Date of Award:

Summer 2017

Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Patricia S. Moyer-Packenham


This exploratory qualitative study used grounded theory to investigate the anatomy of educational apps that contain virtual manipulatives. For this study 100 virtual manipulatives within educational apps designed for the iPad were observed by the researcher in order to expand the explanations of and build theory about virtual manipulatives within apps. Affordance theory was used to frame all six phases of the study in which the researcher identified virtual manipulatives situated within educational apps, conducted observer-as-participant structured and unstructured observations, analyzed component data including field notes and memos using open and axial coding, created a conceptual framework, developed an evaluation tool prototype to evaluate virtual manipulatives within educational apps, and used the evaluation tool prototype to evaluate additional virtual manipulatives within educational apps.

The constant comparative method of open and axial coding was used to analyze the observation data that included field notes, memos, and video recordings. This indepth qualitative analysis led to the emergence of six study results concerning the components and relationships within educational apps that contain virtual manipulatives. The results revealed that: (1) virtual manipulatives within apps are comprised of two components: dynamic mathematical objects and features; (2) there are three distinct types of dynamic mathematical objects; (3) there are eight categories of features; (4) within one virtual manipulative there can be one or multiple objects; (5) varying relationships can exist among the dynamic object and the features within a virtual manipulative; and (6) varying relationships can exist among the virtual manipulatives within an education app in terms of the number, type, and ways the user proceeds.

A conceptual framework was also developed during the study to illustrate the components and relationships that emerged from the analysis and to serve as the basis for the development of an evaluation tool prototype to evaluate educational apps that contain virtual manipulatives. The components, relationships, framework, and evaluation tool prototype developed during this study advance the literature on virtual manipulatives and provide researchers with a common language to evaluate these apps.