Could VR have an impact on dyslexia? Tony Parkin on a research project seeking help from schools
Everyone who is a fan of the ‘Educating Yorkshire’ series on Channel 4 vividly remembers the episode "When Mushy found his voice". The powerful programme, which showed how the using simple technology helped a stammering Musharaf overcome his speaking difficulties, and do well enough in his oral to get the grade he needed, moves everyone who sees it.
Now there is a suggestion that use of VR (virtual reality) technology may be able to help some sufferers of dyslexia, and teachers are being asked to volunteer to be host schools for an exciting research project, starting NOW.
Getting behind the virtual reality hype — educational impact
Last year the hype around Virtual Reality was so great that at the annual BETT 2017 educational technology event in London it seemed difficult to avoid folk stumbling around blinded by VR headsets. But the whizzbang overkill and lack of accompanying pedagogy meant that many teachers quickly learned to avoid these stands, and look elsewhere for the learning.
Lyfta, from Finland, is one such company, and they have been working closely with universities and schools in both Finland and the UK to help their research into VR’s educational potential.But in among all the hype there have also been signs of some companies genuinely seeking to engage education, and researching where VR could add real value to learning.
They have been discovering remarkable impact with VR research projects in the PSHE space, but while doing so have also stumbled across some fascinating implications for pupils with dyslexia.
I met recently with Serdar Ferit (pictured above) of Lyfta, to hear about their research on changing pupil attitudes through a VR application linked to the Ethiopian village of Awra Amba. While doing that work, he and a teacher colleague, Maria Carrasco, became so excited by a chance encounter in a London school with dyslexic student Kit Cody that is has led to a whole new research project forming the main focus of Maria’s Master’s studies.
Now they are seeking YOUR HELP in turning one chance encounter into some solid academic research on the potential for this technology to help students with dyslexia. The project is running from now, December 2017, until February 2018, and they are seeking host schools to act as hubs for the project, and 50 pupils with dyslexia, aged 10 -13, wanting to participate in the programme.
Maria Carrasco writes:
Hi, I'm María Carrasco. I'm a qualified teacher working with a Finnish Education Technology company called Lyfta, part-time, while continuing my Master's degree in Learning, Education and Technology at the University of Oulu in Finland.
Shortly after I started working at Lyfta, my colleague Serdar Ferit had a very interesting encounter at a school in North West London, while running a virtual reality-based workshop with a group of Year 8 children.
What happened with the project?
There were six children in the group, using one VR headset between them. Serdar asked the children to share their experience (ie describe what they could see and hear while wearing the VR headset) with their classmates, to keep the whole group engaged throughout the session. Christopher Cody (aka Kit, pictured left) was the second child to have a go – during which he explored the weaving factory in a small Ethiopian village called Awra Amba.
Serdar asked Kit to click on some of the available multimedia content and read out the text for everyone to hear. Kit hesitated for a moment, but then went on to read the short passage in front of him – which he delivered perfectly. When he took the headset off, he told Serdar that that was the first time he had read aloud without making a mistake. Kit is severely dyslexic, which Serdar was unaware of.
Later that day, Serdar discussed what had happened with Kit’s form tutor and interviewed Kit to find out more about his experience. Kit’s mum, Annabel Cody (a journalist who had previously written a newspaper article about Kit’s dyslexia) wrote to Serdar after Kit told her what had happened. Annabel and Serdar met a couple of times to discuss further, and Serdar also interviewed Annabel – now quite an expert in the field of dyslexia, having read around the subject for a number of years.
While our team at Lyfta has significant expertise in user experience (UX) design – with particular effort placed on making text as clear and readable as possible – this was a totally unexpected outcome that caught everybody by surprise.
After hearing this story, I was inspired to explore the topic further. After transcribing and analysing Kit’s interview, I spoke to my supervisor at university and made an application to completely change the focus of my Master’s thesis, so that I could conduct a formal study about the effects of VR learning environments on reading for children with dyslexia. This was approved, and we have now designed a study with Serdar and my supervisor, which will be ready to conduct from December 2017 to February 2018.
Seeking dyslexic students for an academic study
We have decided to work with English text and would like to conduct the study with dyslexic students from the UK. We will compare similar texts in textbooks and VR environments to see if there is a significant difference in the way the children respond.
We are looking for 50 pupils, aged 10-13 for whom English is a first language, who have dyslexia and find it difficult to read out loud, but are otherwise academically able.
Our aim is to work with five host schools around England and Wales, where we would like to be stationed for a day (in each school), with around 10 children visiting from other schools in the area/region.
Would you like to be involved?
We are looking for host schools around England and Wales (ie the South of England, London, the Midlands, the North and in South Wales). The schools should be easily accessible for pupils who may travel from around the region / from other schools. Please get in touch if you feel that your school can act as a hub in your area and you can lend us a classroom for a day.
We are looking for children with a similar profile to Kit, as stated above. If you have a pupil who you feel fits the bill, please discuss this idea with their parents and let us know if they’re happy to be part of the study.
Support and advice: in order to be able to conduct the research in a timely manner, Lyfta has agreed to fund the study, including equipment costs, my time, flights from Finland, travel and accommodation around England and Wales.
As Lyfta is a start-up, with very limited funds, our budget is relatively small, so we would very much appreciate any support (eg with schools hosting us, from foundations or organisations who may be able to help, etc) and any advice regarding funding that we may be able to apply for.
The incident with Kit was a complete surprise for all of us. We are very excited by the possibilities and look forward to working with primary and secondary schools to delve into the topic and see what we can find – which we hope can be built on to contribute to improving the lives of people with dyslexia in years to come.
How to contact….
Please use the form at https://www.lyfta.com/dyslexia-study-form to express interest in taking part in this study.
Maria Carrasco is a teacher/researcher with Finnish Education Technology company Lyfta