Screen Time

Watching my kids raise their kids is interesting. I am a psychologist with some expertise in the area of adolescence, but I can’t say that my approach as a parent was that planned. I guess I would describe my approach as be supportive, be aware, and try help when problems develop. Perhaps my wife was more prescriptive, but I don’t think so. We wanted our kids to do well and be well rounded, but beyond sharing expectations we required few specific choices. Again, what I describe is my impression and not necessarily the impression of all involved.

Screen time is one of those issues that seems new to me. I do not think we had household rules regarding screen time. My kids missed out on several technologies we now take for granted. Internet activities were not part of their experience. We had two phone lines (no cell phones), but this abundance was allowed so we could use the “teen line” for a phone modem. Disputes were related to who had priority on the second line, but not how much time was allowed. What I don’t think we had were rules regarding how much television viewing time was allowed.

My own children as parents vary in their expectations but they do talk about screen time. Of course, we gave our grandchildren iPads so we have played a role in shaping the environment that must be addressed. Specific time limits do come up and I sometimes hear reference to a specific number – you can have 30 minutes of iPad time and then you need to do something else.

Our kids get these numbers from somewhere. All are well educated and with their spouses seek out information on parenting. One influential source of such information has been American Academy of Pediatrics. I must admit a bias here. As a psychologist, I am always surprised when folks from the medical profession weigh in on topics such as child rearing, bullying, etc. My major professor (a WWII military veteran) refused to refer to MDs as doctors. He always called them medics. The preparation of PhDs was different with far more time focused on doing and reading research without a biological connection. I admit to a certain ignorance regarding the preparation of medical professionals (our two daughters are in the field), but I do know how much course work and field experience goes into the preparation of clinical or developmental PhD psychologists.

Anyway, the AAP had a rather absolutist position on screen time – nothing before 2 and then up to two hours by adolescence. Simple rules are easy to follow so I understand the impact on parents seeking simple guidelines. Of course, the world is far more complicated and everyone should have considered that screen time can mean very different things. Unless there was specific evidence that focusing one’s attention on a light emitting surface did neurological damage, what is viewed and heard can now expose the viewer to such a wide range of experiences with varying consequences. Some can be interactive. Many can be educational. Some can be damaging.

AAP has released a new report (there is an executive summary if you do not want to read the entire document) with specific suggestions and a more nuanced position. The recommendations require judgment on the part of parents, but the ideas seem pretty much what I would regard as common sense. The real issue here may be getting parents to forget what they were told previously.

Perhaps if I explain screen time as similar to food consumption the medics may understand. Some is good and necessary. Different inputs have different consequences. It is possible that too much of anything can reach the point of causing problems, but how much this amount is will be determined by many factors.

Reading – paper vs screen

If you are concerned that tablets provide learners an inferior reading experience you might be interested in this Educause article. The article outlines a study conducted at the Coast Guard Academy, but also offers an introduction that reviews the existing literature on the topic.
I regard this as a multi-level question. There is the question of reading behaviors as they might exist in the “real world”. There is also the question of reading under controlled circumstances. Reading in the real world involves additional factors that go beyond the basic question of whether comprehension is influenced by whether text is accessed from paper or a tablet. In the real world, it appears that factors such as attractive distractions or display format may impact the reading experience. These issues have practical significance, but can be potentially addressed via technological means. For example, the larger IPad pro will allow more complex page presentations. The reason Kindle text is unadorned is partly to control cost. Access to other apps on an iPad can presently be controlled if distraction is an issue. Tools for deep reading (highlighting, navigation, etc.) will improve.
The bare bones comparison of reading from different displays seems quite different. I can think of no reason I would expect the display type to make a difference, but I guess this is an empirical question. The study reported in this article describes an experiment (and references others) addressing this basic question. The study found no treatment differences (but also reached what I thought were strange conclusions related to the pattern of scores associated with each treatment). The pattern finding and interpretation seem a bit of a stretch. The author suggests that paper may be suited to more capable learners. The data on which this proposal is made would also then encourage the conclusion that more average learners should use tablets.
If you care interested, you can view my Highly highlights associated with this article. I describe Highly elsewhere.

Highlighting with Highly

I have long been interesting in tools and tactics for personalizing text. This is my way of saying I am interested in highlighting, underlining, and annotating. This interest predated technology and influenced some of the educational research I did. Who should highlight or take notes and who should not? Do we benefit from the practice of marking up content and/or from the review of this personally enhanced content? What about the highlights and notes of others – there is a research topic that considers the potential benefit of using the material generated by “expert” note takers rather than relying on our own work. I cannot say I remember similar work with highlighting.

Technology has added some new wrinkles to my interest and the topics to be considered. For example, with Kindle books, there is the opportunity to consider the most commonly highlighted material. Think of this as a “wisdom of the crowd” replacement for the expert highlighter. Other technological options make shared highlighting easier. This brings me to my suggestion for a service you might explore.

Highly is an extension for the Chrome browser. It is presently available, but in beta so whether it will show up for other browsers or whether additional features will appear has yet to be determined.


When the extension is added, a highlighter icon will appear in the upper right-hand corner of the browser window. This icon activates and deactivates the tool. When activated, dragging text adds the highlights. Tools at the bottom right-hand corner of the window allow access to the multiple ways for sharing highlights.


If shared with another user who has not installed the extension, the user will see the highlighted material only and not the highlighted material in context. Try it to see some content I highlighted.

How might this be used:

1) highlight a recommendation for peers or students – the highlights are a way to demonstrate what it is that you wanted them to notice

2) ask students to show you what they have highlighted – do they seem to identify the content that is relevant to a particular taskI remember a research paper I read (too long ago for me to recall the reference) that compared no, free, and restricted highlighting. Without review, the study found that restricted highlighting was most beneficial. One interpretation is that making decisions about relative importance requires a deeper processing of the content.

I wish Highly allowed both highlighting and annotation. Perhaps additional features will eventually be added.

Science of Learning

In my opinion, the connection between educational researchers and educators is problematic. Researchers tend to be hesitant to offer specific recommendations and educators label researchers as removed from practical situations. My concern is that educators end up influenced by sources offering specific suggestions which ignore basic principles of learning. Suggestions can be framed in a way that sound good but are based on concepts that are known to be flawed. Some common practices have been proven over and over again to be less effective than other practices that suffer simply because the practices have long been promoted. New ideas are not always superior.

Deans for Impact is an organization attempting to establish a list of principles that are supported through research. This group working with Dan Willingham are attempting to put together a document that summarizes these principles and offers related classroom guidelines. The document is short, but well referenced. My thought was that a grad ed psych class might find the reference list to be a great reading list.

Science of Learning (this link will download as a pdf the present version of this document)


Edge Browser

Let me get this out of the way first.

Yes, it is true that I seldom write anything positive about Microsoft.

No, I am feeling just fine, but thanks for your concern.

I kind of like Microsoft’s new browser – Edge.

I can’t say that I anticipate Edge becoming my daily workhorse, but it seems suited to one process I do a lot. I locate content, annotate and highlight that content, save what I have marked up, reflect on several marked up documents, and then write something. I have a system for doing this from PDFs (mostly journal articles I download), but I have yet to find a perfect system for doing this with web content.

Edge has what I regard as reasonable markup and share tools built in. I can’t really say that build in tools are better than capabilities added as plugins or extensions, but I am just guessing that there is an efficiency advantage. As long as a browser does not integrate too many capabilities, built in would seem to offer advantages. This is the present state of Edge.




The icon to activate the annotation/highlight options appears in the upper-right corner of the browser display.







Selecting the annotation icons opens up a tool display (top left-hand corner). You can highlight, write/draw directly on the browser image, or add a text comment. Your finished work can be saved to OneNote or shared to several to one of several options (I save work to Evernote).

My only complaint at this point is the method of highlighting. I would prefer a highlighter that carefully follows a line of text. The Edge highlighter is used like an actual highlighter meaning my highlights come out messy rather than neat.

RSS and RSS Readers

Many who read this blog may be unfamiliar with RSS and RSS readers. By some accounts, RSS is an old technology – still around, but not the way most now discover online content to read.

I still teach my advanced ed tech students how to use RSS to follow online sources. I make no apology for this. I expect technology leaders to be better informed than those who such leaders propose to assist and I believe RSS offers an approach to controlling awareness not available with social services such as Twitter. RSS allows the learner to identify valued sources and follow these sources for updates. It does not rely on others to locate and then share information from such sources. RSS and “social discovery” have unique advantages and disadvantages and I believe it is best to combine the approaches rather than to rely on one or the other.

If you are unfamiliar with RSS (real simple syndication), think of it as a way for a user to receive notice when sites the user designates have been changed. Such a system is particularly important with blogs and podcasts. A user might follow hundreds of such sites each of which may be updated on an unpredictable schedule. It would be highly inefficient for the user to go to each site and see if something has changed (a new post or podcast has been added). An RSS reader takes care of the searching and offers a user a list of just the updates.

I am presently using three “readers” (obviously more than I need, but I try to experiment to be able to offer recommendations). These readers include Feedly, Reeder 2, and NetNewsWire. I work mainly from Apple hardware and I use these services on both the desktop and the tablet. I have paid for accounts for Reeder and NetNewsWire. Feedly would possibly be my favorite, but their “pro” account requires a monthly fee. I prefer to pay one time and so use the free version.




Reeder 2

reeder 2





What you see here are the desktop views for all three services. The systems look very similar. Each has three panels (not all may be visible) displaying the feed sources, the headline view, and a detailed view. The detailed view may contain the entire article or it will contain a smaller portion if the author has limited the amount of content to be made available via RSS. I use both the desktop and mobile apps, but prefer the desktop view because I like to scan the detailed views. I can do this quickly on a larger screen. Each service offers a button for moving from post to post (identified by a red square).

I use an RSS reader in a particular way. I prefer to use the readers to scan content and to save the material I want to use for some future purpose to Evernote. All readers offer some way to “share” content, but Reeder 2 works best for me. Evernote sharing is a “pro” feature in Feedly and not one of the present options in NetNewsWire. For those who do not mind an extra step, there is an easy work around. You can open the original article in a browser from the reader and then use an Evernote extension to upload the content from the browser.


Who comes to campus – it is complicated

It is time for new students to report to campus. An interesting controversy has developed over the issue of which students go where. Should institutions use the ACT or SAT to determine which students are allowed to attend. Some institutions have decided to drop these tests proposing that this move allows greater equity of access. The true motives of these institutions have been called into question.

I spent a good part of my academic career instructing and researching the study performance of beginning students. Let me say from personal experience and from the data I collected that allowing poorly prepared students into a college unsuited to their needs is not doing anyone a favor.

As a researcher, I did not use SAT or ACT data in my work. I primarily made use of a measure of reading skill. My course of interest was the Introduction to Psychology. I taught large groups of students and a major part of the student’s grade was based on several multiple-choice question exams based on student understanding and application of lecture and textbook content. My interest as a researcher was in study behavior and I made heavy use of an online study activities allowing me to operationalize how well, when, and how much students studied textbook content. My interest was in evaluating how such variables were related to examination performance.

As one would expect, reading comprehension skill was strongly correlated to examination performance. Without going further, in the large course environment in which I worked, I would suggest that poorly prepared students are going to struggle and allowing admission as an equity commitment may simply set certain students up for failure.

My research goes further to address related issues. I will say that my main research interest was to see if I could create online technology tools to assist poor readers in identifying specific areas of failed understanding to improve self-remediation. The biggest problem in publishing my research over the years was this. I continually ran into a problem that would call into question any effort I might make to evaluate the value of my intervention strategy. The problem was that more effective readers made greater use of the study tool than the poorer readers. This alone is a very interesting finding, but not of great value if what you want to do is develop cost-effective ways to assist poorly prepared students. Use of my study technique was predictive of higher examination performance, but use of my technique was also predicted by being a better student.

I am not defending the use of textbooks, multiple choice examinations, or large classes for the least experienced college students. Each of these issues would warrant a much longer analysis. Whatever one thinks of any of these issues, one important reality is that the commitment to each of these tactics is partly determined by the cost of higher education. I would have loved to work with groups of 25 intro students, but large state institutions cannot make this approach work on the tuition students are willing to pay.

So, having struggled with this situation for many years and having spent countless hours attempting to develop interventions that I felt would partly respond to the cost issue, I must say that  increasing the range of aptitude, background knowledge, motivation, etc. of students at the beginning level is not a strategy that will be successful without major interventions that are likely to be expensive. I would include as a short list – smaller classes and much more personal contact.