Will changing the background colour of an electronic white board enable people to read black text more easily and more comfortably? 2009/10
In 1980 Olive Meares reported how students experienced a lessening of visual perceptive difficulties if the printed word was covered with a tinted plastic sheet. In 1981 Helen Irlen’s research identified a sub-group of students who, “Had adequate decoding skills, good phonetic skills and an adequate sight vocabulary, but still found reading exceedingly difficult and avoided it wherever possible.” They described a variety of visual impressions when looking at black text on a white background eg “The white spaces form rivers which run down the page”, or “When I start to read, the words become a black line and I don’t see them anymore.”
Initially, this pioneering work was greeted with scepticism. It wasn’t until 1995 that Arnold Wilkins became intrigued by Irlen’s claims that coloured filters ease the symptoms of visual stress. In 2003 he published ‘Reading Through Colour’, where he describes the results of rigorous research that confirmed the ideas of Meares and Irlen. He describes the syndrome as MIVS, Meares Irlen Visual Stress. Wilkins also developed Intuitive Coloured Overlays, used increasingly by schools and colleges, a free downloadable screen tinter, available to all via the internet and a Colorimeter to be used as a diagnostic tool by qualified optometrists.
Studies reveal that up to 30% of children and adults find coloured overlays useful, although only 5% have a severe degree of MIVS. In 2005 B J Evans stated that, “Visual problems are not the cause of dyslexia although they contribute to reading difficulties and many dyslexics have visual difficulties such as binocular instability and accommodative insufficiency.” In the same year, Helen Irlen stated that 65% of people who are dyslexic have MIVS.
The research was undertaken at a college of further education. The teacher/researcher hoped that tinting the electronic whiteboard, so students no longer had to read black text on a white background, would prove an inclusive method of improving the learning environment for a large number of students without disadvantaging others.
252 people from 22 classes took part in the research; this included 33 members of staff. Classes ranged from Entry Level to Level 5, from craft, vocational and academic courses. People were asked to read a text, based on Arnold Wilkin’s Rate of Reading Test, displayed on an electronic whiteboard, on first a white background and then to make a visual comparison between this and the same text on yellow, green, blue, orange and red backgrounds. People then read for a second time, the same text on the group’s preferred colour background. To eliminate the influence of practice, data from control groups, who read twice on a white background were collected.
Results of the research showed that a light green background disadvantaged less people than other colours, including white, and advantaged most. Statistically, for most people there was no significant difference in reading efficiency on a white or tinted background. However, for the minority there was such a significant benefit they would be severely disadvantaged by not changing the background colour of the board from white to green. It was also interesting to note that students on lower level courses would benefit most.
This simple adjustment could provide a cost effective, inclusive learning support technique which can be replicated in all classrooms that have an electronic whiteboard.
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