Since its inception more than 40 years ago, public media has worked with visionaries like Jim Henson, Joan Ganz Cooney, and Fred Rogers to use the power of television to help America’s children learn, especially children living in poverty. Over the last 20 years, we have demonstrated that if you apply the same principles to the design and production of content online, on mobile, at home, and in the classroom, you can use these technologies to engage and accelerate learning.
We are constantly examining how new technologies effect children, exploring new ways to leverage PBS KIDS characters as educational magnets, and how to co-opt and deploy new approaches to learning like transmedia within new technologies for anywhere, anytime learning in underserved communities.
The recent success of PBS KIDS’ cross-platform content in advancing children’s literacy learning has led us to discover, for example, that kids who interact with our math content across multiple platforms will learn more than those who just interact with our math content on one platform. Through a forward-looking grant from the U.S. Department of Education called Ready To Learn (RTL), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS are pioneering and testing this transmedia approach to learning. We are working with top producers of every kind of kids media along with technology experts, educators, and researchers to produce transmedia suites – collections of video clips, online games, mobile apps, and interactive whiteboard games that feature the same characters and all tie to the same curriculum framework – to help build early math skills of children ages 2-8, particularly from low-income communities. Public television stations and their partners are delivering this content on-air, on-line, and on-the ground to children throughout the nation.
Public media’s transmedia approach to learning looks at different inputs for kids. For example, usability testing has revealed that tablets and other touchscreen devices are more intuitive and appealing to young children than a clunky keyboard and mouse. In addition, we’re experimenting with game mechanics that use a computer’s microphone and webcam, and require children to clap or make gestures – to jump or use their hands to make moves in a game. We’re also conducting experiments with augmented reality, immersive world environments, and 3D-rendered collaborative play. It’s critical that we understand how these technologies work, and we are partnering with a tremendous set of technologists and producers like Professor Blair MacIntyre from Georgia Tech and Bill Shribman from WGBH in Boston to unleash the learning potential of each platform. At the same time, we know that a three year old needs a very different match of technology than a five year old, so everything we do is driven by age-appropriate skill and curriculum frameworks. We are working with child development experts to ensure that we pair the right technologies with the right skill sets for the right age groups, and we’ve developed a best practices guide to help PBS KIDS producers make the right matches when designing their transmedia content.
Empowering the adults in children’s lives to be knowledgeable transmedia mediators is the goal behind our Ready To Learn-funded partnerships with the Boston University School of Education (BU-SED), with Chicago Public Schools Virtual Pre-K and K (VPK) program, and with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading (CGLR). BU-SED is piloting and testing teaching modules to help preschool teachers successfully integrate media into their classrooms to enhance students’ learning, and VPK is creating resources to bridge learning at home and in school. CGLR is partnering with us to create a free bilingual mobile app for Android and IOS platforms that will be launching later this year. The mobile app will be designed to equip parents of children ages 0 to 5 with insights on the stages of their children’s growth and will feature a variety of ways to foster literacy and math development through intergenerational on-screen activities (for parents of children ages 2-4) and off-screen activities (for parents of children ages 0-2).
Assessing the impact of our transmedia content is key, and renowned third-party researchers including WestEd, EDC, and SRI International are conducting the formative and summative evaluations to test the efficacy of our approach in both formal and informal settings. In addition, public media is working with UCLA CRESST to prototype a progress tracking system that will feature a COPPA-compliant identify system, sophisticated data analysis tools, and reporting applications that equip parents and educators with the means to measure children’s progress across multiple platforms, in real time.
Our transmedia approach to learning requires all of us who work in this space to turn our attention to capacity-building in the field, including high-quality teacher professional development, family training, and a push for a national policy movement to equip America’s Title I elementary schools and early childcare centers in underserved communities with cutting-edge digital technology tools, so that our children, both in school and in out-of-school settings, are not left behind.