Designing tangibles for learning: An empirical investigation

Lead Research Organisation: Institute of Education
Department Name: Unlisted

Abstract

Recent developments in wireless and sensor technologies make it possible for computational power to be embedded in objects and the environment. These objects and locations can be networked together in a number of different ways, and can be linked to various forms of digital representation, such as an image or animation on a screen display, a sound, or even a change in the object itself. For example, Flow Blocks are blocks embedded with sensor technology. When the blocks are connected together light signals are sent through them, to help children to explore different models of flow. Combining physical objects and real world environments with digital enhancement in this way offers the opportunity for learners to explore physical or scientific phenomena in new ways, giving them access to information not normally available in the physical world. Several research studies demonstrate the technical possibilities of such 'tangible environments', but little is known about their particular value for learning. We have now reached a point where more systematic investigation of the learning benefits is essential for guiding future development and use of tangible technologies for learning, and in particular to understand more clearly the impact of different ways of linking together objects, environments and information, on the way that learners interact with and understand scientific ideas.To achieve this a research framework has been developed, which identifies design characteristics of tangible artefacts and related representations i.e., the different ways of linking information and representations of scientific phenomena to objects and actions placed upon those objects. Tangible artefacts and representations will be designed, developed and linked to help students learning about biology topics, such as genetics, or physics topics, such as forces and motion. For example, in understanding genetic diversity through meiosis, chromosomes could be represented as objects created from different materials e.g., colour-coded blocks or a substance that feels more fragile which easily connects and disconnects. When joined together crossovers, or genetic recombination, of the joined chromosomes could be shown, either in the artefacts themselves through changes of colour-coded segments, or as an animation on an adjacent screen, or indeed both. What kind of inferences and conclusions can students draw from the different kind of representations associated with the object-action relationship? Does the 'construction' activity or the tangibility of different materials facilitate inferences/ understanding? Small groups of students will work with the tangibles and be encouraged to talk about what they think is happening when they move objects around, see or hear digital effects produced by their actions. Data from empirical studies will be analysed to explore the impact of different design variables on interaction and cognition. Findings will be used to derive preliminary guidelines to inform the design of effective integration of technologies and representations to develop a tangible learning environment. An example environment will then be evaluated to assess its impact on student learning, and to verify the design guidelines. This research will provide much needed insight into the learning benefits of tangibles and associated representations, and the effective integration of artefacts and representations for particular kinds of learning. This will inform the development of design guidelines for tangible technologies for learning, and ways in which tangible learning can be integrated into teaching to enhance learning and effective pedagogical practice.

Publications

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Mueller, F. (2011) Designing Sports: A Framework for Exertion Games. in Proceedings of SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems

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Panchaphongsaphak B (2008) Contact-sensitive artefacts: implementing tangible interfaces through force-torque sensing in International Journal of Arts and Technology

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Pontual Falcão T (2010) Interfering and resolving: How tabletop interaction facilitates co-construction of argumentative knowledge in International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning

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Price, S (2008) A representation approach to conceptualizing tangible learning environments. in 2nd International Conference on Tangible and Embedded Interaction

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Sakr M (2014) The semiotic work of the hands in scientific enquiry in Classroom Discourse

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Sheridan, J.G. (2010) Fostering Kinesthetic Literacy through Exertion in Whole Body Interaction. in Proceedings of the Workshop on Whole Body Interaction, SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems

 
Title Surface Tension 
Description The full day event consisting of hands-on demonstrations, installations and short talks, followed by an evening of performances and a panel of experts who will discuss the history of interactive surfaces and debate future implications. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2009 
Impact Networking, public engagement and increasing public awareness 
URL http://vimeo.com/5457345
 
Description This project investigated how tangible technologies ('tangibles') affect the way learners interact with and understand scientific ideas. In human-computer interaction, 'tangibles' are physical objects or materials (e.g. building blocks, balls) that are embedded with sensor-based technologies and linked to digital information, as images, sound or tactile feedback, such as, vibration. These technologies foster hands-on learning, providing new explorative ways of interacting with information and engendering a more active approach to learning than traditional computing. Physical objects coupled with digital information in this way also offer opportunities to present information not normally available in the physical world, such as invisible scientific phenomena.
A purpose built tangible interface (the LightTable) was developed to explore how digital augmentation of physical objects can support children's understanding of science - in this case the behaviour of light with objects of different colours, shapes and textures, i.e. how light is reflected refracted or absorbed with these different kinds of objects. A torch acts as a light source eliciting a digital white light beam when placed on the table. Visual digital effects change when objects are directly manipulated, either by placing them in the pathwayof the light beam, or being taken off the table or altering their position, which causes the light beam to be interrupted or redirected.
Studies with 11-14 year olds have shown how tangible interfaces can mediate exploratory learning and collaborative activity, and can engender effective learning processes. Findings are outlined under the following themes:

Collaborative learning: This design, where digital information is integrated with the physical objects and dynamically displayed in real time depending on how children move the objects, supported collaborative hands-on interaction in various ways: having tangible objects as a common focus of attention facilitated collective exploration and the process of working together to 'build' new knowledge; the physical characteristics of the objects contributed to balanced levels of participation; the capacity for children to move objects simultaneously provoked rapid changes in configurations and resulted in children frequently interfering with one another's activity. This was found to be instrumental in bringing about further inquiry, both through exploratory and verbal interaction, resulting in productive learning moments..

Engagement: The dynamic nature of the environment and the facility to simultaneously explore concepts, promoted engagement not only with the activity but also with the scientific concept. The rapid changes in light due to movements of objects provided more, and different, examples of the behaviour of light from which children could draw conclusions, a central feature of exploratory and experiential learning. Analysis also showed that tangible environments interested learners in the operational aspects of the technology, contributing to understanding of the technology and the concepts being explored through new functional perspectives.
Design of tangible interfaces: The research suggests that the design of the digital representation mapping to the physical object and action is critical, and that children's interpretation of scientific phenomena are not always in line with the designer's correspondence mapping. The findings also illustrate how tactile information is attended to in children's interpretation of scientific ideas, and indicate that all perceptual properties of objects must be considered by designers in contexts where such aspects matter to the interaction and meaning making.
Exploitation Route Findings may be of interest to science educators, museum educators, digital designers and computer developers in thinking about or designing tangible technologies for learning.
The work also provides a foundation for extending research in this nascent field of tangibles for learning.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.lkl.ac.uk/research/tangibles/
 
Description The findings have been used extensively in the research community, as the basis for further research; and by the research community in publication citations. Findings have primarily been used in HCI and Education research contexts, but also in Computer Science. As part of the project a public engagement event was organised at the Dana Centre, Science Museum, London, where the interactive table was available for the general public to interact with, along with a number of other invited examples of interactive surfaces. http://vimeo.com/5457345
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education
Impact Types Societal

 
Description HEIF
Amount £19,043 (GBP)
Organisation Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2013 
End 07/2015
 
Description HEIF
Amount £32,174 (GBP)
Organisation Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2012 
End 12/2014
 
Description IOE UCL Strategic Partnership
Amount £8,000 (GBP)
Organisation University College London 
Department Institute of Education (IOE)
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2014 
End 06/2015
 
Description IOE/UCL Research innovation
Amount £14,970 (GBP)
Organisation University College London 
Department Institute of Education (IOE)
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2013 
End 06/2014
 
Description JISC Geospatial
Amount £85,000 (GBP)
Organisation Jisc 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2011 
End 11/2011
 
Description NCRM MIP
Amount £160,000 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2013 
End 09/2014
 
Description NCRM Node
Amount £1 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2011 
End 03/2015
 
Title Interactive tangible tabletop 
Description The interactive tangible tabletop is a purpose built tangible environment developed to support students learning about the behaviour of light. It consists of a table with a frosted glass surface, which is illuminated by infrared LEDs. A variety of hand crafted and off-the-shelf plastic objects are used as input devices. Each object is tagged with a paper marker called a 'fiducial'. When the tagged object is placed on the table surface, it is tracked by an infrared camera, through the Specific concepts explored include reflection, transmission, absorption and refraction of light, and derived concepts of colour. The tabletop environment was custom made and draws from the design of the reacTable, which employs reacTIVision technology for object recognition and Processing language for developing applications. When distinct objects are recognized by the system, different digital effects are then projected on the surface. Digital effects appear around the corresponding object as 'co-located input and output', dynamically showing visual representations of light behaviour. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2011 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Extended user based research studies drawing on different disciplines and research approaches to better understand human interaction and behaviour (communication and learning) with digital environments, foe example around embodied interaction and learning as part of the MODE project (mode.ioe.ac.uk). 
URL http://www.lkl.ac.uk/research/tangibles/
 
Description Birkbeck 
Organisation Birkbeck, University of London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution informing technology design; empirical research studies; evaluation of technology
Collaborator Contribution Technical development: purpose built tangible tabletop to support school science learning
Impact Joint publications Technical systems multi-disciplinary collaboration between Psychology/HCI and Computer Science
Start Year 2008
 
Description Early Career Exchange (funded by EPSRC Grand Challenge) 
Organisation University of Melbourne
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Obtaining funding from the EPSRC UbiComp Grand Challenge Early Career Exchange to bring a young researcher from Melbourne to work collaboratively in the project on tangible interfaces, specifically around 'exertion interfaces' with Jennifer Sheridan. Our research team provided expertise in development and HCI user studies to support the research being undertaken collaboratively. The London Knowledge Lab provided the space and resources to achieve this work, as well as an extended network of expertise in digital technologies in education.
Collaborator Contribution Bringing of expertise in 'exertion interfaces' which complemented the project team's expertise enabling the work to be extended into a relevant but different area.
Impact Mueller, F., Edge, D., Gibbs, M.R., Agamanolis, Heer, J. and Sheridan, J.G. (2012). Balancing Exertion Experiences. In Proceedings of SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), 5-10 May 2012, Austin, Texas, USA. Mueller, F., Edge, D., Vetere, F., Gibbs, M.R., Agamanolis, S., Bongers, B. and Sheridan, J.G. (2011). Designing Sports: A Framework for Exertion Games. In Proceedings of SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), 7-12 May 2011, Vancouver, CANADA. Sheridan, J.G. and Mueller, F. (2010). Fostering Kinesthetic Literacy through Exertion in Whole Body Interaction. In Proceedings of the Workshop on Whole Body Interaction, SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), 10-11 April 2010, Atlanta, USA. Mueller, F., Vetere, F., Gibbs, M.R., Edge, D., Agamanolis, S. and Sheridan, J.G. (2010). Jogging over a Distance between Europe and Australia. In Proceedings of UIST 2010, 3-6 October 2010, New York, USA. Mueller, F., Vetere, F., Gibbs, M.R., Agamanolis, S. and Sheridan, J.G. (2010). Jogging over a Distance: The Influence of Design in Parallel Exertion Games. In Proceedings of ACM SIGGRAPH 2010, 25-29 July 2010, Los Angeles, USA.
Start Year 2009
 
Title RepRap 3D printer 
Description Open source RepRap 3D printer 
Type Of Technology Physical Model/Kit 
Year Produced 2010 
Impact Development of researcher skill and knowledge. Foundation for developing future research around 3D printing in education 
 
Title Tangible tabletop 
Description The tabletop environment was custom made and draws from the design of the reacTable, which employs reacTIVision technology for object recognition. Interaction was enabled using a variety of custom-made artefacts tagged with fiducial icons. Applications are developed using the Processing language. Multiple objects can be recognized simultaneously thus enabling several participants to interact with the tabletop together. Users interacted with the application using a set of different coloured acrylic blocks and a torch, which were tagged with fiducial markers. Interaction consisted of placing and moving the tagged blocks and torch on the table surface. The tabletop environment in co-located mode running an application on the Physics of light. Visual effects, projected on the table surface showing light reflection, absorption, transmission and refraction, were triggered when users manipulated the torch and the blocks on the table surface. All of the objects simulated real-world behaviours, i.e., the torch shone light and the blocks reflected, absorbed and / or transmitted light according to their colour and opaqueness. 
Type Of Technology Systems, Materials & Instrumental Engineering 
Year Produced 2009 
Impact Contribution to understanding the design and development of tangible interactive surfaces. Contribution to understanding of interaction with these systems specifically in the context of science learning, and then in later work around the role of physical action (manipulation and gesture) in supporting learning interactions. Enhancing and extending researcher skills Providing a tool for future work in other projects 
 
Description 11th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children. Bremen, Germany. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact All conference delegates attended this talk, provoking questions and discussion

Development of PhD work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2307134
 
Description 3rd International Conference on Tangible and Embedded Interaction, Cambridge, UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 100 conference delegates attended this talk, provoking questions and discussion

Citations in other academics' publications
networking opportunities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
URL http://www.tei-conf.org/09/
 
Description 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact All conference delegates attended talk, which provoked questions and discussion, as well as leading to networking opportunities within the academic community

Increased networking with the academic community
Citations in later publications
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
URL http://www.isls.org/cscl2009/
 
Description 8th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children. Como, Italy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 100 conference delegates attended this talk, provoking questions and discussion

Networking opportunities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
URL http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1551826&CFID=445536971&CFTOKEN=76947365
 
Description 9th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children, Barcelona, June 2010 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 100 conference delegates attended this talk, provoking questions and discussion

Development of PhD work
networking opportunities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
URL http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1810568&CFID=445536971&CFTOKEN=76947365
 
Description Fourth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 100 conference delegates attended this talk, provoking questions and discussion

Networking opportunities
Citations in other academics' publications
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
URL http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1709913
 
Description Public engagement event (Science Museum, London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Members of the general public visited the one day open event, which consisted of hands-on demonstrations, installations and short talks, followed by an evening of performances and a panel of experts who discussed the history of interactive surfaces and debated future implications.

Enquiry contact from the Science Museum, London to find out more about the work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
URL http://vimeo.com/5457345
 
Description STELLAR Alpine-Rendezvous Workshop on Tabletops for Education and Training. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact All workshop participants contributed to the workshop by presenting their work, sharing ideas and engaging in critical discussion around the use of tabletop technologies in education.

Publication in Special Issue Journal
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
URL http://www.stellarnet.eu/files/7912/5863/1742/TableTop4LearningWorkshopz.pdf
 
Description Second International Conference on Tangible and Embedded Interaction, Bonn, Germany 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 100+ researchers, academics, computer developers attended this talk about the theoretical underpinning of the project work, whichs timulated questions and debate

Citations in publications
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008
URL http://www.tei-conf.org/08/
 
Description Whole Body Interaction, CHI '09, 4 April, 2009, Boston, USA. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact All participants engaged in sharing and presenting their work on whole body interaction in digital environments, engaged in debate around key issues for research, and looked into future research directions

Invitation for full paper publication, and for project researcher to become guest editor of a related special issue publication
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Workshop on Tangibles for Children, CHI '09, 4 April, 2009, Boston, USA. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact All workshop participants contributed to the workshop by presenting their work, sharing and engaging in critical discussion around the research field of tangible interaction for children.

invited submission to special issue Journal on Tangibles for Children
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
URL http://soc.kuleuven.be/com/mediac/cuo/extern/tcube/