The Efficacy of Surface Haptics and Force Feedback in Education
Gorlewicz, Jenna Lynn
This dissertation bridges the fields of haptics, engineering, and education to realize some of the potential benefits haptic devices may have in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education. Specifically, this dissertation demonstrates the development, implementation, and assessment of two haptic devices in engineering and math education and then describes the modeling of a new class of tactile touchscreens. These force feedback and tactile devices provide robust, engaging interfaces to enhance student learning in the classroom. First, we explore the potential of a force feedback device in teaching a core mechanical engineering undergraduate course. The haptic paddle, a one degree of freedom force feedback joystick, has been adopted at several universities for teaching system dynamics and controls in engineering education. Through design, hardware, and software improvements, we have enhanced the ease of use of the haptic paddle and have lowered its cost to less than $100 including all components but a laptop. We have performed the first formal assessment of the learning benefits of the haptic paddle laboratories in System Dynamics through a multi-year study evaluating both what concepts students are learning and when they are learning them. Our results show significant increases in student learning after having completed the haptic paddle laboratories. Next, we explore the potential of commercially available tactile touchscreens for teaching graphical mathematics to blind students. Tactile (vibratory) touchscreens are specifically designed for portability and robustness, are commercially available, and share a small number of common software platforms, providing a unique opportunity for quick adoption and implementation within an educational setting. User studies with sighted and blind individuals demonstrate that users can perceive basic graphical mathematics concepts using surface vibrations and auditory feedback. Toward enhancing the realism of current tactile feedback provided in touchscreens and toward providing a more engaging user experience, we then explore the modeling of a new class of variable friction touchscreens. These touchscreens use ultrasonic vibrations to create changes in perceived friction on flat surfaces, enabling users to feel sensations resembling textures and other surface properties. We model and simulate these plate vibrations under varying conditions, including number and location of actuators and plate properties. We experimentally validate our model under various cases and show its effectiveness in serving as a design tool for variable friction touchscreens. Haptic devices, to date, have had only minimal exposure to educational settings, largely due to their high costs and unquantified evidence of enhanced learning experiences. The research in this dissertation is motivated by providing higher fidelity haptic interactions via new technologies, facilitating the adoption of haptic devices in educational settings, enhancing active learning environments through these devices, and assessing the benefits haptic devices have in student learning. However, the methods and devices presented in this work are broadly applicable in other domains where force feedback or surface haptics can facilitate enhanced human-machine interfaces.