Big Deal Media
Mixed-Reality System to Improve STEAM Learning


NoRILLA (novel research-based intelligent lifelong learning apparatus) is a mixed-reality system that combines physical and virtual worlds to improve children’s STEAM learning in an enjoyable and collaborative way. Based on scientifically proven research at Carnegie Mellon University, NoRILLA’s specialized AI algorithm tracks what students are doing in the physical environment and provides personalized interactive feedback to children as they experiment and make discoveries in the real world.



Getting Smart
NoRILLA: Mixed Reality That Improves Learning


Research at Carnegie Mellon University with over 200 children in two elementary schools and museums has shown that the NoRILLA (Novel Research-based Intelligent Lifelong Learning Apparatus) system improves children’s learning by 5 times compared to equivalent screen-based tablet or computer-based learning, while also increasing their enjoyment.


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NoRILLA - An educational system bridging physical and virtual worlds

NoRILLA is a mixed-reality educational system that is designed to combine physical and virtual worlds to improve children's STEM learning in an interactive, fun and collaborative way. A research conducted at Carnegie Mellon University with over 200 children showed impressive results, where learning was improved 5 times compared to similar systems/tools.


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Montour Elementary opens world's first Lego Brick Makerspace

Montour Elementary children react as they watch to see which tower would fall over first during an 'earthquake' at the NoRILLA (Novel Research-based Intelligent Lifelong Learning Apparatus) station inside the school's new Brick Makerspace during its grand opening Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. The room, supported by Lego Education solutions, is the world's first and was designed as a space to allow students the 'opportunity to design, make and think creatively,' according to a release from the district.


Human Computer Interaction Institute
PhD and Postdoc Win Gold Awards at Reimagine Education Competition


Based on proven learning techniques for students in kindergarten through grade 5, Yannier’s project fosters curiosity by combining the benefits of physical play along with technology.

NoRILLA, started by Yannier and her PhD advisors Ken Koedinger and Scott Hudson, is a patent-pending mixed-reality learning system that uses camera sensing and a specialized computer vision algorithm to track students’ interactions with physical objects and give personalized interactive feedback according to their actions in the real world.

EarthShake, the first educational game for the NoRILLA system, was designed to teach early physics principles through hands-on learning.



Education Week
Montour Schools: Home of the Evolving Educators

The LEGO Makerspace is also home to NoRILLA (below), an online and hands on system that helps students evaluate building stability in a seismic zone. Students pick or build towers and subject them to shaking to see if one or both of them falls over and in doing so they learn some physics.

The elementary schools feature the 26 Club: students that run 26 miles, read 26 books, and complete 26 acts of kindness.

Every K-12 student has a Chromebook (including special touchscreen Chromebooks for students grades K-4). Google classroom is used to make and manage assignments in grades 3-12.



The journal
The STEAM-Powered Elementary School: Montour Opens World's First Lego-Themed Brick Makerspace

According to Nesra Yannier, a researcher at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and founder of NoRILLA, the mixed reality and interactive guidance provided by the system's AI have been shown to improve learning by a factor of 5 when looking at pre-tests and post-tests.

The interactive guidance also helps teachers, especially those without science backgrounds. Teachers said the interactive system helps them with their teaching. "So our goal is not to replace the teacher but to aid them in the class. We create a lot of lesson plans for teachers to be able to use it in the classroom easily."



Inside AlphaLab: Pittsburgh’s tech accelerator aims to solve the city’s startup challenge

Yannier is the CEO and founder for NoRILLA, which brings together the physical and virtual worlds to help improve STEM learning with mixed reality technology.

Yannier, who received her Ph.D in human computer interaction at CMU and a masters degree from Stanford, said she could have started the company in New York City but decided to stay in Pittsburgh.

“The community is closely tied together, and very friendly and helpful,” she said. “And especially in our case with education tech, there is a great network and customers to talk to. Everyone is trying to help each other rather than compete against each other.”




Eschool news
3 ways districts can use AR and AI

NoRILLA (novel research-based intelligent lifelong learning apparatus) is a patent-pending and award-winning mixed-reality system that combines physical and virtual worlds to improve children’s STEAM learning in an enjoyable and collaborative way. It is based on scientifically proven research at Carnegie Mellon University. NoRILLA’s specialized AI algorithm tracks what students are doing in the physical environment and provides personalized interactive feedback to children as they experiment and make discoveries in the real world.




TechVibe Radio Episode 3: Issues Faced by Foreign National Entrepreneurs

The episode features Matineh Eybpoosh from Watt-Learn and Nesra Yannier from NoRILLA. John Previs counsels both Watt-Learn and NoRILLA and leads the discussion on behalf of Buchanan Labs.



Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Startups target underserved communities at AlphaLab's 2017 Demo Day


The 2017 Demo Day class include: Adrich, which creates smart product labels; ArinTechnologies, which enables indoor location tracking; BlastPoint, a data startup; HVAC efficiency startup HiberSense; bike-safety app LaneSpotter; Lift Link, a fitness center data analytics platform; adaptable housing startup Module; mixed-reality STEM education company NoRilla; and an intelligent Wi-Fi platform called Qlicket.



huffington post
How to Give All Students Moonshot Thinking Skills

... The LEGO Makerspace will be the home of the Novel Research-Based Intelligent Lifelong Learning Apparatus (NoRILLA). NoRILLA is part of CMU Learn Lab, our on-campus research center in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, and is a mixed-reality educational system that bridges physical and virtual education to improve children’s science learning.


pittsburgh business times
12 fledgling companies present at AlphaLab's spring Demo Day

Nesra Yannier, the CEO of NoRILLA, a startup out of Carnegie Mellon University that incorporates a special AI algorithm in its STEM learning technology, allowing its program to track children's progress on real-world puzzles and offer interactive feedback, said her product has already been purchased by two school districts, and is in talks with three more, as well as a pilot with (Bright Horizons Family Solutions), a partnership that "opens up an $8 million opportunity" for NoRILLA, Yannier said.



New Hybrid Digital-Physical Games May Improve Student Learning

Nesra Yannier said, growing up in Turkey, school was kind of boring.

“The education system was based on memorization, so I always thought it should be different and should be helping kids understand the reasons rather than memorizing facts,” she said.

When Yannier was working on her Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University, she sought ways to make learning more engaging and struck upon the idea of pairing digital applications with real-word educational toys.



What Kids Can Learn When Blocks Get A Tech Boost

So when she arrived as a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon, Yannier decided to invent a new kind of educational machine with which kids could learn together. Hers would use a real table with real blocks — and a computer at the heart of it that uses motion sensors to “see” what students are doing. A camera transmits a near-infrared light to the objects on the table, and when the light bounces back, like sonar, it sends information back to the transmitter, which forms a 3-D image of what is on the table. Thus, the computer can “see” what shape the block towers are taking and whether or not they’re still standing.



Hechinger Report
Can children learn from a “mixed-reality” game?

Several years ago, after obtaining a master’s degree in learning design and technology at Stanford University, Yannier had misgivings about her career path. “Most technology is so isolating,” she said. “I didn’t want that.”


CMU postdoc's play table for children balances virtual, physical worlds

Yannier's research experiment is part of a partnership between Forest Grove's school district and Carnegie Mellon to see if high-tech ideas can improve teaching and learning. Yannier calls her machine “mixed reality” — part digital and part analog at the same time. Her work is one of several research efforts to let children take advantage of the instant feedback that computerized instruction offers without losing the tactile joys and social interactions of the real world.



Human computer interaction institute
Student Spotlight: Ph.D. Candidate Nesra Yannier

The research behind NoRILLA is inspired by Yannier's desire to reengage children's natural curiosity and encourage them to keep an interest in science, something data suggests 1/3 of students lose interest in as early as the 4th grade. 

Yannier's work on NoRILLA was further encouraged by research from the Hechinger Report that found a younger child's knowledge of the physical and social world was more important in predicting future science achievements than the typically emphasized math and reading scores.

Read More

Remake Learning
New EdTech Fund Forges Vital Ties Between Developers and Teachers

...Yannier is part of a Sprout Fund initiative called the Ed-Tech Refinery, which is supporting efforts by ambitious young visionaries to partner up with educators at schools, libraries, and museums in the Pittsburgh region.

Starting this month, Yannier will be working with first, second, and third graders and their teachers at Montour Elementary School to further test NoRILLA and make the product as useful as possible in the classroom.

Read More


Education Week
Effective Digital Learning Games Blend the Virtual and the Real, Study Finds

Younger students get the most out of digital learning games when the game combines elements of both the real and virtual world, according to new research from Carnegie Mellon University.

Researchers tested three different approaches to teaching simple physics principles through educational gaming to a group of 92 students ages six through eight. One format was entirely flat-screen based, while another version allowed for simple physical controls, in which students shook a tablet to simulate an earthquake, and a "mixed-reality" version incorporated physical observation and interactive feedback into the game.

"Students learned five times more using the mixed-reality game, and also enjoyed the game significantly more," said researcher Nesra Yannier. Tests were administered before and after gameplay to measure the effectiveness of each type of educational game.

Read More

Why tablets can’t replace ‘real world’ in schools

The final analysis shows that the mixed-reality game improved learning by almost five times more than the screen-only alternatives, both in the mouse-controlled and physically controlled conditions.

Not only that, but students enjoyed the game more in the mixed-reality conditions. They also determined that simple physical controls like shaking the tablet or pushing the earthquake button did little to improve either learning or enjoyment of the game.

“Mixed-reality games that support physical observation in the real world have a great potential to enhance learning and enjoyment for young children,” the researchers say.


The Journal
Research: Young Students Learn Better with Mix of Virtual and Real Worlds

"NoRILLA," as the testing platform is called, is a mixed-reality set-up that bridges physical and virtual worlds. The system includes software and hardware components, including a computer depth camera (Microsoft's Kinect for Windows) to provide personalized feedback while experimenting in the real world.

The researchers designed an experiment to see if 92 children aged six to eight learned better in a mixed reality or on a screen-only educational game. The test also explored what impact the addition of a physical component (like shaking the screen) had on the students' enjoyment of the activity.


Silicon ANgle
Educational games are more effective when they’re hands-on, study finds

Using video games as an educational tool is not a new concept, and edutainment titles have been around since at least the days of Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Lately, educational games have been moving into the mobile space much like everything else, but a recent study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University shows that mixing games with real world interaction is substantially more effective than touchscreen games alone.

“As screen-based technologies such as tablets or computer games become increasingly more appealing for children, it is worth asking whether real-world interaction is really needed to enhance learning and enjoyment,” researcher Nesra Yannier said in a video abstract for the study.


Microsoft Developer
Kinect sensor helps facilitate learning

We all know that children can learn from videos. But many educators have questioned the effectiveness of such learning when compared to the understanding that young children derive from working with tangible objects...In a series of experiments, the researchers compared the effectiveness of virtual lessons to those that used a mixed-reality of virtual plus real-world interactions. 

...The results were startling: on tests comparing the childrens’ understanding of structural stability and balance before and after EarthShake, the youngsters who had experienced the Kinect-enabled version showed nearly five times greater improvement in comprehension. This led the researchers to conclude that mixed-reality instruction is more effective than teaching with only videos. They aim to extend their patent-pending method and technology to create a new educational system that bridges the advantages of the physical and virtual worlds via Kinect, with a goal of improving children’s science learning, understanding, and enjoyment.