The fact is we all stare at screens more than we would like and many of us rely on these tools to communicate with others, even during times when we should be spending quality time with our families and friends. So does all this time staring at screens, which may take time away from looking at faces, change the nature of what we learn about the social world? Our study, at the Children’s Digital Media Center@LA, at UCLA, asked this question. We compared two groups of approximately 50 6th grade children each over a period of five days, one group had no access to screens of any kind, while the other did.
When I went back to UCLA to get a PhD in developmental psychology, I thought I would be a technological dinosaur compared to the much younger students in my cohort. But funnily enough, often I used screens more than they did — to communicate, to read and to take notes. In classes many of them used old-fashioned paper and pen and printed out their journal articles so they could use a highlighter. This surprised me, because when I speak to parents, I often hear that they are scared that this generation of students is losing out because they are learning so much more on screens.
These fears are echoed in the press. For example, the Washington Post wrote about how reading is taking a hit from online scanning and skimming. In the class I now teach to college seniors, the students themselves echoed this fear, telling me that they believe that their reading comprehension suffers when they read on a tablet.
So are these students right? Is paper superior to screen for learning, writing and comprehension? We recently examined this question in a study completed at the Children’s Digital Media Center@LA. In a series of two studies, we asked a several questions:
1. First, what do students say they prefer — paper or computer?
2. Second, do they perform better in terms of reading comprehension on paper versus screen?
3. And three, would reading articles in either medium improve the quality and efficiency for a task to write an essay which required critical thinking?
Funnily enough, millenials overwhelmingly told us they prefer paper. 60 out of 66 students preferred paper to computer when studying. We thought that this generation of students may have adapted to this new technology, but nearly everyone expressed a preference for paper, usually telling us they felt they performed better when reading on paper rather than a screen.
And indeed we ourselves believed paper was superior, but as scientists we wanted to test this intuitive feeling many of us seem to share. First we measured reading comprehension after reading material on paper, computers and tablets. We found NO DIFFERENCE in comprehension as a function of medium, even when they were allowed to multitask. But multitasking did make them take longer to read.
For our last question, surprisingly, even though these students preferred reading on paper, when push came to shove, the quality of their essay, and the time taken to complete the assignment, WAS THE SAME whether source materials were provided on paper versus screen. But once the students were allowed to access the Internet and to accordingly multitask, their scores were much higher in the computer only condition. While seeing the source materials on paper neither helped nor hindered their essays relative to the other conditions, one use of paper did help; when students took notes using paper and pencil, their access to the Internet no longer hampered their performance.
So what’s the takeaway? Bottom line, as other research has found, it doesn’t seem to make a difference whether you read on paper versus screen. But once you add in the distraction of the Internet, your work will suffer. For parents, this means what we already knew — tell your children not to multitask when they need to focus on homework.
To read our journal article, please click here
This was posted on Huff Post about this Ted Talk:
I can’t help but think Kevin Allocca’s TED Youth talk missed an opportunity. As I see it, the speech had the potential to accomplish at least 3 things:
1. Useful advice – check
2. Entertain – check
3. Inspire – not so much
Inspiration may not have been Kevin’s goal. And why should it be? He’s not a teacher; he’s a young guy who watches videos for a living. And as a former movie executive who watched movies and read scripts for a living, I may understand more than most what his job requires. It most likely entails getting eyeballs to watch screens, mine focused on getting butts in seats; both mean you often have to go for the low hanging fruit.
Yet it is precisely because of my background that I believe that TED Youth and YouTube together have great potential — to inspire youth to use these powerful platforms to change the world and tell great stories. Moreover, as a psychologist who studies how these simple and easily accessible online tools shape youth values, I thought he missed an opportunity to inspire the youth who were so eagerly listening to his speech.
In our research on values and media at UCLA’s Children’s Digital Media Center@LA, we found that children believed what Kevin stated — “we all want to be stars” and “anyone of you can be famous by next Saturday.” But none of the children we spoke to seemed to understand the hard work or skill that is normally associated with fame nor did they anticipate the negative attention that could come with notoriety. Instead they were eager, as is developmentally appropriate, for the attention and status that comes from being famous. So many of them were posting online videos in hopes their video would go viral and bring them fame and fortune.
But what if we channeled this kind of energy and enthusiasm into fantastic and responsible storytelling? Kevin could have decided to show a video (or even two) that sparked an elevated conversation – something that could spark ideas, or stimulate social change. Or he could have shown a video that told a real person’s story, something that a traditional studio gatekeeper is rarely allowed to greenlight.
As Kevin said, youth today can take ownership and define their own pop culture. But the pop culture that was featured in these videos went viral either because people were publically shaming the person who posted them or because they were extremely silly (and before you judge my taste, you should know that Airplane is one of my all-time favorite films).
The brilliance of YouTube is we now live in a world where anyone can share their story. This means the world is more likely to be authentic and transparent, with less filters and more participation. And that all of us have the opportunity to see some amazing stories. Pop culture has power to encourage social change (a la Glee), but until we help our youth harness and develop that power, we are likely to see many more cat videos; I guess there is nothing wrong with that.
The news about Shia Laboeuf makes me sad. After all, he is just a kid, and a kid who grew up in extraordinary circumstances as a famous actor. That kind of attention and pressure could make anyone stumble; but certainly, building your identity and learning about the social world while working long hours and being scrutinized doesn’t make it any easier. Continue reading