Researchers have come up with new software which could reduce bullying in primary schools.
Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn from the University of Hertfordshire's School of Computer Science and her interdisciplinary research team is part of a European consortium which has developed interactive role-play software which is designed to tackle the problem.
The project, which is called e-CIRCUS (Education through Characters with emotional Intelligence and Role-playing Capabilities that Understand Social interaction) (www.e-circus.org), will allow pupils to interact with 'characters' in a virtual school where bullying takes place.
"The pupil can witness the virtual bullying as an observer and is provided with the possibility of assisting the victim as their "invisible friend," said Professor Dautenhahn.
"Hence pupils can learn vicariously about the disastrous consequences of bullying, and by developing an empathic relationship towards the virtual victim come up with strategies and advice in order to prevent or combat bullying."
The consortium includes researchers from computer science, education and psychology from the UK, Portugal, Italy and Germany. Teachers and pupils will be included in the development of the software as well as a framework for using it in the classroom context.
Preliminary usability studies showed that children like the interaction with the virtual characters and find the content highly interesting and believable.
The software will be tested in schools in the UK and Germany in 2007, evaluating not only the acceptance of the application among teachers and pupils but also whether the approach, as an innovative part of the curriculum, actually helps to reduce bullying in schools.
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