Project Overview


Give a brief description of the project.
Our project is intended to serve as professional development for middle school teachers (grades 6-8). Our virtual simulation is an interactive way to practice identifying key characteristics of bullies and victims and intervening effectively. Our project is a working prototype that entails two levels. In the first level, the user selects two characters, reads their confidential student information billboard, and then watches a scenario that depicts characters that possess either bully or victim traits. Possible scenarios include a bully/victim or bully/neutral. The second level introduces teachers to strategies he/she can use to intervene with students they identify as potential bullies or victims.

Upon entering Bully World, the user will be put in the perspective of an avatar facing a welcome information billboard. Following the cues on the screen, the avatar will then be transported to the help area to learn how to navigate through the world. From there, the avatar will move to view a number of student profile billboards. After reading a student's confidential record, the user will select two profiles to observe in a scenario. These scenarios represent how the selected students may interact with each other if the teacher is unable to address the situation before it occurs. A resource section will also be available in the world to instruct the user on how to handle bullying situations and direct the user to websites and journal articles to further their knowledge on this topic.

The prototype is limited to two scenarios, further development would lead to many more; expanding beyond verbal bullying into physical and cyberbullying. Additionally, while the prototype is limited to female students, the full version of Bully World would include male students as well. More student profiles with varying identifying characteristics would also be included. At this point, the prototype introduces the entire concept of Bully World in its introduction to allow prototype users a greater understanding of what the completed project would entail. However, in the full version, this information would be spread throughout various checkpoints in the levels. The finished version of Bully World would have two levels: Prediction and Intervention.
Prediction level:
The user will select two students based on the provided profiles. From this information, the user will predict the outcome of an interaction between the two students. Who will be the bully? Who will be the victim? Is one of the students a neutral character? Based on the selection, the user will view a scenario that may result from the interaction between a bully and a victim or a bully and neutral.

Intervention Strategies:
The intervention level will provide the user with strategies to effectively intervene in the scenario and, ideally, prevent bullying from occurring again. The user will first select an action: ignore the situation; report the situation to administration; meet with the parents; punish the student; refer the student to the guidance counselor, etc. After the user selects an option, a corresponding scenario will show if bullying behavior would potentially continue. This allows the user to identify which solution to use based on specific bullying/victim characteristics when solving real bullying incidences in his/her school. More research resources will be available in this section to support the intervention strategies identified.

Why did you decide to address this problem?
Bullying has come to the forefront as a topic of great importance for school districts nationwide. Research shows that bullying is most common in the middle school. In addition, one out of four kids are bullied and one out of five kids admit to being a bully. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development*, Bullying is viewed as a contributor to youth violence, including homicide and suicide. The project is designed to help teachers identify personality characteristics, behaviors, and personal backgrounds that may predispose a student to be either a bully or a victim. Early identification of these students, prior to becoming a bully or a victim, could lead to early intervention and prevention (rather than treatment) of bullying.

Why did you decide to use the technology you did?
We chose to use Alice in order to simulate real-life scenarios because creating an interactive environment for teachers to explore, at their own pace, will increase engagement in the learning process. Research shows that the use of technology enhances the experience for the user because it "provides a realistic environment" and facilitates role-playing experiences (Kapp & Driscoll, 95).

Prior to embarking on the development of this project research was performed to discover what other bully prevention programs are currently available. There is no shortage of available options and many of the options, especially those with an intended audience of younger children, take the form of computer-based, interactive animations. For example, the Flash interactive animation available from PBS Kids called "Beat the Bully" (http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/games/bullies_flash.html) presents players with a series of questions related to typical bullying situations. Based on the response to these questions the player is able to beat the bully. The questions asked are all "what would you do if..." type and gauge the users readiness to address a bullying situation.

The example from PBS Kids and many very similar available online have intended audience of young children. Our group feels that more should be available in the way of adult bullying training that takes an interactive approach. By using Alice we were able to create a dynamic learning environment that will capture attention of the adult users similar to the manner in which online bullying games such as "Beat the Bully" effectively engage young users.

Finally, from a development standpoint, the use of Alice facilitates contributions from all group members with varying levels of programming experience. The drag-and-drop interface allows the focus to remain on the creation of the learning experience rather than becoming bogged down with details such as syntax and other programmatic minutia.

Why did you decide to create the learning solution you proposed?
Our learning solution provides flexibility to teachers to complete the tutorials at their leisure. In addition to the flexibility provided by a 3D learning environment, our solution addresses the need for a more preventative approach to anti-bullying training. Using the previously mentioned PBS Kids "Beat the Bully" game as an example, a large number of bullying programs take the approach of what to do if a bullying situation is encountered. Although knowing how to handle a bullying situation is important for both teachers and students our group feels that it would be more valuable to be able to predict potential bullying situations. By using available student data teachers could learn which students may be more apt to become bullies or victims and intervene before a negative scenario actually occurs.

In the end, we do think that this approach has potential to work especially with the utilization of a 3D learning environment. One of the most important pieces and sometimes the most difficult during development to adhere to is to remember that we are trying to teach users how to predict bully and victim students. It is easy to fall into the rut of simply providing what countless other bullying prevention programs offer - teaching how to react to bullying situations.

This project, as a prototype, only includes one level. This first level focuses on teaching users how to predict bullying and victim behavior. The second level of the program would focus on what intervention strategies could be used by teachers to deal with the student personalities they discovered in level one. Although time constraints prevented completing both levels, in hindsight, having some portion of each level completed would have provided a more well-rounded, complete feel of the world.


*NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health