Literacy App From SMU-LIFT Team Wins Multi-Million Dollar Grand Prize | KERA News

Literacy App From SMU-LIFT Team Wins Multi-Million Dollar Grand Prize

Feb 8, 2019

More than 36 million adults nationwide lack basic English literacy. A team from Southern Methodist University and Literacy Instruction for Texas are hoping to help chip away at that number with their award-winning phone app.

The group won the multi-million dollar grand prize from the Barbara Bush Foundation's Bush XPrize challenge, which focused on creating an easy-to-use literacy phone app.

SMU's Diane Gifford is a member of the SMU-LIFT team called People For Words. Thursday night she was in Florida as the Bush Foundation announced winners.

“It was a pretty big deal, I have to tell you,” Gifford said.  

People For Words shared the $3 million grand prize with a team from California. Each gets an additional $1 million because the app works so well.

“We were pleasantly surprised and a little bit shaken and very, very honored,” Gifford said of the win. “You know it’s quite a big thing for not just SMU and LIFT but for the all the people in general who’ll benefit from these apps.”

The XPrize focused on mobile apps because most Americans own smart phones.

Gifford designed the curriculum for the interactive treasure hunt game called Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis.

After evaluating it for a year, independent XPrize judges noted significant improvement in reading among adult language learners. Gifford met some of those learners.

“Stories that we heard were incredible,” Gifford continued. “Things like, ‘I was able to read to my granddaughter and she was so happy' and  ‘I read to my family and they clapped.’"

Gifford says her team will continue tweaking the app as organizations encourage people to download it.