Huntsville-born search engine that sorts by reading level

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - It's no secret: students read more when they find the subject matter interesting.

Some Huntsville minds are behind a search engine built just for students and their interests in order to make them better readers.

"This taps into the power of the internet to personalize learning for every student," said Ryan Weber, a professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who doubles as the communication consultant for the site.

Adaptive learning is next wave in education, making it more personal to every student; introducing a Huntsville born-and-bred search engine: Vastly.

"It reads the text and determined the reading level and grade level so it comes labeled saying this is the reading level where its at," explained Weber.

Weber, alongside Philip Kovacs of Appleton Learning, are part of the team that created Vastly and searches for its funding to make it better.

So how does Vastly work?

Students can enter a keyword of their choice, and Vastly sorts relevant and credible sites to bring the information they want while narrowing the search by reading level.

Weber says it draws from about 50 sites now, but hopes to improve the sorting algorithm and increase their site bank exponentially in coming years.

"It's already been tested at some schools here in the Huntsville area and it's done very well," said Weber.

The search engine function will forever be free. But Weber explains the longterm plan to create a monitoring back end that can be used by teachers, parents, tutors, and beyond.

"We want a really robust analytics system on the other end that will allow students their parents and teachers to see exactly how they're learning in real time so you don't have to wait for a standardized test to see how someone is developing as a reader," said Weber.

Vastly was born in 2012, and the team is looking for funding to further expand the concept expected to keep students reading and educators monitoring their growth, hoping to one day replace textbooks with the extensive supply of resources that are readily available online.