Norwegian childhood educators are increasingly making use of digital technologies in different activities. Touch screen tablets, like iPads, are considered particularly user-friendly for use with young children due to the touch-based interface. As interactive multimedia devices, tablets provide different possibilities for storytelling than print picture books.
There is a great variety of interactive storybook apps (also called e-books), and they differ greatly in how the technological affordances of the tablet are used: some add animations and soundtrack to its print counterpart and keep the story intact, whereas others depart from the narrative in the print book to create a more game-like experience. In a kindergarten context, an interesting question is whether different kinds of storybook apps provide the same support in language focused reading activities as traditional print picture books?
A Norwegian research project
Early childhood researchers at the Norwegian Reading Centre and the University of Stavanger, in cooperation with the City of Stavanger, have been granted NOK 6 million from the Research Council of Norway for the research project «Books and apps: Developing an evaluation tool for e-books targeted towards children» (VEBB).
Norwegian children attend «Barnehage» – for this purpose translated as kindergartens – from age 1 to 6.
– Kindergartens lack specific knowledge on how to use current technology such as tablets and e-books, and which opportunities and limitations this technology involves, says project leader Professor Anne Mangen at the Norwegian Reading Centre.
– Kindergartens experience increasing expectations to introduce digital technology, such as tablets and e-books. Authorities, as well as politicians, have an expectation that tablets by default evoke engagement in children in a number of ways, and that this technology therefore must be beneficial to use in language stimulating activities that take place in kindergartens. However, we don’t have much research on correlation between the use of digital technology in kindergarten activities, and children’s engagement in language and reading activities, says Mangen.
Developing an evaluation tool
Over a period of two years, Mangen and her colleagues, Trude Hoel at the Reading Centre, Margrethe Jernes at the Institute of Early Childhood Education (University of Stavanger), and other early childhood researchers, will cooperate with local kindergartens in Stavanger in the VEBB study.
The aim of VEBB is to develop a research-based, simple application, which kindergarten teachers and staff can use in evaluating whether specific e-books may support or hinder language learning associated with kindergarten reading activities.
Throughout the project, the researchers and kindergarten teachers involved will gain more knowledge on the different kinds of e-books available for children, and what technical and material features that seem to be most important.
– Reading as a language stimulating activity in kindergartens has a broader scope than simply introducing children for letters and words. Physical learning and interaction are core values in Norwegian kindergartens, including in language activities. As such, researchers in this project have expertise on language, sports psychology, psychomotorics and learning, media studies, pedagogy, and esthetics. We cooperate closely with producers and creators of e-books. Local kindergarten teachers are also important contributors to the study, says Mangen.
It is an ambition for the City of Stavanger that the language stimulating activities that take place in its kindergartens are high quality and research-based. This includes an emphasis on dialogue-based reading. The VEBB-study is motivated by a demand for more knowledge on the role of e-books in dialogue-based reading.
– Dialogue-based reading is a method used in kindergartens to strengthen and stimulate language learning. During reading sessions, kindergarten teachers accommodate for dialogue and open reflection, where children contribute with their thoughts and reflections on what is being presented to them in a book or story. The method is known to be of high value as a language stimulating activity. However, we don’t know enough on the consequences of reading a story from an e-book compared to reading from a paper book, says Hoel.
The University of Stavanger researchers will cooperate with a group of kindergartens in Stavanger in developing the app. Local kindergartens were also involved in a preliminary study.
– In the preliminary study, we found that some e-books don’t allow for the readers to stop and reflect during the reading, as the e-book often includes music, which makes it appealing to keep turning the pages, says Hoel.
– Other kindergarten teachers and staff experienced that the children expected something to happen if they touched the screen, and that this lead to them having a different focus when reading an e-book, compared to when they were reading a paper book. In some cases, the level of involvement from the children when they were reading e-books was similar to when they were reading paper books, while others told us that while the children paid close attention to the story told in an e-book, they didn’t stop to talk and reflect during the reading session, says Hoel.
Parents have also expressed concern about the use of tablets in kindergartens.
– Overall, there is a demand for more knowledge in this area. We are very happy that research on language and reading activities in kindergartens is being prioritized in this project, says Hoel.