Need-to-Know-News: App ‘Spritz’ Promises Speedy Reading, eLearning Manifesto is [Very] Serious, and $5 Million Prize for College Success Solution

MP900405500This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.  

1. Spritz the New Way to Read

 “Spritz’s Mission is to change the way people read and make communication faster, easier, and more effective.”

Speed reading is not new. I remember a few short years ago when my oldest son, a college junior at the time, enrolled in a Speed Reading workshop hoping it would help with his studies. The goal of the half-day session was to teach students the skill set specific to reading rapidly, yet with comprehension. Now with an innovative software program Spritz, there’s no skill required—just about anyone can speed read with technology customized for small screens, i.e. smartphones, wearable devices etc. The Spritz software, developed by a group of entrepreneurs, software engineers, and experts in reading methodologies (, is apparently based upon the scientific principles of how we read. It’s gaining considerable attention from media and with headlines like this one, How To Read A 223 Page Novel In Just 77 Minutes, many readers too.

How it Works

“The structure of our visual sensors forces us to scan the page by jerking our eyes around every two or three-tenths of a second.” These eye movements take time, slowing down the rate at which we can read. But what if the words moved, instead of our eyes? That’s the innovation behind Spritz, which employs a technique called rapid sequential visual presentation, or RSVP. When using the app, words are presented one at a time, in the exact spot where our gaze is “focalized,” or primed for visual recognition. Then that word is whisked away and another appears in the same, optimal place—and quickly, quickly, others follow.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 12.03.11 PM
The focal point Spritz has identified for the eye to best parse words is where the letters coloured in red appear in the above examples

There are similar programs available now based upon the RSVP method, an example is Speeder [click here to try it out]. However according to Spritz’s CEO, Spritz is different, by using new technology and ‘optimization components’ including the use of color contrast and positioning of words.

Insight: I see the technology helping when skimming information for instance, news headlines, briefs or executive summaries, when the purpose is to have a general familiarity with topic. But for deep reading I don’t see Spritz being able to support not just reading comprehension, but enjoyment.  I can’t image reading a literary classic with Spritz, or a book that requires thought and time to ponder and consider. To me, this is one of the great joys of reading.

2. The SERIOUS e-learning Manifesto

Launched this week by a group of four e-learning professionals, labeled “instigators” on the manifesto’s website, the document seeks to provide us with a set of principles for developing and implementing e-learning.  I watched the beginning part of the hour-long recorded presentation titled the ‘world premiere‘ and it was heavy, with statements such as, e-learning is doomed if we don’t get on a better path, before it’s too late, we need to turn it around why we still can, and the current situation is bad but the opportunity is so wonderful (Youtube).  How depressing. I couldn’t watch much beyond that—why bother, we may as well just throw in the towel and close up shop (a touch of sarcasm).

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“we believe that we need to go beyond typical elearning to the values and characteristics of Serious eLearning”

Insight: I don’t mean to make light of the effort, as I do see value in several of the supporting principles outlined on the website. But the premise for the document is weak, where is the data to support their claims that e-learning is doomed? Though the manifesto appears to have backers, or at least organizations “providing their support to draw attention to the Manifesto”, something is missing.  Stephen Downes in his daily newsletter The Olddaily, sums it up best, “The manifesto is relentlessly provider-focused, which is unfortunate. If I were writing a manifesto it would be more about making my profession unnecessary, so that people wouldn’t need specially designed materials in order to learn, but rather, could forge learning out of raw materials for themselves.

3. Robin Hood Prize: College Success Prize

I met a woman at the EDUCAUSE conference last November who described what seemed to me at the time, a fanstastical idea for a contest sponsored by New York-based Robin Hood Foundation for the development of a phone application or software program that will help at-risk students graduate with an Associate Degree in two to three years. The contest payout would be big, but the results, students graduation rates, would have to be tied directly to the innovation, in other words the app or other software be need to be directly responsible for student success. I wondered how on earth it would look. I need not wonder any longer—Robin Hood launched its College Success Prize this week with a hefty prize for the winners, $5 million. I am hopeful it will generate several innovative programs to address the low-graduation rates of students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Skepticism aside, full marks to the foundation for putting effort and significant funds into a worthy cause. Details below:

“The competition is open to individuals and teams that develop scalable solutions that will help more community college students graduate within 2-3 years.  Competitors may address whichever set of student skills they believe will produce the greatest success. These may include math, reading, or writing, as well as behavioral, non-cognitive or non-academic factors. 

The Prize will reward successful interventions – such as smartphone apps, computer applications, and web-based tools—that are aimed at the individual student and will supplement existing curricula and supportive services such as tutoring.”

3 thoughts on “Need-to-Know-News: App ‘Spritz’ Promises Speedy Reading, eLearning Manifesto is [Very] Serious, and $5 Million Prize for College Success Solution

  1. I was just introduced to Spritz by a colleague. It is helpful if you are a little tired or a bit daunted by a large amount of reading that must be done in a short amount of time.
    It is a GREAT tool but it doesn’t replace good old fashion speed reading.


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