EU Funding To Help Beat School Bullies
The problem of bullying in schools is being tackled by a innovative computer software ‘drama’ developed with the help of 1.24 million euros from the Information Society Technologies (IST) area of the EU’s Framework Funding Programme.
The VICTEC project is aimed at children between the ages of eight to twelve and uses self-animating 3D characters to create improvised dramas in a virtual school. The viewer is then asked to help one of the characters to deal with the problems they are facing.
“Unfortunately, bullying does occur in many situations both inside and outside of schools today” says project coordinator Professor Ruth Aylett, from Salford University. “VICTEC takes eLearning into Personal and Social Education, where attitudes and emotions are more important than pure knowledge. The project uses believable synthetic characters and narrative to help build a relationship between them and the individual user. In particular, the VICTEC FearNot! demonstrator tackles the problems of bullying and allows children to explore ways of dealing with it, such as ignoring the bully, hitting back or telling someone, in a non-threatening Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).
Users run through five episodes of bullying, interacting with one of the characters on each occasion by offering advice, and should come away with an understanding of the possibilities of escaping the situation. Because the software can be used at any time, it is less disruptive of school timetables and less costly than traditional anti-bullying drama groups.
“FearNot! is unique in Europe in using 3D graphical characters for personal and social interaction”, adds Professor Aylett. “Most European projects aimed at children rely on websites. However, we dont want the kids to see this as a game, so our characters are expressive - although we have given them a cartoon-like form, rather than making them too naturalistic because psychological studies show that people may find almost naturalistic synthetic characters unnerving. However there is no magic wand to stop bullying and we do not offer one, though we do emphasise the only action everyone agrees on, which is to tell somebody you trust. "The VICTEC project has been very successful so far and has developed both technology and a deeper understanding of the psychological issues, especially in the field of empathy."
The software is still evolving but has already been evaluated by more than 400 children in an event held in June 2004. There is also close contact with the leading charity in this field, ChildLine. Project partners are working on expanding the range of characters and episodes and improving the user interaction, which is limited by technology to speech or text.
“I cannot think of a more worthwhile use of European Funding than projects such as VICTEC”, says Peter Walters, FP6UK’s National Contact Point for Information Society Technologies. “It is both an investment in dealing with a serious social problem and a way of investing in the development of our children to become part of a more sympathetic and tolerant society.
“The current Framework Programme (FP6) runs until 2006 and organisations wanting free information on how to access some of the €19bn available should log on to http://fp6uk.ost.gov.uk or call central telephone support on 0870 600 6080.”
Dave Sanders | alfa
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