University of Jyväskylä

International group of researchers seeks solutions to tackle barriers of learning

An international group of well-established experts from various disciplines travels from around the world to meet in Jyväskylä on December 8-10. Their mission is to make progress on developing evidence-based technology-aided tools to support learning of at-risk children across languages and cultures. The attendees do not only represent academia but also federal or national institutions, as well as NGOs and companies from, e.g., USA, the Netherlands, Russia, Taiwan and Brazil.

– These experts in our collaborative networks represent multiple disciplines, including cognitive science, neuroscience, communication, language, literacy, education, computer science, policy, and education technology, so called EdTech. Their commitment in making a difference is strong: they have proposed this meeting and participate at their own expense, explains the meeting organizer, UNESCO Professor Heikki Lyytinen from the University of Jyväskylä. – To achieve our global aims in enhancing learning support, we are naturally also looking for funding possibilities. 

A Finnish success story expanding worldwide

For over ten years, Finnish children throughout the country have applied Ekapeli, the original Finnish child-friendly mobile and desktop game that teaches children letter and letter-sound combinations. Currently  there are up to 85 000 players in a month/  9500 players a day in Finland (51,5% boys).  Due to excellent results, numerous international language versions, called GraphoGame, have been developed in broad international collaboration by professors Heikki Lyytinen and Ulla Richardson with their research groups in the University of Jyväskylä and the Niilo Mäki Institute. GraphoGame has already proceeded to active international development and distribution, agreed to be carried out by Learning Intelligence Group, Inc.

– Overall the game has been developed for 31 languages in 25 countries, remarks professor Richardson.

The researchers arriving to the joint meeting are impressed by the evidence-based impacts, and eager to continue the collaboration to find new solutions to support children with learning needs around the world, including developing countries.

- Our overarching goal is to improve access to quality instruction in reading for populations of children worldwide who struggle with reading due either to limited access to reading experience due to poverty, or intractable reading disabilities, describes Kenneth Pugh, the President and Director of Research at Haskins Laboratories, Yale University, and chairman of the international GraphoWorld Network of Excellence.

The at-risk children across languages and cultures are targeted at three critical stages:  1) preschool oral language/vocabulary and numeracy; 2) reading acquisition; and 3) reading comprehension support with consideration of links to learning challenges in science, technology and mathematics. Additional focus on opportunities and challenges in and around adult literacy, and second language literacy will also be considered.

Grapho Learning Initiative

GraphoGame is a literacy learning game, developed in Finland in the interdisciplinary Agora Human Technology Center of the University of Jyväskylä in collaboration with the Niilo Mäki Institute. The game has been from 2007 on available for all Finnish children as part of the national education system. The game development was based on the scientific follow-up study of Finnish children at familial risk for dyslexia from birth to reading age which professor Heikki Lyytinen started in the early 1990´s.

By playing the game, children learn first the basic letters and their sounds. Through a series of levels, they gradually move on to short and increasingly longer words. Now the game that is developed for research purposes is called GraphoLearn( GL). The game dynamically adapts the difficulty level to the child’s unique ability level. Learning to read with GraphoLearn is fun and easy, so that the child is able to play it alone.

The Grapho Learning Initiative is a shared mission of cutting-edge researchers from around the world to apply their knowhow of spoken and written language acquisition to assist millions of children to learn to read in their local language with the help of technology. The Initiative was inspired by the excellent learning results through GraphoGame in Finland. The Grapho Learning Initiative was launched in 2011 by University of Jyväskylä and Niilo Mäki Institute. The members of the Steering Committee of GraphoWorld NoE are the following: Professor Usha Goswami (University of Cambridge, UK), Elena Grigorenko (Houston and Yale Universities, USA & Moscow State University, Russia), Malt Joshi (Texas A&M University, USA), Heikki Lyytinen (University of Jyväskylä) and Kenneth Pugh (Haskins laboratories, USA).

– I am tremendously excited about the path GraphoLearn has taken over the past decade in terms of developing a true evidence-based and scientifically grounded literacy acquisition digital platform. I am even more excited about the profound impact it will have in the next 10 years by further R&D and globally scaling it while keeping the cost close to 0, says Professor Fumiko Hoeft, director Hoeft Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of California San Francisco, USA, one of the members of the network.

More information about GraphoLearn: http://info.grapholearn.com/

The program of the event in Jyväskylä: http://info.grapholearn.com/wp-uploads/2017/12/RCSTEM_Finland_201712_-Open-to-Public.pdf

Further information:

Professor Heikki Lyytinen, tel:+358 505 524 892, heikki.j.lyytinen@jyu.fi

Professor Ulla Richardson, tel: +358 400 247 398, ulla.a.richardson@jyu.fi

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