Transmedia refers to the ability to cross media, in this instance, the transition from a digital to a physical object. A transmedia book has many characteristics of a traditional book, but, in addition, can transform images and designs in its pages into physical objects. The ability to replicate physical objects through digital fabrication will alter the nature of children’s future learning. This change will potentially be as significant as the information technology revolution that preceded it.
Digital media – sound, images, and video – underwent a transformation during the past decade through proliferation of sites such as YouTube and Flickr. This larger social phenomenon has been reflected in educational adaptations through parallel sites such as TeacherTube and SchoolTube that enable teachers to create, share and customize digital media.
Digital fabrication extends this phenomenon to physical media. Sites such as Thingiverse (www.thingiverse.com) and Shapeways (www.shapeways.com) allow consumers to share and replicate physical objects in the same manner as digital media.
Desktop fabrication systems include computer-controlled die cutters, laser cutters, and 3D printers as well as emergent consumer systems such as computer-controlled knitting machines. Print-on-demand publishing makes it possible to fabricate books on demand in the same fashion. The Espresso Book Machine, for example, can print a 300 page book on site in four minutes for a penny a page. Other on-demand publishers such as Lulu and CafePress print books centrally and ship them to customers.
In the future a transmedia authoring kit could facilitate development of transmedia books by children’s authors who wish to create STEM publications. An initial proof-of-concept book is being developed by the University of Virginia Children’s Engineering group in collaboration with the Fab@School consortium.
Our initial book, Make to Learn: Exploring Wind Power, is based on a wind energy activity developed and first piloted in a summer workshop for underrepresented youth. An expanded and revised version of this activity will be piloted in local schools in conjunction with a pilot transmedia book.
QR (Quick Response) codes embedded in the book will provide links to the virtual world. A smartphone, tablet, or laptop with a webcam can use the QR code to access files and media on the web. This type of link from an object in the physical world to the virtual world is known as an object link. In the case of the pilot transmedia book, the QR codes will be used to access digital fabrication designs used to create objects that can be incorporated into the book.
Exploring Wind and Power is an activity book that combines 2D and 3D digital fabrication, electrical circuits, and mechatronics in a series of activities geared to a culminating project – building a model wind turbine that generates sufficient electricity to light a series of LED bulbs that create lighting for a village in Africa. Students progress logically through the following activities that address a variety of math and science standards:
- Build a card stock wind turbine
- Measure the revolutions per minute (RPM)
- Build an electrical circuit
- Fabricate, test, and redesign blades for the wind turbine
- Experiment with gear ratios
- Design and build a final wind turbine and use it to light a series of LED’s
An anecdote about William Kamkwamba, “the boy who harnessed the wind,” anchors the activities. Background information is provided as needed regarding wind turbines, electrical circuits, digital fabrication, gear ratios and other aspects of the project. Photos, diagrams, and illustrations add visual interest and illustrate both concepts and concrete examples. A glossary in the appendices of the book provides definitions for terminology used in the text.
A question about students’ own energy sources and an anecdote about William Kamkwamba, “the boy who harnessed the wind,” anchor the activities. Background information is provided as needed regarding wind turbines, electrical circuits, digital fabrication, gear ratios and other aspects of the project. Photos and diagrams will add visual interest and illustrate concepts and concrete examples. A glossary will provide definitions for terminology used in the text.
Of interest, a pilot study conducted by the Children’s Engineering group in spring 2011 indicated that fifth-grade students preferred printed instructions for developing a generation pop-up to digital presentations. This information has led to the creation of the transmedia book in both print and digital form. Each format includes special features to enhance the learning experience.