Adults often fret over how big of a presence digital technology has in children’s lives. But as Alexis Lauricella, PhD, has studied, technology doesn’t have to cause worry. Instead, it can be a tool in children’s education and overall development.
“Children spend so many hours with technology at home, in school, in libraries — everywhere,” she says. “I want to understand how media and technology influence child development and how technology can be used best to support learning.”
Dr. Lauricella joined the faculty of Erikson Institute in 2018 and also serves as the director of Erikson’s Technology in Early Childhood (TEC) Center, where she studies the intersecting fields of digital media and early childhood. Her research has been frequently published in academic journals and books, and she is a regular presenter at conferences in the United States and abroad.
Among her research findings has been an understanding of how children learn through using technology and the role adults play in supporting that learning.
“When you watch children using technology, it looks like they get it so easily,” she says. “But we have to remember that children are little experimenters, and they are willing to try different things with technology that adults have more reservations about. That doesn’t necessary mean that they are processing and understanding what they are doing or that they even can replicate it. So, we have to be careful not to associate comfort with technology with ability to learn from it.”
At the heart of Dr. Lauricella’s work is a passion for children and education that stems from growing up with a mother who was a teacher. Growing up, she thought she might want to be an elementary school teacher but realized in college that she could support children’s learning in other ways, such as through research and helping develop quality educational media. She interned at Sesame Workshop, which solidified her passion for studying child development and media and led her to pursue a PhD in developmental psychology with a focus on studying educational media.
She also is the founder of playlearnparent.com, a website that helps translate child development research for parents. She developed the site as a way of using technology to inform and support parents by providing them with small bits of child development information that can help guide them through some of the challenges of parenthood.
“Parenting is hard,” she says. “There is an expectation that we all inherently know how to be parents, but we all could use some help and guidance.”
- Post-doctoral fellowship in Communications Studies, Northwestern University
- PhD in Developmental Psychology, Georgetown University
- MPP, Georgetown University
- BA in Business Marketing and Psychology, University of Massachusetts
Areas of Expertise
- Children’s STEM learning from technology
- Infant and toddler learning from educational media
- Use of technology to support parent engagement
- Teacher technology practices in classrooms
- Managed and directed project (2017-2018) funded by a grant entitled, “Studying the Impact of Tough Topic Entertainment Media”. Funded by from Netflix ($98,513). Co-P.I. Ellen Wartella, Northwestern University.
- Managed and directed project (2016) funded by a grant entitled, “Text Message Interventions to Support Low-Income Families Development”. Funded by from the Clinton Foundation Too Small to Fail ($40,000). Co-P.I. Ellen Wartella, Northwestern University.
- Managed and directed project (2016) funded by a grant entitled, “Common Sense Media: Understanding Parenting Practices Related to Child and Adolescent Media Uset”. Funded by from the Common Sense Media ($50,000). Co-P.I. Ellen Wartella, Northwestern University.
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- Sheehan, K.J., Hightower, B., Lauricella, A. R., & Wartella, E. (in press). STEM media in the family context: The effect of STEM career and media use on preschoolers’ science and math skills. European Journal of STEM Education,
- Hurwitz, L. B., Lauricella, A. R., *Hightower, B., Sroka, I., Woodruff, T. K., & Wartella, E. (2017). “When You’re a Baby You Don’t Have Puberty”: Understanding of Puberty and Human Reproduction in Late Childhood and Early Adolescence. The Journal of early adolescence, 37(7), 925-947.
- Hurwitz, L. B., +Morales, E. D., Montague, H., Lauricella A. R., & Wartella, E. (2016). Mobile marketing to children: A content analysis of food and beverage company apps. Public Health. 141, 241-244. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2016.09.025
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- Sheehan, K., Pila, S., Lauricella, A.R., & Wartella, E. (2018, June). Parent-child interaction and children’s learning from a coding app. Paper presented at the Jean Piaget Society, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
- Alade, F., Kuma, Y., Lauricella, A.R., & Wartella, E. (2018, May) Paper presented at the International Communication Association, Prague, Czech Republic.
- Hightower, B., Sheehan, K. J., Lauricella, A. R., & Wartella, E. (2018, May) How parents support early math and science learning: The role of media and parent comfort. Paper presented at the International Communication Association, Prague, Czech Republic.
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Related professional experience
- Associate Director, Center on Media and Human Development Northwestern University
- Founder, PlayLearnParent.com
- Member, WTTW Kids Advisory Board
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