March 2, 2019

A treasure-hunting smartphone app developed by SMU and Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) to help low-literate adults learn to read tied for the grand prize in the competition hosted by the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE.

The SMU-LIFT team, PeopleforWords, won $1.5 million as a grand prize winner and an additional  $1 million achievement award for most effective app to help adult English language learners learn to read in the competition presented by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. Using the video game app for Codex: The Lost Words of Atlantis, players assume the identity of an enterprising archaeologist seeking clues to the forgotten language of mythical Atlantis. Keys to finding the lost language are hidden in letter-sound instruction, word lists and consonant and vowel decoding skill-building exercises.

The award for the app, presented on February 7 at the Florida Celebration of Reading in Miami, capped a four-year global competition to develop a smartphone app that created the greatest increase in literary skills in adult learners over a 12-month period. Reading specialists from SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, game developers from SMU Guildhall graduate video game development program and adult literacy experts from LIFT, a Dallas nonprofit literacy service provider, teamed to develop an award-winning video game that has reaped much more than international honors.

“We are thrilled to be a grand prize winner,” says Stephanie Knight, dean of the Simmons School. “But the important part of this competition is learning the most effective way to help low-literate adults become readers. The development of the app, the data gathered through this process and our partnership with LIFT is just the beginning of bringing the life-changing benefits of reading to low-literate adults.”

The 7,000 players who have downloaded the game and improved their reading skills have left a trail of information that will strengthen the app and provide important data to researchers as well. Data collection is built into the game’s design, says Corey Clark, deputy director of research at SMU’s Guildhall, assistant professor of computer science and leader of the team of faculty, students and volunteers who developed the game. Each time a player touches the screen, data is collected that records engagement, difficulty and transfer of knowledge.

Read more at SMU News.