Learning and Thinking with Things

Tangible Interfaces

The study of how humans learn is nothing new and not without many solid advances. And yet, in the rush to adopt personal computers, tablets, and similar devices, we’ve traded the benefits of hands-on learning and instruction for the scale, distribution, and easy data collection that’s part and parcel to software programs. The computational benefits of computers have come at a price; we’ve had to learn how to interact with these machines in ways that would likely seem odd to our ancestors: mice, keyboards, awkward gestures, and many other devices and rituals that would be nothing if not foreign to our predecessors. But what does the future hold for learning and technology? Is there a way to reconcile the separation between all that is digital with the diverse range of interactions for which our bodies are capable? And how does the role of interaction designer change when we’re working with smart, potentially shape-shifting, objects? If we look at trends in technology, especially related to tangible computing (where physical objects are interfaced with computers), they point to a sci-fi future in which interactions with digital information come out from behind glass to become things we can literally grasp.

One such sign of this future comes from Vitamins, a multidisciplinary design and invention studio based in London. As Figure 1-1 shows, it has developed a rather novel system for scheduling time by using... what else... Lego bricks! ...

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