Testing Read Out Loud in the Classroom

Making / Learning / Work was an adult learning innovation project hosted at the MIT Media Lab from September 2014 to May 2016. This site is an archive of the project documentation.

On March 3rd, Srishti and I went to a ESOL school for adult learners in East Boston, Massachusetts, to get the students’ feedback on the newest iteration of the Read Out Loud prototype.

First, Some Photos from the Afternoon


When we arrived at the classroom, we introduced ourselves to the students and they did the same. The class was comprised of 6 women from El Salvador and one woman from Algeria, all of which had been studying English at this school for over 6 months. We recognized many of them, as they had been in the class when we visited in Novemberr.

Framing the Testing

We began the user testing by giving a little bit of introduction as to why we created Read Out Loud and asked for their help testing the app and giving us feedback on what we could change to make it better. We them showed a quick tutorial video in Spanish that demonstrates the capabilities of the app. (This video was made instead of a welcome tutorial, as we have not fleshed out the welcome tutorial to the application yet.)

Letting The Learners Explore

Next, we passed out iPhones and iPad Minis with Read Out Loud pre-installed and copies of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, which was the book we had chosen for testing.

They began by splitting off into all corners of the room (since Read Out Loud makes noise and it was easier for multiple learners to test individually this way). They then customized their language preferences and opened the book. We began to here the app’s computerized voice fill the room.

We purposefully did not walk learners through all the capabilities of the app, since we wanted to see what features were intuitive for them to discover and which they liked the best. It was only about five minutes into the testing when learners realized that they could click on the words to get the translation in their native language. Once on of them found this feature, news spread like wildfire and soon we could here translations being read aloud.

We could hear students all over the room sounding out words, reading along with the app’s voice, and looking up words. There were no major problems with the app’s infrastructure (i.e. it didn’t crash), which was a huge relief, as this was the first time we were testing it with multiple users at once.

Feedback from the Learners

After they played with the app for twenty minutes, we had time to reflect on the app as a group. Learners volunteered what they liked and did not like about the app and the learning experience.

The main points are summarized here:

  • They reiterated the point from our last visit: they would love a way to practice reading books that they would like to read with their children.
  • They felt that they would rather use the app themselves, as a way to practice before reading with their kids, than use the application while reading with their children.
  • They would also use the application for other texts besides storybooks. One learner mentioned that she would like to scan in Harry Potter so that she could finally read it in English.
  • They loved the “translation lookup” capability, but did not know where to find the translation lookup at first.
  • They preferred looking up words and hearing the translation of the word read aloud to listening to the entire sentence, though they found both functionalities useful.
  • While Google Translate does a pretty good job of translating Spanish words, it struggled with the English to Arabic translation and gave incorrect answers for many simple nouns.
  • They did not find the voice annoying (Yay!)
  • They found the speed of the voice perfect when they were reading along with the app, but too fast when they did not have the text in front of them.

Next Steps from this User Testing

We plan on potentially doing one more round of user testing with adult learners and their children together, to observe if the application works in their context.

As many learners have Android phones (which the voice currently is not compatible with), we are currently porting the application over to Android, incorporating the feedback from these learners in the new iteration. We will be returning in May to do a longer iteration of user testing with these students once the app is on the Google Play store. For this testing, we will be putting in some of the books that they use in their class, so that we can observe how Read Out Loud works as an aide for learners in an ESOL classroom setting.