CLEMSON — Developing a device that allows third-graders to “feel” their interaction with a computer has won a national award for a team of Clemson University engineering students.

The project adds a sense of touch to the computer interface, allowing children to actually feel force and vibration as they compare shapes, sizes and weights of objects shown on the computer screen.

The student team from the Senior Capstone Design Class in Clemson's Holcombe electrical and computer engineering department earned a $7,500 award in the design competition sponsored by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).

Their project — “Engineering Haptic Virtual Manipulatives to Enhance K-12 Math and Science Education” — seeks to help elementary school children learn basic math and science concepts, such as rotational symmetry and the relative weights of objects.

“The idea is to use real-world objects to teach abstract concepts,” said Tim Burg, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering who heads the Haptic Interaction Lab. “The students adapted manipulatives-based teaching methods from Math Out of the Box presented by Dot Moss and turned them into computer-based haptic virtual manipulatives.

“A haptic device, essentially a computer-controlled robot that uses electric motors to push or pull against the user, is a unique computer output device that allows the user to actually feel forces or vibrations,” Burg said. “Creating haptic virtual manipulatives holds the potential to revolutionize the educational field of math and science instruction.”

The computer engineering students collaborated with faculty in other disciplines — including Clemson's bioengineering and psychology departments — to complete the project.

Members of the award-winning team are:

  • Katelyn Aggas, Jacksonville, Fla.;
  • Tatum Boulware, Elon, N.C.;
  • Christopher Cooper, Charleston;
  • Justin Coulston, Charleston;
  • Shawqi El-Tarazi, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates;
  • John Furmanski, Simpsonville;
  • Andrew Kinard, Swansea;
  • Joshua Knuckles, Gaffney;
  • Robert Kriener, Surfside Beach;
  • Mary Maier, Cheraw;
  • Tyler Rowe, Catawba, N.C.;
  • Adam Thompson, Rock Hill;
  • Brandon Shropshier, Boiling Springs; and
  • Kristen Wallis, Centreville, Va.

The electrical engineering senior design classes are taught by Burg and Richard Groff, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The NCEES Engineering Award for Connecting Professional Practice and Education is an annual competition sponsored by the organization, which develops, administers, and scores the examinations used for engineering and surveying licensure in the United States. Louis Hapeshis, P.E., of Schneider Electric’s Square D Services served as the liaison to local engineers who helped critique the projects.

“An important goal in our undergraduate engineering program is to prepare students for engineering careers according to the standards set by NCEES through the F.E. (Fundamentals of Engineering) and P.E. (Professional Engineer) exams. The NCEES endorsement of our senior design projects through this award helps to validate our efforts to reach these standards,” Burg said. “Additionally, the award is inspiring in that it helps to reinvigorate our efforts to improve the quality and relevancy of the student design projects.”

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