Monthly Archives: November 2012

Computer mediation can help combat bullying in schools

University of Kent research has demonstrated how computer mediation could help combat bullying in schools.

The six-month study, published by Computers in Human Behaviour (Science Direct), focussed on students aged 12-13 and their use of technology, including ‘avatars’ or computer-generated images of themselves, to resolve potential conflict at school.

Key findings include the revelation that students using software which incorporates the latest gesture and facial recognition technology feel more positive towards other students. Specifically, students using avatars like and trust their partner significantly more. They are also able to produce better ideas to alleviate bullying issues.

Prior to the study, avatar-mediated communication was believed to be less effective than video-mediated communication. However, newer technologies, which have developed avatars that respond to facial and gesture cues, can improve social interaction. Avatar technology is of particular interest for tackling bullying issues because of its ability to protect users’ anonymity.

The research team was led by Dr Jim Ang and Ania Bobrowicz from the University’s School of Engineering and Digital Arts. They worked in collaboration with Kent Integrated Youth Service and Project Salus, with students from Borden Grammar School (Sittingbourne), the Archbishop’s School (Canterbury) and St Anselm’s Roman Catholic School (Canterbury).

Dr Ang, Lecturer in Multimedia and Digital Systems, said: ‘Advances in avatar technology have great potential to transform the way we connect and empathise with each other using computers. And, as our research has shown, it’s an excellent platform to help young people, who are very comfortable with all forms of technology, to resolve conflict in schools.’

Ania Bobrowicz, Senior Lecturer in Digital Arts, added: ‘It was exciting to see the enthusiasm with which the students embraced our project. We are planning to take the findings from the project into the next stage to investigate the effectiveness of using avatar technology with pupils with social interaction and learning difficulties in mainstream education.’

‘Effects of gesture-based avatar-mediated communication on brainstorming and negotiation tasks among younger users’ (Chee Siang Ang, Ania Bobrowicz, Panote Siriaraya, Joshua Trickey, Kate Winspear) can be viewed at:


Chris Roffey, Head of Science at Ewell Castle School, has been concerned about the lack of good programming books for children for some time; this in an age when computers are so important to everyone’s daily lives. He therefore set about writing materials for Ewell Castle School’s lunch time Coding Club to fill this gap. Thanks to some lucky timing he has been able to turn these initial ideas into a series of books that are being produced by Cambridge University Press. The first book, Python Basics, is out now with the next two available in early 2013.

Children in this country use programs and apps on computers and their phones every day, but they often have no idea how they are made: our children are become consumers rather than creators of software. Unfortunately, most computer books, aimed at the novice, are difficult to use: they try to cover everything in a specific programming language; are full of jargon; are immensely long; and are not aimed at kids. They teach how to write code but not why certain decisions were made or how to design programs.

The first book is attractive, short, costs little more than a magazine and covers the basics of the Python programming language. Although Python was designed as a teaching language, it is used extensively in industry and is one of only three languages that Google Apps can be written in. Python Basics is one of a series of short books produced by Cambridge University Press that, it is hoped, will be a little like a reading scheme but for coding. Each book encourages readers to experience writing code while building small, fun applications. The readers are challenged to hack the code and make it do new things. The aim is that students learn how to code well and become great coders through practice rather than the impossible aim of learning to program in a week – as some books promise.

Chris is not the only one who thinks this way. Google chairman, Eric Schmidt has said that he thinks the UK has been throwing away its computing heritage. The Raspberry Pi foundation is selling £30 computers to encourage children to try programming. The books get a technical edit from Alex Bradbury, the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s lead Linux developer.

Chris Roffey said:
“I was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. What initially started as part of the lunchtime coding club at Ewell Castle has grown into a much bigger project. I realised that I had the same aims as the Raspberry Pi team at Cambridge University and they have been extremely helpful. I met with Cambridge University Press at last January’s BETT conference just minutes after Mr Gove made his keynote speech disbanding the current ICT National Curriculum.

Too many of the computer books available today end up as door stops! I sincerely hope that these books will provide a better way of learning to code that will suit many 10-14 year olds.”

Python Basics is currently available from Amazon at £6.95


Keeping young kids entertained and comfortable on car journeys as well as simply getting them in and out of the car have emerged as top stress triggers that the modern mum with toddlers has to deal with on a daily basis.

A new survey has revealed that three of the top ten stress triggers that affect mothers of children under five involve travelling by car.

Long car journeys with children bickering and moaning in the back, kids being bored and causing a nuisance in traffic jams and just getting babies and toddlers in and out of the car all add to increased stress levels.

The weekly shop, meal times and bedtimes also leave many mums pulling their hair out according to results from the survey of 2,000 mums.

Other situations in the top 10 stress inducers include entertaining them on a rainy day and even simply getting them dressed in the morning.

The survey was commissioned by Ford Retail, which owns dealerships nationwide under brands Dagenham Motors, Heartlands Ford, Brunel Ford, Lindsay Ford, Polar Ford and Ford Retail Online, to mark the launch of the new family-orientated Ford B-MAX.

A spokesman for the dealer-group explained: “Being a parent can be testing at the best of times, but it seems there are certain situations which are worse than others.

“Travelling with young children is clearly a key stress factor revealed by the research – whether mums are struggling to get young children in and out of car seats, entertaining them on long journeys or dealing with bad tempers when in a traffic jam, the issues are apparent.

“Car journeys certainly feature highly in the top ten stress triggers and in many cases, being prepared is the key – making sure you have plenty of snacks, toys and games planned can help to keep even the longest shopping trip or car journey stress-free.

“Mothers face a variety of stressful scenarios each day and the B-MAX is designed to ease the pressure and make travelling with babies and young children a far more relaxing experience – from a new door system which makes it easier than ever to get them in and out of the car to a spacious and comfortable interior designed with young families in mind.”

The study found that the weekly shop topped the list of stress triggers, followed by bedtimes and long car journeys with children in the back.

Getting children to eat certain foods and taking them out to friend’s houses where they aren’t used to children – and worrying about the chaos your children will cause completed the top five.

Being stuck in a traffic jam with children in the car was at number six in the poll followed by meal times, entertaining kids on a rainy day and getting them in and out of the car.

Getting children dressed in the mornings was number ten.

Bath time, packing for a holiday and children’s birthday parties also featured in the top twenty.

Forty per cent of mums also named weekday mornings as the most stressful time of their week when they have to stick to their routine to get to nursery, school or work on time.

Tired or hungry children, partners who don’t help out enough and having somewhere to be at a certain time can also make things seem more stressful.

But the study found that 41 per cent of mums admit stress actually helps to motivate them.

And 82 per cent of parents say the smiles and cuddles they get from their children make the stressful moments worth it in the end.

A spokesman for Ford Retail added: ‘’The new B-MAX is designed to alleviate many of these stressful situations, helping to eliminate the stress involved with travelling with young children and setting a new benchmark for stylish, compact and family-friendly cars.

“With its innovative, easy-access door system, the B-MAX is the perfect car for the modern family – whether you are taking the kids to school or popping into town, the B-MAX provides a comfortable and stress-free drive.”

Ford Retail has 52 dealerships across the UK trading under five brand names: Polar Ford (North England); Dagenham Motors (South East England); Heartlands Ford (Birmingham); Brunel Ford (Bristol); and Lindsay Ford (Northern Ireland). It also sells online at

Top twenty most stressful situations for mums

1. Doing the weekly shop

2. Bedtime

3. Long car journeys with children stuck in the back

4. Getting children to eat certain foods

5. Going to someone’s house where they don’t have children

6. Being stuck in a traffic jam with children in the back

7. Meal times

8. Entertaining children on a rainy day

9. Getting kids in and out of the car

10. Getting children dressed in the mornings

11. Bath time

12. Busy attractions and days out

13. Packing for a holiday

14. Cleaning children’s teeth

15. Shopping for new clothes

16. Getting their children to eat their food at all

17. A child’s birthday party

18. Illness

19. Eating out

20. Going on holiday