Screens—be they television or computers—can transport us to places we have only imagined. They can present narratives that enrich our understanding of the world. At the same time, they can eat up precious time and draw our attention away from important human-to-human contact.
In a recent ABC 20/20 special, Diane Sawyer reports on the daily impact of our screen usage. Using the Still Face Paradigm, we demonstrate the social and emotional responses of infants to parents who are unresponsive due to their engagement with their own mobile devices. Past research using this task has indicated that children feel more negative emotions and have difficulties reengaging with unresponsive parents. This study highlights the result of complete immersion in the technological world: our human interactions suffer.
Children are in the midst of a natural experiment surrounded by screens, media, and technology that are shaping not only their experiences but also their learning environments. Little is currently understood about how this pervasive technology can alter, enhance, or interrupt natural parent and child interactions. Our current research attempts to contextualize when and how media can aid learning.
Check out a blog post about screen time!
Children are in the midst of a vast, unplanned experiment, surrounded by digital technologies that were not available but 5 years ago. At the apex of this boom is the introduction of applications (“apps”) for tablets and smartphones. However, there is simply not the time, money, or resources available to evaluate each app as it enters the market. Thus, “educational” apps—the number of which, as of January 2015, stood at 80,000 in Apple’s App Store (Apple, 2015)—are largely unregulated and untested. This article offers a way to define the potential educational impact of current and future apps. We build upon decades of work on the Science of Learning, which has examined how children learn best…
As the traditional toys of the past are quickly being replaced with electronically “enhanced” toys, it is important to understand how these changes impact parent–child interactions, especially in light of the evidence that the richness and variety of these interactions have long-term effects on diverse areas of cognition (Hart & Risley, 1995).
LANGUAGE & SCREENS
Learning occurs during moments of back and forth between a parent and child, but how are these interactions altered or interrupted in the presence of technology? In one of our recent studies, we explore whether children can learn verbs through screen media (Roseberry et al., 2014). Children were taught new words in one of three ways: face to face interaction, video chat with a real person (Skype), and watching a video. We found that children learned language from both live and Skype interactions! This suggests that screen media can be beneficial to learning when the social interaction is preserved.
In another study, we ask what happens when the social interaction is broken by technology during a learning moment (Reed et al., 2017). Parents taught children two new words, one of which was interrupted by a phone call from the experimenter. We found that children did not learn a word when the parent received a phone call during the teaching phase. Somewhat unsurprisingly, parent responsiveness matters for child learning!
Shared book reading is a common and crucial activity for young children. Early experiences with books expose children to a variety of different words and can predict later reading success. With children’s increasing access to tablets, e-readers, and electronic console (EC) books it is important to see if the benefits of reading are preserved with a media-based platform.
In one study, children at two local children’s museums (Please Touch and Chicago Children’s Museum) were asked to choose one of the displayed books to read with a parent (Parish-Morris et al., 2013). Traditional books foster more questions about the content of the book and more engagement with children. In contrast, e-books tend to stimulate more directives from parents (e.g., Do this.; Push the button.). In a second study, we asked whether children’s book comprehension changed given the e-book context (Dore et al., 2017). Children either heard an audio narration of an e-book, read an e-book with a parent, or read the e-book alone without any audio. Results suggest that children understand the book best after reading with a parent. However, if parents are otherwise occupied, children can also comprehend some information from the audio narration.
As the traditional toys of the past are quickly being replaced with electronically “enhanced” toys, it is important to understand how these changes impact parent–child interactions, especially in light of the evidence that the richness and variety of these interactions have long-term effects on diverse areas of cognition (Hart & Risley, 1995). In a recent study using a traditional and electronic version of a shape sorter, we found that traditional toys prompted more parental spatial language and more overall varied language than did electronic toys (Zosh et al., 2015). These results suggest that electronically enhanced toys hinder parents’ quality language use with children, which may be harmful to their early language learning.
Over 120,000 digital apps are classified as educational and learning based, but with children’s lives saturated by digital technologies, it is important to assess if this is true. Unfortunately, the resources are not present to evaluate each app as it enters the market, thus, the apps that are classified as educational are unregulated and untested. Using the Science of Learning we propose that apps designed to promote active, engaged, meaningful, and socially interactive learning, known as the four “pillars” of learning, within the context of a supported learning goal, are considered educational. Our lab completed a review of how these four pillars of playful learning could be applied in the area of educational apps (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015) and we are diligently working to better understand how playful learning mechanisms can support educational apps.
Hirsh-Pasek, K., Zosh, J., Golinkoff, R. M., Gray, J., Robb, M., & Kaufman, J. (2015). Putting education in educational apps: Lesson for the science of learning. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16(1), 3-34.
Zosh, J., Filipowicz, A., Verdine, B., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2015). Parental language with electronic and traditional and shape sorters. Mind, Brain & Education, 9(3),136-144.
Zosh, J. M., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R.M., Gray, J., Robb. M., & Kaufman, J. (2013). Harnessing the science of learning to promote real educational apps: A proposed contribution for Psychological Science in the Public Interest.