Fans of comic books and graphic novels believe that this medium is a way to get children interested in reading. The medium relies on text but also uses lots of images. This makes stories created in this way more accessible and engaging to young readers.
The New Zealand Ministry of Education has recently taken this philosophy one step further to reach tech-savvy youths. An AR app that brings graphic novels to life is a part of a recently launched $1.91M four-year program by the ministry, which aims to improve access to localized curriculum resources.
The Big Idea
The AR app is called Manawatū and it was launched in schools within the Te Reo Māori population. Developers created the app to increase interest in the traditional indigenous language and cultural stories among young readers.
“Gen Z [students in school] today are part of the YouTube and Google generation where digital technology is integrated in their everyday lives,” said project manager Tama Kirikiri. “Utilizing augmented reality and a high-quality graphic novel to engage [students in this narrative] will speak directly to them and will certainly inspire them as the creators of tomorrow.”
The recently launched project has been more popular than expected. Developers are now working on an English language version of the AR app for the more general population.
“Kaiko Māori are most often in the position of having to translate English resources into Te Reo Māori,” said Kirikiri. “To be part of this groundbreaking project, creating a first of its kind resource for both Māori medium [schools] and English medium schools is really exciting.”
The AR App
The AR app works simply enough. Readers point their mobile phones at the pages of the graphic novel. The images than work as a target that generate 3D models on the page visible through the phone screen. The images then act out the scenes written and illustrated in the pages, moving from panel to panel.
The app is currently only available through the Ministry of Education. Further, it only works with select graphic novels. All of these are currently part of the curricula in the participating schools. Instructors and educators make up much of the project team. This ensures that the content is approachable, appropriate, and engaging for the students.
The popularity of the app that was initially for a very niche audience is certainly encouraging. The English-language version of the app will no doubt increase its visibility. Just as the English-speaking schools in the country adopted the app, the idea may spread to other locations in the near future.
The prospect of getting children to read and take an interest in their heritage through an AR app is exciting. Almost equally thrilling is the concept of using the program to familiarize children with AR at an early age. As the project leader pointed out, it may also encourage children to take up AR design as career paths. That’s similar to how young children now aspire to be authors or artists when school cultivates a love of literature.