Tangible and Embodied Computing

Evan Barba (CCT) · Round 1

One of the most interesting and salient of these results was an understanding of how students' backgrounds manifested in different ways at different points during the course.

Evan Barba

The course "Tangible and Embodied Computing" introduces students to computer science and interaction design while allowing them to complete hybrid physical-virtual projects tailored to their interests. The aim of this course, launched in Fall 2013 in the Communication, Culture & Technology Program is to increase students' technological agility and computational thinking while promoting real-world skills and providing them with the confidence to approach new computational environments. The field of Tangible and Embodied Computing seeks to bridge the gap between physical and virtual objects and spaces, drawing on methods from computer science and interaction design. In designing this new course, Evan Barba both taught students the foundational concepts in these fields and gave students the opportunity to produce their own work. Barba created a combination of short tutorials and a longer project to walk students up a 'gentle-slope' toward designing and implementing complex projects on the Microsoft Pixelsense tabletop computer, which allows for tablet-like interaction as well as object tracking.

One challenge that arose throughout the semester was the time it took for students to develop, ask questions, and test their applications. This was mostly due to the differences in students' background knowledge. Barba responded to this by converting more class time into studio time, allowing students to work at their own pace, and designing individual learning progressions for each student. While not scalable, the solution did demonstrate the power of meeting students where they are by identifying and leveraging existing skillsets.

Barba plans in the future to better build on these results by more systematically identifying core skills and conceptual hooks that students already possess and developing methods for leveraging these into learning new skills, hopefully at an accelerated rate. Work done in this course provided Georgetown with data that will inform future course design as the university continues to incorporate emerging technologies and increase technical pedagogy.


Barba, Evan & S. Chancellor, “Tangible Media Approaches to Introductory Computer Science.” 20th Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITICSE '15), Vilnius, Lithuania, July 4-8, 2015.