Supporting early language development and interest in reading with digital personalised books

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Learning and Leadership

Abstract

The ubiquity of handheld digital technologies and dramatic rise in digital book reading in England and USA have led to a heightened commercial interest in personalised tablet and smartphone digital books (DPBs) for 3 to 5-year-old children. However, the educational value of many of these resources is questionable. There is a lack of developmentally-appropriate DPBs to enhance children's early reading experience, and a lack of knowledge regarding how parents and educators can best support children's learning with digital media. The proposed research responds to these issues by investigating how children's language development and reading experience can be enhanced by using digital personalised books. It will also identify effective strategies for parents and early educators to support children's early reading with digital technology.

The study will begin by developing a system for identifying and rating the personalisation features of children's digital books that are potentially effective for enhancing children's early language and literacy development. Parents, early years teachers and app designers will be interviewed to gain their perspectives on the possibilities and challenges of personalisation in children's digital books. Observations will be made of naturally-occurring parent-child reading practices with DPBs in five UK homes, over a 6-month period. These will be followed by rigorous experimental evaluation of thirty children's immediate and enduring language development and reading interest through reading DPBs. The resultant dataset will be scrutinised to clarify the potential of personalisation features in digital software for promoting children's language development and independent reading, and to identify effective strategies for motivating children's co-reading with their parents at home and with early educators.

Throughout the project, international experts in early language and literacy will support the development of 1) theoretical understanding of the under-researched yet educationally potent area of personalisation features in children's digital books 2) an innovative, interdisciplinary and rigorous methodological framework, with original qualitative and quantitative datasets for supporting parent-child and early educator-child co-reading with DPBs, and 3) a bank of recommendations and resources for supporting children's language and early literacy learning through DPBs for parents, teachers, policy-makers, and digital book and app producers.

Outcomes from the project will include international knowledge exchange between early reading experts at UCL IOE, University of Waikato, Cardiff University and Harvard Graduate School. This combined expertise will be used to benefit young children by informing parents, early years practitioners, and digital book designers about effective personalisation features in children's digital books, and effective strategies for supporting young children's language development and interest in reading with a range of digital media. The findings will be disseminated via a series of workshops for US and UK teachers, app designers and digital book publishers. Four magazine articles will be written for early years professionals, and regular parent- and teacher-oriented blogs will provide a forum for discussion for teachers and parents interested in the use of digital books with their children. The project website will provide multi-media guidance (video and interactive tips) for parents and teachers on effective reading practices with digital books that promote early co-reading at home and independent reading in school. Four academic publications and three conference papers on digital reading and personalisation will be submitted to high-impact academic journals and international conferences.

Planned Impact

This project aims to make societal and economic impact by enhancing the effectiveness of children's digital book reading, and ways to support it, with a specific focus on personalisation in children's digital reading materials. The research offers particular potential for impact upon the use of children's digital books at home and school, generating crucial information and guidance for parents and teachers into new forms of book reading. The primary beneficiaries are:
CHILDREN - The potential for the study to impact on children's learning arises from:
1) enhancing parents' recognition of the key personalisation features embedded in commercially available digital books and how these might impact upon their children's language learning and interest in reading;
2) enhancing teachers' recognition of the ways in which young children experience digital books at home, and ways DPBs could be used in classroom to promote learning;
3) improving digital book design, notably developing books/apps for young children that are not only entertaining but also beneficial for children's language and literacy development, and are based in empirical evidence supported by robust theorisation.
PARENTS - The findings from this research will increase parents' awareness of the potentials and constraints of digital book reading and will clarify how specific reading strategies may support or hinder children's language development and reading interest. The research will share examples of effective strategies for digital book reading with their children at home, and disseminate this knowledge through diverse popular media to other parents interested in using digital books with their children, and to practitioners interested in linking the use of digital books at school to children's home experiences.
EARLY YEARS PROFESSIONALS: The study involves focus groups with UK teachers and workshops with US and UK teachers. The findings from these activities will have benefit beyond practitioners in the UK and US, as digital book reading is a worldwide phenomenon and interest in the topic is evident from the success of several international practitioner-oriented conferences focused on digital book reading with young children (e.g., The Digital Literacy for Pre-schoolers conference held in Montreal, 2015).
SCHOOLS AND EDUCATIONAL POLICY MAKERS - The project will be of direct relevance to US and UK policy-makers, including the Department for Education in the UK, Boston Public Schools (a school district serving the city of Boston, Massachusetts, US) and other bodies involved in the policy concerning children's early education and engagement with new technologies.
CHILDREN'S DIGITAL INDUSTRY - It is anticipated that the detailed empirical research would improve understanding of digital book designers/publishers of how digital books are used in home and school contexts. The findings will have significance beyond the specific software currently used, as they synthesise the key features of digital personalised software available for young children and draw on practices from various families and learning contexts. Together with the theoretically founded insights developed in Phase 2, findings from Phase3 and discussion between practitioners and parents facilitated by knowledge exchange activities in Phase4, the project will support the conceptualising and designing of new children's digital books.
OTHER STAKEHOLDERS- This research will support literacy coordinators, ICT coordinators, librarians, literacy charities and other stakeholders who make decisions about investing funds in children's digital books. In this way, the project also addresses the RCUK Digital Economy Theme, researching and realising the transformational impact of digital technologies on aspects of society and the economy.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The project is centred around four key objectives that focus on establishing ways to support the development of children's learning in early years education. Each of these correlates to a phase in the project that is tied to a related empirical study.
Study1 developed a taxonomy to identify and rate the effectiveness of personalisation features in children's reading material and to determine how these features might enhance children's early linguistic development.
Kucirkova, N. (2018). A taxonomy and research framework for personalization in children's literacy apps. Educational Media International, 55(3), 255-272.

Study2 established the perspective of early years teachers and children's publishers and other media producers in relation to the challenges and potential that personalisation offers children's digital books. The study found significant discrepancies in teachers' and designers' views regarding the positive and negative potential of personalization in early learning.
Kucirkova, N., & Flewitt, R. (2018). The future-gazing potential of digital personalization in young children's reading: views from education professionals and app designers. Early Child Development and Care, 1-15.

Study3 investigated the patterns of interaction between parents and children when reading digital personalised books together at home. It focused on children's agency and found that giving children choices in determining how a story unfolds, supports their prolonged interest in interacting with a digital book.
Kucirkova, N. (2018). Children's agency and reading with story-apps: considerations of design, behavioural and social dimensions. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 1-25.

Study 4 aims to identify the language gains achieved as a result of reading personalised digital books in a lab-based experimental study. The data from this study are currently analysed.
Exploitation Route We hope the findings will shape the perspectives of key stakeholders in relation to the possibilities and challenges of personalisation in children's digital books and will be recognised as guiding principles for app design and professional development training for teachers. We would like children's app designers to recognise that there are different levels and types of personalisation that they can use to enrich children's reading experiences. Publishers should use caution with personalisation, aiming for a more strategic, measured effect to motivate children to read, balancing personal detail with sufficient external detail.

Researchers interested in participatory design might use our findings to develop a collaborative model of producing personalized books, harnessing collective values and children's own involvement in the creation of the stories, whether on paper or on digital devices. By supporting the child's agency in involving them in the story creation, genuine personalisation that validates and encourages the child's agency is achieved.

Researchers interested in experimental investigation might build on our findings to examine the effects of personalization in different populations, both sequentially and longitudinally. Researchers might be also interested in expanding our findings to other outcomes, such as socio-emotional competence, for example.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education

 
Description The project's findings have been disseminated to a wide group of non-academic stakeholders, including parents, early years teachers, literacy charities, children's media producers and book publishers through the PI's personal contacts. Science Impact Ltd. was commissioned to produce a bespoke brochure that was freely distributed to 35,000 individuals worldwide within academia, government, research centres, funding agencies and research councils. An electronic version of the brochure was published open-access on IngentaConnect - the world's largest resource for scholarly publications. Additional activities include: 1, The project's findings regarding commercial personalization have been used in a report commissioned by DigiLitEY on the use of algorithms in children's products. The report is freely available from DigiLitEY and was also produced as an infographic to be disseminated among non-academic stakeholders (designers, app producers) in the UK (facilitated through EDUCATE, which is working with 250 educational technology companies in London to support them to build evidence-informed apps and services) and in the USA, facilitated through the International Design Conference, chaired by the report's co-authors, Jerry Fails. Ref: Kucirkova, N., Fails, J., Pera, S. Huibers, T. (2018) Algorithms for children: what parents and educators need to know, DigiLitEY, UK. 2, Following a widely-read article for the magazine Wired on personalized pluralization in arts, Kucirkova was invited to give a keynote to 100 students at the prestigious Conde Nast College in London. 3, In January 2019, Kucirkova was interviewed by BBC Studios (Programme Health Truth or Scar) and by The Guardian Science about children's use of digital devices and the potential of personalization to mitigate negative effects. 4, The importance of personalization in children's digital books was highlighted in the UKLA Children's Digital Book Award run in partnership with The Open University. Changes to the existing criteria for evaluating children's digital books will be made for the 2020 Award to reflect the latest findings on personalized books. 5, The Department for Education commissioned a Home Learning Environment app competition. Kucirkova was consulted on research findings and Flewitt appointed as part of the expert panel on Early Years Language, Literacy and Communication apps.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Librarians training-June 2017, invited presentation for the School Library Association, Harrogate, UK
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact School Library Association, Harrogate, UK; Lightbulb Moments: Powered by Librarians was the title of an invited presentation/workshop for librarians from across the country interested in the use of children's digital books
 
Description Save The Children Advisory Committee
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact I have served on the Advisory Board for the charity Save The Children, specifically focused on the development of children's apps to support their language and educational activities at home such as shared book reading with parents.
 
Description Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation Small Grant
Amount
Funding ID 10728/13096 
Organisation Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2018 
End 12/2018
 
Description Trust, Identity, Privacy and Security 2
Amount £84,309,900 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R033838/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 08/2020
 
Description Digistoryland Knowledge & Exchange project 
Organisation Pling Toys Ltd.
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Pling Toys develop a hardware called Magic Cloud that we used for an UCL Knowledge & Innovation grant to investigate children's reading motivation through the development of a prototype and educational use cases
Collaborator Contribution Pling Toys supplied the Magic Cloud for testing and participated in initial project meetings.
Impact UCL Knowledge & Innovation Fund (P.I.) Tangible Digistoryland - internal University College of London grant awarded to Dr Kucirkova
Start Year 2017
 
Description Bloomsbury Festival workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Digital community stories: create your own, share with others- interactive workshop with general public focused on digital story-making; part of the Bloomsbury Festival of Culture, 2017, London
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description COST Reading on Screen Working Group 3 Think Tank Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Think Tank meetings with European researchers, designers and publishers of children's digital books and apps
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://digilitey.eu/working-groups/wg3-reading-and-writing-on-screen/
 
Description Guardian article 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Kucirkova, N. (2017), The Guardian, invited article, titled "Children's reading on screen: in the beginning was the word, not a hotspot"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.theguardian.com/education/head-quarters/2017/dec/04/childrens-reading-on-screen-in-the-b...
 
Description Interview for BBC R4 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was invited to speak about personalised books on a BBC Radio4 show.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Online article for school leaders 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Kucirkova, N. (2017) Children's Reading on Screen, Invited contribution to the online magazine Children's Centre Leader, June Issue, Available online.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ccleaderreader.com
 
Description Presentation to Welsh librarians 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Feb18 Children's apps and digital books: research overview and practical guidance, Cardiff Central Library, Invited presentation for librarians in Wales about the value of children's digital books and personalisation features in motivating reading for pleasure
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Psychology Today Blogs 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Increased engagement with the research findings and social media activity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/just-you/201812/what-do-youtube-kids-and-class-dojo-have-in-...
 
Description Specialised seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Nov17 Personalisation: overview of extant research, Centre for Educational Neuroscience. Birkbeck, UCL and the IOE, invited presentation for researchers and postgraduate students
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description The Conversation articles 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited article for The Conversation, title: 'The rise in personalised story books and what it means for children's privacy'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://theconversation.com/the-rise-in-personalised-story-books-and-what-it-means-for-childrens-pri...
 
Description What are the key issues in personalised reading with young children? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Blog article contributed to the Early Insights magazine
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://earlyinsights.org/
 
Description Wired article 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Kucirkova, N. (2018) All the web's 'read next' algorithms suck. It's time to upgrade, Wired Magazine, invited article contribution to printed magazine Wired World 2018 and also online issue
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.wired.co.uk/article/how-decentralised-data-will-make-better-reading-recommendations