The Alt-ER2 project aims to foster resilient learning environments, lessen early school leaving, and give European children (ages 4 -6) a good start in their education while providing and advancing technical skills in working with technology that will serve them well in life. For this purpose, a transnational partnership of Higher Education and Research Institutions has developed age-appropriate ICT animation tools and games and a pedagogical framework specific to the transition phase from kindergarten to school.
The Alt-ER2 (Animated Learning for Transitions – Early Recognition 2.0) project is a transformative educational initiative focused on harnessing the power of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), particularly Game-Based Learning (GBL) and animation, to enhance Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). This project has been co-funded by the Eramus+ Programme of the European Union on a strong collaborative partnership, including Cradle as the R&D Lab from Breda University of Applied Sciences (BUas) and several other higher education and research institutions from Denmark, Finland, Italy, and Belgium (TAW|VIA, TeacherGaming, Consiglio Nazionale Delle Ricerche, Camera-etc).
Alt-ER aims to fortify educational systems, sharpen digital competencies, and prepare children for a future digital labour market by addressing prevalent concerns about early school leavers in the EU. Utilising the potential of animation and GBL, Alt-ER invites children to become active contributors to their learning journey, instilling a sense of curiosity, understanding, control, and joy. The project leverages the open-ended, diverse, and multi-modal nature of creative tools to cultivate teaching strategies that are as inclusive and beneficial as possible for all children.
As the lead organisation for the Toolbox/Platform, BUas R&D Lab, Cradle, was tasked with updating the Alt-ER App, which necessitated a complete re-design and code review. Cradle’s development team rose to this challenge by developing a completely new system in Unity, designing and implementing a fresh app UI, and localising text for new scenes added to version 2 of the Alt-ER app.
The Cradle development team adopted agile methodologies to achieve the project’s goals, focusing on iterative testing and quality assurance processes for the Alt-ER app’s framework. This approach allowed them to continuously improve the product, responding to challenges and adapting to changes effectively.
In-depth analysis reports were produced from the pilot testing and workshop events, contributing valuable insights into the project’s methodology and further justifying the framework and activities. Moreover, publications and interactive platforms were established to disseminate the knowledge and experiences gained during the project.
The primary goal of the Alt-ER project is to foster resilient learning environments and to create opportunities for self-directed creativity in both home and classroom environments. For this purpose, the project’s consortium developed a pedagogical framework for using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and storytelling, two distinct but complementary strategies, to encourage self-directed narrative creation in children.
A critical project outcome is the launch of the multi-platform Alt-ER 2.0 app. This application is designed to stimulate conversations and encourage collaborative meaning-making, supporting children’s development and motivation through the creative process of storytelling.
As mentioned earlier, the Alt-ER platform is student-centred, featuring the app and a toolbox of other apps, games, and activities.
Its pedagogical framework offers a basis for understanding learning activities centred on digitally delivered narrative and aesthetic knowledge based on animation and game-based learning (GBL). The overarching goal is to improve learning outcomes, ensuring a positive beginning to formal schooling for children across Europe.
The Alt-ER project is set to conclude on August 31, 2023.
Before its conclusion, a final public event for Alt-ER 2.0 is planned for June 8, 2023, to present the project results, experiences, and tools from multiple perspectives, focusing on reaching EU decision and policymakers. Post-project, the platform will remain live for at least five years, during which efforts will continue to attract new users. The project website will serve as the primary channel to communicate project outcomes and ensure others utilise the results. VIA University College will manage the hosting, updates, and functionality of the website for five years following project closure.
Unity software and various Unity packages were instrumental in developing the Alt-ER2 app. These packages included 2D Animation, 2D Pixel Perfect, and Localisation. Unity scriptable objects and assets were also employed extensively.
The specific version of Unity used for the project was Unity 2021.3.15f1. This platform provided a comprehensive environment for creating and developing interactive, real-time 2D applications.
One interesting technical facet of the project is using localised string tables within Unity. These tables stored localised text and could be accessed directly from the main menu in Unity. The order of the locales listed in the drop-down box was easily adjustable simply by altering the order in the list, which is located in the Localisation settings.
Another noteworthy technical aspect is the use of the 2D Pixel Perfect package. This Unity package aids in creating crisp, clear 2D visuals regardless of screen resolution, which is particularly useful when working with pixel art graphics. This, in combination with 2D animation, allowed the team to create engaging and visually pleasing educational content for the Alt-ER2 app.
These combined technical elements were integral to the project’s success, enabling the production of a highly interactive and engaging platform designed to enhance digital education readiness.
The research conducted during the Alt-ER project was instrumental in driving the development of its core components: the Framework and the Toolbox/Platform, both aimed at enhancing digital education readiness. This research followed a participatory action learning approach, where interest groups actively engaged with the tools and the framework. Their feedback and experiences directly contributed to the further development of these resources and highlighted areas that needed refinement.
One key outcome of this process was the development of a refined Framework and selection of tools designed to foster self-directed creativity, applicable to both home and classroom environments – be they in-person or online. This process was driven by the direct feedback and interaction of the interest groups with these resources.
A vital part of the developed Pedagogical Framework addresses various aspects of the learning process, such as Developing Shared Dialogues, School/Family Communications, Resilience through Socio-emotional Development, Creative and Narrative Explorations, Artifacts as Prompts for Dialogue, and Continuity across Contexts. These elements were shaped and refined through the iterative process of research and feedback from the participants.
As part of this research and development process, the Alt-ER 2.0 app was also updated. This update was reflective of the Covid-19 outbreak, and the app’s characters were re-designed to be socially distant and wear masks. This change was an innovative way of incorporating learning activities about the virus, specifically in response to the current global health situation.
Further cementing the project’s research outputs is a chapter published in the book “CERI2022 Proceedings”, presented at the 15th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation. The publication “Communicating about the Pandemic in Early Childhood: The Alt-ER 2.0 Platform” is a direct outcome of the research conducted during the project.
As the Alt-ER project looks to the future, it plans to disseminate the outcomes of this research to a broader audience for further use and application. These research outcomes, formed by careful investigation and feedback, are anticipated to be practical applications in the field of digital education readiness. By making a solid case for creative ICT-oriented activities, they are expected to contribute to better educational outcomes during uncertain times and offer a unique perspective on the responses to combat the novel Coronavirus.
https://pure.buas.nl/en/projects/animated-learning-for-transitions-early-recognition-20 Animated Learning for Transitions, Early Recognition 2.0