PBS KIDS Transmedia Suites Gaming Study

September 1, 2012

The CPB-PBS Ready To Learn initiative, funded by the U. S. Department of Education, brings engaging, high-quality media to young children who may be at risk for academic difficulties due to economic and social disadvantages. The initiative aims to deliver early mathematics and literacy resources on new and emerging digital platforms such as tablet computers, interactive whiteboards, and smartphones, as well as better-established technologies such as computers, video displays, and gaming consoles, and to create learning experiences that leverage the unique capabilities of these various technology platforms.

The 2012 PBS KIDS Transmedia Suites Gaming Study is an important part of the multiyear Ready To Learn (RTL) summative evaluation initiative by Education Development Center, Inc., (EDC) and SRI International (SRI) for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The study explored student engagement in transmedia gaming by examining contexts of use and analyzing patterns of use during game play by children. Building on ongoing gaming research in the education community as well as within prior Ready To Learn studies, we investigated how children and educators made use of PBS KIDS transmedia designed to support learning across a range of subject areas, including mathematics, language and literacy, and science.

The study was designed to take advantage of the opportunity to observe children and educators working with PBS KIDS transmedia over time. Researchers made two visits to two selected demonstration station sites over a period of several weeks and collected observation and interview data during both visits. We visited a variety of institutional settings, including summer learning programs, a city park, and community-based organizations.

The study used qualitative data-collection methods including observations and interviews with two different target populations: educators and parents/caregivers. In addition, brief informal interviews with children were incorporated during observation periods.

Data collection took place in two phases in order to allow for a period of time to pass during which children and educators working with them would have time to become familiar with specific PBS KIDS transmedia properties and also to allow for the development of a comfort level with the technology.

Findings from the study are organized into five sections: (1) children’s PBS KIDS transmedia experiences in partner settings, (2) settings’ influence on children’s PBS KIDS transmedia
experiences, (3) children’s experiences with PBS KIDS transmedia content, (4) changes in children’s use of PBS KIDS transmedia, and (5) educators’ approach to PBS KIDS transmedia.
Key findings are as follows:

• Children perceived PBS KIDS transmedia and digital games to be fun and engaging,
though they usually could not identify the learning content within a game and may
have needed adult facilitation to recognize the learning goals embedded in a
transmedia game.

• The game play environment, including technical supports and logistics, played a
substantial role in determining the kind of experience children had with PBS KIDS
transmedia. Settings where adult support and engagement was minimal allowed
children free rein, and this factor may have resulted in minimal time spent on a
specific game or task. Settings where adults were engaged with children and
addressed the game content were more likely to support prolonged focus on a
particular game activity and more likely to result in children understanding the
learning goals of a game.

• Parents and educators reported that PBS KIDS transmedia games from PBS’s KIDS Lab
provided both educational content and an opportunity to practice 21st-century skills.
Children made connections to the characters and narratives within the games, and
these served to support engagement.

• PBS KIDS transmedia game design can encourage sustained engagement by
providing increased challenges as play proceeds and by facilitating children’s log-in
ability so that each return to a game does not require a return to the game’s first level
of play.

• Different social and technical accommodations are needed in PBS KIDS transmedia
game environments to successfully support different levels of development in
children’s cognitive, social, and motor skills.