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.

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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.

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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.

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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.