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Alissa Antle’s groundbreaking research earns Royal Society nod

October 26, 2015
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By Diane Luckow

A “mindfulness” Android tablet app that uses neuro-feedback techniques to teach traumatized children how to relax enough to concentrate in class has the potential to help millions of children worldwide suffering from attention disorders and anxiety issues.

The app’s creator is Alissa Antle, a professor in SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT). She has spent years pushing the boundaries of computing technology to come up with interactive computer interfaces that incorporate aspects of the body and movement (which she calls embodied interaction) to improve children’s learning.

Her groundbreaking research achievements have won her a place among the 48 emerging Canadian scholars elected in 2015 to join the Royal Society’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

Members work together to provide guidance on issues of importance to Canadians, and to promote Canadian achievements in the arts, humanities and sciences.

“I feel very honoured and grateful to be acknowledged for my work,” says Antle, who joined SFU 10 years ago.

She holds bachelor’s degrees in both systems design engineering and in liberal arts, and a PhD in geography, and spent eight years designing new-media web apps for children before joining SFU.

Her eclectic background, interests and abilities give her an edge when it comes to developing novel research projects that still incorporate the rigours of scientific inquiry.

Antle's research inspires new ways of approaching children's learning

The positive results from her research projects using embodied interaction highlight the importance of using perceptual, cognitive and embodied processes in computational design. At the same time, those results have inspired her to continue developing new ways of approaching children’s learning.

She piloted the mindfulness app with impoverished, traumatized children in the slums of Pokhara, Nepal in 2014, and found a significant improvement in their ability to stay calm, and to focus their attention in class. She plans to continue studying the app’s potential, both in Nepal and at home in B.C., and hopes to commercialize it one day.

mindfulness tablet app

She’s also working on a 3D letter set and platform that serves as an interface for a reading system used on a touch tablet. It incorporates elements of embodied interaction to help dyslexic children learn to read.

The 3D transparent letter blocks, for example, can only fit into the platform’s slots one way, and light up in different colours to represent the different sounds that letters make when they appear in words.

Initial design testing last year was successful and she’s hoping to pilot the latest version this fall with the Burnaby and Vancouver Schoool Districts.

“Most of my research is out-of-the-box,” she says, “and I feel I’ve had great support for that in SIAT”.

She says her most interesting project to date is the mindfulness app and an accompanying app for calibrating and monitoring the children’s brainwave data.

“It touches on so many things that are important to me, such as helping those who are disadvantaged to succeed, providing education to every child, and designing technologies that may positively impact people’s lives rather than add to the clutter,” she says.

“In some ways, it has also been one of the hardest projects, but the payoff is so huge that it feels the most important.”

Antle’s projects have been funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Grand NCE, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Microsoft Research.

For more:

Interactive learning to de-traumatize kids

Museum of Anthropology exhibit features SFU SIAT team’s design and technology