Meet Robb Lindgren

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CIRCL perspectives offer a window into the different worlds of various stakeholders in the cyberlearning community — what drives their work, what they need to be successful, and what they think the community should be doing. Share your perspective.

Robb Lindgren

Robb Lindgren is an assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

How did you get started in cyberlearning?

I started a Learning Sciences doctoral program at Stanford in 2003 working with Roy Pea and a project called DIVER, a video analysis tool. DIVER was my first foray into actual ed tech design and enhancing learning in some innovative way. With DIVER, you have a piece of media, a video––which at that time was simply viewed passively––now being used in a non-passive, interactive way. For example, in DIVER, you could add visual and textual annotations, having an expert point out what’s important in the video event. DIVER made it so that complex and specialized video events could be unpackaged and transformed into something even novices could learn from.

That idea of using technology to enhance experiences and artifacts, and to insert expert-like perspectives into experiences is really what’s driven my work ever since. At that time we were working with video; now I work with virtual environments and augmented reality, which are wonderful technologies based on the notion that we can immerse someone in a new perspective, and perhaps even a new identity. Roy and I have presented a vision of what we call “inter-identity technologies” which describes this new genre of technology interactions that in some way merges your identity with the identity of others, perhaps others with more knowledge and skills than you have currently.

What is unique about your work?

As a learning technologist, people often assume that my starting point for research and design is the technology itself. What’s probably most unique about my work is that I really aim to do the reverse. We already know we’ve got powerful technologies available, and if those technologies don’t do currently do what we want them to do, we can be pretty optimistic that we’ll get to those capabilities in the not-too-distant future. So I really try to focus first on the natural and most productive ways that people learn––I want to know how people move, interact, and think. In my lab we start with basic studies–– interview kids, talk with them about science and what captures their interests––and then we find the technologies that most effectively complements and augments these processes.

In a recent project playing out, for example, we are asking students to explain or express scientific concepts like heat transfer or molecular motion and prompting them to incorporate their bodies, such as with hand gestures, in their reasoning. We then take these patterns back and use them to design an interactive technology that can be controlled with these familiar and intuitive body actions.

If your project succeeds, how could learning be transformed?

Current learning environments are starting to adopt more sophisticated and interactive technologies, things like mixed or augmented realities. But there’s typically no strong pedagogy or learning theory behind the use and implementation of these technologies. The development of current products are often driven just by how sexy or novel the technology is, as opposed to how effective they are at connecting the experience with things we want people to learn. In my lab, we want our technology to allow for embodied interaction, so that students can tap into familiar movements and understandings to create new conceptual learning. We want technologies that allow kids to act things out and make predictions, make real-time data available for discussion and reflection, and develop analytics that allow instructors to identify misconceptions and developing understandings. My projects in particular aim to create a solid demonstration of interactions between body and learning outcomes, such that hopefully they can be a model for other project designs. We want learning to be a space where kids can move, engage, and interact, but at the same time a place where we can expect concrete learning outcomes.

If we walked into a learning environment that was using your technology, what would it look like?

We haven’t yet brought many of these technologies into the classroom, rather we’ve mostly brought classrooms to us through field trips or at science centers. But I would like to eventually see the classroom turn more into a performance and reflection space where students work together to construct a model or system and the rest of the class is available to collect data, ask questions, and test things out. The challenging thing with multiple users with these types of technologies is not just a pedagogical challenge, but also a technological challenge. The new frontier lies in how we bring structure to collaborative interactions with technologies in immersive and embodied environments. The uniqueness of the learning spaces I aim to create involve students moving around in purposeful ways, doing meaningful things with their bodies, and with deep connection to the context they are learning within.

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