What are you currently working on?
Research-wise, I have been working on a few projects centered around children’s learning of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) from media. The main focus has been on my dissertation, which investigates how gender and race are portrayed on STEM-focused educational TV for young children, and how those portrayals can influence young children’s beliefs about who participates in science and math.
I am also the Assistant Editor for the Society for Research in Child Development’s Social Policy Report. We publish quarterly reports on all sorts of issues related to child and family development with a focus on national and international policy. This role has been really interesting for me because I get to read about a wide range of issues facing children and families today, from poverty and social inequality, to cultural variations in parenting practices, and everything in between.
And finally, I’ve just recently been pulled into a collaborative project at Michigan State University, where I’ll be starting as a faculty member next fall. MSU is engaged in an outreach project with the Lansing School District, which involved purchasing tablets for every kindergartener in the district (over 1000 children). The research team that I was just pulled into is trying to design a few studies so that we can take advantage of this moment and hopefully document some of the effects of introducing one-to-one tablet use in the district. We are still in very early stages, but I’m excited to see where that project ends up going!
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
I think the experimental portion of my dissertation will turn out to be one of the most memorable projects of my career. As part of the experiment, I spoke to 5- and 6-year olds about what they want to be when they grow up and who they believe holds various math- and science-related careers. They had absolutely fascinating things to say. Sadly but not surprisingly, many of the children told me that boys do science and not girls. I also learned that to become a doctor, you have to have “strong shoes,” and that the best job in the world is to be a pizza deliverer. In addition to being downright entertaining, it was also a great lesson in how difficult it can be to capture these sorts of ideas and beliefs through quantitative measures, and really made me think hard about how I might reconceptualize the ways I collect and analyze data in the future.
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
Last year I was awarded The Graduate School’s Student Engagement Award at Northwestern, which is an achievement I am very proud of. I’ve been very involved in graduate student life during my time at Northwestern, and it was very rewarding have that work over the years recognized. More than anything, it was such an honor to accept the award in a room full of people who were invested in bettering graduate student life. In a world where it is so easy to be buried in one’s own research, I felt incredibly grateful to be connected to so many people who had invested their time and efforts in building community across the university.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
I would love for us to have a better understanding of what drives children’s media preferences. I often have parents asking me what shows their children should watch or what apps they should play, and while I can usually manage to offer a few of my favorites that I think do a particularly good job of being educational, these tend not to overlap at all with what kids actually want to watch. There are exceptions of course, like Sesame Street and Dora, but overall, it seems that we haven’t quite nailed down the magic recipe for what makes programs both educational and appealing.
What would be your work motto?
I think a motto that encapsulates my work style would be :
I’m not great at saying no to things (a skill I know I’ll need to keep working on as I start my career as a faculty member). But saying yes has opened up a lot of great doors for me. Saying yes to various organizations and leadership positions at Northwestern has led to meet some of the greatest humans I know, people whom I am now lucky enough to call close friends. Saying yes to a variety of different research projects and collaborations (some that felt alarmingly outside of my wheel house at the time) has turned me into a well-rounded researcher, and I truly believe that those experiences are what set me apart and helped me secure faculty position for next year.
Now I recognize that there is an artful balance required here, and I am certainly not suggesting that we all say yes to every opportunity or request that is asked of us… but I do believe that saying yes a little more often than not can bring along some great surprises.
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
As an early scholar, I don’t have so many to choose from, but my favorite so far would have to be the Media Psychology article that came out of my master’s thesis work. As a sub-field of communication, I think we are a bit lacking in research that drives theory production and refinement, so I was very excited to be able to contribute to that relatively small body of work by testing out Sholly Fisch’s Capacity Model. You can check it out here.
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
I would really like to do a project on comprehension models for young children’s television viewing. The primary research question that has guided much of my research is understanding how children learn from educational media. I am really interested in understanding the causal processes and cognitive mechanisms that allow children to learn content that is presented on a screen and transfer it to new contexts.
During my master’s program at OSU, I worked on a project with where we used a theoretical model of comprehension to predict what viewers would remember after watching film and television clips. (This was one of those projects that felt a little crazy for me to work on at the time because it was so far outside of my main interest in children and media, but it turned out to be a super interesting project and was recently published in Human Communication Research!) The model was highly successful at predicting what adult viewers remembered from their viewing experience, and I would love to see if it could work for children as well. Can you imagine being able to mathematically predict exactly what children will remember after watching a television episode? The implications for producing high-quality educational programming seem endless!
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
I’d like to nominate Drew Cingel so that he can tell us about his work on children’s moral reasoning.
To download a copy of this edition of CAMmer in the spotlight click here.