This post is the third in a series of posts on the Festival of Social Sciences – Using Innovative Technologies in the Classroom event that took place in Birmingham on Thursday 8th November. You can view the first post here and the second one here.
The Echoes project
Echoes is project led by Dr Kaska Porayska-Pomsta from the Univertisty of London with the focus to support children on the autistic spectrum with their social communication skills in particular joint attention. Many autistic children fail to pick up on the social cues given by others which can often lead to misunderstandings for many children in the spectrum.
She realised that technology could have a role to play in supporting children in developing these essential social skills and so developed the Echoes project. The idea is to provide children with an environment for them to practise these skills on something that isn't human and isn't going to take offence.
Echoes uses touch screen technology alongside cameras to pick up information from the user so that the virtual autonomous agent Andy can react appropriately to their input. Andy's traits are preselected by the team which determines how he reacts to the information he receives. In addition the cameras allow him to understand where the child might be looking. His personality has been built using artificial intelligence which enables him to react differently to different children. Depending on the child's development, Andy will react differently and adapt his actions accordingly. For example, if a child touches an object frequently, Andy might think the child likes that object and then would concentrate on using that object in different activities.
By observing children playing with Andy, it allows teachers to gain a better understanding of a child's strengths and weaknesses and explore questioning in relation to learning and development. I really enjoyed having the chance to experiment with the technology and Andy would instantly show me what the activity was and also signed in makaton to promote further interaction.
What really excites me with this project is the plans for the future. Kaska explained they are exploring different routes to open up the accessibility of the project. One use could be through using the Microsoft Kinect and using the tracking capabilities of this technology alongside Eyegaze cameras. This would be something that in my particular setting would be of great benefit as it opens up the project to wide range of students.
After having the chance to play with the project I left feeling that this technology could benefit many students in enabling to practice social skills, interaction and co-operation in a safe environment to prepare them for transferring these skills into real world contexts.
The Echoes Project
The SHAPE project, technologies to enhance learning for young people on the Autistic Spectrum