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Joint Media Engagement: Easy as 1, 2, 3

Mobile devices and tablets are becoming a more common fixture in our daily lives. We turn to them to check email, text, view weather forecasts, watch videos, read news articles, and much more. But what is the best way to foster learning and communication skills using these devices? Joint Media Engagement or JME appears to be an important first step in maximizing technology's educational potential by creating intentional and interactive experiences around media.

When our school began providing us with iPads a few years ago I started investigating more meaningful ways to use technology within a therapy environment. After a little research I found the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. For those who do not recognize the name, Joan Ganz Cooney is considered the "mother of Sesame Street". Her vision and leadership helped create THE most successful and researched children's educational television program to date. It all began with the million dollar question she asked in 1966, "How can emerging media help children learn?" Does that sound like a question you've asked yourself in the 21st century? While television is only one form of digital media, the questions that educators and programmers began answering almost 50 years ago provide a continued framework guiding our investigation and understanding of educational media today.

The mission of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center is "advancing children's learning in a digital age". Their site offers easy to read reports providing you with current research within the scope of digital learning. Two ideas have emerged from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and Sesame Workshop - Co-viewing and Joint Media Engagement.

Creating caregiver participation in the viewing experience is a critical component of Sesame Street's educational formula. To foster participation, programming includes appearances by celebrities, parodies, and references to pop culture. Inclusion of comedic skits is the result of research finding that children benefit the most from exposure to digital media when a more capable individual mediates the experience with them (Thakkar et. al, 2006).

Why do kids benefit the most from a media experience when shared with an older sibling, peer, or adult? Perhaps because adults answer questions that arise during viewing and through discussions bridge the gap between the student's experiences and new information seen during viewing.


Co-viewing occurs when children and adults watch a program together. They share the viewing experience but are not involved in active disccusion or engagement with each other during the experience (Zhao and Hao, 2004). They are merely watching the program together. Co-viewing is found to have positive effects as adults relate relevant information from the program to the child's own experiences in the hours, days, and weeks following the co-viewing experience.

Joint Media Engagement

Joint Media Engagement is a framework in which interactions around media are constructed. Digital platforms are primarily designed for individual rather than joint attention types, thus opportunities for engagement must be deliberately fostered. Children see adults reading the newspaper, hear them talking on the phone, and observe them creating written materials, such as grocery lists and personal notes. With digital media, students merely see adults using screen time on their phones and computers. They miss out on observing how adults digest and interact with information and people in a digital world. As a result, student are not learning how to construct emails, search using on-line search engines, and read on-line sources. JME provides learning opportunities to teach digital media skills similarly to how we teach print awareness skills and foundational reading and writing skills.

In a nutshell, JME is how people learn together using various media types. While it may appear to be a simple concept to implement, it's not always the first thing that educators, therapists, and parents think about when using technology. Many times technology becomes a reinforcing activity or babysitter. Whether you realize it or not, you've probably already used JME.

7 Key Features of Joint Media Engagement

JME can be used with ALL ages from preschoolers to adults. According to Stevens and Penuel, there are 7 key components of Joint Media Engagement. Each component is necessary in supporting interactive learning.

1. At least two people must participate in the media experience

This could include a child, student, sibling, babysitter, parent, teacher, older sibling or student, grandparent, educator, etc.

2. There must be at least one medium or content delivery system

A content delivery system is the apparatus that provides the information. It can include everything from a television, computer, tablet, or smart phone to more traditional sources such as a radio, magazine, book, photo album, or newspaper.

3. There must be a common referent or focal point

A visual graphic or program delivers content accessible to all participants visually and/or auditorily. They are watching the same program, listening to the same audio book, or looking at the same picture.

4. At least partial attention is given to the medium

The participants are focusing on the common referent via the content delivery system. However if attention were solely directed to the medium and not the other participants, then this experience would be considered co-viewing and not JME. Therefore, only partial attention is given to the medium. We need step 5.

5. At least partial attention is given to the other participants

In order to create a joint media experience, the participants need to shift their attention between the media source and the other participants. They are viewing the material, yet sharing the experience with each other through various interactions and communication exchanges. Many times adults are the ones responsible for engaging the child when the child is fully captivated by the media source.

6. Interaction occurs between the participants and the media source

A participant maybe taking turns playing a game, searching the internet, or reading a story together.

7. Engagement occurs between the participants

Interactions makes this a collaborate experience. It is what the participants are doing together. They maybe talking about what they are seeing by commenting, asking questions and conversing. Such interactions support learning by personalizing information from the media event to their own experiences and knowledge base.

Getting Started

How can you use JME with your children and students? Here are a few ideas to get started. Chances are you are using JME already, either currently or in the past.

Think about how you read books to young children. JME is similar to those conversations and interactions. JME encompasses those experiences and expands their use to a variety of media types.

- Take time to relate the pictures or video with the corresponding story or a personal experience.

- Don't ask too many questions. Comment, make observations or reminisce. Mute the audio to add your own description of the video or illustrations.

- Pause frequently allowing time for the student to contribute to the conversation.

- Sit near each other. If possible share one medium or device.

- Naturally emphasize new information when talking - speech sounds, grammatical structures, language skills, and/or academic knowledge.

- Introduce new vocabulary words that your child may not know. This includes not only object labels, but adjectives, verbs, and emotions. Reinforce new words throughout the viewing experience and then in daily life in the days following.

- Be mindful of all the bells and whistles. They can be distracting for you and your child taking focus away from the featured story or event.

Download this free information sheet about creating and implementing Joint Media Engagement for parents, caregivers, and educators.

JME provides unlimited learning opportunities from a quick experience waiting for an appointment to a formal classroom lesson. How are you using Joint Media Engagement?


  • Thakkar, R. R., Garrison, M. M., & Christakis, D. A. (2006). A systematic review for the effects of television viewing by infants and preschoolers. Pediatrics, 118, 2025-2031

  • Zhao, J. & Hao, X. (2004). Parent-child co-viewing of television and cognitive development of the Chinese child. International Journal of Early Years Education, 12,, 63-77.

  • Stevens, R., & Penuel, W.R. (2010). Studying and fostering learning through joint media engagement. Paper presented at the Principal Investigators Meeting of the National Science Foundation's Science of Learning Centers, Arlington, VA.

#jme #educators #parents #slps #digitalmedia #sesamestreet #activelearning

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