Professor’s educational project gains popularity

When Roy Winkelman, the director of USF’s College of Education’s Florida Center for Instructional Technology (FCIT), began working on his Lit2Go project, no one knew what he was talking about.

His operation of roughly 10 employees sought to offer free online stories and poems in audio book format through iTunes, a service that the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) initially didn’t want to fund.

“In the early days of Apple’s iPod, my grant was rejected,” he said. “At the time I applied for my first grant, no one knew what iTunes was.”

But now eight years later, his project — intended for in-state teachers — has caught the world’s attention, especially an unanticipated audience: foreigners trying to learn English, he said.

Lit2Go was created to “increase literacy rates in high-need schools and struggling readers,” Winkelman said.

“What makes the site so useful is that foreign users can see the texts and hear the audio at the same time,” said James Welsh, assistant director of FCIT. “It’s very gratifying to see it reach people across the world.”

Aside from its success, the FDOE grant that Winkelman finally received four years ago to continue the project has run out, leaving FCIT to run the project with discretionary funds — miscellaneous funds given by the dean of COE.

FCIT also receives funding from multiple Florida school districts, Winkelman said. They also get math and science grants because of learning activities provided on the Lit2Go Web site.

Even if the project runs out of funding, Winkelman said it won’t disappear entirely. The only major change would be a decrease in new downloads available.

“Our goal was to get as much texts as possible until the grant ran out,” Welsh said. “I’m always looking for the next source of funding.”

The FCIT Web site contains PDF files of books, plays and classic novels available on Lit2Go, he said.

Welsh said Russia and France are among the top countries that access the site with the intention of learning English, but the service is used in countries around the world, excluding remote areas of central Africa, Malaysia and North Korea.

Lit2Go is available through a partnership with USF’s iTunes homepage.

Since summer 2007, iTunes U has consistently listed Lit2Go in its Top 10 downloaded resources.

Lit2Go has received more than 1 million hits every month since 2009, and the FTIC Web site receives 1 million hits each day Monday through Friday, Winkelman said.

Lit2Go has also reached more than 400,000 downloads each week since February, he said.