Jessica Rutherford – Challenges surrounding participatory practice research in Animation: The case of FASD affected participants

This paper discusses the development of a Learning Programme designed around the animation film making process. The process of animating is tactile, multimodal and multi-sensory, allowing for wide application in a range of settings for purposes including education and therapy. Targeting multiple learning pathways with its visual, auditory and kinaesthetic approach, the Learning Programme aims to become an inclusive approach to address the ranging needs of a specific population of learners, engaging participants in various creative processes that allow for an expression of understanding whilst engaging with digital technologies.

Animation is considered an adaptable and effective learning tool with a therapeutic, participatory approach due to the multisensory experience for the animator from ideation to exportation. Each film created through this programme will be visualised through the child’s story, narrated with their voice and designed to represent their world, in a film produced entirely by them. It allows participants the opportunity to engage in discussion around the concept, embed movement into task completion, and time to process their understanding as they complete each stage of the programme.  It is hoped that through the development of a multisensory, active learning tool which has been designed specifically to address the needs of the participant population, each learner will be allowed the opportunity to creatively explore their own current understanding of a specific topic.

The participant population this study are individuals with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). FASD is a lifelong disability caused as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure that leads to irreparable damage of the central nervous system. The severity of the damage caused depends on a large number of contributing factors: dosage, timing of exposure, pattern of exposure, maternal age, body mass and genetics of the mother during pregnancy (O’Leary et al. 2007, p. 466) therefore causing a spectrum of differing severity. Neurological deficits caused by prenatal alcohol exposure can make learning, behaviour and social interactions challenging for affected individuals who are also at greater risk of mental health problems, disrupted school experiences, trouble with the law and substance abuse problems (Streissguth et al. 2004, p. 236-37). This paper will discuss challenges faced in order to develop, deliver and test an educational programme built on the foundations of animation production, whilst accommodating the additional needs and specific learning requirements of those FASD.

The initial thinking surrounding the concept is introduced, highlighting the inspiration behind such programme. Rising challenges that became apparent as understanding of the target population increased are highlighted and discussions around possible solutions provided. A significant number of logistical implications arose including; environment in which to deliver sessions, equipment accessible to this population, concerns around staffing and facilitation of the programme, as well as the recruitment of participants. Direction of the study then shifts significantly to address the needs and specific learning requirements of the population, many of which draw from the researcher’s practical experience of working with this population in another role.

Initial Thinking

The development of the Learning Programme was based on an existing knowledge and understanding of the Good Hearts Model (GHM). The Good Hearts Model is a method of animation therapy which Hani (Hani 2017, p. 17) states has to date has been applied in a therapeutic context with “individuals living with poor emotional wellness, have experienced loss, disengagement with others, endured prejudice and impeachment and ones who have experienced violence or abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, neglect).”

Hani argues that “the use of animation (the GHM) offers an additional approach to traditional therapeutic strategies, and it can also be used as a diagnostic, educational, crime-prevention, dissemination tool” (Hani 2017, p. 2) giving opportunity for this model to be replicated and applied in an educational context such as the Learning Programme. The intention of the Learning Programme was to use the GHM and associated research to develop a model of educational animation wherein learning occurs through the production process. Published literature around the GHM discusses its use in a therapeutic context and Hani (Hani 2017, p. 4) summarises three core art therapy approaches, stating the first as “seeing the process that the participant engages with as being therapeutic; second, using the artwork as a way to explore the unconscious; and third, an opportunity to use the outcomes as an opportunity for discussion,” recognising that each of these approaches would be applicable to animation therapy. She goes on to describe the great potential she saw for animation therapy, as animation allows for an opportunity in which “the participant observes their inner world unfolding through script writing, storyboarding to completion of the film. However, each stage provides an amendment opportunity (an edit) to what is being conveyed, a ‘testing of understanding’ and a ‘checking of perception” (Hani 2017, p.6).

The GHM, like the Learning Programme, does not primarily focus on the artistic output but the journey the participant travels, cognitively, emotionally and therapeutically, in order to complete the production. The understanding of animation applied in a therapeutic context is expected to be transferable to an educational context and therefore the GHM method would be replicated to test this hypothesis.

The GHM has a session structure outlined for facilitators to follow, with weekly sessions taking place over a 15-week period. In a recent paper, Defining animation therapy: The Good Hearts Model (2017) Hani does not provide great detail surrounding the environment in which sessions following the GHM take place, suggesting to readers the approach is transferable and the environment easily created. However, Hani (2014, p. 6)has previously provided the following structure that is to be applied to all sessions:

  • Understanding of software and technology
  • No eye contact
  • Dimly lit
  • Extensive materials available
  • Repetitive work
  • Sound proofed environment
  • Task focused
  • Assisted filming
  • Neighbouring seating arrangement
  • Disability accessibility

The GHM has been used with populations of individuals with various special educational needs and learning difficulties. The Learning Programme, through replication of this structure, aimed to test this as a space in which to educate those with FASD with consideration of any additional benefits that may arise from being taught with a therapeutic approach, in a therapeutic setting. Whilst the primary intention is education, secondary outcomes will be acknowledged and are expected to lie in the realms of therapy.

Developing the Learning Programme

The animation production process itself required careful considered during the development stages of the learning programme and a number of elements were removed to ensure only key tasks or those with significant learning opportunities remained. This allowed focus of task to be heavily placed on the learning that takes place through completing the production as opposed to the creative skill and final output of an artistic piece. This Learning Programme is entirely based around the animation production process however, the process itself, the tools used, the approach to the production of creative elements and the role of the animator, are completely redefined in their purpose for application in this instance.

Sessions would be completed over a two-hour period for 15 weeks (as in GHM) allowing time for all elements of pre-production, production and editing to be completed. Sessions would be held in small groups of up to 5 participants, delivered and overseen by the researcher who now acts as the facilitator. Sessions were to be video and audio recorded for analysis as a later date to accommodate the researchers’ role as facilitator taking primary focus. The educational content, the topic to be taught through animation, was yet to be confirmed at this stage.

The facilitator would be supported by a staff team of animation students from local Universities who had extensive knowledge of the animation process and who had the ability to facilitate animation workshops with children and young people. In this sense, the facilitator becomes a director, with a secondary role of teacher in order to deliver educational content. The animation students supporting the facilitator would act as teaching assistants and would be required to gain a thorough understanding of FASD for their role.

To deliver sessions, basic animation studios were to be set up with an extensive range of materials available alongside entry level technical equipment. Participants would be encouraged to move freely around the space, applying their own creativity and using whichever approach to animation they choose with close support of the facilitation team. Equipment was to be made available for participants to animate through stop motion, cut out or hand drawn approaches.

Rising Challenges
As development of the Learning Programme continued, the importance of understanding the very specific needs of the participant population was highlighted. FASD is the most common preventable cause of learning disability/difficulty in the UK (Carpenter 2011, p. 37) however, Carpenter describes this population as ‘pedagogically bereft’ (Carpenter 2011, p. 42) highlighting educational concerns of those with FASD that are yet to be addressed.

 Participant Population
An in-depth literature review highlighted the vast range of challenges faced by those with FASD, but also some common themes; difficulty with maths and abstract concepts (Watson and Westby 2003, p. 196), communication difficulties (Peadon et al. 2008, p. 6), memory (Astley 2006, p. 1534), executive functioning deficits (Paley and O’Connor 2009, p. 264) and social skills and social behaviours (Peadon et al. 2008, p.6). Individuals diagnosed with FASD are said to be at heightened risk of adverse life outcomes (Streissguth et al. 2004, p. 228) for these reasons, making this a target population felt important to pursue.

A body of research highlighting challenges of those with FASD in an educational context was identified, however a limited body of research suggesting methods to address and support such challenges was discovered. Therefore, the Learning Programme was designed specifically to address this limited body of research and aims to addresses the educational needs of individuals with FASD. Research suggesting methods to address needs highlights structure and stimuli, each of which can be easily accommodated within a programme based on animation production. Mitten argues that “hyperactivity and inattention are common traits of FASD and therefore interesting, visual, tactile or kinaesthetic stimuli is important to sustain attention” (Mitten 2013, p. 67). Mitten’s assertions support the use of animation, as it is a process which meets all of the criteria outlined as a means by which to sustain learner attention. Having well-structured tasks in sessions, with a clear system to follow and expectations set out (Kalberg & Buckley 2007, p. 283) has also been highlighted as beneficial to supporting the learning of individuals with FASD and therefore should be considered as key elements when developing an educational tool for this population. It was highlighted that individuals with this condition benefitted from repetition in the form of information delivery, tasks and actions, slower pace of instruction (Edmonds and Crichton 2008, p. 56) Learning with visual and kinaesthetic medium and small group sizes were also highlighted as beneficial (Blackburn et al. 2012, p.61)

Structured tasks, an active approach, slow repetitive tasks and actions, alongside the use of visual and kinaesthetic medium are elements commonly found in the animation production process, with the medium providing “a vehicle for repetition and reinforcement of a theme” (Eckersley 2017). For this reason, it is felt that the foundations of animation production are already aligned with the educational needs of this population.

With the participant group for the study identified and a vast amount of literature explored, a number of issues were raised around the initial plans for implementation of the programme. The structure and content of sessions raised questions as the Learning Programme was designed with significant freedom for the participant, to mirror the approach of the GHM. It was at this point in the study, that the use and replication of the GHM was reconsidered. It is with confidence that the development of the Learning Programme continued, addressing these challenges and reconsidering existing models within this field to pursue the development of an approach that allows for this creative medium/process to become a successful tool in an educational context. Animation allows us the opportunity to “effectively animate theories of the life, rendering them perceptible and intelligible” (Beckman 2014, p. 270). Beckman’s statement, alongside knowledge of those with FASD having difficulties understanding abstract concepts, it was felt increasingly relevant to address needs of this population through this approach.

Recruitment and availability of the students required alterations of programme delivery and challenges arose as student availability did not align with availability of identified space and participants. Time was spent trying to address these logistical challenges before the question of student payment was raised. This study is delivered by a self-funded researcher and as a result, the budget was zero. It would have been possible to pay students a small amount, but this then raised concerns around ongoing dedication. For the study to gain ethical clearance, students would also have to gain clearance through the Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS) check in order to work with a vulnerable population, incurring further costs. Questions were also raised around the ability of the researcher to successfully oversee and analyse the programme whilst being so closely involved in participant interaction. Facilitation has been closely considered throughout the development of the programme and the researcher acting as the facilitator supported by animation students from a local University was no longer thought to be viable. To address this, it was decided that the facilitator (researcher) would take a non-participant observation role, allowing for real time observations. However, further challenges were raised as the previous role of the facilitator (researcher) needed to be filled. The individual now taking on this role would be required to have the necessary knowledge, training and skills to act as both the animator and teaching assistant, ensuring the programme is applied correctly and all production and learning outcomes are achieved. They would also have a strong understanding of FASD and the range of challenges faced by this population, both behaviourally and educationally, to confidently work towards the aims of the programme. The level to which these skills could be taught then came under close scrutiny.

Staff Team
This approach then required a staff team to be recruited and trained to work with participants. With skills required in animation and education, would this individual be an animator, or teacher/teaching assistant. It was concluded that the two disciplines are not closely related enough for a specialist in either to be trained extensively in the other, in addition to being trained in delivery of the Learning Programme and working with individuals with FASD, within the time frame of this research. Therefore, it was decided at this point that both specialists would be the most suitable option to ensure knowledge and skills from both disciplines. The staff team would now include an animator and teaching assistant to work with each individual participant on a 2:1 basis, as well as an additional non-participant observer. This individual was soon identified. They are a medical professional, able to administer first aid if required and have knowledge and experienced of FASD, allowing for another perspective to make additional observations alongside the researcher. The addition of this individual was considered significantly beneficial and having a licensed medical professional amongst the team lessened challenges surrounding ethical clearance. Outside of a research context, where observations are not required, a facilitator would be trained to work with each participant. There would be no observers or other team members present, allowing for accessible delivery of the programme once a transferable model was identified.

As time passed and issues surrounding the recruitment of animation students remained unsolved, the 2:1 ratio of animator and teacher/teaching assistant with each participant was again, reconsidered. After conversations with teachers, availability was raised as the main concern and teaching assistants were highlighted as more suitable as it was their role to provide the one-to-one classroom support for individuals with learning difficulties. With the focus of the programme being education, it was then decided that a teaching assistant should be the sole facilitator working directly with each participant. This shift also eliminated the need for DBS checks to be carried out as anyone working directly with children would be required to hold this certification in order to be hired in their role. The teaching assistant would now be trained in animation production and not only acts as the primary educator throughout the programme but also facilitate the animation production aspects. This approach would be more desirable as to not overwhelm the participant with two members of staff present as they engage in tasks. Participants now benefit from the undivided attention of the staff member through the 1:1 ratio. Difficulties then returned to the level of animation training required to allow the teaching assistant to successfully and confidently facilitate the production of all the requirements necessary to produce an animated film.

At this stage, it was deemed necessary to deliver two pilot studies of the programme after training of the staff team. From a research perspective, this provided valuable opportunities for testing, analysis and further testing to be completed before what could be described as the main research study was delivered. It became clear that at least 12 months’ notice would be required to ensure availability of all staff team members, participants, equipment and venue, for pilot studies and the main research study. Within this time, all recruitment activity was to be completed, training carried out and ethical clearance gained. Identifying individuals interested in this role of staff team members soon became extremely challenging due to the level of training required for what was to be an unpaid role. It was hoped that the extended time frame would allow for many of the challenges to be addressed, however logistical challenges then arose with timings of pilot studies and re-application of ethical clearance based on adaptations made to the programme upon analysis of the previous delivery.

Training of staff team
With consideration of the significant alterations in approach to facilitation, facilitator training became a further limitation of this study. The training now had two main aims: training facilitators to deliver the programme and ensuring a thorough knowledge of FASD that allowed for one-to-one working. It remains imperative to ensure staff receive the correct training to work with this population. However, due to the unpredictable nature of a population who have not previously undergone research testing with this application or in this context, it is almost impossible to determine the content on which each staff member should be trained. This realisation brings us to the decision to hire individuals with very specific knowledge, skills and experience in a number of areas as opposed to being an expert in one field.

Researcher understanding of FASD continued to increase and practical experience with this population significantly furthered understanding of practical application, yet raised further concerns.

Replication of the GHM had been reconsidered whilst the therapeutic environment and structure to sessions following this model remained. Kalberg and Buckley highlight that in an educational context, learners with FASD engage better with tasks if environmental auditory and visual distractions are minimal (Kalberg & Buckley 2007, p. 283). It is stated by Blackburn and colleagues in the book Educating children and young people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (Blackburn et al. 2012) that the following key elements of learning environments should be met when approaching teaching and learning children and young people with an FASD:

  • A calm, uncluttered, structured learning environment
  • Opportunities for small group work/small class sizes
  • Small-step approaches to tasks, instructions and activities
  • Curricula/tasks which match their developmental and learning profile in all domains of development
  • Frequent breaks from concentrated activities with opportunities for physical exercise
  • Support with peer relationships, appropriate interaction with others, and learning key life skills (Blackburn et al. 2012, p.61)

Existing research into educational environments continually highlighted the need for calming, orderly spaces with minimal distraction. This understanding aligns with the therapeutic environments outlined by the GHM, therefore the space in which the Learning Programme will be delivered, intends to meet these criteria.

A suitable space was identified at a local church. The space had been recently renovated in neutral colours and natural materials, had accessible toilets in the adjacent room and a vast number of electrical outlets for the required equipment. The space met many of the criteria outlined by the GHM and the optimum learning environment highlighted by Blackburn and colleagues. Room hire was offered free of charge eliminating concerns around cost and it had extensive availability. However, other areas of the building would be in use by local community groups out of term time when participants had greater availability. It was not possible for the building to be solely dedicated to those involved in this study, raising ethical concerns regarding who participants may come into contact with. The increased noise and distraction of other populations using the space raised further concerns due to the heightened auditory sensitivities many individuals with FASD experience. This could then lead to a distracting or even somewhat disturbing experience.

Facilitation remained unconfirmed as environmental challenges arose. A space in which a basic animation studio could be set up was identified and whilst it did not meet all of the requirements of the GHM and the FASD population in the first instance, adaptations could be made. However, hiring a space within a publicly accessible building raised further concerns around the safety of participants, resulting in this space being unsuitable. A more suitable and adaptable space that could be solely dedicated to this activity, was not found and therefore locations were to be reconsidered.

Technical Equipment

Challenges surrounding access to the technical equipment had been somewhat resolved through the hiring of rigs from which cameras could be securely suspended. It was understood for a significant period that this would not be possible and therefore the possibility of having custom built rigs was explored during this time. This option would have allowed for a sturdier, more durable and possibly enclosed piece of equipment but came with cost implications which were likely to be unaffordable. Camera and computer equipment were also necessary however it was possible to hire these, with the required software, alongside the rigs. Immediate concern around hiring of this equipment, after cost, was the limited availability. The equipment was only available outside of term time, aligning with expected participant availability, yet added increased pressure to the availability of all other required elements.

 Addressing Needs

As further challenges arose around the implementation of the Learning Programme, it became clear that in order to facilitate such tasks with this particular population, the programme would need to be considered in much greater depth. Specific details such as staff skillsets and the level of staff – participant interaction, participant support needs and how these will be addressed, would need to be confirmed in order for ethical clearance to be gained. Adaptability of the environment to suit participant needs raised logistical concerns and further challenges in terms of ethical clearance. As the researchers’ understanding of FASD developed, refining this approach felt increasingly important to improve the educational experience of this population. Despite the increasing and seemingly unachievable challenges remaining, development of the Learning Programme continued.

The logistical issues and ethical concerns raised previously in this paper highlight the significant need for a much more detailed and in-depth method to be embedded in the Learning Programme to allow for a measurable, verifiable and transferable model to be produced. The decision was made that this study will no longer follow a practice-based approach as opposed to a practice lead approach, and the Learning Programme will no longer be tested in full as part of this research study. An alternative approach was adopted following a practice-based study in which the programme is considered in close detail to develop a conceptual model, with elements of the programme being tested though a new approach. This allows for considerably more time and focus to be applied to the detail required to ensure the Learning Programme is a successful tool in application.

Participants will now be recruited and their primary care givers trained as facilitators in order to carry out testing of small elements of the programme, completing a single lesson rather than the entire programme. Participants can be learners of any age, the programme has not been designed for a specific age group due to the complexities of the neurological aspects of FASD. It is intended that anyone deemed able to benefit from this approach can participant in an adaptation to suit their level of learning. In whatever way the programme is adapted, each session will be delivered with step by step instruction, with creativity and engagement in storytelling at the heart of each session. Feedback from facilitators will be received to influence future developments (outside of this research study) of the programme before larger scale testing can take place.

 Participant Population

Participants of this study will now complete elements of the programme within their home, eliminating need for a specifically designed space to be identified and adapted, as well as the need for participants to travel to a particular location. The transferability of the Learning Programme has been reconsidered to allow it to be delivered easily at home or in schools, a setting familiar to the individual. Participants will be recruited through advertisements on social media, connecting with support groups of care givers to identify anyone suitable and interested in participation. Participants remain in the care of their primary care giver, eliminating a significant number of ethical and logistical constraints. For this reason, it is likely that the researcher will never meet participants in person and a very limited amount of personal data is needed to be held by the researcher as a result.


Due to the complexity of FASD, which can display through numerous neurological and physical traits, behaviours are often unpredictable. As a result, individuals without prior experience of the condition will no longer be trained to deliver the programme. Facilitators will now be experienced and knowledgeable of FASD, preferably having experience of individuals with FASD in an educational context. It is not to disregard the skill set, knowledge and talent of animators or teachers, or suggest that the skills from their fields can be easily taught, but prior experience of the population is vital in this instance. This decision was not one that was reached lightly. A significant amount of consideration was placed on each of the options, yet it was decided that due to the primary aim of this programme being a gain in knowledge for the participant rather than the animated output, it would be more beneficial for the knowledge area and strengths of those facilitating to be on the participants population and how their knowledge can be increased from a neurological perspective. This decision was also heavily influenced by personal experience of the researcher, who has taught animation at Higher Education level and delivered training to individuals starting to work with young people with FASD. Close analysis of both experiences truly highlighted the intensity and preparation required to train people to work with individuals with FASD in comparison to the knowledge and skill required to create a basic animation.

As an animation-based learning tool, this oversight of animator expertise may raise criticism of this research, particularly within the animation community. However, when discussing animation as a therapeutic tool, Hani suggests that anyone can call themselves an animation therapist, stating ‘there is no requirement for anyone to have completed previous study in animation.’ (Hani 2017, p. 6) This statement suggests that it is the knowledge, experience and qualifications as a therapist that are required to take on such role, supporting the belief that experience and knowledge of FASD is of greater importance than previous study of animation. Therefore, the skills and expertise of animators must be overlooked to an extent to give focus to the purpose (the learning embedded in the production process) over the artistic outcome. When discussing her role as facilitator, Eckersley notes that she has “always endeavoured to demystify the technology and present the medium of animation at its most basic, trying to ensure that the process doesn’t detract from the message being communicated.” (Eckersley 2017, p. 74) Eckersley’s experience is particularly relevant to the Learning Programme as the message being communicated within the production displays the learning that has occurred as the participant communicates their understanding through the animated production.

The staff team of animators, teaching assistants, observers and professionals is no longer required for this study, eliminating a significant number of logistical challenges around recruitment and availability as discussed previously. Parents, careers, educators and many others can now be trained in the facilitation of this programme, allowing for wider transferability. In addition, this shift takes animation further from the arts and film making field and allows it to be applied and viewed as a valuable and beneficial tool in alternative settings.

Facilitator training

Facilitator training will be provided to (the primary care givers of) individuals identified to participate in this study. Training can be provided via online video call and a detailed Literature Pack provides ongoing support. A short, yet in-depth discussion on why animation is so valuable for this application will begin the training and further opportunity for discussion, and questions will be available at the end. This training will ensure facilitators are confident in the delivery of all required elements of the programme session they will participate in. Training will provide a wider understanding of the chosen approach to animation production and its application within the structure of the Learning Programme, as well as familiarisation with any technology and software.

Literature Pack

Facilitators will be supported by a literature pack containing a detailed programme overview outlining the structure of each session, the required production elements and the learning objectives of each task. The literature pack will highlight tasks that must be completed with a very structured approach and others where a little more participant creativity can be accommodated, such as the sound recording session. It will discuss all aspects of facilitation of the programme, providing ideas and suggestions for any areas in which facilitators may require further support. Materials such as instructional animations for facilitators to introduce new tasks, will also be included. Instructional animations will be used to deliver instruction (visually and audibly) of each new task, ensuring consistency of language and approach. This pack is intended to ensure that each application of the programme is delivered within the required parameters, ensuring a best practice approach is achieved on each occasion.


Whilst the learning environment is known to impact the learning experience of this population and the environment outlined previously by Blackburn and colleagues (Blackburn et al. 2012, p.61) is desired, it raised concerns around the transferability and accessibility. Creating or adapting spaces specifically for this purpose is costly and it is expected that accessibility of the programme would be reduced for this reason.

Blackburn and colleagues highlight the need for ‘opportunities for small group work/small class sizes’ (Blackburn et al. 2012, p.61) to accommodate the needs of those with FASD however, it was decided that this programme will be delivered on a one-to-one basis on all occasions, not only for testing. This decision was reached for a number of reasons; the opportunity for adaptations in educational content, approach and environment, the individuality of participants needs, traits and behaviours, and the intense focus and attention required by the facilitator to each individual, each of which are discussed in detail below. An individualised approach to learning, creativity and environment strengthens the success of this approach as each application addresses the specific needs of the participant. Distractions can be minimalised and breaks can be taken as facilitators feel necessary. Facilitators will provide undivided attention, observing participants throughout completion of their tasks in order to rectify any areas of learning or animation production, enabling each participant to engage in animation production in ways that furthers their understanding of the topic. There will be a number of opportunities for facilitators and participants to engage in discussion and role play and utilise the concept of guided play. This approach further strengthens the case for programme delivery to be carried out by someone familiar with the individual, their condition and its presentations.

Technical Equipment

As stated previously, animation studio style spaces are no longer required. A camera, this could include a phone or tablet, suspended from a rig (tripod or home-made support) and a computer with basic software is all that will be required. The software is yet to be identified due to the vast number of applications available however, questions are raised around the need for a particular programme to be used. If facilitators have previous experience of basic animation apps, is it necessary to enforce a new approach that requires learning of new software? This question remains.

Cut-out animation is confirmed as the chosen approach and will utilise a collage of materials on a flat surface. Cut-out animation is expected to retain attention further as it requires less technical equipment than other approaches. The reduction in technical equipment allows for greater opportunity of transferability as the programme becomes more accessible to a wider range of participants through reduced equipment needs and associated costs. Collage will be used for image production due to the range of materials that could be used, recycled materials or household items for example, allowing participants to explore a range of different colours, textures and uses of objects. Participants will be encouraged to be creative in their approach to image production and to use this opportunity to communicate their understanding through artistic practices. Collage allows a kinaesthetic approach to sessions early in the production process, enabling participants to engage through choice of approach.

Updated session structure

The Learning Programme is centred around a set series of one-hour sessions, with detailed learning requirements and artistic/production outputs for each session. The two-hour length of sessions following the GHM was considered too lengthily for this population to sustain attention and one hour deemed much more suitable. Hani describes the pre-production process of animation film making as a “linear, semi-structured approach” (Hani 2017, p. 23). For the purpose of this application, the pre-production process is required to follow the structure as outlined below to allow for the educational elements to be approached sequentially. This structured approach aids repetition in all possible areas and a clear process for facilitators to follow.

Kopera-Frye and colleagues note that individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol evidenced striking deficits on number processing tasks and selective impairments in the numerical domain (1996, p. 1187) and it is for this reason that the Learning Programme will focus on addressing deficits in areas of the maths curriculum. Further study highlights that individuals with FASD generally have difficulties with abstract concepts such as time and money (Watson and Westby 2003, p. 196) therefore the opportunity to consider time at a micro level through a multidimensional approach will be captured in this application. The Learning Programme allows ones understanding of time to be reconsidered in great detail and manipulated through real time playback and visualisation, providing building blocks of knowledge and understanding for the participant to construct through independent learning. Familiarity of the task is an important consideration due to the known difficulty with abstract concepts therefore the familiar task of brushing teeth was chosen as the animation topic. Brushing teeth has a fixed duration of 2 minutes, allowing a clock to be displayed within the animation showing the passage of 2 minutes and the animated brushing of teeth to last for a 2-minute duration. It is also a task completed twice daily and so the production can be easily repeated with slight alterations of background to visualise the task at different points in the day.

For research testing purposes, the Learning Programme focuses on the concepts of time and sequencing and will give context through animating a story about brushing your teeth as described. However, it is expected that one the programme is refined, a range of topics can be applied. Using the example of brushing teeth, the session structure is as follows:

  • Story Writing: During this session, participants will share the story of how they brush their teeth. They will verbally explain the process to the facilitator, who will then encourage role play to act out and further consider the actions required, encouraging a more in-depth discussion so that the participant has to place greater focus on this task. The story shared will then be written down with the assistance of the facilitator.
  • Script: The story will then be used to develop a script. This will be achieved through role play, highlighting specific instructions required to accomplish each stage of the task. The facilitator can ask questions such as “how often should we brush our teeth”, “how long do we brush our teeth for” and “when do we brush teeth,” to generate discussion and encourage the required statements. The script will be later used to record narration.
  • Character Design: During this session participants will produce their character(s) using a collage of different materials. The participant will be able to freely explore their own creativity through the design of their character intended to represent themselves.

    The character design session and the background and prop design session which follows can be combined into one session if this approach is deemed more appropriate and beneficial for the participant.

  • Background & Prop Design: As with the character design session, participants use a collage approach to create the background and props for their production. The background should represent the space in which they would carry out the task (in the example of brushing teeth, the space would be the bathroom) and all elements will be fixed in position. Props can also be created during this session as required.
  • Storyboard: Storyboards will be produced to create a visual representation of the story that was written in a previous session, using a Social Stories (Gray & Garand 1993, p.2) approach. These sessions will be active, encouraging the participant to use role play to transfer the written story/script to a visualisation of actions.

    The facilitator and participant will engage in discussion around associated sounds and include these in their role play. The facilitator will then encourage the participant to consider what comes next, before discussing it, acting it out and drawing it as the next frame.

    This approach will be repeated until each frame of the storyboard is complete and each of the tasks and actions required has been represented. Each action shown in the storyboard will be connected to each action stated in the script.

  • Sound: Participants will record the narration using the script produced. The sound effects highlighted during role plays can now be created by whatever means the participant wishes. This approach allows for a significant amount of creativity and encourages exploration of everyday objects and the different sounds they could make, associating them to different actions.

    Prior to this session, an additional session can be added to create an animatic. Photographs of the storyboard can be taken to allow for visualisation of actions to which to associate sounds. For some learners, this may be more beneficial than acting out actions through role play.

  • Animation (likely to span a number of sessions): Collage animations will be produced using the storyboard as a visual reference of scenes and actions to be animated. A camera will be suspended above the workspace with produced artwork positioned below.

    Specific elements, such as the character and props, will then be moved and photographs taken to build up frames of movement, creating scenes of the animation. Scenes will be identified by the facilitator and all frames captured before the opportunity for playback is presented. This allows the participant to remain engaged in the task until completion of that scene and also for the facilitator to determine the length of scenes dependent on participant attention and engagement.

    The animation session can be repeated as necessary to produce the series of short animated scenes required for the production output.

  • Edit: In the editing session, participants will edit animated scenes into the correct sequence to produce an animation or their story. Once the visuals are correctly sequenced, the audio clips will be added and aligned with the associated visual actions.

Each session will follow the same structure as closely as possible. Tasks and production approaches/outcomes will alter as highlighted above but will remain in keeping with the session structure. This structure has been determined for a number of reasons including:  familiarity with the structure, to lessen uncertainty and anxieties around what is next, to allow for visual timetables or Now & Next boards to be used and to provide the facilitator with a structure to follow.

The structure of the sessions is as follows:

  • Discussion around previous session. The participant is asked what was completed and learned. The facilitator may show completed elements as visual reminder.
  • Introduction of next task – viewing of instructional animation
  • Discussion of instructions – facilitator gains indication of level of understanding
  • Ideation, Role play and Planning
  • Set up – gather required equipment and materials, prepare workspace
  • Complete task
  • Debrief – discuss what was done, how and what was learned
  • Repeat for next task (if time allows)

The repetition of tasks during production allows the child time to process their understanding, increase problem solving skills and promote independent learning under the supervision of a facilitator, as they move through the production process. This allows opportunity for deep exploration at each stage and eliminates pressures around time of task completion. This approach will not see a completed animation produced until each individual reaches the final stages of the Learning Programme when productions are finalised and exported. Upon completion, the films produced can be used as a visual and audio tool to remind participants of the learning experience they have participated in. The production can therefore be viewed repeatedly to further embed learning and overall participatory experience in memory.

The programme enables participants’ understanding to build through a series of micro level interventions, the same way in which the production builds through a series of micro level production elements and frames. This process forms an approach to learning through verbalisation at each stage, applying discussion and role play between participant and facilitator, whilst allowing for real time visualisation of the concept. This visualisation can be viewed repeatedly with control of play back times, again allowing the participant time to process their understanding as well as allowing control of information delivery speeds. The opportunity to then edit the production where required, provides opportunities for further discussion for the facilitator to ensure understanding. This programme has a significant therapeutic underpinning and whilst it has been designed for the purpose of increasing knowledge in particular subject areas where more abstract thinking is required, the therapeutic aspects of expression and communication through the animation art form are to be considered an additional benefit. It is predicted that this approach to education may engage the participant with learning more so than traditional techniques, enhance problem solving skills, increase levels of communication and improve social skills.


A number of conclusions can be drawn at this stage in the research with the most pertinent being the need for a far more detailed method to be developed than initially expected and practical testing to be downscaled to accommodate this increased time frame. Early findings highlighted the challenges faced in practice-based research surrounding animation production, which were significantly heightened by the essential adaptations to meet the needs of the participant population. Lessons learned throughout development of this study have significantly influenced the approach to the present day thinking. It was essential for the researcher to fully understand and accommodate new learning from which challenges arose in order to refine the model throughout the study.

It can be concluded that facilitators of this model are to be experienced in working with those with FASD and will be trained in foundational knowledge of animation production for the purpose of programme delivery. Facilitators will be supported by detailed documentation in the form of a Literature Pack. Testing will now be carried out on a small scale in order to gain feedback of application and user engagement.

The importance of exploring the use of animation for this purpose has been highlighted within this paper and the purpose and practice of animation has altered significantly throughout the development of this study. There is still a clear need for more specific detail in certain areas however, the Learning Programme continues to evolve as the study progresses and an increased understanding of the relationship between animation production, education and FASD evolves.



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