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Kids inspire Jason Yip's research into technology and learning

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Jason Yip knows that, to be a good designer, he has to work closely with the people he’s designing for. For Yip, that means a lot of time hanging around with curious kids. Yip, an assistant professor at the iSchool, heads up KidsTeam UW, an after-school program that works to create technology and learning experiences with kids, for kids.

Yip says the lessons he’s learned about user-centered design, like the type of design he utilizes in his work with KidsTeam UW, are the linchpin for all his work.

“It’s hard for me to come up with ideas without working with kids,” he said. “Being surrounded by kids gives me context.”

Yip has taken that focus on working closely with kids and their families to his overall research to understand how families use technology to learn together. That question has led him to two research projects, one hoping to promote science learning across communities and another trying to understand how children in English-learning families assist their parents with searching the internet.

Science Everywhere

Kids have a lot of questions. “Why does my cat have different colored eyes?” “What do worms eat?”

Yet many of those questions are ephemeral. Kids wonder about worms, but might not actually raise the question to anyone. Yip sees an opportunity in those questions, if only they could be brought into the open.

Some of the questions may be silly, but the goal of the project is serious. Yip says children, especially those in marginalized groups, often lack support to get engaged with science outside of school. Higher-income families can afford to give children out-of-school science experiences. Children in lower-income families may miss out on those chances. Similarly, there are often disconnects between learning in different contexts. A teacher might not know what kinds of science experiences a kid has after school or the questions they have at home.

Yip wonders if technology could help bridge that information gap.

Working with Tamara Clegg at the University of Maryland and June Ahn at New York University, the Science Everywhere project, funded by the National Science Foundation, hopes to connect science learning across different settings. Yip has created a program that allows kids to document their science questions, using a handheld device like a phone. Kids can interact and discuss their questions. Teachers can see what kids are curious about, and incorporate it into lessons. Yip has been working with teachers, families, and students south of Seattle to shape the program.

To bring the discussion into the wider community, the kids’ questions and photos will be shared on a large touchscreen in a public area, such as schools and community centers. Each screen will be split in half, so two people can look and discuss their findings together.

Yip wants to know if Science Everywhere can help kids, families, teachers, and communities start a wider, accessible conversation about science.

"The idea is that the technology itself should invite people to come together,” Yip said.

Video: Hear Jason Yip talk about the inspiration for Science Everywhere.

Internet search brokering

In another area of research, Yip is working to understand how children in English-language learning households help their parents search for information online.

"We're really trying learn what search habits are like. What is it like for the kids to translate? What is it like for the families to rely on their kids? What is the connection with digital equity practices?” Yip said.

This issue is important. Increasing numbers of English-learning families are moving to the United States, and they are often vulnerable populations. With more information moving online, families often rely on their children to help search, translate, and broker information. From low-priority information, like shopping and recipes, to complex information, like health and education, children and parents often work together to make sense of information.

“If we don’t understand how families are searching together, it’s impossible to create systems that can support them,” Yip said.

Yip says that, if designers understand ELL families’ experiences, they can create better tools for them.

Yip and his co-researcher, Carmen Gonzalez from the UW Department of Communication, have interviewed 12 Latin American ELL families with children ages 10 to 17. They hope to ultimately work with 30 families. With their team of researchers, they go into homes to interview families and observe their online search practices. Yip’s work is funded by a Google Faculty Research Award and the UW’s Royalty Research Award.

Like in his other work, Yip wants information to go both ways and is building relationship with families. As part of the process, Yip and Gonzalez will offer digital workshops for families.

"We don't want to take the data and run. We really want to build community relationships. … We want families to understand that we are not leaving. We hope they will come and look at the data with us to help us understand what is going on and to help them learn as well.”