Change Agent

How EyeRead is using eye-tracking tech to help kids learn to read

By harnessing data about their reading habits, EyeRead helps teachers and parents pinpoint kids’ reading difficulties

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Julia Rivard Dexter, left, and Leah Skerry, co-founders of EyeRead.

Julia Rivard Dexter, left, and Leah Skerry, co-founders of EyeRead. (Portrait by Riley Smith)

Julia Rivard Dexter and Leah Skerry co-founded Eyeread, an eye-tracking application for young readers, during their company’s 20% innovation time—a model that allows employees to allocate 20% of their time to invent new products. They worked with Dalhousie University and the University of Moncton to build their first prototype, and saw the opportunity to apply the technology to reading education for kids. They plan to bring Eyeread to market in early 2016. CEO Leah Skerry spoke with us about how tablets offer unique benefits for kids learning to read.

“If a teacher notices that a child is having difficulties reading, the next step is to be referred to a psychologist, and that’s a one-year wait for an appointment. It’s crazy to me that you would wait that long; going a year without any help besides what your parents and teachers are doing. Educational psychologists and other professionals in private practice may be able to provide an assessment, diagnosis, and a plan for helping a child struggling to read, but that can cost more than $2,000. So we saw the opportunity to develop a product to allow us to not only pinpoint reading levels of children, but also develop programs that would accelerate their learning. What we developed uses hardware that uses infrared eye tracking. We use that hardware, and its eye patterns are matched over voice recording and then the cognitive science is built into it through our researchers with the University of Moncton.

“What happens is as a child reads a book, they’re reading as they normally would on a tablet, and we’re collecting all that data in real-time. Once they’re finished a book, we can see words they struggled with, how long it took them to read the book, if there are areas or pages they struggled with, certain words they wanted to hear defined, or how it’s said—we can see all of that, and those prompts are built in to really build their confidence and make it a fun experience for them when they’re reading, and they can do that autonomously while still giving all that data to a parent or a teacher. Eyeread eliminates all testing, so we’re able to gather all this data and provide that to teachers or reading professionals and parents which saves them a ton of time. If you look at how the testing is done in school, they’re testing at the beginning, and they’re testing at the end, and it’s all paper tests during certain periods of time versus having something that’s constantly being monitored. Their learning ability is matched to their personal learning threshold—it pushes them at the right time because we’re not only building books, but we’re building tools that allow them to learn efficiently.”

How EyeRead Works: