(Photo by Juliana Reyes)
Brian Verdine has spent much of his career researching if and how children can learn from video games and TV.
One example: If you show a kid a video of a person hiding a stuffed animal in a pillow in another room, will the kid be able to find that piglet once they’re put into that other room? (The answer: It depends on a number of things, but when a kid is around two-years-old, they can’t get information from video as well as they might be able to when they’re older. It’s called “video deficit” and it has to do with the fact that they can’t connect the video to real life.)
Verdine has since left the academic research life — he was at the University of Delaware — to join National Science Foundation-backed education startup SmartyPal as its director of learning sciences. It was his way of putting his research into action.
“I can write academic papers about [education] but does it ever actually get into the hands of somebody who’s gonna use that information?” he said.
We caught up with Verdine at Benjamin’s Desk’s new 1608 Walnut location, where SmartyPal has an office, in part because he’ll be a panelist at a screening of the documentary Screenagers on Thursday, March 23, at the Community College of Philadelphia. The film explores what it means to be a teen in the digital age. The screening is hosted by nonprofit Girls on the Run Philadelphia and, full disclosure, this reporter is helping organize it as part of Leadership Philadelphia.
Tickets are $10 and proceeds go to scholarships for members of Girls on the Run.
With all the hype about screens being bad for children, we asked him for some real talk on the issue.
“I’m not a proponent of the bogeyman idea,” he said. Read: Don’t make it out to be this horrible thing. “It’s not gonna melt their brain.”
That said, there are some things tech is good at doing and others that it’s not.
What it’s good at?
Determining a child’s skill level in order to deliver a lesson that’s tailored to the user. “Tech can do that at a much more fine-grain level,” Verdine said. This is important because if something is too easy, the learner will get bored. If it’s too hard, they’ll get frustrated. But: “It requires a lot of data to do that incredibly well and I think that’s why it’s not as common,” he said.
What it’s not good at?
Early language acquisition. Children will learn better from parents than a piece of technology because of things like eye contact and seeing a person’s mouth move. Verdine added the disclaimed, “at least right now,” suggesting that there could eventually be a piece of technology that tackles these issues.