Reading on screens vs. paper: at last some sense

There has been far too much nonsense written contrasting reading on various types of screens1 with reading from paper. Some of the nonsense has been ‘research based’, though most of the research has been deeply flawed or trivial. At last there is a study that collates the data. They examined over 800 studies of which only 36 directly compared screen and paper!

See A Textbook Dilemma: Digital or Paper? for a journalistic noddy-guide to the results. Or read on…

As I hear it, key findings from this elephantine literature review, and so even more mammoth research effort include:

  • reading is faster on screen
  • comprehension is deeper on paper
    • subjects’ estimates of how much they absorbed were reversed (they thought they absorbed more from the screen)
  • most studies investigated linear texts, but hypertexts may be better suited to some tasks

Like so much research, none of this (except perhaps the recognition that people cannot effectively self-assess their information absorption) is a surprise. Once again, research underlines what sensible people have been saying ad infinitum. At this stage of technological development screens (of various sorts and this variability still needs to be properly investigated) and paper books have different advantages and different affordances.

Thinking of my current reading tasks:

  • marking student essays: clearly better on screen as reading is faster (this is a particular advantage for me as I am a very slow reader)
  • marking a PhD: paper is clearly better (as here I need better comprehension and retention)2
  • reading journal articles and book chapters in preparing a course: paper is better for better comprehension (except I find the material online, so waiting for paper delivery would be stupid, even if I had a POD machine)
  • reading a SF novel for pleasure: screen is better as I have no need to retain information

Except: for the PhD the case is more mixed as I have a deep and abiding revulsion to sitting chained to a desk (probably stemming from my sad experiences of education in childhood). The paper copy of the almost 500 page thesis weighs in at 1.25 Kg and is A4 by several cms thick, even printed doublesided, physically this is no easy task and hand strain limits the time I can spend reading. I also have to drop the brick and lift my laptop every time I want to make a note (how much easier to swap windows on my laptop).3

  1. Usually conflated as if screens were all one type of reading and it was the electronic imprint that mattered not the size or reflective vs. light emitting character, let alone how many other functions the device permitted… that mattered. []
  2. But see below! []
  3. I realise this last does not apply to most of you who learned to write easily and quickly with a pen or pencil, but my hand writing is extremely slow and very difficult to decipher later, quite aside from the advantage of cutting and pasting into my report. How I look forward the the time when NZ Universities finally enter the digital age! []

Deconstructing Equality

I have pointed before (often) to Vinoth Ramachandra’s thoughtful and thought-provoking posts. If you have failed to subscribe directly to his blog (why?) his latest post is particularly good. As a taster, here is one early paragraph:

I believe that the near-hysterical denunciation of the white far-right marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia, with numerous calls on Twitter and elsewhere for their sacking from their jobs and expulsion from universities, is evidence of a lack of understanding about human rights.

American Fathers’ Day and a blog about God as mother

I can’t remember if I have yet linked to The Mother God Experiment. Sadly due to the way Facebook hides our non-friends from us, placing their messages into the outer darkness, I only discovered Susan Harrison’s work recently.

Her blog is a fascinating exploration of what it means (and how we can) begin to explore thinking of (and speaking to) God as mother as well as father.

So, when she invited me to do a guest post for (American) Fathers’ Day I said “maybe”. Being a decisive sort of chap! And knowing how difficult mothers’ day is in churches, and how much more contentious fathers’ day is, or would be if we actually celebrated it, then started to say, “no”. Being a cautious sort of chap!

But I couldn’t, it wouldn’t be fair to all those trying and (being only human) failing to be good fathers. So here is my guest post:

Father’s Day Boycott?

Chance, providence, and the justice of God

Two friends1 have in different ways prompted this post. One is a technologist trained in the sciences, who in the context of dissatisfaction with understanding the how of a particular area of theology wrote:2

Can someone tell me how I can learn to become more comfortable with mystery?

The other is someone who is troubled (in the context of talk about unmerited suffering and the justice of God, by me ascribing much that happens to “chance”.

The justice of God has troubled me all my life, as far back as I can remember I have been aware not only of “those less fortunate” but even of those who suffer acutely for no just cause. The book of Job is a comfort, Job does not know why he suffers, complains bitterly to God and demands a hearing for his complaint against the injustice of the creator. His judicial complaint receives no hearing, except by human judges who fail to accept his plea (the three friends, or even more Elihu, who not having actively participated before steps in in Job 32 to sum up, which he does ineptly and justifying God by failing to admit the justice of Job’s case).  However, before the book ends Job receives two responses from God which, though they do not respond to Job’s accusation, remind Job of who God is and of how wondrous it is that a creature can relate to their Creator!

The answer to (almost?) all the big questions is a deeper layer of mystery.

In responding to people who complain of the injustice of life3 I point to Job, but even more to Jesus who in Luke 13:1-5 makes clear that much (all?) suffering in this world is not justice meted out by a vengeful or benevolent Creator but simply chance.

To say this, however, is not the whole story, for in Scripture there is no such thing as “chance”. When Joseph (in Gen 37) wandering aimlessly in the land around Shechem just happens to meet the one man who can tell him where his brothers have gone and so sets in motion all the rest of the events of his life, Bible readers know this is not random. When Ruth (Ruth 2:3) just happens to glean in Boaz’ field (in all the fields of Bethlehem why did you have to pick this one?) we know this “happening” is not random. And when Amos pondering war other disasters says:

Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster befall a city, unless the LORD has done it?
(Amos 3:6)

He recognises that the bad, like the good, must be ultimately laid at the door of the Maker of All.4

This chance that is not random, like the unloving injustice of the God who is love, and justice, is a mystery. It is one we cannot understand in this life. Though perhaps God on a stick, Christ crucified, points towards the resolution of this terrible paradox.

  1. Well actually one is a friend of a friend. []
  2. In a Facebook post, so I won’t give their name. []
  3. Why do really horrible things happen to good people? []
  4. As also did Job (Job 1:21) []

More on old cheeses

Just a quick note.

I omitted to note that Jesus seems to express something close to the ideas in my last post1  when he says to activist enthusiast Peter:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (John 21:18)

  1. Which hopefully is something quite different from the last post for me! []

Personality and theologies of aging

A few days ago I posted on Facebook a link to a post from six years ago: Does Jesus make me whole? As a result, I was challenged again to reflect more on the theology of aging. By this I do not mean, how younger people can cope with the older ones, nor how the old can cope with their state. rather I am concerned with the fact that: “As far as I can see no work has been done on the part the process of aging and decay plays in the divine economy.

My central question starts from a recognition that God has designed human life, and indeed the universe, to age. Entropy is as basic a “fact of life” as birth and death. We talk a lot about theological understandings of the ends of life but we take little if any notice that between (as well as the excitement of childhood and youth with their growth and development, and the fulfillment of seeing the next generations begin their journeys) we all (unless we die young) face a significant period of decay!

Bill Black’s post that I linked to has since moved homes here: I’m Sorry But Jesus Doesn’t Make Anybody ‘Whole‘ now as then you should read it. He finds meaning in this life under entropy: “Rather we are made alive and empowered to love – God intends all of our relationships to experience this transformation…

I’m sure he is right.

Immediately following my repost Barbara and I headed up to Auckland to spend time with our granddaughters (just 5 and 2). I love looking after and spending time with young children. Their lives are so vivid, they are continually (every wakeful minute of the day) learning. I also enjoy it because (being an INFP on the Myers-Briggs personality scale – sometimes called “nurturers’) I get deep satisfaction from being needed and from being able to care for others. It why (apart from the following pleasure of eating) I enjoy cooking. Aging, though, gradually shifts the balance. we are less and less able to care for or nurture others, and more and more have to depend on them to care for us.

The opposite of my personality the ESTJs are sometimes called “Executives”. They have a powerful sense of right and wrong, dedication and dignity, they are valued for their advice and common sense. For them, hell is “An incredibly impractical person is put in charge of all of your major life decisions. You have to do whatever they say and are powerless to argue or reason with them.” (at least according to Thought Catalog).  Guess what, for most ESTJs this is just what happens to their world as they age. (Of course, the rest of us do not think of ourselves as
“incredibly impractical”, but that is how most of us seem to the incredibly practical ESTJ!)

Perhaps, this learning of a new and different sort of dependency (undoing or remaking the independence learned in youth) is a significant part of aging. Perhaps, also the nature of the growth is different for different people….

I will leave another comment on this (about people with Alzheimer’s/dementia) for another post.

Outcomes for Learning

Well chosen, clearly expressed, learning outcomes (or whatever you call them) are a joy to read. They also help students learn and teachers teach. By defining the skills and abilities that students should achieve, they can guide and give shape to a course.

However, in the real world, learning outcomes are most often prepared in a hurry (after all there are so many more fun things a teacher should be doing, like banging their head against a metaphorical wall in desperation at the latest nonsense poem foisted on them by dull but devious students in place of crisp and informative prose). Almost always, at least in theology, lists of learning outcomes are prepared by teachers who unconsciously envisage their subject as a load of topics to be “covered”. Content is king, isn’t that what they say?

The result is often lists that are too long. (I think so far 22 items is the most complex I have seen!) Lists itemise all the content areas that might be included. If the course is on the Old Testament prophets, then (self)evidently students should:

“know about:

  1. Isaiah
  2. Jeremiah
  3. Ezekiel
  4. The book of the twelve” (if the person who shaped the outcomes is a trendy modern scholar, if not the old fuddy duddy will have helpfully listed all twelve books.)

Learning outcomes prepared by a committee (as when several colleges need a common set) are even better, for each teacher adds their own pet topics to the topic list. Someone is bound to be an Ancient Near Eastern literature specialist, so the students must see the importance of cognate literatures. Another is into intertextuality, we have to include that… You get the idea.

Now, stage two, if you have learning outcomes, how can you demonstrate they are being achieved by your students? You assess them. All of them, since these are the things every student will have learned!

Just tell me one thing! With such a long complex and content oriented list, how?

Could you be trusted?

What would happen if somehow God in his infinite wisdom managed to explain to us the paradox of suffering in a world created by a good God? What if God had offered the simple brief explanation in a few verses of Scripture?

That’s the thought experiment professional Psychologist and amateur Theologian Richard Beck proposes in his latest blog post. Over the years I’ve often pointed to Richard Beck’s superb and thought provoking posts, as then you should go read this one! For those who need a taster, here is his (almost) conclusion:

And when you think about it, about what it would be like to have The Explanation, you’re struck with just how much damage and violence we’d do to each other with The Explanation.
Everytime we encountered a victim or a suffering, hurting person, we’d throw The Explanation at them.
So it seems to me that the most loving thing God could do for us, in the face of suffering, is to refuse to give us The Explanation. Even if we cried out in the darkness for the Explanation. Because without The Explanation we’re forced into silence and solidarity. Which is exactly where we need to be.