On September 1, 2017 I was privileged to present the key note address for the Working Group 3 panel, part of the DigiLitEY COST meeting held in Bologna Italy. The presentation was comprised largely of video excerpts from studies in my lab concerning shared reading with ebooks as well as some charts from our published papers. I cannot post those here obviously but I am posting a copy of my remarks with links to the relevant papers and sources and hope that readers of this blog will find it of interest.
The most common attitude to digital media that is projected in the public sphere at present is one of moral panic, especially with regard to digital media use by children. However, it is evident that that digital technologies have been integrated – or, depending on your view, one might say they have intruded – into every sphere of adult activity (a point illustrated by this YouTube clip of Mauril Bélanger introducing a bill into the Canadian House of Parliament during the late stages of his struggle with ALS). We now use tablets and laptops and smart phones indoors and outdoors, for work and for play, alone and with others, for teaching and for learning, for solitary entertainment and for communicating in new ways and with more people than we ever did in the past. These technologies allow us to solve problems that were previously intractable although I admit they introduce many new problems that perhaps we have failed to fully anticipate.
I can repeat this idea somewhat more formally with this concept map: digital technologies facilitate communication by and with diverse people, thus enhancing inclusion and participation by more segments of our society. Furthermore, these technologies connect us to the material world in new ways, permitting more precise control of our environment. Jointly, these two aspects, inclusiveness on the one hand and empowerment on the other, lead to better problem solving. So, these benefits of technology combined with the sheer ubiquity of these mobile devises in adult life mean that we have no choice about teaching our children to live in this technology rich, or if you prefer, technology-laden, environment.
How do we prepare children to live out in the world? One tool that parents and early educators have is shared reading. Although picture books present situations that children are unlikely to encounter in real life (fairies, monsters and talking bears), they provide opportunities to identify familiar emotions and to talk about solutions to problems that arise from differences in perspective. Kathrin Rees, in her doctoral dissertation, indicated that shared reading necessarily involves shared attention by the child and adult to the reading medium. Furthermore the adult and child also share a common script for the exchange – in our research we found that there was some variation among families in how they managed the shared reading interaction but each dyad adhered to a well-practiced script. The child typically accepted their role which was surprisingly quite passive, even for those children who were rather chatty; they knew when it was their turn to listen and their turn to speak and these turns were largely coordinated by the parent. Another aspect is the way that the close proximity of the adult and child creates a safe cocoon for exploration of difficult or frightening realities. For example, in our recordings of parents and children reading “The Big Bear Hug”, we were surprised to find that all of our Canadian research participants, with the exception of one indigenous child, were unfamiliar with axes. Their parents clearly considered the ax to be an unsafe object that should be kept away from their children; however, shared book reading provided a safe environment for exploring the concept, not to mention the encounter with the large bear. Many of the share reading sessions that we recorded in my laboratory began with the parent encouraging the child to come closer, no matter how close the child was to start with. With words and gesture ‘come closer’ was the cue that shared reading was about to begin.
We have not been blogging of late, largely because Kathrin Rees has been focused on finishing her dissertation and we have been busy communicating the results of the first phase of our project and transitioning to a new phase. Here I will provide an update on some of our recent activities.
A major project that has been ongoing since our conference in June 2015 has been the development of a new topic for the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development, edited by Susan Rvachew, specifically Technology in Early Childhood Education, consisting of 6 articles, a commentary, a synthesis and an information sheet for parents.
Table of Contents: Technology in Early Childhood Education
Infants, Toddlers and Learning from Screen Media
Mary L. Courage, PhD, Georgene L. Troseth, PhD
Learning in the Digital Age: Putting Education Back in Educational Apps for Young Children
Jennifer M. Zosh, PhD, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, PhD, Julia Parish-Morris, PhD
Literacy Technologies and the Early Years of School
Robert Savage, PhD, Eileen Wood, PhD
Electronic(E)-books as a Support for Young Children’s Language and Early Literacy
Ofra Korat, PhD, Ora Segal-Drori, PhD
Teaching Early Literacy with E-books: Emerging Practices
Kathleen Roskos, PhD, Jeremy S. Brueck, PhD
Educational Media Supports for Preschool-aged English Language Learners
Kevin M. Wong, PhD Student, Susan B. Neuman, PhD
Technology in early childhood education: overall commentary
Susan Rvachew, PhD
A second long running project is a special issue of the International Journal of Child-Computer Interactions, edited by Natalia Kucirkova and Susan Rvachew: Reading in the 21st century: how does digital book-reading influence the reading processes and outcomes for young children? Two of the six articles in the issue come from our project:
Improving emergent literacy with school-based shared reading: Paper versus ebooks Susan Rvachew | Kathrin Rees | Elizabeth Carolan | Aparna Nadig
Elizabeth Carolan made a short slide show describing this study:
Story-related discourse by parent–child dyads: A comparison of typically developing children and children with language impairments Kathrin Rees | Aparna Nadig | Susan Rvachew
We will send out a notice attached to a new blog post when all of these articles are finally gathered together into a “virtual special issue”.
A smaller publication this year was an op-ed in the Montreal Gazette, written by Susan Rvachew.
Currently we are busy with new projects funded by a new grant from SSHRC. Several conferences are upcoming in the remainder of 2017. New students will be arriving in the fall. All of these developments will lead to new blog posts in the future.
by Susan Rvachew and Kathrin Rees
The short history of research on children’s learning from digital media has been marked by technological determinism – a sense that child outcomes can be linked more or less directly to the reading medium. For example, Neuman, Kaefer, Pinkham, and Strouse (2014) determined that infants cannot learn to read from ‘baby videos’ after conducting a randomized control trial. Parish-Morris, Mahajanm, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, and Collins (2013) concluded that ebooks impair children’s story comprehension relative to paper books, because parents do not use optimum shared reading techniques in the ebook condition. Takacs, Swart, and Bus (2015) found that multimedia features in ebooks support children’s vocabulary learning, whereas interactive features distract children from learning. We have found that understanding how children learn from ebooks requires a more comprehensive view in which complex interactions among aspects of the reading medium, the child, and the adult are amplified. Our desire to view all aspects of the shared reading interaction forced us to develop a coding system for our video data that broadened the scope of currently available coding schemes while incorporating the theoretical perspectives validated for each of the individual components (e.g., Hirsh-Pasek, Zosh, Golinkoff, Gray, & Kaufman, 2015; Van Kleeck, 2003). We provide information about our coding system here for anyone else who may find it to be useful.
The coding scheme that we describe is applied to the analysis of video recorded shared reading interactions, ideally with synchronized video showing the back and front views of the reading dyad, permitting a full view of the reading medium and any actions performed on it as well as all relevant verbal and nonverbal behaviors of the adult and child or children involved in the reading context. The interactions are described in the form of discrete behaviors by each person involved, organized to identify consecutive or overlapping behaviors in the verbal and nonverbal domains within or between parties. We produced these transcripts with CHAT (http://childes.psy.cmu.edu), supplemented with excel worksheets and Noldus coding.
by Elizabeth Carolan and Susan Rvachew
The market for educational apps and e-books is exploding, with no controls for quality or assurances of effectiveness. How are parents and educators to find apps to suit the needs of their children among the tens of thousands of apps available in this “Digital Wild West”? The Joan Ganz Cooney Center examined apps in order to gain insight on what information is available to parents and educators as they pan for technological gold in this new frontier. Specifically, the researchers analyzed a sample of 170 apps from lists like “Top 50 Paid”, “Top 50 Free”, and “Awarded” from various marketplaces, such as Google Play and the Apple App Store. They looked at the app descriptions and content to find out what is available for children and to develop recommendations for parents, teachers and industry. Their report coupled with our own research from the Digital Media Project for Children have inspired this post on what makes a quality app.
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center report identified many characteristics of a quality app but two in particular overlap with our own research so we highlight them here. First, they stress the importance of “purposeful design” which requires that the design team include experts and that the design process be guided by theory and research. The authors report that less than half of the apps in their sample describe the development team in their marketplace description; only 2% of the sample note research that has been conducted on the learning outcomes of the app.
As e-books are now part of our children’s daily lives, what is the daily reality of an educational e-book publisher? by Chloe Benaroya, Tribal Nova, Inc.
Recent reports show that the children’s e-book industry is a dynamic economy with an appetite for kid’s reading on digital platforms. According to the 2015 study by Digital Book World and PlayScience, 93% of children (2-13 years old) read an e-book once a week. 21% of children’s books purchased in 2014 were e-books, a market driven by young adult e-books.
Although there are real business opportunities, the reality of an electronic publisher is trickier than one can imagine at first. The e-book market is segmented, and it can be a challenge for digital publishers to have a long-term strategy, to build a sustainable business model and to streamline the digital production process.
Whereas traditional book publishing is a mature industry, the e-book industry has still to define itself. What is an e-book for children in the first place? The definition of an e-book varies enormously according to the format, the content, and the user experience you target. Are you referring to a digital version of a book that can be read on your smartphones, tablets or other reading devices? Are you referring to an e-book with interactions, sound-effects, music and audio, usually called enriched e-books? Do you include in the definition reading apps that are sold as standalone apps in digital stores and can propose various user experiences (where audiovisual and interactive stimuli can be dominant over text elements)?
For each of these types of products, there are different distribution channels and marketing strategies. According to the path you choose, your final product can be distributed as an e-book and sold as a paid downloadable product via e-book retailers (Amazon Kindle Store or Barnes and Noble Nook store) or via publisher’s sites, or subscription services. Alternatively, your product can be considered a children’s app and be sold on completely different distribution channels, such as the Apple App store and Google Play. It will then compete for visibility in a competitive market (over 80,000 education apps in the App Store) with other children’s apps and renowned branded games.
The distribution channels you choose as a publisher will impact your pricing strategy and your business model. For example, if you consider the average price in the e-book
 The ABCs of Kids and E-Reading: Volume 4–Devices, Content and Reading Habits of Children 2–3, 2013, Digital Book World and PlayScience
 The Nielsen Children’s Book Summit, 2014.
Responsible Science Communication re: Digital Media by Aparna Nadig
Many academics are much more comfortable communicating their research findings to other academics than to the popular press, and regard the sound bites and snippets of research served up in the press with scorn. Yet, the intersection between research and the popular press is critical and particularly consequential when it comes to topics of health and education, as for our topic of digital media for young children. Our second Round Table Discussion focused on the Responsible Science Communication re: Digital Media to move past this passive position and consider what is needed to achieve more evidence-based and responsible dissemination of research findings. We started by exploring the context created by the popular press on digital media use by children, as this is the environment that educators and professionals working with children, digital media professionals, and scientists confront when trying to convey key messages about digital media use. I asked participants (who self-identified as students or researchers, 40%, education or health professionals, 32%, parents of young children, 16%, digital media professionals, 8%, or other 4%) to report their gut response with respect to how much they agreed with a barrage of headlines, from sensational takes like this one (1) from Salon.com which talks about “rotting kids brains”:
This is the report from the audience on the Salon headline:
To more balanced and nuanced reporting as seen in this article (2) from BBC News, which discusses varying degrees of video gaming being related to different outcomes in children:
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.
Theme III: Responsible Marketing of Digital Media, blog by Chloe Benaroya, Tribal Nova, Inc.On June 27, we held a round-table discussion at McGill University as part of the Digital Literacy for Preschoolers conference. The round-table discussion focused on the three following themes: key messages for parents and teachers regarding digital media, responsible science communication regarding digital media, and responsible marketing of digital media. The ideas generated from these discussions will inform a new section of the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. Each theme was introduced with a kick-off presentation to get ideas flowing for group discussion. Separate posts will summarize the kick-off presentation and the ensuing discussion and provide links to any materials that were provided to conference participants.
- Theme I: Key Messages for Parents and Teachers, blog by Lizzie Carolan, Melanie Orellana and Kathrin Rees, Child Phonology Laboratory POSTED ON DECEMBER 9, 2015
- Theme II: Responsible Science Communication, blog by Dr. Aparna Nadig, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders POSTED ON DECEMBER 9, 2015
- Theme III: Responsible Marketing of Digital Media, blog by Chloe Benaroya, Tribal Nova, Inc. POSTED ON DECEMBER 10, 2015
Natalia Kucirkova and Susan Rvachew are very pleased to announce our call for papers in a special issue of the International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction. We will be accepting abstracts first and then, after selection, will invite authors to submit full papers for submission by July 1, 2016. The special issue is called Reading in the 21st century: how does digital book-reading influence the reading processes and outcomes for young children? Please follow the link to the journal site for full information on the issue and take note of the important dates below.
Abstracts submitted to Guest Editors by: February 1, 2016
Decisions about acceptance of abstracts by: April 1, 2016
Full papers submitted in EVISE by: July 1, 2016
Final decisions by: March 1, 2017
Publication time: May, 2017
Natalia Kucirkova, The Open University, UK, ✉Natalia.firstname.lastname@example.org↗
Susan Rvachew, McGill University, Canada, Susan.email@example.com↗