Articles

Editor’s Picks

We Need to Be More Specific About Screen Time

By Henry Kronk
March 23, 2019

Alarming reports on the increasing rates of screen time and its negative effects have captivated American readers over the past few years. Like cancer-causing cell phone signals or BPA plastic, screens are everywhere and used every day by almost everyone. According to a few thought leaders, they’re also bad. Really bad. Some critics argue that screens even lead to obesity, aggression, teen suicide ideation, and more. Unfortunately, the research supporting these claims suffers from dilution. The category ‘screen time’ is so broad that it can’t possibly lead to many useful findings, if any. 

Correlation vs. Causation in Screen Time Research

A recent study that received a good deal of exposure defined screen time for children as “television, videotapes, digital video disc, game devices, computer, cell phone, smartphone, tablet, electronic reader, and child’s learning devices.”

Speaking with Vox, Stanford Psychology Department Chair Anthony Wagner said, “The literature is a wreck. Is there anything that tells us there’s a causal link? That our media use behavior is actually altering our cognition and underlying neurological function or neurobiological processes? The answer is we have no idea. There’s no data.”

In other words, most studies report correlation, not causation. To highlight this, eLearning Inside got in touch with Daniel Je, a content specialist at OneClass who recently conducted his own experiment

Research from OneClass by Daniel Je

“Our audience is made up of students, so I wanted to see how screen time would affect students’ grades,” Je said. 

“I created a very quick survey. I wanted to make it as easy as possible. It asked how many hours per day people were using their phone on average over the last seven days. I wanted to see if that had an impact on their grades. I then asked for their letter grades in school for their cumulative GPA.”

In the end, 875 1st year undergrads answered Je’s survey. 

A pie chart indicating distribution of respondents by screen time.
Daniel Je, OneClass

“I kind of expected that the more students used their phones, the lower their letter grade would be. But looking at the data as it came in just on the surface level, I compared the averages of students grades who spent 7+ hours on their phone a day with students who spent 1-2 hours per day. The averages were actually very similar in terms of their letter grades. That’s something that threw me off. 

“I wanted to dig deeper and I actually found some interesting insights in terms of the variants—how much their grade would vary depending on screen time. I also looked at lowest overall grade per average screen time. 

Main Findings

““In the first look, there wasn’t anything too compelling or anything that was aligned with what I expected before going into the survey.

“The three biggest findings that I uncovered were:

“First, no students who had 0-1 hours of screen time per day also had an overall grade of a C or a D. So these students that barely spent time on their phones, none of them had a C or a D. But when the screen time goes to 8+ hours, that number (who had low grades) skyrockets to 17%. It just shows that students spending more time on their phones had a higher potential to get a low grade. 

“Second, students who spent 0-1 hours on their phone per day had very low variants. Their grades only varied by 2.5 points. When students spend 8+ hours on their phone per day, the variants shot up to 9 points.”

Variance of cGPA by amount of average daily screen time.
Daniel Je, OneClass

Je allocated one point to essentially one third of a letter grade. The difference between a B and a B+ was one point.

“The third biggest finding was lowest overall grade. The lowest overall grade for those who had 0-1 hours of screen time per day was B-. For those who had 8+ hours on their phone, their lowest grade was a D-. So it was quite a big difference there as well. 

“Those were the three biggest findings I uncovered in terms of correlation between screen time and grades. Of course it’s not a causation. I don’t have enough data for that. But we did find there was a pretty decent correlation between screen time and grades. 

“If I were to come to a conclusion about a causal relationship between screen time and grades, I’d first have to have a more comprehensive survey. The survey that I used for this piece was very short, very quick. 

Percentage of respondents with Cs and Ds (low grades) by average daily screen time.
Daniel Je, OneClass

“If I were to do a study on causation, I would like to look more at what kind of apps respondents are using, whether it’s educational apps, or it’s just social media that’s taking up all their time, and seeing how much of their time is going to different categories. Besides that, I’d want to see how that behavior affects their semester grades as well, not only their cumulative grades. I’d want to see if, in one semester, they spent more time on their phones than another when they didn’t spend much time and compare the letter grades there. That would get us closer to a causation hypothesis.

“It is hard to say, because of course, there are so many different factors that can affect grades. But I think starting off with more data and more questions like the ones I mentioned, that would help us get to a causation hypothesis.

“It’s hard to say now, but I’d lean towards ‘more time spent on social media and ‘unproductive’ apps would have a negative impact on their grades.’ That’s time they could be using to study. It’s hard to say, but that’s what I would lean towards.

“I don’t think that it’s the best way to go about this. Now that everything has become more digitized—online textbooks and study material are available largely online—just generalizing screen time as one factor is the wrong approach to go about it. There’s so many different things that our devices allow us to do. If we’re not differentiating or specifying which apps or which purposes our devices are being used for, then it’s very hard and very incomplete to come to a conclusion that screen time has a certain effect. I think we should definitely be specifying what types of apps are having what types of impact and what types of devices as well.

“My study was just mobile phones, but I think it could vary largely depending on device.”

Featured Image: 贝莉儿 NG, Unsplash.

6 Comments

  1. Western Governors University is amazing!!! I am impressed with all this School has to offer. Everything is at your finger tips. The mentors they have for each student are amazing. They are very helpful and very assessable. The course mentors are also amazing!!! I just completed my BSN/ Nursing this past November 2017, I started the Masters Program/Nursing Leadership and Management In December 2017. I would highly recommend this school to anyone who wants to get their degree in higher education. One thing you have to know is that you need to be disciplined. You set the pace you want to go at, but need to finish the classes you signed up for by the end of the semester.

  2. I have been at WGU studying Accounting for the last 6 months. I have really enjoyed it. WGU is NOT a correspondance course. There are live lectures, direct teacher and mentor interaction, dozens of additional resources. The Department of Ed is trying to protect its brick and motar cronies who provide students with more debt than they can handle to sit in classrooms and not learn a damn thing.

  3. I’m a WGU graduate and now work for Microsoft. WGU prepared me for my future opportunity and I recommend WGU to all my friends and family. I have two family members that have sense graduated and have more then doubled their income. My income has seen a 4X growth since graduating. WGU is a fantastic option for working professionals seeking higher education.

  4. I am currently finishing up my first year at WGU using my Post 911 GI BIll. I cannot stress enough how awesome this school is. I work full time and have 2 small children, the flexibility WGU provides is instrumental in my ability to finish my degree. I would not be able to complete my degree otherwise. I see a lot of Universities are now attempting to copy the WGU model by providing 4 year degrees fully online, but WGU is light years ahead of most of them. I know several people who have graduated from WGU who are extremely successful in their careers. WGU isnt some sham for profit University like UOP or ITT Tech, its a legit school where you get challenging courses. I highly recommend WGU to anyone looking to complete their degree.

Leave a Reply