Crowdsourcing a Research Agenda, Part II: Device Attributes and Content

Blogger David Kleeman explores the substance of media and products in his two-part series on crowdsourcing a research agenda.
August 28, 2014

Now, where were we?

Two weeks ago in this space, I posted your wish list for important, unanswered research questions toward thoughtful development of children’s entertainment, play and learning. I’d crowdsourced them via the “Children and Media Professionals” and “Dust or Magic” Facebook groups.

Last time, I focused on ideas around the context of kids’ and families’ mediated lives – in particular, how to support caregivers at home and in school. A number of you also had inquiries around the substance of media and products, and that’s our focus today.

There were three main strands: 1) emerging opportunities for using media with kids who have specific learning challenges; 2) deeper learning about the specific attributes and possibilities of today’s mobile devices; and 3) supporting learning within media content and with external scaffolding.

Using Media to Address Special Needs and Challenges

A content and curriculum developer is especially interested in how we can move beyond anecdotal understanding of how people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) use media. She cited specific need to study “the mysterious connection that children (and adults) with ASDs have with the need/desire to watch video clips over and over again” and to idenfify “the most educationally effective formal features of videos and games.” Previous studies label repetitive media habits “‘problematic’ (read: addictive),” but digging into the “‘why’ behind studies that simply use frequencies and correlations” would get us past this simplistic assessment.

A leading expert in psychophysiology research is already acting on needed studies at the intersection of academia and media, exploring “the role of emotion regulation and arousal across child development in moderating pro social as well as negative effects of media…a critical overlooked factor in efforts to optimize pro social media for kids across all contexts dealing with health and education.” Specifically, he’s asking how  desired outcomes are influenced by “variation in arousal while a child interacts with educational games, videos and apps.”

Much of his research agenda has to do with developmentally appropriate application of science that has thusfar been used to develop “neuromarketing,” such as how “motivational ‘reward’ responses toward unhealthy foods could be moderated by presentation of healthy foods and behaviors” across technologies. Acknowledging the ethical and methodological challenges of doing such studies with children, he stresses that “real time data reflecting how the mind processes media has a lot to offer in optimizing children’s media.”

After the first article, I received an email from a digital media company, expressing interest in “collaborating with AI researchers in developing a CG Chatbot that could become a virtual mentor for kids whose parental ‘deficit’ can be reduced through online virtual mentors.”

Attributes and Affordances

The foremost analyst and philosopher about the intersection between technology and learning sees massive research opportunities while also cautioning about the inseparable, almost infinite, and harder to measure role of context. He sees “lots of interesting design variables related to multi-touch to alter, to see if there is an outcome, but it is very important to understand and acknowledge that children’s interactive media is very broad. Each app genre and/or platform brings with it a unique set of questions.” Ethnography studies are needed, as well, “to find out what really happens in home settings when parents aren’t watching.”

A longtime media producer wonders how “the new, burgeoning field of ‘wearable’ technology can best support learning and behavior change.” This ties into an area that the analyst/philosopher is eager to take on: “fleshing out and developing a ‘taxonomy of touch’ from birth to age 12, so that we can better understand the sequence of specific fine motor and cognitive abilities” that are essential to technology use for learning.

A post-secondary educator specializing in early learning and development wonders about the new “digital divide” that is very much on many educators’ and policy-makers’ minds. If Common Core and other testing uses emerging devices will “comfort/familiarity with using screens interactively…influence (or skew) test taking,” giving families that have and allow everyday access an advantage?

Supporting Learning Within and Beyond Devices

With the mobile app environment maturing, many people are beginning to think about the meaning and role of narrative and character in this space. The longtime producer mentioned previously is eager to generate “hard data (qual and/or quan) about how character scaffolding can best support learning and the value of open ended vs. linear digital play experiences.”

Looking beyond the child audience to those who teach them, she is also eager to explore “how the affordances of technology (through videos, uploading, social media, annotating, etc..) may enhance and improve classroom instruction and help put theory to practice,” toward a planned digital resource to improve pre-service and in-service professional development around early math.”

Finally, the producer and a tech and learning pioneer have closely-related questions. The producer wonders how best to support intrinsic motivation in digital learning, while the pioneer asks “whether kids learn the same content better through a game or through old fashioned skill and drill.” She wonders if “games like Math Blaster, though more motivating, actually teach kids more or are they distracted” by the game elements?

Keep Those Ideas Coming!

I was thrilled to get such a thoughtful and extensive list of research wishes! This column could become a regular feature – a kind of “ISO” classifieds for people seeking insight and inspiration more than love connections. Please keep sending me your ideas, or contact me if you see others’ ideas where you might be able to collaborate.

About The Author
Analyst/strategist/writer/speaker David Kleeman travels the world as SVP of Global Trends for kids research consultancy/digital studio @Dubit. Home is an aisle seat near the front. Follow: @davidkleeman.


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