Digital Media Project

Home » 2013

Yearly Archives: 2013

Are Baby Videos Bad for Babies?

by Susan Rvachew, Ph.D., S-LP(C), Associate Professor, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University

The Atlantic (Holly Korby, September 12, 2013) has a story about a horrified parent discovering that her toddler is being exposed daily to iPads at daycare. Incensed, the parent withdraws her son from what is described as a “pricey” preschool. Here at the Digital Media Project we have been keeping a database of articles in the popular media about digital media and young children and this one follows the usual script: first, the article attests to the ubiquity of these devices in children’s environments; second, the article amplifies parental anxiety about the potential harm that digital media may pose to their children’s brains. The notion that these technologies are harmful has been propagated effectively by the American Academy of Pediatrics, specifically through their policy statement that states clearly that “under twos” should not be exposed to any “screen time”. The empirical basis for this recommendation rests in part on three studies that are cited to support the statement “In the short-term, children younger than 2 years who watch more television or videos have expressive language delays. (p. 4)” It is quite a shock to examine those three papers (which have been repeatedly cited in subsequent papers to support similar statements without further examination).

Perhaps the most influential, given its high profile in the popular media due the controversy over the Baby Einstein videos, is the paper by Zimmerman, Christakis and Meltzoff (2007). In this study parents were interviewed by phone about their infants’ television and video viewing and responses to the short version of the Communication Development Inventory were obtained. Linear regression analyses involving a great many control variables led to a negative relationship between viewing of baby DVDs/videos and receptive language development for the youngest infants. No relationship between any kind of screen time and expressive language development was observed for the older infants and no effect of other kinds of television or video viewing was observed for any age group. But, more recently, Ferguson and Donellan (2013) obtained their raw data and have shown in a re-analysis that in fact there is no evidence in this study of a harmful effect of baby videos on language outcomes. They argue convincingly that the selection of control variables in the original paper was not theoretically motivated; in fact, the zero-order correlations (not included in the Journal of Pediatrics report) are not statistically significant. Ferguson and Donellan substituted raw scores (number of known words) for percentile scores as the outcome measure and included only those covariates that could be theoretically motivated and found that there were no conditions under which media exposure was negatively correlated with language development although there were some positive associations.



What Do Parents and Children Talk About When Reading E-Books?

by Christina Tausch and Susan Rvachew

It is generally agreed that e-books are very engaging to children. We expect that when parents and children are sharing an ebook that this engagement will be indexed by the amount of time that the parent and child spend with the ebook in comparison to a standard book. It is not clear that longer shared reading time with ebooks will provide the child with greater opportunity for language and literacy learning however. Barnett and Crowe (2008) observed two and three year old students while they were reading storybooks with their preschool teachers. They reported an overall longer reading time and longer interactions when teachers used the “My First Story Reader” interactive story book product in comparison to traditional storybooks. This was mainly due to an increased number of requests for action, while there were no differences in the overall number of utterances. Similarly, Morris & Collins (2006) reported a difference in interaction patterns in that children were more engaged in book manipulations than story or content-related talk when reading e-books with their mothers. Authors hypothesized that reasons for these different behaviours could be unfamiliarity with e-books and thus more talk about technological features might have been elicited. In these studies, modern tablet based books were not used however and the “read to me” feature of the books was used, displacing the traditional role of the adult in the shared reading process.

Our current pilot project on digital media use with children specifically addresses the question whether or not mother-child interaction patterns differ or change when they read e-books compared to print books. We videotaped mother-child dyads with children between 3;6 and 5;6 years of age while they were reading a traditional storybook, a basic e-book story and an enhanced e-book. In this case the ebooks were implemented on iPads but the mothers read the story to their children. One of our preliminary findings was that the dyads spend almost twice as long reading the enhanced e-book in comparison to the traditional storybook, even though there was less text to read in comparison to the paper book. But what were the parent-child pairs doing with this time? One way that we looked at this question was to code each maternal behavior in terms of the environmental “trigger” for the mother’s vocal utterance or gesture. One possible category of “trigger” for maternal utterances was the child (for example the mother might ask the child a question, respond to her child’s question or act to manage the child’s behavior or direct the child’s attention). Other categories were elements of the paper or electronic books, specifically: illustration, animation, text (includes reading the text and talking about print and print concepts), narrative (story), technology, prompts provided to the mother by the ebook, or other stimuli. We are particularly interested in trade-offs between the “technology” and “narrative” categories. Talking about the story is presumably helpful to the child’s language development. If ebooks engender a lot of talk designed to help the child operate the technology, and this talk crowds out time for talking about the story, this may be unhelpful in terms of language acquisition.

Time Use Figure

This figure above shows what actually happened across our three books, a standard paper book, a commercial ebook and the prototype of an ebook that we are developing to prompt mothers to use dialogic reading strategies with their child. Time use while reading three books is shown. The SB book is the “The Big Bear Hug”, a traditional paper story book. The BEB book is a commercial electronic book, “The Frog Who Wanted to Be as Big as an Ox”. The iRW book was a prototype of a new product called iReadwith that prompts parents to use dialogic reading strategies. The figure shows that shared reading time per page was increased markedly while reading the iRW book. Maternal events that related to technology increased with both ebooks. Talking about the narrative decreased for the basic ebook (BEB condition) but not for the iRW book. This might be because the book about the Frog contained a rather complicated animation and the parent had to help the child activate this feature (see previous blog for description of animations). Furthermore the narrative involved some difficult abstract concepts that some parents opted to not explain. On the other hand, the prompts provided in the iRW book did stimulate a lot of discussion about aspects of the story including the characters, the settings and the plot. Once again, it is impossible to generalize about the impact of ebooks without considering the details. In the future we will be able to control for important variables more carefully by comparing the reading of the exact book/story in paper and electronic versions. For now, it is interesting to watch how parents and children use this new technology.

Impact of Animations on Shared Reading Interactions

by Susan Rvachew, Ph.D., S-LP(C), School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University

Currently, experts don’t know whether animations help children learn from stories or not. For example, , Verhallen, Bus & de Jong (2006) reported that animated stories helped English-language learners retell stories; on the other hand, the children had a harder time retelling a story presented without animations. In contrast, Chiong, Ree, Taeuchi, & Erickson reported that enhanced ebooks interfered with children’s story comprehension.

It is hard to make sense of these research findings because we don’t know very much about animated story books. What exactly is an “enhanced ebook”? What elements in this kind of digital platform help or hinder a child’s story comprehension? What can parents or teachers do to help children learn more from animated story books? That is why we were pleased to find a research report in which the stated aim was to explore the question “What does children’s engagement with ebooks look like?” Our project has a similar goal except that Roskos, Burstein, & Byeong-Keun observed children in the classroom whereas we are specifically interested in parent-child interactions. We will be describing some of our findings in this and the next few blog posts.


Immersion or Interaction? The Learning Potential of Digital Tablets

By Kathrin Rees, Doctoral Candidate, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University

In January this year the French Academy of Sciences, the reputable institution dedicated to the development of the sciences which acts as a consultant for the French government in this domain, published a statement paper titled ‘L’enfant et les écrans’ (The child and screens). Chapter 7 of this statement ‘Différents écrans, différents usages’ (different screens, different usages) presents a compelling summary of how technological innovations in the course of the 20th century have continuously changed the way that we relate to screens, from cinema and television, to computer and mobile phones, all the way to touch tablets and 3-D-screens. The main turnover brought about by digital technology according to the publishers lies in the way it empowers users to interact with screen contents and change these contents thanks to interfaces that are becoming more and more intuitive and ergonomic. Earlier inventions had emphasized a spectator’s capacity for immersion in contrast to interaction. Thinking about screens with a high presence in the everyday lives of families, TVs and digital tablets represent the end points of this immersion – interaction continuum. TV may count as a prototypical screen designed to immerse its spectators in the content that they are viewing; in contrast, tablets allow for and indeed evoke interactive engagement so that users can to some extent create or at least shape the content that they are experiencing. However, this dichotomous view that immersion is for TV and interactivity is for touch tablets is too simplistic in that it assumes that interactivity is strictly determined by the technology rather than by the human user’s preferences and creativity. For example, Disney’s toy story (an enhanced e-book available for free in the App Store), representing a crossover of movie and e-storybook, allows for four different modes of reading with “Read To Me”, “Auto-turn Pages”, “Young Reader Mode”, and “Use My Recording”. Depending on the selection, each one of these could lead to quite a different experience of interactivity by a child. Selecting the modes “Read To Me” along with “Auto-turn Pages” in this example could result in a comparably passive consumption of screen content by the child, not very different from immersion in a movie. On the other hand, research has shown that TV viewing can be a highly interactive experience in some contexts. Before the diffusion of digital media on a grand scale, at least two decades of research on television coviewing have shown that parental mediation, in particular when it comes in the form of instructive mediation, can play a prominent role in transforming screen content in a way that it may be more effectively taken in by a child (see the report “The New Coviewing: Designing for Learning through Joint Media Engagement” by Takeuchi & Stevens, 2011). Instructive mediation refers to the tutorial efforts of a parent while watching television programming together with a child: engaging the child in dialogue about what he/she views, prompting him/her to react to the content, or modeling media literacy skills (cf., Takeuchi & Stevens, 2011, p.11). Hence we cannot ignore the amplifying potential of human-to-human interactivity in the reading process, which may in largely account for learning that occurs on the child’s part. Yet most producers of e-books for children have been designing their products mainly with the single (child) user in mind, being well aware of the fact that parents have come to value touch tablets as child sitters on hand at busy times. Our research is specifically designed to investigate parent-and-child interactivity while jointly engaged with digital tablets. Thus far, our video recordings show that while “the medium may be the message”, interactivity is driven by humans. The potential for certain technologies to support high quality interactions between parents and their children remains an open question.

The impact of multi-sensory experiences on reading storybooks and e-books

By Christina Tausch, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Digital Media Partnership

We are very interested in finding out if the use of digital media changes reading and reading interactions between caregivers and children when compared to reading traditional storybooks. As we recounted in a previous blog post, survey data reveals conflicted views by parents on the use of digital media with their children. Parents prefer traditional storybooks most of the time but will allow their children to use ebooks in specific contexts such as when commuting (Takeuchi & Vaala, 2012). The child’s perspective has been less well explored in research however. How do children experience ebooks in comparison to traditional paper books?  Children are sensory-motor learners and it is clear that they will receive very different kinds of sensory-motor feedback when turning the pages of traditional storybooks in comparison to swiping the virtual pages of e-books (Mangen, 2008).  What do we know?

In printed storybooks, the content of the story cannot be separated from the material (Morineau, Blanche, Tobin & Guenguen, 2005).  What are the implications? Children can touch the book and every single page, feel its weight, its texture and perceive the thickness of a book. Thus, children begin to understand the concept of where a book begins and ends. They experience flipping through pages of different books and explore page numbers. This direct sensory-motor experience leads to the creation of a mental map of the entire text and has a direct impact on children’s reading comprehension, according to Mangen et al., 2013. The text and the smooth glass cover of an e-reader or iPad cannot be perceived as a tangible unit, so that the book content is detached from its material. This spatial orientation is not provided in ebooks, but other motivational and built-in features may facilitate reading comprehension as effectively although in different ways.  For example, in some ebooks, story content can be changed with a mouse click to provide the child with direct experience with narrative structure and problem solving. Hotspots are a common tool to aid vocabulary learning. Interactive features to support story comprehension are becoming increasingly innovative entertaining and entertaining and entertaining.  There is a concern however that clicking on hot spots or scrawling down a page in ebooks might lead to very different text comprehension and caregiver-child interactions, especially if the attention is too focused on the device and its features instead of the story content (Chiong, Ree, Takeuchi, & Erickson, 2012; Parish-Morris & Collins, 2006; Mangen, 2008).

Another way in which the interactive features of ebooks change the caregiver-child interaction is related to their ease of use, even for children as young as two. In his exploratory study Geist (2012) observed that very young children can master digital tablet applications because the sensory motor interface is intuitive and provides few cognitive barriers.  According to the Sesame Workshop: Best Practice Report, 2012 actions such as tapping, drawing and moving their fingers, swiping, dragging and sliding are mastered by toddlers in a very natural way without assistance. Certain gestures are less intuitive (e.g., multi-touch actions such as pinching, tilting/shaking, flicking/flinging). Although the adult might need to step in and help the child when these movements are required, toddlers can use a large number of books, games and apps without much parental assistance. Therefore it is legitimate to ask whether this technology will reduce the frequency of meaningful caregiver-child interactions. It is well known that language development is most strongly impacted by the amount and quality the language input the child receives from adults in the context of “helpful interactions” (Weizman & Snow, 2001). Will the use of these devices reduce the child’s access to this kind of input?

What are your experiences – do you feel that you interact differently with your child when you read e-books as compared to standard paper books? How do you feel these differences in sensory-motor experience impact on your child’s learning?

Parents’ Perceptions of Digital Media

By Christina Tausch, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Digital Media Partnership

Nowadays, children are exposed to digital media from early on.  Parents have a lot of questions about when to expose their children to these media, whether to limit their child’s access, and how best to use these tools to maximize their child’s language and cognitive development. Professionals such as educators, speech-language pathologists, pediatricians and community health workers need credible sources of information on which to base their answers to parents. Our blog will connect parents and professionals with sources of information about digital media for children, report the most current findings in the literature, and describe our own studies on this topic. We also hope to facilitate critical interactions with our readers on challenging questions about the use of digital media, with a particular focus on the impact of e-books on early language development and emergent literacy skills.

Currently, an excellent source of research on digital media is the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Recently the center published the results of a survey of parental practices and attitudes regarding ebook reading. The survey reported by Vaala and Takeuchi (2012) mostly involved well-off and well-educated parents of children aged 2- to 6-years. The majority of the parents who owned iPads reported that they used them for co-reading with their children. The parents had different perceptions of the various features that are found in e-books. They felt that games, videos and animations in e-books distracted children from reading. On the other hand, features such as audio narration, word highlights and clicking on words to sound them out were perceived as supporting the reading process. Parents who exposed their children to e-books on a regular basis were more likely to feel that certain features supported their children’s reading acquisition. Consequently, they allowed their children to use the iPad for other activities, such as playing games, creating arts or music, watching videos or using the chat function. However, even the majority of parents who read e-books to their children preferred the use of traditional storybooks.

Parents who did not regularly use the iPad for shared reading experiences were more likely to show preferences for the feel of print books, mentioned concerns about increased screen time and mentioned distraction factors that inhibit reading acquisition. One of the most salient results for parents who did not use e-books on a regular basis was the concern that the child would eventually prefer e-books instead of traditional paper books. Another concern was the perception of difficulty to read on digital devices. Interestingly however, the context influenced parents’ perceptions, so that e-books were as likely to be used or even preferred over traditional storybooks while traveling or commuting.

The use of e-books is associated with a lot of strong perceptions, both positive and negative.

We invite you to share your thoughts and experiences with us. Do you like to read electronic books or do you prefer paper? Do you share electronic books with your child? Are you concerned about children’s “screen time” in modern society or are you excited by the opportunities for learning that digital tablets may offer?