Skip to main content

Evaluation of the side effects of Virtual Reality technology on young peoples' bodies and minds to create an innovative solution to a nascent problem

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ZVW (Evaluation of the side effects of Virtual Reality technology on young peoples' bodies and minds to create an innovative solution to a nascent problem)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2017-09-01 do 2019-03-31

The current project was aimed at testing the side effects of Virtual Reality (VR) technology on children’s minds and bodies to create an innovative solution to a nascent problem. VR is an emerging technology which has gained progressive visibility and application in several sectors (training, clinical, media and entertainment, building and architecture, etc.), besides military where it was initially developed in the early Seventies. Over the years, VR has proved to be particularly effective for the treatment of adults’ psychological diseases (anxiety and depression) and to sustain learning (problem-solving, decision-making, and information retention) as well as the development of social-emotional skills (empathy) with adult samples. Recent research works confirmed the potential of VR technology in education with samples of children. The present project built upon the potential of this technology to develop a solution that can promote children's health and wellbeing with respect to Internet safety, the sector in which our SME operates. More specifically, four specific objectives were tackled in the project: (1) Evaluate the side effects of virtual reality technology on young people, in the areas of education, environment behaviour, empathy and health; (2) Create Innovative solutions to the problems identified in objective 1; (3) Efficiently understand the practical implications of the proposed business model; (4) Evaluate if the proposed solution is a fit for the market need (Product/Market Fit) in a cost-effective manner.
The project was implemented through four work packages and seven deliverables over 12 months with a six-months suspension due to IA’s maternity leave. The IA worked with the Zeeko’s team to develop a solution based on VR technology for children attending primary schools in Ireland. WP1 was aimed at primary and secondary research to set the problem. IA, supported by Zeeko team, designed a research plan to investigate the side effects of VR on youngsters, in particular children attending the last two years of primary school in Ireland. Teachers, parents and children were identified as key stakeholders and involved in the different stages of the research. The research relied on online questionnaires and focus groups. Findings from the research allowed for the identification of four specific problems of VR technology, which were defined as content, context, process, purpose. Content concerned the characteristics of the material children should be exposed to when navigating virtual environments. Issues of time, security and health were mentioned as relevant. Context referred to the usage of VR in educational settings, namely school. This can bring problems for the integration of VR with traditional school curriculum. Process regarded technical features of VR. VR programs can be used with the support of personal smartphones, however the usage of smartphones in schools was identified as problematic. Lastly, purpose referred to the possibility of VR use or educational goals, besides entertainment. Problems were reported by parents who feared children’s addiction to VR contents. Teachers were open to the possibility of using VR but to support blended learning and pupils dealing with social-emotional problems. The identified problems were analysed and discussed in an IDEO session (WP2). The session involved Zeeko’s team, IA, and stakeholders and was carried out over three hours in one day. This allowed for the definition of different solutions which were subsequently discussed in a smaller meeting with IA and Zeeko’s staff. The outcome of the meeting was the development of a service based on VR to tackle online aggressions, namely the Antibullying and Cyberbullying Solutions with Virtual Reality (ABC_VR), and to be sold to primary schools. Three differentiated business models were developed using Business Model Canvass and a detailed business plan was written to commercialise the service (WP3). Lastly, the prototyped solution was validated in primary schools. IA and supervisor set up meetings with school principals to illustrate the characteristics of the service and propose ABC_VR trial. Five schools agreed to pay for the trial of the service (WP4).
The project allowed for the creation of a novel solution based on VR technology. VR is an emerging technology which has gained progressive visibility and application in several sectors (training, clinical, media and entertainment, building and architecture, etc.), besides military where it was initially developed in the early Seventies. Over the years, VR has proved to be particularly effective for the treatment of adults’ psychological diseases (anxiety and depression) and to sustain learning (problem-solving, decision-making, and information retention) as well as the development of social-emotional skills (empathy) with adult samples. Recent research works, including investigations carried out in Zeeko, confirmed the potential of VR technology in education with samples of children. The solution service proposed by Zeeko, ABC_VR, promises to positively impact children’s learning experiences and wellbeing. Children are provided with a truly immersive learning experience that triggers self-reflection on their behaviours and emotions. This happens in a controlled and safe virtual environment under the guidance of an adult. In doing so, children can learn how to self-regulate when facing distressing situations in ‘real life’, such as offline and/or online aggressions (bullying and cyberbullying). ABC_VR experience is guided by Zeeko’s trainer; teachers will be present during the session. The VR educational game presents a narrative in which children experience different scenarios through three perspectives: (a) perpetrator, (b) victim, (c) bystander using a user’s first-person perspective. The scenarios consider gender differences: users experience bullying toward both same-sex and opposite sex peers. As an example, an 11-year-old child will take turns first experiencing playing the role of the perpetrator, then the victim and then finally the bystander. This is directed towards the same sex peers first and then towards the opposite sex peers. Both genders experience and witness aggression equally. Teachers will assist Zeeko’s trainer during the initial run-through of the game; afterwards, teachers will be offered 30 minutes of further training after the session. The innovation of ABC_VR concerns the combination of three aspects: (a) VR technology, (b) cyber-psychology (self-regulation, self-reflection, decision-making, empathy) and (c) pedagogy (digital literacy). In addition, the content of the educational game is particularly innovative: it builds upon Zeeko’s strengths on content development around Internet Safety. ABC_VR will also have societal implications since it is aimed at tackling a widespread phenomenon among youngsters, namely bullying. This service will allow schools to deal with the problem of aggression online and offline engaging children in an educational game that is affordable can be easily used by teachers. Also, a specific training is provided to teachers.
Logo of the solution developed as an outcome of the project