As mobile technology and digital media become more prevalent, the ability to tell coherent stories across both the physical and digital worlds has become increasingly important. Augmented reality is opening up a world of new possibilities for both large and independent publishers to tell stories and engage new audiences.
To touch on these points and more, I sat down with Kim Maslin, ZapWorks user, entrepreneur and creator and Author of ‘The Tweeting Galah’, a collection of interactive AR short stories about growing up in the digital age. We talked about the power of digital storytelling, the importance of cybersecurity in today’s modern age, but also how AR has helped her to engage and converse with a younger audience.
Kim Maslin, ZapWorks user, entrepreneur and author
DM: Hey Kim, why don’t you start by giving us a little bit of background on yourself, and your new book, The Tweeting Galah?
KM: Hey! I’m an Australian educator and author who is currently living in the beautiful Western Australian town of Esperance. I work part-time at a primary school, as both a classroom teacher and Digital Learning Coordinator. I also run my own business, with the goal of improving the digital literacy skills of parents, teachers, children, and business owners.
The Tweeting Galah follows Gabbo, the cheeky galah from Esperance, and his friends (a clownfish, a bilby and a platypus), as they experience different cyber safety issues, such as posting inappropriate content, cyberbullying, online predators, and the effects of too much screen time.
DM: What’s the story behind the book? Why did you create it?
KM: I had been running cyber safety workshops and presentations for a couple of years, but was finding these weren’t enough! My experience working in a school supported this as well. Parents were becoming increasingly overwhelmed and concerned about what their children were doing online, and what risks they could encounter. Likewise, schools were struggling to implement up-to-date and consistent education for students about these risks. I wanted to develop a more effective way of educating children and parents about using the internet and social media. After a bit of brainstorming, the idea of a children’s book came about! Surprisingly, there aren’t many books for this age group on this topic, so I felt this would be a different and innovative approach to try.
"This experience was so exciting, because I knew I had found (with AR) that final “missing piece” for the book which was in its development phase at the time"
DM: Who did you create the book for?
KM: The book was written for 7-to-11 year-olds. Generally speaking, this is the age when children are beginning to use digital devices independently, and may even be using their own social media accounts, such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. My hope is that this book is read by these tweens with their parents so that they both understand the fundamental rules for staying safe online. Being a teacher, I also believe this book would make the perfect teaching resource! I’ve created lesson plans and resources to accompany class sets of the book, to help teachers address the topics in a practical and meaningful way.
DM: And why did you decide to add an AR element?
KM: I hadn’t originally intended to include AR in the book, however, while I was in the development phase, I felt like the book was missing that extra “something.” I wanted this book to be innovative and exciting, so one night, while doing some research online, I stumbled across ZapWorks. I knew straight away from looking at the gallery that this was something I needed to have in my book! I knew that children—who are so used to playing interactive apps and games like Pokemon Go—would love this interactive element, which would help them stay engaged and hopefully commit the important messages to memory.
"I think the idea of being able to use a digital device while reading a book is something new, and something children will respond well to."
DM: What action or experience do you want readers to have after reading the book?
KM: I hope that after reading the book, tweens will be more mindful when communicating with others online. I hope parents will feel more empowered and confident in regards to social media and internet use. One of my learning activities is a DIY Family Digital Device Contract. The idea is that families create their own set of guidelines for using technology in their household, then display it somewhere visible. I would love to see all readers of the book completing this activity!
DM: How would you say the book engages kids differently compared to traditional physical or digital books that lack AR?
KM: I think the book has a good blend of traditional and new elements. There is something nice and comforting about reading a physical book, particularly as a family (say, before bedtime). I love that The Tweeting Galah is a printed book for this reason; it is something tangible that children can touch and flip through. However, it is 2017! Kids are inundated with media and technologies that are interactive, flashy and digital. The Zaps in my book are of two styles.Firstly, the characters “come to life” and communicate with the child. This is different from most books, where the characters remain static on the page. Secondly, learning games and quizzes are used - this extends their learning through interactivity! I think the idea of being able to use a digital device while reading a book is something new, and something children will respond well to. At the same time, it shows parents (and teachers) the positive learning experience that technology can offer.
"I think AR gives the publishing industry greater scope to create engaging and immersive worlds from the texts that are written. Characters and places can be brought to life, and readers can become almost part of the story."
DM: How did you go about creating the book? What tools did you use?
KM: After some initial brainstorms and sketches, I typed up the story on Word. I then used Adobe InDesign to finalise the layout and design. It was this InDesign file that was sent to the printers. The illustrator, John Field, drew each illustration by hand before using watercolour paints to finish them off. These were then scanned and placed into the InDesign file. I used Adobe Photoshop to design the AR-enabled components for ZapWorks, and an app called TextingStory to create the communication from the characters.
DM: What was your experience like using ZapWorks?
KM: I thoroughly enjoyed using ZapWorks Designer. I found the platform easy to use, and the instant testing of my Zaps made the process smooth and quick. The drag-and-drop features, along with the customisation options, meant that I was able to design each Zap quickly and effectively.
DM: What advice would you give to publishers, creatives and entrepreneurs wanting to add an AR element to their products or campaigns?
KM: Just give it a go and start simple! The best thing you can do is set aside some time to sit down, have a play around with the technologies, and see what you can create. Even if it isn’t as flashy or amazing as you would hope, it’s a start! And from there, you can only keep improving. I’m by no means an AR expert! But I’m so happy (and proud) of what I was able to create and include in The Tweeting Galah just by giving it a go and experimenting.
DM: How do you think AR can positively impact the publishing industry for large publishers but also independent entrepreneurs like yourself?
KM: I think AR gives the publishing industry greater scope to create engaging and immersive worlds from the texts that are written. Characters and places can be brought to life, and readers can become almost part of the story. I think this can only serve to help the publishing industry, by bringing more children back into reading, without denying them the interactive elements that they’ve become so accustomed to.
DM. What’s next? Where do you see your next AR project going?
KM: Hopefully, The Tweeting Galah Volume 2! I would love to write a second book to follow-up on the first, as there are so many other cyber safety risks to address. In the second volume, I would love to further develop my AR skills so that there can be an even more interactive element between the characters and readers.
With more and more independent publishers adopting AR to add immersive, interactive elements to their projects, now is the time for publishers, both large and small, to get ahead of the competition and cement augmented reality within their business model. Laying the AR foundations now will give them valuable experience for future content creation. Using ZapWorks, any publisher can add a simple AR component to their content, quickly and easily, and perhaps most importantly, on a modest budget.
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The Tweeting Galah
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