As I understand the guidelines, there are constraints on both the problem and the solution. I am concerned that these constraints, taken together, could make the field test of the finalist apps unsatisfactory as a field test, that together three constraints in particular will narrow the eligible recruitment pool to a much smaller than needed number of eligible participants, and that many of these lowest-literacy level participants who get selected, although they will own a smartphone, will not be comfortable enough using any learning app on it to be able to try to improve their reading skills.
Constraint on the problem:
1) Help native speakers of English and/or English language learners who have a range of reading skills from zero literacy to “third grade” (CASAS test scores between zero to 210) to improve their reading. Focusing on just the lowest reading level is, in my view as an adult literacy educator, an unnecessary constraint in the guidelines that the XPRIZE Foundation should re-consider.
Constraints on the solution:
2) Develop an app that will operate on smartphones or phablets that field test participants already own. Although many of the otherwise eligible field-test participants at the lowest reading levels do own a feature phone, they do not own a smartphone because they cannot afford one or the service plan for it, and/or because they cannot read.
3) Field participants cannot, at least while they participate in the field test, be enrolled in an adult literacy program.
Taken together, these three constraints could reduce the likelihood of a successful test of the five finalist apps, could create an unnecessarily difficult problem in recruiting field test participants. This would be a great disappointment not only for developers, the XPRIZE foundation, the Barbara Bush and Dollar General Foundations, but would be a loss of a great opportunity for adults in the U.S. who want – and need – to improve their literacy skills.
Limiting eligibility to a zero-to-three level literacy population could be a problem because this population:
• Is one of the least likely groups of people in the U.S. to own a smartphone, or if they do own one, to know how to use it for getting information from text or for learning, except perhaps from videos. Only 66% of those who have not completed high school, now use the internet at all. (Pew Research Center Internet Survey, Americans’ Internet Access: 2000-2015. ) From my experience the percent of those in this group at the lowest literacy level who access the Internet (by computer or smartphone) is considerably less.
• For native speakers of English at least, this population is quite likely to have a disproportionately greater percent of people with moderate to severe specific reading disabilities. Although an app solution might be developed that successfully addresses this disability, without some initial face-to-face help in using their smart phone, participants in the field test may not be comfortable enough using the smartphone app to get over the initial technology hurdle, no matter how simple the design of the app interface
• Because adults with the lowest-level literacy did not learn to read in school, many or most experienced failure in most or all school subjects, and now, as they begin trying to learn to read as an adult, they frequently doubt that they can succeed. To address this fear, face-to-face support in using an app may be needed at least until they have confidence that the app can help them.
Although there may be other solutions to the challenges of a successful field test, perhaps the easiest way to address this is to reduce the constraint on the problem, to expand the definition of the problem, to increase the reading level eligibility to include those who cannot read well but might have as much as 235 on the CASAS, or roughly up to an “eighth grade” reading level. There are considerably more adults in the pool between third grade and eighth grade reading levels. They still have serious reading difficulties, but often not as many, and more may own smartphiones. This is what national adult literacy expert, Dr. Daphne Greenberg, recommended in an earlier post, and it makes sense to me. The expansion of the definition of low-literate would not preclude serving zero – three level readers, but it would increase the likelihood of success in the recruitment of those participating in the field test.