Thursday, March 28, 2013

Books and apps, apps and books – Part 1

Guest blogger - Janet Hutchinson

Janet has recently taken on learning about instructional technologies for the classroom.  Part of her time has been learning about iPads, their usefulness as a classroom tool and related apps.  We've gotten into a few discussions about some of the questions that arise when looking at some of these 'educational tools.'  Do these apps add anything to the reading experience?  Are they educational, entertaining, distracting or altogether off-putting? Do they replace the physical book?  What is lost without the physical book if anything? and so on.   

Below is Janet's first feature about one of these book apps.  If you've had experiences with some book apps please feel free to drop us a line in the comments box and let us know your thoughts.

One of the projects that I have been working on for the last little while is the development of a set of iPad books and apps that might be of value in a school classroom. This has been an interesting project (not the least because I get to play a little bit) because it brings up all sorts of questions around the use of iPads in the classroom. Today’s question is “When is a book better off as an app or digital book?”

This question seems to come to everyone interested in books and where books are going. There is a school of thought that digitally created and enhanced books will eventually be the choice of people who read – those people who choose to continue reading paper books will be seen to be people who are firmly stuck in old ways of thinking.

In consultation with Tammy, I have taken the opportunity to purchase several book apps that we also have as hard-cover books here in the Doucette. We initially wanted to explore them first of all as support for the physical books – but secondly, as stand-alone opportunities to read. For me, I wanted to discover what the app might offer that enhances the reading experience for the reader, be they a small child or a young adult.

The first app that I purchased is the picture book Memoirs of a goldfish by Devin Scillian. This is the story of a goldfish and life in his fish-bowl  The book starts with the fish swimming in his bowl, all alone. It proceeds through to the point where there is the fish, a toy, plants, a snail, a crab (I assume a plastic one) a sunken pirate ship and on and on. He has a little meltdown and is moved to a small bowl all alone. But he discovers that, as crowded and busy as it was, he misses everyone – and when he is moved back to a larger tank with all his new friends, he realizes they are all part of a family. And then he meets a girl goldfish. And they lived happily ever after. (Sarcasm unintended – it really is a cute story.)

In my opinion, the book app does not add much to the story. Except for some animation of the narrator fish (who remains nameless) and a few bubbles, the story tells itself, with few distractions – but also with few things that make it a “stand-out” book app, one that is head and tails above the standard issue hard copy book. In fact, because the screen size is limited, the picture book (hardcopy) does a much better job of displaying the full bowl across two pages, especially when the storyline is on one screen, and the picture is on the next, so that the overall visual is split up. And getting back to the start of the book means a page menu has to be swiped up and the reader has to scroll backwards or forwards to find the page he/she wants.

There is one advantage – the book app has the option of allowing the child to be read to without the presence of an adult. And as the voice narrates, the text turns red, so that a child can follow along and know what words are being read on which page. As a parent, part of me thinks this might be a good thing, particularly for those days when chaos reigns – but, on the other hand, nothing can replace reading to a child in your lap (whether it is on an iPad or a book).

Part 2 – A YA book and a YA app? Or does having the accompanying soundtrack make the book better?


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