Monday, 27 April 2015

Reconceptualising 'screen-time' (2015 Term 2 Week 2)

The idea of 'screen-time' has entered the popular lexicon as a way of speaking about the cumulative time that we spend looking at screens. However, summing up this amount of time obscures the fact that there are vast differences in the range of things that we are doing when we are looking at screens. Watching TV, playing a game, browsing the internet, completing an essay, working on a spreadsheet, editing video, writing computer code, watching videos of cats on Youtube, and all the rest of the things that can be done on a screen, are vastly different activities. They engage our brains in different ways and they require different amounts of effort.

Recently I have been thinking about the ways that we engage with technology in 'screen-time', wondering whether there is some way to conceptualise the different sorts of activities that we do.


One of the best-known frameworks for thinking about thinking and learning is Bloom's taxonomy. (A taxonomy is a framework for classifying, grouping or organising things.) In its popular form, Bloom's taxonomy distinguishes between the sorts of thinking processes that take place in learning. The lower-order forms of thinking are foundational for the higher-order tasks; educators ought to aim to ensure that students are engaged in the higher-order processes as well as the more basic activities.

The attraction of Bloom's taxonomy is that it provides a simple way to conceptualise the processes of thinking that we utilise. The taxonomy also serves as a prompt to push educators to reflect on the sorts of learning activities that we require of students. It is self-evidently inadequate to remain at the lower levels of thinking.

What might a taxonomy of the use of Information and Communication Technology, or screen-time, look like? What are the lower-order activities? What are the basic and foundational processes, and what are the higher-order ones? I wonder if the following taxonomy might be fruitful for us to consider our screen-time:

Higher order  Creation
                     Collaboration
                     Communication
                     Information
Lower order   Entertainment

What might an audit of your child's screen-time reveal? (What might an audit of our own usage reveal?) Obviously we do well to keep an eye on the total quantum of sedentary time with screens; face to face social interaction, physical movement, reading and other such activities must not be squashed out. However, a taxonomy such as suggested above might provide a more nuanced way to consider screen-time and even provide a rationale to redirect our children towards the higher-order activities.

For example, there are some games played by students that involve little more than swiping left, right, up and down; these serve to do little more than vacuum up time. There are others, such as Minecraft, that can be wonderful exercises in creativity. Of course, they may also be a colossal waste of time. Perhaps the best way forward when monitoring our children's screen-time is to look a little closer at what exactly they are doing, ask them to explain it to you, and discuss the relative merits of the activity with you.

At Inaburra, where we are seeking to utilise ICT as a tool for student learning, this sort of taxonomy can also prove helpful in pushing us to design higher-order tasks and activities for the students. There is lots more thinking to be done on this topic!

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