Investigating real-time remote activity- scheduling to facilitate learning for children within the autism spectrum

The learning sciences have demonstrated a need for more flexible learning environments that encourage improved versatility in the educators’ teaching approach, taking well into account the diverse needs of learners, thus enhancing their learning experience [1]. Flexible learning environments revolve around the learners’ interests and diverse needs, making learning more personalised, accessible and engaging. One way of creating a flexible learning environment is through the use of digital technology [2].

Classrooms are becoming increasingly technology-rich environments [2] and new trends in personalised learning and access rely heavily on the use of digital technologies. These new developments have the potential of assisting educators when seeking to reach out to more diverse learners, including those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) [3]. Literature regarding this topic has invariably highlighted that the prevalence of children diagnosed with ASD is soaring [4] [5] [6]. It is claimed that children with ASD encounter learning barriers due to their limitations in social interaction and communication [7] [8] [9]. In a technological age, assistive technology may help these students to improve their performance in their educational journey, and also in developing other life skills [10]. Literature in the field claims that digital technology has proven to be all the more effective and beneficial to education, since it increases engagement resulting from enhanced interaction with technology [11] [3].

This study focused on young children diagnosed with ASD, and their learning environment. Various bodies of research have demonstrated that the use of activity schedules is effective in developing diverse skills in children with ASD, such as engagement in learning tasks, willingness for participation in activities, and independence in transitioning between tasks and/or situations [12] [13]. This study, which is exploratory by nature and adopts a mixed-method approach, seeks to demonstrate and reinforce the effective use of activity schedules and how they support students with ASD in their daily tasks.

Various interventions were made through an iterative approach, which enhanced the use of activity schedules as a digital tool. The design of the digital tool was informed by qualitative and quantitative techniques, including thematic analysis and standardised human-computer interaction (HCI) metrics involving various stakeholders, such as educators, learners and guardians. Furthermore, due to the unforeseen circumstances that emerged after a state of emergency was declared nationally in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, which restricted physical access to the classroom, this research evolved to adapt the use of activity schedules to a new reality of virtual learning. The emerging technology ‒ code-named LivePlan ‒ was developed as an online tool affording real-time collaboration facilities, as well as peer-to-peer voice and video communication, to enable educators, learners and their guardians to co- create and manage the activity schedules.

The main findings of this research suggest that even in an emergency such as the COVID-19 situation, because of which learning was taking place virtually, the proposed activity schedule real-time collaborative platform afforded leaners a smoother transition between tasks/activities, while contributing to create a virtual and flexible learning environment.


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[2] OECD, Trends Shaping Education, Paris: OECD Publishing, 2016.

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[6] Maenner, M.J.; Shaw, K.A.; Baio, J. et al, “Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder among children aged 8 years – Autism & Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States 2016,” Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, 2020.

[7] American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition), Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

[8] J. Arciuli and J. Brock, Communication in Autism., Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing, 2014.

[9] E. Kärnä, K. Dindar and X. Hu, “Educators’ Engagement with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in a Learning Environment with Multiple Technologies in Finland and China,” Interactive Learning Environments, pp. 1-15, 2018.

[10] S. Nur Syuhada Che Daud, M. Maria, F. Shahbodin and I. Ahmad, “Assistive Technology for Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Review of Literature,” in Proceedings of International MEDLIT Conference, Kuala Lampur, 2018.

[11] V. Kirinić, V. Vidaček-Hainš and A. Kovačić, “Computers in Education of Children with Intellectual and Related Developmental Disorders,” International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, pp. 12-16, March 2010.

[12] R. Stromer, J. Kimball, E. Kinney and B. Taylor, “Activity Schedules, Computer Technology, and Teaching Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.,” Focus of Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, vol. 21, pp. 14-24, 2006.

[13] L. E. McClannahan and P. J. Krantz, Activity Schedules for Children with Autism: Teaching Independent Behavior (2nd Edition), Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House, 2010.

Student: Keith Vanhear
Course: B.Sc. IT (Hons.) Computing and Business
Supervisor: Dr. Chris Porter
Co-supervisor: Prof. Paul Bartolo