Digital tsunami creates great opportunities

2015, first aid for comics and education

With an indoor comic theme park opening in 2015, a comics platform being tested by a user group, gamification on educational platforms and new reading experiences for preschoolers and young adults, the Flemish book industry enhances the digital playground.

Striptease, a comic experience

Comics are part of Belgian cultural heritage. Major comic book publishers Ballon Media and Standaard Uitgeverij joined forces within YIEHA, a unique platform for the ultimate digital comic experience. Based on multidisciplinary research conducted by iMinds Media Innovation Center and in collaboration with technology partners Crius Group (Belgium) and Izneo (France), the YIEHA website and app will soon be launched. The platform will enable fans to buy or rent comics, read their favourites and find some rare editions. This on every screen they like. Comic characters Jommeke, Suske en Wiske, Thorgal, Urbanus, De Rode Ridder and many more will offer an ongoing reading experience. Early 2015 a group of users will be testing the platform. Their feedback and user experience will boost further development of the platform.

And as it seems experience is what we are all looking for, Belgian comic characters will be brought together in a permanent indoor theme park Comics Station Antwerp, built in Antwerp Central Station. The park will take about 6.000 square metres built next to the platforms at the -2 level. Considering that the negotiations with all the rights holders of the Belgian comics have been completed, the construction of the park will start soon. WPG Uitgevers, publisher of a number of famous Belgian comics, will be one of the shareholders of the park. As from the end of 2015 Comics Station aims to welcome annually some 200.000 fans and visitors from all over the world.

A more modest comic project, but nevertheless a quite inspiring one, was launched in 2014. Dansen drinken betalen (Dancing, drinking, paying) illustrates how a comic can be brought to life as an ‘almost-the-movie’ experience. The launching of the comic book by Uitgeverij Vrijdag in spring 2014 was followed by a theatre tour backed by musical soundtracks and finally resulted in a comic ebook which can be downloaded for free in the iTunes store. Soundscapes are added to the story and some of the illustrations can be animated by the reader. The project proves once more that co-creation between creative peeple from different branches is an added value to innovation.

Education first

All over the world educational publishers take the lead in interactivity, social reading, adaptivity… That also counts for Flemish publishers. From basic read aloud preschooler books to gamificated testing platforms, learning becomes fun for exploratory toddlers, motivated elementary school pupils and teens struggling with seemingly boring school tasks.

Exercise made easy with, Bingel and diddit

In a previous article we already reported on the learning/home work platform, launched september 2014 by Die Keure Publishers. Currently more than 50.000 children make use of this gamified educational platform and more than 5.000 Flemish teachers got started with it. Those numbers are growing every day.

Same story for the Bingel platform developed by Van In Publishers. By excercising and discovering sequel stories and new worlds, children improve their learning skills. Used by thousands of primary school kids both at home and in class, Bingel proves to optimize learning and training.

Encouraged by this Bingel success, Van In Publishers will launch an added platform for secondary education september 1, 2015. The diddit platform with teaching materials, evaluation tools, assignment, board book features and inspiration will focus primarily on first grade students and will later on be expanded to the entire secondary grades.

Books or tablets

The EduTab project contributes to the digitization discussion, especially on the added value in terms of learning effect and the economic feasibility of digital applications in Flemish secondary education. Within the EduTab project a unique consortium of Flemish stakeholders joined forces to investigate the efficiency and effect of digital tools, applications and devices (particularly tablets) in education. The project is targeting three goals: to identify opportunities in terms of digital teaching aids, to develop the most feasible track of the identified opportunities and to validate their learning effects by implementing their proof of concepts in the living lab of schools. Three demonstrators will be developed: multiscreen interaction, multicontext adaptivity and inquiry learning, dispersed in three domains namely mathematics, languages and physics. Results will be disseminated at the closing event fall 2015.

Limited editions

Eureka ADIBib is the adjusted digital library for children with a limitation in the written communication in primary, secondary and higher education in Flanders. Funded by the Flemish Ministry of Education, Eureka ADIBib has an agreement with Flemish educational publishers stating that ADIBib receives the print-files of schoolbooks and is allowed to modify these PDF’s through a semi-automated process to produce accessible files by adding both text- and language-tagging. The result remains a PDF but with all text tagged in a logical reading order and adapted in the properly language. Kids with dyslexia who’ve bought these books can read to them by using text-to-speech software (Kurzweil 3000, SprintPDF and WoDy-pdf) and can fill out their textbooks by using their keyboard. Kids with a motoric disability can also use free PDF-software to write on the PDF’s. Visually impaired students can use their screen magnifying software to enlarge their digital schoolbooks instead of having to buy expensive hardware to enlarge the printed version of the book. Where accessibility meets inclusion.

Games and Learning: Teach your Children Well

Games and education meet not only in educational context but also in terms of entertainment. As gamification becomes more than a buzzword, game developers, publishers and learning platforms see the added value of games. Flemish publisher Die Keure and game developer Larian Studios developed a 3D educational video game in 2010 that combines mathematics with entertainment.

Research on Monkey Tales illustrates that learning math within a game results in better understanding of the content. In terms of accuracy, it was found that the group who played the game was 6% more accurate than before they played the game. The group of children who played the game gained 30% in calculation speed. In terms of user experience, both parents and children were convinced of the potential of educational games once they had experienced them. Both perceived a good balance of fun and education.

Studying the impact of games, the iMinds project G@S (Games @ School) focused on research towards an open platform for development and distribution of educational games.

As a result publisher Die Keure released the game projects and, an online 3D game and exercise platform for primary school kids, their parents, teachers and professional tutors that encourages children to do their homework. The platform was developed mainly through the research from G@S. is a unique approach in motivating and engaging students to learn through an incentive-based system, thus the publisher. Children who complete practical lessons are rewarded with points that can be used to play interactive games.

As for augmented reality, flemish Publisher Ballon media catapults us into the World of Waw with Alex the Astronaut, a classic read-aloud book, combined with augmented reality.

Comic Books: We Will Be Heros

Comic books represent about 12% of the total turnover of the book industry in Flanders. Both publishers WPG and Ballon Media, supported by iMinds, joined forces to develop an e-Comic platform that would enable them to digitize and enrich existing as well as new content in a cost-effective way. With the e-Comic project, our publishers aim to create the digital comic of the future within the context of a viable business model. All aspects – requirements of the readers, willingness to pay, market potential – are examined by a live test panel. WPG was already quite successful with last year’s Suske en Wiske app, which brings characters to life through animation and soundtracks, the expectations for the e-Comic platform are very high.

A 360-Degree Approach to Content

A book, an exhibition, a website, a television series, a calendar, an enriched ebook, a website, a Facebook page, events . . . let’s call it a multidisciplinary, 360-degree content approach. That’s what Flemish publisher Lannoo had in mind when it launched the international trilingual project, Birthday. At heart of this project is a book by famous photographer Lieve Blancquaert on how the world welcomes new born babies. “The way a child is born, is a mirror of the society, and the place where our cradle stands, determines our future”, thus Lieve Blancquaert. “That fascinates me, and that is why I traveled the world to see how moms and dads welcome their children. From Israel to Siberia and from Shangai to Rio de Janeiro.” Traveling the world taking pictures, Lieve was accompanied by a TV crew, who reported on her journey throughout the world. The exhibition is currently on tour around Europe. This project illustrates publishers embracing new tools and techniques in order to create innovative storytelling experiences.


Social writing

To complete this richness of projects it’s worth to mention the Fakeboek experiment initiated by non-profit organization Creatief Schrijven (Creative writing), an organization stimulating and coaching debuting writers. Renowned Flemish authors Ivo Victoria and Carmien Michels started a Facebook-like writing experiment. With a set of well profiled characters posting status updates, activities, reflections, pictures and direct messages, and all charachters interacting with each other via comments, likes and other posts, the story comes alive, blurring boundaries between Face an Fake.  Other writers were asked to empathize with the characters and to participate writing the story.

With a publishing branche and technology sector that both – independently and in collaboration with each other – experiment with innovation and look for creative and useful opportunities, still more innovative Flemish projects will be launched in the near future. To be continued.

Part of this article was originally published on Publishing Perspective.


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