Story books for children have a long history and are universally valued by children and parents alike. Digital stories for children offer new ways to share stories and advance literacy skills in children. The production of a quality eBook often requires a team that includes authors, graphic designers, professional actors for custom narration, music soundtrack and sound effects, and editors and page layout designers for different devices and operating systems. In order to create quality eBooks, the design team benefits from an awareness of what key stakeholders value. For example, what do children, parents, and teachers look for and hope for when they open up their eBook? And if the goal is to design pedagogically valuable eBooks — books that foster literacy skill development – how do we design such books?
Cultivating Literacy Skills
Literacy remains a major priority on national and international educational policy and research agendas. The Programme for International Student Assessment PISA 2012 (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2014) highlights the need to focus intensively, strategically and systemically on improving and supporting literacy, in particular the encouragement of reading among young people.
One way parents and carers can support children’s emergent literacy development is through the practice of reading directly to children (Amulya, 2015). Conventional reading usually begins as children enter formal schooling, between the ages of 5 and 7 years (Snow et al., 1999). Over the course of the early years of schooling, children who learn to read successfully are able to identify printed words, read for meaning and read with fluency (Burns et al., 1999). As children reach the age of 8 or 9, they are increasingly expected to read to learn new ideas and to gain new knowledge (Chall, 1983). At the later stages of reading development, reading instruction and curricula focus more strongly on reading comprehension and skills (Harlaar, Dale, & Plomin, 2007). Students need to be able to integrate new knowledge from texts with their prior background knowledge (Lawrence, White, & Snow, 2011).
Technology and Literacy
In recent years, technology has emerged that creates new possibilities for storytelling, creativity and creative education. In a recent 2014 survey, 88.6% of children and young people reported reading using technology (computer/laptop, tablet, e-reader or games console), with only 11.4% reporting that they read only on paper. E-reading devices have become increasingly accessible and affordable (Liebeskind , 2015). While technology, and good eBook design, can be used to provide scaffolds directly within digital text to support reading and literacy skill development, there is a need for eBook designers and e-book creators to make increasingly well-informed decisions by engaging with expert stakeholders and studying the needs of users and evaluating the impact of e-book learning experiences on learning outcomes (Colombo, Landoni, & Rubegni, 2014).
Collective Intelligence Design and the Q-Tales Project
Collective intelligence design methods can help us here. Over the past couple of years, we have been building upon John Warfield’s collective intelligence methods in a number of basic and applied research and design projects. One of our recent collective intelligence design projects is the Q-Tales Project. Q-Tales supports the creative work of diverse stakeholders by creating a unique web and mobile children’s book platform, through which eBook and app creators are able to exhibit their work, find partners and collaborate in creating pedagogically valuable eBooks. They will, moreover, make use of feedback from experts in relation to the pedagogical value of their eBooks. The Q-tales project has as its major goal the enhancement of literacy skills in children. All our design efforts are focused on this goal. We appreciate that only very well-designed technological solutions will have any beneficial impact. We appreciate that there are many barriers to the design and implementation of beneficial solutions. As part of the Q-tales platform design process, we used collective intelligence and user story methodologies to facilitate our thinking in relation to key user needs. A report on our collective intelligence work can be found here. Importantly, as can be seen in the report, stakeholders identified a range of story creation needs, interaction design needs, and learning/assessment tool needs. The Q-tales technology design team then worked to clarify both the relative impact and feasibility of these design needs and proceeded in cycles of agile software development to design the Q-tales platform and eBook authoring tool.
Try it out – write an eBook for Children!
The good news is that we now have a first version of the Q-Tales eBook authoring tool available to try out. You can write your own children’s eBook and publish directly online. We would love if you could download the software and try it out. It’s free and easy to use and we’re hoping, if you try it out, you can send us some feedback by responding to a few survey questions here.
Amulya, B.J. (2015) Digital4Literacy: Leveraging Interactive Literacy for Low-Income Families through access to Ebooks, Oakland, CA. Available at: http://litlab.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/research_brief.pdf.
Chall, J.S. (1983) Stages of Reading Development 1st ed., New York: McGraw Hill.
Colombo, L.Landoni, M.& Rubegni, E. (2014) ‘Design Guidelines for More Engaging Electronic Books : Insights from a Cooperative Inquiry Study’, in IDC ’14 Proceedings of the 2014 conference on Interaction design and children. Aarhus, Denmark: ACM, pp. 281–284. Available at: http://dl.acm.org.libgate.library.nuigalway.ie/citation.cfm?id=2593968.2….
Harlaar, N.Dale, P.S.& Plomin, R. (2007) ‘From Learning to Read to Reading to Learn : Substantial and Stable Genetic Influence’, Child Development, 78(1), pp.116–131. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4139216.
Lawrence, J.F. et al. (2011) Improving Reading Across Subject Areas With Word Generation, Washington DC. Available at:http://www.cal.org/create/publications/briefs/improving-reading-across-s….
Liebeskind, Kara. 2015a. “He Reads, She Reads, E-Reads! Understanding the E-Reading Habits of Children Aged 2- 13.” In Launch Kids, 11–13. New York: Launch Kids 2015.http://media.publishersmarketplace.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Launch….
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2014. PISA 2012 Results in Focus: What 15-Year-Olds Know and What They Can Do with What They Know. Paris.https://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-overview.pdf.
Snow, C.E.Burns, M.S.& Griffin, P. (1999) Preventing reading difficulties in young children, Washington DC: National Academy Press. Available at:http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED416465.pdf.