Video games and voice recognition show promise as Ed Tech

University of Missouri researchers are using $12 million in US Department of Education grants to harness game-based learning and speech-recognition tools to teach science and literacy. The funding comes amid a boom in the edtech market, where K-12 schools have spent billions on digital learning programs for new media to improve teaching and student engagement.

According to a university press release, James Laffey, professor emeritus in the College of Education and Human Development, will use $8 million to develop Mission HydroSci, a video game that sends players on a “virtual journey” to learn more. Learn more about topics like water flow, groundwater, atmospheric water, and water contamination, then challenge them to use that knowledge to complete missions.

Laffey said the game was first created and tested by a group of 13 teachers in 2014 with the help of a $4.5 million development grant from the US Department of Education. Building on the game’s early success, the research team now plans to expand the game to more than 60 colleges across the country for additional testing, in partnership with the Missouri Research and Education Network and the organization at professional development nonprofit eMINTS (enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies) National Center, which will provide technical support for educators to implement the game in their courses.

According to Laffey, the initial goal of the project will be to update the game and make it more immersive. Teachers will then spend about two and a half years testing it.

“We really need to rebuild it in a more robust way,” he said, adding that the team also plans to make the game available on tablets. “Our new grant will allow us to learn from our first grant to create a stronger game and test it more thoroughly, with a larger sample of teachers and students.”

Laffey said he hopes the game will serve as a framework for other K-12 game-based learning programs covering additional subject matter in the years to come, adding that he has already proven useful for teachers looking for new ways to keep students interested.

“What they saw in the classroom was that kids who weren’t usually very engaged in science education got engaged,” he said of teacher testimonials after the game launch. “I think games have this ability to engage kids and engage kids who typically don’t do well with classroom activities.”


Betsy Baker, also a professor in the university’s College of Education and Human Development, will use $4 million to study how elementary school teachers can make the most of voice recognition programs on mobile devices to improve language skills. student reading and literacy.

“The core of reading is being able to match the spoken and written word,” she said, noting that mobile apps such as Alexa, Siri and Google Dictate have been shown to help students to develop “more than 98% accuracy” in their capacity. recognize words in their vocabulary.

“What we found is that these children develop rich abilities to make these correspondences between spoken and written words,” she added. “They learn a lot from reading.”

Baker said a big part of the overall goal of the project, also in partnership with eMINTS, is to find ways for teachers to implement text chat tools in lessons, taking into account the limitations current technologies.

According to the university, the lesson planning and curriculum developed through Baker’s research will be implemented in underserved rural Missouri school districts with high rates of free and reduced-price lunch programs, and will serve more than 90 second-year teachers and 1,800 students.

“We’re deliberately targeting second grade to make sure we can prepare them to read independently by the end of third grade, using the help of voice recognition apps,” Baker said, relying on on previous research that has found students who are proficient third-grade readers. are more likely to complete high school and find employment.

Since much of the speech-recognition technology available today is “notoriously inaccurate” and often unable to recognize certain words and vernaculars, Baker said, the technology could encourage classroom discussions about phonetics and vocabulary lessons designed to improve reading comprehension.

“There is tremendous potential for children to make connections between spoken language that is culturally rich and personally meaningful and written words,” she said. “However, there are a variety of issues – one being that voice recognition isn’t always accurate.

“We believe we can facilitate teachers’ ability to tap into potential while alleviating the challenges of speech recognition.”

John C. Dent