Monday, April 15, 2013

Non-fiction. Where apps really shine -- Part 3.

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.   

The two nonfiction books that are recommended below have a lot of classroom potential in my opinion and I will be including them in future workshops.

My third foray into book apps was in the non-fiction area. This is an area where it is just as easy to find apps that shine, as it is ones that flop. I am going to talk about two excellent examples of books made into apps.

I bought the app Fragile Earth, in part because we had the hard copy in the Doucette and in part because I saw it reviewed positively (don’t ask me where – I have 29 sites book marked for app reviews). The book presents Before and After pictures – generally highlighting environmental degradation, mostly as a result of human intrusion and climate changes, but also the impact that Mother Nature has on the world. As well, each picture is accompanied by a description of what is being seen in the before and after pictures.

The app itself does not exactly mirror the book – where the book presents 9 themes, the app presents 6 - Man’s Impact, Deserts and Droughts, Natural Phenomena, Warming World, Water’s Power and Wild Weather. However, each picture comes with a unique slider feature. The information about each picture is contained in a “pop-up” at the bottom. Once you make that disappear, then there is a slider, which can be moved across the picture to present before and after pictures – some with a great range of years (1900 – 2008, Rhone Glacier in the Theme Warming World Views), some just a few years apart (2008, 2009 Tidal problems, Venice, Italy) and the before and after in Natural Phenomena (Christchurch New Zealand, 2011 – before and after the earthquake). This app sends a very clear message about the impact of humans and nature on our earth. The part I really like about this app is that as new pictures become available, so too does the app update. Since I bought the app, it has updated to include (for example) two new pictures in Man’s Impact – the chemical spill in Devercser, Hungary and Air pollution at the National Stadium in Beijing, China (where the 2008 Olympics were held). The app then stays a current tool, rather than having to buy a revised copy of the book.

The only criticism that I have with the app is that in the book, each chapter opens with a general explanation of each theme. So for example, in the Theme in the book “Rising sea level” the reader gets a general explanation of why the levels are rising, and graphs that show the trends and where the major threats are, world-wide. This background information is support for the pictures themselves and it would have been nice to have had that general overview before each theme in the app.

The second book app that I bought came about as a result of a Tedtalk featuring Mike Matas from Push Pop Press showing the digital book Our choice by Al Gore. This book is a beautifully interactive book that incorporates all the features of a hardcopy book, but with options that turn it into a beautiful and truly interactive book. Would you believe one of the diagrams shows wind energy storage and use when you blow into the microphone on the iPad? The text pops out to full screen size, but can shrink again to the bottom of the screen so that you can scroll through to another part of the chapter or book. Individual graphs can be moved to full size and then other graphs can be viewed from that graph. Clicking on a globe embedded in each picture will show you where in the world the picture was taken. Many of the pictures link to videos and background narration on the content of each picture, so that you have additional information to incorporate. Unfortunately, this may be the only book that appears using this software. Push Pop Press has been acquired by Facebook – so look for the same level of interactivity on your Facebook page….coming soon.

Part 4  - Book apps written only for the iPad. Or is it a good book just because it is an app?


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