A team of Waikato University computer science students have come up with an innovative way to help children learn to read.
Ashley Steel, Luke Bjerring and André Meister have worked with a curriculum co-ordinator in Switzerland and primary teachers in New Zealand to develop software, called BookieMonster, which performs the role of a reading coach. It is intended to provide extra reading support for those who would otherwise miss out due to limited teaching resources.
Microsoft Imagine Cup
The BookieMonster project reached the national finals of the Microsoft Imagine Cup, a global student technology competition focusing on finding solutions to real-world issues. The solutions are generally related to the UN’s Millennium Goals: hunger relief, poverty, education, disease control, healthcare and the environment.
BookieMonster computerises a proven method of learning tuition, dubbed “repeated reading” using computer-generated voices and speech recognition.
Learning to Read
Children using the software listen to text being read aloud by the computer, following the words as they are progressively highlighted on-screen in time with the voice, similar to karaoke. After hearing a text read to them a few times, they then read it back to the computer via a microphone. The software recognises their speech and provides the same progressive text highlighting that they received while being read to.
The students now have a working prototype and are setting up trials in local schools. Ultimately they hope to see their software distributed via existing initiatives in developing nations where literacy in some places is as low as 50 per cent. It also has the potential to assist in teaching a second language, they say.