Darren Cambridge: Sparking a Love of Reading in Children through AI

After struggling to help his son learn to love books, Dr. Cambridge teamed up with a data scientist to found Mia Learning, a service that helps children uncover their tastes in literature.

25.07.2019 | by Reve Fisher
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Motivation is a key factor in promoting literacy in children. According to research, allowing children to make choices about books and other materials increases the chance that they will be more motivated to read and will do so more often. Providing choices also increase children’s commitment to reading and their willingness to make an effort in the classroom.

Using such knowledge, artificial intelligence and his own experience struggling to help his son discover a love of reading, Dr. Darren Cambridge founded Mia Learning. The company uses a chatbot called Mia, a “secret agent” who managed to escape the “Total Testing Centre” to work for the “Anti-Boredom Cooperative.” Through an AI domain model developed with the company’s Literacy Expert Taskforce, she helps children take ownership of their interests in their reading materials.

“Utilising a voice chatbot offering AI-powered personalised book recommendations and coaching, Mia grows kids’ love of reading rather than focusing on teaching to a test,” said Dr. Cambridge in a press release.

Through the company’s newly launched Secret Agent Mia’s Book Club, both resistant/struggling readers and enthusiastic bookworms are connected to new books that fit their interests and may otherwise have gone undiscovered. Children receive unlimited access to the Mia chatbot and two new print books a month.

Even prior to founding Mia Learning, Dr. Cambridge’s career has centred around education, literacy and technology. He earned a doctorate in computers and English studies, as he started his bachelor’s degree with the goal of becoming a computer engineer but later discovered an interest in the humanities. However, as he admitted on the book club’s Indiegogo page, even after 15 years of helping literacy educators use technology with their students, he struggled to help his son with a reading-specific learning disability discover a love of reading.

So, in 2017, he teamed up with Dr. Kathryn Pierce, a data scientist at St. Louis University, to found Mia Learning.

“Other programs are myopically focused on skills,” Dr. Pierce said. “Mia is focused on building your passion for reading, being really excited about what you’re reading, understanding yourself as a reader, and how you’re growing.”

The National Science Foundation has found Mia Learning to be effective in elementary schools by increasing students’ motivation to read at an annualised rate of 32 percent. The company’s book club will make the same software available directly to families.

Mia also has a programme to help children learn how to write in cursive, which will be available in schools for the 2019-2020 academic year.

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