Nancy Jennings, of the University of Cincinnati on the impact of media and technology in the lives of children and their families.
I recently met with Nancy Jennings, who is doing some amazing things with her research into children’s media. Nancy directs the Children’s Education and Entertainment Research Lab, or CHEER, which is dedicated to improving the quality of children’s media through research studies and community projects. Nancy employs the use of SnapStream in the CHEER lab to record and analyze television content for use in her research.
Q: Let’s start at the beginning...what motivated you to focus your research on children’s media?
Nancy: This actually all started way back when I was an undergraduate and I had a passion for teaching and children’s education, plus, I knew I really loved writing. But I was at a conundrum; I didn’t know what to do when I was in college. I took a class with a communication professor, when she introduced herself, she said “I’m Ellen Wartella, and I study children’s media” and the lightbulb went off! “Perfect! That’s how I can combine my two interests of writing and children’s education”. I ran up to her after class, introduced myself and said “what do I do now?”
Q: That’s a great story and it’s obvious that you’re passionate about what you’re doing. Can you tell me more about the CHEER lab and how that came about?
Nancy: We are a research lab that is oriented to getting quality research that can be applied to the children’s media industry. I have a passion for applied research, I don’t want it to just stay behind at the university, and I want to make an impact on society and in children’s media. So our focus has been thinking about, what kind of tools do people need to cope with and understand what’s going on with media and their kids. So, that’s everything from parenting tips and techniques to working with the kids and trying to get them to understand what media does. What is persuasive content, how to be safe online and different types of things.
Q: Tell me about your research process currently; walk me through how an idea or concept is processed.
Nancy: I really try to look for problems/issues/concerns that people have with media use in their families. I look at a real life situation and try to figure out what kind of research solution can we develop to address that concern/question. Oftentimes that’s talking with parents, watching kids play with media, going to the library for observations or even talking to my own kids, the neighbors' kids, etc.
Q: How is SnapStream useful in this process?
Nancy: SnapStream comes into the process particularly when we’re talking about content. If there are questions or concerns about advertising content, for instance “We saw this commercial and we couldn’t believe it was on-air”. I can use SnapStream as a way to capture that content and better understand it. I can take that SnapStream captured video and talk to kids about it, using qualitative and quantitative methods. We might show them a clip and ask them questions about it either open ended or close ended.
Q: What was the research process like before using SnapStream?
Nancy: It was very sad. I was still able to record things, but this was in the dark ages where we had VHS tapes. I was still able to get some video, but the processing of the video was much more complicated and oftentimes prohibited me from being able to do the type of research I wanted to do. It’s been very helpful in terms of having something much more manageable to work with.
Q: Can you tell me about a specific idea/project where SnapStream was instrumental?
Nancy: As part of the FCC regulations, broadcast stations need to air 3 hours of educational television per week in order to facilitate their licensing. Every October I record the new fall season of these educational shows that broadcasters are putting out there for kids. When I was doing it before, it was very complicated, I had lots of VCRs, I was using some at my house and some at a colleague’s house. The shows were being broadcast at the same time, 4 different broadcast channels, plus Nick, Disney and Cartoon Network...it was just...impossible. Because it was VHS, I then had to digitize it to be able to use it in the lab for analysis.
SnapStream allows me to be able to capture all that content very easily on one device. I can then go back and share that video with the researchers, the people that are identifying things and helping me count…”how many ads were there for this movie trailer?”, etc. It’s been incredibly helpful to capture everything together on one device and share the information.
Q: What would you say has been the most interesting/important/surprising discovery you’ve made throughout your research?
Nancy: I’ve been focusing a lot on children’s relationships with television and media characters. One of the things we’ve been trying to dig out is, “what are some of the implications of these relationships?” (we call them “parasocial relationships”) that the kids are developing with these media characters. We’re finding that trust is really important in these relationships, so we’re going to go back now to look at the content and find out why. So, kids to have trust in the media character is really important for the development of a friendship. Which is very important to them in their real world, too. So it’s interesting to see how they’re playing out in their real world and their media world.
Q: Outside of the CHEER lab, in what ways do you utilize SnapStream (if at all)?
Nancy: I have some students that have been able to use it for their own research projects, so I’ve started incorporating into my research methods class as well. We do content analysis, so I give them the opportunity to do their analysis on television shows with the SnapStream. I have a student this fall, who is actually going to be using it for his thesis.
Q: I understand you have done further research into violence in TV as well as gender studies in advertising, can you tell me a little more about this?
Nancy: There’s a show called the Fosters, a lesbian couple who have these children that they’re fostering in their home. So I’m interested in seeing how children react and respond to the representation of the two moms, from both the perspectives of a child who has a traditional mom and dad as well as from children that have two moms. So, is this representation real, how are they processing it?
The other area has a lot to do with advertising. What kind of things are being advertised to kids, particularly during these educational shows. We’re coming up (in 2017) on twenty years since the first implementation of the FCC rules, so I’m really interested in collecting data on what kind of educational shows have been going on since then.
Q: Are there any other specific areas of the children’s media you are interested in researching further?
Nancy: One of the interesting things I’ve been trying to figure out with the parasocial relationships is with the characters that look through the television, that break the fourth wall. Characters like Dora, that will actually turn to the screen and ask questions. What I’ve been curious about is doing screen capturing of kids, scanning to see where their eyes are at on the screen. I’m curious to see if they’re making eye contact, or looking at other things on the screen. I’d like to see how this can be used for script development as types of intervention for kids with autism that may or may not be able to make eye contact.
Q: Has SnapStream helped you to be innovative in your research (has it helped you to think of new research ideas or ways of researching that you hadn’t thought of previously)?
Nancy: The transcripts! Oh my god. The transcripts that are able to be pulled from the closed captioning have been incredibly helpful and it really made me think about what words are used in children’s television. One of the research findings (previous research) is about the speed, pace and types of words used in television shows and how these increase vocabulary. So, I think about how I can use these transcripts to document that.
I want to thank Nancy for taking the time to speak with me about her research and how she and the research team at the CHEER lab are utilizing SnapStream. The CHEER lab is doing some amazing work, and we can't wait to see how they utilize SnapStream in the future. For more information on Nancy Jennings, her research and the CHEER lab, check out the University of Cincinnati's page here.