Bertrand Schneider


A tangible user interface for supporting collaborative learning of logistics.


The goal of this project was to facilitate students’ transition form concrete experience to abstract knowledge. We chose to work with students in logistics because they usually spend a lot of time on the field (working in warehouses) and little time in school. It is difficult for them to connect their everyday experiences with concepts taught in school. The Tinker Table is a possible solution to this problem; this is learning environment that simulates a small scale warehouse where students can more easily transfer and communicate their practical knowledge to a classroom setting.

This learning environment has been created at the CRAFT in Switzerland. Pierre Dillenbourg and Patrick Jermann have been supervising this project; the software behind the Tinker Table has been created Mainly by Guillaume Zufferey. My contribution was to design and run an empirical study comparing a multi-touch and tangible version of the Tinker Table. Here is a movie showing the Tinker Lamp being used in a swiss classroom:

Before running the study, I explored how different constraints influenced the way students would solve a typical problem in logistics (e.g. maximize the number of shelves in a limited space). Among other things, I varied the size of the representation, the “physicality” of the shelves, I had students solve the problem with traditional means (e.g. pen), on different surfaces and sizes:

I found that most of the time participants benefited from using physical objects. Working on large areas was also problematic, because moving things around and erasing shelves took more time than on small spaces. All those observations inspired the study that I ran comparing multi-touch and tangible interaction with the Tinker Table.

I then conducted a study to investigate the role that tangibility plays in a problem-solving task by observing logistic apprentices using either a multitouch or a tangible interface. Results showed that tangibility helped them perform the task better and achieve a higher learning gain. In addition, groups using the tangible interface collaborated better, explored more alternative designs, and perceived problem solving as more playful.

Mediation analysis revealed that exploration was the only process variable explaining the performance for the problem-solving task.

Results provided evidence that logistic apprentices better solve a warehouse design task with a tangible interface than with a multitouch interface. This means that tangibility is well suited for understanding and seeking out solutions in a logistic problem.  Our results also suggest that tangibility may enhance learning compared to a multitouch interface: indeed, apprentices using the former interface had a better learning gain than the apprentices using the second one. It appears that the main impact of tangible interfaces is to promote constructive behavior (exploration, collaboration, and playfulness of the task). The link between these process variables and problem-solving performance however, is not systematic. Only increased exploration leads to better performance. For more discussion on those results, please consult the paper published in IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies (referenced bellow).

For more details on the project, please consult the webpage of the CRAFT.


Prof. Pierre Dillenbourg, for giving me the opportunity to work in his lab and contribute to this project; Patrick Jermann, for teaching me so much about the field of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning and for his previous advice on how to design this study; Guillaume Zufferey, for building this amazing learning environment and supporting me during my time at the CRAFT; all the doctoral students (Son, Quentin, Andrea, Simon, Mirweis, Olivier, Kahleb and all the others) for their general intellectual contribution and great Friday “apperos”.


Project page on the CRAFT website (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne).


Schneider B., Jermann P., Zufferey ., & Dillenbourg P. (2011). Benefits of a Tangible Interface for Collaborative Learning and Interaction. IEEE Transactions on Learning technologies.

Jermann P., Zufferey G., Schneider B., Lucci A., Lépine S., Dillenbourg P. (2009). Physical space and division of labor around a tabletop tangible simulation. CSCL 2009.

Leave a Reply