Tips and Tricks: Dynamic Books with Imagetalk

The recent discussions in the AAC field have been highly influenced by the conceptual and methodological works of Gayle Porter and her Dynamic Display method. And not without reason. We at Imagetalk have taken a look at how these concepts could be implemented in Imagetalk, especially in the small-interface versions for PDA:s and smartphones. Let us take a look at how to make a dynamic book inspired by the thoughts of Gayle Porter in Imagetalk Book Editor.

What is a dynamic book?

The default symbol book page in Imagetalk can contain up to twelve symbols. You can navigate from one page to another in the touch screen version with touch keys in the lower corners, and in the button-based version with the joystick. You also have the possibility to organize your symbols in folders. For example, you can have common sayings in a certain folder and common questions in another.

This type or organizing and navigating your symbol book is a big advance compared to changing layers in old types of "talk boxes", as you can easily change page or open and close a folder. However, these "static" ways of navigating require the user to memorize on which page or in which folder to find certain symbols/words/phrases. Also it requires additional steps and key presses to move from page to page or from folder to folder.

Therefore, we introduced another type of folder concept, which we call dynamic folders. It enables you to create books that dynamically respond to your choices, in the Porter style.
The essence of a dynamic book is linking the content so, that when you select "I want to", the program responds by bringing up a page with common verbs related to wanting, like "eat", "drink", "go to", etc. If you then choose "go to", the program brings up a page with your favorite places like "school", "cinema", "grandma", etc. Again, if you select "cinema", the next dynamic page can be for specifying the time, such as "today", "tomorrow", "next week", etc.

Design a good start page

It is not trivial to create a well-structured dynamic book. However, the folder structure and powerful copy-paste functionality in Imagetalk Book Editor will help you a lot. Let's start from the first page. Here we should have the most common starting phrases. Some of them can be plain message symbols, like "Hi, my name is Topias" and "Have a nice day!". For spatial coherence, you can place these in upper left and lower right corners of the matrix, to emphasize that they are used as start and end phrases in a face-to-face conversation or in a mobile message. You should also place at least "Yes" an "No" on the start page.

The next icon to "Hi, my name..." could be a dynamic folder, with the text: "I want to". This is probably in all cases the most frequent starting phrase in any conversation. It is a good idea to start creating the dynamic book with "I want to", and make this dynamic folder and its substructure as rich and complete as possible. Then you can easily copy and modify this structure to other common start phrases, such as "I don't want to" and "Do you want to".

Build one substructure, then copy it

Dynamic folders are powerful for creating logically coherent and, be it important or not, grammatically perfect sentences and messages. But remember, that the grammatical structure is created by you, not the end user, and is more a help than a burden to the end user.

As a somewhat surprising result, it becomes easier for the end user to create a dynamic message such as "I want to go to cinema with Annie tomorrow" than a static message such as "want go cinema Annie tomorrow". So, when you define the words and expressions to dynamic folders, think of usual everyday sentences.

Spend time and thought on this first substructure, as you can use it as such or slightly modified with other starting phrases. Think about: "Do you want to go to cinema with me tomorrow?". The only modifications you have to do is to add "me" as a dynamic folder to "with", and add question marks to the time definitions like "today?", "tomorrow?", etc.
Imagetalk Book Editor has a powerful copy-paste functionality. With folder and page copypasting you can copy and paste a complete substructure without affecting the original one. Thus, when you are satisfied with your substructure on "I want to", just copy that folder (Ctrl-C) and paste it to your desired empty space (Ctrl-V). Then rename the new folder, like "Do you want to". Finalize the new substructure by modifying the necessary items, such as putting question marks to symbols, which are last in the dynamic chain of words/phrases (such as "now?" and "tomorrow?").

Mix static and dynamic folders

In some circumstances, it may be a good idea to use static folders in dynamic books as well. Think about a sentence like: "I want to eat an apple for breakfast". "I want to" and "eat" are of course dynamic folders, but you can have hundreds of alternatives to eat, and therefore the "eat" folder can contain some static folders, which help to structure the multitude of items. Thus, there might be a static folder called "Fruits", and another called "Vegetables". When you select that one, the word "Fruits" is not added to the message, but opens a page with such dynamic folders as "an apple", "an orange", "a banana" and, of course if you like, "fruit". These are again dynamic folders, containing time definitions, like "now.", "tomorrow." and "for breakfast."

If you like, you can emphasize the difference between static and dynamic folders by capitalizing first character and using plural in static folders. The Imagetalk application anyway makes a visual distinction between static folders, which have an orange indicator and dynamic folders, which have a green indicator.

Mixing static and dynamic folders adds only a slight level of complexity for the end user, as he or she has to "know" that "an apple" is found by selecting "Fruits".

You can also mix dynamic ans static folders in another way. Use the first page as a start page for the dynamic part of your book, but extend and complete your symbol vocabulary by adding static pages to your book. Thus, an incoming message may well contain a lot more words and expression than what you have in your dynamic folders. Also you have a big reservoir of symbols, words and expressions for calendar and archive messages.

Choose how to update

A dynamic book requires good planning and careful consideration of content needed for an appropriate communication environment for the end user. Also updating the book with new symbols/words/phrases requires a bit more work, as you may have the same, or nearly the same, dynamic folder structure behind several starting phrases.

There are basically two ways of handling the update properly. The first is to make the changes to the "main" structure, in our example "I want to", and then copypaste and rename the folder as above. Now you only have to modify where necessary, for instance adding the question marks to icons at the end of the dynamic chains, like "now?" and "tomorrow?".

The other way is to walk through all the substructures and make the modifications. This is usually more tedious, especially if you make a lot of changes. However, the Copy page/Paste page feature can be of great help here. Say, you want to add some new friends in your book. First, modify the page in your main substructure, in our example "I want to", by adding symbols like "Anne" and "Peter" to your "with" dynamic folder. Then select Copy page from the contextual menu. After that, go to the matching page in the dynamic chain starting with "Do you want to", and select Paste page.

The choice of strategy depends on whether your dynamic chains are rather similar or rather different depending on the starting phrase. We strongly recommend maintaining a single, well-designed structure, and copying that one behind some well-chosen starting phrases. Not only can you make updates easier with the first method above, but also the end user experience is more coherent. The book becomes easy to learn even after major modifications.

We hope these hints will encourage you to try out creating dynamic books with Imagetalk, as we think that adding this kind of dynamics to assistive communication strongly enriches the user experience and empowers the user, creating better understanding, learning and inclusion.