- Gauging if an early learning product is effective is an essential process for product development but a complex one to carry out, panelists and audience members said at an early learning and technology session during the U.S. Department of Education's Ed Games Expo on Thursday.
- Some of the research difficulties mentioned during the session included conducting school-based research during the pandemic, interpreting young children's reactions to new toys and media, and ensuring products are accessible to children of all income levels and abilities.
- Panelists and audience members also discussed the need for responding to emerging media and engaging parent caregivers in using and evaluating the technology.
Early learning ed tech developers should have a comprehensive formative research process when creating their products, so products are launched and tweaked to be effective, panelists said.
While formative and outcome research are essential to building a better product, that information gathering process can be difficult, because it might raise more questions than answers in addition to doubts about the size of the populations testing the product. Logistics for conducting the research also may be complex, said panelists.
Tammy Kwan, panelist and co-founder and CEO of Cognitive ToyBox, a game-based learning assessment, said that formative research was essential to helping the company move from a physical toy to a digital game. The change was made after the company sought feedback from more than 100 educators, administrators, children and families. One aim of the product is to help teachers more easily and effectively collect data to inform their instruction, Kwan said.
"As a small business, formative research for us means making a product that meets the needs of our users, Kwan said.
Shelley Pasnik, senior vice president of the Education Development Center, told attendees not all research needs to start from scratch. Developers can build on what has already been learned in the early learning ed tech field, Pasnik said.
"Don't think you're alone," said Pasnik, adding that building a community around existing and new research will ultimately benefit both developers and users.
For example, STEMIE, a technical assistance and professional development website funded in part by the Education Department, contains resources about increasing young children's access to science, technology, engineering and math.
Another research resource — The Ready To Learn Initiative funded by the Education Department and supported by the Corporation of Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service — shares information on developing high quality educational media. Education Department grant recipients are required to evaluate the effectiveness of their products.
Some panelists and attendees shared their experiences in optimizing product research. For instance, they might observe children's use of media in familiar environments, like their homes or classrooms, rather than have children come to a research office.
Attendee Katalina McGlone said she conducted research that led to improvements to The Guinea Show, a video platform she developed that encourages healthy eating habits for children ages 2 to 7. The show features short videos of a guinea pig eating a fruit or vegetable.
After doing research that included observing children viewing the videos, McGlone, who is director of the show, added an applause recording to the beginning of each video when the fruit or vegetable of the day is introduced. That change came because she saw preschoolers clapping or making comments when a fruit or vegetable was introduced and missing the next section in the video, McGlone said.
The Guinea Show is early in the implementation stage, but McGlone already plans to continue the research.
"You really want to be open to hearing what the feedback is from the people that are using it," McGlone said.