ATLANTA — A student and professor from Georgia State University are among the winning teams in an international competition to promote innovative ways to help kindergarten through 12th-grade students get back on track with learning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joon Suh Choi, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Applied Linguistics & English as a Second Language, and Scott Crossley, a professor in the same department, were recognized for a software application they have been working on for about two years: The Automated Readability Tool for English (ARTE). ARTE is a free application that allows users to assess the reading level of text or other source material to help instructors ensure the material they are using matches the reading level of their students

“When it comes to learning how to read, we know it makes a difference when you’re paired with text that matches your reading ability,” Crossley said. “I think the potential impact can be huge if the technology is incorporated into learning technologies that we see being used on a grand scale during the pandemic.”

The project by Crossley and Choi was among 18 winning proposals selected by the Futures Forum on Learning Tools Competition. The pair received about $35,000 in prize money and will use the funds to continue development of the ARTE application.

The competition generated nearly 900 proposals from 55 countries, allowing entrepreneurs, teachers and researchers a chance to showcase innovative ways to accelerate learning recovery in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The educational tools developed by the winning teams have the potential to serve 1 million students by the end of 2021 and close to 20 million students within the next three years, according to estimates calculated by each team.

“We were very excited to find out we won because we knew it was going to be very competitive,” Choi said.

Choi, a native of Korea, said he witnessed first-hand the importance of readability technology while working at the Wolgye Library in Seoul, South Korea.

“Some children had difficulty choosing the right books,” Choi said. “A lot of students couldn’t get invested in reading, and I felt one of the reasons was because the reading material was not appropriate for them in terms of difficulty or topics.”

Choi, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in South Korea, said he came to Georgia State to pursue a Ph.D largely because of the work Crossley has done in the field of text comprehensibility.

Choi and Crossley said they plan to scale the ARTE app, adding new functions to make it more user friendly, including an application programming interface that will allow the app to be integrated into other learning technologies, and expanding the number of readability formulas supported by the app. The newer formulas will allow the program to more accurately predict the reading level of the material.

“What we’re trying to do through this project is to make everything more accessible,” Crossley said. “We want other educational engineers or websites to be able to use this technology. We hope by making these readability formulas readily available and accessible to teachers and students, we can better inform how texts are selected and how they are matched with students.”

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