Using a 3D Simulation for Teaching Functional Skills to Students with Learning, Attentional, Behavioral, and Emotional Disabilities

Using a 3D Simulation for Teaching Functional Skills to Students with Learning, Attentional, Behavioral, and Emotional Disabilities

Maria-Ioanna Chronopoulou (University of the Aegean, Greece) and Emmanuel Fokides (University of the Aegean, Greece)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0004-0.ch008
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The study presents results from the use of a 3D simulation for teaching functional skills to students with learning, attentional, behavioral, and emotional disabilities, attending regular schools. An A-B single-subject study design was applied. The participating students (eight eight-to-nine years old) explored the simulation (a virtual school), encountered situations in which they observed how they are expected to behave, and had to demonstrate what they have learned. Each student attended a total of four two-hour sessions. Data were collected by means of observations and semi-structured interviews. All students demonstrated improved functional skills both in terms of the number of behaviors they acquired and in terms of those that were retained and manifested in the real school environment. On the basis of the results, it can be argued that 3D simulations are a promising tool for teaching functional skills to students with disabilities.
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The Salamanca Statement paved the way for the inclusion of children with special needs in regular schools (Unesco, 1994). The fundamental goal of inclusion is to avoid social discrimination by offering opportunities for students with disabilities to learn together with their non-disabled peers in typical classrooms. Students with special needs studying at regular primary schools represent a variety of disabilities, including -but not limited to- learning difficulties, social, emotional, and communication deficits, physical and mental disabilities (Espelage, Rose, & Polanin, 2016; O'Brennan, Waasdorp, Pas, & Bradsow, 2015). As a result, the idea of inclusion is not free of problems. For example, the disadvantaged students find it difficult to communicate with others and engage in a debate, while their interpersonal relationships constitute a stress factor. Their imagination may be limited and their participation in games is passive or dysfunctional. Their academic progress is inconsistent with that of their peers and quite often they exhibit severe weakness, for example, in mathematics or spelling (Wagner, 1995). Their emotional immaturity, their inability to be aware of or understand the emotions of others, leads to non-functional social relationships, isolation, outbursts of anger, and, in general, problems in understanding everyday situations (Nye, Gardner, Hansford Edwards, Hayes, & Ford, 2016; Vlachou, Stavrousi & Didaskalou, 2016). Finally, their deficits in focusing attention on a given task or situation and the neglect of the self, are factors that increase the likelihood of being victimized or manifesting undesirable/unacceptable behaviors (Thompson, Whitney, & Smith, 1994).

In order to improve students' well-being, additional help is provided through structured school programs, aiming to support their academic performance and improve their everyday functional skills, both within and outside the school environment (Rose, Shevlin, Winter, & O' Raw, 2015). Such programs try to enhance their emotional (e.g., Domitrovich, Cortes, & Greenberg, 2007), behavioral (e.g., Espelage et al., 2016) and communication skills (e.g., Blandon, Calkins, Grimm, Keane, & O'Brien, 2010). Despite the fact that such programs exist and as far as students with mild disabilities (with learning difficulties, attentional, behavioral, and emotional disabilities) are concerned, it seems that the emphasis often lies in structuring the environment to accommodate their academic needs, while issues regarding their social adjustment are neglected (Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, 2015). What is more, the relevant literature suggests that there is a need for intervention studies examining strategies for enhancing their social skills (Garrote, Dessemontet, & Opitz, 2017).

Needless to say, educational technology plays an important role in the above interventions. One such technology is 3D simulations, which is an umbrella term for a family of technologies such as virtual reality and extended reality. 3D simulations are realistic representations of a situation through the computer and users interact with the virtual objects in a lifelike way (Freina & Ott, 2015). Moreover, users can get emotionally involved as they feel the senses of presence and immersion (Portman, Natapov, & Fisher-Gewirtzman, 2015). In general, 3D simulations are considered effective teaching tools (Merchant, Goetz, Cifuentes, Keeney-Kennycutt, & Davis, 2014), because they offer safe and controllable environments as well as the context in which knowledge is applied (Marshall, 2014). In addition, users can practice their social skills (Didehbani, Allen, Kandalaft, Krawczyk, & Chapman, 2016), skills of self-care and self-protection (Kalyvioti & Mikropoulos, 2014), and also express their emotions (Lorenzo, Lledo, Pomares, & Roig, 2016). Due to the above, simulations can be used to teach students with special educational needs new skills, reduce unacceptable behaviors, and prepare them to manifest the appropriate behaviors in real life.

Key Terms in this Chapter

OpenSimulator: An open-source server platform for hosting virtual worlds.

Single-Subject Design (A-B design): A two part or phase research design composed of a baseline (A phase) with no changes, and a treatment or intervention (B phase). If changes are found, then the treatment had an effect.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): A developmental disorder affecting communication and behavior. Symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life.

Learning Disabilities: Neurologically-based processing problems interfering with learning basic skills (e.g., reading, writing, and math) and/or higher-level skills (e.g., abstract reasoning, long-/short--term memory, and attention).

3D Simulation: A three-dimensional computer-generated imitation of a real-world process or environment.

Non-Playable Character (NPC): Any character in a game not controlled by a player.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity that interferes with normal functioning or development.

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