A digital publisher shares her insights on creating a multilingual eBook/app series.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Nicole Fonovich is the president of Luca Lashes, LLC and co-author of this interactive app and eBook series. She has a Masters of Education in Educational Policy and Leadership from Marquette University. Luca Lashes was an idea bounced around with Nicole and her husband for years before finally growing into the brand and product that it is today. “The entire reason we wrote the series was because we were not finding the multilingual supportive literature in bookstores in the United States,” says Nicole. “We want our son, Lucas, to learn Italian — the language his grandparents speak — and we want him to be exposed to as many languages as possible,” she says. They could not find books and supportive materials in their local bookstores, so they decided that instead of importing books and relying on family to support their desire for Lucas to learn foreign languages, they would write a series themselves.
Our content also highlights each word as it is spoken, making it a good frame of reference for teachers to teach individual words to their students where they can follow it.
After coming together as a company and writing a few stories, they decided to seriously look into self-publishing. “Publishing is an interesting industry to get into, and so much of the publishing business locks a lot of good work out,” says Nicole. After looking into self-publishing and seeing the exorbitant costs associated with it, e-publishing became their choice because of the lack of physical inventory and the control over an author’s own work. “Going digital gives us a far greater international reach, particularly with the multilingual scope of our series,” Nicole says, and she expounds upon what else it has given to them and to others in this lively discussion of the state of education and digital publishing today.
Victor: As a parent and former educator, what’s your hope for the future of digital story-telling?
Nicole: My hope for digital storytelling is that developers, authors, and publishers can truly work together to create the next generation of literature that will give the same magical experience that reading a physical book does. So many parents yearn for the days when kids could be entertained by books the same way that parents were when they were children, but children have always longed for more from a book. I can remember as a child being mesmerized by pop-up books, which were so much more interactive than regular books. Are e-books and book apps any different? Classrooms are already incorporating SmartBoard technology and iPads in order to facilitate this interaction, and the more this happens the more content developers will provide the educational and interactive adventures that will make digital storytelling better and better.
Victor: What has the process been like and what advice could you give to other enterprising educators interested in creating digital content?
Nicole: The process of creating digital content has been exciting, confusing, and constantly changing. This is a relatively new market and new business, so we have had both the benefits and challenges that a new entry into a new market would have. We have had the ability to experiment with different marketplaces, play with exclusive versus non-exclusive content, and we have provided our product in multiple languages to reach a foreign audience in ways we would not have been able to with a physical book. There are a number of book app developers (particularly in the education community) who offer their help and support in a number of ways. We have been able to video-chat with different app developers in our business and spitball different ideas, which has also helped us to plan and develop strategies. We have begun to look at the process as being more akin to the making of a television commercial than a book, as creating digital content involves: production, development, writing, editing, illustration, music, narration, and testing.
Victor: What are the most important parts of digital content development?
Nicole: The most important part of digital content development is creativity, but the answer to it has two sides. I would say that your content needs to be interesting and educational at the same time. It needs to be interesting enough so children will use it, and educational enough so that parents will want to purchase it for their children. Sometimes, all of the extra bells and whistles are just background noise. If your content is interesting, appealing and teaches kids something, the parties involved in the purchase and interaction of your content will be happy. Kids do not always need games in order to stay interested if your content is creative and enriching.
Victor: All of your programs have multiple languages included. How can children benefit from the multilingual aspects of the products?
Nicole: The main reason we decided to publish our content in multiple languages is because we wanted our son to be exposed to many languages, and were not finding books readily available. Another reason is all the research surrounding language development shows that children exposed to multiple languages, even if they never reach the point of fluency in non-native languages, perform better in school and on aptitude tests. Simply hearing a foreign language and being able to ask questions about that other language make children realize that if there is more than one way to say a word, maybe there is more than one way to get an answer to a problem. This skill of multi-directional thinking and metacognition forms the basis for most learning that is not experiential, and children exposed to multiple languages at a young age are quite simply better at this kind of thinking, which incidentally is what makes one a good student and a lifelong learner.
Victor: How would you use the Luca Lashes program to extend what’s being taught?
Nicole: The Luca Lashes series can be a great tool for educators who are technologically advanced in their classroom to use the interaction and multilingual aspects of the series accordingly. For example, if a Kindergarten class is learning how important it is to brush their teeth, the two Luca Lashes book apps dealing with dental hygiene (Luca Lashes Learns to Brush his Teeth and Luca Lashes and his First Trip to the Dentist) can be introduced to the class as tools to help limit fear of the dentist and all of the tools necessary to keep our teeth clean. Classrooms where Spanish is taught can use Luca Lashes apps to demonstrate Spanish pronunciations, and the content can be paused so that children can see what word is highlighted. Our content also highlights each word as it is spoken, making it a good frame of reference for teachers to teach individual words to their students where they can follow it.
Victor: What skills do your books provide that readers can take with them as they get older?
Nicole: Luca Lashes chose to help children deal with fearful firsts by showing little Luca blinking his eyelashes, a magic trick that helps him grow braver so he can tackle any situation. The great thing about this trick is that in can be incorporated into a lifelong learning situation. If children can understand why they are afraid and learn that one’s bravery is internal, then children can deal with all the new and difficult situations they will encounter as they get older. By internalizing this message, children can grow up understanding that the ability to overcome challenges and fearful situations is, was, and always will be under their own control.
We also feel that by offering parent suggestions at the end of every book, we are encouraging parents to have a dialogue with their child. This can open the doors of communication between parents and children in new ways. By encouraging this dialogue, the hope is that children also get used to discussing what is important — or challenging — to them with their parents. Most parents would be ecstatic that children come to them, and a healthy dialogue establishes a stronger foundation for healthier relationships over a lifetime.
Victor: Any last thoughts on education and technology these days? What makes you say that?
Nicole: Education and technology are merging in very exciting and intricate ways. More and more public and private school systems are committing resources to having “smart” technology in the classroom, including a variety of devices. There is a possible danger to increased screen time that children are going to be exposed to, but hopefully we may see a decline in the popularity of video game systems. It is important to remember that children are physical engines of constant motion, so any time that they spend at school on technological devices is just more time that they will not want to do the same at home. This is our hope, at least! What we would really like to see is schools becoming more adept at balancing technology within lesson plans while remaining committed to getting children physically active. Every minute spent on technology should be compensated for, so our children get the most out of a balanced day of learning. The skills and experiences that technology can bring to classrooms can truly benefit both teachers and students alike, but it cannot come at the price of not using the physical aspects of experiential learning that are equally vital.
Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]