Young girl reading story on tablet device

Launching an App to Improve Child Literacy Research in the Greater Chicago Region

A US-based global top-ten university has launched an app in partnership with Cantarus as part of an ongoing study of children’s learning abilities across the Greater Chicago region.

After months of considerate planning and development, the university decided to experimentally test a new, enhanced digital version of their signature study. The study is a 6-month reading intervention that uses behavioural tools to increase the amount of time parents spend reading to children, with the aim of improving children’s literacy skills.

App layout screens related to child literacy, one shows the alphabet, the other a page from a book
Young girl seated on sofa reading story on tablet device

The university required an app that could host a number of books written in both English and Spanish, and that would allow them to assess data based on a variety of reading circumstances. Chicago-based parents with children aged three to four would then randomly be assigned to a group to undertake the study.

It was essential that the app was available at home, even when offline for months at a time. This meant that lower-income families involved in the study, or those lacking consistent internet access could still successfully partake in the research.

We built the custom app exclusively for the University’s use and available solely on iOS tablets. The University can download the app to their devices, and distribute those devices to the families involved in the study. Participants can choose from a wide variety of books and have their reading session recorded through the iPad camera – as hassle-free as if they were using FaceTime or Skype.

Data is then fed back directly to the University, with statistics including the length of time spent reading, which books were read, what language was read in, what time the session took place and more. The app links back to the Cantarus-built back office where the University can download all of the data and videos painlessly. Ultimately, the University can easily assess the data and measure which circumstance delivers the best results.

One of the most innovative functionalities of the app is its offline availability. The University sets up each device with the downloaded books, and participants can access all of these on the go. When there is a Wi-Fi connection, any new books added, or any updates are downloaded to the device, and session data saved to the device is then uploaded to the University servers. This ensures that no study data is lost, as well as being much more convenient for participants.

We designed the app entirely in-house in an extremely short space of time to meet the University’s deadlines. Despite a limited timeframe, we were able to create a beautiful, effective design that was fitting to the University’s brand guidelines and kept simple to suit the target audience of young children.

The app is a truly innovative tool for the University. We went above and beyond their expectations to provide an app that both looks and feels fantastic, and genuinely enables the University to gauge a better understanding of how literacy develops in children.

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