Big idea boosts children’s reading



A new technology aimed at addressing the reading needs of children in marginalised areas, has landed Monash second place in the Big Ideas@Berkeley contest.

The Monash team presented their proposal to build a prototype – a portable reading device - named MyReadingTablet, which will be equipped with breakthrough WordSwitch technology, designed to allow children to successfully navigate complex words despite limited reading capabilities.

The team entered the Mobiles for Reading category of the 2014-2015 Big Ideas@Berkeley contest, walking away with $10,750AUD to continue developing their idea.

The team is made up of Faculty of Education students Gemma Gooding and Thomas Heeren, Art Design & Architecture students Kate Hou and Lisa Fu, and PhD student from the Faculty of Information Technology Kiki Adhinugraha.

The device will also be equipped with hundreds of pre-loaded e-books that will feature a variety of topics/genres to spark curiosity and maintain young children’s reading motivation.

Lisa Qi Fu who is in her fourth year of industrial design said, the WordSwitch technology has the ability to track the student as they read, as well as their chosen book.

“The software also allows students to click on words they don’t understand and see a simpler word, while still reading along with their classroom. For example clicking on ‘rescue’ might bring up ‘save’. ” Lisa said

The feature allows teachers to have an entire classroom reading the same book, resulting in more efficient use of classroom time and an improved classroom culture.   

“The competition has been an experience to remember and I find that I always learn something new in each interdisciplinary collaboration I embark on, especially as a team leader in the past half year or so,” Lisa said.

Gemma Gooding who has just finished her Master of Teaching (Primary), said to come second was amazing.

“As a group we knew our idea was original and something that hasn’t been seen before, but to think about how many other teams we were up against and the quality of the other universities, getting such acknowledgment for the potential of our idea is fantastic," Gemma said.

“It was a great opportunity to collaborate with other Monash students from different faculties, something you don't generally get to do when studying within your chosen field. I loved the philanthropic nature of our category in the competition and working on an idea to help raise the reading ability of children in marginalised communities to better their futures," she said. 

Big Ideas@Berkeley received a record number of applications from 201 teams representing over 700 students and 17 universities.  

The annual contest is aimed at providing funding, support, and encouragement to interdisciplinary teams of students who have ‘big ideas’. It has inspired innovative and high-impact projects aimed at solving problems that matter to this generation. By encouraging novel proposals and then supporting concrete next steps, Big Ideas is helping contest winners make an impact all over the world.

Senior Lecturer Evan Ortlieb from the Faculty of Education, and Professor Michael Vitale from the Faculty of Information Technology mentored the team.