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Social-Emotional Development in Virtual Reality: Practice Makes Perfect

Pennsylvania Convention Center, 124

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Snapshots are a pairing of two 20 minute presentations followed by a 5 minute Q & A.
This is presentation 2 of 2, scroll down to see more details.

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Doctoral Fellow
University of Kansas Department of Speci
@Margaret A Mosher
Maggie Mosher, M.S.S.L., is a Chancellor’s Doctoral Fellow at the University of Kansas specializing in social and emotional learning, technology integration, multisensory instruction, tiered systems of supports, and universal design for learning. Mosher is particularly interested in mixed reality’s role in assisting students with high incidence disabilities in acquiring and generalization social skills. Mosher worked in public and private school systems for 16 years as both a special education teacher and later a school administrator. She is now working on the development of a virtual reality program to support middle school students in acquiring and generalizing social skills (
Associate Research Professor
University Of Kansas, ALTEC
Amber Rowland, Ph.D. is an Associate Research Professor at the University of Kansas. She specializes in collaborative, practical and engaging adult professional learning with an emphasis on current instructional practices and the powerful integration of technology. She is Co-Principal Investigator on three USDOE grants focusing on designing powerful professional learning for educators, while also demonstrating student learning gains. Foci include virtual coaching and the application of the VECTOR model to increase coach effectiveness, VOISS, a virtual reality environment that teaches students social skills, and VOISS Advisor, a website that helps teachers support student generalization of learned skills.
University of Kansas
Sean J. Smith, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas. Dr. Smith’s research interest focus on innovations and technology solutions to support struggling learners and those with disabilities, particularly interventions aligned with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Framework. At present, Dr. Smith is the Principal Investigator on a federally funded project exploring the impact of virtual reality on struggling learners in the area of social emotional development. He also served as a Co-Principal Investigator on the National Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities.

Session description

For students who struggle with social-emotional learning, VOISS is a free app/curriculum that provides a safe/personalized virtual environment from which to learn the nuances of social interaction. This interactive presentation will feature the research-based app, highlight applications across mobile devices and share research illustrating its impact.

Purpose & objective

Education challenge/situation: Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and learning disabilities (LD) often display social skill deficits that interfere with relationship development, negatively influence academic performance, and increase depression, anxiety, and loneliness (Ke et al., 2018). If not addressed, social skill deficits continue into adulthood and are linked to unemployment and limited independence (Tobin et al., 2014). It is imperative to identify the primary social skills needed for instruction as well as the possible interventions available to teach these skills. VOISS serves as the mechanism to guide teacher instruction as they facilitate student learning and application of social skills within the social demands of the middle school classroom across a variety of settings. The developers of VOISS took on the challenge Social skill, social emotional development among students that struggle and or have a been identified with social skill deficit. Through a variety of social narratives created across 140 scenarios, VOISS provides a learning experience this personalized to the musical learner and that self paced based on the needs of learner.
Technology Interventions: VOISS Is a social skill app that serves as a complete curriculum across 10 specific social skill domains and 140 learning scenarios. Each scenario offers a five to seven minute learning experience that personalizes a social skill within a various learning environment. For example, a student may explore turn-taking Within a classroom setting, or engaging expressive language communication with in the cafeteria setting. The app is available on the iPad, Chromebook, as well as in the virtual reality based Oculus headset. Each environment offers all 10 domains and the complete 140 scenarios that address 181 social skills. While the device might dictate the level of immersion for the social skill experience within a virtual environment, findings suggest the level of immersion within the virtual reality does not dictate student learning. The app is based on the evidence based practice of social narratives and has been examined for reliability and validity in the content it instructs as well as usability feasibility for which the digital medium in which its embedded.
Model & Strategies Employed: The design of this presentation is both scripted and self-driven through demonstrations. Attendees will be encouraged to experience the technology and explore the provided resources but will have the freedom to choose the content and products to be explored during individual work time, tailored to their individual needs and wants. Researchers have shown that autonomy and choice play a big role in motivation. By authenticating the content and differentiating the tasks, participants will walk away with meaningful resources.

Evidence of Success: VOISS has been iteratively developed over the course of the last four years through an Office of Special Education and Programs, Stepping Up grant. Through educator focus groups and an advisory board made up of experts in Autism, Learning Disabilities and social skills from across the nation, the design and content of VOISS was developed and has been tested with educators and their students. Through web analytics, focus group transcripts, survey results and expert recommendations, VOISS has moved from 37 scenarios to 140 scenarios structured across 10 social skill domains. Each of the domains and related scenarios has gone through an extensive reliability and validity check, user feasibility evaluation, and been measured on its impact to further knowledge and understanding of social skills. We have conducted studies examining the impact of the social skill intervention across levels of immersiveness in the various VR platforms. This has included examination of student learning on the iPad, the Chromebook, and within the Oculus virtual environment. Findings suggest that al participants significantly grew in their understandings of the social skills regardless of device an d thus, the level of immersion did not have a significant impact in the student growth and development.
VOISS is undergoing three studies in the 2022-23 school year. We will have results to share at ISTE.

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Introduction and Session Format Description (5 minutes)
Participants will be encouraged to open the online handout and will be introduced to the format of our session, as well as the presenters. We will use Padlet to poll the group for demographics and interest, which will help guide our emphasis and focus. The cyclical format of the presentation will also be explained.
2. Introduction to VOISS (5 minutes)
We will introduce the federally funded, open-education resources found on the VOISS app and the research guiding our efforts.
3. Guided Tour of VOISS for big picture (2 minutes)
We have found that the easiest way to understand the breadth and depth of VOISS is to allow users to interact with various features. Educators love to begin here to gain context of what the student is asked to do, the structure of a scenario, and the assessments that are embedded within each of the respective scenarios.
4. Exploration of VOISS (3 minutes)
Users will be given time to independently explore VOISS and presenters will be on hand to answer questions and provide guidance during explorations.
5. Introduction of the Social Skill Inventory (2 minutes)
A big teacher favorite, the social skill inventory is a easy-to-use screener tool to help educators determine what social skills students need and how best the educator can utilize VOISS with the student. That is, across 140 scenarios and ten specific domains, educators need a tool to determine where a student should begin within the app. The Inventory is a measure that identifies which of the scenarios and domains are relevant to the needs of the student.
6. Demonstration of Specific Scenario and Associated Domain (4 minutes)
The presenter will do a brief demonstration of a VOISS scenario which aligns with one of the ten domains. After participants have downloaded and navigated through the initial domains, we will highlight one scenario interacting with the VR experience as if we were s student. This will be through the VR headset allowing users to see the fully immersive experience from the point of view of the student.
7. Exploration of Specific Domain/Scenario (2 minutes)
Participants will be given time to explore one Domain on VOISS. We will field individual concerns and questions during this brief exploration time.
8. Reflection (2 minutes)
Attendees will be encouraged to crowd-source, swapping additional ideas and resources with other attendees using a provided Padlet. Reflection prompts in the board will sharing implementation ideas and how they contextualize the new learning into their own educational settings.
6.-9. Repeat Phase Cycle (8 minutes)
Repeat steps six through nine, so that a total of three scenarios will be explored:
Here, we will allow users to see an additional scenario, via the various assessments across the scenarios, briefly review the data management system that is behind VOISS and thus, allows the educators to see what is tracked base don student use. We will also allow for participants to continue to explore scenarios they have downloaded, further crosswalk the data and the scenario assigned and the application/completion of the scenario. In the end, this period of time will allowed for flexibility amongst the presenters and users to either explore more scenarios within the VR demonstration, backtrack to other scenarios review (in small groups), reflect further on the data and its significance after review the scenario, and similar exploration based on immersion and need for clarification.
10. Combination of partner and whole group discussion (7 minutes)
During this time, we will facilitate guided interaction of what the users have experienced through there use of the VOISS app and/or through our demonstration of the app within the Oculus (VR). Based on the questions asked in the earlier segment as well as feedback from participants, we will allow this to be a whole group or a combination of partner and whole group interaction. The purpose is to make certain users understand the basic design components of the app, the design for application and used, as well as how they can use it upon return to their school or other learning environment.
11. Summary of Session and Ensure Participant Access to Resources (2 minutes)
We will wrap up our overview of the VOISS app, just got specifics about how to access the app, and reinforce next steps upon their return home. At this point we want to make certain that users are able to utilize what has been designed with their students as well as share this resource with their colleagues.
12. Participant Questions (10 minutes) Questions and whole group discussion.
This final portion will allow for questions from the group as well as suggestions for next steps and their classroom environment. Likewise, we will speak see back for further development, ideas for potential collaboration, suggestions on how folks might utilize this in their own instructional social emotional skill efforts, and similar types of feedback that might come in the form of a question but also might come in the form of further application. As we have tried to develop from the get-go, we hope this interaction is fairly fluid and we serve as more of a facilitator to this overall presentation.

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Supporting research

VOISS is built upon well tested Implementation Science (Dunst, et. al., 2013). Researchers in special education have made strides in identifying EBPs for students with disabilities over the past two decades. Cook, Cook, and Landrum (2013) describe how empirical and theoretical literature outside of our field may offer the insight needed in how to facilitate the ideas taking hold in classroom practice, particularly Heath and Heath’s (2007) model of characteristics that are likely to “stick.” VOISS can was built on the foundation of two critical evidence-based practices (social narratives and explicit instruction) in order to directly teach social skill for student understanding and subsequent application (McCurdy, et. al., 2014). VOISS purposefully empowers students, through an interactive personalized learning experience, to understand and then learn to apply relevant social skills in the 6-8 school setting.

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Session specifications

Social emotional learning
Grade level:
Skill level:
Curriculum/district specialists, Professional developers, Teachers
Attendee devices:
Devices useful
Attendee device specification:
Laptop: Chromebook
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Participant accounts, software and other materials:
Subject area:
Special education
ISTE Standards:
For Coaches:
  • Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.
For Educators:
  • Set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness.
  • Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.