EXP: Advancing Early STEM Learning through Haptic Feedback Displays

Project: Research project

Project Details


Project summary Improving STEM education is a national priority, and an emerging and important area of STEM education involves advancing math and science literacies at the pre-kindergarten (pre-K) level. Given the ubiquity of tablet computers in educational settings and their potential to support engagement of young children, it is critical to understand the effectiveness of and conditions under which digital tools may promote early STEM learning. One argument against purely digital content on a tablet computer is that pedagogically important tactile cues and sensory experiences, which exist with physical manipulatives, are now lost. The emerging technology of haptic – or tactile feedback – touch-screen displays now makes it possible to integrate rich kinesthetic cues into children’s tablet-based applications, opening up a fertile space for studying the embodied and immersive nature of learning. In our vision, a novel haptic science learning application could allow a child to manipulate friction forces as a car rolls down a ramp, have varying resistance applied to their finger tip as they move objects with different mass or density values, or feel textures of rare plants, minerals, and animals. To achieve this, the proposed research will explore, develop, and evaluate the use of haptic feedback displays in young children’s learning of STEM concepts. Specifically, our research plan will: (1) Innovate the design of haptic feedback displays for early science learning. An interdisciplinary research team will iteratively develop and refine the next generation of digital STEM learning materials using state-of-the-art variable friction haptic tablets. A series of design workshops with teachers and curriculum experts followed by user testing with children will inform the development of an open-access content base of interactive materials for pre-K STEM education; (2) Advance understanding of learning through haptic feedback displays. The second phase of research involves rigorous evaluation of the effects of haptic feedback on science learning and engagement with educational content. Two complementary studies will contribute initial evidence of the effectiveness of haptic feedback for early STEM learning, advancing theories of embodiment and yielding design guidelines for integrating haptic feedback into learning technologies; and (3) Promote the generalizability and transferability of this genre. This research will establish a conceptual understanding of how haptic feedback maps to various science concepts, iteratively evolve design principles for effectively using haptic feedback to enhance early science learning, and provide lessons regarding the ways in which haptic tablets fit within the broader ecology of learning tools for pre-kindergarten STEM education. Intellectual Merit The intellectual merit of the proposed research is in the coming together of an interdisciplinary team of scientists in human-computer interaction, children’s learning and development, and haptic technology to explore and advance a new genre of digital learning experiences leveraging novel haptic displays. The proposed research will contribute new knowledge of (1) how to design educational media leveraging surface haptic displays and (2) the conditions under which this technology effectively promotes learning and engagement among young children. This research focuses on a critical but understudied topic, pre-K STEM learning, and through the proposed activities we will develop new tools, new content, and new design principles for introducing and studying ear
Effective start/end date9/1/158/31/19


  • National Science Foundation (IIS-1522921)


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