Student perceptions of tactile and virtual learning approaches: What can we learn from their viewpoint?

Kathy Schmidt Jackson, Conrad Tucker, Gul E.Okudan Kremer

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Active physical manipulation and touching of objects, also known as tactile interactions, are generally viewed as effective ways for students to learn complex and abstract concepts. Researchers, however, are still investigating how tactile instructional activities contribute to deeper student learning. In traditional engineering design courses, students engage in tactile as well as virtual learning experiences. This study aims to determine whether substantial differences exist between tactile and virtual learning approaches on active learning outcomes. In this preliminary study, we are investigating students' perceptions of tactile and virtual learning activities in an engineering design classroom and the challenges that students face in performing these types of activities in a team-based approach. Active learning can have many definitions and, in general, refers to various teaching and learning strategies where students are responsible for their learning by interactive involvement - This is not a passive lecture approach. With tactile learning, students are able to explore and manipulate objects and materials, yet today's students tend to do much of their exploration and object manipulation through the use of computer technologies rather than through interactions with physical products (e.g., virtual product dissection versus physical dissection). Some wonder if students who no longer touch and handle objects are able to be effective abstract thinkers. Others contend that because today's students are more tech savvy, active learning is possible through virtual interactions. Our freshman students are introduced to engineering design in a course that incorporates both digital and hands-on learning. This class provides students with theoretical fundamentals, abstract thinking, and real-world applications that are taught through the framework of sustainable design and environmental awareness. Students work in teams to complete their lab assignments and their ability to successfully collaborate, use the various technologies, and create novel solutions is dependent upon their ability to manipulate objects (either physically or virtually). In this paper, we offer preliminary evidence on the comparison of tactile to virtual learning as perceived by our students and share instructional issues that students feel either help or hinder their ability to learn.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - 2013
Event120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Atlanta, GA, United States
Duration: Jun 23 2013Jun 26 2013


Other120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityAtlanta, GA

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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