Developmentally-Appropriate Apps and eBooks: Where Are We?

Developmentally-Appropriate Apps and eBooks: Where Are We?

First Author: Adriana Bus -- VU Amsterdam
Keywords: Technology, Computer-Assisted, Text Characteristics, Hypertext, Literacy Skills
Abstract / Summary: 

The growth nowadays in apps and other digital materials for young children is unprecedented. Storybook and alphabet apps and online reading programs swell in the educational marketplace, edging out traditional print. But are they indeed sources of literacy development for children in the age range of 0-8? The need for research and dialogue is not only timely, but also urgent as children and educators are awed by the tech wizardry. The more time young children and beginning readers spend with digital devices the more we need optimally designed and evidence-based apps and digital materials. The aim of this symposium is the discussion of criteria for commercial apps, alphabet books and eBooks for emergent and beginning readers that promote literacy skills. We need to identify theory-based design principles to promote reading volume and engagement and to make practice materials adaptive to individual needs.

Symposium Papers: 

“Candy” and” Spinach” in Alphabet E-books: Linkages between Book Design and Book Behaviour

First Author/Chair:Mary Ann Evans -- University of Guelph
Additional authors/chairs: 
David Willoughby ; Sarah Nowak

Purpose: Despite using 11 commercial alphabet e-books for 16 sessions, 4-5 year-olds gained alphabetic knowledge no more than controls using storybooks (Willoughby, Evans, & Nowak, 2015). This presentation examines the e-books used and behaviours elicited to understand their inability to deliver the promotional promise of aiding alphabetic acquisition.
Method: In each of 2 sessions for 8 weeks, 4 of 11 e-books, rotating across weeks, were provided, each on a separate IPad, to 35 children in groups of 2-4 children. Behaviours in 7443 observations (averaging 213 per child) were examined across sessions by book (averaging 660 observations per book. Codes reflected e-book used, orientation (to book, researcher, other child, elsewhere), company (alone, with other child, other children), and activity (saying object name, letter name, letter sound; tapping letter hotspot, object hotspot, etc). Preferred books, preferred pages, and profiles of behaviour per book were identified and linked to book design.
Results highlights: Children were oriented to e-books on average 87% of the observations, and most often as alone (84%). Two e-books were each distinguished by greater orientation (95%) and less use alone (64%). Children also preferred these two, using them 38% of the session time, and tapping their object hotspots in 70% of these books’ observations. In all but one e-book, activating object hotspots far outweighed those for letters. In only 104 of the 7443 observations did children say letter sounds or names, this disproportionately occurring within certain e-books.
Conclusions: Educational and entertaining features may be antagonistic in commercial alphabet e-books.

Independent E-Book Reading At School: Differential Effects of Two Programs on Reading Skills

First Author/Chair:Kathleen Roskos -- John Carroll University

Purpose: Access to e-books has revived independent reading as a motivating mechanism for reading improvement. Opportunity to build a personal reading collection coupled with dashboard feedback piques students’ interests. Instant, actionable data of students’ e-book reading available to teachers increases the potential of independent reading for instruction. This study compares the effects of e-book independent reading on primary graders’ fluency and comprehension skills in two different online reading programs.
Method: Using a between subjects design, an 8-week study in four primary level classrooms in an urban school (majority African-American), totaling 72 students, is in progress. Independent Reading Time (IRT) occurs 15-20 minutes each day following an IRT structure. Students are randomly assigned to either the Raz Kids or Storia IRT condition. Measures include data dashboard metrics, DIBELS progress monitoring probes (pre/post), GORT-5 comprehension (pre/post) and sample student IRT interviews.
Results highlight: Based on pilot studies, substantial increases are projected in number of books read, actual time spent reading and engagement for all students in both programs. Fluency and comprehension show positive trends, especially for below benchmark readers in both programs with Storia having a slight advantage over Raz Kids in comprehension. Early evidence suggests students prefer Raz Kids for ease of use but Storia for title selections.
Conclusions: Daily IRT with access to e-books may boost reading volume, which in turn develops fluency and comprehension skills, especially for reluctant and struggling readers. Selection of digital reading program may have implications for successful IRT at school.

On-line formative e-assessment aligned with early vocabulary acquisition

First Author/Chair:Karen Burstein -- University of Louisiana Lafayette
Additional authors/chairs: 
Renee Casbergue

Purpose –Young children increasingly engage with technology through eBooks and child-friendly apps that promote literacy, numeration, and self-regulation. An online formative e-assessment tool (CBDM) employs item banks of 6000+ validated words, numbers, algorithms, questions, and reading passages, by which teachers build short, reliable, individual e-assessments of literacy and numeracy to determine what preschoolers have/have not learned from instruction. Responses are immediately scored and interpreted; teachers receive automatic evidence-based skill-specific instructional strategies aligned with early learning standards. This study sought to determine if CBDM and its components impact children’s vocabulary acquisition.
Method - A two-group, classroom-level randomized control trial was employed to examine 204, 4-year-old children in 12 classrooms randomly drawn from 64 similar classrooms in a suburban/rural Head Start area. Six classes were randomly assigned to a treatment condition, six to “preK-as-usual.” All 12 used like curriculum, lesson plans and instructional materials.
Prior to a 12-wk. intervention, treatment teachers received three hours of training and three 1-hr. follow-up classroom visits. During Treatment teachers built and administered simple weekly vocabulary assessments and made one minor adjustment to instruction. Pre-post PPVT-IV (A&B) and GRTR were administered to all children.
Results –Repeated measures analysis indicated that groups were initially equivalent on both measures, but significantly different at post-test, p <.001, p <.002. Effect sizes were moderate (.38, .29).
Conclusions - Formative CBDM e-assessment is a simple yet valuable tool that provides immediate, valid, reliable data on students’ learning; and, when acted upon yields increased vocabulary and skills.

Ten Years After: Revisiting the question of e-book quality as early language and literacy support

First Author/Chair:Ofra Korat -- Bar-Ilan University, Israel
Additional authors/chairs: 
Yael Falk

Purpose: We examined whether eBooks for children (age 3 to 8), which are currently available on the market, can serve as a good support for language and literacy. This follows studies published 10 years ago which showed that children's e-books are usually overloaded with multimedia effects that distract children from the storyline, and from language and literacy learning.
Method: Sixteen Hebrew and 17 English e-books that include oral and written texts were randomly selected for evaluation from the internet and the AP store in September 2014. We focused on eBook processing and quality of multimedia additions.
Results highlights: The findings showed high similarity of features between Hebrew and English eBooks. Most have suitable processioning futures, which can support children in story listening or reading. Data also showed a limited number of automatic animations and of hotspots on illustrations, which provide a good level of support for storyline comprehension. However, very few eBooks have features that support language learning. Furthermore, some of the eBooks incorporate games within the story channel, which might distract children from the storyline.
Conclusions: Our results point to important improvements in e-book design compared to former years. However, there are still other important features which need to be improved in order to create better software for young children’s language and literacy development.

How educational are the most popular apps for young children?

First Author/Chair:Burcu Sari -- Uludağ Üniversity, Bursa, Turkey
Additional authors/chairs: 
Zsofia Takacs; Szilvia Salamon; Adriana Bus

Purpose -Is literacy stimulated through popular educational apps and which elements of literacy in particular? To test whether there are cultural differences in the selection of popular apps we compared the same lists in three European countries differing in prosperity: Hungary, Turkey and the Netherlands.
Method: We coded the content of the 50 bestselling and 50 most popular free tablet apps in different categories including ‘Kids’, ‘Books’, ‘Educational games’, ‘Family games’ and ‘Word games’ in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store of the three countries.
Results highlight: Preliminary results show that only a small percentage of the apps supported early literacy and language development and learning. Many apps were story-like showing some character or event but without a story plot. Apps with complete stories were rather rare and often only available in English despite the fact that children in all three countries are not native speakers of English. There is a large overlap between the popular apps in the three countries. The majority of literacy-related apps teach technical literacy skills like letters or phonics but the level is mostly developmentally inappropriate.
Conclusions: The increasing amount of time spent with tablets may work to the detriment of young children’s emergent literacy skills as a result of the quality of apps children use. Parents seem to download and are even willing to pay for low-quality apps that are typically purely entertaining. Furthermore, we have serious concerns about the quality of the popular literacy-related apps.