The Design of iSocial: A Three-Dimensional, Multi-user, Virtual Learning Environment for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders to Learn Social Skills

By Matthew Schmidt, James Laffey, Janine Stichter, Sean Goggins and Carla Schmidt.

Published by The Technology Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper describes the design of iSocial, a three dimensional virtual learning environment (3D VLE) for the rapidly increasing number of youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). iSocial is a long-term project to build an application that can be used both to support substantial numbers of youth and helpers, and as a testbed for developing optimal forms of social orthotics and a community that will sustain and grow the system. While some early efforts have shown potential for the use of 3D VLEs with individuals with ASD, the key attribute of the iSocial project is the use of digital media for social orthotics (ways of implementing the VLE to enable social interaction for those with deficits) and collaborative features of 3D VLEs. This paper discusses previous efforts to use 3D virtual environments with individuals with ASD, and how we have used the constructs of individual presence, social presence, behavioral management and adaptivity as design constructs to guide the design and development of iSocial. The discussion shows how the proposed system moves beyond previous attempts to use 3D VLEs to teach social skills and also examines how the system might be used by individuals with ASD to learn social skills. In addition, results from a formative evaluation of the proposed system design with individuals with ASD are discussed. Finally, a discussion of the implications of the proposed iSocial system on learning and instruction is provided.

Keywords: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Three Dimensional Virtual Learning Environment, Distance Education, Online Learning, Special Education

The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp.29-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.162MB).

Matthew Schmidt

PhD Candidate and Curriculum Designer and Developer, School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA

Matthew Schmidt is a doctoral candidate in the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri – Columbia. He is currently involved in a DOL-funded curriculum development project for an Associates of Applied Science Degree in Nuclear Technologies focusing on radiological safety. In addition, Matthew is an active designer, developer, and researcher in the iSocial project, which aims to build and research three dimensional, multiuser, virtual learning environments for the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Dr. James Laffey

Professor, School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA

Dr. James Laffey's teaching and research interests are in developing technology innovations to facilitate learning and support performance. He provided the leadership for the University's mission enhancement for networked learning systems, co-founded the Center for Technology Innovations in Education, and is the lead faculty member for the Networked Learning Systems curriculum. He has been the principal investigator for several NSF awards to study and advance understanding and practice for bring technology to bear in education. His current research includes building new knowledge about social computing and sociability in educational computing, and developing new systems for computer supported collaborative learning and work. He also leads a project to implement networking technology in support of after-school programs for underprivileged children in St Louis. Before coming to MU he worked for six years at Apple Computer, Inc. conducting research and development for learning and support systems. While working at Apple he was responsible for developing award winning interactive learning systems, and designing innovative systems that have enabled Apple to better meet customer requirements. Dr. Laffey earned his B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and has worked at the University of Washington and San Francisco State University.

Janine Stichter

Professor, College of Education, Department of Special Education, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA

Dr. Janine Stichter is an Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education, and currently serves as the Associate Director of the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment Disorders. She teaches in the graduate programs in special education and is a faculty advisor for the graduate programs in Behavior Disorders and Autism. Courses she is typically responsible for include Advanced Behavior Management, Advanced Studies in Applied Behavior Analysis, Advanced Studies in Behavior Disorders, as well as several courses in the Autism program. Dr. Stichter's research interests center around the prevention of challenging behavior and concomitant increase in prosocial behavior through identification and modification of setting factors within educational and community contexts. Areas of specialization include: autism, behavioral disorders, social competence, functional and structual analysis as well as applied behavior analysis.

Sean Goggins

PhD Candidate, School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA

Sean Goggins is a PhD candidate in the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri - Columbia. Sean is an active designer and researcher for the iSocial project, an initiative to develop and research three dimensional, multiuser, virtual learning environments for the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Carla Schmidt

Graduate Assistant, College of Education, Department of Special Education, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA

Carla Schmidt is a PhD candidate in the Department of Special Education in the College of Education at the University of Missouri. She holds a masters degree in autism research from the Department of Special Education and in public policy from the Truman School of Public Affairs.

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