Improving Adult Literacy through Intelligent Tutoring and Games: N00014-14-1-0343

Project: Research project

Project Details


Improving Adult Literacy through Intelligent Tutoring and Games: N00014-14-1-0343 Improving Adult Literacy through Intelligent Tutoring and Games A strong focus of educational research and development in the past two decades has been on K- 12 learning and development, in particular on literacy skills and STEM. This focus has been warranted. According to the NAEP, 25% or more of students in the 8th and 12th grades perform below a basic level of reading comprehension (US DOE, 2011) and 35 to 40 percent of 8th and 12th grade students in the U.S. do not reach basic level performance for science knowledge and skills (NAEP, 2011). Comprehension difficulties are exacerbated when students are faced with challenging texts (OReilly& McNamara, 2007a; Snow, 2002) and, unfortunately, many students lack the necessary comprehension skills and knowledge to understand and learn from content texts (e.g., OReilly& McNamara, 2007b). As one might expect, this situation carries forward to adulthood for many individuals. The current estimates of adult literacy are grim. Approximately 30 million adults in the United States cannot read. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL; which surveyed 19,000 adults in the United States, 14% scored below the basic level, demonstrating an inability to perform simple, everyday literacy activities. Moreover, estimates of illiteracy are drastically increased among students who do not graduate from high school (55%), English language learners (44%), Hispanic adults (39%), and black adults (20%). Despite these grim estimates of adult literacy, there is little research on the topic and few empirically-based literacy interventions geared toward adult learners. Consequently, the recent National Research Council report on adult literacy (Lesgold& Welch-Ross, 2012) strongly recommends a focus on research to identify and develop effective instructional approaches that improve adult literacy and to determine how the effectiveness of such programs depends on individuals needs and their contexts. The purpose of this project is to work toward that objective. The long term goal of this project is to develop an automated, adaptive intervention to improve adult literacy. This intelligent tutoring system (ITS) will incorporate a hybrid game-based design, allowing users to choose multiple types of game and non-game methods of practice that are adaptive to their needs and contexts. Such an intervention is needed because adult literacy learners vary widely in their characteristics. Hence, successful literacy programs will need to be adaptive and responsive depending on learners skills, knowledge, goals, motivation, and interests. To achieve this objective, we will build upon and adapt an existing game-based ITS, iSTART-ME (Interactive Strategy Training for Active Reading and Thinking-Motivationally Enhanced), which provides comprehension strategy instruction to high school students. To do so, we will conduct foundational research to develop a better understanding of adult literacy learners needs and deficits, including their reading and comprehension skills, knowledge, goals, motivation, and interests. We will first examine the benefits and appeal of the existing system, and subsequently modify this system based on the abilities, needs, and interests of adult literacy learners. These efforts aim to lay the empirical foundations and develop an effective system that will adapt to the wide variation in individual differences among adult literacy learners.
Effective start/end date5/1/1412/29/17


  • DOD-NAVY: Office of Naval Research (ONR): $742,601.00


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