University of Malta (MALTA)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2016 Proceedings
Publication year: 2016
Pages: 7041-7049
ISBN: 978-84-617-5895-1
ISSN: 2340-1095
doi: 10.21125/iceri.2016.0609
Conference name: 9th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 14-16 November, 2016
Location: Seville, Spain
The scope of this paper is to illustrate a work-in progress research project currently being developed at the University of Malta. The project brings together inter-faculty experience and expertise from the areas of education, ICT and digital arts to provide an alternative experience in teacher training. In the past decade, in Malta there has been a drive to provide a more inclusive education experience. Teachers in the classroom, need to be able to relate with children having different levels of abilities, including those lying on the autism spectrum. Whilst discussing possible ways in which technology can assist teachers during their training period, we came across a project developed by Nonny de la Pena in 2011. Her ongoing work in immersive journalism involved the development of a Virtual Reality (VR) experience through the reproduction of a story developed in 3D supported by photographic and audio sources. The sole objective of this experience was that of helping her audience become immersed in the stories she worked on and published. The notion of combining news, in an experience which the persons could live through as it unfolds, was quite groundbreaking in 2011. Now 5 years later, such experiences have grown, through the development of apps specifically created for new VR headsets, which people can use to experience the sights, the sounds and the context of the different news stories, ranging from the war in Syria, to a murder that shook Florida in 2012.
Our proposal for this project is to bring a different narrative to a specific audience.

One of the challenges which teachers are facing in classrooms that have opened their doors to inclusion, is that of trying to understand and empathise with an autistic learner. Autism is a very complex condition that can manifest itself in a number of ways related to behaviour, communication and relationship with others. Parents of autistic children most often describe how difficult it is for someone who has never had the experience of having an autistic child, to understand and empathise with how their children perceive the world around them. We believe that despite teacher training, teachers as well as learners, go to class largely unprepared for the arrival of an autistic classmate because they cannot fully comprehend what that person goes through.
Through this virtual experience we want to help both teachers and learners understand how an autistic child in a classroom lives through the daily sights, sounds and experiences by becoming immersed in a VR environment that is supported by the narratives from people who have a direct connection to autism.

The scope of this project is to develop and deliver an app that combined with a VR headset can take the users through a journey into the experiences of an autistic child in a classroom.

Using narratives from parents of autistic children as well as experts in the field of autism and learning with autism, this project will focus on re-creating the classroom experience as perceived from the autistic learner’s perceptions that include sights, sounds, actions and interactions. We ask questions such as will the VR have a visible impact on the teachers’ empathy towards children with autism? How strong will the impact of the VR experience be on the teachers’ ability to support learners with autism in the classroom?.
Virtual Reality, Autism, Empathy, Immersive Learning.