Blinded by the light

Most lights these days are powered by electricity but evidently there may be some still oil powered, snake oil that is.

Who would have thought that a blog posting about LIGHT could generate such a great soundtrack? If you don't like this posting at least you can enjoy the sounds. Start the LIGHT song that you like the best then scroll to read with the music playing.


So here is the NZ Herald education article about the Philips Lighting SchoolVision lighting system.
It is important to read, and remember, the wording used in this 'so called' news article. It will come back to you time and time again very soon. Rather than being cutting edge educational journalism it would appear that the publicity department of Philips helped out with lots of the wording. Here is the brochure from Philips. Compare and contrast the text with the unquestioned lifts from the corporate publicity. Educational journalism needs to provide balance not just deliver text from a corporate press release. Where is the journalistic balance and thinking in the Herald article? If Philips want advertising why don't they just buy ad space in the paper? They don't need to do so with journalism like this.

Don't feel bad NZ Herald there are plenty of other educational reports in big papers just using the Philips publicity words and pretending they are 'truth'

The Guardian and The Observer 

Not Given LIGHTly 
What annoys me about a claim that a lighting system can improve student achievement? Well it is the very claim that it does so that winds me up. Here is some Philips publicity.
For principals "However, with multiple stakeholders to please including teachers, parents and governors, one of your
most important goals will also be to improve your school’s results. Not only will it affect your school’s rating, it could also secure additional funding to help with overstretched budgets and limited resources."
Not in my school matey! It is our dedicated and skilled teachers who do that, not the lighting system.
"SchoolVision has proven results. The solution was first researched in a year-long, independent study by Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf with 166 pupils and 18 teachers. The results showed that: 
• Reading speed increased by almost 35% 
• Frequency of errors reduced by almost 45% 
• Hyperactive behaviour also dropped by an astonishing 76%

These positive findings were confirmed and endorsed by a second, more extensive study carried out by the University of Twente. The research at Disselboom primary school in Wintelre between December 2009 and September 2010 concluded that: 
• Children score on average 18% higher in a concentration test
• Are more motivated in the long term • Appreciate their learning environment more, both in the short and long term 
• Co-operative learning behaviour is positively influenced by the ‘Calm’ setting
In short, “Light makes a positive difference” in the things that really matter like concentration, motivation and co-operative learning."

You LIGHT Up My Life

Can we shine some light on the 'research' that claims that the  Philips system has a significant effect on mood, energy levels and ability to concentrate? Yes we can...sort of...

Lux Magazine says sort of the same thing

So go deeper...
The source of all this 'research talk' to sell a lighting system is Applicability and efficacy of variable light in schools Physiology & Behavior
Volume 105, Issue 3, 1 February 2012, Pages 621-627
Read the abstract! 
Turn the LIGHTS on

"Two classrooms each in two separate schools were studied over a period of nine months; one class in each school served as an intervention group, and a parallel class in each school served as a control group. The effects of the individual VL programs were assessed using standardized test modules. The overall effect was measured using standardized surveys of students and teachers given at the beginning and the end of the project. The results showed that the students made fewer errors, particularly fewer errors of omission, on a standardized test of attention under the VL “Concentrate” program. Reading speed, as measured using standardized reading tests, rose significantly. Reading comprehension also improved, but this improvement was not statistically significant. In contrast, the achievement motivation of the students and the classroom atmosphere did not change over the nine-month period.

Hmmm. The close attention that New Zealand educators pay to the value of reading comprehension, as opposed to reading speed and reading errors (which has kept us at the top of OECD reading achievement comparison tables year on year) suggests that we can't gain much from a lighting system making our kids read faster with fewer errors.

Where was the Barkmann et. al. research presented? At the Society for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms conference. Check out page 2 of the programme. Major Sponsor...Philips

The attempt to re-create the educational gains in a lab study also generates skepticism

N. Wessolowski, C. Barkmann, M. Schulte-Markwort
University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Department of Psychosomatics in Children and Adolescents, Germany

Objectives: In a field study with 116 pupils, the use of Schoolvision in school classes resulted in a significant increase of attention/concentration and reading speed as well as a significant decrease of restlessness (Wessolowski et. al., 2009). Schoolvision by Philips has preset lighting programs differing in brightness and color temperature. The aim of this study was to replicate these findings in a standardized laboratory setting.

Methods: In a randomized two-group cross-sectional experiment a sample of n=95 healthy adults received either optimized light programs (Schoolvision) or control conditions (500 lx / 3200 K). Optimized light conditions for the treatment group were bright daylight (1300 lx / 5600 K) to induce attention and less bright warm-white light (600 lx / 3000 K) to reduce restlessness. Attention was measured with the d2-test of Brickenkamp and the reading test of Schneider et al. To determine restlessness an optical measurement method named ““Childmove”” was used, which detects changes in pixel values within a video. Childmove was developed for the measurement of whole school classes (Koenig et al., i.P.) but it can also be used in other settings.

Results: The results of the attention/concentration testing showed a significant advantage of 25% from using Schoolvision in the treatment group in terms of the d2 test error rate compared to the control group with standard light (F=2.839, df=1, p=.048, ␣2=.031). This is comparable to the effect described by the school study. In addition, the results for the working speed of the d2 test also showed a significant advantage of 11% for the treatment group (F=3.803, df=1, p=.028, ␣2=.065). The effect outranged the result of working speed in the school study. In contrast to the results of the d2 test, the results of the reading test could not be replicated in lab. The results concerning motoric agitation (restlessness) showed a faster decrease by using Schoolvision (after 5 min: F=2.897, df=1, p=.0.046, ␣2=.031) as reported in the school study. However, unlike the findings of the school study, a decrease in restlessness was not affected.

Conclusions: In sum, the results of the school study could be replicated: The results in the lab showed an increase of attention by using Schoolvision: The experimental group made fewer errors and had a higher working speed in the d2 test. The results of the reading test cannot be replicated, assumedly because the participating college students (59%) are very practiced in reading long texts under inconvenient environmental conditions so that the reading test was not sensitive enough for this sample. There is also a faster decrease of motoric agitation by adults detected in the lab but in contrast to the school study no relevant total decrease was found. An analysis of the z-transformed school and lab values showed that the baseline scores of the pupils in the schools were more than four times higher than those of adults in the lab. On closer inspection of the low baseline scores it was possible to find a faster decrease for the experimental group but not a higher decrease over a longer time, because both groups already almost reached the minimum right after the beginning. 

Come on baby LIGHT my fire

The funny bit - Don't Turn the LIGHTS On

Mayer Hawthorne sings about LIGHTS and this whole thing reeks of the Hawthorne Effect.

The irony is that the Hawthorne effect was all about light levels.
The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they know they are being studied,[1][2] not in response to any particular experimental manipulation.
The term was coined in 1950 by Henry A. Landsberger[3] when analysing older experiments from 1924-1932 at the Hawthorne Works (a Western Electric factory outside Chicago). Hawthorne Works had commissioned a study to see if its workers would become more productive in higher or lower levels of light. The workers' productivity seemed to improve when changes were made and slumped when the study was concluded. It was suggested that the productivity gain occurred due to the impact of the motivational effect on the workers as a result of the interest being shown in them. Although illumination research of workplace lighting formed the basis of the Hawthorne effect, other changes such as maintaining clean work stations, clearing floors of obstacles, and even relocating workstations resulted in increased productivity for short periods. Thus the term is used to identify any type of short-lived increase in productivity
The killer bit
From the NZ Herald story which kicked off this post.. 
"The Education Ministry's website says evidence suggests learning outcomes improve in spaces that have daylight as the main source of lighting." So embrace classroom 'windows' (the first time a Mac guy like me has said that) and don't think that the Philips Company is going to lift student achievement any more than an interactive whiteboard company will.

Electric LIGHT Orchestra 


  1. Mate, brilliantly presented - right down to the finishing off with E.L.O. (saw them in concert many moons ago)!

    Seriously, where do you find this stuff? Loved the links, comments and research you've included which helps to shoot down the stupid original article!!!

    Love your work!!

  2. @ GimliNZ Thanks for the feedback.

    Motivation is mainly to defend our teachers who work hard and then get insulted by a multinational company claiming to help them out. Lights! Ha.

    I did no more google searching on the Herald keywords than the reporter should have done. Took very little time to find the source documents. Sad that you can earn money as a reporter by rewording corporate press releases eh?

  3. You know what they say, you can find research that will back up your claims if you pay for it 8)

  4. @ dmckiwi agree, but point is Ed' journalists distort research by not fact checking. Hope will improve soon. The research is OK the reporting is dodgy.