LENA is a digital recording device specially designed for babies to wear in a vest. It can record up to 16 hours of data at a time. In our ‘Effects of Input’ study, some families are asked to borrow LENA from us over a weekend. The baby wears the vest and device all day whenever the family are at home and going about their normal routine. Parents can, of course, switch the device on and off as they please so that they can have a private conversation whenever they want.
As babies are unaware that they are being recorded, LENA enables us to obtain much more natural data than if a researcher went into people’s homes with a camera. Additionally, although parents are aware that they are being recorded, it seems that many feel less inhibited than they would be with an outside observer present. We loan families a plastic bib to wear over the LENA vest during mealtimes to give the microphone maximum protection. We also pay families £30 to thank them for their time.
Most of the recording is processed automatically by LENA’s software on our lab computer. However, we do listen to and transcribe what happens during an hour after the baby has woken from a nap. For this reason, parents keep a diary of their weekend’s activities. For more information about how LENA works and is used in America, please go to the manufacturer’s website.
As we are the first university in the UK to use LENA, we keep developing our research, and feedback from families participating in the study is really helpful to us. This is what parents who have taken part in our British and American Cultural Impact study said about their experience.
As we are the first university in the UK to use LENA, we thought it would be good to get some feedback from families who have taken part in our British and American Cultural Impact study. Being recorded for most of a weekend also might seem quite a daunting prospect to some parents. The results of our survey are given below. We are happy that all the families who took part in the survey seemed to enjoy using LENA!
Feedback from families who have used LENA in York
Did you find the device easy to use?
- The device was very easy to use.
- Very simple to use, no technical experience required. I gained more confidence from being able to talk to someone about it and receiving an in depth instruction leaflet – I felt well informed.
Yes, much simpler than I initially thought – very easy to turn on and off.
- I found the LENA device pretty straightforward to use. It was slightly confusing that when you initially pressed the record button it said paused, so you have to press it again to actually start recording, but that was the only problem.
Did you feel self-conscious during the recording or did you forget it was happening?
- We did feel a bit self conscious, mainly when reading the stories.
- Self-conscious to start with but very soon we forgot about the device.
- To begin with we did feel self-conscious. But we agreed that the study would be better if we were natural and did not do anything out of the norm or it may change the results. It was worth having this chat up front before we set the tape going.
- Yes, very. We were both very aware of it the whole time, because of the obviousness of the vest my baby was wearing.
Do you think that your baby noticed anything different was happening?
- No, he behaved as normal, I don’t think he noticed anything as the machine is so slimline and the vest just like a piece of normal clothing. He struggled with the bib a bit as he is used to cloth bibs but it did not deter him from his dinner!
- I don’t think my baby was aware of the device.
- I don’t think my baby noticed it at all, he just assumed it was part of his clothes so it was obviously light enough for him and very unobtrusive.
Would your baby behave differently if a person came to you to do the recording?
- My baby would have been much different with a third party present, he would have been constantly trying to interact with them. This would be even worse with an older baby I think.
- Yes, he would have behaved differently if a person had come to the house – he watches new people and stops chatting and playing.
- At his age, I do not think he would have behaved differently with a camera and person, but he is a sociable child. I think he may have been interested in the camera and been a bit nosy so someone may have observed this instead of him playing with his usual toys.
- I think that if someone came with a camera then she would have been totally different, as she seems to be aware of when we take a photo or video her. She always stops and smiles!
- I think you got a very natural snapshot of our weekend. You definitely would not have got this if someone had been recording us, probably because me and my husband would have been more distracted and self conscious than the baby! As it was, we were aware that it was recording but I didn’t feel in inhibited me at all, and it certainly didn’t stop us going out and about – my only worry was not recording enough data.
Do you think you would have behaved differently if an outsider had been present?
- Yes. Partly because we behave differently when other people are present and partly because the baby wants to check out new people.
- No, I do not think my baby would, he is sociable and not shy but I could imagine some children may not like someone they do not know.
- Yes, definitely. However hard you try, you are always very aware of what is happening.
Did using LENA change your routine or could you go about your day as normal?
- The device didn’t interfere with our day at all.
- Just carried on as normal.
- Only slightly because we had to turn it off when we went out I felt that we should be as quick as possible and get home so we could turn it back on.
- Not really. Once the vest was on, we carried on as normal. The only issue was that as my baby sleeps on her front, I had to take it out when she had a nap.
Did you and your baby find the vests and plastic mealtime bib comfortable?
- My baby was fine with the vests, didn’t seem to notice them, and has a bib the same so it was all as usual for him.
- Yes, all fine apart from my baby not being familiar with that style of bib, if I had known I would have got him one and got him used to it beforehand.
- The vest was fine. The bib was a bit strange for her, but that’s because we use cotton bibs, so she just wasn’t used to it.
Did you find it straightforward to switch the device on and off as you pleased?
- We turned the device off, when we went out and back on after, no problems.
- Yes, this was fine, the instruction leaflets and chats with people were really informative and gave me confidence if using the equipment, plus we were advised it was 100% fine to turn off if we needed to, so felt happy we could do this without compromising the study.
- Yep, very easy. Easy to charge too.
Would you recommend other parents to take part in this study?
- Yes, it’s something fun to do with your child, and it’s interesting to get the study updates. My baby loves the books and often carries around the duck flashcard saying “baaack” – close enough to quack for me!
- Totally – we had a lot of fun!
Did you feel that the money and a gift was compensation for enough your time?
- We’d have taken part for nothing, just interest, so £30 and two books seems good! It really didn’t interfere with anything we did that weekend and as the device and vest only took seconds I think it was a generous £30 and certainly not the case that I felt it was to cover a weekend’s worth of time. And we love books so very happy with the gift.
- More than adequate.
- Yes, I think it’s a fair donation as it wasn’t a labour intensive task (you’ve got that job!!!) and we were still able to go out. The books are lovely and she has enjoyed looking at them.
Any other comments?
- All in all, I was happy for us to take part, it’s fun and interesting and really didn’t take time at all. I’m very happy for you to use anything I’ve said that’s helpful to entice others to take part.
- We found the process very interesting.
- Halfway through Sunday the machine turned itself off, when I tried to turn it back on it said “memory full”. I was really worried about this as expected it to run all the way to the evening. When I gave the machine back the lady called to say they had all the data and the reason it turned itself off is it has a total number of hours of recording time and can cope with something like 7 hours per day. Because we had it on 10 hours per day it ran out quicker. It would be useful to know this at the start so parents do not worry they have done something wrong and wiped all the information!!
- I know this is probably a very hard thing to do…but I think that if the device were to record intermittently, say on for half an hour then off for quarter of an hour and so on, then parents might relax a bit more, not knowing when it would be recording.
- The time sheet was difficult to fill in. It would have been easier for me to have just looked at the time on LENA then record the activity we were doing as I did tend to forget what time we did certain things. Might be easier for you too when you are looking for certain dialogue.
- We really enjoyed taking part in the study and it has made us much more aware of the language that my baby is exposed to. I think it will influence some of the vocabulary we use and hopefully help her to have a better understanding of language from an earlier age.
- All in all, it was a very easy £30 to add to my baby’s account and I would recommend it to other parents as I think it is an interesting project. It would be nice if we could get some kind of feedback about my baby’s level of babbling compared to other babies at this stage, but I understand if that is not really possible since the computer ‘listens’ to most of the data.