Multiple Screens For Multiple Uses and the Growth of HCI for Education

Multiple Screens For Multiple Uses and the Growth of HCI for Education

Multiple Screens by Siddartha ThotaThis post is about an article I recently read (really you can skip directly to the Google slideshow if you want) which really makes me feel good about a lot of the things we’ve been doing over the past four years in understanding what it means to connect students in a smart classroom across a wide variety of devices, displays, and even locations and contexts.

Our earlier work showed us that when collaborating students tended to do so more effectively using larger format displays (as huddling around small screens tended to make some students get pushed to the fringe and prevented them from taking part in the discourse). We also found that large displays were great for the teacher in seeing the work of the class at-a-glance (versus on small screens) and in discussing it with larger groups (

I agree that smaller devices, increasingly tablets for their increased portability (can you believe that the iPad only debuted in late 2010!), are better suited for individual contributions – or as a “starting off point”.

This highlights a big unofficial theme of this year’s International Conference of the Learning Science ( was the emergence of HCI for learning – the idea that we need to understand and start seriously thinking about and researching how these new technologies (and their respective affordances) can best help us aid students to achieve new forms of learning and collaboration that were previously unachievable.

It’s an exciting time to be an educational researcher – so long as we continue to ask the tough questions about how these technologies (and how students intact with them) specifically aid in learning and not just implementing them for technology’s sake we’ll be just fine 😉

*note this is a cross published article with Google+ which has to happen this way until they get their public API in order



There have been ongoing discussions amongst educational researchers concerning how teachers can support students in making connections between mathematics topics (The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000). Conventional instruction, with its a sequential presentation of materials in textbooks and the rote completion of problem sets, often fails to help students develop a deep understanding. This is particularly true in regard to the interconnections amongst mathematical concepts, which often come across to students as completely separate topics (Hiebert, 1984).

MathRepoVizIn response, working closely with a school math teacher, we co-designed (Penuel, et al., 2007) a curriculum to engage several small groups of students working in parallel as they “tagged” a common set of math problems. In so doing, a collaborative visualization emerged as the curriculum synthesized the combined tags from all groups. A set of thirty problems developed by the teacher belonged to one or more of four category groups: Algebra & Polynomials, Functions & Relations, Trigonometry, and Graphing Functions. The basic goal of this activity was to help students understand the relationships between these four aspects of mathematics by having them visualize the association of math problems with multiple categories.

Within our S3 classroom, students were automatically grouped and placed at one of the room’s visualization displays, and usinglaptops were asked to “tag” (label) a total of 30 questions. Each group’s display showed a graphical visualization of their collective responses. Students were then asked to collaboratively solve their tagged questions and vote and comment on the validity of other groups’ tags. A central display showed a larger real-time aggregate of the all groups’ tags as a collective association of links. As students voted on these tags, agreements resulted in thicker link lines than those that fostered disagreement.

Preliminary findings, while representing only a small number of participants, showed an upward trend of increasing accuracy and structuredness for the experimental condition. The improved accuracy from the pre-test to the curriculum activity and post-test suggests the importance of how we ask students to make connections to problems, with greater accuracy derived from a collaborative design which shares responsibility. The structuredness, which measured students’ recognition of the connections, shows increasing willingness to characterize math problems from different perspectives.

Overall, students found the visualizations useful in showing different mathematical themes from which a problem could be approached. One student indicated that the visualization was helpful when he could not solve a problem. Students also stated that, over time and with more contributors, the system would become increasingly valuable for studying purposes.

Students also commented that they became more cognizant of the connections amongst mathematics ideas and themes. It is noteworthy that students gained awareness that one could discuss properties of math problems and their relevant themes rather than simply answer them.

Watch the video below:

AERA 2010 Looking Back on Louisiana

AERA 2010 Looking Back on Louisiana

Our lab just came back from AERA 2011 in New Orleans, LA and after taking a bit of time to mentally unpack all the great presentations and talks I attended I thought now would be a good time to share a few of my thoughts.

AERA is a massive conference (over 13000 people attended last year and this year was at least as big) so catching everything was an impossibility – so if anyone caught any other particularly interesting talks feel free to add them in the comments.

I wanted to highlight one session in that stood out to me  – a symposium titled “Designing Technology to Support Collaboration in the Classroom“.  The main push of this symposium was looking at the ways in which technology is transforming not only the ways in which students can learn collaboratively but also challenging the traditional ideas of the physical affordances of the classroom.  The work of the team at Durham University showed how multi-touch tabletop surfaces could not only aid students in working together in small groups around a single table, but also how by networking them together, the products of the individual groups could be shared towards facilitating whole class discussion and jigsaw type activities.

AERA 2010 SymposiumIn the same session Moraveji and Pea presented their work on how different displays can support socially connected learning. Two things stood out to me in this talk – the first was the use of a technology developed by Moraveji named Multimouse which allowed up to 50 inputs (primarily mice but other inputs are possible as well) to work on a single shared screen off a single computer.  This can allow an entire class to interact in a shared visual space (either as individuals or collaboratively).  I’ve always struggled with how you could have a whole class of students interact in one space simultaneously and Moraveji has found a simple and elegant way to enable this.  I saw Moraveji’s technology being employed by another researcher Miguel Nussbaum  at The Red Conference recently and it resonated with me because not only were they able to have dozens of students interacting in real-time on a shared computer/screen, but they were able to make sense of each individual students’ work in ways that empowered the teacher to better respond to the individual students and the whole class.

The other aspect of Moravji and Pea’s talk was the description of the different ways that displays can be used in helping student work socially – they broke the interactions into three functional areas: Shared, Complementary, and Auxiliary.  I’ll leave it to anyone who wants to read the differences from the conference paper but I wanted to touch on the last one specifically, Auxiliary, and my own work.  Moraveji and Pea use the term ‘auxiliary displays’ to “denote displays that listen to existing activity in the classroom, project it in some form, and then allow for users to acquire that data for their own devices.”  It is this kind of collection, aggregation, and revisualization of student work that is at the center of much of what we do here OISE – by leveraging the collective product of the whole class from individual and small group work, we can provide a powerful opportunities for whole class discussion, reflection, and sense making towards individual constructivist learning – This information can also be customized for the teacher providing deeper insight on of the state of the class’ knowledge, to help better orchestrate classroom activites to address student needs.

Also as a shameless plug a lot of my lab mates and collaborative partners had some excellent presentations throughout the conference – many of which resonate with the work described above – in particular the presentations on Embedded Phenomena with Tom Moher and Alejandro Gnoli and the rest of their lab at UIC.

The Spotted Cat NoLa

One final important note – if you’re going to New Orleans… avoid Bourbon Street (it’s played out and cheesy).  Head on over to Frenchman St. (it’s where the locals go for the best music, beer, and food in the city), and in particular check out the Spotted Cat3 Muses, and DBA.