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Augmented Reality, Access, and the Changing Landscape of Children’s Picture Books

By Joan Rhodes
 | Jan 04, 2016
ThinkstockPhotos-466125518_x300I knew things were going to become interesting when I watched an animated dinosaur climb onto the chair in front of Dr. William Teale and then hop onto the conference room floor to wander among the legs of the other attendees. The dinosaur demonstration at the Literacy Research Association annual meeting in Carlsbad, CA, was a conference highlight. In a 90-minute session, Frank Serafini, Dani Kachorsky, Earl Auilera, and Elisabeth Gee offered an introduction to the changing world of children’s picture books that was insightful and entertaining and that raised many questions among the session participants. We wondered how new forms of picture books might have an impact on students’ understanding of the text. Does it matter whether students read an original print-based text or view the digitally enhanced version first? Conference sessions that leave the participants wondering and ready to explore new instructional and research possibilities are extraordinary—this was one of those sessions.

According to Serafini and his colleagues, today’s picture books are changing as they take advantage of the affordances of technology. Children’s books are offered not only in print-based formats, but also are available increasingly in digital formats, which allow youngsters to read text enhanced by audio, images, and embedded game-like elements. Picture books are benefitting from an increase in the use of augmented reality features that was predicted in the 2011 Horizon Report. As the report noted, mainstream use of augmented reality, or the overlaying of digital sensory information on the real-world environment, was only two or three years away. When looking at a picture book that is enhanced with augmented reality features, one would think one was looking at a normal children’s book, but once a mobile device or webcam is placed in front of the page, 3D elements, sounds, and games begin to appear on the device.

Serafini described an emerging typology for use as we consider the strengths and weaknesses of augmented reality picture books for instruction. The typology ranges from books, like those by William Joyce, that modify the print-based text by adding animation to existing objects, characters, and settings (The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore) to those that employ game-based augmentations by adding game modules to the story narrative (The Numberlys). In the five classifications of the typology, those books that provide story elements discernible only through the use of a digital device may pose a potential ethical dilemma or concern for educators. Because these forms of augmentation modify texts by adding information that is not visible to readers of the printed text, they may limit readers who cannot gain access to the additional information. For instance, imagine a text about a planet that does not share its image until readers activate an iPad app. This reliance on technology to access elements that support the text’s narrative seems inequitable. Educators must ask themselves whether this type of augmentation increases the chasm between the haves and have-nots in digital learning environments.

The Digital Divide is a continuing concern in the field of educational technology. Although an argument may be made that access is improving, a 2015 presentation by Lee Rainie, the director of Internet, Science, and Technology research at the Pew Research Center, shows that gaps in Internet access, especially with mobile devices, still exist. These differences, based on 15 years of Pew Research Center research data, demonstrate the significant impact of household income, educational level, race, age, ethnicity, and community type on access to the affordances of new technologies. The necessity of using mobile devices for interacting with some augmented reality picture books requires educators to consider student access when planning to incorporate this literature in the classroom. Although it is suggested that educators shift from examining the quality of individual augmented texts to how students experience content across the multiple available platforms of a picture book, the lack of access to the books and some elements within augmented reality books should not be ignored.

Joan Rhodes is an associate professor and interim chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at Virginia Commonwealth University.

This article is part of a series from the International Reading Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

1 comment

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  1. kail | Aug 17, 2017
    How do you think it is useful and convenient for teachers? Whether the learning process will change if we use this technology. I believe that this technology is useful , because it is able to train children quickly and to clearly show some things (  https://itechcraft.com/21st-century-pop-books/ ). But the question remains open.

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