Researchers from the University of Warwick, UK examined the effects of an anti-bullying virtual learning intervention called FearNot! The study recruited 1,129 children aged between eight and nine from 27 primary schools across the UK and Germany. The children were grouped into intervention and control groups. The intervention group took part in three sessions, interacting individually with the FearNot! software. Each session lasted around 30 minutes over a three-week period. The children were assessed on self-report measures of victimization before and after the intervention.
In the FearNot!(Fun with Empathic Agents to achieve Novel Outcomes in Teaching) software "children were introduced to a virtual school populated by 3D animated pupils who assumed the roles that children take while bullying occurs (i.e., victims, bullies, bystanders) to improvise real-life bullying incidents in a series of episodes that comprised a whole scenario, separate for each gender. The 3D agents (pupils) in this virtual school have artificial intelligence that enables them to learn from the victimization situations they experience and adjust their self-efficacy beliefs in response to these as they start to develop successful coping strategies in the course of the episodes."
The study found that this is the first controlled trial to show that a virtual learning intervention that encouraged children to explore effective strategies against bullying can reduce victimization, especially among children who are already experiencing repeated aggressive victimization. This novel approach is described as "safe, engaging, and offers a low-cost and time-efficient way of coaching children for a range of different situations not easily controllable in the real world."
The authors point out however, "that for virtual learning interventions to be effective, they need to be of appropriate duration, include booster episodes over time, and require appropriate reading and writing abilities and active engagement of the child." They suggest that additional, longer studies are needed and programs like FearNot! should be part of a larger antibullying curriculum. The researchers speculate that the interaction with FearNot!, at least temporarily, boosted victimized children's self-confidence in their ability to deal with bullying as they vicariously experienced successfully responding to bullying in the virtual world.
The study is published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.Posted by rsk at November 12, 2009 10:27 AM