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The Literacy Moonshot: Learning to Read Beyond the Reach of Schools

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BOSTON, MA - APRIL 12, 2013 - The Immersive Education Initiative today announced that Cynthia Breazeal, founding director of the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), will deliver the opening keynote address at Immersive Education 2013 (iED 2013) in Boston this June.  

iED 2013 SUMMIT KEYNOTE : CYNTHIA BREAZEAL, MITIn her keynote address, The Literacy Moonshot: Learning to Read Beyond the Reach of Schools, Cynthia will share a personal and provocative example of the power of child-driven learning with iED 2013 attendees.

She will present findings and learning outcomes from the first year of deployment of tablet computers in two remote Ethiopian villages, where children live beyond the reach of school and the villages are entirely illiterate.

Her ground-breaking work, conducted in collaboration with Maryanne Wolf (Tufts University) and Robin Morris (Georgia State University), harnesses the power of mobile technology to foster literacy learning for children who live where school is not an option and no adults can teach them how to read.

Cynthia Breazeal is an Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she founded and directs the Personal Robots Group at the Media Lab. She is a pioneer of social robotics and Human Robot Interaction. She has authored the book “Designing Sociable Robots”, has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles in journals and conferences on the topics of autonomous robotics, artificial intelligence, human robot interaction, and robot learning. She serves on several editorial boards in the areas of autonomous robots, affective computing, entertainment technology and multi-agent systems. She is also a member of the advisory board for the Science Channel and an Overseer at the Museum of Science, Boston. In 2013 she was appointed Senior Advisor of the Journal of Immersive Education (JiED), the publication of record for the international Immersive Education Initiative.

Her research focuses on developing the principles, techniques, and technologies for personal robots that are socially intelligent, interact and communicate with people in human-centric terms, work with humans as peers, and learn from people as an apprentice. She has developed some of the world’s most famous robotic creatures ranging from small hexapod robots, to embedding robotic technologies into familiar everyday artifacts, to creating highly expressive humanoid robots and robot characters. Her recent work is investigates the impact of social robots on helping people of all ages to achieve personal goals that contribute to quality of life, in domains such as physical performance, learning and education, health, and family communication and play over distance.

Dr. Breazeal is recognized as a prominent young innovator. She is a recipient of the National Academy of Engineering’s Gilbreth Lecture Award, Technology Review’s TR35 Award, and TIME magazine’s Best Inventions of 2008. She has won numerous best paper and best technology inventions at top academic conferences. She has also been awarded an ONR Young Investigator Award, and was honored as finalist in the National Design Awards in Communication.

KEYNOTE The Literacy Moonshot: Learning to Read Beyond the Reach of Schools

QuoteChildren are the most precious natural resource of any nation. Their ability to read represents one of the single most important skills for them to develop, if they are to create a foundation for the rest of learning and to thrive as individuals and global citizens. Literacy opens the mind of a child to a potential lifetime of knowledge in all its varieties, personal growth, and critical and creative thinking.

This is the positive side of the literacy equation; the insidious, converse side is that literally millions of children will never learn to read with consequences that are evident around the world. It is estimated that around 67 million children live in poor, remote areas where there is no access to schools and where everyone around them is illiterate. There are at least another 100 million children who live where schooling is so inadequate, that they also fail to learn to read in any meaningful manner. There are, and always will be, places in every country in the world where good schools will not exist and good teachers will not want to go. Teacher training cannot be, therefore, more than an important but insufficient solution to this problem, particularly in the most remote areas. Even in developed countries such as the United States, literacy rates, especially in areas of poverty, are unacceptably low.

We need a fundamentally different approach to this set of issues. Advances in new, affordable mobile computer technologies, growing ubiquity of connectivity to the Internet with cloud computing and big data analytics, and modern advances in cognitive neuroscience that reveal how the brain learns to read now allow us to pose this transformative question: can children learn to read together using digital tablets without access to schools, and thereafter read to learn?

During my iED 2013 keynote address I will present both the vision and results to date of our team's work in the pursuit of this provocative question. We focus on our active deployment of tablet computers in two villages in remote areas in Ethiopia where children live beyond the reach of school and the entire village is illiterate.

This is a story of technological innovation, community, and the power of child-driven learning. What we can learn from this endeavor has to potential to help us think differently about education in both formal and informal learning environments, even in the most extreme contexts.

Cynthia Breazeal
Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MIT
Founding Director, Personal Robots Group at the Media Lab

iED 2013 Overview

The world's leading experts in virtual worlds, learning games, educational simulations, and mixed/augmented reality convene June 03-06 in Boston for iED 2013. The four-day Summit is open to the global academic community and experts in immersion, simulation, learning games, virtual reality, robotics, 3D printing and full, augmented and mixed reality (FAM).

Building on the success of the previous seven years of Immersive Education conferences, the four-day iED 2013 event will feature 3 tracks (PractitionerResearch and Business tracks) and an entire day dedicated to hands-on workshops. iED 2013 is open to the global academic and business communities and experts in immersion, simulation, learning games, virtual reality, and augmented/mixed reality.

Immersive Education : iED 2012 BostoniED Summits are official Immersive Education Initiative conferences organized specifically for educators, researchers, and administrators.

iED Summits consist of presentations, panel discussions, break-out sessions and workshops that provide attendees with an in-depth overview of immersive learning platforms, technologies and cutting-edge research from around the world.

These unique events feature new and emerging virtual worlds, learning games, educational simulations, mixed/augmented reality, and related teaching tools, techniques, technologies, standards and best practices.


Thousands of Members Worldwide

The Immersive Education Initiative is a non-profit international collaboration of universities, colleges, research institutes, consortia and companies that are working together to define and develop open standards, best practices, platforms, and communities of support for virtual reality and game-based learning and training systems. Thousands of faculty, teachers, researchers, staff, administrators and students are members of the Immersive Education Initiative.


About Immersive Education
Immersive Education ( combines interactive 3D graphics, commercial game and simulation technology, virtual reality, voice chat (Voice over IP/VoIP), Web cameras (webcams) and rich digital media with collaborative online course environments and classrooms. Immersive Education gives participants a sense of "being there" even when attending a class or training session in person isn't possible, practical, or desirable, which in turn provides educators and students with the ability to connect and communicate in a way that greatly enhances the learning experience. Unlike traditional computer-based learning systems, Immersive Education is designed to immerse and engage students in the same way that today's best video games grab and keep the attention of players. Immersive Education supports self-directed learning as well as collaborative group-based learning environments that can be delivered over the Internet or using fixed-media such as CD-ROM and DVD. Shorter mini-games and interactive lessons can be injected into larger bodies of course material to further heighten and enrich the Immersive Education experience.

Immersive learning and immersive teaching ("Immersive Education") are enabled by the Media Grid.

About the Media Grid
The Media Grid is a public utility for digital media. Based on new and emerging distributed computational grid technologies, the Media Grid builds upon existing Internet and Web standards to create a unique network optimized for digital media delivery, storage, and processing. As an on-demand public computing utility, a range of software programs and Web sites can use the Media Grid for delivery and storage of rich media content, media processing, and computing power. The Media Grid is an open and extensible platform that enables a wide range of applications not possible with the traditional Internet alone, including: Massive Media on Demand (MMoD); Interactive digital cinema on demand; Immersive Education (immersive teaching and immersive learning); Truly immersive multiplayer games and Virtual Reality (VR); Hollywood movie and film rendering, special effects, and composition; Real-time rendering of high resolution graphics; Real-time visualization of complex weather patterns; Real-time protein modeling and drug design; Telepresence, telemedicine, and telesurgery; Vehicle and aircraft design and simulation; Visualization of scientific and medical data.

The Grid Institute leads the design and development of the global Media Grid through the open standards organization in collaboration with industry, academia, and governments from around the world.

To learn more about the Media Grid, Immersive Education or the Education Grid visit:, and