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Apples, to Apples, to Oranges?

A recent study by researchers at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center observed families reading printed books, basic e-books, which are essentially print books put into a digital format with minimal features like highlighting text and audio narration, and enhanced e-books, which feature more interactive multimedia options like games, videos and interactive animations.  When kids were asked one plot question for each story, (i.e., “Why did x do y?”), there was no difference between the print book readers and the enhanced e-book readers. The difference found was between the ways parent-child pairs interacted with print, basic and enhanced formats. The enhanced format tended to elicit less content related interaction (e.g. elaborating on the picture) and more non-content related interaction (e.g. "Don't touch that yet") than the print and basic formats, which may have affected how much the children recalled from the story.

The implications of the study for ebook designers are that too much interactivity can hinder parent/child conversation and their focus on story content. But I see a problem with the design of the experiment, those "distractive" elements - the interactions make the book different from the "standard" print (paper or electronic). What was missing was watching what happens when you use an enhanced print book, one with interactive multimedia options - perhaps something as common as an interactive pop-up book - I've seen many a child focused on the pop-up elements versus the story, and with parents similar statements about the interactive elements.  You shouldn't just compare an enhanced book to a non-enhanced book and watch what happens, things are different and so you should expect differences. t would have been nice to see an interactive print book included. But, I do agree with them that publishers and parents should think about the use of the book as they design and choose books for children. Just because you can add something to an ebook, doesn't mean you should - that's just good design.


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