When Children’s E-Reading Really Gets Educational

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

We published a rather lengthy article today on the new Ruckus Reader technology from Ruckus Media Group. We tried to explain all the details of the story, including what we think is the really significant wrinkle: Ruckus thinks it’s solved the children’s book app discovery problem.

Once a child is reading a book app powered by the Ruckus technology, they are in an environment where they are offered other age-appropriate book apps — even if those apps aren’t produced or affiliated with the publisher of the original app. Perhaps a scary thought for publishers that want readers to engage with only their content, but the Ruckus execs told me that their partners — Hasbro, Crayola, for instance — are comfortable with it.

Other media reports focused on the educational element of the reader. While I find that interesting, I didn’t think it was the lead of the story because there are so many unanswered questions when it comes to kids learning on electronic devices — and while Ruckus may someday answer those questions, I don’t think they’re answered today.

For the story, I spoke with Alison Bryant, the president and founder of Play Science, a New York-based research, consulting and design firm focused on play and educational experiences. Play Science helped Ruckus develop its educational experience.

Bryant is incredibly sharp and seems to be up on the latest when it comes to e-reading and learning. She is associate editor of the quarterly Journal of Children and Media; she was also a professor of communications, specializing in kids and media at Indiana University and, at one time, head of digital research at Nickelodeon.

She assured me that the Ruckus educational program — everything from the curriculum the books follow, to the metrics the dashboard measures, to the user experience of the reader — is based on the latest research. She was aware of the ground-breaking Sesame Workshop studies we reported on in January and works closely with Sesame and other bigs in the kids reading game.

Some of the findings in those studies, like that interactivity in enhanced e-books takes away from learning, were used in developing the Ruckus technology.

“We know that we don’t want to take engagement off of the reading itself,” said Bryant. “It’s about enhancing the reading material and not taking away. In the Sesame studies and a lot of the early apps and enhanced e-books, the interactivity took away from the reading.”

The problem, I suppose, is that it’s very early days when it comes to kids reading and learning on electronic devices, so it’s hard to know if that next step that Ruckus is taking, reacting to the first round of research, is the right step.

Still, I applaud the folks at Ruckus for trying and for basing their technology on the latest research. It’s not certain that this technology is the right technology for most parents or students. What is certain is that Ruckus is on a path to find out what the right technology is. I’ll be staying tuned and keeping you posted.


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