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Saturday, March 02, 2024

Touchscreens may do more for toddlers

“Sesame Street.” “Blue’s Clues.” “Dora the Explorer.” These television programs aim to teach children by providing an early exposure to learning. As effective as they are in increasing a child’s ability to learn, interacting with the screen media has proven to be a better way to educate children at the age of two to three years old—a finding reported by Dr. Heather Kirkorian, a researcher at University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology.

Kirkorian explored this idea by using interactive touchscreens, such as smartphones and tablets, as a means of education.

It all began with “video deficit”—a term indicating that children are unable to learn at a great extent from screen medias until the age of two to three years old. However, recent research suggested that children learn better when a person interacts with them, via Skype for instance, instead of learning from a pre-recorded media.

Therefore, Kirkorian, who is the Assistant Professor at the Human Development and Family Studies Department, seeks to prove if this is in fact, the case. The deficit, however, is widely understood to diminish with increased age as children ages three and older learn equally as much from a person as they would from a video.

The study carried out in Kirkorian’s lab utilizes the eye-tracking research, which provides an understanding about the specific content children pay attention to, and addresses whether these contents truly are the information that they should be processing.

“We use specialized cameras that zoom in on the pupils of the eye, and through some calibration and software, we are able to clearly see where children are looking when they watch a video,” Kirkorian said.

The idea of video deficit also poses an interesting question for teenagers and adults. Is there an age limit for people to learn from videos?

According to Kirkorian, little research has been conducted, but the age differences of video deficit are dependent on task difficulty. Additionally, the ability to learn from videos is present only if the subject matter is something within grasp. Therefore, if one were presented with a challenging course such as calculus or organic chemistry, learning from videos may not be as helpful.

Despite the findings of this research, there are concerns about children being exposed to screen media at a young age particularly by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The association suggests children below the age of two should not be exposed to screen media.However, they do admit the recommendation is purely based on television and not on touchscreen technologies. In their recent statement, they recommend minimizing screen media as opposed to completely avoiding it as a whole.

Kirkorian personally suggests the importance of implementing basic necessities in child development, such as socialization with family members and appreciating the great outdoors.

“As long as those things are in place, probably 20 minutes a day of video is not terribly harmful,” Kirkorian said.

Currently, Kirkorian is seeking an in-depth understanding of why interactivity with screen media better helps children in learning as compared to simply watching a video.

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She is also interested in measuring a child’s executive function in the brain, which involves numerous aspects of learning such as attention, working memory and cognitive control—and connect this ability to learning from interactive media. Kirkorian further suggests the possibility of children with poorer executive function not learning well from television, but perhaps showing improvements when interacting with screen media.

“One thing I hope this research can do is give parents, policy-makers and teachers better information about what choices to make,” Kirkorian said. She said this particularly since the availability of screen medias are prevalent in the average household.

Having described her passions for research and teaching undergraduate students, Kirkorian strongly encourages everyone to embrace the notion of being a “scientifically literate society” by synthesizing and analyzing the scientific data, instead of merely accepting it as it is.

By getting involved in research, students will be amazed with the experience, especially when seeing it come to life.

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