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Research: Video Chats Can Help Foster Learning for Preschoolers

As virus cases surge, and schools yo-yo between in-person and remote models, educators, along with other experts in the field, are confronting a perplexing dilemma: Can a quality preschool education be conducted online when overwhelming evidence suggests that face-to-face learning is the best option for this age group?

“For many of us in the field, when we hear ‘online’ and ‘preschool’ used together, we think it’s an oxymoron,” says Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, an early childhood expert and psychology professor who directs the Infant Language Laboratory at Temple University in Philadelphia. But the constraints of the pandemic present a new set of considerations—namely the safety of educators and families, some of whom are not yet ready to consider in-person schooling.

Learning and Video

Not all screen time is equal. When it comes to learning, there is a big difference between attending a class on Zoom, watching a segment on Sesame Street and playing video games that provide limited educational value. The challenge for educators is how to structure the limited amounts of screen time they do get with young students to maximize learning.

In research conducted in Hirsch-Pasek’s lab, preschoolers who read an ebook with parents understood more than other children who read alone or listened to an audio narration, suggesting that students learn more from trusted adults who can help contextualize material. “There’s an emotional bond,” Hirsch-Pasek says. “Parents allow you to go beyond the covers of the book.”

Naturally, one challenge for remote educators is replicating these strong emotional bonds when they may have never even met their students in person.

The good news is that research has shown that preschoolers can learn effectively from video chat over platforms like Zoom, according to Rachel Barr, a professor of psychology at Georgetown University and director of the Georgetown Early Learning Project.

A recent research brief co-authored by Barr for the early-childhood nonprofit Zero to Three cites a trove of studies showing that video chat with adults helps toddlers learn to imitate new actions, locate objects in the real world and learn new vocabulary. In one study, children as young as 17 months recognized a researcher they had only met over video chat and remembered more of what they’d learned than kids who watched pre-recorded videos of the same researcher teaching the same skills—implying that the back-and-forth connection of video chat can foster the emotional bonds necessary for meaningful learning to take place.

All that’s to say, for young students, having the camera on during online preschool can make a big difference.  However, research is less clear about how kids deal with large galleries of faces on screen, which might overload them with sensory information, and Barr suggests focusing the screen on a single person whenever possible with younger kids.

Learning Transfer

The end is key because while young children do learn from interactions in video chat, they may not always transfer that learning to real-world situations. In physical classrooms that’s less of a problem, as teachers can show students pictures and objects to facilitate those connections. But in the online world, it often requires an extra step. If they’re learning about how leaves change colors, teachers might display a variety of leaves on screen and crunch them with their fingers before asking parents to take their kids outside and find leaves of their own to bring back.

Excerpted from “Can You Provide a Quality Preschool Education Over Zoom?” in EdSurge. Read the full article online.

Source: EdSurge | Can You Provide a Quality Preschool Education Over Zoom?, https://www.edsurge.com/news/2021-01-19-can-you-provide-a-quality-preschool-education-over-zoom | © 2021 EdSurge Inc.

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