Students were tasked with taking a CERN technology and applying it to a real-world social problem. Their application could vastly improve learning outcomes for autistic children.
What use is CERN technology outside of CERN? This was a question posed to an interdisciplinary group of university students, as part of Challenge Based Innovation (CBI), a 6 month educational programme hosted by IdeaSquare. The technology in question was EDUSAFE, a Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality platform designed for operating in extreme environments such as nuclear installations.
This particular challenge was inspired by the story of the World Wide Web. The internet was originally developed to improve information sharing between scientists at CERN. This then grew into the global information sharing network we all use daily. So, can EDUSAFE technology be scaled up in the same way?
Students turned their attention closer to home: to education. Autistic children become frustrated and bored much more easily than children without autism, and are often upset by unexpected situations. This makes school, which is by nature communal and repetitive, a challenging environment for them.
The students aimed to use EDUSAFE technology to create a structured framework for learning, whilst also teaching the children to understand that social interactions are by nature unpredictable.
By the end of the programme, the university students had created a multi-sensorial ‘intelligent’ learning platform, Edumind. The platform consisted of a touchscreen table and interactive ’EDUblock’ toys. The platform gave prompts which were designed to teach the children that other people may not share the same thoughts, feelings and intentions that they do — in other words, empathy.
Designing the platform like a computer game allowed for logical decision-making, which is more engaging for autistic children. The computer-assisted, Virtual Reality platform was also able to auto-adjust its difficulty level, based on the responses of the user. This means that it can be widely-used, as it can be tailored to an individual child’s needs.
The idea was designed and prototyped at IdeaSquare, then tested in local schools. In the future, Edumind could use Augmented Reality to bring the prompts closer to natural social interactions, and underscore the importance of shared activity.