Tangible interaction

Interactive table as computer communication interface for people with disabilities

Pricipal investigators:

  • prof. dr. Matej Zajc, University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Electrical Engineering
  • prof. dr. Andreja Istenic Starcic, University of Primorska, Faculty of Education

Duration 2009 – 2012



Matej Zajc presented: Potentials of the Tangible User Interface (TUI) in enhancing inclusion of people with special needs in the ICT-assisted learning and e-accessibility at KES AMSTA 2012 (link), 25.6. Dubrovnik (presentation)


In 2012 the article was awarded by ARRS (Slovenian Research Agency) as exceptional research achievement (link, pp. 69):

Andreja Istenic Starcic, Mara Cotic and Matej Zajc. Design-based research on the use of a tangible user interface for geometry teaching in an inclusive classroom. British Journal on Educational Technology (BJET). (Print), 2013, vol. 44, no. 5, pp. 729-744,, doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2012.01341.x9276500

Abstract This design-based research study was conducted to identify what importance of a tangible user interface (TUI) can add to teaching and learning. Over a 2-year period, teachers (n=39) and students (n=145) participated in the study. The identified problem for investigation was how students, including those with low fine motor skills and those with learning difficulties, develop geometry concepts combining cognitive and physical activity. A didactical application was designed during the first iteration and implemented in inclusive classrooms during the second and third iterations. Qualitative research methods were applied. A relationship between diverse students’ needs and geometry concept learning in relation to computer-supported learning by TUI was discovered. Two dimensions were identified: (1) TUIs support concept development, with physical and virtual representations based on dynamic geometry assisted by TUI; (2) TUI manipulative properties support students who have low motor skills and difficulties in their geometry learning as well as in their inclusion in classroom activities. The study outcomes contributed to the design process of the TUI didactical application and its implementation in inclusive classrooms, and to the body of knowledge in teaching and learning geometry concepts applied for computer-assisted learning environments supported by TUI.

Matej Zajc, Andreja Istenic Starcic. Potentials of the Tangible User Interface (TUI) in enhancing inclusion of people with special needs in the ICT-assisted learning and e-accessibility. Lecture Notes on Computer Science (LNCS), LNAI 7327.

Abstract In the modern society, inclusion of persons with disabilities in the mainstream education is increasingly enhanced. The presented example focuses on inclusion of individuals for whom their learning environment is created and adapted according to their special needs and capabilities. In establishing the learning environment, the role of multimedia and ICT is important. Persons with disabilities are often disadvantaged in ICT and in participating in the classroom collaborative activities. The paper presents a novel interactive application utilizing tangible user interface (TUI) as an alternative input device for computer-supported collaborative learning and game based-learning. In the final part of our paper, we summarize the main findings and results of evaluation of our interactive game for the ICT-assisted learning of people with special needs often having them tested in a real educational environment. The findings indicate high usability of TUI for people with physical impairment and severe to mild learning difficulties for whom it enables inclusive ICT and e-accessibility.

Andreja Istenic Starcic and Matej Zajc. An interactive tangible user interface application for learning addition concepts. British Journal on Educational Technology (BJET). (Print), 2011, vol. 42, no. 6, pp. 131-135. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01217.x

Interactive multimedia technologies are present in our day-to-day lives. Children accept them and use them intuitively at home. At school, multimedia technology penetration in classrooms is, however, often limited to computer rooms and interactive whiteboards with projectors. This paper evaluates the design and introduction of a tabletop system using a tangible user interface (TUI) in the classroom environment. Tangible systems possess advantages for children’s interaction in the learning process (O’Malley & Fraser, 2004). TUIs enable interaction with the computer, providing the ability to manipulate the digital environment by controlling objects in the physical environment (Ishii, 2008). The objectives of the design and implementation during the 2009–11 were the following:
1. Enhance children’s collaboration when practising and reflecting on addition.
2. Enable classroom-based problem solving when developing addition concepts and skills.
3. Introduce an intuitive tangible interface to support combination of addition strategies incorporating different sensory areas (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and tactile).
4. Introduce interaction with technology in elementary school classrooms for children aged eight to nine.

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