How to choose good educational apps or interactive books in online stores

Posted by on Jun 22, 2012 in Articles | Comments Off on How to choose good educational apps or interactive books in online stores

Nowadays, finding good educational apps, or even interactive books for children, can be a hard and long task. Of course we can be guided and aided by the reviews and comments of other users on the app store, blogs, but to evaluate the overall quality of children’s apps and e-books we must pay close attention to a variety of aspects, starting with the product icon or the general design of the app and ending with the child oriented usability. It’s always recommended to try the digital app before giving it to the child. That way, we can not only check the content and the logical steps behind it but also find possible escape points that can make the child exit the app unintentionally. We should also test the navigation and interactions like if we were a child (this may not be an easy task, but the whole idea is to explore the less obvious steps in the interactive app or book, the sensibility to repeated and erroneous touches and many other tests to correctly evaluate its behavior) We should not limit ourselves to children’s apps and books that are merely a direct translation of what we can find in a traditional printed book, but instead, search for something new, challenging and surprising to us. Also, avoid only focus in the ones fitted for their age as many times we underestimate the child’s learning and comprehension capabilities. A good app for kids is one that not only teaches but also learns, adjusting its challenges to different levels of difficulty according to the progress of each child, which can greatly vary in children within the same age. We’ve been finding a lot of somewhat intrusive apps, mixing poor design with integrated shopping strategies, causing not only the disruption of the child’s learning process in the middle of the game, but also for them to make unwanted online purchases. In order to prevent this last issue it’s safer to use the devices offline. Usability plays an important role for an educational app or interactive book, so it’s always better for the app to feel right than to appear to have been well made. Is it easy to navigate? Is it well structured? Is it simple? Is the design appealing? Children deserve all that. The quality of the texts, the essence of the story are paramount in interactive apps for kids. It’s important not to forget that a children’s world is being constructed based on what we show them and their perception of reality comes from a mutual learning process with their parents, making the correct choice of words extremely important for educational apps and books. At the same time, all interactions must feel natural. The story’s path must be led by the narrative and not by a random mixture of interactions and animations determined by the devices’ technical capabilities. These elements should always be in line with the story and somehow highlighted if not immediately obvious. The balance between showing a hint or simply suggesting its discovery is something not easy to establish. In the end, the true evaluation of an educational app or interactive book will be measured by the child’s responses and reactions to it. It’s the best barometer! So if they start to gradually lose interest or if the app turns out to be so difficult that children become impatient, this means they don’t feel comfortable with it, which is most likely caused by flaws in its conception. Humberto Neves in Noticias do...

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Notes on Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2012

Posted by on Apr 9, 2012 in Articles | Comments Off on Notes on Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2012

This year at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Portugal was the guest of honor country. It was introduced for the first time the Bologna Ragazzi Digital Prize where a significant number of digital and interactive stories were submitted. The nomination list was about 20 books, the winner was Dan Mon Rêve and an honor mention to Numberlys and Quem Soltou o Pum. The Tools of Change conference (TOC) where the prize was announced, raised and important set of directions for the digital publishing namely strategies to enter the digital and interactive channel by publishers, authors, illustrators and developers. There’s an estimate for the digital content for children between 0 – 12 years to double annually during the next four years. Nevertheless this is not an huge grow, since the absolute values on this market are still very low. From Disney, one of the strong brands, it was stated that for next year there will be a trend about interconnecting the online and offline platforms, connecting mobile apps with real toys through new technologies like augmented reality. This way, a child can, perhaps create a story putting Lightning McQueen running inside their own play room. Dominic Raccah, […] revealed some of the challenges publishing will face on this digital era, like the platform diversity, content discoverability, screen dimensions and the way illustrations should be developed for digital and interactive media. Eric Hoftun from SnowCastle shared the vision that the best way to tell children a story is through games, an engaging way to catch the interest. Nat Sims, from Night & Day Studios said that the way children use touch screens is playing an increasing and important role, because they’re facing a controlled cognitive environment. Jos Carlyle, from Persian Cat Press emphasized that a digital book production due to its very different nature is more difficult to build from a printed version than if it is thought for digital since the beginning. All the key parts of an interactive book such as music, illustration, narrative, illustration, should be an active part for the the same history. Pricing is still unbalanced between book apps and ebooks. Users are more willing to pay for ebooks than for book apps, even though the last ones are more expensive to produce. Another point is the idea that interactive books are cannibalizing printed books is not linear, we must admit that, instead, it can be a competitor for the TV, games and music. An interesting project that was presented was Fable, the first tablet designed specifically for children, who’s main objectives are minimizing or even solve two major concerns when discussing about tablets for children: pricing and content control. To complete, the digital channel for publishing proves to be promising, but there are a lot of doubts, uncertainties and fears from the stakeholders of this industry.We are facing a global challenge of producing new artistic forms that could use multi-sensorial capabilities available within current mobile devices. Although the building principles are different from print to digital and interactive books, the most important ones stay the same: creativity, innovation, engaging stories and excellent visual and audio assets. Humberto Neves in Noticias do...

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Small touches, great learnings

Posted by on Dec 4, 2011 in Articles | Comments Off on Small touches, great learnings

Year after year we see an huge increase on the smartphones and tablets users base. Theses devices are establishing a presence in people lives, assuming a multi-functionality purpose on the way they’re being used. Inside families with children the relationship between them and these mobile equipments can assume an important role on children development. Nevertheless, parents have here a responsibility to moderate and establish a balance on their usage. The easy way children get acquainted with this interactive devices is amazing! For sure they will learn faster how to make a swipe on the screen than to tighten the laces of their shoes. Educational and entertainment content for theses mobile devices have grew exponentially, but here I’d like to focus on the importance interactive books can have as a tool to encourage children reading and listening habits. We have to go back to the end of century XIX to begin talking about the first interactive books, the pop-up book. Based on paper engineering they were built for children storytelling and have been considered by Time magazine on of the most important toys ever. Nowadays with the multi-purpose ability of the mobile devices, the book reading experience had a giant leap, but, curiously we observe the same easy way a child interacts with both a pop-up book or an interactive book running on a tablet, and that is amazing because we see children learning fast when the means used are simple, natural and intuitive. But, what are we referring to, when talking about interactive books? In practice these books are usually a mobile application or enhanced eBook available throughout the online app stores. Besides the story text and the illustrations there are other components, it can include also sound effects, music and interactive scenarios. Additionally to the story, sometimes we can even discover some small games or some personalization of the story based on characteristics of the children. There are interactive books as well were we can play with real physics simulations, but, the most important and hardest part is to encounter all these elements seamlessly integrated during all the reading experience. We believe the story is a key driver throughout all the book, but saying which of them are the most important is difficult. If the story is beautiful and engaging but the rest of the elements are of poor quality or even don’t exist, why not staying only with the child and tell him the story orally from memory? Or, on the other hand if we gave a panoply of stunning animations and interactions that are placed in disorganized way and out of story context, aren’t we probably facing a distracting book and not an interactive book? We think the most important is to look at a child eyes bright and smile on their face, being delighted scene after scene. Unfortunately the portuguese offer of this kind of books is very small. Taking in account that we have so great authors and illustrators of children books,  it’s a pity we have so little offer. Interactive books can be an excellent alternative to television, that children mostly see overtime and without attendance. We emphasize also the lack of exchange of experiences on this area from which we have a lot to learn from each other, not only exchanging ideas but also some collaborative reading like is done with printed books, but of course with a different approach. Humberto Neves in Notícias do...

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