Transmedia books (t-books) cross physical and virtual
boundaries by transforming images and designs on
their pages into physical objects.
Introducing the T-Book
W e can trace both highly illustrated textbooks and children’s information books to Johann Comenius’ Orbis
Sensualium Pictus (1657), translated as The
Visible World in Pictures (LaSpina, 1998).
Comenius, creator of the first illustrated Latin
primer, believed that we begin our learning
through our senses. He saw both real objects
(realia) and pictures as essential components
In the 21st century, we have moved beyond
the illustrated printed page into a digital world.
Digital projectors, wired to classroom computers, connect learners to a virtual universe of
on-demand content. Today’s students carry
powerful computers in their pockets that allow them to read a poem, access information
about the poet’s life in an encyclopedia, and
even contact the poet directly—all during a
morning bus ride.
Comenius stressed the senses. Digital textbooks are becoming commonplace in today’s
schools, but they omit physical objects and kinetic
elements from which learners can develop a more
complete understanding of how things work in
the world. To address this need, we have created
the transmedia book. Transmedia refers to the
ability to cross media. In our case, we have combined the power of text with digital fabrication to
create a new instructional format: the t-book.
Digital fabrication, enabled by emerging tech-
nologies, allows students to translate digital de-
sign into a physical object. We have been work-
ing with 2D fabricators—computer-controlled
die cutters that can cut paper, cloth, and vinyl
with great precision—and 3D fabricators that
produce three-dimensional objects. These
fabricators enable us to produce working
physical models of objects pictured in books.
Transmedia Books Defined
A prototype t-book titled Make to Learn: Exploring Wind Power illustrates several characteristics
of a transmedia book. This book tells the story
of a young inventor who brought electricity to
his remote rural village by building a working
As students read the story, they participate
in a series of activities, culminating in the production of a working model wind turbine that
illuminates lights embedded in the back pages
of the book, “lighting” the homes in a rural village. You can download the PDF of this prototype t-book at no cost from the Make to Learn
design center ( www.Make ToLearn.org/wind).
In some ways, a t-book resembles a traditional
activity book, but its transmedia power allows
for sophisticated learning through elements that
incorporate digital and physical manipulatives
in the activities. Exploring Wind Power includes
quick response (QR) codes linked to both videos
and online simulations that extend the printed
content in the book. The t-book also contains
links to digital designs that allow students to
fabricate physical objects depicted in the book.
With fabricators, students can precisely cut their
own functioning gears from cardstock for an
exploration of mathematical ratios.
Learning core mathematical concepts ex-
tends beyond the t-book through supplemen-