Apr 4, 2010

ASU's SMALLab, a Mixed Reality Learning Environment : Multi-modal, and Collaborative; Links to Publications about Digital Media and Learning for the 21st Century

"Nothing's impossible, we just get smarter and smarter by the day." - Student, commenting about his experiences in the SMALLab environment. 


The research team at Arizona State university, lead by David Birchfield, has worked to create embodied, multimodal, and collaborative mediated learning learning environments using mixed reality that has been in use at Coronado High School with much success. The SMALLab is a learner-centered approach to learning that provides multi-modal, multi-sensory activities that engages learners, and also results in deeper understanding of more complex concepts.


Here is some information from the SMALLab website:

SMALLab @ Arizona State University - 2009 from aisling kelliher on Vimeo.


Video of high school students describing their work in SMALLab (Coronado High School)
"Central to our work is the development of a new interactive mixed reality learning environment, the Situated Multimedia Art Learning Lab [SMALLab]. SMALLab is an environment developed by a collaborative team of media researchers from education, psychology, interactive media, computer science, and the arts.  SMALLab is an extensible platform forsemi-immersivemixed-reality learning. By semi-immersive, we mean that the mediated space of SMALLab is physically open on all sides to the larger environment.  Participants can freely enter and exit the space without the need for wearing specialized display or sensing devices such as head-mounted displays (HMD) or motion capture markers.  Participants seated or standing around SMALLab can see and hear the dynamic media, and they can directly communicate with their peers that are interacting in the space. As such, the semi-immersive framework establishes a porous relationship between SMALLab and the larger physical learning environment.  By mixed-reality, we mean that there is an integration of physical manipulation objects, 3D physical gestures, and digitally mediated components.  Byextensible, we mean that researchers, teachers, and students can create new learning scenarios in SMALLab using a set of custom designed authoring tools and programming interfaces.

SMALLab supports situated and embodied learning by empowering the physical body to function as an expressive interface. Within SMALLab, students use a set of “glowballs” and peripherals to interact in real time with each other and with dynamic visual, textual, physical and sonic media through full body 3D movements and gestures.  For example, working in theSpring Sling scenario, students are immersed in a complex physics simulation that involves multiple sensory inputs to engage student attention.  They can hear the sound of a spring picking up speed, see projected bodies moving across the floor, feel a physical ball in their own hands and integrate how the projected ball moves in accordance with their own body movements to construct a robust conceptual model of the entire system."


SLINK links the various installations of SMALLab, which are found in museums, schools, the Institute of Play in NYC (used with students who attend the digital-games based, technology-rich charter school, Quest to Learn), 
Gaming SMALLab [IOP, ASU]: Lab install at Parsons DT
-Institute of Play's SMALLab

-Arizona State University: A SMALL way to keep up with technology (Sheilah Britton, 5/11/09)

-Arizona State University:  A SMALL way to keep up with technology (Sheilah Britton, 5/11/09)
How SMALLab Works:


SMALLab modules


More about the way it works: SMALLab-Situated Multimedia Arts Learning


About David Birchfield:
David Birchfield is "a media artist, researcher, and educator.  He has created work that spans from interactive music performance to generative software to robotic installationsn to K-12 learning environments. In recent years, this work cuts across three areas of exploration:K-12 learning, media art installations, and live computer music performance."


Some publications:
              Birchfield, D., Megowan-Romanowicz, Johnson-Glenberg, M., Next Gen Interfaces: Embodied Learning Using Motion, Sound, and Visuals – SMALLab. To appear in Proceedings of the American Educational Research Association Annual Conference; SIG Applied Research in Virtual Environments for Learning [ARVEL], San Diego, CA, April 2009.
               Megowan-Romanowicz, M., Uysal, S., Birchfield, D., Growth in Teacher Self-Efficacy Through Participation in a High-Tech Instructional Design Community, to appear in proceedings of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching Annual Conference, Garden Grove, CA, April 2009.





  • Birchfield, D., Thornburg, H., Megowan-Romanowicz, C., Hatton, S., Mechtley, B., Dolgov, I., Burleson, W., Embodiment, Multimodality, and Composition: Convergent Themes Across HCI and Education for Mixed-Reality Learning Environments, Journal of Advances in Human-Computer Interaction, Volume 2008, Article ID 874563.

  • Dolgov, I., Birchfield, D., McBeath, M., Thornburg, H., Todd, C., Amelioration of Axis-Aligned Motion Bias for Active versus Stationary Judgments of Bilaterally Symmetric Moving Shapes’ Final Destinations, Perception and Psychophysics, in press 2008.

  • D. Birchfield, B. Mechtley, S. Hatton, H. Thornburg, Mixed-Reality Learning in the Art Museum Context, Proceedings of ACM SIG Multimedia, Vancouver, BC, October 27, 2008.

  • S. Hatton, D. Birchfield, M.C. Megowan, Learning Metaphor through Mixed-Reality Game Design and Game Play, Proceedings of ACM Sandbox Conference, Los Angeles, CA, August 10, 2008. [pdf]

Institute of Play's SMALLab contact:
          Katie SalenExecutive Director, Institute of Play Associate Professor, Parsons The New School for Design


The Institute of Play, along with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and others, have a number of publications related to technology and learning:

"The mission of The Joan Ganz Cooney Center is to catalyze and support research, innovation and investment in digital media technologies to advance children's learning. Nurturing foundational and "21st century" literacies:

The inaugural focus of the Center—given the national need—will be on determining how technology can help elementary-aged children develop the fundamental building blocks of literacy. These include the vital reading, writing, speaking and listening capabilities that all children must develop during the primary grades. A special emphasis of the Center will be on struggling readers who risk educational failure if they do not catch up to their peers by grade four...Another important focus of the Center is to leverage the potential of interactive media to promote "21st century" literacies that students will need to compete and cooperate in our connected world—competencies such as critical thinking and problem solving, second language competency, inter-cultural understanding and media literacy."

Here are a few background resources from the Institute of Play's resources page:
The following reports will bring you up-to-date about technology and "21st Century" learning.
Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds
The Kaiser Family Foundation - Report - 2010
Wallis, C. The Impacts of Media Multitasking on Children’s Learning & Development
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center - Meeting Report - 2010 (pdf)
Shuler, C. iLearn: A Content Analysis of the iTunes App Store’s Education Section
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center - Report - 2009 (pdf)
Wellings, J., Levine, M.H.The Digital Promise: Transforming Learning with Innovative Uses of Technology
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center - White Paper - 2009 (pdf)
Thai, A. M., Lowenstein, D., Ching, D., and Rejeski, D. Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children's Learning and Health
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center - Policy Brief - 2009 (pdf)
There are a number of similar articles published by CISCO and/or the Metiri Group:
Lemke, C., Coughlin, E., Reifsneider, D. (2009). Technology in the Schools: What Does the Research Say? (pdf)
Lemke, C. (2009) Multitimodal Learning through Media:  What the Research Says (pdf)
Williams, S.M. The Impact of Collaborative, Scaffolded Learning in K-12 Schools: A Meta-Analysis (pdf)



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