Collaborative Research: Using Educational DVDs to Enhance Preschoolers’ STEM Education

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

We bridge the developmental and communication research areas by focusing on the role of parasocial relationships with screen characters (televised, avatars) for very young children’s learning of STEM concepts, in particular mathematics and engineering related concepts. Much of the research on children’s learning from television and other screen media has focused primarily on the cognitive, but not social-cognitive, factors involved in learning. Our research into parasocial relationships provides a new avenue for exploring the importance of these social-cognitive factors as a mechanism for that learning. Understanding these factors is essential for understanding the changing media environment in which our youngest citizens are developing their perceptions of and biases toward STEM learning.


The research is laboratory-based, and is being conducted at three collaborative research sites: (1) University of California, Riverside [Riverside, CA], (2) Georgetown University [Washington D.C.], and (3) Northwestern University [Evanston, IL].

Research Design: 

The project uses a cross-sectional research design and will generate evidence that is descriptive [observational], associative/correlational [quasi-experimental], and causal [quasi-experimental]. Original data will be collected on representative samples of 18-month-old to 5-year-old children using assessments of learning, observation [personal observation] and survey research [self-completion questionnaire, structured interviewer-administered questionnaires, semi-structured or informal interviews].

The studies involve a mix of parent-report measures on children's perceptions of media characters, child interviews on their perceptions of and preferences for media characters, standard measures of cognitive development, and direct measures of content learning from experimentally controlled media exposure/use. Data analyses range in type depending on the specific project with-in the overall research plan. Parent and child survey data will be analyzed primarily with factor analyses, correlations, regressions, and structural equation modeling. Experimental data will be analyzed primarily using Analyses of Covariance.


Findings will be posted as they become available.

Other Products: 

We hosted a workshop on June 2, 2014 with the goal of fostering communication among experts in multiple disciplines, including developmental psychology, communications, media studies, information and computer sciences, and education, and focusing on promoting early STEM learning and literacy through the development of avatars that are engaging and effective for young children. The workshop report is available online at

Target Population: 


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