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#DigLitMcGill Conference Day 2 Theme 1 Report

Theme I: Key Messages for Parents and Teachers, by Lizzie Carolan, Melanie Orellana and Kathrin Rees

The kick-off presentation for the first theme was introduced by Kathrin Rees, Certified Teacher at Special Education Schools/Germany and Doctoral Candidate at the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University. Her kick-off presentation (Rees diglitMcGill Day 2 blog slides) focused on three pieces of advice that parents frequently encounter in relation to sharing eBooks with their children: (1) quality eBooks guarantee learning, (2) read eBooks just like traditional books, and (3) give the child the lead. She evaluated the validity of these messages in turn.

For key message (1), quality eBooks guarantee learning, Kathrin brought up the fact that finding quality eBooks is often challenging. Although there is a growing number of excellent reviewer websites , not all parents or teachers know about such resources or take the time to consult them before making a purchase. Oftentimes, the frameworks that are out there have not been scientifically evaluated. Fortunately, researchers are beginning to put out evidence-based frameworks, such as Hirsh-Pasek et al. (2015) (discussed in more detail below). Apps often have flexible settings, which presents another challenge as both the basic and the enhanced version of the app need evaluation. Clearly, there is a need for a more efficient and streamlined way for parents and teachers to evaluate apps before sharing them with children.

For key messages (2) read eBooks just like traditional books and (3) give the child the lead, Kathrin presented video clips to the audience from her own research on shared reading with tablets (for a more detailed discussion of these topics, see Kathrin’s previous blogposts here and here ). She presented a few instances in which the advice to share the e-book just like a traditional print book evidently worked, in other words dyads seamlessly adapted to the novel reading medium. However, a number of counter-examples showed how other dyads failed at the attempt to treat the new as something known, experiencing conflicts and disruptions in turn taking when trying to talk about the e-story. Giving children more control over the device was presented as one potentially useful strategy, if accompanied by a change in parent’s verbal strategies, e.g. a higher volume of parallel talk instead of directive questions by the parent. After presenting these videos, Kathrin left the audience with questions to discuss, namely: What are your own perspectives on the three pieces of advice that were introduced in this presentation? What do you think are the most important key messages that we should transmit to parents and teachers about digital media use with children? The responses, reported below, centered around three ideas: setting a routine for eBooks, emphasizing the interaction between parent/teacher and child during the reading, and evaluating and familiarizing yourself with the apps you might use.

The idea of establishing a routine with your child or with children in the classroom was brought up by several tables during the discussion. Establishing separate routines for eBooks and paper books is encouraged; for both formats the audience agreed that it is important to be clear about the objectives and the expectations for the shared reading experience. For example, are you reading together for fun or for educational purposes? Who will turn the pages? Will you leave the interactive features on or will you do two readings (first without the interactive features and the second reading with)? Questions like these will help you establish a solid reading routine for you and your child.

Another key point raised during the discussion was about the interaction between parent/teacher and child during shared reading. The audience agreed that the scaffolding provided by the adult and the interaction between the adult and child are the most important components of the shared reading experience, not the format of the book. A concern with eBooks was brought up in this regard: oftentimes, interaction when reading eBooks is too centered on the technology (see a previous blogpost that discusses the high amount of technology-related talk between parent-child dyads when reading eBooks). This brings us back to establishing a good routine – if the objectives are clear and the routine is set, technology-related talk is likely reduced.

Lastly, the audience agreed that it was important for parents/teachers to first evaluate the apps that they might use with children and then also be familiar and comfortable with these apps. Here we provide a summary of the framework proposed in Hirsh-Pasek et al. (2015) in hopes of providing you with a tool for evaluation . In their paper, Hirsh-Pasek et al. propose evidence-based guidelines rooted in the science of learning to facilitate this process. These guidelines are envisioned as “pillars” to support the overall learning development of the child. Below, we take a closer look at each of the four pillars of learning.

The four pillars proposed by Hirsh-Pasek et al. (2015) are active learning, engagement in the learning process, meaningful learning, and socially interactive learning. Active learning refers to minds-on learning, such that the app should require the child to embody an active role as opposed to a passive role. The next pillar, engagement, is evaluated based on the content and features of the app. Parents with a learning objective in mind would do best to avoid apps with features that may distract the child from being engaged with learning. The child will be most likely to remain focused and on-task if the eBook integrates the three following ingredients: contingent interactions (e.g. the app responds to a swipe or touch), feedback and positive reinforcements, and intrinsic motivation (namely, fun!). The third pillar is about meaningful learning, which occurs when new information alters or builds on the child’s prior knowledge. This can take place when there is a clear goal or when the learning is personally relevant. eBook designers can make the learning meaningful to the child by using the narrative as a tool or by linking the activity to the child’s everyday life. Finally, high-quality interaction between parent and child is essential for learning to take place as social contingency plays a central role in learning. This is particularly true for tasks that are related to language or to the development of the child’s critical thinking skills. Although not mentioned as a “pillar” per se, scaffolded exploration  (Hirsh Pasek et al., 2015) is another important component to include when sharing apps or eBooks with a child, as without it, learning goals can be compromised. Scaffolding toward a learning goal according to these authors can be provided by an external source, such as a parent, or within the app itself.

We would like to thank the audience for their participation as well as for sharing their ideas with us during this day. We hope that the ideas generated from the round-table discussions serve as a point of reflection for parents and educators who are establishing their own eBook and app practices at home or in the classroom.

Theme I Handouts

Cooney Center (2014) Family Time with Apps: A Guide to Using Apps with Your Kids available as a pdf, or,

Available as an interactive app

Lerner, C. and Barr, R. (2014). Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight. Zero to Three.

Little eLit (2015) Young Children, New Media, and Libraries: A Guide for Incorporating New Media into Library Collections, Services, and Programs for Families and Children Ages 0-5. Amy Koester (ed).

Hirsh-Pasek, K., Zosh, J. M., Michnik, Golinkoff, R., Gray, J. H., Robb, M. B., & Kaufman, J. (2015). Putting education in “educational” apps: Lessons from the science of learning. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16(1), 3-24.

Wartella, E. (2015). Educational apps: What we do and do not know. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16(1), 1-2.


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