ECHOES is a technology-enhanced learning environment where 5-to-7-year-old children on the Autism Spectrum and their typically developing peers can explore and improve social and communicative skills through interacting and collaborating with virtual characters (agents) and digital objects. ECHOES provides developmentally appropriate goals and methods of intervention that are meaningful to the individual child, and prioritises communicative skills such as joint attention.
ECHOES also serves as a tool for researchers, teachers, parents, and practitioners to better understand individual children’s strengths and difficulties, and the ways in which these may be addressed through technological intervention. It provides a platform for exploring research questions relating to cognitive development, user modelling, and multi-modal interaction.
The proposed technology-enhanced learning environment combines existing technologies in new ways. With the active participation of user groups, we have combined interactive multitouch screens, gaze tracking, and intelligent agent-based context-sensitive interfaces to create a novel, interactive, and multi-modal environment that can be adapted to the needs of specific individuals, and that can provide new ways of investigating and supporting the development of social skills in children.
The design of the learning activities and planned agent-child interactions within ECHOES is informed by the SCERTS framework for autism intervention and assessment. Information and publications from SCERTS is available on their website.
The design of the ECHOES environment has been informed by input from children and practitioners throughout the development process by conducting participatory design activities. Participatory design seeks to consider the practices, perspectives and needs of system users and stakeholders, and ensure that ECHOES will interest and engage children with a range of abilities and skills, and facilitate alignment with curricula of mainstream and specialist schools.
ECHOES II has two overarching objectives:
- to scaffold children's exploration and learning of social interaction skills
- to develop a methodology and tools through which (a) parents and practitioners can examine the specific difficulties that children encounter in different situations, and (b) researchers can investigate the relationships between children's social skills, communication and learning.
The two main objectives of ECHOES II give rise to 4 detailed research goals (A-D):
Goal A: Establishment of a comprehensive set of learning objectives and interactive activities capable of supporting children who follow different developmental trajectories in their ability to engage in social interactions.
Goal B: ECHOES II aims to employ a participatory, learner-centred design methodology whereby children, and their carers and teachers when appropriate, act as design partners with the researchers.
Goal C: Implementation of the technology-enhanced learning environment capable of scaffolding children's exploration and learning of social interaction skills at a number of different levels of social engagement, and of adapting to the needs and preferences of individual children.
Goal D: Deployment of a framework for assessing the effectiveness of the learning activities.