Campus News

Professors developing Web tool to improve students’ literacy skills

A team of College of Education professors is developing a Web-based tool to improve young students’ literacy skills thanks to a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The specific aim of the grant is to support underachieving writers from low-income backgrounds, English language learners, students with a range of learning disabilities and those for whom initial motivation in writing or engaged writing is a problem.

The new literacy tool, PersuadeMe, is designed to help students in grades four through eight engage in writing and arguments on issues that interest them. The tool features an online role-playing tournament in which students act as “Idea Innovators” and “Idea Investors.” Innovators must back their proposal with evidence. Investors will fund ideas they think will be successful, thus driving up the value of those ideas.

“Competence in writing persuasively is essential for communicating effectively in today’s society,” said project leader Donna Alvermann, the Omer Clyde and Elizabeth Parr Aderhold Professor in Education and a UGA Distinguished Research Professor. “It is a skill that is not easily picked up on one’s own. It develops over time, using different modes of expression. It requires some scaffolding, which PersuadeMe provides.”

PersuadeMe will engage students in small-group discussions that lead to a written argument. Written argumentation deepens a student’s knowledge of content in subject areas such as science, social studies and English language arts, she said.

The project’s goal is to develop a working prototype of PersuadeMe, which can attract further funding to test its effectiveness and viability.

Alvermann will coordinate the alignment of the literacy tool with the Common Core writing standards and oversee field-testing in area schools to refine the tool’s development. Assisting her in the project will be Lloyd Rieber, a professor of learning, design and technology, and Michael Hannafin, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar of Technology Enhanced Learning.

The project is being funded by a $25,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Literacy Courseware Challenge.