November 24, 2007
Reading for November 27th, are now posted. Enjoy!

October 2, 2007
To upload your thoughtless acts, create a new assignment page like any other lab. You'll see "Thoughtless Acts" listed as one of the assignment options.

May 24, 2008
This site has been archived and is no longer editable. Stay tuned for the next version, coming in the fall!


Project Members: 
Isaac Salier-He...
Shawna Hein


We intend to address some of the challenges of foreign language learning in this project. The
process of language learning is undoubtedly best accomplished under
conditions of immersion. Since that is not always feasible for the
average adult, however, many applications have sprung up which address
the need for alternate methods of learning. Most of these
applications, though, are focused on rote memorization of vocabulary
and grammar rules, using tools like flashcards and textbooks. These
methods, while helpful, emphasize repetitive drills and are
non-interactive. This does not reflect the way that people learn best
or take advantage of the full range of human ability. The more
interactive, exterior memory aids people have (including scent, sound,
and touch), the easier it is for people to memorize and recall events.
Associating words with a variety of senses is possible in a tangible
user interface, and for this reason, this method would be better than
the more conventional method of teaching foreign language.


The likely users of
such a product would be people interested in learning a foreign
language later in life, as very young children do not often require
such focused study. This project is also more suited to the individual
student, as opposed to a multiple-interaction environment such as a

We do not intend to bring users to full fluency with this project.
Rather, our implementation is intended to assist users in acquiring
skills in specific areas of language learning. For instance, we are
interested in focusing on grammatical cases, verb conjugation,
vocabulary memorization, and other domains where repetitive learning
can be aided by tangible sensory input.


At this early stage of planning, we propose the following as a possible implementation:

  • A
    display screen for giving problems to the user.
  • A
    flat board with position sensors, and also display lights capable of
    dynamically projecting words onto the interior of the frosted blocks.
  • Translucent
    cubes representing parts of speech, which will be moved by the user to
    different positions on the board, representing various conjugations and

Potential Challenges

  • Vast differences between languages could necessitate very
    different -- or at least more complex -- interfaces. (For instance, it
    will be difficult to reconcile different character sets and alphabets.)
  • The project would require very large word databases, as well as accurate grammar across all examples.
  • Learning a language is a multi-faceted process. One must learn grammar,
    vocabulary, figures of speech, and in some cases, certain cultural
    nuances and customs, to become a fluent speaker. We must limit the
    scope of our project for the sake of simplicity and time constraints,
    but this also places limits on the extent to which a user will be able
    to acquire the language.


Group Observation - It's an

Group Observation - It's an interesting idea to pursue whether or not tangible user interfaces can invoke the same sort of immersion that has been linked to language acquisition.

System - The Interaction loop for this system is not quite clear. What does a user do with the blocks? What are the exercises? What does the digital nature of the exercises buy the user that other things - like flash cards - can't. We're not sure if it's immediately clear the link between the tangibility of the project and the sense of immersion. Though, we think a project like this could help explore that area quite a bit. Perhaps this touches more on multiple-intelligences than it does immersion. Consider how else you might recreate a sense of immersion using TUI. Can you integrate language learning into everyday activities as opposed to making it a separate exercise?

Use-Cases - Please consider some common use cases in your system. What do you think will be common uses of your system, who will use I, and what will they do, specifically.

Related Work - Neurosmith has a toy that does music/language through the movement of physical blocks ( ). The media lab also has a moving-block type projects as well (

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