A new augmented reality app developed by a USF professor will help bilingual students in the near future. 

What You Need To Know

  • Sara Smith developed the MARVL app

  • She came up with idea after years of teaching diverse students

  • All you need is the app, and a special set of flashcards

“(Augmented reality) lets the child feel like they’re living in a Pixar movie. It really adds this element of whimsy and magic on top of the lesson,” said Sara Smith, who developed the MARVL app

Smith, an assistant professor of ESOL and foreign language at USF, came up with the idea several years ago.   

The idea came to her when she saw a friend’s son playing Pokémon Go.  

“I’d been working on this challenge for some time. I had been a teacher in a classroom with really diverse students, so I’d been thinking about how can we provide resources to support our teachers who are teaching increasingly diverse students?” she said.  

So, with the help of USF, she collaborated with developers, graphic designers, artists and other researchers to make it come to life.  

“We can have magical things pop up, you can have our characters think about things and you can see what’s inside their little thought bubbles,” she said.  

All you need is the app and a special set of flashcards.  

Point the camera at the cards, and two virtual characters pop up to teach users English or Spanish.  

“Ivan knows everything, he’s your cool older brother. And Watson the sloth is like his silly sidekick,” she said. 

The beta version will launch this spring.  

Smith says several schools are already in the works to test it out.  

And, as someone with no prior tech experience, she hopes this inspires others that they can still make an impact:  

“If you see a challenge and you see that challenge in a really up close way and you think oh I think tech could help me with this, you may be the exact right person to reach out to people in tech and to come up with that idea.” 

Smith next goal is to create a Haitian Creole version.  

She’s still looking for beta testers.  

If you’re an educator and are interested in helping, you can email her at sarasmith3@usf.edu