Kids Got Game

eReading: Old Ideas in a New Platform by Natalie Golub, guest blogger

Today we have a guest blogger, Natalie Golub, our Usability Manager at No Crusts, sharing her thoughts on eReading.
August 8, 2012

Technology naturally yields a common word: “New.” New ideas, new platforms, new opportunities, new abilities. But sometimes we are blinded by all of this “newness” and, thinking that something is the first of its kind, we re-invent the wheel. Though eReading has never been so popular as it is now, nor have eReading devices and apps ever been so accessible, the concept of reading electronically, particularly among children, is old (if you consider Clear Pepsi, the sound of AOL dial-up, and the Rachel haircut old).

In the 1990s, CD-ROMs were all the rage and took a red carpet entrance into the world of education (e.g., Math Blaster, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego). Children in school classrooms, and some educationally minded homes, engaged in stories communicated on digital screens via CD-ROM (e.g., Living Books, Reader Rabbit). Though the technology, as well as the expectations and experience of the users, has changed dramatically since the age of non-mobile technology, there are clear lessons to learn from research done with children using reading-geared CD-ROMs, such as Little Monster At School and Reader Rabbit Learn to Read With Phonics.

As described by Linda Labbo her 2000 article, 12 Things Young Children Can Do with a Talking Book in a Classroom Computer Center (The Reading Teacher), “CD-ROM talking books are interactive, digital versions of stories that employ multimedia features such as animation, music, sound effects, highlighted text, and modeled fluent reading.” Sound familiar? Like today’s parents, educators and researchers, there was concern that all of the “bells and whistles” included in reading CD-ROMs were distracting for children (for example, see Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s QuickReport: Print Books vs. E-books.

Labbo, however, had faith in the educational opportunities that electronic reading held, when properly paired with intentional consumption strategies. These strategies can be broken up into three categories: reading, gaming, and extending the story. Though they were intended for CD-ROM software, we believe these lessons continue to apply to eReading books and apps.

1) eBooks should support different reading abilities. Children should be able to read according to their own ability within the same eReading experience. If needed, they should be able to select a few passages at time, or an individual word, to hear an audio demonstration, as well as an option to hear the complete story read. In this way, children can self-scaffold their own reading experience, hearing connected text read aloud when needed and learning new words in context.

2) Gaming can be embedded within the story. Turning a story into a sound-searching, letter identification, or rhyming game are just a few ideas that electronic stories can foster. Though such games may distract the reader from the story’s comprehension, there are many phonetic and fundamental reading skill opportunities within a digital book. Exploring where playful interaction and reading intersect is of great interest to us and we’re excited to see the possibilities that evolve.

3) Extensions of the story should be used to emphasize important parts of the book (e.g. birds reunited in the story accompanied by a soft string lullaby). Bells and whistles should not be used simply to be used, unless your goal is to make a whiz-bang experience with no literacy goals. Research tells us, including that by Linda Labbo with CD-Roms in the 1990s, that animations and sound effects used to illustrate the story in a way the pictures alone cannot, can encourage the overall comprehension when used effectively.

Reading on a thick computer monitor, perhaps while wearing a scrunchie, seems highly disparate than from reading on a handheld device that has the ability to make calls, take pictures, and access any information ever known by man. Though a generation apart, both children are reading from something that has the ability to both complicate a reading experience or enhance it. When designing or examining “new” technology, we should remember to use knowledge from “old” ideas. They may not be so old after all.

Until next time,  you can always reach us at  or @noCrusts on Twitter.

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