Children who are able to establish and maintain positive peer relations during the elementary school years are more successful in school and better able to cope with stressful life events. In contrast, children who have difficulty navigating these social developmental shifts are substantially more likely to experience academic failure, behavioral problems, and emotional difficulties. The recognition of interconnections between social and academic functioning has led to the inclusion of social goals in many Individualized Education Plans, Student Support Team strategies, and overall school improvement plans. However, few proven tools exist to help educators implement social interventions and simultaneously measure their impact. Given the current educational trend toward Response to Intervention models (in which data collection is a central component), the development of tools that can assist teachers and support staff with student-based data collection is imperative.
The goal of this Phase I project was to develop a prototype computer-based interactive social tutoring system for students that would not only enhance students’ social literacy, but also document progress towards specific measureable social goals. The interactive software, titled Zoo U, allows students to engage with pedagogical agents (animated life-like characters) to solve specific social tasks representing six core social skills: Impulse Control, Empathy, Initiation of Play, Communication, Cooperation, and Emotion Regulation. Results of feasibility testing with professionals and students showed extremely positive ratings for the Zoo U software prototype and proposed full product. School professionals rated the software as very easy to use and rated the online implementation aids, Reporting Center, and supplemental resources as extremely important and valuable. Student ratings of Zoo U were extremely positive, with comments such as “This is awesome!” and “When can I play more?” In addition, results indicated that student performance on the Zoo U was meaningfully related to teacher-completed ratings of their social-behavioral functioning.
Based on the strong support for the Phase I project and recommendations for continued development, funding was sought for Phase II research and development. Phase II will focus on full product development and school-based efficacy testing.
Zoo U Assessment is now available for purchase. To learn more or to purchase Zoo U Assessment, visit 3C Marketplace.