AI Learning Buddy Helps Dyslexic Kids Read And Understand
OrCam is already one of Israel’s startup successes, with a device that literally helps the blind to “see”.
It reads text to the user – anything from a newspaper to a cereal packet. It also recognizes people, identifies objects, and helps the user find their way around.
The Jerusalem-based company was established by Prof. Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram, founders of Mobileye, the driver assistance system that Intel bought in 2017 for $15.3 billion.
OrCam launched MyEye for blind and visually impaired people in 2015 and has now refined its technology to help children with dyslexia, ADHD and other special educational needs.
The new OrCam device offers the same “point and read” function, but it goes much further. The pupil can read to the device and it will score their performance, provide feedback, and help them with difficult words.
It will also ask them comprehension questions to see how well they’ve understood the text they’ve just read, and it will provide teachers or parents with a detailed analysis, so they can adapt their teaching methods.
All this AI technology, plus a sophisticated camera, is packed into an easy-to-use device about the size of a highlighter pen. Pupils who have used it in trials find it “fun and engaging,” according to one teacher.
“It levels the playing field for a dyslexic child,” said Michelle Catterson, executive head at Moon Hall School, in Reigate, near London.
“So in areas where they will find things difficult, the assistive technology is what helps them to access the learning.” They see it as a learning companion. One child described it as their “learning buddy”.
In the USA alone, an estimated 10 million K12 children (kindergarten to 12th grade) struggle with reading, mostly because of dyslexia.
“We want them to gain independence – and confidence – in reading ,” says Meny Gantz, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Kids who are challenged by reading can become frustrated and less communicative.
“OrCam Technologies got its start by assisting people with vision difficulties. Now we are supporting students with challenges in learning. Our mission is to help people achieve their maximum potential.”
There are other “reading pens” available, but they scan a word, or at most a sentence at a time, which is frustrating and time-consuming.
The OrCam Learn reads a whole printed page in one go, or a computer screen, or text in any font on any surface, even in low light. It can even read handwriting, if it’s neat enough.
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“The device also is capable of listening to the student read to the device, and it gives feedback in real time. It might tell them, for example, that they read 80 out of 90 words correctly, well done,” says Gantz.
“It can also ask questions about what they read, so it’s actually checking their comprehension. The device’s artificial intelligence chip includes natural language processing algorithms.
“Also, while the student is reading we can get process information about their reading and actually analyze it to identify areas where the student needs improvement.”
Here’s an example of the OrCam providing feedback in a demonstration: “Great reading, you’ve read 28 out of 35 words correctly, you may want to practice reading two syllable words. Africa is one of seven tough words you’ve read correctly. Very fluent reading.
“Now it’s time for some questions. Please point at any word in the sentence that contains the answer to the following questions. Here is the first question, what is the fastest land animal on earth?”
The student can point at a difficult word and the device will read to them again, and again if necessary. The student can also connect to earbuds if they don’t want to disturb others.
The OrCam Learn uses advanced NLP (natural language processing) and NLU (natural language understanding) algorithms to process previously unseen texts and ask the student questions about them to check they’ve understood.
It immediately generates evaluation reports for every reading session, in the format already used by schools, measuring the difficulty of the text relative to the student’s grade level, fluency (words correct per minute), accuracy (number of words read correctly out of total words) and overall reading time.
The OrCam Learn has been used in pilot projects so far at a school and a college for students with dyslexia or reading and learning difficulties in the UK, and at a number of public schools in Wisconsin, USA.
The vast majority of pupils – 84 percent at one UK school – said it helped them understand the text better. The 10 to 13-year-olds also preferred reading with it to reading without it.
It can be switched to “exam mode”, disabling functions beyond point-and-read, so that students can use it during external exams. And future refinements will include a dictionary and a translation feature.
The device was launched commercially a few months ago. Parents can sign up for a two-year deal, paying a monthly subscription for the device, and OrCam also plans to provide it through schools.