Ana Villanueva, Ph.D.
In my classes, I emphasize that connections between learning content and everyday artifacts are useful for students’ mental models. Making these connections proves beneficial to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and non-STEM learners alike. For that reason, my lesson plans are guided by project-based learning, a method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects. When students create personal interest projects, they work through evocative artifacts as primary expressions. I’ve seen students design and create a smart house, an alert system, a robot pet, a Minecraft-like voxel world game, among other projects. The design process provides students with a sense of ownership and involvement that cements their understanding of concepts around computational thinking.
In my classes, I also emphasize that the key to students’ success is fostering collaboration between peers, which is also an important aspect of project-based learning. When students share roles, tasks, and information, they tend to learn better. I keep track of these interactions through discussion boards, which is an effective way to measure students’ involvement with the course content. Introspective discussions can help answer different questions students can have about a project. I like to ask: What are the goals of your project? Which parts of the system design do you find challenging or interesting? Which parts do you think will require more resources or help from your instructors? Through questions like these, I am able to map students’ improvement to learning outcomes.
My research encompasses human-computer interaction (HCI), augmented and virtual reality, and mechanical engineering. More specifically, my focus is on designing interactive systems that are conducive to collaborative experiences in learning and training applications. Augmented reality (AR), which superimposes virtual information on the physical world, can be a great tool to provide students with instructional content. My work has embedded AR technologies into interactive systems to deliver content in situ, provide real-time aid from instructors, and facilitate interactions between instructors and students.
My research has included the theory, design, and implementation of technologies aimed at synchronous and asynchronous collaboration in educational and industrial applications. I have focused on real-life experiences that motivate users to create new content, ask questions, give feedback, and work collaboratively. My mission is to create natural virtual interactions that mimic interactions in the physical world as closely as possible to pave the way for high-quality learning and training of new skills.