Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Footnotes that talk and move

Textbooks are widely acclaimed to be boring, in spite of colourful pictures . Also, there is a limit to information textbooks can provide. Since Internet is an ocean of information, many textbooks now give URLs of websites where more data can be found.

Surajit Sen, a Bangalore engineer, has taken the integration between textbooks and multimedia to a new level. He calls it “numerically linked book”, a book that is supported by a CD. It uses a technology, developed by Sen, that provides footnotes in an audio-visual form. He says it’s the first of its kind in the world, and is awaiting patent approval. 

The working is simple and effective. On the book, instead of footnotes, you merely have numbers against words that need explanation. Insert the CD in your laptop. After the program loads, key in the footnote number. You are taken to a multimedia or internet page that provides you an elaboration on the topic. The software is compatible with Windows, and for sound and video, Adobe Flash Player is required..

To begin with Sen, who is the CEO of Bangalore-based startup Crest Technologies, has brought out a book “Birds of Bangalore”. It contains a list of birds, brief summary and numeric links to various webpages, like that of Wikipedia, Youtube, Internet Bird Collection, Birdforum, Karnataka government website on birds etc, where you can find more information about that particular bird.

Take a bird like Barn Swallow, which the book says is a common winter visitor. By keying in the corresponding number you can listen to the bird’s sound, see video clips and get lots of information about this bird.

The technology is useful in rural education. “To tackle the challenge of educating villagers, we must first get villagers interested in education. Linking multimedia to textbooks is one way,” he says.

Such books have immense scope, especially in teaching science. Says Sen, “In a chemistry textbook, for example, instead of explaining a reaction, all that’s needed is a numeric link to a video that demonstrates it. Usually a student goes to a website, gets distracted and drifts away from the book. Here, the relevant page is provided to the student, so the student never leaves the book,” says Sen.

If this technology catches on, hopefully children will love their textbooks, and mothers will have less reasons to complain.

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