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The involvement of schools in all three countries in the design of characters and scenarios for FearNot

VICTEC committed itself from the beginning to a user-centred design approach in which teachers and more specifically children - the target users - would have a key role in the design of the FearNot! demonstrator. The wisdom of this approach was underlined early in the project when the team discovered that realistic bullying scenarios could not be found in the scholarly or educational literature.

Two mechanisms were used for involving users in design. One was the use of the simple one-episode scripted sketch of what the FearNot! demonstrator might look like that was created by the Minerva-funded VES project with which VICTEC collaborated. This ought to have been a part of the work programme from the start but the need for such a 'quick-and-dirty' prototype system was overlooked. The Trailer, as it was called, was used in conjunction with a questionnaire to gain feedback from a variety of groups on a variety of aspects: quality of graphics, animation, and sound; believability of characters and stories; the amount and nature of interaction; what feelings the single episode evoked both in the user and for the characters. Interesting results were gained here: children did empathise with the victim character in the Trailer and felt anger towards the bully, while teachers disliked the victim character and liked the bully character. Technical experts (mostly male and in the mid-to-late twenties) did not have strong reactions to any of the characters but tended to prefer the one female character. Children were critical of the production values of the Trailer, assessing the graphics, animation and sound as of low quality, but it appeared that the realism of the stories meant that in spite of this they found the characters believable.

Stories were collected from children using the story-boarding tool Kar2ouche, kindly made available to the project by a UK-based educational software company, Immersive Education. The team noted that while the bullying incidents in the stories seemed very credible, attempts to offer a solution to the problem at the end were often less so, with a frequent use of a deus ex machine - a teacher or head teacher - who often expelled the bully. Interestingly the other source of stories lay in drama, with a number of scenarios developed by students in the University of Hertfordshire Drama Department, later scripted by the project and recorded as source material for investigating the use of speech technology for the FearNot! characters. The project regards the successful involvement of children and teachers in the design of aspects of FearNot! as an important achievement, giving the team confidence as they worked on the development of the technology that the work was relevant and useful.

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Heriot-Watt University
EH14 4AS Edinburgh
United Kingdom
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