I am currently undertaking a research paper which covers a number of years of dedicated research in my spare time and its various outcomes which have culminated in a multi-sensory learning system that creates both a challenging yet enjoyable interactive product for children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) and a tool for special needs teachers.
Through UEL I intend to undertake a PhD which will revolve around progressing to manufacture an interactive product for children and young adults with special educational needs. I have undertaken an extensive period of in-depth and detailed research and several SEN schools have shown an interest in the product and are happy to field-test the prototype.
My initial research into special educational needs resulted in identifying a need for a dedicated tactile teaching tool that is not only of use to teachers and their students but also helps to enhance the children's sense of play and fun while learning.
Within SEN schools there is very little dedicated equipment and, where there is specialist SEN equipment, it is usually either very expensive, making any purchase a financial liability for most schools when set against their many other budgetary requirements, poor adaptations of products originally designed for mainstream education or equipment with no clear educational aims.
Therefore, I feel it is long overdue for a designer to take an innovative approach and redefine SEN from a design point of view: by completely researching all the many requirements of both the children and their teachers to create a design methodology that is dictated by these demands and leads to good design; to design a product that enhances the learning environment and empowers the children to explore through play and learning, has clear educational aims and can assess a child's progress through the education system, is easy to operate and be a reasonably inexpensive piece of equipment when weighed against its many advantages.
My design is a unique interactive wall consisting of smart polymer tiles. When touched, or remotely activated by children with severe mobility restrictions, the tiles create different actions, including light, sound, vibration, temperature, tactile and airflow changes, to produce many sensory effects that are under a SEN teacher's control via a computer – from simple games for the youngest child through to increasingly complex and challenging tasks for older children. It is very user-friendly and would enable teachers to assess students' abilities as they advance through the stages of learning.
I firmly believe it would make a real difference to the lives of SEN children by helping to stimulate thought processes and aid developmental ability enjoyably.
Although much research has been undertaken, there is scope for further re-assessment of the market and future educational needs.
I intend to produce a test rig of a sufficient standard that will be taken to several SEN schools for field testing, after which I would catalogue and analyse all the subsequent results for any appropriate adjustments to the design, computer programming and/or manufacturing criteria.
Alongside this it would also be beneficial to video the children interacting with the wall to enable research and development on related subjects, e.g. gauge their range of emotions, sensory abilities, memory and cognition, to build up several case studies to assess any other modifications.
Finally, other parallel research would involve the possibility of the interactive wall communicating with products already on the market, i.e. whiteboards and switches, to further aid the teaching experience for students and teaching staff.