Brock student launches interactive children’s book for iPad

A Brock PhD student’s idea for an interactive children’s book has grown into reality.

Danielle Beckett, a certified classroom teacher who now studies learning and cognition in the Faculty of Education at the University, created The Gingerbread Man storybook for the iPad through her start-up company GroDigital.

And this is no ordinary touch and flip e-book for children. Beckett’s creation also doubles as a reading assessment tool because of groundbreaking voice-recognition technology developed by computer science students from Brock.

“The voice recognition allows for the child to be assessed while reading and providing feedback to improve their reading performance,” says Beckett. “With this project, we’re spearheading voice recognition technology.”

The interactive choose-your-own-adventure e-book is based upon the popular 19th-century fairy tale, The Gingerbread Man, and is designed for children ages 4 to 8.

A key feature of the book is the interactive learning companion that asks children questions as they go along, and provides a reading report. The reports can be viewed in both child mode, which is simplistic and visual, and parent mode, which further breaks down the words and parts of the language.

“The book actually performs two functions,” says Beckett. “It has a ‘decoding’ component, which evaluates reading performance, and a ‘comprehension’ piece that assesses readers’ understanding of the story.”

The e-book has three different modes – read aloud, read it myself and read to me. In all three modes, children can touch a word to hear its pronunciation. The touch function also lets readers give real-time feedback to the story’s learning companion.

Beckett’s product also has potential applications for the classroom. She will take part in in-class research in Fall 2013 to further examine this aspect of the project.

“I really do think that it has a place in the classroom, especially with the output that it gives teachers,” says Beckett. “But I would like to do additional research in the classroom first before launching it to school boards.”

The Toronto District School Board, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, and the public and Catholic schools boards in Niagara have all expressed interest in the assessment tool, which has the potential to help with grouping students according to reading levels and identifying persistent words and sounds that children are having difficulty with.

The beta version of The Gingerbread Man interactive children’s book and reading assessment tool is now available on iTunes for $3.99.

Development on the project began in Fall 2011. The project was developed by an all-Niagara team, which included programmers from Brock, as well as a local artist, sound designer and writing consultant.

“We’re hoping to branch out from here and develop more books, optimize the voice recognition system, and hire more people to work on these projects,” says Beckett.

The GroDigital project was partially funded by FedDev Ontario’s Applied Research and Commercialization initiative. The program provided up to $50,000 to help small and medium enterprises partner with Brock researchers on projects that help the businesses compete nationally and internationally.

For this initiative Beckett’s company partnered with Proactive Dealer Solutions (PDS), to aid in business development. They also teamed up with Brock education professor Tony DiPetta, who is also director of the Centre for Continuing Teacher Education in the Faculty of Education at Brock.

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