revisit our mission, and we revist the opportunities and skills needed to fully engage globally, I find myself returning to this line from ‘Beyond the Echo Chamber: Pedagogical Tools for Civic Engagement Discourse and Reflection‘ (Educational Technology and Society, 2018):

The traditional view of literacy as the ability to read and write has expanded to encompass fluency in using digital tools and online information with aptitude and creativity.

Of course, we worry about our students and children, we want what is best for them, always.  But let’s also not be blinded by what Nick Alchin referred to as techno-panics and forget entirely to celebrate the new opportunities and phenomenal spaces for new modes of creativity to flourish.


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