Blue's Clues at nickjr.com
With over 40 years of research on the educational effects of television on children, the full answer has yet to be found. Further, the growth of the Internet and the birth of television-related websites has confounded the problem and uncovered another area to be assessed. However, research of the last 20 years has garnered substantial findings that children are actively engaged and that improvement in programming is still needed: ". . .but it seams clear that we have not been particularly successful in using television to its full potential in the education of our youngest citizens" (Boyer, 1991; Kunkel & Murray, 1991; Palmer, 1988 as sited in Berry & Asamen, 1993). With television viewing second only to sleep as the activity that most occupies children's lives (Berry & Asamen, 1993), continued attention to the effects of programming and the newer avenue of television-base websites has become crucial.
Today, one networks stands out as a leader in addressing the relationship between children and television. Since its over-hall in 1985, the cable network Nickelodeon has forcefully taken the platform of providing television for kids, by kids and about kids. Their goal of "edutainment" and research based shows has expanded to special programming for preschoolers and branched into another medium, the Internet. The advent of Nick Jr. and nickjr.com has place a focus on delivering developmentally appropriate and accessible media for young children. The Nick Jr. website offers a substantial amount of offerings and information. However, for the sake of brevity, I will highlight the Blue's Clues trail that is available.
The Blue's Clues trail at nickjr.com is meant for the viewers of the show. Therefore, it has a dual intended audience. Its goal is to provide a place for young children ages 3-5 to explore show-related material and games. The use of familiar pictorial icons allow the 3-5 year old to maneuver easily through the site. Thus, a sense of control and exploration provides an engaging environment for this age group to continue building on the concepts introduced in the show. The attributes of this learning environment compliments the stance of learning scientists: ". . . efficient learning can no longer be described as a passive recording of knowledge: It is also constructed and self- regulated" (Vosniadou et al, 1996). Further, exploration and play are major themes in early childhood research.
The second audience this website is meant for is the other show viewers-- adults. Several sections of the Blue's Clues trail are devoted to extending the background knowledge of concerned adults (parents and teachers). This includes providing episode schedules and descriptions, purpose and goals of the creators and ideas for extended show-related activities that the adults can complete with the children. The adult areas of the website are underpinned by Vygotsky's sociocultural approach to learning, which relies on interaction and modeling of more able people. This means that when we collaborate with an expert in some domain, we observe how the expert appropriates our own actions into his or her conceptual framework. We perceive how he or she uses our contribution within his or her problem-solving strategy, and thereby get familiar with this strategy. This strategy is not expressed in an abstract way, but receives its meaning from its deep connection to the context (Vosniadou et al, 1996). Thus, the intention of these sections is to facilitate adult-child interaction and provide the groundwork for deepening the child's thinking through collaboration.
Despite being conceived for very young children and adults, the Blue's Clues trail can and is utilized by other age groups. This occurs because, although the design and aim of the television show and website is for preschoolers, they both appeal to higher age groups. Via the internet, the show receives letters form 6 through 10 year olds. Thus, this website can add to the letter writing ability of this age group. Further, the games and activities provided are still fun and somewhat challenging to the older children. Finally, the Blue's Clues trail can provide an environment for play and collaboration between older and younger siblings.
The nickjr.com website and Blue's Clues trail seems to rest on the foundations of cognitive mediation's active engagement model: "It emphasizes an active child constructing knowledge through transactions with television, making sense of information from television and the viewing environment, and evaluating such information and experience for meaning in terms of relevance to the self" (Berry & Asamen, 1993). By utilizing the characters and nature of the television show, it provides another medium for re-evaluating and broadening their prior knowledge. Further, the website acts as a tool where children can practice and master the concepts introduce by the show: "The long-term use of computers as tools for reflection on one's learning in different domains and disciplines may eventually lead to the overall reflectivity that characterizes mature learners and problem solvers" (Vosniadou et al, 1996). Therefore, the best use of the website by preschoolers is as a extension and practice forum that induces deeper contemplation of the television show by repetition and reflection.
The second aspiration of the Blue's Clues trail is to facilitate the increase of purposeful adult-child exchange regarding the show and related concepts. The adult expert can serve as the bridge which clarifies the novice thinking of the child and intensify his/her processing: "A lack of parental mediation seems to effect the way children process and comprehend television. When there is an active stance toward the medium, more information can be gleaned from it" (Desmond, J.L.Singer, D.G. Singer, Calam & Colimore, 1985 as sited in Berry & Asamen, 1993). This website provides the adult with the foreknowledge of the episode so he/she can prepare open-ended questions after the show for discussion. It also provides explanations of the concepts and activities, both on-line and off, that the adult can accomplish with the child. Consequently, this website is best used by the adult as a reference and guide to further their child's processing of the show.
The Blue's Clues trail, like the television show, seeks to highlight traditional preschool subjects in new and fun ways. Thus, games that focus on social-emotional issues, pre-math, pre- reading, science and preschool rituals are addressed. These are all placed in the context of a familiar family/home setting. The use of a plot in the television show is particularly effective and yet the action is broken into manageable chunks or games. The idea of a continuous plot is lost on the website, however, the layout of the internet games allows for the essence of the show to remain. Further, the website offers more actual manipulation of the actions taking place then the television: "Computer models can make abstract concepts concrete and manipulable, reveal their properties and constraints, relate them to everyday situations they represent, and connect them to other representations of the same information" (Vosniadou et al, 1996). Hence, the website enables children to practice and achieve mastery of the concepts portrayed in the show.The idea of fun, play-like practice is important. Young children engage in an active exploration of the world in order to gain basic knowledge about it: "As children acquire story and scene schemas, scripts for everyday routines, category knowledge, and innumerable other "mental templates" (Chapter 3), they automatically use these templates to constructively process inputs at storage and to reconstruct them at retrieval (Houston,1986)" (Flavell et al, 1993). Blue's Clues, both the television show and the website trail, offers young children a learning space where they can acquire and rehearse common, yet important, preschool concepts.
Animated, blue puppies do not occur in the real world. However, the creators of the Blue's Clues show and website trail go to considerable trouble to make her as real as possible. This can cause confusion in very young children: "Initially, children probably believe all TV is real. At this point, their understanding of reality is primarily concerned with factuality. the relation of mediated TV content to the real world" (Berry & Asamen, 1993). Balancing prior knowledge of the real world with overwhelming visual images of a beloved cartoon can easily cause cognitive conflict. Further, Flavell et al (1993) assert: "People actively construct simultaneous, and sometimes conflicting, representations of belief and reality, overt expression and covert feeling, appearance and real identity, and motive and behavior" (Flavell et al, 1993). This conflict is clearly demonstrated by the hundreds of e-mail messages addressed directly to the puppy, Blue.
The knowledge acquisition available to adults on this website trail is pretty straightforward. The different pieces are meant to inform and empower parents regarding their child's television viewing. The adults sections are word driven and navigating the information is somewhat dispersed, but with a few minutes of effort the needed information can be accumulated.
Vosniadou et al (1993) outlines three basic principles of the constuctivist approach of computerized learning environments. First, the learning environments should generate hierarchical knowledge. Therefore, the need to not oversimplify the knowledge representations provided to young children is strong. Because the website is based on the television show games and the research that accompanied them, it manages to avoid this pitfall and remains developmentally appropriate. The second factor in learning environment design should be powerful , dedicated working environments. Thus, the website should include: ". . . all sorts of mental activities, such as exploration, investigation, and problem solving" (Vosniadou et al, 1996). Again, the layout and games found in the Blue's Clues trail provide for this type of freedom and control. However, it should be noted that several of the sections of interest to children on the website are written and require adult assistance. Finally, learning environments should present knowledge as a communication system. This atmosphere permits imitation and mutual regulating processes. The limitations of this website design does not allow this principle to be put in practice mechanically. Consequently, mediation and coaching must come in the form of adult support. However, the addition of the adult sections to this website makes a concerted effort to address this issue.
Based on the early childhood principles of games and play, this website is designed to catch and maintain the preschooler. s attention. However, the Blue's Clues trail's animation it not at the level of the television show and the lack of audio to accompany the visuals does not access all possible learning modes available. Unfortunately, these issues are limited to the medium being used. In general, the use of picture icons and animation in the games allow the child to change and control the site, thus ensuring active engagement: "The benefits of high interactivity are the students receive immediate feedback on the success of their actions, they find such environments extremely motivating, and they are very active trying out different skills and strategies" (Vosniadou et al, 1996). As a whole, this website controls the flow of information while being child and adult friendly.
Nickelodeon's ( and Nick Jr.'s) central mission is to
empower children (Berry & Asamen, 1993). Based on continuous research, they
strive to provide entertainment that is appropriate and educational to their
audience. Further, the expansion of television show-related websites offers
another medium for reaching young children and deserves just as much attention
within the industry. Based on an analysis of the nickjr.com References: Berry, G.L. and Asamen, J.K. (1993). Children and Television: images in a
changing sociocultural world. Sage Publications: London. Flavell, J.H. et al. (1993). Cognitive Development. Prentice-Hall,
Inc: A Simon & Schuster Company: Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Vosniadou, S. et al. (1996). International Perspectives on the design of
Technology-Supported Learning Environments. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,
Inc.: Mahwah, NJ.
Berry, G.L. and Asamen, J.K. (1993). Children and Television: images in a changing sociocultural world. Sage Publications: London.
Flavell, J.H. et al. (1993). Cognitive Development. Prentice-Hall, Inc: A Simon & Schuster Company: Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
Vosniadou, S. et al. (1996). International Perspectives on the design of Technology-Supported Learning Environments. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.: Mahwah, NJ.