About the Center

Sarah Vaala, Ph.D.

Senior Fellow

Dr. Vaala is a Research Associate at Vanderbilt University, where she is currently focused on developing mobile and internet tools to boost problem-solving skills among teens living with chronic illness.  She completed her Ph.D. in Communication Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.  As a graduate student Sarah worked on an RTL-funded research team which examined young children’s television-viewing and language learning. She is interested in the diverse educational and health implications of media in the lives of children and adolescents, as well as the ways caregivers perceive and make decisions about their children’s media use. Sarah served as the 2011-2012 Joan Ganz Cooney Center research fellow.

Sarah’s focus on children’s informal learning was first sparked while working as a deckhand and educational guide on an Erie Canal packet-boat.  As a Psychology major at Davidson College, her focus narrowed in on the intersections between media and child development. Sarah’s passion for child-focused research was forged while working as an EEG research technician at Mt. Hope Family Center in Rochester, N.Y.

Recently posted by this author:

Common Challenges, Varied Solutions

July 20, 2017

Earlier this spring, I had dinner with some new friends who, like my husband and me, are parents of a toddler. Between bites of guacamole, I briefly described the nature of our ongoing research at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center regarding children’s educational apps—and a common interest was ignited. We … 

New Stakes in the Market: A Researcher and New Parent “Gets a Read on” the App Stores

December 9, 2015

Today, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and New America are releasing a report of our recent market scan and content analysis of language- and literacy-focused apps for young children. The report, Getting a Read on the App Stores, presents our key findings regarding the characteristics in the apps’ in-store descriptions … 

What’s in Store Today: A Snapshot of Kids’ Language and Literacy Apps (Part 3)

December 2, 2014

Over the past few months, we’ve shared some highlights of the literacy app analysis that we are conducting with New America to learn more about the apps that families and educators are using to help children learn skills such as alphabet recognition, phonics, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. We have been … 

Busting Barriers Or Just Dabbling?: How Teachers Are Using Digital Games In K-8 Classrooms

October 21, 2014

I spent last weekend on a camping trip with extended family.  Having just completed a report on the use of digital games in the classroom, I was more than a little eager to consult with the kids in the group about their use of digital games inside and outside of … 

Level Up Learning: A National Survey on Teaching with Digital Games

October 20, 2014

Digital games have the potential to transform K-12 education as we know it. But what has been the real experience among teachers who use games in the classroom?  In 2013, the Games and Learning Publishing Council conducted a national survey among nearly 700 K-8 teachers. The report reveals key findings … 

What’s in Store Today: A Snapshot of Kids’ Language and Literacy Apps (Part 2)

October 2, 2014

About a month ago, we released a sneak preview of the literacy app analysis that we’re conducting with New America to discover more about the apps that families and educators are using to help children learn to read and communicate. As part of this preview, we provided a quick summary … 

What’s in Store Today: A Snapshot of Kids’ Language and Literacy Apps (Part 1)

August 15, 2014

Apps for social communication, learning, and play are a prominent part of nearly every family’s life today. Are they having a similar impact on how families and educators help their children learn to read? And if so, what kinds of apps are they using? As part of Seeding Reading: Investing … 

Aprendiendo Juntos (Learning Together): Synthesis of a cross-sectorial convening on Hispanic-Latino families and digital technologies

June 6, 2013

In June 2012, the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (JGCC) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) convened more than 50 of the nation’s leading scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers to discuss the state of our knowledge of the role and implications of digital … 

The Top 5 Best Things About Being a JGCC Research Fellow

February 1, 2013

Editor’s Note: Want to join the Joan Ganz Cooney Center team? Apply to be the 2016-2017 Cooney Center Fellow! We are accepting fellowship applications now through April 4, 2016. This Fall, I became the newest Cooney Center alum.  After completing my year-long stint as the 2011-2012 Cooney Center Research Fellow, I am now a … 

QuickReport: Parent Co-Reading Survey

September 13, 2012

To follow up on insights revealed in our Print vs. E-books QuickStudy, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center conducted a second QuickStudy to survey parents about reading books with their 2-to-6-year-old children.  In this survey we assessed family ownership of devices on which e-books can be read and included a set …