Ready Or Not
Schools around the globe are increasingly finding ways to incorporate new technology into the classroom. Some schools, like Mishawaka High School (MHS), have merged technology and their sex education or child development courses through the use of infant simulators.
“[The infant simulators] give a more hands-on experience versus reading a textbook or doing something online. Students find out what it really requires and how much time it takes to care for a child,” said MHS Child Development teacher Alicia VanMaanen. Infant simulators are life-like computerized dolls that are programmed to act, respond, and require care as an infant would. Since the mid-nineties these dolls have been used to teach teens about parenting and as a way to combat teenage pregnancy. However, this begs the question: do they really work?
VanMaanen believes the simulators have little effect on teen pregnancy. However, she believes that the experiences students have with the simulators are still valuable. “It helps students realize what it’s like to be a teen parent and it gives them a little bit of the reality,” said VanMaanen.
MHS students had their own ideas about the project. “It was very unrealistic. It made me feel like I was ready to have a baby. Most of the time I was bored and just waiting for it to cry.” said Child Development student Brandy Venable.
Venable also had several adults interacting with her during her infant simulator experience. Among these adults was MHS English teacher Jessica Mann. “Brandy took her baby to the MEF Promise 5k event last semester. She had a stroller for the baby, but not one built for a 5k. The stroller bounced a lot, and the baby cried a lot! I think the baby's response was pretty realistic: it seemed like it "slept" for a while and then awoke and was frequently fussy,” said Mann
VanMaanen believes that the student’s level of seriousness about the project has a big impact on its effectiveness. “One of the biggest pitfalls of the project is that the students don’t take it seriously. Some just can’t handle it or give up it too easily,” said VanMaanen, “some students do take it seriously just because they really [wanna] learn what it’s like to care for an infant. It just depends on the student.”
The MHS Child Development class utilizes nineties era Nasco Ready-Or-Not Tot infant simulators. “Ours are a little outdated. As of right now, there has not been any talk of getting our simulators updated at MHS and that would mostly be due to the cost. Previously, the simulators we got were funded through the MEA through a grant that was written by a previous teacher. It would take some research of the other company, getting quotes, and writing a grant or two to get the funds necessary to be able to purchase upgraded simulators” said VanMaanen.
VanMaanen would prefer to upgrade to the Realityworks RealCare Baby. “I love their products personally compared to what we have, but I am making due with what we are provided. I think the upgraded ones would have a bigger effect because it would require a more conscious effort on the student to care for it from handling it properly to changing the baby's diaper, feeding it and the overall care. If I were able to get a grant and funding I personally would prefer to go with a different company that has higher quality simulators that you actually have to change the diaper, attempt to feed, burp and requires more care from the individual caring for the baby. The other company's babies also have a computer program so it records the care of the baby for you and at the click of a button on the computer the teacher can have a printout of how well the student did with caring for the baby's needs in a given time. These ones also allow for child care or quiet time setting unlike the ones we currently own,” said VanMaanen.
Realityworks is the creator of the original Baby Think It Over infant simulator. They have since rebranded their infant simulator program into the RealCare Baby Program. The RealCare Baby program includes the care of an infant simulator in addition to a recommended lesson plan to teach participants about teen pregnancy and how to care for a baby.
The RealCare ‘babies’ are more advanced technology than the Ready-Or-Not Tot. The Ready-Or-Not Tot has three preset programs that the simulator can be set on. The simulator then cries at the set times until the student provides the correct care it needs. To provide care to a Ready-Or-Not Tot, the student must insert one of five keys into the simulators control box. The keys are labeled: Attention, Diaper Change, Feed, Burp, and Panic. The simulator responds to appropriate care cooing or burping. The Ready-Or-Not Tot can also detect abuse, panic, and tampering with the control box.
According to the Realityworks website, realityworks.org, RealCare Baby 3 “engages users by: crying to be fed, burped, rocked, or changed” and “holds users accountable by tracking, measuring, and reporting on: care events; mishandlings including Shaken Baby Syndrome, head support, and wrong positions; surrounding temperatures; time in a car seat; and clothing changes.” Students must feed, change, and rock the RealCare Baby 3. The RealCare Baby 3 can detect care through its numerous sensors.
On realityworks.org, there is a list of links leading to studies concerning the effectiveness of infant simulators. No data is available on the effectiveness of the Nasco Ready-Or-Not Tot Program. Most of the data collected concerning infant simulators have studied the original Realityworks Baby Think It Over Program.
One such study is a 2009 study published in the Journal of Family and Consumer Science that analyzed the Baby Think It Over program. This study claimed the project made teens realize the difficulty of teen pregnancy. The study cited the teens “stated that [being a teen parent] would be harder than they originally thought.” Thus, the study claimed the project made teens realize the difficulty of teen pregnancy. The study did not state that infant simulators have either a positive or negative affect on teen pregnancy rates. However, in its conclusion it said, “There are several implications for further study. Longitudinal studies are needed to determine whether students who take home infant simulators are less likely to become pregnant than [non-participating] teens.”
Another document found on the Realityworks website is The RealCare Baby Program Evidence of Efficacy by Ph.D Min Qi Wang. This document outlines the RealCare Baby Program, why it is unique, and what participants generally gain from the program. The document proceeds to present sixteen pre-2007 studies that supported the effectiveness of the Baby Think It Over program in decreasing teen pregnancy rates.
However, new data conflicts these dated studies claiming that the use of baby simulators do not have an affect on teen pregnancy and/or teen parenting. A 2011 study published in a medical journal stated that “the results… suggest that the effectiveness of using infant simulators to influence the perceptions of teens about the reality of teen parenting is minimal.”
Yet another even more current study published by Joan Zolot in the American Journal of Nursing in December of 2016 found that “an infant simulator program designed to show teenagers firsthand the demands and responsibilities of caring for a baby, and thereby deter subsequent pregnancies, was actually associated with increased rates of pregnancy.” This lead the authors of the study to “conclude that infant simulators don’t appear to be effective in deterring teenage pregnancy.”
A 10-year landmark study conducted by Dr. Sally Brinkman utilized an adaptation of the Baby Think It Over Program, called the Virtual Parenting Program (VIP), to analyze the long-term effectiveness of infant-simulator programs in reducing teen pregnancy.
“The infant simulator-based VIP programme did not achieve its aim of reducing teen pregnancy. Girls in the intervention group were more likely to experience a birth or an induced abortion than those in the control group…,” concluded Brickman.
According to a 2016 CNN article by Aria Hangyu Chen, attention may be to blame for the rise in pregnancy rates among those who participate in infant simulator programs. “Brinkman suspects that a positive experience with taking care of a baby and getting attention from family and friends could be part of the reason,” Chen said.