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Connect, Learn, BreakThru: Online STEM Mentoring in Second Life

| Proposal No: 889

Bios & Handouts


  • Chris Langston, UX Researcher - Accessibility, Pearson
  • Robert Todd, Senior Research Scientist, Georgia Tech

Disability Area:          

Topic Area:                

Length of Session (in hours): 1-hrFormat: Lecture Expertise Level: All Levels Type of session: Not provided

Summary of Session

The NSF-RDE BreakThru project has recruited over 30 mentors to guide more than 80 students into STEM education and careers. Using social media and a virtual environment, BreakThru allows students & mentors across six counties and universities to connect, learn and break through barriers to success.


Since being presented at AHG 2011, the NSF BreakThru project has recruited over a hundred students and mentors from STEM careers and majors. Students participate in mentoring activities using our Second Life islands, which have been designed for the project as an online mentoring sanctuary. In addition, mentors connect with their students through a variety of mobile and online communication channels, enabling a truly diverse array of mentoring relationships as unique as each student. Now entering into its third year, BreakThru has undergone numerous revisions to better reflect the needs of our participants, including an increased focus on mobile devices. In addition, researchers are now beginning to package BreakThru as a scalable model for implementation in other locations. This presentation provides a progress report on those efforts.


  1. Challenges of recruitment and retention.
  2. Need to accommodate diverse communication preferences.
  3. Revision of project goals and material.

Speaker Bio(s)

Chris Langston

Chris Langston has a decade of applied and experimental research experience in progressively senior roles as qualitative UX researcher, accessibility specialist, and instructional designer. He has designed and conducted experimental protocols using multiple UX research methods to generate findings from students with disabilities in virtual world environments as a Co-Principle Investigator for the Georgia STEM Accessibility Alliance. He developed and taught a graduate-level course on usability and accessibility for Georgia Tech’s Industrial Design program. At Pearson, Chris leads research related to accessibility for the UX research team within Pearson’s learning design division. He works with designers, product managers, developers, and prototypers to increase conformance with WCAG 2.0 guidelines. Chris also provides expert assistance to expand access to online education products through identification of problems, and application of research methods to reveal accessibility barriers.

Robert Todd

Robert Todd is a Senior Research Scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA). He holds an M.S. degree in Information, Design and Technology from the Georgia Institute of Technology, as well as an M.S. degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Georgia State University. He is the Director of CATEA's Accessible Education and Information (AEI) Laboratory. He is the current and previous Principal Investigator for numerous federal and state funded research and dissemination projects on accessible and universal education, accessible and usable web resources, and assistive technologies.