Where do you go to stay smart in the kids interactive industry? What conferences keep you on top of your craft, while also helping you grow your network? What events are vital to attend to learn the latest trends? There are so many conferences these days which ones are right for you? Look no further, here’s a compiled conference list to get you started! It covers areas of the children’s interactive media business like toys, eBooks, video games, children’s television, apps, play, research, consumer products, and more. The list below covers most of the big US and international shows in 2015, and just a few important smaller events.
You can download a PDF copy of this list here. Let us know what you think. Which events do you attend? What speakers draw you to an event? If there’s an event that’s not on this list, and you think it’s important, please let us know in the comments below.
[This article was originally written for the Association of American Publishers (AAP) PreK-12 Learning Group and can be found here.]
The publishing world has been on the edge of major change now for well over a decade. Digital media and all the different content delivery platforms are here to stay, and the traditional print model is being challenged in many ways publishers have wished to avoid. I find myself in discussions where the old adage “Video killed the radio star” keeps coming up. The reality however is that video didn’t really kill the radio star, but it did change the future of radio forever. The same is true today with interactive devices, tablets, and smart phones. Traditional publishing is now and forever changed as a result of digital.
I’ve worked in interactive product development for over 20 years now and put together a few thoughts about what is important to know in making the leap to digital. What “must-have” knowledge is important, and why? I offer you these top five observations.
Interactive media is different
That sounds obvious, but many publishers have difficulty in grasping the finer nuances of interactive media. Print media is largely a one-way conversation. Interactive media at its best draws in the user, as a participant, often times creating a two-way interactive conversation. Interactive content, the user interface, and the user experience are often different and unique for each user group or age. In print we may talk about the correct language level of the written word. In interactive there are usability considerations. In a nutshell passive media, like books, magazines, television, and movies, has a viewer; interactive media has a user.
Understand the strengths (and place) of engineers and executive editors
I’ve seen many a publisher hire a hot-shot engineer and relinquish all product development control to that person. The thinking is that “They should know how to make a successful product. They’re the engineer!” Unless that engineer has a great depth of experience in content, usability or instructional design, you are about to make the world’s worst interactive product. Related to this observation (and many people will hate what I have to share next,) the same can be said about the executive editor. Editors often have a wealth of print and content experience and little to no interactive experience. This too is a common mistake, and one that really ruffles feathers at traditional publishers. There is a place for the editor, just as there is a place for the engineer, but knowing what talent works on what part of the project to make the best interactive learning experience is an effort in rethinking through the expertise of each member of your team. Traditional roles do not port to digital in a straight-forward way. Be prepared for some disruption.
Have a road map
The best interactive products have a development plan. Before a single line of code is written or pixel created in Photoshop a detailed plan is created that defines the product. Often times this road map for development is referred to as a design document, or design spec. Complex projects might also have a technical spec. These documents are not only helpful to bring an entire team up to speed about what exactly is being built, but they are also important documents for your quality assurance (or QA) testers. How will your development and QA team know when your product is actually done without a defined plan to compare against?
There are a few different ways to test an interactive product, and all approaches are invaluable. First off, the quality assurance part of a project is not a line item expense that can be eliminated. I have seen executives cross it right off of a product plan as an unnecessary expense. Many cost conscious publishers mistakenly decide that quality assurance testing need not be part of something they’re working on. While you may have absolute faith in the content portion of your product because your team knows content, the best software development teams rely on QA testing to help improve the finished product. Many a product fails within moments after its release due to sloppy development, or even simple innocent coding mistakes that should have been caught and corrected during the QA process.
Test with an audience
An even bigger oversight is not testing a product during development with the target audience. A common complaint I hear from educational product companies is that kids are so engaged by videogames and television that they can’t compete from an interest or engagement perspective in the classroom. Well, what is it that game developers and broadcasters do to help ensure that kids love their products? They test their products with their target audience! When have you ever heard of such a thing in the publishing world?! That’s crazy talk right? Well, as different media formats mature, it might not be such a crazy idea in the future to test your interactive product out with the target audience that will ultimately use them. User testing could be the new normal in publishing. Even if you think the idea of user testing is crazy, trust me, you will learn something. At very least you will learn new, invaluable ways to shape future products. I can guarantee it.
While there are additional points I could add, having an understanding with the above list is a great place to start. Shipping a quality product by traditional publishing means is always hard and takes a team years of experience to master. Shipping a quality interactive product that engages an audience in the digital world is also hard. Understanding the differences between old and new media types is essential for future product success, and providing a path to step confidently into the future of digital publishing.
If you’re attending a conference on forward thinking ways to help kids learn, or maybe an event on learning through video games, chances are you will be listening to thoughts offered by James Paul Gee. Dr. Gee is a noted expert on the topic of video games and learning. He is the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University and is a member of the National Academy of Education. His work has been published widely in journals in linguistics, psychology, the social sciences and education. Dr. Gee’s recent book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy argues that good video games are designed to enhance learning through effective learning principles supported by research in the Learning Sciences. His new book, Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning, written with Elisabeth R Hayes, will be available this coming May, 2010. At the recent Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age conference held at the Google headquarters, I had the opportunity to speak with James. You can view a short video of my interview with Dr. Gee on the Cooney Center YouTube channel or read the complete interview below. Portions of this interview were edited for clarity:
Scott Traylor: Where do you think things stand today with the learning games movement? What successes do you see?
James Paul Gee: Successes have been slow in coming, much more slowly than I would have thought, but they are coming. What I’m seeing is the beginning of noncommercial games for learning.
Looking back on the gaming industry, developers made products that were expectable, products that were designed by baby boomers and made by principles of instructional technology. These games didn’t break the mold, and didn’t break out of a pattern. They were not good games and did not include good learning. Today we’re beginning to see games being developed by young game designers who understand learning and understand game design. They’re making good games, and they are making things that work. Over the next few years we’re going to see a real explosion in better products. Some of this has to do with the appearance of the independent game studios. In the commercial world the independent games community has been very slow to develop. For a while there really was none, but now with downloading services across all major platforms, you’re seeing many independent games being developed. Games like Flower and Braid, made with relatively small budgets, but they are really top games. Independent games like these are doing as well as many of the commercial games out on the market, and they’re setting the standard for so called “serious games,” games that have the ability to teach. If we can make commercial games that are as good as Flower or Braid for a modest budget, we certainly can make games in the learning sphere that are equally as good. (Return to Question Picker)
Traylor: Why do you think games are not perceived as effective learning tools?
Gee: I think the major reasons are cultural, along with the slow development of an independent game industry, but also the power of baby boomers. People of my age, baby boomers, have theories and are in relatively solid positions in institutions. They get to call the shots, but this is a changed world. We’re talking about learning and using technologies that people under thirty know a lot more about. It’s not surprising when they apply our theories and do a better job than when we applied our theories. I think that’s all good, we need to release that creative energy.
The other thing you touch on, and it’s a very serious matter, is that we really don’t have many new business models. Think about it. We’re trying to make things that do social good, but if the social good is done for free, it dies when the grant ends. Right? We now realize we have to think about how to make products that can go on for a long period of time, and at some level earn enough money to sustain themselves while still doing social good. Lots of people are now thinking about how we can create new and innovative business models so that everybody wins. Models that allow people to make enough money and at the same time spur new businesses, new enterprises to open up, models which will help everybody benefit. Until we really get that down, what you’ll end up seeing are products that are made on government dollars that die the day the grant is over. The same is true with academic research, the day the grant money stops coming in the research stops. (Return to Question Picker)
Traylor: Would you suggest a financial approach that is similar to public television? Would that be a good model for growing a learning games industry?
Gee: There’s going be a whole new set of models. Open source, the public sharing of programming resources, is one very important area. A public television model around games that would include both design workshops as well as giving out products, and also encouraging consumers to make products, would certainly be one model. We just have to have new models for new businesses. There are going to be “double bottom line” businesses; businesses that are committed to social good by solving our educational problems but these same businesses would be committed to making money. Making money not just to enrich individuals, but to also keep the social good going. There are a number of models we can think of for that. As is true of many academics, we didn’t think that business models were important. Now people are starting to see that business models are needed to bring about long-term impact. (Return to Question Picker)
Traylor: What excites you when you see kids developing their own games?
Gee: I’m excited that so many young people today are taking gaming beyond gaming. They’re not just playing games. They’re making games. They’re designing things for games. They’re setting up discussions and guilds and websites around games. They’re learning new software, software that contributes to these sites and discussions and products. And very often, they organize themselves into learning communities to do all of this. Their passion for learning in these communities grows beyond their passion for the games themselves. In other words, it’s a trajectory towards learning communities, and towards thinking like a designer, and producing, and not just consuming, that some of our best games give rise to.
The video game Spore is a great example. Spore is designed so that you play, and then you design, and then you play, and you join a community, and you get the products you have designed to appear within the game, and then you design with others collaboratively. This game provides very good tools to do that. Anyone, from the very young to the very old, can play.
Another great example is the game Little Big Planet. There’s a whole bunch of products coming out that say why don’t you see playing and designing as things you can do together in a game. These things are integrated together, so the game becomes as much your product as it is ours, and becomes a community event and not just an individual event. The lessons here for education are massive, because it means we’re going have to start designing, not just pieces of software, but ways for people to set up learning communities that they’re productive within. (Return to Question Picker)
Traylor: So the perception that learning games alone will result in really good learning outcomes, is not the full story. What you’re saying is that learning games, supported by learning communities, are really the combination that accelerates the learning opportunity?
Gee: Those of us who study learning games make the distinction between a game, which is just the software, and the game with a capital “G”, which is the whole set of social learning interactions built around the game. We used to argue, if you’re going to use games for learning, you have to have a community of learning built around the game. Now the commercial industry realizes you won’t make money if you don’t build a learning community around the game. It’s an integral part to gaming, to participate in a collaborative community around the game.
My work has never been that of an advocate to put games into schools. That’s a fine thing to do, but that’s not what my work is about. It’s about putting the learning found in games into schools, learning that’s centered on problem solving and collaboration.
In school students get a bunch of facts and information. You can’t solve problems with it, so you get nothing. The interesting thing is if I make you solve a problem, and I really design the experience of that problem, guiding you and mentoring you, which is what good game design does, you get problem solving and you get facts and information, because you have to learn that in order to solve the problem. I will also get you to collaborate in a community where you might even innovate. You’re going to design new things and do new stuff. I want to see that model go into schools and that model doesn’t have to be a game. We can do that in the world in many different ways.
The other thing I really want to stress about games is that, in my opinion, it’s not a good idea to try to teach a whole curriculum through games. Industries are building up to try to do this. It’s too expensive. We want to learn in many different ways. Games are particularly good for preparation for future learning. If you want to motivate somebody in an area like chemistry or physics, a game is an ideal way to not only motivate that learning, to get learners to see why you do it, what is good about it, why it would be a turn on to do it, but it also prepares them to get ready for learning in the future. That future learning doesn’t have to occur in games. We tend to get obsessed with one platform, but just like in the world where kids don’t just game, they also go on the internet, and they write fiction, and they mod games. They do a whole bunch of stuff. We want our curriculum to be a whole bunch of stuff as well. (Return to Question Picker)
Every now and then I’m asked by a new parent or friends of new parents for children’s book recommendations, so today I thought I’d take a short break from kids tech-talk to post some of my favorites. I want to thank Amy Kraft over at Media Macaroni for introducing me to the No Time for Flash Cards blog. This site’s a great find that promotes play, discovery and learning with preschoolers in mind. A recent post asking for favorite children’s books reminded me that I’ve been keeping an ever growing list of my own. I think every new home library should include these “must have” starter books, and chances are if you’re looking to give a children’s book as a gift, these will already be in the collection:
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and Archambault
Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
Now that we have those great ones out of the way, here are some of my personal favorites for young and growing children. I’ve simmered my list down to just these 10 books:
Barnyard Dance! by Sandra Boynton A delightful rhyming story of barnyard friends that go to a dance. The rhythm and meter of this story will keep you reciting sections from this book for days on end. Another great find for our family was discovering that there’s a Sandra Boynton CD available with this book’s lyrics set to song.
How Are You Peeling? by Joost Elffers Elffers is a fantastic photographer with a talent for bringing personality and emotion out of common everyday fruits and vegetables. Each page is filled with wonderful facial expressions from his creations. Light copy, lots of unique and interesting faces to enjoy.
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin Farmer Brown runs a no-nonsense farm, but things change once the cows who live there acquire an old typewriter and learn how to express there wishes on short notes. When Farmer Brown doesn’t comply with the cows requests, the cows decide they will go on strike. Fun, fun. fun!
Bunny Planet by Rosemary Wells There are so many great books written by Rosemary Wells that it’s hard to pick even just a few, but the Bunny Planet books (a small collection of three books sold together as a set) have a wonderful Zen-like story quality to them. Ms. Wells explores the idea of a perfect world that lives inside our heads when things outside don’t go quite as well as we had planned.
Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh The story of a family dog named Martha who likes to eat alphabet soup. The interesting twist in the story is that when Martha eats the soup, the letters go up to her brain instead of down to her tummy! There are many Martha Speaks books available and the first is the one that sets up the story for the entire series.
The Monster at the End of This Book by John Stone I think everyone in the entire world loves Grover, the fuzzy blue character from Sesame Street. In this story, Grover asks, even begs, the reader not to turn the pages of this book because he’s afraid there’s a monster that might scare him on the very next page. You will read this one again and again with your young child.
The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller What would happen if each state in the nation could move to a new location? This book explores the fun and mayhem that ensues when each state moves to where they think they would really enjoy living. A funny story for children who are learning to memorize the US states.
I Will Never, Not Ever, Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child This is the first book that began the popular Charlie and Lola series of books and television shows. Lola is a very finicky eater. Her older brother Charlie presents familiar foods with funny names and stories that make Lola curious about what she might be missing. Just where do peas and fish sticks come from? And what sort of story would you tell to make eating these items more appealing?
Owly by Andy Runton The Owly book series are a charming collection of graphic novels starring an owl and his woodland friends. Together they go on many adventures, making new friends and helping other animals and friendly insects along the way. These books require a parent to imagine and invent the dialog alongside the visuals which I believe fosters an even closer story telling experience between reader and child.
Police Cloud by Christoph Niemann The graphic design approach to this story is just beautiful. Christoph Nieman is an artist for the New Yorker magazine and now shares his visual talents as a children’s book author. Nieman tells a captivating story about a cloud that wishes to become a policeman.
I hope you find this list helpful and enjoyable. Happy reading with your young friends!
In 2004, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that all screen-based viewing for children ages two or under should be avoided completely. At the same time dozens of “brain boosting” DVDs, videos, and interactive products hit the marketplace with claims of being beneficial to child’s cognitive development. Many parents are torn. What is the right thing to do for their child?
After reading her book I’ve had the opportunity to see Lisa speak a couple of times at conferences that focus on children. At a recent conference I spoke with Lisa about her book.
Scott Traylor: Lisa, let me start by asking you a little bit about yourself – who you are and how you came to writing your book.
Lisa Guernsey: I’m an education technology reporter. I was writing for the New York Times Circuits section about online media and other technologies, then I had kids. The story I tell in the book is that I had a colicky baby and I couldn’t get her to stop crying or fussing. I was completely lost. My eyes were opened to the trying routine of having and caring for a baby. Friends suggested trying the Baby Mozart videos to calm her. They referred to these videos as baby crack. I wasn’t fully considering what I was doing; I was still a bit overwhelmed by being a new parent. I was trying to figure it all out. It wasn’t until later, when I had my second child who was not colicky, that I was able to start seeing how babies respond to different types of stimuli, screen-based or not. I started to ask myself: Which videos do my children understand and which ones do they not understand? Are they able to remember what they see? Do some parts make sense to them because it’s part of their world? I had so many questions about how they respond to media that it led me to search for related research on the subject.
It was in April of 2004 when the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report in its journal by Dimitri Christakis and other researchers that had linked attention deficit problems (not ADHD) to television viewing at early ages. I remember being struck by this article, asking myself, What do we know about the brain and how it’s wired? As a parent, I should really know this information.
A few months after the release of this report, I wrote a piece for The Washington Post which took a deeper look into this issue through the eyes of a parent. Screen media is all around us, and to be told your babys brain is going to be rewired as a result of watching something on-screen is a very scary thing to a lot of parents.
After my article was published I received a lot of response from parents who wanted to know more about the papers findings. I also heard from a publisher who was interested in having me write a longer treatment on the topic. I started contacting more researchers who have been part of studies about children and their ability to learn from watching videos. It was a real eye opener because theres so much information that parents arent being told about media and kids. What they hear tends to be two polar opposite messages: The first message says screen time is really bad for your child and parents should do everything they can to eliminate it. The second message says cognitive stimulation is good for your baby and that these baby videos can help in achieving that stimulation. Parents arent hearing any answers to basic questions like What is good for a 2 year old? Is it possible my child really did learn the word backpack at 16 months from watching Dora the Explorer? While what I saw as a parent led to me think that it is possible that learning can occur through watching screen media, some researchers were saying it’s just not possible to get anything from screen media.
ST: So after writing The Washington Post article, you found a publisher interested in having you write your book.
LG: Yes, a publisher contacted me. I went through the process of writing a proposal and doing all the research. But ultimately they decided not to run with my proposal. It was disappointing. Even though this publisher wasn’t interested in my idea, I was finding so much interesting information I thought someone would find it compelling. My husband encouraged me to continue shopping it around. Some time later I found an agent who was interested in taking on my project and my agent found the right publisher interested in the idea.
ST: How did you prepare for writing your book? Theres a lot of research out there, especially related to television viewing and children. I imagine it was hard to know just where to begin.
LG: I wanted to make sure that I hit all the big journals and looked at what was peer reviewed research. I wanted the information I was reading to be based in the scientific method. I didnt want to focus only on surveys of how children spend their time. The material I was looking for had to be peer-reviewed research on how children are learning and when theyre learning. I also wanted this research to include randomized controls when possible. First I looked at the medical establishment journals like Pediatrics and JAMA. The American Behavioral Scientist (ABS) journal led me to a lot of great information. Also, Dan Anderson of the University of Massachusetts had assembled a lot of interesting research from psychologists looking into how children learn and how they remember things at very young ages. The ABS released a special journal in January 2005 on the topic. I read through the journals looking for articles from the educational research community that dealt with developmental psychology. I also looked for related information in the neuropsychology field and ADHD research, but didnt find much. I went from footnote to footnote to footnote. Then I would call the researchers who wrote the papers.
ST: To check out the researchers methodologies and conclusions?
LG: To get their story. There are so many great research experiments going on out there and so many smart people doing them. The researchers I spoke with have fascinating insights and I would ask them about their “aha” moment. They shared insights into what occurred early on in their experiments and discussed how experiments would change to explore new questions they encountered during their research. By hearing the stories of psychologists I was able to get a good handle on how to write the narrative of how these researchers began to understand these things.
ST: One of the things that really struck me about your book was the volume of interviews you conducted. It seemed with every page I turned there were an additional three or four new interviews. Then I thought each interview must have been a two-hour conversation, not including the prep time needed to read multiple studies before your call. You must have had hundreds, if not more, interviews.
LG: Well certainly hundreds. What made it possible was the openness of a lot of these researchers. They usually dont get calls from folks interested in their research. They were very happy to share what theyve found. Many researchers know one another within their community of developmental psychologists and educational researchers and communicate this research in short hand with one another. It’s not common to have someone call to ask for the laymans point of view of it all. Everyone I spoke with was just so responsive and incredibly helpful.
ST: While I read a lot of research, I’m not a researcher myself. I find it can be challenging sometimes to read some studies and fully understand the nuances.
LG: Me too. I still feel like I need to take a class in statistics. Theres so much more I could learn by reading these journal articles again. Speaking with the researchers over the phone was a great way to come to a deeper understanding of the research. Id say Im looking at this chart in your study, am I interpreting your findings correctly? Does this finding correlate to that finding? It was a great help.
ST: While you were writing your book, what surprised you the most?
LG: There were so many things. The biggest surprise for me was with the studies of background television noise and the fact that were not talking enough about foreground and background noise with television, with computers, with media devices. Were also not talking enough about screen content that is created specifically for children under the age of five, and yet media is all around them.
ST: You mean like with a television being left on all day in the home with the news playing?
LG: Exactly. Many homes have the news on straight through the morning hours. There are 53% of families out there with children under the age of six who report that they have the TV on almost half the time, most of the time, or all of the time. The majority of kids are growing up in houses where the television is on more than half the time. And yet, we keep hearing about studies that say TV is bad. I think it would be fascinating to look at the context of TV time.
So I started finding reports on background noise and children, particularly infants, and the impact background noise can have on learning language. I was blown away by the findings and thought, “How come were not hearing about this?” After reading this body of research, Im surprised that more attention isnt paid to it. I was interested in giving this topic a lot more attention in my book.
ST: Tell me about the three C’s you describe in your book.
LG: The concept of the three C’s didnt come to me right away. I was going through journal article after journal article looking for a way to give an umbrella name to all of this. At first I was looking at studies on time and screen use and thought, “Should I be telling parents that one hour of screen time a day is okay? Or an hour and a half? Or less than an hour for certain ages?” But all of the research wasn’t pointing me to length of time being the most important item. What studies were pointing me to was the content and the context of the media being viewed along with consideration of the uniqueness of the individual child.
I interviewed many families and each would describe how their child would respond to using media. I was hearing how different each child would respond. One child loves it and another child doesn’t. One is captivated by a program and another is not. One gets energized, and another is hyperactive watching TV, while another falls asleep after watching. So it was a happy day when I discovered it’s all about the three C’s Content, context, and the individual child. After I had this concept in my head I started seeing it everywhere. Every research report I came across would point to the three C’s in one way or another.
ST: So while the three C’s werent specifically called out in the research you were reading, it was a reoccurring theme in every report.
ST: Did you come across any research that you wanted to include in your book but didnt?
LG: Theres some research out there about how media can have an impact on childrens sleep patterns. I didnt include much of that in my book. It’s worth looking at because there may be something connected to having a television in the bedroom or watching particular types of content before falling asleep that may make it hard to fall asleep. It’s an area that we should be looking at more.
Theres also a lot more to write about when it comes to the topic of a “social partner.” There are some great questions to address — like how important is it in screen media that toddlers at 24 months have a social partner to introduce them to language? How important is that social partner on screen helping a toddler understand language? Theres a lot of fascinating research on social partners that doesnt have anything to do with media that could be really helpful to parents.
ST: At the time when Mr. Roger’s passed away, I remember there being a lot of conversation about the possible benefits of having a social partner on TV that was a person as opposed to a cartoon character. Since hearing those discussions, I’ve been very aware of number of shows available to children that do not have a person speaking to the child, but see many more animated characters as social partners. When it comes to young children and social partners, what research are you coming across? Can you expand a little more on social partners in childrens media?
LG: I think it’s a great area for more research. Theres a lot of research that came out of Vanderbilt University related to the topic. In those studies, there was always a human being on screen communicating with children as if they were standing next to them, and the children who talked back to those on-screen faces were the same ones who demonstrated that they learned something from what they saw. Along the same vein, I think characters like Dora the Explorer and Elmo are completely captivating to young children in a way thats very surprising. Children display an affinity for those characters and sometimes see them as their peers. So these characters are not real people, but they are friends in a kind of imaginary, fantasy world. Sandra Calvert at Georgetown University is researching how important these relationships can be to kids. I dont think we should discount non-human characters if children really relate to these characters. If characters help with modeling, help solve a problem, assist in good eating choices, whatever the topic, there can be an incredibly powerful connection for the child.
ST: What research are you watching that wasn’t published at the time you were writing your book?
LG: The University of Massachusetts is on top of some wonderful stuff in many ways. Theyre currently underway with eye tracking studies with babies. This research should be really interesting in terms of the great baby video debate. At the University of Washington where Dimitri Christakis and Frederick Zimmerman are working, theyre still doing a lot of correlation work to slice data from pre-existing studies in more fine-grained ways. For example, in a recent issue of Pediatrics, they came out with a report that looks at certain kinds of television content as either educational, noneducational, or violent. Once they sliced media up in this way, they discovered that attention deficit problems actually dropped out of the picture with children who were watching educational TV. But, they did find a continued association between attention deficit problems and violent content. In a related study, they also discovered anti-social behavior exhibited with younger children after viewing violent content. I think it’s very promising that researchers are starting to look at content in this way. I think looking at content brings up much harder questions, as do issues of context, like how television is being used in the home, how is a computer being used, who is there with the child, what are those people saying, how is time valued, are kids modeling how parents use media. These questions are all missing from research.
ST: Your book provides a great overview of some important studies parents should be aware of. Were you finding any holes in the research world which need to be filled?
LG: There are holes, particularly with scary media. I have a chapter titled “Whats too scary for my child?” and that was a much harder chapter to write. It was hard to find any solid answers in this area. Parents would ask me really detailed questions related to nightmares their children would have. They would want to know, was it something they watched on TV yesterday? Was it a movie we watched? What is the research saying? What upsets young children and are there any long-term effects from these upsetting experiences?
ST: What did you discover in terms of research related to interactive technologies?
LG: There’s a huge difference between interactive technologies for babies versus that for preschoolers. Only recently have we started to see interactive screen-based technologies that are targeting babies. Theres very little research using the scientific method that looks at the messages babies are receiving from interactive media. It’s also unclear just how many families are using interactive products with babies or with toddlers. In many cases, there are too many hurdles to get over with just setting up the interactive media products themselves. Do parents have the time to deal with this?
Then theres a huge question of fine motor control and the ability to manipulate things happening on the screen with a remote control or a joystick or a mouse. There is research out that has led me to believe that joysticks are incredibly difficult for children under the age of six. Theres also the question of when children are even ready to start using a mouse. How can digital information be presented to young children on-screen who are non-readers in a way that would allow them to feel that they are in control? I think it’s important if children are going to use interactive technologies that its done in an empowering way for them. I’ve seen a range of different experiences with my own children and those of the families I’ve interviewed, but again, all of this is based on observations and very little of it is based on scientific research.
The research I’ve found is pretty sparse. Most of what I’ve found is looking at the question of control over their experience and how frustrated theyre being directed by a family member watching over their shoulder and how frustrated they can get when they have to wait for something onscreen. Warren Buckleitner has done some research in this area.
Theres also the question of story — the difference between stories that are played in a linear format on video as opposed to those that can be manipulated in an interactive format. Theres a study out of Georgetown that looks at different types of Dora the Explorer content, comparing both linear and interactive media, and found that the interactive experience can lead children to recall just as much as, but no more than, the linear experience.
These are all important issues for designers of interactive media to keep in mind and understand as they create new content for young children. All of that said, theres still a lot of opportunity with interactive content for preschoolers, with the right features in place to give them an experience where they are in control and can create something unique that they can share with others. Something like Scratch or Kerpoof. Creating a feeling of mastery for the child, that they can see their own progress. To achieve this it’s all about interface.
ST: Whats your next project?
LG: Theres a couple of avenues I’d like to take. Im interested in a similar approach to reviewing research and talking to researchers while also watching families to see how it relates to children at home. I’m interested in exploring how children learn to read and the science of reading. Partly because I’m following my own kids but also because I’m really interested in the learning that takes place. My oldest child is learning to read and it’s fascinating to see when it clicks for her and when it doesn’t, when it’s easy and when it’s frustrating. I’m interested in seeing how the science of reading is being applied to real world household settings.
ST: As it relates to media?
LG: As it relates to media. How can media be harnessed to help children who are learning how to read.
Im also interested in the creativity question How can we help children be more open in their thinking and not feel boxed in. These are two areas that I’m going to focus on in the next year and see if anything comes out of them.
ST: I’m excited to hear that. Your book is a great road map to important issues with screened media for parents and caregivers. Youve made the content really accessible to them without having to be a clinical psychologist.
LG: I certainly was aware the whole time while writing this book that I don’t have a masters or doctorate in child developmental but theres nothing out there for parents. I really resisted ending each chapter with a “to do” list or a bullet point list of items that were important to remember. I thought that if I could just tell these stories parents could figure it out based on their own experiences with their kids at home. Let’s hope that the narrative comes out.
ST: It does indeed. Lisa, thank you for writing this great book. It’s an important piece of work on many different levels. I wish you continued success with all your future projects.