Review ~ Oxford Bookworms Readers for iPadOxford has done a smooth job of transferring their readers into a digital format but it feels like they have missed an opportunity.
Oxford are the first, but probably won’t be the last, to start moving their readers series to the iPhone and iPad (but no Android versions yet). In February this year, these faithful adaptations of the original books topped the iTunes charts in Japan (a chart typically dominated by TOIEC and Brain Training). It’s easy to see why. With many on sale now for as little as 85 yen (one dollar) they represent great value for money. They are easy to navigate, beautifully presented, and wonderfully illustrated. If students are looking for a convenient, digital alternative then these come highly recommended. All levels and tastes are catered for, with 55 books from levels 1 to 6 of the series available.
The app versions come with some nice extra features. Complete audio is included. This can either be listened to as you read or played like an audio book. Another addition to the app is a glossary of new keywords, which can be highlighted in the text and tapped on to reveal a definition. Knowledge of keywords can be tested by matching a word with the meaning in the quiz section of the apps.
These are all nice extras. However, it is disappointing that the apps haven’t taken them further. The quiz section is especially lacking. Words are only tested at a very basic meaning level. Sometimes the definition of the word given tells the student the answer. For example, in Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp “clean” is defined as “to remove the dirt or marks from something; to make something clean”. It would have been nicer to have seen fuller definitions and to have the words tested in context. There is also no way for a student to keep track of their progress. Many vocabulary learning apps have this function now and it is a shame not to include it here.
Quizzes could also have been used to test comprehension. These could be at the end of each chapter or the whole book. The original books have a series of questions at the end and I don’t see why they couldn’t also be in the digital version, as it would have made finishing the app book have more of a feeling of progression and achievement.
From a teacher’s point of view, the audio is good enough quality to be played straight from an iPad in a small classroom, but for a larger classroom you will need speakers attached. It is well read at a fairly slow pace (even at the higher levels) so represents not too difficult a challenge even for beginner students. Some Upper-Intermediate students said to me that although the audio was slow, they enjoyed the leisurely pace and could enjoy the story more because of it. If students have internet access then downloading in class is a possibility (the largest of the books is about 200mb but most come in at well below that). The teacher can also easily print off a few sheets of the book using the iPad’s print screen function.
These apps are a good digital alternative to the paper readers, and, in some ways improve on them. Even at the full price of around eight dollars they represent good value for money. I would hope that Oxford doesn’t rest on this cash cow it has created, and will continue to develop and innovate with this series. This would really make a digital version a must-have over paper books and increase the benefits they give to students.