Oceanhouse Media is the official e-book app developer for the works of Dr Suess (Dredge, 2012). Among their many offerings is the Dr. Seuss Treasury – School (Oceanhouse Media, 2016a), containing fifty-five Dr. Seuss titles, including a version of The Lorax (Seuss, 1971). That particular title was investigated for this review, which will look at the digital features of this enhanced e-book (James & De Kock, 2013) and their efficacy in educational settings (Yokota & Telae, 2014).
The app would fall under Maureen Walsh’s (2013) broad category of traditional literature re-presented in digital form, Unsworth’s (2006 as cited in Walsh, 2013, p. 182) electronically augmented literary texts, and Lamb’s (2011) interactive storybooks. This places it in what could be termed a “comfort zone” of digital literature – not particularly innovative, like transmedia or extended reality texts (Breeze, 2018), but situated in a safe, popular, and comparatively commercially competitive (Dredge, 2012) niche.
Dr. Seuss is a well-known author of children’s literature whose books meet the threshold of demonstrating quality literary elements (Walsh, 2013; Yokota & Teale, 2014). One key area to evaluate in the digital versions are what Walsh (2013) describes as the “synergy” between the literary elements and the digital features. Research findings suggest that while multimedia features can have a positive effect on story comprehension and expressive vocabulary development, interactivity, broadly speaking, does not (Takacs, Swart, & Bus, 2015). However, specific types of interactivity, when congruent with the storyline and aligned with effective reading pedagogy, can increase story comprehension and engagement (Kao, Tsai, Liu, & Yang, 2016).
Therefore, this evaluation will look at digital features in the app and :
- their type: (I)nteractive or (M)ultimedia (Takacs, et al., 2015);
- their degree of “synergy” (Walsh, 2013) or “congruence”(Kao, et al. 2016) with the text: + (positive), = (neutral), – (negative);
- their alignment with effective pedagogical principles (Kao, et al., 2016; Yokota & Teale, 2014).
(Dr. Seuss Treasury App., 2018) via YouTube.
This app seems to follow the guidelines espoused by Michel Kripalani, president of Oceanhouse Media in 2012 (Dredge, 2012). It is run on the company’s “omBooks” engine that reflects an intent to avoid the “animations or bells and whistles” (Kripalani in Dredge, 2012, para. 11) and “crazy fancy dancing characters and puzzle games” (Ibid, para. 15) found in some other enhanced e-book apps. (Ironically, those types of enhancements are present in the Read and Play version of The Lorax (Oceanhouse Media, 2016b).)
The digital features (the first four can be toggled on or off) include:
- Hear Sound Effects (M, +): these background effects support and enhance the mood of the story, but can be deselected.
- Tap On Pictures (I, =): when you tap on the illustrations, words related to that part of the illustration (boy, crickle-grass, etc.) appear with an animated zoom-in effect. If narration is not underway, they are pronounced aloud. This could be helpful for students learning English as a foreign language or needing vocabulary support, but some word-picture combinations can be confusing – it can be deselected.
- Tap On Words (I, +): when you tap on words they are highlighted and the word is read aloud. This feature is always activated and gives mostly pedagogically sound scaffolding (hyphenated compounds are read as their individual components, which is not ideal).
- Read To Me (I/M, +): a double tap at the beginning of the words will trigger the narrator reading the page aloud with words highlighted as they are read. The highlighting is a pedagogically sound scaffolding.
- Voice (I/M, +): You can record your own narration for the story and listen to it back again when finished (and select it for read aloud modes in the future). This can be useful if you do not find the narrator’s performance congruent with the text (Yokota & Teale, 2014) and is also a sound pedagogical tool for developing oral reading fluency.
There are three modes to experience the story in:
- Auto Play Mode (M, +): narration and automatic turning of pages progressing through the story. Narration as in the Read to Me feature discussed above, but automatic. The speed of page-turning is adjustable in the settings menu. To turn the mode off, you hold down a button in the lower left corner of the screen for five seconds and it stops the automatic progression and converts it to the menu button.
- Read to Me Mode (M, +): text narration (as in auto-play) with manual page turning. Offers increased tactile manipulation, which may help to lessen potential dissonance in “haptic perception” (Mangen, 2008) that can inhibit comprehension.
- Read it Myself Mode (+): silent reading and manual page turning. Allows reader to go at their own pace, but with the opportunity to self-scaffold by the “Tap on Words” feature and the “Tap on Pictures” and “Read to Me” features if activated.
Overall, this e-storybook has enhanced features that are congruent with the story and align with sound reading pedagogy. I recommend the Treasury version. The stand-alone Read and Play version (Oceanhouse Media, 2016b) adds animation and interactive game features that are not congruent with the text and reading pedagogy (Kao, et al., 2016). The school version of the 55-book treasury is available for AU$79.99, with a 7-day free trial access period.
Note: For informational purposes – this assessment received an HD (just). The main criticisms were that the tone was not quite right for a scholarly review and that there were too many references and not enough space for my own opinions. The length was also an issue – while I was within the +10% leeway using the word count on the blogging platform, Word counts differently and assessed my posts as over that cutoff.
Breeze, M. (2018, July 20). Virtual reality literature: Examples and potentials [Blog post]. In The Writing Platform. Retrieved from http://thewritingplatform.com/2018/07/virtual-reality-literature-examples-potentials/
Dr. Seuss Treasury App. (2018, June 11). The Lorax by Dr. Seuss Oceanhouse Media app for iPad HD [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yla69nby2V8
Dredge, S. (2012, February 14). Oceanhouse Media talks Dr. Seuss, book-apps and mobile edu-tainment [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/appsblog/2012/feb/14/oceanhouse-media-dr-seuss-apps
James, R., & De Kock, L. (2013). The digital David and the Gutenberg
Goliath: The rise of the ‘enhanced’ e-book. English Academy Review, 30(1), 107-123. doi: 10.1080/10131752.2013.783394
Kao, G. Y., Tsai, C., Liu, C., & Yang, C. (2016). The effects of high/low interactive electronic storybooks on elementary school students’ reading motivation, story comprehension and chromatics concepts. Computers & Education, 100, 56-70. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2016.04.03
Mangen, A. (2008). Hypertext fiction reading: haptics and immersion. Journal of Research in Reading, 31(4), 404-419. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9817.2008.00380.x
Ocean house Media. (2016a). Dr Seuss Treasury – School [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from iOS App Store
Oceanhouse Media. (2016b). The Lorax by Dr. Seuss [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from iOS App Store
Oceanhouse Media. (2018). Dr. Seuss – digital book apps. In Oceanhouse Media. Retrieved from http://www.oceanhousemedia.com/apps/dr-seuss/
Seuss, D. (1971). The Lorax. New York: Random House.
Takacs, Z. K., Swart, E. K., & Bus. A G. (2015). Benefits and pitfalls of multimedia and interactive features in technology-enhanced storybooks: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 85(4), 698–739. doi: 10.3102/0034654314566989
Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).
Yokota, J. & Teale, W. H. (2014). Picture books and the digital world: educators making informed choices. The Reading Teacher, 34(6). Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/3886534/Picture_Books_and_the_Digital_World_Educators_Making_Informed_Choices