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Special needs students learn social interaction via VR

Computer Science students from the Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia have developed a virtual reality (VR) teaching tool about personal safety and social interaction.

According to a recent report, this tool could transform how some of society’s most vulnerable children are taught about appropriate interactions.

The three Bachelor of Computer Science students used VR to create a more engaging method of teaching the existing ‘circles’ concept which outlines appropriate interactions with family, friends and strangers.

The special needs students will be wearing a VR headset and will be presented with 3D models of people they interact with.

They will then be asked to place the people in the right ‘social circle’, from kiss and cuddle to shake hands or stranger space.

This kind of protective behaviour training is greatly important for children with special needs who may experience difficulty in responding appropriately in social situations.

The idea for creating the Social Circles VR came from one of the developers experience working at an education support centre at a high school in one of Perth’s northern suburbs.

Social Circles immerses the students in a virtual environment that can recreate the real thing without ever leaving the classroom.

The VR tool can be used to teach activities, which people may take for granted, but is really an extra help needed by these students to help them understand.

The tool has already been used at two education support centres in Perth’s northern suburbs and the team hopes it might be rolled out to classrooms for children with special needs around the country.

Moreover, the schools that have used the tool think that it could be utilised for other areas of special needs education like visiting new places or even night and morning bathroom routines.

The team created Social Circles VR during their studies as part of an IT project unit which challenges students to use the skills gained in their studies to solve real world problems.

The team has gained a number awards and recognition from national and international technology awards for their project.

They won the 2018 Australian Computer Society’s Digital Disruptor award for Skills Transformation of Work Teams.

They also won the Certificate of Merit in the undergraduate category of the 2018 Asia Pacific Information and Communication Technology Awards in Guangzhou, China.

They were also finalists in the WAITTA Incite Awards which recognise excellence in the IT sector in Western Australia.

Students and staff from the University have had a long history of success in the WAITTA Awards over the last decade including category winners each year since 2012.

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