Dallas Team 1 of 8 Moving on in Literacy XPRIZE Contest

PeopleForWords — made up of members from Southern Methodist University and Dallas-based Literacy Instruction for Texas — was selected from 109 teams around the world to go further in the competition.

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A Dallas team has been named as one of eight semifinalists in the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition.

PeopleForWords — made up of members from Southern Methodist University Guildhall, SMU Simmons School of Education and Human Development, and Dallas-based Literacy Instruction for Texas — was selected from 109 teams around the world to move on in the competition.

“It’s been a lot of hard work from our team and our collaborators to get to this point,“ said Corey Clark, deputy director for research at SMU Guildhall.

The multiyear XPRIZE competition began in 2015 as a challenge to find new approaches to adult literacy learning. There’s $7 million in awards up for grabs including a $3 million grand prize reserved for the team whose app demonstrates the greatest literacy gains during a yearlong field test with low-literate adults.

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Throughout the development process PeopleForWords has been testing its app locally with LIFT students. [Photo courtesy of David Leeson via SMU]

For its entry, Clark has led the creation of an app game focused on boosting reading and writing skills for adults.

Players of Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis are put into the role of an archaeologist traveling the world to decode artifacts. As they work to decipher ancient languages, players are really building a foundation for literacy. The app couples Guildhall’s video gaming expertise with Simmons’ knowledge of best learning practices.

“Nobody knows this language, so everyone is on equal playing field, and there is nothing to be self-conscious about when you play this game,” Clark said about Codex last fall.

In Dallas County, LIFT estimates more than 1 million or roughly one-third of the county’s population in 2030 will be illiterate.

Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis is a tool that adult literacy providers can use with students who don’t have the time, money, or transportation to regularly attend literacy classes,”said LIFT President and CEO Lisa Hembry in a release. 

FIELD TESTING BEGINS THIS MONTH

PeopleForWords and other semifinalists have started testing of their literacy software this month. Each team will have about 1,000 adults, who read English at a third grade level or lower, using their solution. Testing cities for semifinalists include Dallas, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

“We’ve already had people start ramping up and we can see them connecting to the game and starting to play,” Clark said.

Participants will be evaluated before and after the yearlong field test to determine literacy gains. At the midpoint of the field test, up to five teams with test subjects exhibiting the highest literacy gains will move on in the competition. The grand prize winner will be selected in 2019.

“You can see you’re making a true impact on people’s lives and that’s awesome.”

Corey Clark

Clark said his team also is working to further develop the game’s content and its level of literacy instruction. So far, it’s built out the first phase, which is focused on letter sounds, sight words, and consonant-vowel-consonant patterns for language.

It recently introduced an offline component to the game, allowing users who may not have consistent internet access to play without interruption. 

Throughout the development process PeopleForWords has been testing its app locally with LIFT students. 

“We’re actually seeing the game starting to be put in peoples’ lives. Just me watching the data come across the server as people are playing, I see people improving … You can see you’re making a true impact on people’s lives and that’s awesome,” Clark said. 

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