New iPad Stirs Up Questions

Yup, it’s coming! The new iPad (don’t call it the iPad3 – Apple is not having that) hits stores Friday, March 16th, and if this launch is anything like the last one, expect a crazy long line and an onslaught of chatter in the blogosphere. Though people are a bit miffed about the non-numerical name, updated features like a 3.1 million pixel display, 4G network capabilities, and an A5X processor (awesome for designing and gaming), have Apple fans salivating. That’s us.

This is all well and good, but what caught our attention amidst all the iPad buzz was this article in the Huffington Post.  Educational psychologist and consultant, Lori Day, shares her perspective on the possible downsides of technology-driven education. She’s not a full-time technology detractor, but she’s skeptical, and as much as we love our gizmos and gadgets here at CloudKid, we think that a healthy dose of skepticism is good every once in a while.

Day brings up some particularly provocative questions about the decrease of human-to-human interaction in the classroom, the loss of critical literacy and math skills, and the digital divide. Of particular concern is how constant upgrades and product launches create a veritable arms race for technology in the classroom, and poor, urban districts that already have crippling budget constraints fall even farther behind.

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The New Coviewing

In fall 2011, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center released their latest report, “The New Coviewing: Designing for Learning Through Joint Media Engagement.”  The study points out the short-comings of the term “co-viewing,” suggesting that “joint media engagement” is more fitting.  The difference is more than just semantic, and instead alludes to the important cognitive shift from passive “viewing” associated with merely watching TV to active “engagement” (as in Sesame Street’s Kinect game Once Upon a Monster). We were excited to see this differentiation, especially because we think that the present and future of the best kids media is in truly interactive experiences.

In addition to presenting a brief literature review and a number of case studies on the topic, the report also included a design guide which outlined principles to consider when designing for joint media engagement.  These principles include keeping content kid-driven, allowing for multiple planes of engagement, and clearly differentiating roles.  The case studies included in this report pointed to a number of products that employ these principles, including Electric Racer, an intergenerational gaming experience designed to promote literacy. We found the principles outlined to be extremely interesting and helpful as we continue to consider co-play in our designs.  We highly recommend you take the time to look at these, and the rest of the report when you have the chance!

Lifelong Learners

One of the best parts about CloudKid’s Boston locale is the city’s robust academic community.  In addition to recruiting from local colleges and universities, we also try our best to take advantage of the amazing resources schools in the area have to offer.  In the past few months, for example, CloudKids have attended events at MIT, as well as at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education (HGSE).

HGSE hosts monthly Askwith Forums, a series of talks about education that are open to the public.  We recently attended one with Lisa Henson, CEO of The Jim Henson Company, that dealt with the importance of characters in informal education for early learners.  We also attended another forum with acclaimed author and professor Howard Gardner, who spoke about reframing truth, beauty and goodness for 21st century education.  You can watch Howard’s entire talk here, and hear a podcast of a post-forum interview with Lisa Henson here.

We got a lot out of attending both of these events, and look forward to continuing our involvement in the local academic community.  No matter what your location is, we recommend you look for opportunities like these in your own area (or even in the online community).  We believe there is much to be gained from looking at ourselves as lifelong learners, and attending events like these are a great way to keep learning!

Risky Business

From "Gesundheit!" App

Last Tuesday, a few of us CloudKids attended “Reducing Risk in the Games Business,” an event put on by the New England Games SiG at the Microsoft NERD Center.  A panel of game industry veterans discussed their experiences and approaches in helping to manage risk in the game industry.  With the upcoming launch of CloudKid’s first original app, we were excited to jump in on this discussion.

The panel, and the audience, had a lot of great insights on the business side of game and app releases.  While the conversation was interesting, there was an extreme emphasis placed on analytics and the marketing of games. It seems all the panelists and moderator ignored one of the biggest factors of risk-taking in the game industry – THE GAMES!  We were a bit surprised that there wasn’t a discussion surrounding how risk-taking with IP and game mechanics can draw in and keep users engaged.  While we understand that having a great marketing plan is part of the risk equation, we still think that the products themselves need to be “risky” to stand out from the crowd.

A few other areas that we wished the panel had time to discuss were the challenge of balancing product and company recognition and the increasingly popular “freemium” model of app releases.  If you get the chance to comment, we’d love to hear your thoughts on reducing risk in the games business!

The Future of Storytelling

A few months ago, we highlighted the work of Latitude Research in a blog post about their study on kids’ visions for the future of technology.  We’ve continually been impressed with their approach to innovative research and were delighted when they asked us to take part in a new study on the Future of Storytelling.

We were also extremely excited that they chose to feature their interview with Dave in their “Expert Series.”  Take a minute to check out his interview.  We hope you enjoy, and that this gets you thinking about your visions for the future of storytelling!

Designing in the Margins

While attending the Open Workshop on Technology and Autism Research at the MIT Media Lab last week, we were inspired by the potential of designing for students “in the margins.”  This  concept is one often explored by The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in relation to their concepts of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Behind it is the core idea that when one designs with the needs of a particular group of individuals in mind, technologies that work better for the population at large often result.  According to this principle, the needs of students in the margins continue to be catalysts for advancements and adoptions of new technologies for all learners.

As presenters at the conference this week showcased technological advancements specific to the field of autism, we were reminded of the potential for designing for those in the margins. We were inspired by technologies ranging from AI and avatars that can meaningfully interact with individuals on the autism spectrum to speech therapy apps that engage users by reflecting restricted personal interests. The experience allowed us to pause and consider what such advancements can mean for all learners.  Much of the work being done in the autism technology sphere focuses on customization and personalization of learning experiences, which we believe has the potential to impact learners both on and off the autism spectrum.

We plan to keep this concept of designing for those with particular needs in mind moving forward, and we suggest you do the same.  If you get the chance, take a moment to brainstorm how designing for someone in a margin could lead to advancements that benefit all.

How Promising is Digital Promise?

Last Friday, the White House and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, announced the launch of Digital Promise, a new national center created to “advance technologies that can transform teaching and learning.”  The goal of the new center is to bring together the likes of innovators, educators, researchers and citizens so that breakthroughs in learning technologies can ideally come quicker and be more effective. Through initiatives such as creating a league of innovative schools, increasing investments and grants related to cyber-learning, and funding educational video game challenges and research studies, Digital Promise hopes to make sweeping advancements across the field of educational technology.

As strong supporters of “collaborative play,” we see a lot of potential in an initiative that aims to bring together a variety of expertise. When tackling a problem as gargantuan as maximizing education in a digital age, having all hands on deck seems like a great first step.  That being said, we also realize that a “promise” is just that.  Fulfillment of that promise will only come if the visions of collaboration, action and innovation can truly come into fruition.

We strongly encourage all of you to take an active role in this initiative by:

After all, the only way for this promise to be truly promising is if we all take it upon ourselves to jump in and play along.

Rethinking Family Game Night

Many of us here at CloudKid HQ have fond memories of our own family game nights growing up. From whole families strategizing around a Monopoly board, to intense Duck Hunt stand-offs between siblings, we can recall the fun (albeit competitive) times that were had by gathering to play as a family. The way families are playing together, however, has changed. The need to gather around a table or hook controllers up to the same gaming console no longer exists. Technologies the likes of XBox Live and apps such as “Words With Friends” make it possible for gaming together to happen anytime, anywhere.

Although many may point out what is being lost in the shifting definition of family gaming (e.g. a displaced emphasis on physical interaction), there is a lot to be said about what is gained. For one, the ability to extend the net of what is meant by “family” from those who live in one geographic location to those who live virtually anywhere with access to technology is heartening. Similarly, a shift can be made from a “one size fits all” difficulty model offered by board games to an experience that can be appropriately scaffolded to meet the abilities of gamers of all ages.  Websites such as Let’s Play Please and Ohanarama are two examples of how technology can provide significant advantages in redefining what it means to play as a family.

Our hope, and challenge, as content creators is that technology will continue to evolve in a way that provides new and most importantly meaningful ways for families to play together. For our fellow dreamers, we suggest thinking about creative ways to defy conventions of one-place, one-time and one-difficulty gaming so that family members of all ages in all locations can gather for the next generation of family game night. We are excited to see what you come up with…

The Importance of Character

Here at CloudKid HQ, we believe that great characters are the foundation for awesome children’s projects.  That’s why we’re so excited about the recent coverage on the research of our very own educational advisor, Alexis Lauricella.  As Alexis’ study, “Toddlers Learning from Socially Meaningful Video Characters,” concludes, social relationships that children develop with a character impact their ability to learn from media. In the case of her study, toddlers who saw a sequencing task performed by the beloved Elmo were significantly more able to perform the task themselves than two control groups.

In addition, we recently read a study out of the University of California, Riverside on the importance of social relationships with media characters.  The study, “Media as Social Partners: The Social Nature of Young Children’s Learning From Screen Media,” had equally telling results.  Similar to Alexis’ work, this paper cites the social nature of learning from screen media, concluding that there is a direct correlation between a child’s relationship with on-screen characters and their comprehension of information presented.

Studies such as these help reinvigorate our passion for the fact that kids media begins and ends with character. Hope they do the same for you…

The Real Experts

As much as we try to remain young at heart here at the CloudKid HQ, it’s always nice to be reminded about who the real experts in our field are: kids!  A recent study by Latitude Research, titled “Children’s Future Requests for Computers & The Internet,” was a refreshingly delightful reminder of this fact.

Latitude asked kids from around the world (aged 12 and under) to draw pictures of something they’d like the internet or computers to do differently.  The results are pretty inspiring.  Here’s a small sample of some of our favorite ideas, but do yourself a favor and look through the whole study if you get the chance.  Warning: you may wind up wanting all of them, or maybe they’ll even inspire you to go make them a reality.  Either way, enjoy!