Karen Hart from Picsterbooks is one of our most avid and ambitious users. Last summer we posted about her work on “My First Shapes in Sign” since then, she has been busy making a series of apps for the deaf. “Die Gemmerkoekman“(The Gingerbreadman) and “Die Drie Varkies“(The Three Little Pigs) are free in the Appstore now, with four more stories on the way. Her work is truly inspiring and really takes advantage of all the functionality digital learning has to offer, especially for special needs students. I had the privilege of working with Karen on some of her more recent projects, and really enjoyed getting to know her process. I came up with a few interview questions about the evolution of her project to share with the community:
Q: “What is the theme for this series remedial learning apps?”
A: “The theme that governed the creation of these apps was reading, we need to encourage deaf children to read to improve their functional literacy. But we also had to use their first language Sign to explain concepts and words in contexts. In creating these apps that was a whole new technology for the students at the school we wanted to create something familiar the apps had to look and sounded familiar to children in South Africa, by doing this we hoped to create a positive non-threatening learning environment.”
Q: “What was your motivation for making a learning app for the deaf?”
A: “Deaf children have so much visual stimuli and I knew that it could be better and easier for them to learn if they could just get access to the correct device. The problem of language lies at the core of deaf children’s learning backlog. The iPad being an intuitive tool, meant that we did not have to spend excessive time to try and teach the children another set of language to be able to communicate with the device. They could observe others, learn intuitively and touch without fear of doing the wrong thing or possibly breaking the device. The iPad removes fear and apprehension of interacting with the device, which makes learning a positive experience. The iPad made sense in the context of a deaf user and the language barriers they face.
But there was a big BUT, the iPad is fantastic for deaf users but we needed local content in their language with their Sign Language, so we had to not only get iPads for the school but I had to create content with a local context.”
Q: “Tell us a little bit more about your client.”
A:”My client is Transoranje School for the Deaf, it’s a small school with a very limited budget for new technologies. So we had to make a plan to find funding, after knocking on many doors and writing many proposals we found funding with Tshikululu who manages the Anglo American Chairman’s Fund. The funding was enough for 6 book titles in two languages. We had to build each book in both Afrikaans which is the language the school use to teach in and in English which is the language the school is busy transitioning to as a teaching language.”
Q: “What challenges did you face durring production?”
A: “Learning how to produce a book that would make sense for a deaf user, was intuitive for deaf users and was a good learning tool for a teacher of a deaf child was a learning curve for me. Me as a hearing person did not fully understand the challenges teachers face when teaching deaf children. Our main goal of the project was to encourage reading to improve functional literacy for deaf children. We had to create special buttons in the apps to play the sign language videos so that the children could not by default watch the sign video, they had to read.
Production challenges we faced was language not just the barrier between sign and written language but also having an American illustration artist produce artwork for an Afrikaans book. We produce and submit the Afrikaans version of the books before we do the English translations.
Natalie illustrated Die Gemmerkoekman (The Gingerbread man) which was a very universal tail, but “Die Groot Wortel” (The Big Carrot) had a few Google translate searches and a bunch of photos searches. The client wanted a very traditional South African looking farm theme throughout the book. I did rough translations of the text and animation descriptions to the storyboard, and where we encountered very South African concepts I did a lot of explaining and comparing of cultures and farm barn buildings to Natalie. In The Big Carrot Natalie created beautiful renderings of a very familiar Cape wine lands farm, she really captured what makes the book feel South African.”
Q: “How have people reacted to your work?”
A: “I have many hearing people say they did not realise how many facets of an object must be used to create a full comprehensive understanding of a word or a concept for a deaf child. Everybody wants to know when we will have the English versions of the Apps ready. And I have had teachers of hearing children say they could use the book apps as remedial teaching tools even if their focus is not on the sign language.”
Q: “What’s next for you?”
A: “I together with Rafiq Ahmend of Demibooks will be presenting at a workshop at the IDC conference in New York in June 2013 about using Demibooks Composer to composit a book such as this as well as looking at the heuristics of the book app in the workshop. We have written an academic paper for the conference and was accepted to take part in the demo ‘Madness” session where we will be demonstrating the app to peers.
We need to find more funding for the four more books, we are creating 6 books for Gr1-Gr5 now we need to create for the older children. We have to find ways to keep challenging the children with more difficult subject matter and themes. We need to learn from this project see how it test in the classroom environment, and find out if we can do it better and make it even more user friendly. Composer is such an affordable tool to use as a publishing format and the books are easy to adapt and translate to other languages I would like to pursue translations in to different languages.”