A real SURPRISE in virtual reality.
14 December, 2017
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
When introducing Lyfta to children, we’re immersing them in story-worlds to capture their imaginations and help make it easier for teachers to delve into complex topics. We’re always surprised by the results this can give, but we could never have imagined the impact it would have on one student in particular, when my colleague Serdar Ferit visited a school in North West London, while running a Virtual Reality based workshop with a group of Year 8 children.
There were 6 children in the group, using one VR headset between them. Serdar asked the children to describe what they could see and hear while wearing the headset with their classmates, to keep the whole group engaged throughout the session. Christopher Cody (aka Kit) 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.
What Serdar didn’t know, was that Kit is severely dyslexic. Kit hesitated for a moment, but then went on to read the short passage in front of his peers – 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.
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 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. I transcribed and analysed Kit’s interview and spoke to my supervisor at university. I had to make an application to 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 in 2018.
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
- who are generally academically able
- for whom English is a first language
- who have dyslexia and find it difficult to read out loud.
We would like to work with 5 host schools around England and Wales, where we can be stationed for a day (in each school), with around 10 children visiting from other schools in the area/region.
Can you help us with the study?
1. We are looking for host schools around England and Wales (i.e. 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.
2. We are looking for children with a similar profile to Kit, as stated above. If you have a pupil who you feel matches the profile, please discuss this idea with their parents and let us know if they’re happy to be part of the study.
3. We would love support/advice to help us with the study. In order to be able to conduct the research in a timely manner, Lyfta has agreed to pay for the costs of the study (including equipment costs, my time, flights, travel and accommodation). As Lyfta is a start-up, with very limited funds, our budget is relatively small, so we would very much appreciate any support (e.g. from individuals/foundations/organisations who may be able to help/advise with regards to funding).
The experience 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.