Craig, A. B., Brown, E., Gallagher, S., Raab, L. H., & DeRosier, M. E. (2015). Zoo U: The only research-proven online game that assesses and teaches social skills. Durham, NC: 3C Institute.
Research demonstrates that positive social skills and relationships in childhood are associated with children’s positive behavioral, emotional, and academic well-being. However, many children struggle socially throughout their school years. And without early intervention, these children can face a wide range of social, emotional, and academic problems, including school dropout, drug abuse, depression, anxiety, physical aggression, and antisocial behavior—and these problems can persist into adulthood. Social skills training helps children develop the skills they need to thrive socially, but conducting in-person training presents a variety of challenges for clinicians, schools, and parents. Logistical barriers, particularly the financial costs to families and schools, demanding resource needs, and time and travel requirements for children to participate, can deny many children the benefits of participating in a social skills training program. Determining which children need social skills training can also be problematic. Traditional assessment methods such as behavioral observation and behavior rating scales can be costly and require extensive time and training to implement. In addition, they also pose challenges such as unreliable or biased observers, lack of social comparison data, inability to capture a student’s behavior in specific situations, potential for students to modify their behavior because they’re being observed, and inappropriate recording techniques. With funding from the U.S. Department of Education, 3C Institute developed Zoo U, an online game-based social skills assessment and skill-building program for children aged 7–12 (www.zoougame.com). In Zoo U, the only online game that assesses and teaches social skills, children become students at a virtual school for future zookeepers and build their social skills by working through a series of common social scenarios. Zoo U offers an engaging educational experience for students, an affordable method for broad scale everyday use by schools, and a seamless means of integrating data-driven decision making into school-based social interventions. And in addition to strong endorsements by both children and school professionals, research shows that Zoo U is effective in improving children’s social skills.