Tangible Technologies as Interactive Play Spaces for Children with Learning Difficulties: The Reactive Colours Project

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The positive role that technology can play in learning has been well researched and whilst there have been arguments raised by some that computer use, particularly with young children, may drain precious cognitive resources, there has been significant progress in the area of embodied tangible technologies. Drawing on this research and bringing together perspectives from human computer interaction (HCI), psychology, linguistics and graphic communication, I will present the findings of the Reactive Colours project, which has been developing customizable sensory software, ReacTickles, and investigating the impact of embodied user interfaces on social communication and learning for children with autism. Through my work I aim to demonstrate a democratic and participatory approach for the design of embodied user interfaces where manipulation is intuitive and expressive acts foster improvisation and an opportunity to encounter experiences independently of skill, knowledge or directed task. ReacTickles aims to subtly trigger collaboration between individuals and co-ordination through performative actions rather the necessity to complete a directed activity. This novel approach allows the emergent idiosyncratic needs of the child to lead activities rather than the typically operational modes of traditional computer interaction. The significance of this for children with autism is that meaning is created and understood through sensory arousal and action, rather than the necessity to interpret a graphically mediated environment. I will demonstrate, with the assistance of video testimonies, ways in which my research has been introduced in pilot studies in a number of schools throughout the UK and the impact partnerships with schools has had in developing ReacTickles and the emerging heuristics which may prove useful for all young learners, irrespective of individual developmental levels.


Keywords: Embodied Tangible Technologies, Embodied User Interfaces, Manipulation, Improvisation, Collaboration, Performative Actions
Stream: Technology in Education
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Tangible Technologies as Interactive Play Spaces for Children with Learning Difficulties


Wendy E. Keay-Bright

Senior Lecturer, Cardiff School of Art & Design, University of Wales Institute Cardiff
Cardiff, South Glamorgan, UK

A graduate of Graphic Design and Animation, I began my career on the popular children's TV series, SuperTed, before becoming a freelance animation producer researching and producing animation content for BBC One, HTV West and S4C. It was during this period that I began working with children as co-designers; the productions for which I was responsible pioneered the notion of children as creators of original programme content. A fascination for technology as an experiential medium has provided the motivation to undertake research at a high academic level, alongside teaching responsibilities. All my research has involved users directly, as well indirectly through web technologies. Reactive Colours© and ReacTckles© represent my most recent research activity which has been awarded funding from the NESTA Learning Programme. My responsibilities include research, project management and design. I have presented and published my work internationally, most recently I taught multimedia design at Sichuan Fine Art Institute and presented my research at Xi’an People’s Hospital in China. I am a member of the Higher Education Academy.

Ref: T08P0005