A small bit of research has shown that it might be disadvantageous to kid’s “literacy” development to use enhanced ebooks as opposed to simple paper books or non-enhanced ebook versions of the stories.
Basically what was done by researchers at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center in New York was to study the effects of reading kids highly enhanced versions of kid’s stories and also reading them the same stories on more traditional versions, and then tested the kids to see how much of the actual story they could remember.
What they found was that kids who had the story read in an enhanced version remembered much less about the story itself, but more about all the tricks that the enhanced version had in it, so they concluded that as a means of creating the total immersion in a story that is central to most pleasure reading, enhanced ebooks were not really a good idea.
Or as they put it in their report:
Children reading enhanced ebooks also “recalled significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the print version of the same story”, said the researchers, speculating that the extra features may be distracting. But while “print books were more advantageous for literacy building co-reading”, ebooks, and particularly enhance.
Push the button and run away.
Without going into too many details here, they basically concluded that all that button pushing to produce special effects (such as Alice’s neck growing longer and such like) simply was distracting the kids from the actual story. Rather similar to something I noticed back when I used to make models for museums. I was often asked to make models that did things if you pressed buttons, and I noticed that almost 100% of young kids simply pressed the buttons, watched the result for about 5 seconds and then rushed off to the next model and did the same… Thus they leaned nothing from the model, except that pushing buttons produced some sort of a result. The only people who appeared to actually watch and draw conclusions from my models were much older, mostly well into their 40′s or older I noticed.
This small bit of research (they only used about 32 families) produced much the same result. So based partly on my own experience I suspect that their findings are probably pretty close to the real situation.
But, is this actually a bad thing?
As was pointed out by one commentator I saw to this report, were these families familiar with such devices (iPads I assume), or not? If not, I can well imagine the mechanics of what they were doing was a serious distraction to the kids, but perhaps after some months they would lose interest in the wonders of what happens when you push a button, and concentrate more on the actual story, and then see the enhancement as an improvement.
In fairness to the folk who did this research, they do say quite forcefully that enhanced ebooks have a place in the lives of kids, just perhaps not as an alternative to non-enhanced reading.
Co-existence is possible:
There is a sad compulsion these days to feel that new technology has to replace old technology, the way this research has been reported is symptomatic of this way of thinking. The idea being that we have to have one or the other, and not both. But it seems to me that a judicious balance of the two systems (enhanced and non-enhanced ebooks) is the way to go. Share the wonders of an iPad version of Alice, but also read the original simple print version with its remarkable drawings – which in passing I note might also be seen as distracting.
Link to the report: Joan Ganz Cooney Center
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What is your view on this? Are such enhanced ebooks a good thing or not? What would you rather give your kids? The original version without all manner of animated effects and sounds, or an enhanced version with all those bells and whistles?