The use of technology in the classroom is nothing new, but Topcliffe Primary School in Birmingham is breaking new ground by using technology to help pupils with autism communicate more effectively.
The school, which teaches around 30 children with various levels of autism, was one of four schools across UK, which participated in the ECHOES research project, jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) from universities across the UK to explore how technology can make a difference in the classroom. The researchers used the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) programme ECHOES which allows children to engage with virtual characters and interactive technologies.
"Children interact with echoes through a large multi-touch screen," says Dr Kaska Porayska-Pomsta, the leader of the project and a senior lecturer in Technology-Enhanced Learning at the Institute of Education, London Knowledge Lab.
"Through the screen they can manipulate objects, explore the environment and they can also interact with the semi autonomous agent called Andy. Andy acts as a social partner to children and tries to actively engage children in specific activities."
Teachers at the school have found that the ECHOES program has greatly helped the children improve their social and communication skills. In fact teachers were surprised at the extent to which the children engaged with the technology.
"We never realised that the children had these skills because some of them are so locked in." Says Sarah Quickendon, a Spectrum Disorders Teacher at Topcliffe School.
"We watched children with autism playing with the images on the screen in ways in which none of the typically developing children had done. The normal curriculum that we were offering just wasn't allowing them to demonstrate these skills to us."