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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

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