SMU, LIFT Team Moving On in $7M Literacy XPRIZE Contest

For reaching this stage of the contest, the Dallas team will receive $100,000 and will be recognized Saturday at the American Library Association Annual Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans.

literacy

A literacy app for adult learners developed by Southern Methodist University and Dallas-based Literacy Instruction for Texas is moving forward in the $7 million Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition.

XPRIZE named the Dallas team, People ForWords, one of five finalists in the competition Friday. The remaining teams come from around the U.S. and the world with groups from India and China among the finalists. 

“It’s a badge of honor for innovation,” Corey Clark, deputy director for research at SMU Guildhall and one of the game’s developers, told Dallas Innovates about becoming a finalist.  

“It’s a badge of honor for innovation.”
Corey Clark

For reaching this stage of the contest, teams will receive $100,000 and will be recognized Saturday at the American Library Association Annual Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans where former First Lady Michelle Obama and actresses Sally Field and Viola Davis are scheduled to speak. 

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 field test with low-literate adults.

Dallas’ People ForWords team is composed of members from SMU Guildhall, SMU Simmons School of Education and Human Development, and LIFT. Its entry, Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis, puts users 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. 

literacy

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. [Photo courtesy of David Leeson via SMU]

Last July, the group was selected as one of eight semifinalists from 109 teams around the world. It then embarked on a field test of its app with thousands of low-literate adults piloting their solution in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. 

Yolette Garcia and Corey Clark of SMU accepted a award Saturday for being named a finalist in the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition.[Photo courtesy of XPRIZE]

The results of a recent local pilot study found that low-literate adults were able to improve their literacy skills by playing the game for two or more hours a week for a period of eight weeks. The team doesn’t have access to results from the official contest field test in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, Clark said. 

He said they’ve developed a second level of the game set in Australia that expands on the literacy concepts and are planning a third level. 

“We’re adding more training levels to validate the concepts being learned,” Clark added. 

The $3 million grand prize winner will be announced in January 2019 and will be given to the entry showing the best performance among low-literate adult learners in the ongoing 15-month field test expected to wrap this October. 

“We are one step closer to dramatically increasing access to adult basic education and English language learning for millions of learners …”
Shlomy Kattan

People ForWords also may be eligible to compete in a separate $1 million Communities Competition, Clark said. That contest challenges organizations, communities, and individuals to recruit adults to download and use the literacy apps. 

In the U.S., more than 36 million adults don’t have basic English literacy with many not having access to educational services, Shlomy Kattan, executive director of the Adult Literacy XPRIZE, said in a statement. 

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

“With the advancement of our finalist teams and the beginning of this new phase of community involvement, we are one step closer to dramatically increasing access to adult basic education and English language learning for millions of learners, helping individuals and families gain the skills they need to unlock new opportunities and improve their lives,” Kattan said. 

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Updated 11:02 a.m. June 25 with photo from Saturday’s recognition ceremony at American Library Association Annual Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans.

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