Tangible teaching tools: The use of physical computing hardware in schools

Jarrad Benham, Linda McIver, Jonathan Li

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference PaperResearchpeer-review


Context: With the push for STEM education in recent years there has been significant growth in the popularity of "physical computing and robotics devices in educational settings" (Blikstein, 2013). With the introduction of the "digital technologies curriculum" (DTC) (Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority [ACARA], 2015) there is a larger incentive for schools to consider the use of these tools. There are very few studies that examine the general usability of such programmable hardware devices from the perspective of non-expert users. This leaves teachers with little indication about the effectiveness of such hardware, with many relying on "word of mouth" when choosing between options in a crowded market.

Purpose: This study seeks to understand the experience of teachers who use physical computing hardware.

Approach: A qualitative approach is used to collect the data through a survey open to all teachers in Australia. The survey collects data on the subjects that are being taught, the year level and the programming experience of the teachers as well as the type of hardware that they use.

Results: Physical computing hardware is an attractive option due to its perceived benefits for students and the digital technologies curriculum. There are many hardware options on the market, with a majority of teachers using more than one. However, there are many challenges associated with the use of physical computing. Teachers expressed issues such as time to learn, cost, curriculum development and technical issues.

Conclusions: For the digital technologies curriculum to be effective, the teachers must be at a suitable standard to teach it. This paper shows that the curriculum is likely to increase the number of teachers using physical computing hardware as part of the DTC. This is in part due to the perceived benefit to the students that this hardware has. This paper presents several issues that must be addressed for the curriculum to achieve its full scope such as the large number of hardware devices on the market, and the issues that teachers have expressed with the hardware.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication28th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education (AAEE 2017)
EditorsNazmul Huda, David Inglis, Nicholas Tse, Graham Town
Place of PublicationSydney NSW Australia
PublisherAustralasian Association for Engineering Education (AAEE)
ISBN (Print)9780646980263
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventAAEE - Annual Conference of Australasian Association for Engineering Education 2017: Integrated Engineering - Manly Novotel, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 10 Dec 201713 Dec 2017
Conference number: 28th


ConferenceAAEE - Annual Conference of Australasian Association for Engineering Education 2017
Abbreviated titleAAEE 2017
Internet address

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