Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Computer Science


James Cox


tangible user interfaces; virtual reality


As computers have expanded into almost every aspect of our lives, the ever-present graphical user interface (GUI) has begun facing its limitations. Demanding its own share of attention, GUIs move some of the users' focus away from the task, particularly when the task is 3D in nature or requires collaboration. Researchers are therefore exploring other means of human-computer interaction. Individually, some of these new techniques show promise, but it is the combination of multiple approaches into larger systems that will allow us to more fully replicate our natural behavior within a computing environment. As computers become more capable of understanding our varied natural behavior (speech, gesture, etc.), the less we need to adjust our behavior to conform to computers' requirements. Such capabilities are particularly useful where children are involved, and make using computers in education all the more appealing.

Herein are described two approaches and implementations of educational computer systems that work not by user manipulation of virtual objects, but rather, by user manipulation of physical objects within their environment. These systems demonstrate how new technologies can promote collaborative learning among students, thereby enhancing both the students' knowledge and their ability to work together to achieve even greater learning. With these systems, the horizon of computer-facilitated collaborative learning has been expanded. Included among this expansion is identification of issues for general and special education students, and applications in a variety of domains, which have been suggested.