WGBH Launches Research-Driven Digital Production Team for Early Learners

WGBH, EDC, SRI International Conduct Research on Preschool Tablet Use to Develop Series of "Next Generation Preschool Math" Mobile Applications

First 8 Studios Launched as Pillar of WGBH's Focus on 0-8 Content Production

Oct 30, 2014, 11:15 ET from WGBH

BOSTON, Oct. 30, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Four and a half years after the introduction of the iPad, many parents, caregivers and educators still struggle with how to integrate technology and media into their children's lives amidst concerns that uninterrupted passive screen time can be detrimental to a child's development. To address this familiar struggle, WGBH today officially launched First 8 Studios at WGBH, a digital-first educational production team. The new unit uses original, iterative research to develop digital and tablet-based content and off-screen supplemental materials for preschoolers and early learners. The unit's content leverages the benefits of established and emerging technology and reinforces interactive and social learning.

As part of the launch, First 8 Studios at WGBH debuted today its first Early Math with Gracie and FriendsTM app in the Apple App Store. "Gracie & Friends Birthday Café", is the first of eight learning apps in the series to be released over the next several months.

"Over 40 years ago, WGBH was one of the pioneering public television stations to embrace the power of broadcast to deliver educational content to preschool children. First 8 Studios at WGBH builds on that tradition and brings decades of educational leadership and the trust of public media to a new digital platform," said Brigid Sullivan, WGBH's vice president of children's and educational productions. "With mobile and tablet technology becoming more and more commonplace in all American homes, we are proud to again be at the vanguard of producers using proven, evidence-based practices to develop digital content built specifically to enhance preschoolers' interactive learning."

The First 8 Studios at WGBH approach is unique because it utilizes design-based research, which involves teachers and learning scientists throughout the development process. Early Math with Gracie & Friends is based on findings from the National Science Foundation-funded "Next Generation Preschool Math" (NGPM) research project – a four-year study that focuses on the integration of digital content in preschool classrooms. The NGPM project offers the first substantive examination of the value tablets and other mobile technology can offer in early learning environments. WGBH partnered with the Education Development Center (EDC) and SRI International on the NGPM project. WGBH, EDC and SRI International all played vital roles to develop the Gracie and Friends apps, build a complementary curriculum that integrates the technology with 46 original hands-on and traditional classroom activities, and create a digital Teacher's Guide that will be released in early 2015.

"First 8 Studios at WGBH is a media-driven initiative that leverages cutting-edge research to build digital content for the youngest learners that is both engaging and interactive," said WGBH executive producer Christine Zanchi, who led development of the Gracie & Friends app series. "Gracie & Friends is our first mobile app series to emerge from gold-standard educational research. With our partners, we are building the foundation for early learning with technology, combining mobile curricula that aligns with standards as well as on-demand digital professional development resources for educators."

While other developers use research to monitor how children use applications, the First 8 Studios at WGBH development process is pioneering a simultaneously iterative process that incorporates learning science into its digital and curriculum development. Findings from the NGPM research provide preliminary evidence that the use of NGPM materials in preschools improves preschool children's understanding of the targeted content and supports First 8 Studios at WGBH and the research team's approach of selectively integrating tablet-based games into the preschool learning environment.

"By building on years of findings from learning sciences and conducting our own rigorous research, the NGPM project has shown that it is possible to create high-quality learning apps that young children find fun, and that have evidence of increased learning," said Phil Vahey, SRI International's director of mathematics learning systems.

"Technology is becoming more and more prevalent, as the tools become smaller, more affordable, and include touch-screen technology," said Ashley Lewis Presser, EDC's senior research associate "The key is being able to leverage the benefits of tablets in ways that remain developmentally appropriate for fostering young children's learning, developing other skills such as collaboration, and doing all this in a fun and engaging manner."

First 8 Studios at WGBH is also currently working on a collection of digital resources for parents of 0-3 year olds that will be developed in partnership with child development experts from the Boston Medical Center.

WGBH, the leading producer of television and digital content for PBS and PBS.org, is uniquely positioned to launch this ambitious, innovative effort. WGBH has produced nearly a dozen iconic children's educational programs for public television, including both incarnations of Zoom, Curious George, Arthur and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.

Last spring, WGBH released its first-ever all-digital production. Plum Landing, an interactive digital series that teaches environmental science to 6- to 9-year-olds, has been recognized for its innovative efforts to gather user-generated content from children while maintaining full compliance with child privacy laws.

For more information about First 8 Studios at WGBH, visit first8studios.org.

About WGBH
WGBH Boston is America's preeminent public broadcaster and the largest producer of PBS content for TV and the Web. Television channels include WGBH 2, WGBX 44, and the digital channels World and Create. WGBH Radio serves listeners across New England with 89.7 WGBH, Boston's Local NPR®; 99.5 WCRB; and WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR® Station. Find more information at wgbh.org.

About EDC
Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), designs, implements, and evaluates programs to improve education, health, and economic opportunity worldwide. EDC manages 200 projects in 30 countries. EDC's Center for Children and Technology (CCT) investigates the roles technology can play to improve teaching and learning. Visit www.edc.org and www.cct.edc.org to learn more.

About SRI International
Innovations from SRI International have created new industries, billions of dollars of marketplace value, and lasting benefits to society—touching our lives every day. SRI, a nonprofit research and development institute based in Silicon Valley, brings its innovations to the marketplace through technology licensing, new products, and spin-off ventures. Government and business clients come to SRI for pioneering R&D and solutions in computing and communications, chemistry and materials, education, energy, health and pharmaceuticals, national defense, robotics, sensing, and more. Visit SRI's website and Timeline of Innovation to learn more about SRI.

Media Contacts
Michael Raia – WGBH Media Relations

Colleen Flynn – WGBH Media Relations

Alison Cohen- EDC

Dina Basin – SRI International

Photo - http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20141030/155544