2023 Creative and Research Activity

Creative and Research Activity

The Global Languages and Cultures Room serves as a space to explore pedagogies of learning and approaches to creativity using immersive technologies. It curates projects that offer insights into the potential of these technologies for teaching language, and culture, and addressing challenging topics like culture and identity. The following are a sample of the projects that I have led, fostered, and curated in the room.

Kaleidoscope, developed in 2020 and adapted with funding from the Eberly Center and CMU’s Simon Initiative, explores unconscious bias. The project has been successful, running in the room from drop-in visitors and also being used to facilitate workshops and teaching sessions. Students actively participate, sharing reflections and engaging in discussions about unconscious bias, cultural differences, and the nature of the experience. This project has set a template for future installations.

Playing Kaleidoscope in the Immersive Room

The Other Side is a project developed through the ETC,  incorporating projections onto glass, enabling questions, polls, and media display. Although the pandemic disrupted its progress, the software platform and hardware components have been developed. However, certain aspects, like projection brightness, remain unresolved. Testing a modified version of the project is planned for Fall 2023, with summer preparations to experiment with alternative projectors and switch control to handheld mobile devices. 

Intertwined is a new project exploring storytelling, sharing, and secrets. Combining digital projection with an old analog telephone, the installation guides users through a narrative introduction before inviting them to contribute personal recollections and memories to an archive of oral histories. The project aligns with the room’s mission of providing a safe space for discussing difficult subjects and promoting acceptance and openness around issues of identity. The installation opened in May 2023, with expectations of evolving based on visitor experiences and feedback.

CMU offers numerous groups, institutions, studios, and initiatives that support events, workshops, festivals, and projects. The STUDIO for Creative Enquiry, in particular, aligns with the mission of the Global Languages and Cultures Room by fostering artistic, creative, and experimental outcomes. Both spaces collaborate, promote events, share resources, and facilitate student projects, creating opportunities for future collaboration. 

In Spring 2022, I took my first sabbatical semester and received teaching relief to travel and learn from institutions and organizations that work in immersive technologies. My first visit in February 2022 was to Washington DC, where I visited several institutions, including the National Museum of African-American Culture, the Museum of the American Indian, and The Arts and Industry Building, where immersive technologies, including projection, augmented reality, and virtual reality, are being used to tell stories about their artifacts and exhibits. The most innovative of these, with particular resonance to my work, was Planet Word, an interactive museum of language that included installations by the award-winning design company Local Projects. These installations include interactive books, projection mapping, spatial tools for drawing and writing, and the innovative use of audio and image. 

Immersive Room at Planet Word, Washington DC

This research has already begun to inform future creative projects for the room. For example, in January 2023, in collaboration with Prof. Anne Lambright, a Further-Fund Grant from the Frank Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Enquiry was awarded in January 2023. The grant supports an audio project that explores the life of Te Ata Thompson-Fisher, a Chickasaw storyteller and performer who attended Carnegie Tech from 1921 to 1922. Using research from the CMU Archives, the project aims to create an aural history of Te Ata’s time in Pittsburgh, incorporating archive recordings, found sound, and interview.

Professor Mame-Fatou Niang meets with students in Digital Storytelling in French

Research,  Scholarship and Collaborations

I have had the privilege of presenting and leading sessions at various conferences, showcasing the work of the Global Languages & Cultures Room. These experiences have allowed me to witness the evolution of our work, from discussing the room’s potential to reporting on content development, immersive technology usage, pedagogies employed, and the creation of relevant courses. 

At the Educause Conference in March 2020, I co-presented “Exploring Culture through Immersive Technologies” with Mark Frydenberg from Bentley University. Our presentation delved into managing and curating spaces for language learning and immersive technologies. In March 2021, I presented “Multicultural Immersion, Relating your World in VR” at the North East Association Language Learning Technologies (NEALLT) Conference hosted by Lafayette College. This session explored the use of VR technology to foster multicultural immersion and connections. During the American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL) Pre-conference Workshop in March 2022, my colleague Prof. Sebastien Dubreil and I facilitated a one-day workshop titled Using 3D Virtual Reality to Promote Critical Language and Cultural Global Competence. The workshop for thirty attendees involved play tests and group activities, allowing participants to explore the potential of VR for language learning. We received excellent feedback following the event, many saying this was the highlight of their time at the conference.

In the past five years, many institutions have looked at the increase in virtual reality and other immersive technologies to enhance visitor experiences. Through new courses, research, and the development of immersive projects, others, such as CMU, have created spaces for this exploration, such as the Global Languages & Cultures Room. I have been invited to visit and present  at institutions across the country, where I have shared the GLRC’s pedagogical and creative work and research while learning from the work of peers.

In Spring 2022, I was fortunate to visit UT Austin’s Texas Immersive Institute, another dedicated space for project creation. Directed by Professor of Practice Erin Reilly, the Institute facilitates immersive projects in much the same way as the Global Languages & Cultures Room, although it draws on a wider application of the technology for medical, engineering, and scientific use. The institute runs a series of Brain Jams or Hackathons, each focused on a different industry sector, for instance, Entertainment, Retail, and Health. Working with Texas Immersive, we have shared expertise, discussed the challenges and opportunities for students working in this area, and sought ways to collaborate. On Nov 22, together with The Johnny Carson Media Center in Nebraska, as three heads of our respective spaces, we were asked to establish an education track at the Infinity Festival, a three day creative media event, of entertainment technology, attended by producers, artists, showcasing the latest production techniques, including the use of AI and Virtual Reality. This event allowed us to  bring CMU, Texas, and Nebraska undergraduate students together to attend the three-day event in the Goya Studios, North Hollywood. There, students met with industry professionals and colleagues at other institutions to talk about innovations in immersive technologies.

Infinity Festival Hollywood

While in many ways, establishing these partnerships provides new opportunities to students, there are many events and conferences, such as Siggraph, Tribeca, IDFA, Venice Biennale, and SXSW, and it is important that the work of the Global Languages and Cultures Room feeds into these, and that students have the opportunity to attend. Going forward, my goal is that the Global Languages & Cultures Room courses will yield more projects to be brought to the screen or showcased at different venues. This year I am attending the Sheffield Documentary Festival and hope to be able to export various elements, including ideas for immersive pop-up spaces and screening programs, back to CMU so that we might launch our event as a fringe event of the CMU International Film Festival.

I continue to seek out collaborators and provide expertise in the field of immersive storytelling, for example; I was  recently invited to  Harvard University, by Prof. Nicole Mills, our collaborator for the AAAL Pre-conference workshop, who also uses VR for language learning;  to speak with her students, in the Graduate School of Education, on her Language Learning and Technology Course. During this visit, I met with Matthew Cook, Digital Scholarship Program Manager for the Widener Library, and students and staff at Harvard Business School, where Cook provides consultancy on immersive technologies, including learning in virtual spaces. We met staff in the archives, who were using photogrammetry techniques to capture artifacts in 3D so that students could inspect and analyze a variety of specimens, including geology, and anatomy samples. During this time I was able to visit MIT, and met with colleagues and graduate students working with immersive technologies at the MediaLab. This was arranged by colleagues collaborating with the MediaLab on projects for Harvard Business School.

Graduate School of Education, Technology Enhanced Language Learning Course – talk with Stephan Caspar

I also contributed to Games for Change’s XR Games Jam, joining a team to create a VR game that explored themes of content moderation, disinformation, and hate speech. In July 2022, I presented “No More Talking Heads! – A Playful Approach to Video and Media Creation in Education and Academia” at the Playful Learning Conference. This presentation looked at the use of mainstream production techniques for media in teaching and research. At the MLA Conference 2023, I showcased a poster highlighting the new Minor in Immersive Technologies for Arts & Culture as part of the inaugural MLA Innovation Room.  I am excited to present “Immersive Technologies for Language and Culture: Blending a multiliteracies approach to Storytelling and Technology” for the IALLT Inclusion for CALICO Conference in June 2023.

Through these conference experiences, I have expanded my professional networks and deepened my understanding of the academic landscape regarding Immersive Technologies and their application in language and cultural learning. I am committed to further disseminating my work and exploring potential collaborations for future research projects. 

I continue to write and contribute to public scholarship through my medium publishing account and weekly Substack newsletter. I have received commendations and testimonials from readers for my personal newsletter where I write about pedagogy, creativity, technology, and working in the US.  Additionally, I have published in specialist publications such as the Bloomsbury Handbook of Technology Education, and the Routledge Handbook of Language Program Development, and collaborated with the Digital Library Federation (DLF) on a toolkit of Lesson Plans on Immersive Pedagogy, which is published as an Open Educational Resource (OER). I publish my syllabi via my website https://dotsandspaces.uk/educatespaces/ and include a semester plan and reflections on my work. I think it is important to share openly, invite feedback and work in a transparent manner.