Left to right: April Speight, Logan Smith, Kai Curtis, Taylor Gilbert, Mike McCready. Credit: Lethbridge College

A team of developers at Reality Hack: MIT XR Hackathon recently designed a way to use the immersive environment of virtual reality to help children with dyslexia and dysgraphia.

One of only 350 people chosen to attend this year’s MIT hackathon, Mike McCready, the first President’s Applied Research Chair for Virtual and Augmented Reality at Lethbridge College, worked with a worked with a five-person team tasked with creating an original project that uses extended reality (XR) in an innovative way. In only three days, his team developed Spell Bound, a VR game designed to help children ages 5-7 learn their letters.

Learning to read can be challenging enough, but for children with dysgraphia or dyslexia, the experience can be even more frustrating. Virtual reality creates an immersive environment that fully captures a child’s attention and keeps them engaged so they’re having fun and they can focus on the task.

In Spell Bound, a friendly mage guides children as they cast spells and learn letters. One advantage to the program over traditional teaching is that students use VR controllers to trace letters in the immersive environment. Since VR controllers rely more on gross motor skills and arm movement in the game, this can be easier for some children who might have difficulty with the fine motor skills required in traditional handwriting exercises.

Students use gross motor skills to trace the letters and the knowledge they gain is reinforced when they say the letter out loud in order to cast a spell. Due to fear, shame, or worry, it can be particularly intimidating for children with reading difficulties to read aloud, but in immersive environments, children feel like they’re really in the game so they tend to forget the outside environment.

In the case of Spell Bound, children can feel like they’re in a magical castle interacting with the wizard and trying to cast spells so they’re more likely to participate and read aloud. When the program responds and spells are cast, the child gains confidence through success.

McCready’s team took top honors at the Reality Hack: MIT XR Hackathon in both the Education and Learning and the Health and Wellness categories for Spell Bound.