Two University of Oregon researchers see electronic reading tablets such as the iPad, Tablet PC and Kindle as potential game changers to help people overcome a variety of barriers to effective reading and comprehension.
With the help of a five-year, $2.7 million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Stephen Fickas, professor of computer science, and McKay Sohlberg, professor of communication disorders and sciences, have launched the CampusReader project.
"Reading comprehension deficits are a huge problem for many students leaving high school who have identified and unidentified impairments, and desire to continue their education," says Sohlberg, who is known internationally for her pioneering work in the field of cognitive rehabilitation. "A lot of them are not able to meet the reading demands of college or technical training courses."
The CampusReader software, which will be developed in stages over five years, will target a wide range of current college students, including veterans who have suffered mild brain injuries, and adults struggling with developmental barriers such as attention deficit disorders and learning disabilities, Fickas says.
In collaboration with two U.S. Department of Defense facilities, and an urban university's student disability services program, the Oregon researchers will develop an evidence-based assessment and strategy process that matches both reading profiles and impairments to reading strategies that can be delivered on electronic reading tablets. The project will build on software models already developed in previous projects led by Fickas and Solhberg.
The end result, they say, will be an educational package that uses open source software and hardware to deliver a demonstration tool that could be used by companies designing commercialized reading tablets.
"Our targeted students are those whose cognitive impairments make it difficult for them to sort relevant from irrelevant information, draw inferences or connect background knowledge to new learning situations," says Solhberg, who recently was awarded the College of Education's five-year HEDCO endowed professorship. "These deficits now are managed by teaching study skills, which appear to have validity but are lacking evidence-based support."
Fickas notes that the growing popularity of the iPad and other emerging computer-based reading platforms offer a means to deliver quality supports to improve reading comprehension and retention, especially for college students.
"Our aim is to integrate reading strategies with online textbooks, which is where we believe the publishing industry is headed," he says. "Ideally, as students sit down with their computers to begin their online reading assignment, the CampusReader software will work in the background to extend the textbook content with strategies that fit with each student's reading profile. Each student gets a personalized reader to fit his or her needs."
To develop the necessary strategies, the researchers will conduct pilot studies, laboratory experiments and long-term evaluations. The CampusReader project will attempt to provide the science that is missing from the literature that links reading impairments with reading strategies, and develop a demonstration tool, built on what they learn, that supports an assessment process and a delivery mechanism.
Efforts aimed at active-duty U.S. service members and veterans with mild brain trauma will be designed especially for those attempting to enroll in specialized training programs or to return to university or community campuses to resume their educational pursuits.
A priority, Fickas says, is to have the CampusReader be recognized and accepted through the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP). The National Defense Authorization Act of October 2000 granted CAP the authority to provide assistive technology, devices, and services free of charge to partnering federal agencies that work with returning soldiers. One of the CampusReader project's partners, Tripler Army Medical Center, will be a key player in reaching this goal.
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