Research

My umbrella area of research is advanced learning technologies, and I have been working in this area for over 25 years, starting with my first job after college where I designed educational animations for an engineering firm. Going even farther back I programmed educational games on my TI-94A as a 12-year old. Well, that makes it 35+ years in the field (am I really that old?)  All I know is that from the beginning I was hooked!

I am particularly excited about the potential of technology to empower us not just for traditional learning but also for supporting socio-emotional outcomes like empathy, self-regulation and creativity.

I conduct experimental and mixed methods research as well as implement phenomenological and Wizard of Oz research approaches. Research areas of particular interest to me are listed below.

VIRTUAL HUMANS / AGENTS / AVATARS

I am passionate about my research with virtual humans and agents (e.g., pedagogical agents, embodied conversational agents).  I have been active in this area since 1997, right about when Microsoft’s Clippy made his first (annoying) appearance!  I am particularly interested in the possibilities of virtual humans for simulating teaching and learning and supporting the development of affective and motivational outcomes.

HUMAN-CENTERED COMPUTING

Stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, my work falls into the interdisciplinary area of Human-Centered Computing  –  an overlapping of the social sciences and computer sciences. When I was a program officer at the National Science Foundation, I managed a $40M portfolio of awards in human-centered computing, which was a blast.

What exactly is Human-Centered Computing?  The above figure represents this interdisciplinary research area as a three dimensional space comprising human, computer, and environment.

The human dimension ranges from research that supports, extends the capability of and responds to the needs of individuals through teams as coherent goal-oriented groups through society as an unstructured collection of connected people.

The computer dimension ranges from fixed computing devices to which the human has to be proximal, through mobile devices that go anywhere with the human, to computational systems of sensors and visual/audio devices that are embedded in the surrounding physical environment.

The environment dimension ranges from discrete physical computational devices to immersive virtual environments, with mixed reality systems in the middle of this range. The above figure places a subset of human-centered computing topics in this three dimensional space.

AFFECTIVE COMPUTING

Courtesy of the MIT Media Lab, Affective Computing Research Area.

Using technology to detect and support emotions is an area where I see exciting possibilities. I am working on a project to enhance tweens’ empathy towards cyberbullying through virtual reality. The use of virtual humans/agents are particularly powerful within the context of affective computing.