Cosmin Munteanu

ALEX – Supporting Low-Literacy Adults through Mobile Computing

Main author / presenter: Cosmin Munteanu, National Research Council Canada

Other authors:
Joanna Lumsden (1,2);
Hélène Fournier (1),
Rock Leung (1,3),
Danny D’Amours (1),
Daniel McDonald (1),
Julie Maitland (1)
1) National Research Council of Canada Institute for Information Technology
2) Aston University, School of Engineering & Applied Science
3) University of British Columbia, Department of Computer Science

Past work and interest in the topic

ALEX is a research project that started in 2004 at the National Research Council (NRC) aiming at addressing the literacy issue that Canadian adults currently struggle with. This research is described in the submitted position paper:

ALEX – Supporting Low-Literacy Adults through Mobile Computing (.pdf - 342 Kb)

Reason for wanting to attend the workshop

The current prototype of the ALEX application is the result of research efforts that combined participatory design with principles of inclusive design for low-literacy users. We would like to share with other researchers our experiences in taking this approach to addressing the adult literacy problem. We would also like to hear and learn from others about the design challenges they've encountered in their research. Such knowledge would give us an even better understanding of the problems faced by adults with literacy or reading difficulties and allows us to seek better solutions and technologies that provide assistance to these adults.

Critical issues in the field

The main benefit of attending this workshop is that one has the opportunity to hear other researchers' point of view about this field. From our perspective, we are looking at technological solutions that will help adults of low literacy better function in today's society, where access to textual-based information is crucial.

Our experience points to several critical issues:

  • The lack of machine-implementable mechanisms for ensuring text is at appropriate reading levels for the target users. While we were able to manually edit the text of button labels and error messages in ALEX, for other text resources (e.g. third-party dictionaries, thesauri, word usage examples) there was no practical solution to verify that text is of appropriate reading difficulty.
  • The difficulty in applying various design principles to particular cases. During our design process and particularly during the field studies, we have found that several metaphors and principles were not applicable as was expected.
  • The lack of consistent guidelines in determining the difficulties that the target users are facing in real-life situations. While adults that are enrolled in literacy classes are assessed by their teachers, it is significantly more difficult to estimate what the specific challenges are that these adults face in their everyday life. This is even more relevant for adults who are not enrolled in such programs, for which only general statistic or workplace reports exist.

Issues that the workshop should avoid

In my personal opinion as a possible attendee, I would like to see discussions of an interdisciplinary nature. I believe such a workshop should try to avoid focusing too much on a very specific area.