College of Education debuts IDEALL

By Vivienne Henning

The college researched how technology can be used in the classroom as well as how students interact with and learn from technology. This curiosity led to the development of the Illinois Digital Ecologies and Learning Laboratory.

“We really wanted to create a space where we could both create and study a learning environment,” said Emma Mercier, assistant professor in Education. “A space where it’s flexible and easy to change what’s going on.”

Robb Lindgren, assistant professor in Education, said members of the department began working with architects to coordinate what should be included the lab about a year ago, after the location was selected in the College of Education.

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“We started those conversations about what should be in the room, while also working pretty hard on applying for external funding to support the types of projects that would be complimented by the lab’s facilities,” Lindgren said. “Both Dr. Mercier and myself had managed to get National Science Foundation, NSF, funded grants to support research related to these technologies that are being done in the lab.”

The University and the College of Education jointly invested nearly $700,000 into the physical infrastructure and initial set of technologies for IDEALL. Academics working with the lab will also received $4.1 million in federal grants to conduct research. $2.4 million of the grant money will go toward the University and the college.

There are a vast range of different technologies within the lab including 55 inch multi touch tables, a grid system in the ceiling to easily move cameras, projectors and microphones, as well as augmented reality surfaces.

“We’ve got wireless microphones and (pan-tilt-zoom) cameras that we can easily move around the room, change, refocus them, get different angles on groups so we can actually get one or two views on a group of students working together and then later on go back and look at a video and try to work out how the technologies are influencing their interactions and learning opportunities,” Mercier said.

The lab allows researchers to focus on the many different types of interactions students come across in the classroom. Footage of how the students interact with each other as a group and go about interacting with the various technologies at their disposal is collected and analyzed to see what helps students learn and what areas can be improved.

“The way we designed the IDEALL is to create a platform where, because of the combination of 360 cameras and of wireless directional mics we are able to capture all sorts of interactions,” said Fouad Abd El Khalick, associate dean for research and research education. “We can capture the streams of data — if students are clicking, sketching, typing — we can capture all this data, store them, and make them the object of analysis. So when we’re testing our new technology in our learning environment, we’re able to know what’s going on.”

While one of the functions of the lab is to assess and analyze the interactions and learning processes of students, another aim is to connect the campus.

The lab is a campus classroom, where researchers from all University colleges can go to analyze and develop technologies and work to improve them.

“I’m really excited about this being a place where the College of Education gets to collaborate with people across campus. The questions that we ask in education are actually pushing other fields as well so it’s a nice position to be in,” Mercier said. “Schools really should be getting the best technology available and the most innovative opportunities for students, so this a chance for us to actually do that.”

Lindgren said the lab is bringing in researchers from every corner of the University.

“That was really the motivation behind the lab, to bring lots of people together designing and researching new technologies that support learning across the spectrum,” he said.

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