How AR is transforming learning and helping to keep young people safe online

7 min read
Blog Author

How AR is transforming learning and helping to keep young people safe online

Blog Author
7 min read
Educators have been some of the most intrepid users of technology, using AR to inform young people about a wide range of issues and skills both in and out of the classroom. We spoke to talented teacher and creative innovator Kim Maslin about the release of her latest book, The Surfing Penguin, to find out how she’s using Zappar-powered AR to help young people navigate the online world in a safe and healthy way.

Educators have long been some of the most intrepid users of AR technology, seeking out innovative ways to engage young people with the technologies and devices they most enjoy engaging with. Kim Maslin is no exception - with an impressive track record of integrating digital technology into her lesson plans and book releases, helping young people engage with a wide array of important topics.

Previously, we’ve spoken to her about her Zappar-powered book ‘The Tweeting Galah’, exploring how AR is opening up a world of new possibilities for publishers. This time, we chatted about her amazing follow-up, ‘The Surfing Penguin’, tackling the exceptionally relevant issue of cyber safety and the challenge of keeping young people safe in our hyper-connected digital world.

With pioneering research such as ‘The Layered Report’ showcasing the positive impact AR has on both visual attention and heightened memory retention, Kim’s work is a fantastic example of utilizing AR to both enhance the learning experience and open the doors to important conversations with young people and their guardians through fun interactive experiences.


The 'Layered Report', produced in collaboration by Zappar, Neuro-Insight and Mindshare UK, showcases research that demonstrates AR's power to aid memory retention and heighten visual attention - key facets of learning.


Using AR to transform learning

James Wright: Hi Kim, great to speak to you again! Could you start us off with an overview of 'The Surfing Penguin' and your background as an educator?

Kim Maslin: So 'The Surfing Penguin' is a selection of four short stories, each featuring an Australian animal experiencing life as a primary school aged young person. It follows their experiences as they learn how to navigate the online world in a safe and healthy way.

Each story focuses on a key issue of online safety, such as how to deal with viewing inappropriate content when that inevitably crops up, cyberbullying, online gaming and the issues of trolling and the risks of sharing personal information online, such as your location. So it complements the series of issues discussed in 'The Tweeting Galah' book.

I trained as a high school teacher and initially worked in high schools teaching technology and media. But I’ve also worked in primary schools with digital technologies and worked on workshops with adults too. All in all, I’ve taught 5-year-olds to 85-year-olds!


“I feel like the age group I’m targeting, particularly those in the seven to eleven-year-old group - they’re just so saturated with games and other forms of interactive media. So if you can find a way to bring that into the classroom in a positive way - into learning, into reading - it just really enhances their engagement and from that, the learning outcomes too.”

- Kim Maslin, Digital Technologies Educator

JW: How did you get started working AR into your lesson plans and books?

KM: So, my latest book, ‘The Surfing Penguin’, is the second one I’ve produced that incorporates AR. The AR from my previous project, ‘The Tweeting Galah’ was really well received by parents and students, so it was a no-brainer to keep including it. It’s illustrated by John Field and it’s a really cool way to bring his depictions of the characters to life.

I feel like the age group I’m targeting, particularly those in the seven to eleven-year-old group - they’re just so saturated with games and other forms of interactive media. So if you can find a way to bring that into the classroom in a positive way - into learning, into reading - it just really enhances their engagement and from that, the learning outcomes too.


Kim Maslin's series of AR-enabled books utilize a colorful cast of Australian animal characters to engage young people and explore important cyber safety topics


JW: Is that related to you utilizing smartphone devices and leaning into the platforms young people enjoy using, rather than pushing them away?

KM: That’s right - it’s about finding ways for young people to use their devices in constructive, meaningful ways. I’m passionate about educating young people about how to do that.


JW: So what motivated you to use AR to deal with online safety?

KM: I was working in a school at the time and doing my own cyber safety workshops for parents. I felt at the time that parents were still feeling very overwhelmed and a lot of the content was really focused on children aged 13 and up - there was very little content on this topic for the kind of seven to eleven age range.

So I really wanted to find a more innovative and fun way to educate these groups at the same time. I felt an AR-enabled book was a good medium as it’s linking it to an activity hopefully young people and their parents were already engaging with at home or at school would be a new way of approaching the issue.


Using AR to illuminate print

JW: We’ve spoken before about your previous book - ‘The Tweeting Galah’ - how has the AR you’ve incorporated this time built upon that experience?

KM: It’s definitely evolved. With ‘The Tweeting Galah’, I made all the experiences myself and a shout to you guys - the interface with Zapworks Designer was super easy to use! For this latest book, I really wanted to evolve the AR element - to make it more sophisticated and playful. I was fortunate enough to be able to hire an AR developer to work on this project with me. I had ideas about how I wanted the AR to be used and was able to make those a reality.


'The Surfing Penguin' adds more sophisticated and engaging AR experiences to its pages compared to its predecessors, particularly through leveraging Zapworks Studio's face tracking functionality.


JW: How did you end up building a relationship with an AR developer?

I actually reached out to Caspar (Zappar CEO) for advice! He let know that Marc Najera, a former AR designer at Zappar had recently moved to Australia, so we linked up, shared ideas and he put together the experiences for me using Zapworks Studio.

JW: Awesome! So what do you think it is about the inclusion of AR that makes this work so engaging for young people?

KM: I think there are a few things, really. For one, it’s an opportunity (or an excuse!) for young people to utilize the devices, like iPads, they tend to most enjoy using and are often desperate to be using in class as it is.

I think there’s still a very novel aspect to the technology itself, too. So even though the technology has been around for a little while now and experiences are evolving, it doesn’t change the fact that actually seeing print come to life through AR is still incredibly exciting and engaging.

Particularly in education here in Australia, we are seeing increasing use of digital technologies in the classroom, but AR is still something many young people have never got to experience in their own lives - so it’s novel and inspiring for them.

But the really key thing for me is that AR experiences take a young person from passively listening to actively engaging with that story. That is something that they really, really enjoy.

One of my favorite examples from the book is when the reader explores the penguin’s story and is then invited to scan the Zapcode and ‘become’ the penguin. So with face tracking, they can actually transform into the character they’ve been experiencing and that really brings them closer to the story, and therefore engage more effectively with the important safety messages that the character represents.


To engage and excite young readers, 'The Surfing Penguin' uses Zapworks Studio's face tracking feature to create fast-loading selfie opportunities, that enhance an emotional connection to the character's experience.


How AR is helping to teach cyber safety

JW: Is letting young people interact via a smart device intrinsic to the lessons you’re trying to teach in terms of online safety?

KM: I think it’s such a great way for kids to use the technology they love in a safe and constructive way within a classroom setting.

It links back to key themes tackled in The Surfing Penguin, but it also opens the door for further interactions at home with families. For example, being able to experience this via a smart device is an opportunity for parents to see how technology can be used in a cool way by young people that isn’t a violent game or something inappropriate. I feel that’s really important and that my book is quite unique in being able to do that. Compared to other books dealing with cyber safety topics, my AR-powered book actively demonstrates young people safely using the very technology that the book is talking about.

Something that Marc implemented with Zapworks Studio that’s really emblematic of this is age-gating the social share function when readers are invited to take a selfie using the book’s face filters. You can save a photo to your phone but attempting to share will ask for the user’s age - making both young people and their carers aware of the permissions and restrictions associated with sharing content online. So I guess that’s a way of my book walking the walk, not just talking the talk!


“ ...the really key thing for me is that AR experiences take a young person from passively listening to actively engaging with that story. That is something that they really, really enjoy.”

- Kim Maslin, Digital Technologies Educator


JW: So is educating parents and families a core part of the book’s message? Using AR to showcase constructive uses of smart devices with sensible restrictions, rather than just taking devices out of the hands of young people?

KM: Definitely - I think a lot of parents can understandably feel overwhelmed by the technology that young people have access to, so it can be hard for them to draw up sensible guidelines around their children using smart devices in the way you would in other circumstances.

For example, parents aren’t likely to let their children ride their bicycle down the middle of a street at 2am, yet many do not remove a smart device from a child’s room at night, where they could be interacting with strangers at any hour of the night. The risks can be just as apparent, but it’s harder to process when you’re not informed about the technology associated with it. So there can be some disconnect there in terms of understanding how exactly young people can use their smart devices.

I think it’s really important for parents and family members to be involved with young people in this learning process because a lot of online safety issues can be overcome, or at least mitigated, by empowering parents to make informed decisions while their child is at primary school age. Establishing a degree of control over their smart device and setting clear rules about its use is key, so using AR directly connects to that.

What I really hope is that this book is an approachable way for parents to learn safety rules themselves and that way, also embrace positive uses of devices.


JW: So it’s a collaborative learning curve with parents learning alongside their children?

KM: It is and that’s what initially drove me to start working on this series of AR-enabled books. So even though the books have largely been taken up by teachers in the classroom, they do feature reflection questions at the end to guide discussions. So wherever people are engaging with the book, there’s always a space to get everyone thinking and talking about the whole online landscape.


Kim Maslin's latest book uses AR to highlight key cyber safety issues through mini-games, including this ingenious online nickname generator that encourages young people to keep their personal information private online.


Using Zapworks Studio to create engaging experiences

JW: So you had some assistance with creating this project in Zapworks Studio - how have you found creating with Zapworks previously? 

KM: My first experience with Zapworks was also my first ever interaction with creating AR, and I found it really positive! I started out using Zapworks Designer and it was super easy to use, particularly as it followed a lot of the conventions I was familiar with from other creative tools, such as PhotoShop or Canva.

With my latest book, Marc used Zapworks Studio to implement a lot more complex and exciting AR experiences, such as mini-games, online name generators and of course, leveraging the face tracking technology for the face filters. So it was a bit more sophisticated this time around, moving on from the videos and slideshows you’d have seen in The Tweeting Galah.


JW: How did that creative relationship with Marc work - how was it communicating your ideas to an AR designer?

We worked predominantly over email - I showed him the stories and explained what I wanted to achieve and he just made it happen with Zapworks Studio! I wanted to be really creative with it and make something young people would have fun interacting with and Marc really got that.


“...they aren’t just writing an answer to ‘how does the character feel?’, they’re experiencing it and actioning that through AR. That builds empathy and a deeper connection with the characters.”

- Kim Maslin, Digital Technologies Educator


JW: So are you planning to build on that further with Zapworks Studio?

KM: Because of the success of the penguin face filter we implemented in the book, we’ve actually been using Zapworks Studio for spin-off projects too. We’ve gone and created face filters for all of the animals in the books, so we’re going to implement that into interactive trading cards, inspired by Pokémon and football sticker collecting. So that’s going off to the printers soon and I’m really excited about that.

Both of my previous books are available on my website, but recently they’ve been made available on a lot of popular worldwide online marketplaces, so we can reach a market beyond Australia. With the success it’s seen in primary schools in particular, I’m keen to push this further as a learning tool and linking it to my free online lesson resources for teachers, to keep building up the community around the books. So I’d be looking to include these AR-enabled trading cards with the teaching packs so they can be used as classroom rewards, or for early finishers - experiences to enjoy and have a bit of fun with.

But I'd also really like to see these being leveraged as a learning opportunity. For example, if young people have experienced a story with a character having to cope with cyberbullying, being able to take a selfie as that character and making an expression just like the character would have felt, is a really engaging way for young people to take that message on. So they aren’t just writing an answer to ‘how does the character feel?’, they’re experiencing it and actioning that through AR. That builds empathy and a deeper connection with the characters.


'The Surfing Penguin', the latest AR-enabled book in Kim Maslin's 'The Tweeting Galah' educational series is now available worldwide.

JW: And finally, where you can find out more and grab a copy of the book?

KM: You’re able to order directly from my website, alongside a whole host of free learning resources. You can also order it worldwide from Amazon, Booktopia and The Book Depository!

Final Thoughts

As the challenges facing young people evolve in our digital world, so too must the way we reach out and engage with them. AR is a fantastic way to do that - illuminating print at home or in the classroom, leveraging the smart devices young people are comfortable interacting with for a positive purpose. Getting started with AR creation is really easy with Zapworks - whether it’s with our intuitive drag n’ drop Designer toolkit or our powerful and most feature-rich Studio product - no code required and with a 30-day free trial for you to see for yourself. Our huge range of handy documentation is on-hand to get you started, including detailed walkthroughs and in-depth video guides. There’s also our friendly Zapworks community over on our Forum - a great place to get feedback, be inspired by our creators or reach out to our expert support staff.