Tangible Representational Properties: Implications for Meaning Making
Received: 22 June 2018 / Revised: 20 August 2018 / Accepted: 3 September 2018 / Published: 5 September 2018
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Tangible technologies are considered promising tools for learning, by enabling multimodal interaction through physical action and manipulation of physical and digital elements, thus facilitating representational concrete–abstract links. A key concept in a tangible system is that its physical components are objects of interest,
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Tangible technologies are considered promising tools for learning, by enabling multimodal interaction through physical action and manipulation of physical and digital elements, thus facilitating representational concrete–abstract links. A key concept in a tangible system is that its physical components are objects of interest, with associated meanings relevant to the context. Tangible technologies are said to provide ‘natural’ mappings that employ spatial analogies and adhere to cultural standards, capitalising on people’s familiarity with the physical world. Students with intellectual disabilities particularly benefit from interaction with tangibles, given their difficulties with perception and abstraction. However, symbolic information does not always have an obvious physical equivalent, and meanings do not reside in the representations used in the artefacts themselves, but in the ways they are manipulated and interpreted. In educational contexts, meaning attached to artefacts by designers is not necessarily transparent to students, nor interpreted by them as the designer predicted. Using artefacts and understanding their significance is of utmost importance for the construction of knowledge within the learning process; hence the need to study the use of the artefacts in contexts of practice and how they are transformed by the students. This article discusses how children with intellectual disabilities conceptually interpreted the elements of four tangible artefacts, and which characteristics of these tangibles were key for productive, multimodal interaction, thus potentially guiding designers and educators. Analysis shows the importance of designing physical-digital semantic mappings that capitalise on conceptual metaphors related to children’s familiar contexts, rather than using more abstract representations. Such metaphorical connections, preferably building on physical properties, contribute to children’s comprehension and facilitate their exploration of the systems.