The “educational” apps we buy for our kids aren’t very educational, two leading researchers have found.
Authors Lisa Guernsey and Michael levine spent five years researching the role of media and technology in children’s literacy. The result is Tap Click and read, a book that explains how to make abundance of both work to advance literacy and learning.
The authors ask if the “educational” apps that parents buy are really educational. “Most applications fail miserably,” Levine told Quartz.
Levine, who founded the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit that researches educational technology for underserved children, said parents should look for three things when determining whether an app is educational:
1) Did experts who know something about literacy or child development help develop it?
2) Is there an intentionally sequenced curriculum with real learning objectives?
3) Has he been tested to do what he says?
Their findings are striking: the most popular and successful literacy and language apps have virtually no input from literacy experts, limited input from child development experts, and are rarely tested for. see if their educational claims are real. Few of them have a sequenced curriculum (ideas that build on each other and actually help children learn).
Guernsey, director of the Learning Technologies Project at New America’s Education Policy Program, a think tank, and Levine assembled a team to review 184 “award-winning” or most popular apps in the literacy and language educational category. applications for ages 0-8. The team examined What the taught applications, measured against 23 skills from the literature and teaching guides, such as vocabulary, narration / narrative sequence, reading comprehension. He also considered How? ‘Or’ What taught applications, by coding samples from 21 strategies used to teach language and literacy (labeling, tracing, highlighting). The bottom line: beyond teaching ABC, the applications were not very educational.
Levine isn’t on a mission to recommend apps, but here are four that aren’t woefully inadequate, and one that’s fun:
- Learn with Homer: “It takes you on an immersive literacy experience that combines learning to read and reading to learn. It allows you to create your own stories and write your own stories and publish your own stories. It’s a much bigger platform than a single app.
- Toontastic: “It is a story telling app that wonderfully allows children to cooperate with their peers and adults to imagine and create wild adventure tales and publish their own creations. “
- Mathematics of movement: “It has been carefully tested for its educational impact and is recommended by serious mathematicians, unlike many other applications in this category. They now have a set of related applications that allow a young child to progress in a wide range of computer skills.
- Big birds words: “It uses augmented reality to help children improve their vocabulary and encourages co-engagement with their parents,” he says. (Levine’s nonprofit is part of the Sesame Workshop).
- Toca Boca: Not so much for education as for its beauty and creativity. “These apps are very popular, beautifully designed, and full of creative game ideas,” he says. “They’re more like digital toys that kids love and have great early learning routines like dressing, having tea, styling and building.”
Refreshingly, Guernsey and Levine don’t see the media / tech / kids cocktail as a moral threat or an elixir for all that afflicts us. RAND estimates that 2-4 year olds spend 2-5 hours a day with media and technology and more as children get older. But there is also a “quiet crisis” in literacy. Two-thirds of fourth-graders do not read at grade level despite billions of dollars spent to improve literacy. The authors therefore wrote the book in part to examine the role that media and technology have played – and should – play in literacy. They found that parents need to deal with the experience intentionally and not fall into the “tap, click, cringe and hope for the best” mindset.
The authors offer parents this resource list to help verify their children’s apps. Among them, Levine recommends Common sense media Section “Best Apps and Games”, whose team of experts is led by an editor with a background in education and child development, and Technical journal for children, started in 1993 by Warren Buckleitner, who started out as an elementary school teacher and has a doctorate in educational psychology.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, who founded the New America Institute, introduced the authors at a recent event by telling the audience that if you’re a parent, you’re a teacher, “You shape their brains. You determine what they can learn for the rest of their life.
No pressure, parents.