CEHD Alum Awarded Patent for Computer-Based Reading Comprehension Program
story by Claire Miller
During her doctoral program, Roxanne Russell (Ph.D. ’11) may have found the best possible use for PowerPoint: To improve reading comprehension among high school students.
The ubiquitous presentation program allows users to emphasize words with motion. When combined with teacher-assigned texts, PowerPoint became the vehicle Russell and former high school English teacher Joshua Cuevas (Ph.D. ’10) could use to create engaging reading presentations that highlighted key words.
Russell, Cuevas and College of Education & Human Development Associate Professor Miles Irving conducted a year-long experimental study to see if such presentations could impact high school students’ reading comprehension, and their findings – published in Educational Technology Research and Development – were a resounding “yes.”
Since then, Russell has sought grant funding and worked with app developers to create a program teachers can use to design their own reading presentations.
Read Ahead allows teachers to copy and paste content into the program, identify key words and create a guided reading activity for their students in a fraction of the time it would take to design a similar activity in PowerPoint. By the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, teachers in 28 school districts across several states were testing out Read Ahead.
“We use artificial intelligence to skim for key ideas and chunk reading assignments into manageable pieces. Students get to play with the flow of words and engage directly with the text,” Russell said. “Teachers and administrators are able to track student engagement and comprehension at a granular word level and without multiple choice tests.”
In addition, she’s been working with an intellectual property lawyer to patent some of Read Ahead’s key features.
The patent process has been lengthy but has now paid off. This summer, she received the official Notice of Allowance from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on the majority of the program’s features.
“We see a clear need to protect our intellectual property in this market,” said Russell, who was previously approached by a major educational technology company to meet about Read Ahead, but turned them down due to concerns about sharing the program’s inner workings without a non-disclosure agreement. “Now that we have a patent, I would feel much more comfortable having a meeting like that.”
Russell’s grandfather was also a patent holder (on aluminum extrusions used in air conditioning registers and bleachers) and like her grandfather, she believes the patent adds great value to her work.
“It was important to me to have the essential inventor credential: A patent,” she said.