Ready To Learn Transmedia Demonstration Station 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 purpose of this context study by Education Development Center, Inc., (EDC) and SRI International (SRI) is to better understand how national and local public media organizations, together with their local partners, are implementing educational outreach activities in communities across the country where children, educators, and families are using PBS KIDS transmedia content. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education created the Ready To Learn Transmedia Demonstration Stations program to enhance early learning opportunities for children from low-income families, in part by providing training and support for their families, teachers, and other adult caregivers such as children’s librarians and afterschool providers. This study aims to observe and assess the successes and challenges faced by a sample of community outreach programs being developed and implemented by stations and their partners under Ready To Learn.

After reviewing the proposals and plans for all participating plublic media stations in winter 2012, EDC and SRI conducted studies of five of the 11 stations selected by CPB and PBS to participate in the Transmedia Demonstration Stations program. With these five stations, we conducted telephone interviews with the staff charged with leading and carrying out Ready To Learn outreach work. We also conducted interviews with several of Ready To Learn’s national partners and with CPB and PBS project leaders to document their understanding, expectations, and goals for the program. Based on phone interviews, station implementation schedules, and close consultation with CPB, we selected three stations to be studied more deeply and featured in the final phase of the study, with 2- to 3-day site visits to those stations. During these visits, we interviewed station staff involved in CPB-PBS Ready To Learn work, station leaders, and staff and leaders at partner organizations. We also observed Ready To Learn outreach and dissemination events. In total, we conducted 30 interviews and eight hour-long program observations.

• Stations collaborated with many different partners to provide Ready To Learn programs and services to children from low-income families and the adults who care for them.
• Stations organized their projects so they acted as supporters and organizers for their partners, often working jointly with partners to provide services to children and families.

• Station partners offered two types of programs for children: those with higher structure and adult mediation, and those that were more casual and free-play oriented that allowed children to create their own experiences.
• Study stations and their partners believed that adult engagement would enhance benefits for children and families as a whole.
• Stations worked successfully with some elementary and preschool teachers, though the timing and duration of the contract and restrictions on teachers’ schedules made it difficult to collaborate as much or as well as originally envisioned.

• Reflecting on their PBS KIDS transmedia outreach activities, stations and their partners saw high excitement and lasting enthusiasm as evidence of activities’ value.
• Station staff believed children were developing specific math and literacy skills; likewise children’s attitudes and behavior improved after engaging in outreach activities.
• Stations and their partners appreciated the “packaged” supplementary materials provided by producers of The Electric Company and FETCH! With Ruff Ruffman because they were engaging to children, required few adaptations, and were of high quality.
• Some stations and their partners had positive responses to the math focus of the current PBS KIDS transmedia games, and some favored a continued commitment to literacy.