Jason Barkeloo sees a day when math, science, and special-needs textbooks will virtually come alive at the touch of a finger.

Barkeloo is president of TouchSmart Publishing LLC, a Mount Washington company that is planning to publish math, science, and special-needs textbooks that intertwine with so-called "Smart-paper" technology.

The new textbook publishing method will use infrared technology to combine traditional books with digital content. The concept, Barkeloo suggests, might ultimately decrease the cost of textbooks, make them more interactive for users, and remove barriers for students who have difficulty accessing traditional texts.

"The book becomes a remote control, so to speak," Barkeloo says. The interactive textbook works a lot like LeapFrog's popular LeapPad reading device, in which a paper book sits inside a cradle that contains touch-sensitive panels. But instead of accessing audio files stored on a cartridge, the book calls up video, audio, or other multimedia content by sending an infrared signal to a nearby Internet-connected computer or a DVD player connected to a television.

A student studying polynomials, for example, could read the assigned chapter and then touch a diagram to pull up a 30-second video clip of a teacher working through a problem, or an audio file of another teacher explaining the problem differently. Just by touching a picture or a portion of text, the student goes right to a digital or audio file or a Web site.

The book's electronic components are housed in what looks like an oversized DVD case. The difference is the case contains touch-sensitive panels on either side. The technology works with computers, game players, and DVD players "” anything with an infrared receiver. The books are functional offline or online, because each Smartpaper book will come with its own DVD that contains the multimedia content.

Many traditional books come with companion products such as DVDs, but the Smartpaper technology provides a more engaging and enriching experience. It takes two traditionally different things "” print and video "” and links them.

Because DVD players now cost a fraction of the price of a computer, students without Internet access or home computers still can receive digital content. With a Smartpaper book, "the student can crawl up on the couch, push the picture of kinetic energy, and see the video on it," Barkeloo says.

Barkeloo also figures Smartpaper textbooks will cost less than traditional textbooks, because much of the content will be digital. "Books are priced on mass. If I have a physiology or anatomy textbook, that may be 500 pages."

The estimated cost of each SmartCase, which houses the books, is about $40 wholesale. "That doesn't take into account the cost of producing the content."

Additionally, Smartpaper books might better engage students in their textbooks. The technology "brings a new level of excitement, because I don't know what's hiding behind the content. It's like an Easter egg hunt," Barkeloo says.

The Web-based model can even be designed to track which students are visiting which Web sites, giving teachers specific reports on textbook use.

The Smartpaper concept is still in the prototype stage, but most of the technological hurdles have been overcome, Barkeloo says. The company expects products to be on the market in time for the 2005-2006 school year.

TouchSmart expects its first book to be an early-reading book for special-needs children. The book will contain links to animations and audio files of the story being read aloud.

The math and science textbooks will start at the kindergarten level and progress to grade 12, and each will be about 50 pages long, Barkeloo says.

Barkeloo notes he's in the process of moving TouchSmart's headquarters from Mount Washington to Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. "TouchSmart provides an excellent example of the impressive entrepreneurial talent and innovative technology emerging from the Cincinnati region," says Barbara Aras, CEO of Main Street Ventures, an agency with a mission to generate jobs and business development in that area. "Main Street Ventures is focused on facilitating the growth of promising companies like TouchSmart, and we are excited to play a key role in helping TouchSmart bridge the digital divide by enabling students of all levels achieve a more interactive learning experience."

Parts of this article were adapted from eSchoolNews.com with permission.