Digital technology meets books
Students from the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) and University of Applied Sciences (HTW) in Berlin cooperated with German language students from the University of Namibia (UNAM) to produce an app that creates an augmented reality of Namibian children’s books.
Six books from Macmillan Education Namibia Publishers, Kuiseb Publishing House, Yambeka Children Media and Wordweaver were made available for this project and three of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) students who produced the best apps were sent to present their ideas at the Conference on Culture and Computer Sciences; Virtual History and Augmented Present in late May. The conference was held in Berlin and this was the students’ first trip to Germany.
“We have embarked on this project to encourage a reading culture and have children enjoy reading by connecting a book with a smartphone or tablet that are very popular amongst their generation,” said Goethe-Institut Namibia Head of Library and Information Detlef Pfeifer. He said the app that is yet to be named, most likely along the lines of “Living Namibian Books”, will be available for Android and Apple devices.
The concept of an augmented reality is not that recent but its application to Namibian children’s’ books is new. “Augmented reality is an extension of images, animations and other graphics to what already exists in the material world – in this case the book,” said NUST student Meshake Mwinga who will attend the conference together with Dan Ntwari and Erich Godenschweig. Mwinga explained how an augmented reality makes reading more fun. “Digital technology is very important in encouraging a reading culture because children can through their devices enjoy exciting animations and images that also help them to understand the books better and for instance, hear the proper enunciation of words or understand the meanings of words better through the animations,” he said.
Participants were split into six groups that consist of a member from each educational institution. Coding commenced on the first of the five-day event and involved various tasks like scanning images, identifying markers for the app to work and animation. Mwinga and Ntwari agree that Coding Week 2019 exposed them to the dynamics of teamwork, from which they learnt how to better coordinate efforts in a group and overcome challenges. “Producing everything within a week was not easy but it worked out,” said Ntwari. Mwinga concurred and noted how the groups’ diversity was an advantage when they encountered problems. “The different cultures and educational backgrounds of everybody came together well. When producing any application, you are bound to encounter bugs. We worked well together and solved problems like images not displaying correctly by splitting tasks amongst the group members so that we can also overcome the challenge of coding being time consuming,” said Mwinga.
Some of the selected books are in German and that is where the language students from UNAM played more than the obvious role. “As computer scientists, we may lack communication skills and grammar, but the UNAM students were also integrated in the design and production of the apps so that it could be as perfect as possible, down to the enunciation of words,” said Mwinga.
In a short interview before their departure, the HTW students agreed that being part of this project exposed them to more than the challenges of coding and also provided them with the opportunity to see Namibia.