Kids these Days – A Pintrest Collection of Popular Culture

Creating a Pintrest board of things that interest kids presented an enormous challenge for me and really brought home how hopelessly out of touch I am with an entire generation. As I am currently not working, and spend my days at home with two under school-aged children, it is not surprising that I am a little out of touch. The chance to get up-to-date has be great fun.

The most significant lesson I will take away from the experience is that some pastimes are enduring, even in the digital age. As expected, my Pintrest board is littered with social media, the latest apps and computer games. But what came quite unexpectedly to me was the children who simply told me they enjoyed “chatting with friends,”playing sport” or “playing with their friends”. While Web 2.0 seems to offer kids a most exciting array of creative and stimulating pastimes, it is nice to know that simply spending time with others still remains a top priority.

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Mobile Learning

As a child, every Friday night we would go to Pizza Hut. My favourite part of the outing was the paper place mats which offered a range of activities and colouring in. I was so enthusiastic that I would bring my own very large box of colouring pencils, as the little packet provided did not suffice. My sister and I would colour the whole time, stopping only briefly to eat. That pencil box is such a prized possession that I still have it today, filled with the very same pencils which would have come with me to Pizza Hut all those years ago.

My precious pencil box.

My precious pencil box.

In the year 2014 children are being kept quiet not with pen and paper, but with mobile devices. You will see children on devices more or less anywhere: restaurants, trains, airports, school pick up areas, shopping centres, doctor’s surgeries, and even the back seat of the car. My gut reaction concern. I always think that a little boredom encourages creativity. And as a prep teacher, I see far too many little hands not yet strong enough to write because of all those hours spent poking at screens instead of gripping hand-strengthening pencils.

Brian Fling. iphone Child Care. Retrieved from https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2007/1507778757_cc7b28643d_z.jpg?zz=1

However, I have recently done some reading which has given me a broader perspective. Fascinatingly, the creators of Handheld Learning see the educational value of mobile devices as so significant that they have come together to promote the issue. Handheld Learning focuses on how learning can be enhanced through mobile and ubiquitous technologies, stating that they offer learning both “in and outside the traditional educational environment” (Handheld learning, n.d., para.3). This suggests that time spent on a mobile device anywhere – be it a restaurant, doctor’s office or train – could offer valuable educational experiences.

Derby’s article Creativity in my pocket: No ‘i’ puns here (2011) makes similar observations. Derby does not see mobile devices as hindering opportunities for handwriting, as I tend to assume. Rather, as their size makes them impractical for word-processing, students are forced to engage in traditional note making and writing skills while still having access to texts and technologies which can significantly enhance learning (Derby, 2011). Derby makes other arguments for the usefulness of mobile devices in education, including the fact that their simplicity means less time is spent working out software, leaving more time to focus on core educational concepts (Derby, 2011).

I was astounded by a study suggesting mobile phones’ usefulness for learning in developing countries. Studies are examining the possibility that writing applications on cheap touch screen phones could let children practice writing without wasting paper (Valderrama Bahamondez, Kubitza, Henze & Schmidt, 2013). Similarly, camera phones with touch screens have been used to distribute textbooks and worksheets in schools in developing countries. (Valderrama Bahamondez et al., 2013). While it seems almost farcical that touch screens could offer a cheaper alternative to pen and paper, Handheld Learning states that more people on the planet have mobile phones that do not (n.d., para. 5), which indicates that even in developing nations, children may have mobile phones available when schools are not able to provide other resources.

In an age where more people on our planet have mobile phones than don’t and where mobile phones and handheld entertainment devices outsell laptop and desktop computers by 4:1 we believe there are huge opportunities to make transformational improvements in learning that will affect everyone. (Handheld Learning, n.d., para. 5)

Interestingly I discovered that even in the Australia mobile devices can fill in where resources are scarce. My friend, a Film and Television teacher in Brisbane, often finds herself in classrooms with inadequate computer access, or where content she requires is blocked. Her students pull out their phones instead. While she has to turn a blind eye as students use devices which are against school policy, she if fully aware than many lessons would not have gone ahead without access to these devices.
So my reading has prompted me to think a little differently about mobile devices. My concerns that touch screens do not favour fine motor development are probably correct, as suggested in a 2011 New York Times’ article on handwriting (Zezima, 2011, para.10). However, I cannot ignore the fact that mobile devices provide rich, pocket-sized learning tools. Even playing on mobile devices is arguably educational:

Play is one of the primary characteristics of authentic, progressive learning, both a cause and effect of an engaged mind. In a mobile learning environment learners are encountering a dynamic and often unplanned set of data, domains, and collaborators, changing the tone of learning from academic and compliant to personal and playful. (Heick, 2012, para. 9)

And yet, the little child inside of me, clutching her giant pencil box at Pizza Hut, still wants children to join in the pencil and paper fun! Perhaps I just have to settle for something in between – digital drawing anyone?

A drawing done on my mobile phone by my 3 year old daughter.

A drawing done on my mobile phone by my 3 year old daughter.

References

Derby, B. (2011). Creativity in my pocket: No ‘I’ puns here. English in Australia 46(3)

Handheld Learning. (n.d.). Handheld Learning – About us. Retrieved Retrieved October 12, 2014, from http://www.handheldlearning.co.uk/content/view/49/75/

Heick, T. (2012, October 18). 12 Principles Of Mobile Learning [Web log post]. Teach Thought. Retreived from http://www.teachthought.com/technology/12-principles-of-mobile-learning/

Valderrama Bahamóndez, E. d. C., Kubitza, T., Henze, N., & Schmidt, A. (2013). Analysis of children’s handwriting on touchscreen phones. In Proceedings of the 15th international conference on Human-computer interaction with mobile devices and services (pp.171-174). doi:10.1145/2493190.2493222

Zezima, K. (2011, April 12). The case for cursive. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/28/us/28cursive.html

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Critical Literacy for a Literate Future

Recently, I watched my daughter’s friend at mere two and a half years, old pick up an ipad, activate it, chose a game and begin to play. The process was fluid – she did not hesitate but purposefully and quickly opened her favourite app. My own daughter, the same age, sat to the side playing with a toy. She has never used an ipad in her life.

Most of my friends are a little shocked at my child’s limited access to technology. We do not have an ipad for our girls, they never use a computer, and they do not even know that portable DVD players or game consoles exist for use during long car trips (they count sheep in paddocks instead). My girls do watch TV and DVDs but their engagement with technology is much more limited than most children their age. People express concern that I am limiting their opportunities. I disagree.

Don’t take me the wrong way. I am not anti-technogy. I love my computer. I adore the free acess to boundless information that the internet provides me with. I find joy in instantly sharing happy-snaps of my children with their grandparents who live on the other side of the globe. Technology has brought about wonderful changes to my life, and I am glad that it will be a part of my children’s lives.

However, the object of technology – be it an ipad, laptop, smartphone or other – is not as important as the network of information it provides me access to. In fact, by the time my children are in highschool, the access tools which we have today will likely be as obsolete as orange-and-black screened machine that was my first computer. The NMC The Horizon Report: 2014 K – 12 Edition for example, predicts that within the next 5 or more years, children will be engaging with wearable computers. The report talks of

“[Devices] that understand gestures, facial expressions, and their nuances […and allow] users to interact in an almost natural fashion, with gesture, expression, and voice communicating their intentions to devices.” (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, and Freeman, 2014, p. 14).

If these predictions are correct, my daughter’s current ability to use or not use an ipad will be irrelevant.

 

I believe that the thinking skills required to engage successful with technology are much more important than the technology itself. Reflecting my own thoughts, Facer (2011) arguers that in age of rapid technological change, we have mistakenly begun to conflate the terms ‘digital literacy’ and ‘21st century skills’ (Facer, 2011, p. 223) he sees a profound difference between the long-term challenge of developing the skills required for an unknown, unpredictable and challenging future, and the shorter-term hurdle of ensuring that children know how to use the tools of technology. He argues that the future could look considerably different from what we predict and that it is impossible to prepare students for the tools they might have access to (or not have access to) in their future. However, we can prepare them them with the kinds of thinking skills that they will need, whatever the technology might be. Adding to Facer’s argument, Gainer states that,

“A healthy and vibrant democracy requires an engaged citizenry who think critically, take positions on complicated issues and work collaboratively to solve problems. These qualities parallel demands for 21st -century literacies that deal with the sociological nature of reading and writing multimodally in an increasingly globally connected world.” (Gainer, 2012, p. 14)

So it is critical thinking skills, rather than digital literacies, which will play the most significant role in preparing our children for life in the 21st century.

Back to reflecting on my little girl. After countless shocked parents expressed concern about her lack of technology access, I decided to check that I wasn’t letting her down. While I felt confident that she would be able to use a ipad should she have access to one, I had no proof. So I began to allow her to access to my iphone. I downloaded a few appropriate apps, including a drawing app and some games,  showed her where they were saved, and left her to it. Within 10 minutes, she could access the apps on her own. I now regularly find her drawings saved in my photostream – she has worked out how to save them there so she can look at them later. I did not teach her how to do this. Her ability to quickly and readily take on technology has left me confident in my choice to limit access.

One of the drawing found saved in my photostream.

One of the drawing found saved in my photostream.

So what lessons can I learn from this in my role as a teacher-librarian? Importantly for educators, students seem to be developing technological skills outside of school (Facer, 2011), just like my daughter, who quickly and readily taught herself how to use her new apps. Furthermore, if the predictions of ‘wearable computers’ made in the Horizon report are correct, devices in the future will be so intuitive that we will not need to learn how to use them. On the other hand, studies have found that critical thinking skills do not develop so easily outside of formal educational settings. For example,

“Pop culture texts can play an important role in shaping students’ literacy abilities as well as developing their content knowledge. However, students accepting nature of pop culture texts …suggests that they could benefit from a more systematic instruction that allows them to identify and reconstruct messages found in both types of texts. (Xu as cited in Hall, 2012, p. 302)

While technological skills can easily be developed outside of formal educational settings, critical thinking skills are unlikely to develop elsewhere (Facer, 2011). Formal education, therefore, needs to place increased emphasis on teaching critical literacy.

IMG_3304[1]

The octopus my daughter made with help from google.

When my daughter does access technology, it is often supervised and assisted, and I plan her interactions to enhance her understanding of the usefulness of the digital world. For example, she recently expressed interest in making herself a toy octopus. Not sure how we could go about this, I told her we could look it up on the internet. Together, we browsed images, videos and ideas from other children until we decided on the best possible way to make our own octopus. The finished product hangs in a place of pride on her bed head. The fact that she is too young to understand how to use google is irrelevant. The lesson she has taken away from the project is that there is a wealth of information on the internet that can be used for real-life purposes. She also learned how to browse information and choose the best information for her purposes.

In conclusion, I would like to reflect on what it means to have a good school program for the 21st century. I recently heard a mother at my school report to another parent that the school was clearly a good school, “because all the preps have ipads”. My question to that mother would be, “Do you know what the children are doing with those ipads?”  I would hope that the ipads are being used for the kind of thinking exercises that I engage my daughter in. Because it is the thinking skills, and not the digital skills, that are at the heart of good education in the 21st century.

References

Facer, K. (2011). What futures for digital literacy in the 21st century? In L. Stergioulas & H. Drenoyanni (Eds.), Pursuing digital literacy in compulsory education (pp. 223-240). New York: Peter Lang.

Gainer, J. (2012). Critical Thinking: Foundational for digital literacies and democracy.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 56(1), 14 – 17. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00096

Hall, L. A. (2012). How popular culture texts inform and shape students’ discussions of social studies texts. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 55(4), 296 – 305. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00036

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., & Freeman, A. (2014). NMC The Horizon Report: 2014 K – 12 Edition. Auston, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fcdn.nmc.org%2Fmedia%2F2014-nmc-horizon-report-k12-EN.pdf

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On the (not so) dull topic of copyright.

He [sic] who receives an idea from me receives instructions without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine receives light without darkening me. (Thomas Jefferson, cited in Kapitzke, 2009, p. 95)

As part of my Masters in Teacher-Librarianship, it has been exciting to examine the creative possibilities of Web 2.0. In this citation, Jefferson reflects on how the sharing of ideas is an experience which enriches without detracting from the original idea. In the same way, Web 2.0 offers boundless opportunities for ideas to be shared, built upon, extended and improved. I am a little less excited to realise that  the creative opportunities of Web 2.0 also mean I have a very important responsibility to my students to educate them in copyright and the fair use of the materials to which they have access.

I recently read Kapitzke’s article Rethinking Copyright for the Library through Creative Commons Licensing. Kapitzke discusses current copyright policies. He reflects on a government which wishes to build a culture of creative and innovative thinking, but which is simultaneously tightening copyright laws. He argues that increasingly restrictive copyright laws are forcing a culture of self-censorship and are at odds with the development of collective creativity. Kapitzke proposes improving the status of copyright education as one way to deal with the impact of restrictive copyright laws (2009). His article is fascinating, and definitely worth a read for anyone working in education.

Reading the article prompted me to question what kind of copyright education we already have in place in Australian schools and I would like to share my discoveries here. The issue is clearly increasing important, and yet, in my role as a primary-school teacher, I was completely unaware that any such area of study existed within the school context. So perhaps there are other training teacher-librarians out there who, like me, could benefit from the information I have discovered.

HSC: All My Own Work

This module based program is a pre-requisite to completing the NSW High School Certificate. It covers Scholarship Principles and Practices, Acknowledging Sources, Plagiarism, Copyright and Working with others (Board of Studies New South Wales, 2006). I spoke with a teacher working in the NSW system to find out how the program is implement, and she advised me that it was largely dependent on the Teacher-Librarian for affective delivery. Currently, I cannot find indication that the program has been made part of the Australian National Curriculum.

Australian National Curriculum

I searched the Australian National Curriculum for anything about copyright, but the closest I could turn up was a component of the Year 10 English curriculum which requires students to understand who to cite in essays, reviews and academic assignments and when it is appropriate to use direct quotations or to report sources more generally” (Australian Curriculum, Reporting and Assessment Authority, 2014, ACELA1568). While my search within the curriculum was certainly not exhaustive, I could not locate anything similar to the “All My Own Work” module being taught in New South Wales.

In terms of official government curriculum, my discoveries regarding copyright education in Australian schools stop there. So unless you are a NSW teacher-librarian working with HSC students, you are left very much on your own in terms of structuring a suitable course for educating students in this important area.

Two useful resources for TLs

My research turned up a Manifesto for 21st Century Teacher Librarians which provides useful guidelines for those teaching outside of NSW. The manifesto outlines what might be considered the most important topics regarding copyright for a TL to teach to her students and to know about herself. The relevant information is under the section Copyright, copyleft and information ethics. 

This YouTube clip on Fair Use is also a wonderful resource for teacher-librarians and their students to understand how they can remain lawful when creating new content out of existing works.

To conclude, I feel that much more could be provided to help Teacher-Librarians induct students into the world of copyright. Should anyone reading this post know of any other resources or inclusions in the curriculum it would wonderful if you could include them in the comments section here, to assist others like myself.

References

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2014). The Australian curriculum: Foundation – 10. Retrieved September 26, 2014 from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/english/Curriculum/F-10?layout=1#cdcode=ACELA1568&level=10

Board of Studies New South Wales. (2006). HSC: All my own work. Retrieved September 26, 2014, from http://amow.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/

Kapitzke, C. (2009). Rethinking copyrights for the library through Creative Commons licensing. Library Trends. 58(1), 95-108. doi: 10.1353/lib.0.0069

Valenza, J., K.,  (2010, October). Manefesto for 21st century teacher-librarians [Web log post]. Teacher-Librarian: Journal for School Library Professionals. Retrieved from http://www.teacherlibrarian.com/2011/05/01/manifesto-for-21st-century-teacher-librarians/ Editor’s Note: This article was originally published as a Tag Team Tech column on www.voyamagazine.com. It has been reprinted and reproduced numerous times and  in many places. We are making it available here to ensure that all of our readers have seen it.

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Is there still a place for old-fashioned literature?

I recently borrowed a copy of the fairytale Hansel and Gretel from the library to read to my 31/2 year old daughter. It didn’t offer pleasant bedtime reading. On the first page, the children’s mother died. By the second page their father had remarried a horrible, unloving women. And by the third page she was convincing their father to lead them both into the woods to die. My horrified husband politely took me aside and asked me why on earth I thought the story was appropriate for our little girl.

“Because its a FairyTale.” I replied. “It is one of those stories that kids need to know so that they can follow what’s going on in other stories at school.” Unconvinced, he chose Peppa Pig from the bookshelf and our daughter slept more soundly than she would have if we had continued with the terrifying classic tale.

The experience left me thinking about classic literature, and the place that it has in the lives of literate children today. I felt quite convinced that I wanted my little girl to have a grasp classic childhood literature, but felt old-fashioned. What could possibly be so important about Hansel and Gretel that I would read it to my little girl, despite its horrifying content?

As I struggled with the question, my daughter sat on the couch absorbed in The Story of Prince George, a medieval-themed episode of the beloved children’s show, Peppa Pig. As she sat staring at her favourite characters dressed in medieval costumes, the realisation struck me. The cultural capital which I wanted to build up in my little girl was not just important to her schooling experience. All around her, the texts she consumed for pleasure could be better enjoyed and better understood through a deeper understanding of traditional literature.

It does not mean that a child cannot go through life with very little little knowledge of the stories of yonder years. My little daughter’s enjoyment of Peppa Pig was not at all affected my her complete lack of knowledge about what a knight is, and why he might be rescuing a princess on a ‘gallant steed’. However, her enjoyment can be so much richer if she does have a deeper knowledge.

Popular culture, even in the 21st Century, submerges our children daily in content which can be enriched through a deeper knowledge of literature. A simple example is the title of the show Big Brother. When the show first emerged in my high school years, very few of my classmates understood the literary reference of the title. As a bookworm, I had recently read 1984 and as such, the show took on a slightly darker tone for me, as I considered the scary reality of a political system which kept its subjects under constant surveillance.

Computer games, which many parents consider to the be antithesis of the literate individual, are actually rich with references to literature. Krzywinska describes them as “thick texts”(2006, p. 383).

However, players’ experience of this ‘thickness’ depends upon the textual knowledge which they bring to a game. (Bradford, 2010, p. 58)

What I have noticed as a dive deeper into the world of Web 2.0. is that literacy knowledge is no longer something that simply offers children a personal satisfaction but rather, they have opportunities to display, enjoy and build on their knowledge within new contexts. My experience in  understanding the title of Big Brother was a personal triumph, enjoyed smugly to myself. It can be compared to the hugely public display of cultural knowledge represented, for example, by the construction of an entire Hogwarts (The school from Harry Potter) within the game of Minecraft. 

So while my choice of Hansel and Gretel for a very young child might have been a little bit ambitious, I can confidently say that traditional literature does still have a place in forming literate individuals in the 21st Century. The richer their knowledge of things past, the more ready our children will be to participate in the new. In conclusion, it is fitting to reflect on this statement from Jenkins et al. as they consider the challenges of education in the 21st Century.

…textual literacy remains a central skill in the twenty-first century. Before students can engage with the new
participatory culture, they must be able to read and write. Youth must expand their required competencies, not push aside old skills to make room for the new. (2006, p. 19)

References

Bradford, C. (2010). Looking for my corpse: Video games and player positioning. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 33(1), 54- 64.

Jenkins, H., Klinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A.J., & Weigel, W. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: media education for the 21st century. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/site/c.enJLKQNlFiG/b.2108773/apps/nl/content2.asp?content_id={CD911571-0240-4714-A93B-1D0C07C7B6C1}¬oc=1

Krzywinska, T. (2006). Blood Scythes, Festivals, Quests, and Backstories: World Creation and Rhetorics of Myth in World of Warcraft. Games and Cutlure, 1, 383 – 396. doi: 10.1177/1555412006292618

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Cut and Paste Teacher

I want to open this blog with this photo of my study desk a few hours before my last university essay was due.

IMG_3135

A laptop open, my essay on the screen. Pens and pencils scattered around. Printed copies of articles and readings piled up. A printed calendar showing due dates. And in the middle, my essay, cut in to pieces and being sticky-taped back together as I re-invent it. Cutting and pasting in the most literal sense.

I stopped to take the photo because as I was feverishly snipping my essay to pieces and scribbling new topic sentences above each paragraph, the irony of the thing struck me. I was writing about teaching and learning in a digital age. And yet the scene was fiercely anti-digital. I was sitting amidst a sea of research articles, printed onto paper, even though I had them all saved on my laptop as digital files. And I was cutting and pasting together a document which was staring at me on the screen, available to be adjusted digitally without any of the mess, bother and effort that I was going through.

While my essay writing approach might seem archaic, I actually take fairly good advantage of the opportunities of the digital age. Take my approach to research as one example. Ten years ago, I wrote an honours thesis for which I spent hours in the dingy library photocopy room photocopying journal articles. And I was recently discussing the issue with my father to discover, in horror and amazement, that his honours year was spent flipping through cardboard catalogue cards trying to locate articles! For my masters, I have been delighted that in this new age of digitalised documents, I have not had to leave the house to access all of the research materials I require.

 I have become skilled at internet research and most certainly won’t look back. However, I cannot consider myself to be a digital learner. Leu et al. suggest,

“We are caught in a period of transition between reading on the page and reading on the screen” (2011, para. 23).

My experience testifies to this. I skilfully locate and assess my research on the screen. However, once I have decide that I would like to use an article, I hit the print button and continue the process on the page. My on-screen reading comprehension is not good. Nor are my on-screen editing skills, hence the physical cutting and pasting of my work.

Within my personal space, my semi-digital/ semi-print approach to learning suits me just fine. But my concern is for the students I teach. How will my paper-based learning approach affect my uptake of technology in the classroom? Just as digital-research has not changed the way in which I ultimately complete an essay, the same could likely be said of my teaching. Some recent research on digital teaching found that:

“Most [teachers] indicated that [technology] had not fundamentally changed the ways in which they teach or the ways they design learning experiences within the classroom…teachers were largely incorporating the computers available into their existing practices.” (Hayes, 2007, p. 389)

So next time I open up my lesson planning diary to jot down my lessons for the week (and yes, I do mean a paper diary and a real pencil), I need to spare a thought for the children whom I am teaching and consider if my lessons are suitable for the digital age.  To conclude, it is fitting to consider this little video clip. It alerts me to just how important it is that I don’t bring my paper-based cutting and pasting cutting into the classroom. Paper and print is my learning style, not theirs.

References

Hayes, D. (2007). ICT and learning: Lessons from Australian classrooms. Computers & Education 49 (2007), 385 – 395. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2005.09.003

Leu, D. J., McVerry, J.G., O’Byrne, W. L., Kiili, C., Sawilinski, L., …Forzani, E. (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 55 (1), 5-14. doi: 10.1598/JAA.55.1.1.

 

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Too much screen-time?

Ok. Not such a new or exciting question, but stick with me.

For years we have been discussing the problem of screen-time and how much is too much. The Australian website Raising Children Network recommends no screen time for under 2s, up to 1 hour for 2 – 5 year olds and 2 hours for 5 – 18 year olds.

Great! We have the answer. Discussion over. Close this blog, shut down your computer and get outside with your kids for some fresh air and screen-free time…

…Oh. But I’ll still be here. Because I am using this screen for learning. It is part of my university course. If I close it down, I’ll fail. You too? Oh. Ok…And your daughter is doing her homework on a screen. An your 5 year old has been told by his kindy teach to play Reading Eggs to improve his literacy skills. Mmmm….

Perhaps we need to take a second look at how much time is too much screen time.

As part of my Masters Degree (Teacher-Librarianship), I recently interviewed my 18 year-old cousin regarding the texts she liked to read, watch and engage* with as an inspiration for this blog post. Embarking on the interview, I imagined a delightful post discussing the fabulously engaging books and texts my young cousin reads in her spare time. Not so lucky. While my cousin was happy to oblige, the responses I received to the interview were un-inspirational and left me wondering what on earth I could possibly comment on regarding teenage text engagement. Then it struck me: as she discussed the kinds of texts she engaged with, her hours of screen-time where clocking up to alarmingly high levels.

  • TV – 1 hour

  • Online recreational activities – 2 hours

  • Reading university texts online – 3 hours

At already 5 hours of screen time, she was way over her recommended dose, and I hadn’t even considered recreational reading time, or time spent on her mobile phone. Should I be very worried about my cousin?

Cuddling with multiple devices

We place a limit on screen time because we know that sitting without moving is not good for our health. An article in the Huffington Post points out some of the health issues related to excessive screen-time, including aches and pains, problems with vision, and even depression (Leibovich & Samakow, 2012).

Worrying about my cousin’s health, I began thinking, would it be reasonably to expect her to reduce her screen-time to only 2 hours a day? Unfortunately, it would not be reasonable, or even possible if she hopes to pass her first year of university, maintain friendships, read texts for pleasure and watch the occasional bit of recreational TV.

We find plenty of fun laughing at youth’s inability to learn without a screen. But the truth is, health considerations aside, screen-time has remained a taboo subject without considering how much has changed since we first started sitting in front of the box getting square eyes.

Interestingly, although only slightly better for our health, reading books is not demonised in the same way as screen time – for example a recent article on American pastimes stated

More than half our leisure time is dedicated to watching television. It would take nine average days of reading to add up to one typical day watching television. (Thompson, 2012)

This suggests that sitting bent over a book is somehow preferable to being bent over a screen. For our health, reading a book is probably only marginally better. While traditionally we might have argued that book-time was superior to screen time because it engaged the mind and the imagination, we can no longer insist on this. As texts and information become increasingly digitalised, we no longer require books to for learning at all. Most of the time, we are reading information on screens. In fact,  with the proliferation of ebooks and personal devices, even book time is often screen time now.

 We can’t even consider television watching to be quite so bad as we once thought. Researchers suggest that television watching can offer considerable intellectually challenge:

Critiques of the mindlessness of viewing popular-culture texts such as prime-time television have been challenged by the argument that, in contrast to television programs of the 1960s and 1980s, more recent programs such as The Sopranos require audiences to attend to multiple narrative tracks and interpret shifting social relationships between characters (Johnson as cited in Beach and O’Brien, 2008, p. 780 )

So as TV shows become more sophisticated, can we really say that sitting curled up over 50 Shades of Grey or Mills and Boon is any better than watching a quality television program?

Furthermore, within the new participatory culture of Web 2.0, screen environments might even be more educational than books. Jenkins discusses the diverse skills that teenagers develop through screen-time engagement in his wonderful TedX talk (2010). This inspirational video is worth a watch, as it truly encapsulates the educational value of many recreational online activities.

Screen-time is only set to grow as the Horizon Report foresees the increased use of devices in schools within the next 2 years, and the complete remodelling of the schooling system to favour technology in the next 10 (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, & Freeman, 2014).

So, on the one hand, we are saying that teenagers should be engaging with screens for no more than 2 hours a day. Yet, on the other, we are proposing a range of highly educational activities which are essential to learning, all of which require extended amounts of screen time. We recognise the educational value  in the recreational use of web 2.0 and even novels, once safe from the ‘screen-time’limits, are often read on-screen with the proliferation of ebooks.

So how much time is too much screen time? Perhaps the question isn’t quite so black and white as we would like to think. Yes, screen-time should never replace physical activity if we wish to become healthy individuals. However, before condemning all screen time, perhaps we should try to consider that time spent in front of a screen might be just as valuable as curling up with a good old-fashioned book.

References 

Beach, R., & O’Brien, D. (2008). Teaching popular culture texts in the classroom. In J. Coiro [Ed.], Handbook of research on new literacies (pp. 775 – 804). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Department of Social Services. (2006 – 2014). Raising Children Network: Screen time and children. Retrieved from http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/screen_time.html

Jenkins, H. (2010, March 6). TEDxNYED Participatory Culture [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFCLKa0XRlw

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., & Freeman, A. (2014). NMC The Horizon Report: 2014 K – 12 Edition. Auston, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fcdn.nmc.org%2Fmedia%2F2014-nmc-horizon-report-k12-EN.pdf

Leibovich, L. & Samakow, J. (2013, October 17). Here’s what a constantly plugged-in life is doing to kids’ bodies [Web log post]. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/17/teens-on-screens_n_4101758.html

Thomson, D. (2012, June 25). Your day in a chart. 10 cool facts about how American spend our time [Web log post]. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/06/your-day-in-a-chart-10-cool-facts-about-how-americans-spend-our-time/258967/


*Email Interview, 8 September, 2014.

1.What do you like best – reading, watching TV/ films or watching and reading online (youtube etc)?

  • I like watching tv/films best

2.Can you talk a little about how much time you spend engaging with books?

  •  During the uni semester i mainly just read my text books, however over the past year I’ve read maybe 4 novels

3.How much time do you spend reading for uni? Is the work online or in books?

  • 3 hours per day roughly… mostly on screens

4. How much time do you spend watching TV?

  •  1 hour per day roughly

5. How much time do you spend watching and reading online for recreation? 

  • 2 hours per day roughly.

6. Do you ever combine the activities (eg read a book and then go online to chat about it/ find more information/ watch a film and read the book etc) Can you give an example? 

  • I research online to find new books that I might be interested in.

7. Can you tell me the last 3 texts/ films/ books etc that you have enjoyed?

  •  The five people you meet in heaven, the perks of being a wallflower, seven pounds (movie).

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It’s a Book!

This blog is a record of my journey towards a deeper appreciation of 21st century literacy. I have grown up in the midst of good literature. With my father a professor of literature, and my mother a high-school English teacher, literature and literacy had a place of great importance. Literacy in our family was synonymous with books. Our house was filled with books. Books would arrive in large boxes every few months for reviewing by either of my parents. I have always seen books as wonderful, and the heart of what it means to be literate. My recent engagement in the university course Youth, Popular Culture and Texts has prompted me to reassess my hierarchical approach to literacy.

Even a book-bug like myself knows that literacy is not only about printed texts. As a teacher I have regularly been exposed to the discourse of multiliteracies which was first defined by The New London Group in 1996. According to the group, the term ‘Multiliteracies’ refers to a new approach to literacy pedagogy which recognises “the multiplicity of communications channels and increasing cultural and linguistic diversity in the world today” (Cazden et al., 1996, p. 60). Since the group’s definition of the term, it has become a routine part of school curriculum to teach students multiliteracies. Although this has also been the case in my own classroom, the book still holds a superior place in my mind.

I recently came across a text which offered me concrete examples of how young people are using new technologies to extend and enrich their engagement with written texts. The examples are found in O’Sullivan’s book chapter Books and Blogs: Promoting Reading Achievement in Digital Contexts (2012). O’Sullivan begins with a general discussion about multiliteracy. She states that “concepts of what it means to be literate in the twenty-first century are evolving and multifaceted skills are required to live and learn in a global context” (O’Sullivan, 2012, p.191). She goes on to discuss the benefits of youth involvement in new communication technologies. She suggests that students are employing and developing literacy skills outside the classroom context using these technologies.

To support her argument, O’Sullivan refers to several blog sites, some of them run by teenagers, which give young people space to review and discuss texts (O’Sullivan, 2012, p.194- 197). The sites she refers to include Three Evil Cousins and Inside a Dog. Both are worth a visit. The very existence of such sites astonishes me because they suggest a large body of young readers who are excited about engaging with each other over literary texts. The examples of blog comments provided by O’Sullivan show “that the books written about in the blogs have actually been read” (O’Sullivan, 2012, p.202). Many of the comments show truly insightful or deeply personal responses to books. The examples provided by O’Sullivan prove for me that these young people are engaging with books as a community in a far more complex way than I probably ever did in my own teenage years as I sat curled up alone in a far corner of the library.

My antiquated attitude towards technology is illustrated beautifully in the delightfully playful picture book by Lane Smith, It’s a Book (2010). In the story, a young Donkey discovers the delight of becoming absorbed in a book. His discovery only comes after a lengthy and frustrating conversation with his Monkey friend who is baffled by Donkey’s lack of knowledge about non-electronic text forms. Donkey cannot find the value in a text which does not move, beep and require interaction. At the end of the story, the book triumphs, absorbing the young donkey and drawing him away from his noisy, blinking technology. For a book-bug like myself there is a sense of satisfaction as the book wins out over technology.

But examples like the ones discussed in O’Sullivan’s text give me the opportunity to draw new conclusions. I find myself reassessing the story It’s a Book and asking new questions. How would the Monkey cope not just reading, but being required to respond in the electronic world of the Donkey? Why should the book be superior to electronic texts? What literary challenges does the young Donkey face as he becomes literate in front of a screen instead of a page? What if the electronic world could enrich the Donkey’s experience of the book, not replace it? As I plunge into the course Youth, Text and Popular Culture, I hope I begin to answer these questions and find more examples like those offered in O’Sullivan’s text. If you are a book bug like me, perhaps you’d like to follow my journey.

Cazden, C., Cope, B., Fairclough, N., Gee, J., et al,. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66 (1), 60- 92.

O’Sullivan, K. (2012). Books and Blogs: Promoting Reading Achievement in Digital Contexts. In J. Manuel & Jacqueline and S. Brindley (Eds.), Teenagers and reading: literary heritages, cultural contexts and contemporary reading practices (pp.191 – 209). Kent Town, SA: Wakefield Press/ AATE.

Lane, S. (2010). It’s a Book. Newtown, NSW: Roaring Brook Press.

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