By way of Josh Golin at the CCFC, an announcement this week from the newly formed Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which has recently completed a report on the kids' (ages 3 to 11) digital media industry. Focusing on educational content and marketing, D is for Digital makes a pretty clear argument for government-driven standards when it comes to digital products claiming educational value. According to the Center's press release:
The 50-page study, the first to analyze the current interactive media environment for preschool and elementary age children, documents how the recent aging down and exponential growth of digital products are shaping how children, ages 3-11, live and learn. Of the 300+ products studied, the paper found that most do not take advantage of available research regarding children's educational needs particularly in a global economy where literacy and learning requirements are fast evolving. Among the findings, the survey yielded only two educational video games (in an industry that generated $500 million in 2006 for the top 20 titles alone) based on explicit educational curriculum design available in the market.
The report also identified influential market trends with strong potential for education; examined the type of informal learning products on the market; and recommended ways to expand the availability of quality educational media for children.
The report also makes a number of recommendations for industry, researchers and policymakers including:
- Better partnerships should be built between research and industry, to foster quality educational products;
- More emphasis should be placed on educational videogame development;
- Intergenerational interaction should be encouraged through product design;
- Evidentiary standards for "educational" products need to be created; -- and here the report refers back to the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2005 report A Teacher in the Living Room?, stating that in the time that has lapsed since the KFF's study, the market has become (as the KFF predicted) "dominated by products that advertise unsubstantiated educational claims." In response, the Joan Ganz Clooney Centre recommends the following "Action Step":
Federal regulatory bodies such as the Federal Trade Commission, voluntary industry groups such as The Better Business Bureau, and parent advocates such as Common Sense Media should collaborate on a consumer protection initiative to better describe educational effectiveness in interactive media products for children.
- Policies should be implemented to protect children from digital commercialism; -- a recommendation which the Centre suggests can be achieved by better coordination of regulatory bodies:
Federal regulatory bodies, such as the Federal Communications Commission, and voluntary industry, public interest advocacy, and philanthropic organizations, should initiate the advancement of policies that protect children from commercialism in a digital age. A revitalization of The Children’s Television Act needs to be undertaken to modernize the child protections now called for in a digital age.
The report also offers two recommendations specific to academics:
- A research agenda should be established that addresses the implications of market trends on product development;
Academic researchers need to investigate the implications of the current environment on children’s informal learning, and recognize “what works” in educating children through digital media products.
- Academic research should be made more accessible to industry;
Academic institutions should disseminate research findings to industry through industry publications and events.
There's a fine line between praxis or collaborating for a better media environment, and full-on commercial research, which really isn't addressed here. Read one way, it sounds like a great idea, read another way, it sounds like research for profit, or at the very least enhancing the one-way street that currently exists between academic and commercial research. Academic research findings may usually only be available through journals and academic texts, but at least it's published freely and made part of the public domain. In the world of kids' media, it's the commercial sector who sits on the research goldmine, and I'd like to see these "partnerships" result in a more open and accountable commercial research sector as well.
While the fact that the study was focused on "educational" media explains much of its emphasis on purposive play/media use, I think that an underlying bias for productive leisure is also driving much of the Center's activities and positions. This is clear from the company's mission statement (which describes the Center as "Focusing especially on the needs of disadvantaged children, the Center conducts and supports research, creates educational models and interactive media properties, and builds cross-sector partnerships to scale-up best practices"), and is also pretty explicitly expressed in Michael Levine's (the Center's Executive Director) statements about the report (as quoted in the press release), which included the following:
"Kids today are spending almost as much time with media as attending school, so there is an opportunity to create more engaging educational products than ever before. Unfortunately, most of the new digital products we reviewed, with notable exceptions, do not yet promote the vital literacy, creativity and problem-solving skills children need to succeed. The report documents how industry leaders, working closely with experts in child development and research, can develop interactive educational products that can leverage key market opportunities and promote a new vision for learning and entertainment."
A very fascinating first contribution from the people who brought us Sesame Street -- definitely going into my chapter on kiddie-tech and "educational" play.