Researchers Use Mobile Technology, Forge Partnerships To Study Home Literacy Efforts

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa .– Scientists at Penn State combine their data science skills and innovative approaches to mobile technology with their ability to forge community partnerships to find ways to support families in their home literacy efforts.

The research team is currently partnering with The Shadow Project on a study to analyze possible challenges parents may face when trying to create a positive home literacy environment. The Shadow Project is a 501c3 non-profit organization that supports children with special needs by providing parents, special education teachers and children with additional programs, services and materials.

According to the researchers, children who grow up in homes with a positive family environment, where books are available, and whose parents encourage reading, tend to develop advanced thinking skills that increase their chances of success in school. However, because it is difficult to collect data over long periods of time at home, researchers often lack precise data on the impact of daily fluctuations in parenting and family characteristics on home literacy environments.

While it is important to ensure access to reading materials at home, other important resources, such as parents’ time and energy, are often overlooked. Researchers therefore need to access a much deeper level of detail on the economic, emotional and physical state of parents in order to better inform literacy programs and interventions.

Portable electronic devices and applications can be an ideal tool for researchers to collect information in such difficult-to-study environments and to collect data to understand the neglected needs of parents, which can vary widely from household to household. ‘another, said Timothy R. Brick, associate professor of human development and family studies and co-hire at the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences, Penn State.

“Not all parents are the same and not all parents have the same needs,” said The Brick. “There are many interventions that encourage parents to read with their children. But if we understand what influences parents’ reading practices with their children, perhaps we could improve some of these approaches. For example, we find that the time that parents believe has influenced the time they spend with their children in literacy activities, we may need to consider ways to help parents manage their time.

Penn State researchers are working with The Shadow Project to analyze possible challenges parents may face when trying to create a positive home literacy environment. The Shadow Project is a non-profit organization that supports families by providing parents, special education teachers and children with additional programs, services and materials.

Specifically, parents will use the Wear-IT app, developed by The Brick’s real-time science lab, to more easily record their reading habits, emotions and activities throughout the day. It will also help researchers more easily collect and analyze this important information.

Wear-IT is a science-based data collection app that uses wearable devices, such as smartphones, Fitbits, or Apple watches, according to Kyle Husmann, a doctoral student in human development and family studies, who is working with The Brick on the project.

The system allows researchers to collect information while people go about their daily business. Collecting data in everyday places and at normal times – what scientists call ecologically valid environments – offers researchers the ability to collect information in real time, while avoiding the drawbacks of laboratory studies, which may be uncomfortable for study participants and possibly affect their participation in studies. For scientists, these problems can lead to results that do not reflect real world conditions.

Husmann said the researchers plan to ask parents questions about factors that seem to help or hinder their ability to influence children’s reading habits. Some of these questions are better suited to be answered by parents at home and in the moment, he added.

“We ask parents about aspects of home literacy activities, the activities they did with their child during the day, whether it was reading with their child or listening to an audiobook or whatever. that relates to literacy, ”said Husmann. “But, we also ask parents how they feel in terms of their confidence in their parenting role, and if they feel they are doing a good job and have the skills to help their children read. And then we also ask if the parent has had enough time and if he feels overwhelmed with finances, or if he feels he has the basic necessities in life.

By collecting and analyzing more information under realistic conditions and ways, The Brick said the ultimate goal is to design interventions that help parents.

“It’s really important to be able to go in and try to understand on a day-to-day basis, for an individual, what are the causes and determinants of these activities, rather than just looking at a single snapshot,” said The Brick. “And the reason this is so important is that at the end of the day what we’re trying to do is design interventions that can provide the support that every parent actually needs and to help provide positive changes in people’s lives. “

The shadow project

The team recruited 15 parents of children with special needs from the Shadow Project network of approximately 30 K-8 public schools. The Shadow Project was an ideal collaborator for this project because of its unique position as a community resource that supports both parents and teachers. Sharon Juenemann, executive director of The Shadow Project, said their partnership with Penn State on this study would provide important information to help them better support parents.

“Parents have always been critical advocates for the learning needs of their children in special education,” Juenemann said. “And over the past year, distance learning has inspired many families to take on the role of teacher, like never before. I am delighted to partner with Penn State on this study to understand what caregivers’ experiences, so the Shadow Project’s programs remain focused on what children and families in our community experience on a daily basis.

Husmann added: “In this particular study that we are doing with the Shadow Project, we are examining home literacy activities and their connection to parents’ sense of self-efficacy and the available resources that are available to them.

Parents will be able to answer researchers’ questions when it suits them, which is an essential part of collecting complete, valid and reliable information.

“It’s ironic to ask a parent how much time they have to spend reading with their kids by asking them to take a long paper survey,” said The Brick. “The key is, for us, to design the study so that we can minimize the burden it places on participants.”

Kathryn Stevenson, a private educational research consultant and member of the Shadow Project’s Community Advisory Board, helped the research team adapt existing measures of family environment for literacy, parenting self-efficacy, and parenting resources. in short low load surveys that could be completed on a daily basis via the Wear-IT mobile app.

“This study is particularly exciting because it allows us to capture the ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’ of parents, and better quantify the factors associated with each,” Stevenson said. “Parents can go through many ups and downs in the normal course of life, and their feelings and experiences change from day to day and week to week. Just asking a parent ‘what’s going on? happening ”or“ how are you ”just once doesn’t always give you a clear picture of what parents are going through or what they need. a more comprehensive understanding. Wear-IT helps us do this in a practical way that does not overwhelm parents. This research can guide the design of programs and resources that support parents by improving or increasing the frequency of their ” good days ”, or by reducing the frequency or impact of bad days.

Wear-IT and beyond

Researchers are eager to explore the possibilities of mobile technology not only to collect data in hard-to-monitor spaces and times, but also to one day implement two-way interactive treatments and interventions. The Brick said, for example, parents could receive immediate feedback on home literacy efforts – and even receive individualized feedback.

“When scientists propose an intervention to a group of people, the average effect of that intervention is that it has a positive influence on people’s lives, but that does not mean that everyone necessarily benefits from the intervention. special, ”said The Brick. “I think anyone with a kid would recognize like, ‘Hey, you know, some things work for my kid, and some things don’t work for my kid.’ This type of research allows us to ask, “Why is this intervention – or why is this intervention not working for this particular person?” “

Wear-IT is also used to study a range of other research questions and to develop new interventions on topics ranging from sleep health to addiction recovery.


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