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SHARE-IT: School-Home Research Environment through Intelligent Technologies

By Amy Chamier

A child using the SHARE-IT game on a tablet device

How devices can be used to create a scalable intelligent learning environment for children with autism.

The SHARE-IT project focused on participatory research with schools, parents and industry through which it aimed to formulate the requirements for a robust, intelligent and authorable serious game for supporting children with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs) in exploring, practicing and acquiring social interaction skills. SHARE-IT built on the ECHOES project (ESRC/EPSRC funded), in which a computer game for children with ASCs was designed and evaluated.

Research questions

SHARE-IT's chief focus was in addressing challenges identified through the ECHOES project and other related projects that relate to the need for:

  • a robust system architecture and implementation of educational technologies
  • for a considered selection of appropriate technologies and techniques to allow for multi-device and operating system deployment, the development of an intelligent (in the Artificial Intelligence sense) computer game needed to support social interaction, and flexibility for the environment to be authored by laypersons.

An artificially intelligent agent, called Andy, demonstrates to a child how to sort bouncy balls according to their colour. The activity serves to support the development of joint attention in children and turn taking as Andy often points to the specific balls and also takes turns in putting them in appropriately coloured vases.

Key findings

The key findings of the project relate to the inextricable nature of the relationship between user involvement in the design and software implementation of the technology. Specifically, in order to sustain the motivation of the users to participate in the technology design projects, it seems paramount that such projects actually produce the technology that can be used promptly and reliably. This necessitates a fast shift from low-fidelity, paper and pen prototypes, to implemented, manipulable systems representing the designs that can be appraised in quick design-implementation-test cycles.

As well as the need for a degree of immediacy in the way that the designs are realised in the technology, the project also highlighted the need to reconsider the timescale of the design process from that confined to specific projects' duration to one which allows users to engage in continuous design and re-design of technology independently of the researchers and software engineers.

This particular finding has profound implications for necessary requirements that a technology must fulfil in order to be fit for real-world educational use. 

Apart from the pedagogically sound underpinning, aimed to ensure relevance of the technology to the educational contexts, other requirements include:

  • industry-standard software engineering of the technology to ensure reliability of the system during day-to-day usage
  • portability of the software between different devices and operating systems
  • authoring capabilities for non-technical users, including teachers, parents and children, to ensure extendibility of the software capabilities beyond those which may be desirable and/or identified before or during a project.