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New personalised apps and games help make learning to read fun

A team of game designers, researchers and educators are working together to develop a range of personalised learning applications and teaching tools to help primary school children learn to read.

Digital Economy

With nearly 800 million illiterate people in the world, illiteracy is a global problem – and one that’s not limited to developing countries. In England, for example, 25 % of young adults have poor literacy (compared to an average of 9 % in the top-performing European countries). Because literacy is a critical skill that impacts one’s educational attainment, social integration and employment opportunities, finding new ways to teach reading and writing is of paramount importance. With increasing evidence suggesting that technology can be used to foster literacy, the EU-funded iRead (Infrastructure and integrated tools for personalized learning of reading skill) project has developed a portfolio of personalised learning applications and teaching tools to help primary school children learn to read. “We are a team of interaction and game designers, educational researchers and industry partners from different sectors working together to develop tailored technology that supports primary school children in becoming confident and skilled readers,” says Mina Vasalou, an associate professor at University College London (UCL) and iRead project coordinator. “Through partnerships with schools, we are supporting teachers in six European countries to implement new ways of teaching with personalised technology.”

An award-winning game

At the heart of the project is the design and evaluation of personalised classroom applications that support the development of reading skills in primary school students. One of these applications is Navigo, a collection of over 4 000 games that help a student practise a specific language skill through different activities. Each game is designed to mirror the types of games children play at home, and each offers elaborative feedback and motivation. “The Navigo game is the flagship app of the iRead project,” notes Antonios Symvonis, a researcher at the National Technical University of Athens and the project’s technical coordinator. “The game received a Serious Games Society award in 2018 and 2019, and the UK Department of Education awarded Navigo a quality mark for its pedagogical design.” Available in English, German, Greek and Spanish, the game covers the first 3 to 4 years of the primary curriculum. Designed to cater to younger students and older, struggling readers, it also includes materials to teach children learning English as a foreign language. In addition to Navigo, the project produced an e-Reader called Amigo, an innovative text recommendation system, and a personalised e-book. The team is currently engaging with EdTech SMEs to encourage the future use of the linguistic resources underpinning the project’s apps.

A big impact at schools

The iRead apps are already being used by over 4 000 primary school students. “Through this project, we are learning how our apps and resources can help teachers engage students in learning to read,” adds Vasalou. “It has been encouraging to see the strong commitment and enthusiasm on the part of the teachers and students using and learning with our apps.” According to Vasalou, the project team is looking for opportunities to commercialise the more mature technologies. “The project allowed us to learn important lessons about the cross-cutting opportunities and barriers regarding digital learning, all of which is fundamental to the future development of our tools,” she explains. “With our school pilots now underway, we will soon have a better understanding of the micro-, meso- and macro-level factors that foster or inhibit technology adoption in schools across a diversity of education contexts.”

Keywords

iRead, game designers, education, learning applications, illiteracy, literacy, classroom applications, EdTech

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