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App-based Learning for Kindergarten Children at Home

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Learning4Kids (App-based Learning for Kindergarten Children at Home)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2020-08-31

Home Learning Environment
Early experience with mathematics and literacy are closely associated with greater gains in academic outcomes. A very important setting to advance early mathematical and linguistic competencies is the home learning environment in which parents can support their children’s learning before the start of their formal education.

Digital Learning Environment
Nowadays, children have access to several different digital devices such as smartphones or tablets at home, at the Kindergarten or in public. Developing new educational tools and applications (apps) that are easily accessible, engaging and informative at the same time can support children’s learning.
In this context, the “Learning4Kids” project focuses on children’s literacy and numeracy development within the Home Learning Environment, specifically, home learning that is based on digital tools and apps to improve the quality of home literacy learning and home numeracy learning. Here, the intervention is based on developing and improving online learning apps and learning games for children, preparing important information about the home learning environment for their parents, and making the apps available to children and their families with a tablet study.

The Present Study
The study uses novel learning apps that are developed for young children to train and facilitate their language and numeracy skills at home. We aim to collect data from two different samples of four-year-old children and their families in a longitudinal study design across a four-year period. In total, about 500 families will participate (i.e. cohort 1: 190, cohort 2: 310). Families will be randomly assigned to one of two intervention or one of two control groups. The intervention groups receive tablets with literacy and numeracy apps in counterbalanced order and swap apps in the second phase of the intervention. One control group will receive tablets with control apps that focus on the training of general cognitive abilities, but not on literacy and numeracy games. The other control group will receive no intervention.
Ethics approval
For all research activities in this project, ethics is an integral part 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 a 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 with the relevant independent expertise to monitor the ethical concerns in this project was appointed. She has provided, and continues to provide her advice on all relevant aspects of the study.

Recruitment, consent forms, surveys, and assessment tools:
The first cohort of our sample consists of N = 190 children with their families. Here, N = 60 families were randomly assigned to each of the experimental groups. In addition, N = 35 families were randomly assigned to each of the control groups with and without tablets.
The consent form and plain language statements were prepared addressing all relevant information about the project. All parental documents including the parental survey 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, and Italian.
In addition, a teacher survey was developed that focussed on children’s behaviour and assessment tools were selected and prepared to accurately assess literacy, numeracy, and more general cognitive competencies of children. A team of researchers and research assistants were trained and conducted the first assessments.

Tablets, server system, and tablet apps:
Four hundred ten Android tablets (Samsung TabA 2019) were ordered and prepared to be used in Learning4Kids. 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.
To conduct the study, several apps that are targeting literacy, numeracy and general cognitive skills had to be developed or identified in the play store for the Learning4Kids project. The quality of each app was checked by Learning4Kids staff to ensure that the apps are child friendly, engaging and are designed to expedite young children’s learning.

Parental guidelines, tips, books, and music:
Parental guidelines and tips for parents were prepared. The parental information for the literacy group focussed on five early literacy topics, whereas the parental information for the numeracy group focussed on five early numeracy topics. The control group received information about topics on general child development. Every month, a new parental information was provided and within each of the parental information documents, also three different scientific studies or theories were described in an easy-to-understand language. In addition, parents received easy-to-apply tips according to the topic of the parental information for their everyday interaction with their child weekly.
In addition to the learning apps, the tablets contain also e-books, audiobooks, interactive books, and music. For this purpose, e-books, audiobooks and interactive books were selected carefully in collaboration with the book authors. All groups received different material depending on their assigned group.
Mobile sensing system
Assessment of the app usage is conducted through so-called mobile sensing. Here, an app on the tablet monitors its usage, collects the relevant data and provides it for be used in later analyses. This a new 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 Here, the total usage times are also provided.

Server system
In addition to a content server, a new server system had to be developed that assigns the tablet to a certain intervention week in which a predefined set of apps and information is available for the family on the tablet. Both the steering server and 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
About forty-five gaming apps were developed and programmed for Learning4Kids project from various developers and informatics students. These apps train children’s competencies accordingly to their assigned group. In addition, another app was developed as a reward system considering children’s usage of the tablet.

Expected results until the end of the project
Learning4Kids already achieved to deliver state of art technology and apps with a tablet intervention to almost 200 hundred families. In the next phase of the project, 300 hundred more families will be added to the study. We expect that learning apps targeting academic skills in the intervention group will improve children’s linguistic and mathematic skills when compared to the children in the control groups. By using new technologies like mobile sensing and educational tablet apps, we can provide new educational methods and a new approach in educational science.
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