Research News

Golann named director of New Jersey Families Study

Joanne Golann has been named the new director of the New Jersey Families Study, a video ethnographic examination of how families support their children’s early learning. Golann is associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development and co-principal investigator on the study’s research team. She has been a member of the team since earning her Ph.D. at Princeton University, where the study is based.

Golann succeeds Thomas Espenshade as head of the New Jersey Families Study. Espenshade is a senior scholar and professor of sociology, emeritus, in the Office of Population Research at Princeton University and the study’s principal investigator.

A sociologist and ethnographer, Golann studies how culture shapes education policy and practice. In the New Jersey Families Study, she explores how families, across race and culture, build skills and knowledge in their children’s earliest years.

(Joanne Golann)

“I am excited to take the helm of this groundbreaking project. I look forward to building collaborations here at Vanderbilt and with our institutional partners at Princeton University and the University of Chicago,” Golann said.

The New Jersey Families Study seeks to improve understanding of early child development and education by creating an early childhood database for the global research community. The study accumulated an unprecedented 11,500 hours of video of 21 highly diverse families who participated in a two-week naturalistic observation of their daily lives in their homes. The families are diverse in terms race, ethnicity, social class, family structure, and place of residence. Researchers began recruitment for the study in 2016 and completed data collection in 2019. That same year, they published the study’s first paper on the benefits of video-ethnographic study to inform the work of policy researchers and future parenting initiatives.

The study also aims to contribute to the emerging science around big data. The research team plans to employ novel advancements in computer vision, speech recognition, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to harness large amounts of data and to create a user-friendly database. Their work could serve as a model for future research projects that disseminate large amounts of data to the broader research community as well as lead to the development of new data-sharing platforms.

In 2022, Golann received a $251,327 grant from the National Science Foundation for a project that is part of the New Jersey Families Study. Golann and her team are analyzing video data on parent-child interactions to understand similarities and differences in parenting strategies by social class.

Ultimately, the New Jersey Families Study seeks to revolutionize understanding of family dynamics on early child development and education and to help all young children thrive from the start of life.