Personal and Ubiquitous Computing

, Volume 17, Issue 8, pp 1775–1786 | Cite as

Tangible versus graphical user interfaces for robot programming: exploring cross-age children’s preferences

  • Theodosios SapounidisEmail author
  • Stavros Demetriadis
Original Article


This study explores children’s opinions and preferences regarding two isomorphic user interfaces that can be used for introductory programming activities, a tangible and a graphical one. The first system (tangible) comprises 46 cube-shaped blocks that represent simple programming structures and can be interconnected to form the programming code. The second system (graphical) presents on-screen the same programming space to the user (icons similar in appearance and operation with the tangible blocks). These two operationally equivalent user interfaces were given to three children groups of different ages (5–6, 7–8 and 11–12 years) to program the behavior of a Lego NXT robot. Children in dyads were let to interact with both systems, and during the activity, data were collected regarding children’s first-sight preference, enjoyment and easiness-to-use. The quantitative and qualitative analysis followed indicated that the tangible interface was more attractive especially for girls, and it was more enjoyable and finally characterized as easier to use only by younger children who were less experienced with computers. On the contrary, for older (11–12 years old) children, the tangible even though was more enjoyable, it was not considered as the easiest-to-use user interface. Taking into account the lack of empirical evidences related to the tangible user interfaces, this study discusses not only the potential usability advantages but also the disadvantages of tangible user interfaces for children.


Tangible user interfaces Tangible programming Introductory programming Educational robot Computer science education 



The authors of the paper wish to warmly thank the experimental elementary school of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Dumbo kindergarten in Langada, Thessaloniki Greece; especially the teachers and the directors of the schools, for the hospitality offered; Dimitra Baltzi for her support; Dr. Aristotle Kazakopoulos for the equipment provided; Dr. Dimitrios Stamovlasis for his constructive comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of InformaticsAristotle University of ThessalonikiThessalonikiGreece

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