Steinhardt Researchers Awarded $1 Million to Study Educational Videos

The Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, has awarded the Steinhardt School more than $1 million to study educational videos that aim to help young children with vocabulary development.

Research shows that children’s vocabulary knowledge is directly related to their reading achievement and literacy skills. In fact, the size of a child’s vocabulary at the end of first grade is a significant predictor of high school literacy skills.

While some children begin school with sizable vocabularies, others have much more limited knowledge. Differences in vocabulary are particularly profound among children from different socioeconomic groups.

“These differences in vocabulary persist throughout schooling, are linked to later reading skills, and may contribute to the ever-widening achievement gap,” said Susan B. Neuman, chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s principal investigator.

Educational videos may help low-income preschoolers learn new vocabulary, but researchers stress that media must be evaluated to ensure that programs actually foster literacy development in children. In a pilot study, Neuman and her colleagues analyzed popular educational DVDs for preschoolers that included both educational and entertaining content. They found that the prevalence of vocabulary teaching moments varied considerably across the DVDs, suggesting that educational videos could vary in their ability to teach vocabulary.

“Despite their potential, not all educational media are created equal,” Neuman said.

The three-year IES grant, which begins Sept. 1, 2015, will fund several studies exploring how preschoolers’ vocabulary development and language comprehension are influenced by educational videos. The studies will take place in preschools in low-income Brooklyn neighborhoods.

The researchers will use a variety of methods, including eye-tracking technology to examine children’s visual attention and viewing behaviors when exposed to educational videos. The studies will define the features of educational media that support vocabulary development and language comprehension, establish how these features influence children’s engagement with educational media, and determine the extent to which manipulating these features supports vocabulary development and comprehension skills.

“By identifying the factors associated with educational media and determining the influence of these factors on children’s vocabulary and learning outcomes, our research will serve as an important step for interventions aimed at closing the achievement gap,” said Neuman.

Peter Halpin, assistant professor of applied statistics at NYU Steinhardt, will serve as co-investigator, along with collaborators from West Texas A&M University.

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