NPP Projects

The Literacy App: An M-Learning Tool for Low SES Undergraduate Students

Lead University: University of Newcastle

Lead Researcher: Shamus Smith

Research Team: Shamus Smith, Erica Southgate, Daniel Hickmott, Ross Bille, Liz Stephens and Elizabeth Burd

Year Funded: 2014

Funding Received: $131,249

DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.6988835.v1



This project included the design, testing and delivery of free mobile software applications to improve the literacy of undergraduate students, particularly those from low SES backgrounds. Two apps were produced, featuring ‘serious games’ with scaffolded exercises to improve punctuation and literacy skills, with the aim of improving students’ performance and attrition rates, and addressing the opportunity for independent mobile learning (M-learning).

Project Outline

  • The project was to develop two apps featuring ‘serious games’ with scaffolded exercises that assisted students to improve their punctuation and literacy skills.
  • The objectives of the project were to:
    • address substantial variation in the literacy skills of low SES students in higher education
    • address poor literacy skills associated with poor student performance and higher attrition rates
    • address the opportunity for independent mobile learning (M-learning) that can help low SES students develop their literacy anywhere and at any time
    • determine the efficiency of M-learning for low SES undergraduate students, with a focus on their ability to develop their own literacy skills, both independently and in student learning support and teaching contexts.
  • Two apps were developed:
    • Apostrophe Power features 160 exercises. The app focuses on apostrophe usage in sentences.
    • Sentence Hero features 140 exercises. The app focuses on general punctuation and the use of full stops, commas, semicolons and colons in sentences.
  • Each app was deployed across naïve Android and iOS platforms for free global download to smartphones and tablets.

Key Findings

  • Both Apostrophe Power and Sentence Hero were published and distributed on the Apple iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store:
    • Apostrophe Power achieved 15,146 downloads worldwide (as at 2 February 2018).
    • Sentence Hero achieved 36,275 downloads worldwide (as at 2 February 2018).
  • In addition, four conference talks were presented, and three peer reviewed papers and one report were published.
  • A total of 291 students were surveyed for correct apostrophe usage, and low scoring students were invited to an Apostrophe Power evaluation. Preliminary evaluation indicated that study participants:
    • improved their punctuation scores
    • progressed from below average to above average scores when compared to a larger cohort’s average literacy scores.
  • The apps won one Innovation award and were shortlisted for two awards:
    • Winner of 2017 ASCILITE Innovation Award
    • Shortlisted finalist for 2016 International QS Stars Reimagine Education Educational App Award
    • Shortlisted finalist for 2016 ANZIAs (Australia and New Zealand Internet Award) Innovation Award

Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.


Posted 7 June 2018