The Final Chapter of iRead

Last month the iRead project officially came to an end after 4.5 years of dedication and amazing work from our consortium of 15 education and industry partners. As a team we are very proud of everything that has been achieved during this time as well as the fantastic collaborations we have built up along the way, and despite the challenges of the past 1.5 years. This is not the end of our story though, we hope to find ways to develop key parts of the project so that the iRead legacy will continue…

iRead Pilot Study Findings

During the last 2 years of the iRead project we conducted a large-scale pilot in 6 countries which involved in total over 3500 students. At the end of this pilot iRead researchers in each country conducted interviews with the teachers that had been involved to find out about their experiences with using the iRead technologies – the Navigo game and the Amigo Reader. We were particularly interested to hear about about the kinds of support mechanisms that helped to initiate and maintain the use of the apps as well as identify particular barriers or benefits of using technology in the classroom.

Number of students using iRead apps in each country

Here is a summary of some of our key findings:

  • Across all pilots teachers observed numerous learning outcomes related to vocabulary, fluency, decoding and grammar
  • Teachers highlighted key Amigo and Navigo app design features that supported learning such as providing feedback for self-correction, timed tasks promoting fluency, tricky word lists supporting comprehension and vocabulary
  • Using the apps also helped develop students’ digital skills and independent learning
  • The Navigo game was very motivating for children, which was a key driver to continue its use. In the case of the Navigo game this was attributed to specific elements such as aesthetics, avatar, choice
  • The adaptive functionality of Navigo lowered the learning barrier and allowed teachers to easily integrate the game into their existing lessons as well as free up their time during class
  • The most beneficial support mechanism that helped teachers use the technology was researcher support combined with continuous professional development (CPD)
  • Embedding technology in the classroom highlighted the complexities involved: practical tasks (e.g. technology maintenance), orchestration tasks (e.g. timetabling) and pedagogical tasks (e.g. fitting apps with teaching)

Can iRead’s algorithm help learners to read better than the teacher?

iRead team members from the University of Barcelona, Judit Serra and Roger Gilabert Guerrero, have recently had their research comparing the Navigo adaptivity algorithm to a teacher’s manual selection of game activities published in the British Journal of Educational Technology.

Teachers are in charge of building up a syllabus that determines what is to be taught (selection) and the order in which this is done (sequencing). They usually do so by applying increasing difficulty based on curriculum guidelines, teacher training, textbooks, intuition and experience. Thus, all students go through the same learning content in the same order, regardless of their previous acquired knowledge and their personal learning characteristics. In contrast adaptive games such as Navigo calculate what each student should be facing next thanks to an algorithm that takes into account the learning processes, gameplay performance, as well as game mechanics. We found there was almost no research that compared the way teachers sequence learning and how an algorithm do so. Hence, we ask ourselves if games like Navigo, with their related algorithm and their potential for personalization, pose a learning advantage over decision-making by teachers.

The research showed that learners in the algorithmic sequence playing fewer games on a larger number of features and learners in the teacher-led sequence playing more games on a narrower set of features. The type of sequence followed in the games did not seem to have an impact on learning outcomes (although all learners displayed significant progress in reading skills from the start to the end of the iRead project). However, children with lower initial reading abilities ended up with higher abilities than those with higher initial abilities. This effect was significantly stronger for the algorithmic group suggesting that the adaptive game particularly supported those who struggled.

Screenshot of the iRead game assignment tool

You can read the full open-access journal article here or our recently published blog post summarising the research here.

End of Project Event with iRead Teachers sharing their experiences with Navigo

Our project partner Learnus hosted an online webinar focused on the debate around the use of learning games in the classroom. During this event members of our UCL team (Mina Vasalou and Laura Benton) presented the theory and empirical evidence from the games-based learning literature in three key areas:

  1. What is the role of the technology vs the teacher? Do children need external support when playing learning games?
  2. How do learning games sustain children’s motivation and does this apply for all children?
  3. In what ways can games foster learning? How do we evidence this?

Four of our UK iRead partner teachers shared on their experiences of using the Navigo game in the classroom in relation to these questions. This led to some fascinating insights and interesting discussions during the event.

You can watch the event recording back below.

Children’s Learning in Digital Games – event recording

Working on the iRead project: Project Manager’s reflections 

In our recent blog post interview with iRead project manager Panos Papoutsis he tells us about his time on the iRead project. Below is an excerpt from the interview, you can read the full post on our website.

“I have been managing iRead from the Coordinator’s point of view (rather than the Partner’s point of view). Although I have been managing large consortia of Partners from the coordinator’s point view even before I joined UCL [who coordinate iRead] the experience I have gained has been enormous. Apart from adhering to our Funder’s (European Commission) rules, one needs to follow strict UCL internal procedures, which is a very challenging task. My main role is to manage all financial, contractual and administrative matters and monitor the activities of all Partners (not just UCL’s). I also need to safeguard project scope, which means to continuously compare our project plan with the actual work in progress (WIP) and advise the scientific team at a higher level.

Panos presenting at an iRead consortium meeting

The whole project will be a memorable experience for me. It is a complex, very ambitious, 4.5-year project that I supported from scratch and I will continue to do until its closure. Successfully running the full project life cycle (from project initiation to project closure) coupled with its impressive results, is an important milestone in my career as Project Manager…”

In other news…

  • Going forwards the Navigo game will remain playable in its current form, but technical support will no longer be available
  • iRead project partners (UCL, DHBW, UB) have each had a paper accepted to a special issue on Technology-Mediated Personalised Learning for Younger Learners due to be published later this month in the British Journal of Educational Technology 
  • Last month members of the UCL team presented work from iRead at the virtual British Dyslexia Association conference
  • The British Council have had met with the Ministry in Education in Greece to discuss potential policy connections with iRead
  • On 17 June the UCL team attended the European Education Technology Network (EETN) virtual EXPO in to present the linguistic infrastructure as well as the Navigo game
  • Kostas Karpouzis and George Tsatiris from the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) have recently published their work “AI in (and for) Games” around the uses of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in games
  • On 29th and 30th June we held our final consortium meeting to prepare for our last review meeting as well as draw the project to a close and reflect on what has been achieved over the past 4.5 years

  • Elisabeth Herbert (UCL) will present our work engaging parents and children with the Navigo game during home-schooling at the ISEC 2021 conference
  • The University of Gothenburg team will present their work on “Swedish teachers’ expectations and appropriation of digital personalised learning technologies in the English classroom” at EUROCALL 2021.

Thank You!

Last but not least we would like to acknowledge the important contribution that teachers and pupils from the following schools have made to the iRead project over the last term as well as throughout the project – this work could not have happened without your support!

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