Traveling to many schools, engaging with teachers, students and principals, we have seen first-hand the successful (and unsuccessful) introduction of a wide range of technologies. Classrooms are embracing interactive whiteboards and mobile devices with enthusiasm. But there are still a number of limitations to the effective use of these technologies at the primary level.
With the interactive whiteboard, kids will raise their hands eagerly to participate. But only one or two students can actually interact with the whiteboard at any given time. When a student is co-located at the whiteboard, we observed how their weaknesses could be exposed in front of their peers. Performance is not automatically tracked. Assessment is subjective. Answers are often shouted out. Results are mostly invalid in terms of accurately identifying the student’s understanding. And as many of these technologies do not monitor student performance, learning difficulties are not tracked or identified early; preventing intervention with supplementary and personalised supports.
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What is Tip Tap Tap?
Tip Tap Tap (TTT) provides early years educators with interactive school desks combined with a Learning Content Management System. Tip Tap Tap is an exemplar of an Internet of Things technology as regular wooden school desks are embedded with touch sensing and networking capabilities. The school desk acts as a familiar interface for students, while ensuring each student gets a fairer opportunity to interact with learning content displayed on any presentation system – TV, projector or whiteboard.
Although, chalkboards are being replaced with interactive whiteboards, the school desk was an obvious candidate for technological enrichment, as students spend much of their day at their desk. Our objective for this technological transformation of the school desk was to ensure that the classroom would remain physically unchanged, but changed utterly in terms of new pedagogical and interaction affordances. By extending the familiar school desk with new interaction capabilities, whilst also incorporating more natural and organic design features, this enables Tip Tap Tap as a technology to be adopted and integrated within the classrooms effortlessly.
The Need for Autonomous Assessment
Teachers’ observation skills and subjective judgment are used quite frequently in terms of assessing students’ behavior and performance in the classroom. Teachers stated that they assess all day, however it is not practical and it is difficult to record all students’ progress. Current assessment methods are manual, where teachers can spend a significant amount of their time transcribing results from workbooks to learning management systems.
For example, in primary level teachers will prescribe printed textbooks and worksheet assessments. Once completed by the student, these will then be manually collected and corrected by the teacher sequentially. This approach takes countless hours. Mostly these results may not even be transcribed to a learning management system, therefore it may be difficult for educators to share student performance or remain accountable for the assurance of students’ performance. The financial cost of this time spent for a school is substantial. However, the implications reach much further when it can take too much time to recognize that a student may have a learning difficulty with a particular subject, therefore the time to intervene with personalized supplementary materials will take much longer to mitigate the effect.
Although Interactive whiteboards, mobile learning, open content and learning management systems are proliferating within classrooms, when it comes to assessment processes, there is a fragmentation between how student data gets transferred seamlessly. Educational applications deployed on interactive whiteboards and mobile devices mostly do not gather assessment data and transfer assessment data automatically to learning management systems, where results are not generated and published. As Tip Tap Tap in an Internet of Things platform offering connectivity, combining both a hardware and software platform, we can leverage from the learning analytics attained to provide educators with powerful insights enabling them to make more informed and immediate decisions in terms of how educational resources can be adapted and utalised more effectively as to deliver personalised learning experiences.
Gamification for Learning
Through our cloud-based Learning Content Management System (LCMS), educators can source and control the delivery of quality and validated educational content from their own tablet, laptop or desktop. We developed a suite of demo educational applications (Phonics, Tracing, Literacy and Music), which were designed in accordance with prescribed curriculums. The objective of these applications was to best demonstrate how Tip Tap Tap technology can support students in developing their confidence and competence in learning to listen, speak, read and write effectively. Essential features and applications developed illustrate how the platform and modalities of interaction (touch, gesture, tracing) support students in developing socialisation skills through collaboration, fine motor and writing skills.
Our approach towards designing our educational applications was to incorporate gamification theory and techniques (narrative, acknowledging achievement, giving rewards, socialisation and altruism), as to encourage and motivate students with higher levels of engagement through learning activities. For example, many of our applications are presented through a story narrative, where fun characters (Orla Owl, Zoe Zookeeper, and Chris the Conductor) ask students to help them to accomplish tasks. As students progress through the application, achievement is continuously rewarded through immediate feedback presented through rich multimedia content, where the LED display integrated into Tip Tap Tap desk presents visual rewards (tick, star, emoticons).
When a teacher selects an application from their tablet, laptop or desktop it is presented on the presentation display (IWB, TV or projector). Tip Tap Tap desks have interactive numbers, letters, and other characters laser-engraved onto the surface, so when a teacher poses a question, every student can submit their answer by physically entering it on the desk. Tip Tap Tap enables students to play, to experiment, to learn actively through gesture and touch interaction, leveraging their kinaesthetic intelligence to improve their fine motor skills through to understanding and encouraging more engaged learning. The desk supports the use of tangibles, being able to detect interaction between users and objects placed on the surface.
By also supporting print materials both students and teachers can benefit from working with print materials they are used to, where we provide extra layers of features such as tracking student’s interactions with print materials. This allows a student to interact (touch, gesture, and tracing) with the learning content through the printed material, by simply placing the printed material on the desk. For example, literacy, handwriting and tactile learning have been identified as being of primary concern as specified within early year’s curriculums. TTT platform was designed to provide modalities of interaction complementary alongside effective pedagogies, curriculums and existing tools such as paper, to enhance students’ development of literacy, tracing, and tactile learning.
Leveraging Learning Analytics
Through the learning analytics garnered by the learning content management system, the student data can be utilised effectively to gather insights about student performance, therefore enabling educators to deliver a more effective learning experience. Teachers can visualise real-time results and analytical reports, which will facilitate earlier intervention to support students that may have learning difficulties.
Instant access to student data was a key requirement consistently highlighted through both our primary and secondary research. Teachers want to be more proactive and reactive to students needs as they arise so they can intervene with supplementary learning supports or reward students to reinforce and encourage student progress. More than ever, there is a priority to reduce cost and time on assessment whilst maintaining accountability for students’ performance. Through the learning analytics attained from student interactions with our platform, we aim to significantly reduce cost and time currently invested with manual assessment methods, while ensuring earlier intervention of detecting learning difficulties.
Design Thinking for Tip Tap Tap
Rather than introducing technology that changes or disrupts current teaching practices, our vision was to design and integrate educational technology in a subtle way that is naturally conducive with existing educational settings, platforms and practices. From the preliminary stages of the project our ethos was to continuously foster close collaboration with educational stakeholders, with an emphasis towards understanding educators and students needs, The insights gathered through their participation was integral towards contributing to the holistic design solution.
As a research and design strategy, we applied “Design Thinking” as a process throughout the product development life cycle. Design Thinking is the application of a design process towards solving difficult challenges in a creative way. The attributes of Design Thinking are collaborative thinking, ideation, rapid prototyping and testing. A principal component to design thinking and human centered design is empathy. It was essential to gain empathy as to build a deeper understanding of our customers. Through visiting many national schools across Ireland we interviewed educators and observed the current user experience within the classroom. We basically immersed ourselves to understand their experiences and usability limitations with ICT and how they use currently ICT as an intervention for teaching and learning.
All of this rich information gathered was then analysed during the proceeding product development life cycle to identify their needs and to essentially frame the core problems to be addressed more accurately. This has enabled the team to have a deeper understanding of the challenges that educational stakeholder face. Most notably in terms of their current user experience and usability limitations with ICT, manual assessment approaches, budget and time management constraints, whilst ensuring accountability and maintenance of students’ performance.
Tip Tap Tap Industrial Design
Tip Tap Tap worked closely with Perch Dynamic Solutions, a leading Irish industrial design company specialising in educational furniture and associated standards. Working with Perch Dynamic Solutions, we wanted to ensure our interactive school desks are ergonomically designed, facilitating correct posture for early year’s students, essentially ensuring student needs are provisioned for with regards to their comfort, safety, ease-of-use and well-being.
About the team
Tip Tap Tap is a campus company based at the Nimbus Centre, Cork Institute of Technology, led by three co-founders Stephen Collins (CEO), Juan Martinez (CTO) and Kevin O’ Mahony (CDO). Tip Tap Tap was formally incorporated in February 2015, however the business and technology development began back in 2013.
The technology evolved from post-graduate research undertaken by our CTO Juan Francisco Martinez, which focused on extending touch sensing capabilities on everyday surfaces. While, Kevin O’ Mahony’s research focused on developing multiuser, multitouch systems. Kevin’s Masters project focused on approaches for supporting co-located collaborative design planning meetings within digital media design agencies. He designed and developed a multi-touch meeting room tabletop aptly named the “MeeTTable”, and design planning applications to support design planning meetings.
Stephen (CEO) is a serial entrepreneur and has founded several technology companies in the past 15 years. As a Senior Researcher with Nimbus Centre in Cork Institute of Technology, Stephen has been at the forefront of Internet of Things research within the centre. Therefore, the fusion of entrepreneurial, technical, and design expertise of touch sensing technologies, ubiquitous computing and interaction design gave the founders an innate curiosity to explore how such technology could be developed to enhance educational domains.
Launch and availability
Tip Tap Tap has not yet launched the product for sale. However, we are undertaking independent school trials in Q3 2016 in preparation for product launch to follow, initially focusing on target markets within Ireland and the UK. To keep you posted of our updates and future launch. Be sure to follow us on twitter (@tiptaptap_edu) and www.tiptaptap.ie to find out more.