Techno-Panic Headlines: 'Enhanced Ebooks Are Bad For Children'

from the sensationalism dept

It’s no secret that the media loves techno-panic stories, especially when they can quote some scientist or researcher condemning a new technology. Sometimes the studies they point to are bogus, but more often than not the fault lies with the reporters, who oversimplify or flat-out misrepresent the findings. The Guardian recently published a perfect example of this, where even the story itself seems to admit that the facts are far less sensational than the headline.

And that headline is pretty blunt: Enhanced ebooks are bad for children finds American study. Bad for children, huh? That must mean there were some pretty clear negative results in whatever this study looked at, right? Not so much. When you read the details, you discover that the study was looking specifically at a book’s ability to promote literacy and reading comprehension, where it found that ebooks with interactive graphical bells and whistles distract focus from the text and are inferior in that regard. But the study’s authors also note, quite firmly, that this is simply something for parents and educators to keep in mind when deciding on activities for their kids, and that enhanced ebooks are still fantastic for helping to engage kids who are otherwise uninterested in books. Basically, they say a lot of enhanced ebooks fall more on the play side of things than the study side—but kids play, and it’s actually great if some of that play involves storytelling and reading, even if it’s done in a lighter fashion. In short, they absolutely do not say that enhanced ebooks are “bad for children”.

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 enhanced ebooks, were better “for engaging children and prompting physical interaction”.

Chiong told the Guardian that enhanced ebooks “absolutely still have a place. Kids seem to love them. If enhanced books can engage kids who might not be as interested in reading, we will achieve an important goal. In our study, we were specifically looking at book-reading with a focus on learning and comprehension. That is only one of many purposes for reading. If the purpose is to just have fun or explore a classic tale in a new way, enhanced books are great.”

What’s not mentioned, but seems obvious, is the fact that this same argument could be applied to books with sound effects, pop-up books, and for that matter just books with illustrations—all things that potentially detract from “pure” literacy but serve to make kids more interested in reading. The researchers also note that enhanced ebooks can be done well and done poorly: the right kinds of interactivity, actually relating to the narrative, can be far less distracting and maybe even beneficial—it’s the unnecessary ornamentation that is the core problem. That’s not unlike any form of entertainment, even for adults: just see debates about the use of 3D in movies for an example.

So what we actually have here is a pretty interesting study that sheds some light on the way kids interact with enhanced reading material while refraining from taking any extreme positions on the technology. Every newspaper headline writer just fell asleep while reading that sentence.

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Comments on “Techno-Panic Headlines: 'Enhanced Ebooks Are Bad For Children'”

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Anonymous Monkey (profile) says:

The whole reason for that title...

… was the fact that it caught the eye, as a sensationalistic fish hook. It’s really sad that the media does this, especially when the headline doesn’t agree with the story itself. It actually frustrates people, and lowers their trust in that media outlet. Having a good, thought-out title for a piece can catch interest just as well as, if not better than, one made to be sensational.

The study itself is interesting, as it admitted there are more reasons for reading than just learning and comprehension.

Androgynous Cowherd says:

New Study Shows Moral Panics Harmful to Children!!!!1!

New Study Shows Moral Panics Harmful to Children!!!!1!

So far only preliminary results are available, but the following are clear:

* Moral panics and grandstanding take attention and taxpayer dollars away from more productive government activities, including the provision of education and children’s services.

* Moral panics contribute to an “atmosphere of fear” that may be damaging to young psyches. In particular, the study links chronic exposure to a fearful milieu in youth with proneness to depression later in life.

* Moral panics induce counterproductive parental actions that stunt childrens’ growth and learning, such as limiting or preventing their access to the Internet, and actions that damage the bond of trust, such as invading their privacy. Damaging the bond of trust, in turn, damages the relationship between a child and the teachers that will most consistently be in their lives. Techno-panics are particularly pernicious in inducing counterproductive parental actions but all moral panics are at least somewhat deleterious.

* Moral panics occasionally spur bad legislation, which occasionally even passes, and infrequently even fails to subsequently be struck down by courts. These particular kinds of bad legislation invariably tend to hinder innovation in technical fields, delaying the advancement of, among other things, educational and informational tools in the classroom.

* There are also signs of a possible link between learning during one’s formative years, through undeniable evidence, that one’s elected representatives are all, no matter who one votes for, either complete idiots or corrupt twits more concerned with keeping up a superficial appearance of doing something useful than with actually achieving policy goals that are in the public interest, and depression later in life.

Therefore we must outlaw the fomenting of moral panics and associated political grandstanding.

For the sake of the children.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: New Study Shows Moral Panics Harmful to Children!!!!1!

… …
the part that makes it hard to describe this is that it’s actually dead on.

(that said, i seem to recall a study a while back that did indicate that tvs, computer monitors, and the like actually did cause issues with small children’s development, and pre-teens usage should be very limited (an hour a day, tops, from memory) for similar reasons. this wasn’t a case against the tech though, it was a developmental issue which stopped being relevant by the time they were teens. seemed to be on the up and up.)

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Oh my goodness! Oh my gosh!!!!

Imagine all the damage done by my growing up on TinTin books, various forms of 1950s style “where’s waldo” stuff, Dick and Jane, lots of books with pictures of the people in quaint native dress in South Carolina and Looney Tunes!

Now think of how much worse it would have been if enhanced ebooks had been added to that mix!

Oh, you mean nothing happened to me at all from all of this any worse than my going out, playing in the mud and sometimes accidentally swallowing some, being taken for walks by the family dog and discovering the wonderful, if slimy taste of uncooked earthworms?

But the headline writer said it did and that I’ve been screwed for life by it all! There goes all my faith in the media and it’s ability to tell me the truth. Oh heck.

Guess, I’m not bleeding enough. I’ll be back in time for the late news with that corrected. Promise!

Anonymous Coward says:

Also poor science

They are not really interpreting these analyses right.

It looks much more like the difference is that the PARENT is doing things differently, not the kid. Until you remove that effect, you really can’t say anything about what the ebook is doing.

The actual findings they report (in the ANOVAs at the bottom), shows that parents refer more to the books features and point to the book less. The kids seem to be taking the cues from the parents. and doing the same.

In other words, the parents pay more attention to the fancier/newer formats, so the kids do, too. Um… How does that even relate to the article again?

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Mathematics Instead of Reading.

In the first place, small children are very, very hard on toys, and e-readers are still much too expensive to be treated as expendable. The non-subsidized, full-market price for an e-reader seems to be several hundred dollars. Paperbacks are highly practical for children. Assuming you drive a hard bargain with the publisher, via some kind of subscription service, several hundred dollars will get you a couple of hundred paperback books, or the equivalent in magazines, encyclopedias, etc., enough to have a book scattered on every horizontal surface in the house. An e-book would have to have an overwhelming advantage to overcome paperback books’ cheapness.

I’m not really sure what e-readers are good for, as distinct from computers of the same degree of size and portability. Most of the enthusiasts of e-readers seem to be people of, um, limited literacy. They want to carry a thousand books around with them, and read none of them, in the belief that this will somehow transform them into scholars. The conditions under which things need to be highly portable are, broadly speaking, those conditions under which it is difficult to concentrate deeply. You can rarely concentrate while riding on public transportation, because you need to be alert to where your stop is, and you cannot just go unaware of your surroundings for fifteen minutes or so. People who urgently want to carry a thousand books around with them are not willing to make the arrangements to have an hour of quiet time every day, and this is the real reason why they do not read. Many of them are actually afraid of silence.

What computers are good for is introducing systems of formal reasoning, such as mathematics. This is because, in terms of very simply logical systems, such as chess or elementary mathematics, the computer has mentality. It can reason. It can play chess by considering what might happen if it made such and such a move, using the strategy of the Minimax algorithm. You can develop software which “plays” against the user, forcing him to practice formal reasoning. But, again, this is best done with a comparatively inexpensive notebook computer, such as the “One Per Child.”

TimothyAWiseman (profile) says:

they seem great to me

I have a 6 year old, a 3 year old, and an infant. Personally, I love some of the enhanced e-books available on the Ipad for my 3 year old (and even tolerate some for my 6 year old).

They cannot ever replace having me or my wife actually read to my young girl, and no one should use them to replace actually spending time reading to their children and teaching them to read. But with that said, they do not make a good supplement that is always available and still better for her than watching TV.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Oddly enough, just this morning I was reading a quote that George Takei shared on his FB.

?We?ve bought into the idea that education is about training and ?success?, defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers. A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.?
― Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

I think it particularly appropriate. Nice synchronicity.

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