Katie Spoon, a senior in computer science at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, was awarded the 2019 Provost Award for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity in the Natural and Mathematical Sciences category during a ceremony at the Indiana Memorial Union April 6.
Spoon was honored for her research to develop a system, Dytective, for identifying students with possible language-based learning disabilities earlier in childhood, giving them an opportunity to receive help to overcome the issue sooner. The project, part of the Proactive Health Lab at SICE, uses a multi-stream deep convolutional neural network designed by Spoon to analyze handwriting samples and learn which characteristics are likely to correlate with dyslexia. Dytective could help educators identify and support students who potentially have the language-based learning disability.
Spoon’s research also earned her a 2019 National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Collegiate Award, which recognizes technical contributions to projects that demonstrate a high level of innovation and potential impact.
“I have immensely enjoyed the past year on this project and would have found it fulfilling without receiving recognition for it, but it's really rewarding to know that the project wasn't just another project—it meant something,” Spoon said. “I hope that other students, particularly women, who are interested in research but may be worried about not knowing exactly where to start, will feel compelled to reach out.”
Spoon’s work greatly improved the recognition of students with possible language-based learning disabilities from just 10 percent to better than 60 percent. And when students are detected earlier, the process of officially diagnosing a student can begin sooner, providing a better opportunity for a student to enjoy success in the classroom.
“Computer vision has made remarkable progress over the last few years, and automatic text and handwriting recognition is now really accurate,” Crandall said. “But what Katie is trying to do is much harder: to not only recognize what is being written, but to identify potentially subtle and fine-grained features of the handwriting. Training data on handwriting is readily available for adults but not for kids. This means that in addition to the technical work in actually designing the algorithms themselves, Katie has also had to devise and carry out a methodology for actually collecting handwriting samples from children—a significant challenge in and of itself.”
Siek has been impressed with Spoon’s drive and leadership.
“These awards are well deserved because Katie's work ethic exemplifies these awards,” Siek said. “She led a research project—as an undergraduate—that has required constant iteration, reflection, and creativity. These awards give Katie recognition of her dedicated work while she continues working toward a publication.”
Spoon, who will graduate in May with a bachelor’s and an accelerated master’s degree in computer science, is headed to San Jose, California, where she will serve as a software engineer for IBM Research analyzing and improving more efficient chips for self-driving cars. She plans to continue to work on Dytective system and will collect more handwriting samples to improve results.
“We’re tremendously proud of the work Katie has done while finishing her undergraduate degree, and she’s richly deserving of recognition,” said Raj Acharya, dean of SICE. “Students at SICE have an opportunity to make a real impact whether they’re earning their bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D., and Katie’s research sets a great example of what can be accomplished.”
Spoon said she couldn’t have achieved all she has without the support of SICE faculty.
“Collaborating with Katie and David has been an incredible opportunity, and I do not think I could have asked for better mentors and cheerleaders,” Spoon said. “They gave me a solid foundation to build from, then inspired me to take ideas and run with them while still providing hands-on support and guidance. They exemplified the best type of leadership, encouraging me to make this project my own. They, along with the rewarding experience of contributing to this project, have without a doubt shaped my educational experience at IU and have had an immeasurable, positive impact on my life.”