November 25, 2011

Using Tangible Technologies for Next-Generation Learning

Category: Edtech
kids colorful learning building blocks in numerical order

Andrew Manches is a 2011-2012 Fellow at the London Knowledge Lab looking at how new forms of technology can support and help young children explore different number concepts. His work builds from his PhD at the University of Nottingham, which evaluated whether technology called tangibles, technology that is embedded inside physical learning materials, represented a great new potential for children in the early
dmlsra2years (ages four to eight). Manches was one of 12 participants at the DML Research Associate Summer Institute 2011 hosted by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. According to his thesis, understanding the potential of tangible technologies is not only key for developing effective pedagogical materials, but it can also help identify the benefits or limitations of other forms of interactions with technology. His research served as a platform for the design and development of Digicubes, a free iPad application made up of colored squares that helps young children explore number patterns. Prior to research, Manches worked as a qualified infant teacher in Primary and Special Needs schools in a socially marginalized area in the South of England. Andrew recently set up a joint company, Plingtoys, which is currently building prototype learning technology for young children. In the video below, Manches discusses ways in which technology and different forms of interaction can help shape early learning experiences and opportunities. Below are highlights from the video but the full video (below) is rich with this former psychologist’s insights on early childhood learning and development.

There’s a lot of work coming out at the moment that highlights the importance of the way we touch and feel – the embodiment of knowledge – and how by changing that, by giving children new forms of interaction with a mouse or the Wii, we actually may be changing the ideas we develop.

As a technology teacher, I was able to bring in new things to try to engage children. It could be anything from integrating an email system within the school to hands-on toys that children could program. It was just amazing. Children who couldn’t read or write and who were really being thrown out of education were doing really intelligent things.

Because my company is building tangible technologies for learning, there’s a great relationship between what I research and what I do as a business. Children’s worlds have been saturated and guided by businesses and companies so it would be nice to research and understand but at the same time be involved in the creation of things children will use.

Questions of inequality, of the way children work together, and the new forms of technology and new forms of voice are things that are happening earlier and earlier in children’s childhoods so it has given me a fresh way of seeing what I do.

Banner image credit: Ani-Bee
Video credit: Marc Bacarro