A Conversation with a Learning Scientist: Jennifer Kotler Clarke of Sesame Workshop

Published February 15, 2019

In this video, Jennifer Kotler Clarke, Vice President of Content Research and Evaluation at Sesame Workshop, and Bob Feldman of the University of Massachusetts Amherst discuss the impact learning science has on the development of television programming for young children like Sesame Street.

Below are some key moments from their conversation.

Highlights from this video interview between Bob Feldman and Jennifer Kotler Clarke

BF: How is the recent rise of learning science helping inspire the next generation of educational researchers and innovators?

JKC: Learning science is the fabric of everything we do at Sesame Workshop. We’re always spending time reading research reports and understanding from experts how children learn, and what the critical needs of children are to succeed in society today. We’re particularly interested in things that foster excitement and motivation towards learning, so it is very much a part of everything we do.

BF: Currently, is public television still an important medium?

JKC: Absolutely. Large portions of our audience come for PBS and public television. There are many strong shows on television right now that are important for children to have access to.

BF: Can you give a specific example of how learning science is incorporated into what you do?

JKC: When we test shows before airing them, we look to where children’s attention is strong and where it wanes. We also try to learn what children take away from an episode. In one instance, we had an episode about a Kindness Hero who wore a cape, and children began talking about other heroes so much that they missed the main message about kindness. We spoke to the writers and changed the Kindness Hero to Kindness Kid, this way it shifted their focus to every-day kindness and not superheroes. In the end, the children picked up the message much better with that change.

BF: Do you have any heroes in the field?

JKC: My graduate advisor who passed away in 2001 is my hero. Everything that I think about is through the lens he taught me. He was a brilliant developmental psychologist and really pioneered what we know about children’s learning from television.

BF: What are some of the big questions about learning science that still need to be answered?

JKC: There are so many. We are always interested in dose and how much educational television do children really need, as well as how many episodes of a topic do they need to understand a concept. The idea of implementation of good television and digital programs and ensuring that children get access to good programs that work and make them more systematic in their application. I also think that understanding augmented and virtual reality is something we need to focus on.

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