Free SpeakApp!-Kids helps children overcome fear of public speaking
Free SpeakApp!-Kids helps children overcome fear of public speaking

Free SpeakApp!-Kids helps children overcome fear of public speaking

For many primary school children, it is a cause for enormous stress and sleepless nights time and again: class presentations. A new, free app helps children with fear of public speaking to prevent and overcome this fear. The SpeakAPP!-Kids app, developed by Radboud University researchers, allows them to practise as much as they want in a virtual reality environment.

Fear of public speaking is a problem that usually starts early and can haunt a person their entire life. After all, public speaking is not only an important element in school, but often at work as well. “The only way to address it is to practice as often as possible,” Wolf-Gero Lange explains. Lange is Assistant Professor in Clinical Psychology at the Radboud University Behavioural Science Institute and one of the researchers involved in creating SpeakAPP!-Kids. “But that is difficult in practice. You cannot put a child in front of a class every week, and practising at home with stuffed animals or family members is not quite the same. Besides, after five times, grandpa and grandma often also get a bit tired of the practising.”

Through SpeakAPP!-Kids, children can practise in front of a virtual class. This makes the audience less scary and helps the children to better master their narrative. Children open the app on their phone, place the phone in simple cardboard VR glasses and then see a 360° video of a classroom. Lange: “The VR technology makes it look like they are really in front of a class. They can also look around them. We have videos of different primary school classes, so children of any age can practice with the class that suits their age. Children from years 2 and 3 see a circle arrangement, children from the upper years see children sitting at tables. There is also a teacher present. For children who want to build it up more slowly, there are also videos of empty classrooms. The recordings were all made in a real primary school to make the practice situation as familiar as possible.”

Research shows that the app is effective in both preventing and reducing fear of public speaking. In the research study, a class of children from years 4, 5 and 6 was given the opportunity to practise with the app three times before giving a class presentation. A parallel class did not get this opportunity. “The children who practised with the app were on average less anxious during and after their presentation. They were also quicker to calm down and were less anxious about their next presentation,” says Paul Ketelaar, an Assistant Professor of Communication Science involved in the research study and the development of the app. “We also tested the first prototype of the app for user-friendliness, and improved it further.”

Plans for the future

SpeakAPP!-Kids is aimed at primary school children, but as far as the researchers are concerned, there is room for more options in the app or for other target groups. Lange: “Fear of public speaking can occur at any age. Interviews show that there is definitely a need for, say, a SpeakAPP!-Teens or a SpeakAPP!-Students. And we would like to make the app suitable for a wider, more international audience, with more diverse classes. That way everyone can practice with the class that is most similar to their own.” The app was built thanks to a contribution from the innovation fund of the Radboud Centre for Social Sciences (RCSW). To create new variants, researchers will have to look for new sources of funding.

Radboud Gestures

SpeakAPP!-Kids was launched as part of the 100 Radboud Gestures. Radboud University is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and we are celebrating with 100 gestures for Nijmegen and its residents. In the week from 8 to 14 May, students and employees will carry out selfless actions across the city, ranging from telescopes scattered around the city and workshops in community centres to collecting litter on the Waal beaches. See here for a full overview of all 100 Radboud Gestures.

Photo via Pexels

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Organizational unit
Radboud Centre Social Sciences
Media & Communication, Education, Upbringing