eCute: Education in Cultural Understanding, technology enhanced

eCute: Education in Cultural Understanding, technology enhanced

Projektstart: 01.09.2010
Projektträger: EU (Europäische Union)
Projektverantwortung vor Ort: Prof. Dr. Elisabeth André
Beteiligte Wissenschaftler der Universität Augsburg: Prof. Dr. Birgit Lugrin (geb. Endrass)
M.Sc. Gregor Ulrich Mehlmann
Dr. Felix Kistler
Publikationen: Link zur Publikationsliste


ecute_logoThe eCUTE Project aims at improving the understanding between different cultural, ethnic and religious groups.


In a 21st century society it is common, that we have to live and work with people from another cultural circle. Often this is no problem, but sometimes it can lead to misunderstandings or even conflicts. A frequent problem is the communication between ethnically different people, though this doesn't mean it is always a matter of language knowledge or rhetoric. A very large proportion of human-human communication is non-verbal (Mehrabian & Ferris 1967). For example a person from Japan is offended by a simple "thumbs up", because for her/him it means "be like that".

To avoid problems like that there are many educational approaches involving case studies and role plays, but to our knowledge there was and is no other project using ICT. A main problem of existing approaches is the lack of interactivity, in case of written material, films or audio, and in case of role plays the difficulty to convey the right meaning. In contrast the eCUTE project uses virtual world simulations including intelligent interactive graphical characters, which represent people from different cultural societies. Hereby the advantages of both methods, the accuracy of written material and the interactivity of role plays, are combined and can be used to target specific problems, rather than being too generic.  

The project will:

  • Develop pedagogical approaches to education in cultural understanding grounded in psychological and educational theory
  • Create believable cultural learning scenarios based on theoretical approaches that connect with the experiences of the target learner groups
  • To establish an operational parameterization of theoretically derived cultural behaviour and use it to create synthetic cultures and characters that behave as if they live within such cultures
  • Develop expressive behaviour for synthetic characters that is culturally appropriate
  • Create two cultural Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), one for late-primary children and the other for young adults based on virtual dramas using synthetic characters with culturally-specific interaction behaviour
  • Evaluate the created systems with stakeholder, teacher and learner groups, demonstrating the learning efficacy of the showcases with the intention of leveraging further funding and commercial opportunities.



The focus of MIXER is to encourage 9-11 year old children to learn how to recognize and resolve cultural conflicts. 

In MIXER, the user plays the role of an invisible friend to provide advice and support to a virtual character, called Tom. During the game, Tom visits a summer camp and plays a game called Werewolves with a group of virtual characters. During the game, Tom asks the child user for advice. For example, which of the other characters he should accuse and why, and how he should react when he is accused. After playing with one group of children, the yellow team, Tom then meets the red team, a different group to play Werewolves with. During the interaction with the red team, Tom and the user are confronted with crucial changes to the Werewolf game’s rule set, leading to a critical incident. This leads to a potential conflict situation that the child user helps Tom to resolve. MIXER’s message is that different cultures, as represented by the red and yellow teams, have different rule sets. Secondly, that conflict arising from rule differences can be understood and resolved by cooperating with one another through talking and shared understanding.

For interaction with MIXER we used Apple iPads. The iPad is connected via Wi-Fi and sends and receives messages to and from our virtual character engine. The iPad was selected as the appropriate input device as using it adds to the user’s sense of fun and play. It also reinforces the user’s role as Invisible Friend to Tom.

For intuitive interaction, we intorduce a pictorial interaction language that shall provide an enjoyable approach to interacting with a virtual character and helps support the children's experiential learning, allowing them to concentrate on the content of the cultural learning scenario. 

Children interacting with MIXER:


iPad as interaction interaction device:


Icons from Pictorial Interaction Language (PIL) with intended meanings:



Traveller (Train for Virtually Every Locality) is the name of the VLE aimed at young adults (18-25 year olds). The virtual 3D scenario is created using the Unity3D game engine. Further, we use agents with culturally-adaptive behaviors based on the Hofstede Dimesions of culture and using the Fatima agent architecture.  For interaction, we decided to integrate full body interaction which is based on gesture recognition technologies of the Full Body Interaction framework (FUBI).
To define the gesture set, we conducted a study for creating a user defined gesture set, in which users spontaneously invented gesture according to the in-game actions presented to them in an interaction-free Traveller version.
As the study also revealed problems during dialogue parts with many different options, we decided to further include a menu based on swiping gestures to choose between the different options in those cases.


Traveller Agents:

Default gestural interaction:

 Additional Swipe menu for more complex dialogues:

Users inventing new gestures in our gesture study: