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HCDE Dissertation Defense: Ying-Yu Chen, "Designing Playful Technology for Young Children’s Mealtime"
HCDE Dissertation Defense: Ying-Yu Chen, "Designing Playful Technology for Young Children’s Mealtime"
WhenWednesday, Jul 3, 2019, 1 – 2 p.m.
Campus locationAllen Library (ALB)
Campus roomAuditorium
Event typesLectures/Seminars
Event sponsorsHuman Centered Design & Engineering

HCDE faculty, students, staff, and invited guests are welcome to join the department for a dissertation defense presentation.

Designing Playful Technology for Young Children’s Mealtime
Candidate: Ying-Yu Chen

Dissertation abstract:

As technology becomes more pervasive in children’s lives, it plays an increasingly contested role in young children’s development. Advocates of technology laud its potential to help children to learn better and be more creative, and skeptics worry that overexposure will damage children’s mental and physical development. The APA (American Pediatric Association) advises that preschoolers do not use digital devices for more than an hour per day, and, indeed, the predominant way parents currently manage their children’s technology use is rule-based restrictions. However, as faster network speeds allow more household objects to be connected, it is timely to explore the opportunities of other possible relationships between parents, young children and digital devices at home.

This dissertation examines the role technology can play in various relationships between parents and young children, focussing on mealtimes as a point of investigation. They comprise a recurring routine in family lives. Mealtimes are important sites for young children’s nutritional intake, and for them to learn healthy eating and table manners. However, their food pickiness and mealtime tantrums are also a source of parents’ stress. I see there is a potential for technology solutions to support young children’s and families’ mealtime practices, but I also see the potential for such solutions to be rejected because of the general parent’s rejection of technology in this context. Thus, it embodies the potential paradox technology brings to the family dynamics.

I began by building a formative understanding of young children’s mealtime practices both in preschool classrooms and in their homes. Through participant observation, I gained insights on what children and their adult caretaker’s values are and how they express them through their shared mealtimes. I identified value tensions between children and adults, and the parents’ mealtime goals in the context.

Based on what I learned in this formative work, I next did a speculative design survey to understand parents’ perspectives on technology at mealtimes. I designed twelve storyboards, one for each unique combination of technology type and mealtime goals and created a survey tool depicting all twelve scenarios to 122 parents of preschoolers. I report the unique ways in which each of these form factors appeals to and worries parents, providing designers with insights about the likelihood of adoption and acceptance.

Drawing on the results from these studies, I first worked to design three prototypes to address different value tensions (e.g., the tension between children’s interest in experimenting with food versus the teachers’ interest in cleanliness). I then evaluated the prototypes with children, their parents, and teachers in laboratory studies. The results show technology has the potential to enhance shared meals between children and adults, but also has the potential to distract or influence children in inappropriate ways. The findings suggest the opportunities for novel designs to provide creative and meaningful experiences such as playful productivity that support the needs of both parties.

Based on the knowledge learned in previous studies, I developed a smart object: the “stamp plate”. Through deploying a prototype in a field study, I found it enabled parents to guide their children to explore ideas of data concepts and functioned as a tool to aid in teaching numeracy skills. While using the stamp plate, children also ate more and engaged in exploratory art expression with their family members. My results show how activities such as family bonding, play, learning, and togetherness might be supported through the use of a novel technology.

This dissertation examines the properties of technological tools to be used or conceived for young children’ family routines that aim to foster meaningful experiences and rich interactions. With it, I contribute to the investigations of how children’s technology use at home has emerged as an ongoing engagement with their life routines, and how designing for this process of engagement can address the values of children and their parents. I hope the design outcomes and insights can be expanded to inform the everyday integration of smart objects into the family lives of children, to inform the design of further technological tools that take into consideration the complexity of the relationship between technology and the routines of family life.

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