Anneli Woolf Dissertation Defense

May 1, 2020
9:00am — 12:00pm ET

Dissertation Title:  Discovering the Meaning Behind the Story: Creating a System for Documenting and Supporting Children's Narrative Development

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We cannot ignore the power of storytelling and narrative, especially when it comes to human development. Our ability to tell stories has been credited as one of the major influences for the success of the human species. We communicate, think, encode memories, dream, and learn about the world around us through stories. As story-beings, we need to recognize and harness the power of narrative as an educational tool.

Despite the importance of narratives, there are significant gaps in the literature for understanding children’s narrative development and designing interventions to support growth. Unlike literacy, there are no reported statistics of the rates of narrative development for children, nor are there established consistent methods with comprehensive metrics to systematically document narrative progress or evaluate interventions. These gaps are perpetuated by the complex space of narratives (e.g., the difficulty in studying narratives in isolation of the social interactions in which they occur).

In response to these gaps, we developed Learning Loops, a novel digitally-mediated family learning system for documenting and supporting children’s narratives. Embedded in the Learning Loops system is StoryBlocks, an open-ended storytelling app for children ages six to ten. While children play in StoryBlocks, their fine-grained interaction data is captured and streamed to a human coach, who uses a custom-built tool to analyze play and identify narrative trends. Coaches use this analysis to scaffold children’s narrative process through direct feedback and promote caregiver co-engagement through text message updates and activities. This system is unique in that it: 1) documents children’s stories to build a comprehensive narrative analysis system, and 2) accounts for the important social role in children’s learning by using digital tools to augment and support human social engagement in the narrative process.

Through presenting Learning Loops, this work explores the roles that both technology and humans play within these digitally-mediated systems to support narrative development within the child’s social context. This dissertation proposes the Two-Lens Approach, a holistic theoretical framework for studying children’s narratives, and applies it to examine the design of Learning Loops and inform the program’s ability to document, analyze, and support children’s narrative capacity.

Committee members: 

Deb Roy, Ph.D., Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Marshall Ganz, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer of Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Ageliki Nicolopoulou, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Global Studies, Lehigh University

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