Eco-Pods overview

Tangible user interfaces for learning systems thinking
Key words : Physical prototyping, screen prototyping, Tangible manipulatives, children, play, learning, nature
Skills used: Physical prototyping, Flash prototyping, Illustration, game design, interaction design

User testing, Eco-Pod prototype


Thesis Paper (PDF, 1.6 mb)

My thesis explores how manipulable objects in the context of games can
help children learn systems thinking. Inspired by existing methods that use playful activities and tangible devices to teach logical and mathematical
operations, I designed a series of games that utilize tangible interface s in a playful learning experience.

A tangible user interface (TUI ) typically uses manipulable
objects, rather than keyboard and mouse, to interact with software operations.
The main feature of TUIs is their ability to represent and control digital
information in a physical manner, mediating computational operation in a
fashion that is not identified usually as computer-based.

Systems thinking is a holistic way of looking at the world. It looks at the world as an assemblage of interrelated components comprising a unified whole. The relationship of elements in the system facilitates the flow of data, matter or energy between them. Learning systems thinking at an early age offers children new perspectives on the world, and develops the cognitive skills needed to organize, represent and interpret how the world works.

My design methodology comprised a sequence of prototype games, each followed by user testing. In each design session I started from an initial aim that derived from my research or previous exploration, designed and built a functional prototype, tested it with users, and drew conclusions that led me to the next stage.

An adult can have a wonderful imagination, expressive powers and tools that allow them create amazing things. However, adult cognitive abilities are different then children abilities. To understand what will appealto children, how children perceive things and what does not work, one should test their ideas at first hand. In my thesis, I tried to let children guide my design process. I have done that with the games, drawing books and computerized prototypes that they played with. The path I took led me to successfully design
the Power Eco-Pod, a TUI-controlled system that mimics nature and allows children to learn through play the core principles of systems thinking.

Thesis Committee
Thesis Coordinator: Simona Maschi
Primary Advisor: Massimo Banzi
Secondary Advisor: Phil Tabor
Director and Chair of Examiners: Gillian Crampton Smith

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