Project Summary and Outcomes

The overarching goal of this project is to explore, develop, and evaluate the use of haptic feedback displays in young children’s STEM learning. This research project presented a unique opportunity to integrate an emerging technology with pervasive educational tools (smartphones and tablet computers) to enrich early childhood STEM experiences for children as well as their parents and teachers. Theories of development suggest that physical tactile cues, sensory experiences, and manipulatives can promote learning for younger children, particularly in the realm of science learning, and this project examines the ways in which haptic touch screen technology may be a good fit for early science learning. As part of this project, we established a systematic understanding of how to design haptic interaction for early STEM learning. We achieved this by designing and iteratively refining three haptic science and math learning applications (a mobile phone-based science observation journal; an electric circuit and current exploration exhibit; and a weight and balance game) as well as one application to explore haptic feedback as sensory-based play for children with autism.

Key results from formative and summative evaluations are summarized as follows. Among children aged 5-7, adding haptic feedback to mobile devices can support science learning in the wild through the use of increased tactile language during nature observations and more on-task behavior. However, in another study we found that encoding haptic feedback as weight information in a math game on balance did not increase learning outcomes among young children (aged 3-4). In contrast to these single-user applications, we also examined joint use of haptic feedback displays among children and their parents. We found that parents reading to their children on a haptic e-book used the haptic feedback to elaborate and extend the story narrative, but parents reading a traditional e-book used more expressive behavior (e.g., making sounds, gestures) during reading. In another study, we found that the availability of haptic feedback for parent-child dyads learning about electric circuits did not significantly increase performance on learning tasks but provided a resource for discussion of these concepts. However, we found that the inclusion of haptic feedback may reinforce misperceptions of circuit concepts without careful design and scaffolding.

Results are detailed in four peer-reviewed journal and conference papers on the design and effectiveness of haptic feedback displays for early STEM learning. Application design, development, and evaluation as well as community outreach involved collaboration with WGBH, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and a Chicago-area ecology center for children. If you have questions or want to learn more, please contact Anne Marie Piper.