Anti-bullying software has been developed that enables children to explore a number of situations through improvised drama featuring computer-animated figures. By creating a feeling of empathy the characters can engage the children in a new learning experience.
Bullying at school can be distressing for those children who experience it, as they often feel alone and don't know who to turn to. Fortunately, help is at hand thanks to the Victec project, a ground-breaking initiative aimed at 8 to 12 year olds.
Work carried out by EU-funded Victec focused on the area of personal and social education (PSE) and how emotions like empathy can influence the learning process. The project created the FearNot! demonstrator application, which uses 3D self-animating synthetic characters who operate in real time in a virtual school.
By engaging with an animated character, the child is able to act as an invisible friend who can provide support and advise what action can be taken. The demonstrator therefore allows youngsters to explore ways of dealing with bullies and aggressive behaviour in a safe learning environment.
Characters can express fear, anger and worry, making it easier for children to empathise and build a relationship with them. The young users were asked to help one of the characters with their bullying problem through a series of unplanned interactions. Because the story changes each time the system is run, the animated figures are more believable.
Software created by the Victec researchers makes way for a new unscripted approach to be used in the FearNot! demonstrator, while keeping its standard XML (Extensible markup language) based structure. Therefore, the software has a great deal of potential and can easily be applied to other areas of PSE, not just bullying.
By using the latest technology to produce believable characters, the demonstrator has enabled children to gain a better understanding of bullying behaviour and learn strategies to minimise its effects. However, the project has not only successfully engaged its young audience, it has also raised a number of fascinating questions in new fields of research. These are addressed through the new, more educationally focussed FP6 Ecircus project that has developed innovative technology for supporting social and emotional learning.
Country: UNITED KINGDOM
Information Source: Result from the EU funded IST programme
Collaboration Sought: Further research or development support; Information exchange/Training; Other