Frank Niklas

Frank Niklas
Professor for Educational Psychology and Family Studies

Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich

What are you currently working on?

Currently, the main focus of my work lies on my large-scale longitudinal project “Learning4Kids.” In this EU-funded project, my team and I provided German kindergarten children in the intervention groups with tablets and learning apps for usage at home that either trained their mathematical or their linguistic/literacy competencies. We compare their development across a period of four years until the end of Grade 2 and we compare their outcomes with the outcomes of two control groups: one with and one without tablets. It is an exciting intervention project that applies mobile sensing to assess children’s actual usage times of the apps and that controls for a range of important child and family characteristics to assess the potential effectiveness of newly developed learning apps.

What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?

Learning4Kids certainly will be a project to remember once it is completed. Other than that, I believe, that “School-readiness in children” has been an important project in my scientific life. This study did not have a CAM focus, but analyzed the transition of children from kindergarten to school and tried to identify conditions (in particular different forms of collaborations between kindergartens and primary schools) that were helpful or less helpful for children’s competencies development. I did my PhD in this project and learnt a lot during this time about longitudinal research (difficult, but rewarding), collaborations within and across universities (important and helpful, but not always easy), and about children’s early development (fascinating and thrilling).

Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?

Workwise, I am proud that my first PhD student and my first post-doc student both were both offered positions as professors at universities recently. Admittedly, this is their achievement and absolutely well-earned. However, it also shows that we worked together very well and successful as a team. In addition, getting the funding for my project Learning4Kids was certainly an achievement to celebrate.

What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?

I believe that there are several reoccurring questions in the field, for which we still do not have a very good answer (and for which there probably is no final answer) such as: At which age should I provide my children with digital media such as gaming devices and smartphones? How much media usage per day is ok at which age? Which kind of media usage may be harmful or helpful for my children? We have a good deal of research on these questions and can give some scientific-based advice. However, in the end, the individual situation of each family and child is decisive for the best answers to these questions.

What would be your work motto?

This is a hard one as I honestly do not have any work motto. Maybe something along the line: “There is always a solution.”

Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?

My favorite publication is not CAM-related: Home learning environment and development of child competencies from kindergarten until the end of elementary school that I authored together with Wolfgang Schneider in 2017. In this publication, we analyzed data of several hundred German children across several years of kindergarten and primary school and identified the early home learning environment to be a significant predictor of children’s mathematical, reading, and spelling achievements in grade 4. It thus summarizes more or less the work I had been doing in previous years.

I would like to mention one other (CAM-related) manuscript that is still in the pipeline, but should be submitted soon (title: Learning apps at home prepare children for school). Here, we describe the first (positive) intervention results of “Learning4Kids.” The findings show that even in the external valid setting of the family, in which the children were free to play (or not to play) our apps, our intervention was successful in supporting children’s competencies’ development.

If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?

With unlimited resources, I would try to tackle a problem, for which I did not find a good solution yet: How to reach and support children and their families who would need such support the most, but who – for various reasons – very often do not participate in intervention studies.

At a SRCD conference several years ago, I attended a symposium, in which a project was introduced for that great effect sizes for such a family intervention were reported. How did they achieve this? They literally picked up the children and their parents at home, transported them to a local center at which free meals were provided and then they did the intervention in parallel with both children and parents, before bringing the families back home. Such a design certainly would need some (unlimited?) resources.

If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?

I would like to pass on some advice that was given to me, when I was at the beginning of my scientific career: “Try to grow a thick skin”. In academia, rejections (for papers, proposals, job positions, etc.) are unfortunately fairly common. Do not despair. Take the feedback you were given serious (but not too serious), get additional support from colleagues, friends, and supervisors, improve the work you have done, and then try again. And do not forget: your supervisors will have had their share of rejections, too.

Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?

I would like to nominate Natalia Kucirkova. Although, I have not met her yet, I have followed her work for several years and I appreciate the work she is doing on children’s development and learning with digital media (in particular digital books). It would be great to read her answers to these questions and her opinions.