Literature Review in Learning with Tangible Technologies

Claire O'Malley, Danae Stanton-Fraser

01 January 2004

When we think of digital technologies in schools, we tend to think of computers, keyboards, sometimes laptops, and more recently whiteboards and data projectors. These tools are becoming part of the familiar educational landscape. Outside the walls of the classroom, however, there are significant changes in how we think about digital technologies – or, to be more precise, how we don’t think about them, as they disappear into our clothes, our fridges, our cars and our city streets. This disappearing technology, blended seamlessly into the everyday objects of our lives, has become known as ‘ubiquitous computing’. Which leads us to ask the question: what would a school look like in which the technology disappeared seamlessly into the everyday objects and artefacts of the classroom?

This review is an attempt to explore this question. It maps out the recent technological developments in the field, discusses evidence from educational research and psychology, and provides an overview of a wide range of challenging projects that have attempted to use such ‘disappearing computers’ (or tangible interfaces) in education – from digitally augmented paper, toys that remember the ways in which a child moves them, to playmats that record and play back children’s stories. The review challenges us to think differently about our future visions for educational technology, and begins to map out a framework within which we can ask how best we might use these new approaches to computing for learning.