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IES Grant

Title: VESIP: Virtual Environment for Social Information Processing Assessment Tool for Upper Elementary and Middle School Children
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Russo-Ponsaran, Nicole Awardee: Rush University Medical Center
Program: Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2019) Award Amount: $1,599,988
Goal: Measurement Award Number: R305A150189

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to further develop and validate the Virtual Environment for Social Information Processing (VESIP), a computer-based assessment of social information processing skills in third through seventh grade students. The ability to accurately interpret social cues and resolve conflict is a strong predictor of academic success, yet few tools exist to measure the social information processing skills that support this ability in school-age children. VESIP uses an interactive, simulated environment with customizable avatars to assess students' understanding of different types of social encounters (e.g., bullying/teasing, joining a group of peers already playing together) typical in school settings (e.g., classroom, cafeteria). VESIP is intended to provide schools with the ability to measure children's social information processing skills easily and accurately to intervene if needed to support success in school.

Project Activities: In this project, the researchers will first improve the functionality of VESIP for schools by developing a web-based delivery platform to support wide-scale administration and automated score reports. This initial development work will be followed by a field trial in three Illinois school districts to determine VESIP's psychometric properties and to determine if any items need to be changed. The final phase of the project involves recruitment of a nationally representative sample of students to establish preliminary norms for scoring.

Products: Researchers will produce a fully developed and validated web-based assessment of social information processing skills in children from third through seventh grade, and peer reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in schools in three suburban Illinois school districts and nationwide.

Sample: For the field trial, approximately 450 third through seventh grade students and their teachers and other school staff will participate. For the norming study, approximately 1,350 third through seventh grade students will participate.

Assessment: Virtual Environment for Social Information Processing (VESIP) was developed under a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and is based on the Crick and Dodge six-step model of social information processing (event encoding, analysis of social cues, goal formation, strategy formation, evaluation, selection and enactment). In VESIP, children assume the role of the primary avatar, named Alex, who can be personally customized by selecting gender, hair color, and clothing. During the 40-minute assessment, Alex participates in five different types of social situations (e.g., ambiguous provocation, bullying, peer entry), each presented across two settings within the school environment (e.g., classroom, cafeteria). During these social situations, Alex is asked about his or her understanding of and response to these situations by another avatar, named Dana.

Research Design and Methods: The project will take place in three phases. Phase I is focused on the development of a web-based delivery platform to support wide-scale administration and an automated score report for ease of use by school administrators. In Phase II, to assess the psychometric properties of VESIP, 450 children will complete VESIP, an alternate social information processing assessment, and academic measures. In addition, teachers and other school staff will complete two social competence questionnaires. During Phase III, VESIP will be administered to a nationally representative sample of 1,350 children in third through seventh grades to confirm the psychometric properties of the assessment modules and to guide development of preliminary norms.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: Researchers will assess validity using the Social Information Processing Application, School Social Behavior Scales - Second Edition and the Taxonomy of Problematic Social Situations for Children. The relationship of social information processing to academic achievement will be assessed using AIMSwebTM reading and math tests.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use Rasch modeling to evaluate aspects of construct validity for each dimension of social information processing that is measured by VESIP, to estimate item and threshold difficulties, to screen items for adherence to model requirements, and to assess differential item functioning. Researchers will use multi-level path analyses to evaluate the convergent and discriminant validity of the assessment. Finally, the research team will use hierarchical linear modeling and multi-level structural equation modeling to evaluate the relationship between social information processing scores and criterion measures.

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