'Tech education must support social, emotional health'


Tech education must support social, emotional health

Abu Dhabi - Collaborative platforms in class are opening new spaces for group work, and amplifying students' voices


Ismail Sebugwaawo

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Published: Fri 7 Jun 2019, 10:52 PM

Last updated: Sat 8 Jun 2019, 1:01 AM

The rise of education technology has made learning more personalised and engaging, while advances in active and behavioural computing are assisting students who have disabilities like autism, according to a tech education expert.
Anthony Salcito, vice-president of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, told Khaleej Times that collaborative platforms in class are opening new spaces for group work, and amplifying students' voices - especially those having difficulty with social interaction.
"Virtual and augmented reality are being used to develop social skills like empathy and understanding the world from other people's perspectives, helping to teach about issues like social marginalisation and racial, ethnic or gender biases, among others," said Salcito.
"Advancements in technology in classroom are exciting and show what is to come in the future, bringing autism education to a whole new level."
The expert explained that through the daily work and interaction with students of determination, the assistive technology and apps empower students to become independent learners. Independence is a crucial foundation for their academic success and leads to autonomy in the pupils' working lives.
He noted that their research, however, found that digital devices and social media platforms may worsen youth problems, like bullying and social anxiety, and are linked in some cases to sleep disruption, and distractions and difficulty in concentrating.
"Innovators and educators must work to advance an educational technology agenda that supports social and emotional health and distinguishes between helpful and harmful uses of technology," said Salcito.
Robot that interacts with autistic kids
Presenting a research white paper by Microsoft at Bett, Salcito pointed out that there has been a good deal of focus on the negative effects of technology on children's well-being, including the rise of cyber-bullying, social media-linked anxiety, inferiority and alienation, and body dysmorphia in the photo-saturated landscape young people now inhabit.
"Yet appropriately developed, technology can also support well-being, empathy, social learning and emotional intelligence. AI (Artificial Intelligence) has made great strides in education, particularly when used in interactive software designed to raise confidence through self-directed learning," said Salcito.
"AI-powered teaching platforms can offer questions that increase in difficulty for correct responses, and provide explanations for incorrect answers. This trial-and-error process may help reduce anxiety and remove the intimidation students feel in answering questions in a traditional teacher-directed classroom."
According to the tech education expert, behavioural and affective computing relying on AI can have profound effects in autism research. Scientists at five European universities have developed Zeno, which is an AI-based robot that interacts with autistic children in real-time, helping them better understand and express their emotions through facial and audio recognition technology.
"While autistic children may prefer avoiding human contact, the robot has proven effective in interacting with children through a game that prompts them to identify and display emotions," said Salcito.

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