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Interactive eBook project reveals human effort behind technology

Moonbeam eBook page

A project to design an interactive eBook for children is demonstrating the human effort required to create works of digital literature.

The project, which involved staff and students from The University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC), shows the collaboration needed to make full use of the technology behind interactive eBooks.

The resulting book, MoonBeam, combines traditional story-telling with interactive elements such as touch-screen, sound effects, animation and music.

It took an international team of around 25 people, including actors, illustrators, translators, writers , musicians and coders, a long period of research to create the eBook, which has been produced in 10 different languages and is available to download in British English from iTunes.

Published in EPUB3 FXL (Fixed Layout Format) it was created in parallel with the development of PubCoder, a software platform that enables users to easily create and publish interactive, multi-language eBooks for tablet devices. The platform was recently named runner-up at the Contec Startup Showcase during the Frankfurt Book Fair.

An interactive eBook takes advantage of a tablet’s touch screen to deliver an interactive ‘reading’ experience, with a user directing the storyline and experiencing the content not only in word, but in sight and sound as well.

It is a marked development from the original eBooks, which were static ‘print’ books presented on a screen.

The team led by Filippo Gilardi, an assistant professor in the UNNC Language Centre, and James Reid, a lecturer at the Akita International University in Japan, wanted to test the platform’s ability to create books in different languages as well as explore how young readers could interact with the eBook.

They encountered a number of challenges including difficulties in getting the platform to reproduce Japanese characters accurately, something that only a skilled human translator could spot and correct.

The team also found that they had to reduce their ambitions for the eBook’s interactive elements as the tablets and eBook readers currently available simply could not read the effects produced by the software platform. 

Filippo, who is interested in investigating how educators can use technology in the classroom, said: “Many people do not realise the complex collaborative process that is required to create an interactive eBook of this sort - people with a wide range of skills are needed, from writers to translators to HTML coders to musicians.

“With this project we wanted to not only produce an eBook that was fun and engaging for children, but to also demonstrate that despite huge advances in technology, human beings are still need to create and produce work.

“The development of interactive eBooks is creating new opportunities for people who want to present information in a way that’s engaging for the user.

“And, as we found during this project, the only real limitation is whether the technology that’s currently available can keep up with people’s ambitions – there’s still a limit to what people can think of and what the technology can do.”

More press information about UNNC is available from Tess Humphrys, communications and marketing officer, UNNC, on +86 574 8818 0940.

Posted on 5 November 2013