The second presentation in Theme I (How do Parents and Children Engage with eBooks?), by Gabrielle Strouse was entitled “With Infants, E-Books and Traditional Books May Not Be So Different” (Gabrielle Strouse and Patricia Ganea). Gabrielle described her study that involved 102 toddlers who shared a traditional book or electronic book with their parent. The books were very simple apps designed for infants (Happy Babies series by Penguin Books). Therefore, there were few ‘pages’ and no narrative — the app, upon tapping, simply exposes the infant to an animal, and then the animal’s baby, with a repetitive sentence frame for labeling the illustrations. In contrast to several prior studies involving preschoolers and story books, the study revealed no disadvantage to the ebook format in terms of the quality of language input provided by the parent reader. In fact, parents and infants both made more content-related comments with the electronic book compared to the paper version of the book. Interestingly, the toddlers were observed to be highly engaged with the electronic book — more attentive than with the paper book — in direct contrast to the parent’s responses on the pre-experiment survey about their infant’s behaviors during shared reading. This study raises many questions about the intersection of the child, the ebook features and parental behaviors that must be considered before we draw firm conclusions about the potential of ebooks to support learning by children. Gabrielle is a co-author of the well-known study “Can babies learn to read: A randomized trial of baby media” . We look forward to seeing this new study in print.
Conference abstract: There is reason to believe that important differences exist in the way parents and children treat new technologies and traditional formats. In this presentation, we describe the results of a study in which parents of 102 infants aged 17 to 26 months were randomly assigned to read electronic or traditional format books with identical content with their infant.
Conference handout: Strouse DigLitMcGill slide upload.
The Key Note presentation in Theme IV: Learning to Read with Digital Media was presented by Rob Savage (“A Cluster Randomized Control Field Trial of the ABRACADABRA Web-based Reading Technology: Replication and Extension of Basic Findings”, Noella Piquette, Rob Savage and Philip C. Abrami). The presentation was largely concerned with ABRACADABRA, free, interactive web-based literacy program designed for early elementary school-aged students. The presentation covered a lot of research with a primary focus on two recent studies. The efficacy and effectiveness of ABRACADABRA for reading outcomes has previously been established in well controlled trials. A new study was presented that demonstrates effectiveness given a district wide implementation in Northern Alberta with implementation largely handled by local personnel in order to establish external validity. Subsequently Rob turned to the conflicting reports of the efficacy of computer based reading interventions in the scientific literature. A review study examined the inclusion of detailed descriptions of the methods used to implement the trial interventions and the methods used for ensuring fidelity to those procedures in trial reports in relation to outcomes. The results supported the conclusion that computer based reading interventions are most likely to be effective when there is evidence of good quality training and support for teachers in the implementation of the intervention. This finding was a recurring theme during the afternoon sessions and during the second day of the conference.
Conference abstract: The present paper reports a cluster randomized control trial evaluation of teaching using ABRACADABRA (ABRA), an evidence-based and web-based literacy intervention (http://abralite.concordia.ca) with 107 kindergarten and 96 grade 1 children in 24 classes (12 intervention 12 control classes) from all 12 elementary schools in one school district in Canada. Children in the intervention condition received 10-12 hours of whole class instruction using ABRA between pre- and post-test. Hierarchical linear modeling of post-test results showed significant gains in letter-sound knowledge for intervention classrooms over control classrooms. In addition, medium effect sizes were evident for three of five outcome measures favoring the intervention: letter-sound knowledge (d = +.66), phonological blending (d = +.52), and word reading (d = +.52), over effect sizes for regular teaching. It is concluded that regular teaching with ABRA technology adds significantly to literacy in the early elementary years. We discuss these findings and those of our previous work against wider literature on the effectiveness of educational technologies.
Conference handout: Savage DigLitMcGill slide upload.
The third talk in Theme I (How do Parents and Children Engage with eBooks?) was presented by Kathleen Paciga. This presentation represented a shift to more qualitative work with interesting video presentations of Kathleen’s children interacting with a complex electronic story book. This longitudinal study raised several important issues that reverberated through to the round table discussions on the second day. First, the importance of ensuring developmental appropriateness of the ebook relative to the child’s age and interests became very clear. Second, the common problem of mismatches between cognitive and motor challenges at the intersection of the story and interactive features in the ebook came to the foreground. The study also raised the issue of possible gender differences in response to digital applications, an issue that would arise again in other studies presented at the conference; personally, I became aware that this variable is not well controlled in this emerging area of research. Katie’s thoughts about apps and preschool education can be found on her blog. Katie has published other data on children’s listening comprehension of digital story books in the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy.
Conference abstract: A cross-sectional case study was utilized to examine an adult’s use of supports for two siblings’ (male, 54 months old; female, 30 months old) experiences with the same interactive e-book.
Conference handout: Paciga DigLitMcGill slide upload.
The Key Note presentation for Theme IV: Teaching with eBooks in the Classroom was presented by Jeremy Brueck . Regrettably his co-author Kathleen Roskos was unable to join us but Jeremy’s presentation, attached below, was a perfect introduction to the Theme. The presentation was visually gorgeous, immensely practical and intellectually stimulating since it reminded us (again) that children’s learning from ebooks is not just about the design of the technology. Teachers’ knowledge, skills and experiences play a very important role. Jeremy reviewed best practices related to five key points: (1) Know your device; (2) Know your ebook; (3) Establish routines; (4) Link apps together; and (5) Be persistent. Jeremy also introduced us to some tools for evaluating and rating the quality of ebooks for teaching, including his own eBook Quality Rating Tool. Jeremy has discussed this tool in more detail on his blog and he and his colleagues have published data collected with the tool in journals such as The Journal of Interactive On-line Learning. I invite readers to download the conference handout because a brief blogpost cannot do justice to the presentation. However, as Jeremy stressed during the presentation, professional development helps but supported and persistence exploration and practice with devices and apps is the key to successful integration of these technologies into the classroom.
Conference abstract: The surge of eBooks and storybook apps into the early childhood world is rapidly changing the traditional early book experience and thereby the way literacy is promoted in early education. As eBooks increasingly replace print books on an array of devices, the need to understand their impact not only on children’s engagement and learning, but also early literacy teaching grows more urgent. How do adults help young children learn to read and write in an electronic reading environment? Our session focuses on emerging e-reading practices that appear promising for promoting children’s early literacy knowledge, skills and motivation. Drawing on a series of field studies in early childhood classrooms, we describe hybrid pedagogies teachers are using to support early literacy experience with eBooks and apps. We also report both the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” when implementing eBook reading instruction in mobile learning environments. Finally we discuss the supports that teachers need when adapting their existing practices to eBook enriched classrooms.
Conference handout: Brueck DigLitMcGill slide upload.
The Key Note presentation in Theme I (How do Parents and Children Engage with eBooks?) was presented by Julia Parish-Morris. Her presentation, Parent-Preschooler Interaction during Electronic and Traditional Book Reading (Julia Parish-Morris, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff & Brenna Hassinger-Das) perfectly covered the themes and issues that would reverberate throughout the two days of the conference. She began by illustrating the growing infiltration of digital technology into every aspect of our children’s lives, describing this situation as a “giant unplanned experiment” that produces a great deal of anxiety as reflected in popular news stories. Julia presented several experiments, including both published and unpublished work. These studies led to a common conclusion: interactive features such as hotspots and animations in electronic books increase “behavior-related” talk by parents and lead to a competition for control of the device during shared reading by parents and children. All these distractions hamper story comprehension by children. At the same time, the use of high quality dialogic reading prompts by parents (in particular “distancing prompts” that help the child relate story content to their own life experiences) promote story comprehension during reading with both traditional and electronic books. These findings stimulated a back and forth dialogue about alternative responses throughout the conference – do we redesign the electronic books or redesign parents’ reading strategies when using the books? Or more drastically, try to proscribe access to these digital tools altogether?
Conference Abstract: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents read to their children daily from birth. At the same time, the AAP suggests that parents avoid screen time for children under age 2. Given these recommendations, how do we as parents, educators, clinicians, and developmental scientists, deal with the case of electronic books? Should e-books be considered shared reading, or are they more accurately categorized as screen time? In this talk, I will review a recent study of dyadic reading between three- and five-year-olds and their parents in the context of electronic books and traditional paper books. I will talk about how parent language, child language, child story comprehension, and parent enjoyment of the shared reading interaction changes when parents and children read electronic books and traditional paper books. A new study using iPad apps will be described, and language implications of screen time for our youngest children will be outlined. Finally, I will present some new ideas for electronic applications that may be beneficial in certain early childhood contexts (but not all).
Conference slides: Parish-Morris DigLitMcGill slide upload.
The second talk in Theme II: Learning Language from Shared Reading with eBooks, presented by Natalia Kucirkova, was a refreshing change from many of the other presentations during the morning conference: there was no comparison of paper and ebooks with the implication that one had to be ‘better’ than the other. Rather, Natalia presented software that she created to take full advantage of the potential of digitization to completely transform the ‘book’. Her app, Our Story, allows children and their parents, teachers or peers to construct personalized multimedia stories. The presentation covered the functionality of the app and the advantages of personalization from the theoretical and empirical perspectives as outlined in more detail in Kucirkova’s prior publications.
Conference abstract: In this paper, I use the personalisation framework developed by Oulasvirta & Blom, (2008), to reflect on the various forms personalisation can take in children’s digital reading materials, paying close attention to the notions of agency, aesthetics and bidirectionality in multimedia.
Conference handout: Kucirkova DigLitMcGill slide upload.
Story-Related Discourse by Parent-Child Dyads: A Comparison of Typically Developing Children and Children with Language Impairments Reading Print Books and eBooks
The fourth and final presentation in Theme I (How do Parents and Children Engage with eBooks?) was the only talk to concern children with language impairment. The talk, presented by Kathrin Rees, described story-related discourse by parent-child dyads that were enrolled in a therapeutic program for children with language impairments, administered by Jackie Morrison-Visentin. The program was designed to teach parents, in small groups, how to use books to improve their children’s language skills in the home environment. The data that Kathrin presented was taken from video recordings collected during the pretreatment assessment. The assessment included a wordless picture book and an electronic picture book. Mean turn length (measured in number of words, as produced by children) was observed to decline for both children with language impairment and children with typically developing language in this study when the parents switched from the wordless picture book to the iReadwith ebook. The number of questions and comments produced by the parents increased markedly when the parents read the iReadwith book, compared to the wordless paper book. Consequently, the children with typical language increased the number of responses to their parents’ questions and comments. However, the children with language impairment actually reduced the number of responses to their parents’ bids for attention. Therefore it appeared that the animated features of the book that were designed to increase parental use of dialogic reading prompts were effective; at the same time, the animated features of the book that were designed to sustain child engagement interfered with verbal dialogue between parent and child in the dyads involving children with language impairment. This study reinforces the common theme that the outcome of shared reading with ebooks is determined by the intersection of child characteristics, book features and parental behaviors. The appropriate policy responses remain unclear. Should parents of children with language impairment be specifically advised to avoid ebooks? Should parents of children with language impairment be taught to use a different reading style (more parallel talk and fewer dialogic reading prompts)? Should parents of children with language impairment choose simpler ebooks (the infant style books described by Gabrielle Strouse for example?). Quite frankly, we do not know the answers to these questions. Clearly there are many more studies to conduct with this population!
Conference abstract: This presentation addresses the linguistic engagement apparent in the extratextual talk of two groups of parents and preschoolers reading a paper book and an interactive eBook (children with typical language development and children with impaired language).
Conference handout: Rees DigLitMcGill slide upload.