Assessment and development of cognitive skills using tangible electronic board games : serious games on the TUI TagTiles

J. Verhaegh

    Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 2 (Research NOT TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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    When designing the educational tools and methods of the future, putting the child and its natural way of developing at the center offers great benefits. The child will be more motivated and at the same time the educational yield will be higher and more targeted. In this dissertation it is shown that electronic tangible systems like the TagTiles console can offer integral, personalized development of children in the areas of cognitive, fine motor and social skills for assessment, education and therapy, in a manner that builds on natural forms of play of children. Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs) are potentially highly effective tools for education combining physical interfaces with computing power, enabling easy-to-use and robust applications that are enjoyable and motivating. The topic of this dissertation is whether and how TUIs can be developed that are effective for developing cognitive skills of children. Classical theories on cognitive development were used as a theoretical foundation for the development of a TUI-based educational application, such as the role of sensorimotor abilities for cognitive development as described by Piaget. Vygotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development was used to inspire the implementation of adaptivity in the educational application. The research described consisted of three phases, each including an empirical study conducted at primary schools. In the first phase the influence of the type of interface on the performance of children on an educational task was investigated. The use of a virtual, pc-based interface was compared to the use of a tangible, non-electronic interface for the same puzzle task. It was found that children (N=26, aged 5-7 years) were able to solve the tangible puzzle tasks on average almost twice as fast as the PC based task, and needed considerably less instruction for the tangible version. The results of the study support the hypothesis that tangible interfaces offer a more suitable interface than a pc-based interface to educational tasks, at least for young children. In the second phase it was validated whether a range of TUI-based tasks can be used to address nonverbal, cognitive skills. The applied tasks had been developed for use with ‘TagTiles’. TagTiles is a tabletop electronic console with tangible game pieces developed by Serious Toys B.V. ( The console includes a sensing board with an array of LED lights underneath and audio output. The system is controlled by manipulating game pieces on the TagTiles surface. Eight visual-spatial tasks were created, intended to address different nonverbal cognitive skills such as (working) memory and spatial reasoning. Each task included abstract patterns consisting of colored tiles. For each task a different assignment is given to the player, such as mirroring the pattern, or repeating a sequence of tiles that lit up on the board. To validate which skills can be addressed with these tasks, children’s performances on the TagTiles tasks were correlated with performances on several conventional psychometric instruments. This study included children aged 8-10 years and consisted of a pilot study (N=10) and an experiment (N=32). Significant correlations were found between the performances of children on the TagTiles tasks and the performances on nonverbal subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children IIINL (WISC IIINL). Some tasks also showed significant correlations with Raven’s Progressive Matrices, which is an intelligence test measuring deductive reasoning skills. The results of this study indicate that the developed tasks can be used to train skills that are measured in IQ tests. In the third phase it was investigated whether the developed visual-spatial tasks kept their ability to address cognitive skills when embedded in a game. It was also tested whether children experienced this game, called ‘Tap the little hedgehog’, to be fun and intrinsically motivating. A fantasy theme was added to include the tasks in a natural way, to minimize and simplify the instructions needed to understand the game play and to make the tasks more fun to play. The difficulty of the task levels was made adaptive to the player’s achievements. A reward structure was added to increase children’s motivation to reach certain goals in the game as well as a support structure, created to help the child when needed, enabling independent play. The results of the empirical study (N=52, aged 7-9 years) with this game indicated that the added game context had not changed the essence of the tasks, as the performances were similar to those in the study in phase two. These findings support the hypothesis that TagTiles tasks applied in a game context can be used to assess and train a range of nonverbal skills. For assessment purposes we concluded that TagTiles can be used to test at least part of the cognitive skills that are addressed with the applied conventional psychological measures, given the significant correlations that were found. Studies by others have shown that training of relevant skills such as working memory can improve aspects of intellectual functioning, in particular executive functioning and efficient use of working memory. This opens the exciting prospect that by practicing with TagTiles the performance on the mentioned skills may be enhanced, or that these skills may be more effectively used. This means that it would be useful to investigate whether, after further refinement and validation, the TagTiles tasks can be used for assessment and training of specific cognitive skills. Based on the results of the conducted studies, it was concluded that the integral and personalized development of children in the areas of cognitive, fine motor and social skills for assessment, education and therapy can be facilitated with TUIs like TagTiles. Educational TUIs can profoundly change current education and assessment practices, offering an alternative that is enjoyable to the child and effective and accurate to the educational or assessment expert. The described way of creating a challenge using the Zone of Proximal Development can also be used to improve the experience with educational games.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Industrial Design
    • Aarts, Emile H.L., Promotor
    • Resing, W.C.M., Promotor, External person
    • Fontijn, W.F.J., Copromotor
    • Hummels, Caroline C.M., Committee member
    Award date28 Nov 2012
    Place of PublicationEindhoven
    Print ISBNs978-90-386-3284-1
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


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