The Ateneo Laboratory for the Learning Sciences brings educational data mining to the fore

February 12, 2019
The Ateneo Laboratory for the Learning Sciences (ALLS) is situated in the heart of Ateneo’s newly-minted Areté, in the bridgeway between the Arts wing and the Innovation wing. Established by Dr. Ma. Mercedes T. Rodrigo of the Department of Information Studies and Computer Science (DISCS), the lab is a place where creativity and innovation flourish.
ALLS is responsible for apps like Igpaw: Intramuros and Igpaw: Loyola—a location-based, augmented reality (AR) game and Ibigkas!, a collaborative mobile game for learning rhymes, synonyms, and antonyms. Since its founding in 2010, the lab has published over a hundred journal articles, conference papers, and workshop presentations.
ALLS is composed of faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni of Computer Science from the Ateneo de Manila University and interns from partner universities such as Ateneo de Naga. ALLS collaborates regularly with institutions abroad, including the University College London and the Penn Science of Learning Analytics at the University of Pennsylvania.
An extension of an already existing work
Rodrigo has been writing grant proposals to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) since the late 2000s. 
Ma. Mercedes T. Rodrigo, PhD is a professor in the School of Science and Engineering and specializes in educational technology, intelligent tutoring systems, and affective computing.
“They were just small projects that all had to do with technology and education,” Rodrigo says.
The opportunity to establish the lab arose when collaborators from the US was unable to secure funding for a project they had pitched to the National Science foundation.  
“I asked if they wanted to try to get funding in the Philippines. They were willing to endorse the proposal to me to try to look for funding. In the process, this was an opportunity to institutionalize the work we’d been doing,” she shares.  “In establishing a lab, we could invite students, friends, & colleagues with this place where they could now work.”
Funding did not always come easily. In 2013, funding agencies changed research interests. 
Ateneo staff had the opportunity to play Igpaw: Loyola at the Arete in June 2018.
“There was a lot of emphasis on the creation of products that were commercializable, so anybody who was doing work that was highly theoretical or otherwise didn’t translate to a sellable product in the short run was at a disadvantage,” Rodrigo says. “If you were working on something that was on education, it was hard to get funding.” 
“We found supporters, though.  We received funding from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to do our AR work. We also were able to receive Private Education Assistance Committee (PEAC) for some eye tracking work. And of course, Loyola Schools has been extremely helpful.”
Educational games and data mining
ALLS has two primary goals: one is “to derive new insights about how students learn through quantitative analyses of student interactions with computer-based learning environments” and the other is “to build tools that support learning and the analysis of learning.”
Igpaw: Intramuros and Igpaw: Loyola are augmented reality games that follow classic adventure game format: Players are given a missions to complete in order to win. Igpaw: Loyola, as the name implies, is set in the Ateneo de Manila campus, “with the player assuming the role of an agent of the Department of Magic, Anomalies, Ghosts, Immortals, and Spirits (M.A.G.I.S.). Walking the Loyola Schools campus with a mobile device, the player hunts down creatures from Filipino lore, with the help of some of the University’s legendary Jesuits.”
Learning Likha
Beyond AR games, the lab also has an app for English language comprehension. “One is called Ibigkas!,” Rodrigo shares, “which helps with phonemic awareness, for learning synonyms and antonyms. We have another game called Learning Likha which is supposed to help with identifying details.”
Rodrigo demonstrates Igpaw: Loyola.
“The other side of the work which I talk less about tends to be very unfriendly to laymen,” she laughs, “is that we do a lot of educational data mining.”
“We collect data from students using specific types of applications and we run that data through various statistical or machine-learning analyses to examine phenomenon of interest.”
“For example,” she explains, “if you’re interested in tracking student boredom or confusion or persistence, we try to go through the interaction data and build models of those constructs.”
Ibigkas! also has a physical card game version.
Pressing forward
What began partly as a vehicle for Rodrigo’s graduate students to finish their degrees—which yielded many of her favorite moments as she watched them succeed—has now grown into a full-fledged laboratory that produces research outputs and creates mobile applications regularly.  
Rodrigo speaks to grade school teachers during a workshop with the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED).
Last year, the lab hosted the 26th International Conference on Computers in Education, which saw attendees from all over the world. ALLS continues to give workshops and talks in schools and institutions, recently completing a workshop with the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED) where they launched two of their games.
In 2020, ALLS will celebrate its first decade. Rodrigo is confident that the lab’s efforts will continue to grow.
“What those games have enabled us to do is work with the Mind Museum and Museo Pambata to create applications for them. We have a game for them that is supposed to be coming out relatively soon, within the next two or three months.”
ALLS continually demonstrates itself to be visionary, collaborative and pioneering, befitting of the owl in its logo, after the goddess Athena’s familiar. 

Igpaw: LoyolaIgpaw: Intramuros, and Ibigkas! are all downloadable for free on Google Play and the App Store.