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KinectSEN – exploring gesture based technology to engage all learners

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure to be invited to be part of the professional learning community (PLC) looking into gesture based technology and the impact it can have on special needs learners. Gesture Based Technology (GBT) includes technology that involves a natural user interface for its input. This can be the Kinect, iPads, Eyegaze, mobile floor projectors to name a few of the technologies and is mainly used at present in gaming consoles at home. The power of natural user interfaces is that is allows students with SEN to be included in sessions and enable them to explore movement, creativity and engagement. From the evidence that I have seen so far, it gives students an opportunity to be actively involved in effecting their environment and allows them to do things that they simply could not do before. What is great to see is the instant effect that students have using this technology and this achieved by them moving in whatever way they can.

One of the mobile interactive floor projectors

The PLC is co-ordinated by the fantastic Anthony Rhys (@trinityfieldsit) and from looking around Trinity Fields School it was amazing to see the progress the school had made in enabling students to interact in their lessons using GBT. The day focused on how this technology can be used to enable students who are often withdrawn and shy to engage in various activities. It was great to see the evidence of other students using this technology to encourage creativity, movement, engagement and exploration.

kinect flow.JPG

Over the next few months, I will be hoping to blog the progress that has been made in incorporating GBT into our schools and present evidence for this. I came away from the day even more enthused to make this happen and it was great to meet other practitioners just as interested in the technology to help engage thise student with severe learning difficulties. We are currently looking into adding this to our sensory room so that we have an interactive floor and wall display at the fraction of the cost that some SEN companies would charge.

If you are interested in GBT and the use of the Kinect and would like to find out more about how different schools are incorporating this technology please visit the Kinect Wiki site at



Using innovative technologies in the classroom – The Echoes Project

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.

Related Links

The Echoes Project

The SHAPE project, technologies to enhance learning for young people on the Autistic Spectrum


Using Innovative Technologies in the Classroom – COSPATIAL Project

This post is the second 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.


The main emphasis of the COSPATIAL project is finding ways to adapt existing classroom technologies to engage children with autism in learning social skills. The project is being led by Dr Sarah Parsons of the University of Southampton and Dr Sue Cobb of the University of Nottingham.  Thanks go to Dr Sarah Parsons for talking us through the project and although we did not get to see the project in action it was clear to see how the technology would be used with Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) students.

The COSPATIAL project focuses on two types of technologies:

  • Collaborative Virtual Environments
  • Shared Active Surfaces

In this post I am going to concentrate on the Collaborative Virtual Environments. These allow multiple users to interact and communicate within a shared virtual space. They do this by accessing the space on individual laptops that are in the same room. There are 3 different programs that the students can use each working on different elements of social interaction from communication to working together to complete a task.

Talk2U – students communicate with the support of the teacher to help explain social conversation. The students press the the buttons on screen to communicate with each other and this can be on a variety of different topics.

Talk2U – Students can practice social conversation with the support of the teacher

Block Challenge – the students work together to build a tower of blocks. The students have to communicate with each other to complete the task. Again this task looks to promote skills that students on the Autistic Spectrum tend to need support with.

Block Challenge – where students work together to build a tower of blocks

Face2Face – Students communicate in a shared environment using video avatars. The space is flexible and can be adapted for different users and activities.

I felt that this project is really interesting as it allowed students with ASC to work in an environment that enables them to communicate and collaborate through a safe and comfortable medium. The idea of the project is to give the students a space to practice these skills before moving them onto to real-life interactions which can be extremely daunting for students with ASC.

What I also like about this was that they are using existing technology and the application can run on a variety of machines. Unlike some high-tech solutions on the market this application would benefit many school running on a limited budget.

Links –

The COSPATIAL Project –

The SHAPE Project, technologies to enhance learning for young people in the Autism Spectrum –

Next Post – Echoes Project

Using Innovative Technologies in the Classroom – Big Trak

This post will be the first of 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. The festival showcased a variety of technology that was being used to enhance learning. The original focus for the technology was aimed at students on the Autistic Spectrum, but the researchers and schools trialling the technology have seen benefits for all students. A big thank you goes out to Anthony Rhys of Trinity Fields School who put us in contact with Dr Wendy Keay-Bright of University of Wales Institute, Cardiff who invited my colleague Keith Manville and myself to the event. Lastly, a thank you needs to go to Dr Karen Guldberg from The Autism Centre for Research and Education, University of Birmingham for organising the event and Ian Lowe head teacher of Topcliffe Primary School for hosting us at his school.

One of the purposes of the event was to showcase the SHAPE project. The SHAPE project is where researchers and practitioners are working closely together to identify ways of using four different technologies in innovative and exploratory ways. Technology enhanced learning (TEL) can offer significant benefits for children on the Autistic Spectrum and the project looks at conducting research in the classroom focusing on social interaction and communication. The technologies involved are

  3. Reactikles

In addition, Aldebaren-Robotics were showcasing their NAO robots and you can read more about these in the BBC report here.

For this first post however, I decided to actually write about something that is not that innovative (first released in the 80s) but has a lot of uses for teaching students some important skills.

Big Trak – Control technology

The Big Trak was a toy from the 1980's that has been re-released for a new generation. Bigtrak has a 23 button keypad that can remember up to 16 commands which are programmed into the control panel on it's back; press go and it will perform them in sequence. The students use simple programming skills to direct the vehicle in different directions. This also taught the students the importance of learning to sequence their instructions to ensure the Big Trak moved where they wanted. From the brief demonstration, we saw I could already see other uses for it for example, teaching students basic understanding of directional language, co-ordinate work and shape recognition. At £20 each I think this is a very cost effective way of introducing some basic programming and sequencing skills and from what I saw students were really engaged using these tools.

This is something that I feel students with SEN could easily learn to use and is a useful piece of technology to enhance their learning.

Next Post: COSPATIAL – Collaborative Virtual Environments.

Links –

Keith Manville @open_sen has also written up about the event and you can read his excellent post here.


Drawing with Sounds Processing sketch

Since learning to code, I have explained to colleagues that if they have any ideas or needs for specific apps to come to talk myself or my colleague Keith Manville (@open_sen) and we would look at how we could design a application which would meet their needs. This happened to Keith a few weeks ago and I don’t want to say too much as he has already written about the process of designing the app on his excellent blog which you can find here.

What he has created is a simple visual and audio app that will draw bezier curves and ellipses depending on where the mouse is positioned on the screen. In addition it will play notes from the midi synthesiser using the soundcipher library created by Andrew R Brown. The outcome is a simple cause and effect app that not only stimulates the user visually but also through sound. The app can also be used on a touchscreen which increases the accessibility for some students. In the short time in testing this app out with students, I have found that different students react differently to it. Some are more interested in the visual shapes that are produced whilst others are motivated by the audio coming from the app when touching the screen.

Example of the image that is produced using the drawing with sounds app

In addition to this, I have adapted the code slightly so that switch users can access the app. Instead of the shapes being drawn depending where the mouse x and y axis are, the shapes are drawn randomly. Again I have found similar results with students being engaged and stimulated by the visuals and sounds being produced.

Part of our ongoing project is to produce applications for students with special educational needs, we have wanted to make the applications easy to share with others. We have set up a wiki: and if you click on the applications page you will start to find some of the applications that we have coded to download and try with your students, Both Keith and myself would greatly appreciated any feedback and comments regarding the applications as this will help improve them and further applications for the future.

N.B – If you are interested in seeing the work we are doing with the Kinect in the classroom please visit the PLC page at

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