Art Meets Science at IDEALL Lab

This article was created by a Technology Services student employee. Our student employees attend, engage, and report on campus events that feature technology. Students provide a unique perspective on how innovations in technology affect campus life.

By Noah Malmed, Computer Science '15

Students at the University of Illinois have amazing opportunities to be exposed to many different fields of study. For example, despite being a Computer Science major, I have spent a good deal of my time here studying horticulture.

These interdisciplinary opportunities make our school special. They make it possible for very smart people from all different academic backgrounds to collaborate and create innovative technology and research.

This idea is the basis for the Illinois Digital Ecologies and Learning Lab, or as the College of Education has dubbed it, IDEALL. 

I sat down with Beth Niswander, the Director of Strategic Initiatives and Fouad Abd-El-Khalick, the Associate Dean for Research and Research Education, to learn more about the lab.

IDEALL is a part of a College of Education initiative to increase research in cutting edge education technology. In addition to the lab, which cost around $750,000, the college has invested in a cluster hire of new professors that specialize in this area. Click here for more information about cluster hires.

The lab is intended for researchers to study new teaching techniques. Abd-El-Khalick described the lab as “data collection device” because it is chock-full of 360-degree cameras and microphones. 

These surveillance devices allow researchers to non-invasively collect data on students' receptions to different teaching techniques. 

IDEALL lab images

Above: A demo of the camera equipment in IDEALL. Can you find me? (Hint: I’m the doofus taking a picture of a TV screen.)

The lab has been open for around three months, but the College of Education held a grand opening last Wednesday to show off all of its capabilities.

The opening ceremonies included a description of the current work going on the lab. There were three groups, each spearheaded by professors in the College of Education. 

Professor Emma Mercier is studying computer-supported collaborative learning.  She uses IDEALL for its massive multi-touch surface tables.

Professor Robb Lindgren primarily studies the link between body movement and learning. His current project, Energize, which was recently on display at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, was available as a demo in the lab.  

As you can see in the image below, the amount of physical space required for studying learners playing this game is far beyond most spaces provided in the Education Building.

Two visitors playing a game at IDEALL Lab

 Above: Two visitors playing Lindgren’s Energize.

The really cool part about learning about all of the different research going on in the lab was seeing how many different people were working on projects.

There were people from Civil Engineering, Computer Engineering, and Informatics and Computer Science. Undergraduates and professors worked and played side-by-side at the demo tables.

IDEALL student shows off interactive screen

Above: Tai Lin Wu, senior in Computer Engineering, showing off his multiscreen interactive project.

This type of academic diversity seems to be the main goal of the lab.

Indeed, that diversity was the most exciting part of the demo. There are so many smart people on campus but they tend to get separated from one another due to different research interests. It’s really exciting to think about what they can do now that they are working together in the IDEALL lab.