Being between full term-times (“vacation” doesn’t seem to be the right word for it), I was becoming concerned about the amount of time I spend staring at computer screens, large and small. It’s more of a worry during these non-teaching periods when we design new teaching materials, explore new avenues and generally get our ducks in a row for the new term ahead.

The work can be really interesting, and an hour or more can easily go by with me stationary in front of my computer, writing, experimenting and thinking. Apart from the known risks to shoulders, wrists etc, of extended computer use, it turns out that it’s not good for our eyes to focus so closely, for so long. The 20-20-20 rule says that every 20 minutes we should focus on a point at least 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.

There are, of course, all sorts of apps freely available to help us remember to take regular breaks from our computers, and I have grown rather fond of this one: http://www.protectyourvision.org/. Every 20 minutes, a cute little robot appears in the corner of your screen, reminding you to take a break. He counts out 20 seconds, during which you should look away, well beyond your screen.

photo of scarlet japanese quince flowers

From where I am sitting, a distance of 20 feet neatly matches the view from the window to where a small riot of greenery and flowers is celebrating Spring and scrambling over the walls from our neighbours’ back gardens.

It turns out that 20 seconds every 20 minutes gives a sort of time-lapse view that’s about right for watching the Spring springing. Through last week I watched this chaenomeles gradually open its elegant, almost oriental blossom – it’s one of my favourite shrubs because the flowers come out early, before the leaves.

Not all our teaching spaces include vistas of 20+ feet, but we could do worse than remind people who come on our courses that they need to take a screen break every so often, wriggle the shoulders, and look up and around the room. However riveting our teaching may be, we can model good practice on many levels.

However, let me say that this week’s enthusiasm for staring out of my window is in no way connected with the team of athletic types who are putting up scaffolding around the building opposite.

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