The benefits of animation for educational publishers [VIEWPOINT]

This is a guest post from Nicola Esson of HL Studios, sponsors of BookMachine Oxford, happening this Thursday 6th September at the Ashmolean Dining Room.

Picture the technology available when you were a child… I dont know about you but, I dont consider myself to be that old (30’s ahem) and things were pretty shabby. 2D graphics with the only movement in a game being left to right, phone boxes (and calling the operator for a reverse charge call to your mum) no internet and a computer room at school where you could sit in front of a giant box and grow an electronic sunflower in double science (anyone remember that gem?!).

With the amazingly fast innovations in computers, software and the internet, there are ever more opportunities to learn and interact in new ways. While much popular thought is automatically led to computer games, it is not just about leisure. We are now beginning to see how animation can have a massive positive impact on how we deliver educational material, and the same applies whether considering educating small children; preparing secondary pupils for their exams; helping students to engage with their coursework or putting new recruits through essential training in everything from the specialisms of their sector to rudimentary health and safety and first aid procedures.

Animations can help get a message across in a number of ways, from providing an introduction to delivering clear step by step instructions. Animations are also a great way to illustrate an abstract concept, as normally inanimate objects can be made to move in an animated film sequence, to have lives of their own and even to speak.

This is a new way of imparting information that was previously the preserve of Walt Disney through his cartoons. Today, thanks to computer technology, it is much quicker, simpler and cheaper to put together animations than ‘in older times’ when lots of long hand drawings would be involved. As plenty of YouTube videos from children have already proved, you do not need sophisticated equipment to make a quick animation. And equally, the possibilities are only really limited by your imagination.

Simple basics need to be got right. For example, files sizes need to be delivered at a scale which will work on all computers, in a software format that different machines will recognise (damn you Apple). If the animation is being delivered on a DVD, then the file size needs to be small enough to fit on the medium, whilst being easily accessible by a non-specialist, from a simple menu or by an on-screen link. Likewise, if the animations are being delivered online, then they need to be easy to download or else should be hosted on a web server that has the capacity for a classroom of children to access the animation many times over, concurrently.

Modern day publishers are grasping this new technology with both hands, with new digital departments springing up alongside traditional print ones to convert old media to new. Amazon lead the way with the Kindle and Apple with the beautiful iPad (see how quickly we stopped questioning what a tablet was!). We already have the Wii and the beginnings of the ‘Minority Report’ style interface, mind control and retinal control.

So what do we think the future holds, and can the traditional printed word continue to be part of it?

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