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Today’s Stories (ESPRIT-i3-ESE Project No. 29312) develops an experimental school environment for young children (4 to 8 years old) that is aimed at the development of social, communicative and emotional skills in the context of everyday activities. The underlying ideas are, first, that children may learn from reflecting on their own or other children's activities and, second, that children may learn from other children’s perspectives on their own activities.

The project is developing wearable technology to document such different perspectives, as well as tangible interfaces to review and to manipulate these episodes. New pedagogical and ethical frameworks complement the technological results. The project advances in an ongoing process of co-design that involves the different stake holders in the development and deployment of the envisaged school environment.

Project targets
The project aims at three types of results:

  • A future-oriented educational framework. The Autonomy Oriented Education paradigm, which stems from a humanistic view of individual development, is geared towards the development of an autonomous and moral human who belongs. According to this approach, such a human being is one who lives an authentic self-directed life. To develop these characteristics, the young person must be involved in a process of "reflective experimentation in living". The variety of reflective experiences, together with didactic questions related to self-knowledge and self-discovery, would contribute to a meaningful process of personal exploration. This, this paradigm provides a general framework for a variety of didactic processes and settings.

  • Technological results for individual and collective use. The KidsCam is a ‘wearable’ device that audio-visually captures events in the child’s daily life, and relays them to a collective memory of interrelated episodes. The Magic Mirror is a multi-media editing environment that allows children to build their own ongoing collective memory or portfolio out of the events captured with the KidsCam.

  • The procedures of individual and collective story authoring achieved in collaboration with educators (teachers and/or parents) will stimulate processes of reflection and understanding. These will aid toward the achievement of educational goals set in a curriculum for broad social development.

The challenge of Today’s Stories is to create a hyper-document which whole rooted in an original and personal episode, can acquire a detached, cartoon-like status, by editing and multi-media techniques augmented. In this way, the document can be related to another episode experienced by a different group of children.

The project pays attention to social, cultural and ethical implications, as well as to the conditions for acceptance and success of technology deployment. The key risk, namely that the technology fails to contribute to learning and development, is outweighed by the discovery of novel forms of education that contribute to:

  • social, literacy and communication skills,
  • computer literacy,
  • cross-cultural understanding, and
  • highly appreciated and productive home-school relationships.

The project brings together a balanced group of educational specialists, usability experts and technology providers to form a highly child- and pedagogy-driven project. Extended trials in school environments will be intertwined with the design and evaluation processes using participatory working methods throughout. For dedicated design purposes the project will also use the methods and services of the KidsLab working group which is developing a scheme dedicated to designing tools for and with children.

From the early phases of the project, results have been developed and applied around schools from two environments: Israeli schools (Ramat Hehayal and Ilanot school and four kindergartens in Israel’s central region) and a Danish school (Nr. Broby school). The Israeli and the Danish teams are committed to similar educational frameworks in order to facilitate dialogue, common research and comparisons. Apart from this, however, both teams - in terms of the development of their concrete didactic process and in terms of their respective environments - are independent from each other.


System architecture
An overview of the system envisaged by the project is shown in following figure. A wearable technology, the project KidsCam, allows to capture images of everyday activities. A KidsCam is either triggered explicitly by the child wearing it, but it may also capture events by automatic triggers, derived from sensory information that indicates 'interestingness'. Other KidsCams may be triggered subsequently to capture alternative perspectives on a scene, identified by the presence of other KidsCams or infrared (IR) beacons on objects (piggy back trigger).

Figure: Today's Stories system overview

The different episodes that are captured by a collection of KidsCams thus consist of a 'hyper video', a collection of synchornised and interrelated perspectives. These are transferred wirelessly to an episode management system that takes care of storing them, and of keeping track of their relationships.

The Magic Mirror is the child friendly touch screen terminal through which children review their episodes. First, it allows them to collaboratively explore the video sequences that they captured. Subsequently they can annotate selected episodes with signs and symbols that make explicit the negotiated meanings and interpretations of what they see and experience. These annotations are used in turn to detect related episodes, or to link to any other kind of material that supports an pedagogical purpose.

The project is striving for the development of tangible interfaces so that children can refer to and manipulate multi-media material through physical objects. The IR beacons, Magic Boxes and Magic Cubes are elements that can be used to piece these scenarios together.

The KidsCam has three recording modes:

  1. on-demand mode triggered by the child himself;
  2. piggy-back mode triggered by a child nearby;
  3. automatic mode triggered by the camera itself when an event caught the child’s attention.

A single KidsCam provides a fragmented history of the day of a child, as seen from its own perspective. The crucial insight, however, is that the episodes taken from the perspectives of different children, are interrelated. An event of fighting, anger or joy typically involves multiple children. It can be arranged, therefore, that such an event be recorded from the different perspectives of those involved or others (adults or children).

Children take time to build up a capacity of reflection. Mere replay of their behaviour is not sufficient to lead to reflection. In our approach the intertwined daily episodes, highlighting ‘major’ events from different points of view, constitute the raw material for a subsequent reflective dialogue involving children, educators and/or parents.

Magic Mirror
The Magic Mirror enables the recorded episode to be annotated, thereby contextualising what the children see, think and experience. This can be done using expressive imagery (e.g., stylised faces to express emotional states), or sound-effects (e.g., to highlight surprise or fear). The resulting multi-medial document captures a tiny ‘lesson of living’. It could be kept as a memory, a document for future reference, or as a creative production (like the first paintings that children make).