ECU students develop virtual reality tool that helps Belridge Secondary ESC students

ECU software engineering students James McNeil, Jarryd Wimbridge and Marko Vasev with year 7 student Jack Mooney. Photo: Martin Kennealey
ECU software engineering students James McNeil, Jarryd Wimbridge and Marko Vasev with year 7 student Jack Mooney. Photo: Martin Kennealey

ECU students have developed a virtual reality teaching tool to help teach children with special needs about personal safety and social interaction.

Computer science students Jarryd Wimbridge, Marko Vasev and James McNeil developed the tool, which has helped Belridge Secondary Education Support Centre students learn protective behaviours.

They used virtual reality to create a more engaging method of teaching the existing ‘circles’ concept, which outlines appropriate interactions with family, friends and strangers.

Special needs students wear a headset, are presented with 3D models of people they interact with and asked to place them in the right ‘social circle’, from kiss and cuddle to shake hands or stranger space.

“Social Circles immerses the students in a virtual environment that can recreate the real thing without ever leaving the classroom,” Mr Wimbridge said.

“It can be used to teach activities that you and I take for granted but these students really need that extra help to understand.”

Belridge teacher Emma Reed said the tool allowed her to test what students knew in “close to a real life situation” after learning the theory about protective behaviour, stranger danger and personal space.

“A lot of our students struggle with social skills and awareness and not going off with strangers,” she said.

The ECU team has used the tool at two education support centres, and hopes to roll it out to classrooms for children with special needs around the country.

They won the 2018 Australian Computer Society’s digital disruptor award for skills transformation of work teams as well as a certificate of merit in the undergraduate category of the 2018 Asia Pacific Information and Communication Technology Awards in China.