Children today have access to a greater volume of digital media from a wider variety of devices than ever before. Despite this growth, children's media too often takes a one-size-fits-all approach to creating content and fails to meet the needs of populations outside the mainstream.
Diverse Families and Media: Using Research to Inspire Design, a new casebook and design guide co-authored by Katie Headrick Taylor of the University of Washington College of Education, aims to address this deficit and inspire educators and designers who create media and programs for children and their families.
"Being thoughtful about designing digital content opens up new opportunities for how learning can happen in the home and between parents and children," Taylor said.
Drawing from the ethnographic research of Taylor and her co-authors, the guide offers practical advice for media producers.
With Reed Stevens at Northwestern University, Taylor took video and conducted extensive interviews with nine diverse families over a period of four months to observe how children and parents used various technologies and incorporated them into their daily lives.
From these observations, Taylor and colleagues noted four key issues that designers should keep in mind for underserved populations:
1. Make content kid-driven but also interesting to adults.
"Give space for kids to be experts while also enticing adults to talk about the content or activity with their child," Taylor said. "That's a sweet spot that Sesame Street has hit, but how we transfer that to mobile devices is now a big opportunity."
2. Embrace opportunities to connect across time and space.
"Our families were so busy with work, school and extracurricular activities, but mobile devices have a lot of opportunity built into them to connect families even when they aren't physically together," Taylor said.
One mother and daughter, for example, established a tradition of reading newspaper articles about science together at the kitchen table. When the mother started a new job that required a longer commute, Taylor said she started emailing science articles to her daughter, who would read them on her way home from school.
"They would text each other about the article and then have a shorter but more focused conversation when they saw each other next, so they found a way to continue that practice," she said.
3. Create content that enables children to engage in different ways.
Children's engagement with digital media goes beyond watching videos or moving things around a screen, Taylor said. Content that encourages children to physically move around or creatively imagine something make learning more active and can help address parent concerns about too much screen time.
4. Bridge home, school and life.
Taylor said the most engaging digital media content goes beyond subjects covered on tests, such as math and science standards. One of the families she observed, for example, bought a pomegranate and realized they didn't know how to prepare it.
"They pulled up a YouTube video and there was a really cool intergenerational learning moment," she said. "There's a lot of potential in activities that emerge from a shared family interest."
Taylor is looking to continue her research by conducting more observations of how families in the Seattle area use mobile technology to stay in touch when they're not physically together. She's also interested in learning from children's innovative use of technology away from school and bringing those practices into the classroom.
"It's important to understand that a diverse range of families have access to a lot of technology and really value it as a fluency," Taylor said. "Parents want their children to use technology and understand their children need to for what's next in their lives.
"There's a popular discourse about screen time being bad and technology taking us away from each other—a more productive space would be that these new technologies can be used poorly but they also can be leveraged for high quality learning opportunities."
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications
Katie Headrick Taylor, Assistant Professor of Education