Sunday, September 9, 2012

Print books vs. e-books - a look at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center research

I'm fascinated by the developing research from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center on the way children interact with digital reading. The Cooney Center has been a leader in the field examining digital literacy, and so I was very excited that they've started to investigate the impact of enhanced e-books on children's reading experiences.

The released the results of their first QuickStudy in May, 2012 and got a lot of press covering their findings. Below I've summarized their study:

Chiong, C., Ree, J., Takeuchi, L. and Erickson, I. Comparing parent-child co-reading on print, basic and enhanced e-book platforms. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Spring 2012.

This report summarizes the findings of a QuickStudy examining the nature of parent-child and child-book interactions reading print, basic e-books and enhanced ebooks with young children (ages 3-6). The study specifically sought to understand how parent-child co-reading, overall engagement and children’s comprehension were affected by digital formats, specifically examining the difference between basic and enhanced e-books. Basic e-books are simple digitized versions of print books, while enhanced e-books include highly interactive, multimedia features, such as those on iPad book apps. The study employed a within- and between-subject design, asking 32 parent-child pairs to read an e-book and a print book together. The designers chose two books that were available in both print and digital formats, and randomly varied the order of reading, to offset possible order effects. The study found that the enhanced e-book on the iPad drew fewer content related actions from parents and children than the print version of the same story, while the basic e-books led to very similar content-related actions. The enhanced e-books led to much higher levels of non-content related actions, such as behavior or device-focused talk, from both parents and children. In addition, children recalled fewer narrative details after reading the enhanced e-books than after reading the print books. Researchers conclude that the parents and children focused their attention more on the non-content related issues when reading enhanced e-books. On the other hand, researchers did find that children were more engaged reading the enhanced e-books, physically interacting with the books more. The researchers recommend several next steps, including running this study with a larger and more representative sample, examining what types of e-book features affect engagement and comprehension, and how different populations use these different e-books.

My concerns are that it is difficult for me, as a practitioner in the field, to know exactly what type of enhanced e-book they used in the study. I have found in my work with book apps that there is an enormous variety in levels of interactive experiences. Their study has raised a number of questions for me:

My biggest question is whether older readers, who have more self-control, will be able to navigate the intersection between content and interactive material. Will a 7 year old be able to derive more content comprehension from the interactive dialog bubbles in Nosy Crow's Cinderella than a 4 year old? I would posit that an older child would be able to handle the multiple functions better.

I am curious how children's comprehension with book apps is affected by multiple readings. As the Cooney Center noted, children's engagement with book apps is much higher than with the similar print books. I find that children are drawn to book apps for repeated viewings. I would posit that a young child would focus at first on the interactive experiences - especially if they are new to that child - and more on the narrative content with repeated readings.

Finally, I wonder about the coding the study used. For example, the study noted that children and parents talking about book features was markedly increased with enhanced book apps. The researchers coded this as non-content related. And yet, this type of conversation is actually very important to understanding the broader reading process, for both child and parent. Were these conversations productive, exploring what features were in the book? Or were they distracting conversations?

I am certainly looking forward to more studies like this one. I do hope that the Cooney Center extends its analysis to include older children. I firmly believe that children ages 6-9 find enormous pleasure and fulfillment in reading enhanced e-books.

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