Promoting literacy comes to a screen near you

22nd January 2010 at 00:00
With a tap here and a tap-tap there, pupils can create interactive stories on their iPhone or iPod Touch devices and have others read them online

The iphone and iPod Touch are set to be exploited to improve literacy, thanks to a new application which allows pupils to create their own interactive stories.

TapTale has been invented by Six to Start, an award-winning online storytelling company, with funding from Learning and Teaching Scotland and Channel 4's 4ip fund, set up to find innovative ways of delivering public- service products.

The application's primary goal is to promote literacy, says LTS, by allowing pupils to read and write tales using the tap, tilt, shake and swipe functions of Apple's touch-screen devices. Users read or create their own stories, advancing to the next chapter by executing or injecting an interactive element.

"Readers have to work out what they have to do in the story to progress," says Adrian Hon, who created the application and co-founded Six to Start with his brother Dan. "The story might say something like `the witch went up to the door and knocked three times'. The player would then have to tap on the phone three times in order to advance. Or they might read that the house fell to the right and they have to tilt the phone to the right to read about what happens next."

The goal is to encourage young people to write their own stories and include their own "gestures".

Once a tale has been created, users can upload them to the TapTale website, where other registered users can download and read them. Registered users can also provide feedback on any tale via the website, by slotting pre-written statements into a form.

"The last thing we wanted was for kids to start writing rude stuff that wasn't going to help anyone," said Mr Hon. "The options they have ensure they are giving good, constructive feedback."

Anyone can read the tales on the site, but the tapping and tilting functions are not possible.

Brian Clark, principal teacher of computing at Portobello High in Edinburgh, currently seconded to LTS as a development officer for games- based learning, said: "Encouraging pupils to read and write, provide and receive feedback using interactive and relevant technology should improve not only literacy skills, but digital literacy skills."

The next step for LTS will be to pilot the application in Scottish schools and explore how it can be used in the classroom, he continued. With 60 iPod Touches at its disposal, LTS, which has invested pound;12,000 in the project, has started the hunt for willing volunteers.

The only potential stumbling block is that to use the application properly, pupils need to be able to upload their stories from the wireless handheld devices to the web, but most councils have closed networks.

East Lothian, however, is an exception. It has put forward a primary and secondary school to test TapTale. North Lanarkshire may also become involved.

According to Mr Hon, the application could be used by anyone from children to adults and, if it takes off, all parties stand to make a lot of money.

Six to Start has already had considerable success developing digital stories with publisher Penguin. It won Best in Show at the South by Southwest Web Awards in Austin, Texas, last year for its We Tell Stories website. Six literary classics, including Charles Dickens's Hard Times and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, were retold for the digital era, using tools such as Twitter, weblogs and Google Maps.

The company's ambition, according to Dan Hon, is "to take devices like mobile phones and transport people into a fantastical, magical world that is playful, and has great game design and storytelling".

TapTale is available in the Apple Apps store. It is free in the UK.

`Little Miss Music' by Brian Clark

Jo bought a guitar. An electric guitar. A red electric guitar. With stars on the fret board. She was ready to rock at last!

(Gesture: SINGLE TAP)

She took to the stage, walking nervously towards the microphone. The microphone was dead centre, bathed in light from the single overhead spotlight. Jo tapped the mic twice to check it was on.


The taps echoed out towards the crowd that had gathered in the room. "What am I doing?!" thought Jo, shaking her head.


Jo turned to face the amplifier.


She took the end of the guitar lead and plugged it into the input socket. With a single click, she turned the amp on.


She turned the volume up to 3.


The amp buzzed into life. Jo strummed a chord on her guitar to check the volume level.


And played a couple of notes.


Happy with the sound, Jo twirled left to the crowd from behind the microphone.


"Errr, this . this is my first gig," she said nervously. "I hope you like my songs." And with that, Jo counted herself into her first song. "1 . 2 . 3 . 4 .


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