Digital Audio Pens: Function and Use within the Family
Children and parents consider digital audio pens, like Tiptoi or TING, as toys rather than educational tools. The pens lose their meaning as soon as children learn how to read. Marcel Rechlitz and Claudia Lampert examined the potential of digital audio pens for the reading and language development of children in a qualitative study.
Since 2010, audio pens (such as Tiptoi from Ravensburger and TING) are available in the German market. The main principle of these products is based on a digital pen which plays audio signals (words or sound) when pointing at deposited digital information within the paper. While being used, the pen records the individual and current state of learning, as well as the state of knowledge of the child using it, and is able to customize output information. Thus, the digital audio pen can be particularly suitable for younger children who cannot read yet and offers new opportunities that extend the classical use of books. In a first explorative study, Marcel Rechlitz and Claudia Lampert interviewed six children and their parents about how they are using digital audio pens and what role the devices play for reading habits within the families. The findings show that the potential for the reading and language development has not yet been exhausted. The audio pens are seen as suitable for the reading and language development, especially for children who get less support from their parents.
From September 2015 to January 2016, six qualitative semi-structured interviews (incl. participant observation) were carried out with children of preschool and primary school age, as well as with one of their parents. The participants were recruited by public calls and direct response. Additionally, the research included expert interviews with three pedagogues and one representative of the children’s library. The interviews were transcribed and analysed using the MAXQDA11 software programme.
Children and their parents were asked how they handle audio pens and how the use of these products affect the reading habits within families. The interviews with children focused on how they use the audio pens, what preferences they have, and what difficulties/problems occur when using these pens. The parents focused on why they bought an audio pen, how often these pens are used, and what they mean for reading, learning, and playing. The expert interviews with two pedagogues and one librarian provided further assessments of the audio pens and their impact on learning how to read.
Tiptoi from Ravensburger and the audio pen TING are currently two similar products on the German market. Five of the surveyed families use Tiptoi; only one family uses TING. During the interviews, the children were preliminarily asked to use the pen they already knew and, afterwards, the other system.
The results of this exploratory study serve as an indication that the digital audio pens are perceived either as an auditory extension of books or as a toy. Furthermore, the findings show that the potential for the reading and language development has not been exhausted yet. The audio pens are seen as particularly useful for the reading and language development of children who get less support from their parents. In general, the interviewed parents have a positive view of audio pens. They like that children use books (or games) instead of screen media. Since parents consider digital audio pens primarily as playful additions to books, they do not see a need for regulation concerning the content or the duration of use.
Complete study (for download):
Rechlitz, Marcel / Lampert, Claudia (unter Mitarbeit von Sabrina Maaß und Kira Stomberg) (2016): Digitale Audiostifte: Rolle und Nutzung in der Familie – eine explorative Studie. Hamburg: Verlag Hans-Bredow-Institut, März 2016, (Arbeitspapiere des Hans-Bredow-instituts Nr. 37), http://www.hans-bredow-institut.de/webfm_send/1128.