Case study: using Spreeder in teaching speed reading to extend student academic capacity

This case study was created with Han-na Cha, Programme Coordinator, UG & Masters Skills Programmes, Student Development, University of Warwick.

What, why, how? – Practitioner/Advisor Statement

I use Spreeder to teach speed reading in workshops for undergraduate and taught masters students. The sessions take place in large conventional flat teaching rooms, with between 8 and 25 students. I show it on the instructor screen at the front of the class. I import a text (e.g. from the news), and as a group we practise speed reading techniques using Spreeder to control the presentation of the text. Spreeder makes it easy to change settings like words per minute and word chunk size. Students will then access it at home, personalise it for themselves, and practice further. In the classroom, this allows the teacher to easily demonstrate techniques (grouping words, decreasing fixations etc) to increase speed. The aim is to prevent habitual “back-skipping” and “sub-vocalizing” by the student. Working on a text together gets them to understand and to be confident with reading whole texts and with the principles of speed reading.

Spreeder, used in this way, supplements other approaches. It helps me to meet different learning styles, adding an additional strategy.

This is really helpful to the students faced with having to read large amounts, allowing them read more secondary material (as feedback confirms).

This approach is starting to spread to other teachers who teach speed reading. Recommendation are passing between students, and between students and teachers in both directions. It could have a wider application beyond students attending these courses. Easy free access online makes this easy for it to be adopted. There is a good blog to support its use.

Adoption might be constrained by an inability to import PDF versions of academic articles.

I discovered this approach after looking for software that would help with speed reading on the computer. I heard about it from a student (I often ask students for technology ideas). I asked the student about how it is useful and what its limitations are. I tasked a student to try it out. The student then demonstrated it and reviewed it in a workshop. At that point I knew it was right and adopted it in my teaching.

Academic Technology Advisor’s Analysis

Summary of the design change

The addition to an existing workshop of an in-class, teacher-led, individual plus peer-connected, technology-enhanced activity, using a free web-based tool, presented on the instructor’s overhead screen, leading to a change in cognitive habit, leading to improved reading capability and study capability.

The new activity was added to an existing workshop, using a free web-based tool. The activity was undertaken as a common, synchronous, shared experience (social, bodily and aesthetic dimensions focussing attention on a cognitive task). The teacher leads the whole class, focussing on shared challenges. The shared activity demonstrates to each student that the approach works for them individually, building self-confidence in their cognitive capability, their ability to read and understand whole documents quickly. This is then developed through in-class practice into an altered cognitive habit that extends reading and study capability. It also provides the capability for students to practice the technique after the class and to improve their skills further, and to apply the technique in future studies.

What led to the design change?

Teacher: reflecting on strategies, widening learning styles, inviting student suggestions, commissioning student review.

Students: actively suggesting alternative approaches, peer-sharing techniques, reviewing a technique, demonstrating a technique.

How significant are its intended impacts?

Very significant for those students taking part. They attain a cognitive capability that will significantly improve their lifetime chances of success. Any student who struggles to effetively read core texts or to go beyond core texts would benefit. Potentially significant for all students, but limited by the scale of the workshops and low awareness in the wider population.

How was it implemented?

Experiment with students. Evaluate the software. Live trial.

How successful is the design change?

Good indications: positive anecdotal feedback; students recommended to peers.

How durable are its impacts?

Not certain, but likely to be lifetime.

How sustainable is the design?

Dependent upon a free online tool not provided by Warwick University. Looks like html + javascript. Could be downloaded?

How transferable is the design?

Teaching speed reading is a specialist activity, and currently a rare occurrence within Warwick. The ease of access to the technology, and the simplicity of the approach, makes adoption more likely. Students are adopting it independently. Greater adoption of the whole-class activity depends upon the growth in the teaching of speed reading.

Academic Technology Team actions

To assure sustainability, recommend that a local copy is made so that Spreeder may be run offline, independent of the host web site.

Sociological Meta-analysis

HC has been meta-reflexive, design aware and reflexive. But horizontal routes to re-invention and diffusion are limited. So is instead more closely allied with the students, forming a participatory design collaboration.