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App-based Learning for Kindergarten Children at Home

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Learning4Kids (App-based Learning for Kindergarten Children at Home)

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2022-02-28

Early competencies in mathematics and literacy are closely associated with greater gains later in academic outcomes. Nowadays, children have access to several different digital devices such as smartphones or tablets at home. Consequently, developing new educational tools and applications (apps) may support children’s early learning.

The Present Study
The “Learning4Kids” project focuses on children’s literacy and numeracy development within the Home Learning Environment, specifically, home learning that is based on meaningful learning apps. The intervention is based on developing and improving online learning apps and games for children, preparing important information about the home learning environment for their parents, and making the apps and information available to children and their families with a tablet study.
We collected data from two different cohorts of four-year-old children and their families which will continue as a longitudinal study until 2025. In total, 500 families participated in the study. Families have been randomly assigned to one of two intervention or one of two control groups. The intervention groups received tablets with literacy and numeracy apps in counterbalanced order and swapped the apps in the second phase of the intervention. One control group received tablets with control apps focusing on the training of general cognitive, but not literacy and numeracy competencies. The other control group received no intervention at all and just participated in the assessments.
Ethics approval
Ethics is an integral part of this study from beginning to end. In addition to the approval by the European Research Council Executive Agency, the thorough ethical evaluation also included ethical evaluation and approvals of the project by an ethics committee from the University of Munich, the Department of Education and Sports, Munich, and the Bavarian Ministry of Education. Further, an external ethics advisor provides on-going ethical advice on all relevant aspects of the study.

The first cohort of our sample consists of N = 190 children with their families (so far only 2 families have been dropped out of the study at t2). Here, N = 60 families were randomly assigned to each of the intervention groups. In addition, N = 35 families were randomly assigned to each of the control groups with and without tablets.
The second cohort consists of N = 310 children and their families (no drop out). In this cohort, N= 91 families were randomly assigned to each intervention groups. N= 63 were assigned to tablet-control group and N = 65 were assigned to the control group without tablets.
Consent forms, plain language statements, and parental surveys were translated into several different languages in collaboration with translators and Learning4Kids staff who are native in other languages such as English, Arabic, Russian, Polish, Spanish, Turkish, Farsi, Italian, Vietnamese, and Romanian.
In addition, an educator survey was developed that focussed on evaluating children’s behaviour at the Kindergarten and this survey was sent to the kindergartens attended by study children. Further, a team of researchers and research assistants were trained and conducted the assessments for both cohorts. Currently, data from cohort 1, t3 and from cohort 2, t2 are assessed.

Tablets, server system, and tablet apps:
Four hundred ten Android tablets (Samsung TabA 2019) were prepared to be used in the intervention. Here, a server system with three different servers is used to monitor all the tablets and the individual app usage as well as to monitor the weekly progress of each tablet.
Several apps targeting literacy, numeracy and general cognitive skills were installed into the tablets via the server system. New apps are automatically installed every month via Wi-Fi connection and parents receive weekly tips via the tablet. App usage data is logged at regular intervals for each tablet and synchronized on a regular basis to the backend server.

Parental guidelines, tips, books, and music:
Parental guidelines and tips for parents were provided via the tablet together with the learning apps for children. Every month, a new parental information was installed and within each of these documents, three different scientific studies or theories were described in an easy-to-understand language. Parents also received weekly easy-to-apply tips according to the topic of the parental information.
The tablets also contain e-books, audiobooks, interactive books, and music. For this purpose, these media were carefully selected. Here, all groups received different material depending on their assigned group.
Mobile sensing system
Assessment of the app usage is conducted through mobile sensing technology. Here, a sensing app installed on the tablet monitors its usage, collects the relevant data and sends it via the server system to be used later in statistical analyses. This is a novel technology to be applied in educational psychology. In addition, a feedback system was developed to provide parents with a weekly overview of their usage of learning apps. The feedback is provided via a pdf document that includes an easy-to-understand figure and a written information. The usage data was also used for a reward system. After every 30 minutes of tablet usage, an animal sticker award was given to the child (up to a maximum of 2 stickers per day).

Server system
In addition to the content server, for which we bought a ready-made solution, a new server system had to be developed as a steering tool that assigns any given tablet to a specific intervention week with a predefined set of apps and information and moves the tablets automatically through the different stages of the intervention phase. Both, this steering server and the content server need to interact smoothly as well as with the mobile sensing app server. External and internal IT experts assisted the Learning4Kids team with the setup of this complex server system.

Learning apps
In total, forty-five gaming apps were developed and programmed for the Learning4Kids project from various developers and informatics students. These apps were used in the intervention to train children’s competencies accordingly to their assigned group.

Expected results until the end of the project
Learning4Kids already achieved to deliver state of art technology and apps with a tablet intervention to 300 intervention families and to 100 control group families who also received a tablet. In addition, 100 participating families were randomly assigned to a control group without a tablet. In the next phase of the project, cohort 1 will continue with the school assessments and cohort 2 will start with the second intervention phase and later the school assessments. Cohort 2 is expected to complete the intervention phase by March 2022. Initial analyses with the data of the first intervention phase of cohort 1 indicate that the intervention was successful in supporting children’s learning. We expect that our learning apps targeting academic skills in the intervention group will enhance children’s linguistic and mathematic skills when compared to the children in the control groups and that this advantage should sustain into primary school. By using new technologies like mobile sensing and meaningful educational tablet apps in family interventions, Learning4Kids is able to apply new educational methods and approaches in educational science successfully.
App icon of the reward app
Example for a literacy app
Example for a control app
Official project logo
Example for a numeracy app