Maria C. R. Harrington, Ph.D.

Maria C. R. Harrington, Ph.D., Ph.D.

Maria C. R. Harrington is an assistant professor of digital media at the University of Central Florida. She is an American information scientist and artist who studies virtual reality for learning, ecological simulation technologies, serious games with respect to causal modeling, human-computer (and environment) interaction in virtual and real space, and immersive new media art with virtual reality.

She has a Ph.D. in information science from the University of Pittsburgh, and undergraduate degrees in art and economics from Carnegie Mellon University  where she studied with computer graphics artist pioneer, Harry Holland.  Her dissertation, “Simulated Ecological Environments for Education (SEEE): A Tripartite Model Framework of HCI Design Parameters for Situational Learning in Virtual Environments,” investigated the empirical inter-relationships between humans, computers, and the environment. She designed and developed the virtual reality software system, The Virtual Trillium Trail, and discovered: 1) Real Environments show more learning than Virtual, there is transfer from the Virtual to the Real, and Real to the Virtual, thus indicating that the best educational practice is to use the two environments together. 2) That when the content in the Virtual matches the Real, the learning outcomes are the same. 3) There is significant interaction between Visual Fidelity, as a design factor, and Navigational Freedom, as a design factor, and the combined condition of both High Visual Fidelity and High Navigational Freedom results in far superior Knowledge Gained on tests, thus proving that both of these factors must be present to have the greatest impact on learning.  4) There is no interaction of the two factors for Salient Events, or changes in student behavior from exploration to deep inquiry, and the main effect of Visual Fidelity is a critical software user interface design factor for increased informal learning activity, inquiry in virtual reality educational simulations. It alone, is responsible for significantly increasing learning activity. Navigational Freedom, as a factor, shows a strong trend. This one project resulted in several journal publications, Springer Virtual Reality, IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, and Children, Youth and Environment, as well as papers published and presented at ACM SIGGRAPH, ACM SIGCHI IDC and ACM DIS, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, and the Proceedings of the Conference on Spatial Information Theory.

Her artwork, as both multimedia and photographic prints, has been shown, and sold to private collectors, and promises a new genre of digital media art with virtual reality. Her artwork is an investigation of landscapes, much like the Hudson River School of the past, and Clifford Ross of the present, and explores ideas salient with humans’ connections and responses to the land.

Art website:


  • Ph.D. in Information Science from University of Pittsburgh (2008)
  • M.S. in Information Science from University of Pittsburgh (1990)
  • B.S. in Economics and Art from Carnegie Mellon University (1988)

Research Interests

  • Virtual reality, simulations, and human-computer interaction for learning and creating
  • Virtual environments and simulations of nature for informal learning
  • Perception, cognition, society and cultural transformations mediated through virtual environments
  • Emergent, co-creation activities and design of technology to support
  • Art and technology -- virtual reality as an aesthetic medium

Recent Research Activities

Her new research direction is to investigate the factors, from an information processing perspective, that drive individuals and societies to create and the role beauty plays in shaping human feelings, thoughts, and action in both art and science. Virtual reality, when executed as both works of art and as realistic, scientific simulations, are important as they influence scientific, human, social, and cultural transformations and growth, especially into the new and unknown.

Selected Publications


  • Harrington, Maria, C. R. (2011). Empirical Evidence of Priming, Transfer, Reinforcement, and Learning in the Real and Virtual Trillium Trails. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies 2011 vol.4 Issue No.02 – April-June pp: 175-186 [DOI: | Research Gate | PDF ]
  • Harrington, M.C.R. (June 2012). The Virtual Trillium Trail and the empirical effects of Freedom and Fidelity on discovery-based learning. Virtual Reality, Volume 16, Number 2, Pages 105-120. Original Article published in OnlineFirst™ Springer London. 1-15.  (March 3, 2011) [DOI: 10.1007/s10055-011-0189-7 | Research Gate| PDF ]
  • Harrington, Maria, C. R. (2009). An ethnographic comparison of real and virtual reality field trips to Trillium Trail: The salamander find as a Salient Event. In Freier, N.G. & Kahn, P.H. (Eds.), Children, Youth and Environments: Special Issue on Children in Technological Environments, Volume 19 Number 1: Published by: The Board of Regents of the University of Colorado, a body corporate, for the benefit of the Children, Youth and Environments Center at the University of Colorado Boulder
    [Article Stable URL: | HTML | PDF]
  • Dissertation: Harrington, Maria, C. R. (2008).  Simulated Ecological Environments for Education (SEEE): A Tripartite Model Framework of HCI Design Parameters for Situational Learning in Virtual Environments. Dissertation Abstracts International. July 17, 2008. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. [PDF]

Conference Papers/Presentations

  • Portnoy F., Smith, L., Harrington, M.C.R., Kremer, K., Nichols, T., & Zammitto, V. (2011). Facing the Human Factors Challenges in Game Design: A Discussion Panel. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting September 19-23, 2011, Las Vegas, Nevada. 55(1). 520-524. [ DOI: 10.1177/1071181311551106 | PPT ]
  • Harrington, M.C.R. (2011). The Virtual Trillium Trail — An Educational Simulation of the North American Forests. iED Summit IMMERSIVE EDUCATION INITIATIVE BOSTON SUMMIT 2011 May 13-15, 2011, Boston College, Boston, MA.
  • Harrington, Maria C.R. (2009). Meta-ontologies for learning in virtual and augmented realities. Proceedings of the ACM-SIGCHI IDC09. The 8th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children Workshop on Children and Mobile Technology: Interface Development for Mobile Touch Devices. June3-5, 2009. Como, Italy. [Research Gate | PDF ]
  • Abstract Only: Harrington, M.C.R. (2009). The Virtual Trillium Trail: An Educationally Effective Simulation for Ecology Education. The Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators 2009 Conference. March 19 - 21, 2009. Entriken, PA.
  • Abstract Only: Harrington, M.C.R. (2008). A demonstration of virtual trillium trail, a simulation of a fourth grade field trip to a wildflower reserve for ecology education. Open Learning Interplay Symposium 2008. Demos and poster session. March 10-13, 2008.CMU, Pittsburgh, PA USA. [ Poster ]
  • Abstract Only: Harrington, M.C.R. (2008). A demonstration of Virtual Trillium Trail, a simulation of a fourth grade field trip to the Trillium Trail Wildflower Reserve. The Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators 2008 Conference. February 29 and March 1, 2008. Ligonier, PA. [ PAEE 2008 ]
  • Harrington, Maria, C. R. (2006).  Situational learning in real and virtual space: Lessons learned and future directions. ACM SIGGRAPH’06. July 30-August 3, 2006 Boston, MA, USA. [DOI: 10.1145/1179295.1179344 | PDF | PPT ]
  • Harrington, M.C.R. (2006). Trees of life: Models of children's creative processes. Proceedings of the ACM DIS’06 Doctoral Consortium. June 28, 2006 State College, PA, USA. [DOI: 10.1145/1142405.1142464 | PDF | PPT]
  • Harrington, M. (2005). Virtual Beechwood: Simulated ecological environments for education. Proceedings of the Conference on Spatial Information Theory’05. Doctoral Consortium Abstracts. September 14-18, 2005 Ellicottville, New York, USA. [ Research Gate | PDF ]
  • Gennari, J., Harrington, M., Hughes, S., Manojlovich, M. and Spring, M. (2003). Preparatory observations on ubiquitous knowledge environments: The cyberinfrastructure information ether. Proceedings post NSF Post Digital Library Futures Workshop. Chatham, MA, USA. [ Research Gate ]

Miscellaneous Publications

  • Harrington, M.C.R. (2006). Simulated Ecological Environments for Education (SEEE): A Tripartite Model Framework of HCI design parameters for situational learning in virtual environments. Unpublished Dissertation Proposal, May 2006. School of Information Sciences, Department of Information Sciences and Telecommunications. University of Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Harrington, M.C.R. (2005). Simulated Ecological Environments for Education (SEEE). Unpublished State of the Art Literature Review Component of the Comprehensive Exam, August 2005. School of Information Sciences, Department of Information Sciences and Telecommunications. University of Pittsburgh, PA.



  • Idea Foundry Grant – The Entertainment & Ed Tech Business Accelerator Program 2013, ($7,500.00).
  • PASSHE FACULTY PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL (FPDC) Professional Development in Support of Collaborative Academic Grants, Round III, 2012 Academic Year. Investigation and Evaluation of Virtual Worlds, 3D Environments, and Simulations for Alternative Learning, Collaboration, Co-creating, and Decision Support Formats: The Virtual SRU Campus Modeled in Google Earth and Second Life for a Course on Sustainable Entrepreneurship, ($12,000.00).
  • Celebration of Innovation, 2006. University of Pittsburgh, Office of the Provost and the Office of Technology Management. An event recognizing innovative and creative individuals whose research is resulting in intellectual property for licensing and start-ups.
  • NSF Travel Grant Award 2006. Travel grant to ACM Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) Conference, Pennsylvania State College, State College, PA.
  • The 30th Annual Honors Convocation 2006. University of Pittsburgh. Honored as one of the Outstanding Students of the University.
  • ESRI GIS Mapping and Software Travel Grant Award 2005. Travel grant to the Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT).
  • Allen Kent Award, School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, 2005. Presented annually to a graduate student who makes an outstanding contribution to the program and teaching.
  • Planning and Innovation Grant, Holyoke Community College, Holyoke, MA. 1997. Developed a web-based framework for online, multimedia course material delivery of curriculum. Solution was generalized and shared with other faculty in the college.
  • IBM Grant for Education and Innovation Award, Rotman School, MBA Program, University of Toronto, 1991-1992. Developed system that allowed for custom video-clip editing and augmentation used to enhance student learning in conflict management, meeting management, leadership and communication skills. Played key role in securing second stage funding.


  • Consultant, Powdermill Nature Reserve, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Board member, Fox Chapel Parks Commission
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