June 27, 2018

A puzzle-solving smartphone game designed by SMU and Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) experts to teach struggling adults to read was today named one of five finalists in an international competition. Codex: The Lost Words of Atlantis is a finalist for the $7 million Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

A recent pilot study at SMU found that low-literate, English-language learner adults who played the game for two or more hours a week significantly improved their literacy skills after eight weeks. Anecdotal evidence also shows their improved reading skills also have improved their lives, ranging from a grandmother who finally gained the confidence to speak with her granddaughter in English, to co-workers who praised a participant’s improved language skills.

“Clearly we are very proud to have advanced in this important competition,” says Stephanie Knight, dean of SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, which provided faculty expertise in the literacy and instructional design  of the game. “We are committed to finding a successful, accessible teaching tool for low-literacy adults. And we know we are on the right track when we hear that one of our study participants gets to hear her children clap every time her reading skills improve enough for her to advance in the game.”

Finalists were selected based on field-testing performance. The SMU-LIFT team will be recognized Saturday, June 23 at the American Library Association annual meeting in New Orleans, along with the other finalists. Each finalist will be awarded a $100,000 prize.

In January 2019, X-Prize will present the team with the most effective app with $3 million, plus $1 million apiece to the apps with the best performance among native English speakers and non-native speakers.

Read more about People ForWords in SMU Magazine.