Lisa Tolentino is an interaction designer, musician, researcher and high school art teacher. She recently finished her PhD in Media Arts and Sciences from the School of Arts, Media, and Engineering (AME) at Arizona State University. Her doctoral work focused on building on immersive, embodied and mediated learning experiences for youth with autism, using AME’s Situated Multimedia Art Learning Lab, a.k.a., SMALLab. Prior to ASU, she earned her B.S. in Computer Science and M.A. in Contemporary Music Performance-Percussion, from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). While there, she studied with master percussionist Steven Schick and performed regularly with internationally renowned percussion group redfish bluefish.

Lisa has performed nationally and internationally at festivals that include: Agora Festival in Paris; Los Angeles Philharmonic's Green Umbrella Series; Tune-In Music Festival in New York; La Jolla Music Society’s Summerfest; CalArts’ Dog Star Orchestra; and Phoenix Experimental Arts Festival. Her recordings can be found on Mode Records, Cantaloupe Music, and Human Ear Music, with her recent recording of John Luther Adams’ "Inuksuit" reaching National Public Radio's (NPR) Top 10 Albums of 2013.

Lisa currently plays with Phoenix-based contemporary music ensemble, Crossing 32nd Street. She co-directs the arts collective, urbanSTEW - a group of artist-hacker-performers in Tempe working to elevate the presence, awareness, relevance, and craftsmanship of digital arts in Arizona. Currently, Lisa is a member of the Upper School Arts & Technology faculty at Phoenix Country Day School, teaching courses in media arts, game design, sound design and music performance.

Sea of Signs - An immersive media experience for developing agency in communication for youth with autism.

The Sea of Signs experience is a scenario designed for one of AME’s own immersive media environments, the Situated Multimodal Art Learning Lab (SMALLab). Sea of Signs was created to help youth with autism practice using their voice, by seeing and hearing their voice embodied through color and resonance in a dynamic space around them. SMALLab is an immersive media environment that fits within a standard classroom and is approximately 12’ x 12’ x 12’ in size. The platform allows designers and programmers to create software that synthesizes motion capture data, top-down projection, quadraphonic audio, and audio-visual feedback into an immersive, interactive, and multimodal experience.

For six weeks, Sea of Signs was installed in a public high school, where youth in special education could use it daily. SoS was custom-designed as a conversational interaction for two people. Four years of design-based research and an ongoing relationship with the special education community resulted in heuristics used to create this scenario. The goals of the scenario were to support an individual's agency in the areas of social interaction, communication, and self-expression through embodied design and audio-visual feedback.

Because the cost, collaborative effort, and technical support required to implement systems like SMALLab in schools is so high, studies of such systems in educational contexts, let alone special education, are extremely rare. This installation presents a modified version of the interaction students participated in during the study. For details on the theory, research methodology, and results of the study, please explore her dissertation on the subject: Immersive Media Environments for Special Education: Developing Agency in Communication for Youth with Autism (2013) on UMI ProQuest, and website:

More about the research:

A multiple-baseline design across participants was used to determine the extent to which individuals exhibited observable change as a result of the activity in SMALLab. Teacher interviews were conducted prior to the experimental phase to identify each student's pattern of social interaction, communication, and problem-solving strategies in the classroom. Ethnographic methods and video coding were used throughout the experimental phase to assess whether there were changes in (a) speech duration per session and per turn, (b) turn-taking patterns, and (c) teacher prompting per session. In addition, teacher interviews were conducted daily after every SMALLab session to further triangulate the nature of behaviors observed in each session. Final teacher interviews were conducted after the experimental phase to collect data on possible transfer of behavioral improvements into students' classroom lives beyond SMALLab. Results from this study suggest that the activity successfully increased independently generated speech in some students, while increasing a focus on seeking out social partners in others. Furthermore, the activity indicated a number of future directions in research on the nature of voice and discourse, rooted in the use of aesthetics and phenomenology, to augment, extend, and encourage developments in directed communication skills for youth with autism.