These “Interactive Table Tops” Can be a Powerful Tool for Teaching, Learning, and Collaborating
Multitouch tables, also known as “touchtables” or “interactive tabletops”, have been around for a while as a tool for collaborative applications in education, even before the current craze for tablets began storming schools and training centers worldwide. The idea of direct group interaction with a given subject matter at the touch of a finger is becoming more and more appealing, especially to younger generation that are less inhibited by this approach to the digital world.
Defining a touchtable as a “large tablet” would be an easy sales trick to capture attention but at the same time, it would be dramatically limiting its potential and vision. While a tablet is in itself a personal device with an almost intimate connection to the person who is carrying it, a touchtable is a piece of hardware that is intended to be used by a group of people.
As a result, the tablet partly separates the user from the rest of the class, whereas the touchtables aim to bring people/groups together, by supporting the realization and benefits of joint collaborative tasks and assignments.
This does not mean that a touchtable needs to be thought of as a substitute or a surrogate for tablets and Interactive White Boards, but rather complementary in supporting diverse and complex teaching methodologies.
Keeping in mind that technology is not an end in itself but a support to what the teacher, trainer or lecturer has in mind to achieve, one can easily envisage how ‘Problem Based Learning’ or ‘Flipped Classroom’ can be technology-enabled by a combination of tablet-based personal homework and in-class collaborative workshops at the touchtable.
Designing software for collaboration
There are many touchtable hardware solutions in the market, differentiating in size, format, fluidity and number of concurrent finger touches, however, what can really make them stand out from one another is the software they run. Just installing and running Windows applications is not the only way to foster collaboration between users, given that most of the applications developed are meant to be run in singleuser mode.
The experience from our academic background and our industrial knowledge has shown that independently of the type of learning and of the age of the user, a number of common factors have to be considered when designing software to support collaborative and group learning on touchtables.
We know the software has to:
1. Support individual activity – everyone needs a personal work area where he/she can act independently of others.
2. Make all the participants in the activity distinguishable from one another.
3. Assign ownership of resources.
4. Establish rules for concurrent access.
5. Support the exchange of resources between participants.
6. Intermingle individual and group work.
We have applied these principles to our flagship software solution TToole (http://ttoole.com), a cloudbased software that can easily run on any touchtable to create a protected environment where teachers, trainers and lecturers can publish their lessons. Students can then operate in separate working areas while the center part of the table is meant to be a “common space” where learning elements are shared and collaborated.
Group interaction leads to higher engagement
In 2011, we were tasked with developing a cloud based touchtable software prototype by a major medical training company. They were looking for a solution to help motivate their learners to engage in mandatory and other types of educational training. All other strategies whilst good in their own way (e-learning, standard face-to-face classroom activity) had not provided the desired effect. The medical trainers would simply click “completed” or check their emails to confirm attendance at the class.
When facing their peers however, it was found that a mixture of collaboration and competition led the learners to engage with the objectives of the training session, whilst at the same time reducing their sources of distraction and opening discussion. Literature shows that touchtables are especially suitable to develop the so-called cross-functional skills, such as negotiation and decision making, for adults as well as for kids.
The result of the prototype was beyond all expectations and this collaborative type of learning was rolled out across the medical training company. We therefore decided to rewrite the software with a range of new features, and to deliver it from the cloud via the Practix website. (Teachers can download it and test it under the evaluation mode).
We will be demonstrating the TToole software solution at BETT 2014 in London 22-25th Jan, the largest exhibition for technology in education in the world. We hope to see you there so that you can see and ‘touch’ the benefits of collaborative learning!
Multi-touch tables and collaborative learning, Steve Higgins, Emma Mercier, Liz Burd, Andrew Joyce-Gibbons, British Journal of Educational Technology: Volume 43, Issue 6, pages 1041–1054, November 2012
Rick, J., Marshall, P., and Yuill, N. Beyond One-Size-Fits All: How Interactive Tabletops Support Collaborative Learning. In Proc. of IDC 2011. ACM
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