The Write Stuff
Establishing strong literacy skills, stimulating curiosity and encouraging creative thinking at an early age lays the foundation for creating lifelong learners. And lifelong learning is what Dr. Jane Baskwill’s research and development program is all about.
Dr Baskwill, Associate Professor and Literacy Coordinator at Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) and internationally recognized family literacy expert developed a project for parents to help their children enhance their reading and writing skills. The Publish It! Family Literacy Program is based on the idea that writing can be a shared family experience with wide-ranging benefits for the educational, social and emotional well being of children, parents and community members alike.
In partnership with the Valley Community Learning Association (VCLA), Publish It! started out as a word-processor based tool that allowed families to write their own stories and publish them into books. Parents and children would come into their school’s computer lab to work on their book projects after school or in the evening, with the help of project facilitators. These books were then “published” on-site and copies became part of the classroom, school and community libraries, as well as a personal copy for the family to take home.
Observing the popularity and positive effects of Publish It!, Dr. Baskwill wanted to find a way to expand the program to make it available in more schools to more families so she approached Gina Funicelli, Director of the Industry Liaison Office at MSVU, looking for suggestions on funding sources. Funded by Springboard Atlantic, Funicelli’s position is part of a special collaboration between Saint Mary’s University and MSVU, allowing both universities to benefit from her commercialization expertise and the support of the Springboard network. When Funicelli heard about the project, she saw a much broader potential for Publish It!
“While the concept behind Publish It! is fantastic, the original version could only be delivered in person in the form of a workshop or in a classroom environment,” says Funicelli. “By developing an online version of the program Publish It! could reach more people, 24/7 and in any setting: libraries, community centres or from their own homes. Moreover, there are tools available to us online that can easily enhance the program such as providing the option to write books in other languages and creating an online catalog to make books accessible via search engines such as by title, theme or author”.
Using Springboard funding, Funicelli enlisted the services of Media Mechanics, a Halifax-based company that specializes in interactive design and development. Working closely with Dr. Baskwill and her vision, Media Mechanics brought Publish It! to life, creating a simple, dynamic website that empowers families to easily write stories, format text, add images and publish their own e-books. The site even features an online library that allows for sharing of e-books among users.
“When a community writes together, they help encourage children’s writing, which in turn sends a strong signal to children that writing is valued,” says Dr. Baskwill. “The commercial evolution of Publish It! to an online program is thrilling to me as it will allow access by families around the world and for children everywhere to learn the freedom and opportunity that comes with literacy.”
Presently, the online version of Publish It! is in the prototype stage being tested by VCLA. Based on user feedback, Media Mechanics and Dr. Baskwill will refine and improve the program while Funicelli works toward commercializing the program via a license agreement with a private company who will market to government, libraries and community groups.