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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


iPad and Networking day – #ipadbridge – review of presentations – Part 1

A really insightful day looking at how professionals and schools working with SEN have implemented the iPad as a tool to support teaching and learning, in addition to breaking down some of barriers to learning that are in place for many of these learners. The theme from all of the delegates was that the iPad was not the answer to all problems, however it was a tool with so many uses and enables students with SEN to lead the learning.

This post is part one of the two where I will give an overview of some of the presentations that occurred in the morning. The second part will look at the other presentations and the discussions that took place in the afternoon.

John Roberts @johnmroberts – Presentation about how the iPad has helped develop his sons fine motor skills and his communication.

John gave an excellent presentation from the view of a parent and how the iPad has helped his son to develop his fine motor and communication skills. Through the use of apps like Peppa Pig and Talk 4 Me, his son is able to work on these skills and has helped him engage with others. Of particular note was that his son will now ask for the iPad when he wants to use it, whereas he would not communicate his needs verbally previously. Also he talked about how YouTube was a great motivator for his son to complete his work. More interesting though, was through the use of YouTube, they were discovering that he was able to follow threads to find things that interest him just by accessing videos and following similar links.

A really inspiring presentation to begin the day and it was great to see how the iPad had opened up the world of learning for his son.

Sean McDonald @seanfmcdonald – Richard Cloudesley School – iPads and Communication

Presentation about some of the apps that they have used in his school, with a particular focus on communication. Have added link to the App Store for each app:

Tap Speak Choice – allows scanning with a Bluetooth switch, PCS Symbols and you can add your own communication book.

Tap Speak Sequence – can store multiple conversations, Bluetooth switch and Airplay compatible.

Tap Speak Button – works like a big mac on the iPad!!!

Predictable – predictive text for those who use AAC devices. Allows switch access and the ability to update Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Gridplayer – Communication boards which use Widget symbols, comes with three complete grid sets. Sentences are spoken in English. Grids can be customised with PC software The Grid 2.

Proloquo2go – Another AAC app. Use of iPod touches to help communication in group settings. Showed an example of this, with a video where students were able to respond to group discussions with the use of iPods connected to external speakers. Excellent example of how the use of technology is helping students communicate and collaborate.

Diviya Garg – Willow Dene School – iPad ideas

Using the schools VLE/website to communicate with staff and parents about the apps they use in school, so that parents can continue learning at home. VLE also included booking section for staff to book out the class set of iPads. Well thought out use of VLE to share experiences of students using the iPad.

Bea Moreno – DownsView School – iPads and communication

Excellent presentation about the need to assess students on the suitability of the iPad as a communication tool. Key point was to ensure that clear aims were in place for using the iPad as a communication tool instead of other AAC devices. Communication app that was used was the Grace app which is a non-speaking, picture exchange app to help students communicate their needs independently.

Flo Longhorn – Sensory apps

Presentation about how the iPad can be used by all learners with the focus on accessibility. Flo demonstrated that the iPad is a device that can be used with your finger, hand, nose, tongue, well pretty much anything!!! Also championed its mobility by suggesting it can be used anywhere floor, table etc. I really liked the video of the student, who used a shoulder sling to enable them to use the iPad to play the harp – excellent example of how the iPad can be accessed by all. Flo also gave some examples of apps that she had used with learners:

Milk the Cow – very sensory and does what it says.

Brushes – great for drawing

Peekaboo Barn – students have to guess the animal from the sound and open the barn doors to see if they are right.

I will endeavour to write the second part of this post within the next week where I will cover the rest of the presentations and the discussions that took place in the afternoon. For the meanwhile have a think about ’What makes an Outstanding iPad?’………

The second part is now available click the link here iPad and Networking Part 2

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