Multi-touch tables – what is the research telling us? Part 3

WePlaySmart_byHatchThis, the final post (for now) in this series on multi-touch tables, reports on a 2012 research study undertaken by Higgins, Mercier, Burd and Joyce-Gibbons – Multi-touch tables and collaborative learning.

The authors suggested that “Research on collaborative learning tells us that groups who build on each other’s ideas, engaging in mutually responsive conversation about their task, are more likely to solve problems successfully and learn from the experience” (p. 1052). Multi-touch tables, therefore, appear to be a good tool for encouraging this kind of social learning.

The study explored “… how the multi-touch compared with similar paper-based activities as a starting point to develop more pedagogically effective activates with more complex resources and interactions” (p. 1041)., with the premise that collaboration leads to enhanced group cognition “… [the] process of articulating, negotiating and coordinating the different views of members of a group” (p. 1042).

The researchers used a triangulated approach in their study design with 32 year 6 students aged 10-11 in a school in the UK contrasting “… how small groups collaborated during a consensus-building activity on either a paper-based or multi-touch (MTT) version of the same task” (p. 1043).

Some of the key findings were:

  • All MTT groups exhibited shared learning strategies – sharing points of view, reading aloud, resizing material
  • Appears that the enlarging function for images positively aided in successfully completing the task
  • Paper encouraged more independent and quasi-independent talk with more teacher involvement, MTT allowed for increased elaborative and negotiating talk with less teacher involvement
  • MTT enabled more interactive comments leading to higher levels of reasoning
  • MTT learners created “ … a shared understanding of the task more quickly” (p. 1051) than paper-based groups
  • MTT engaged in more shared viewing of images and more inclined to assist each other and discuss images they were viewing
  • Enlarging, moving and re-sizing images helped in shared attention and shared understanding

Overall, the multi-touch tables increased joint attention through the ability to re-position and re-size images, encouraging social learning and, ultimately, joint understanding.

There are two YouTube videos of the authors’ work here:

Article reference

Blog posts

Other papers

  • Mercier, E.M. & Higgins, S.E. (2014). Creating Joint Representations of Collaborative Problem Solving with Multi-touch Technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning Early view.
  • Mercier, E., Higgins, S. & Da Costa, L. (2014). Different leaders: Emergent organizational and intellectual leadership in children’s collaborative learning groups. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning.
  • Mercier, Emma M. Higgins, Steven E. & Joyce-Gibbons, A. (2014). The effects of room design on computer-supported collaborative learning in a multi-touch classroom. Interactive Learning Environments 1-19.
  • Mercier, E.M. & Higgins, S. (2013). Collaborative learning with multi-touch technology: Developing adaptive expertise. Learning and Instruction 25: 13-23.
  • Higgins, S., Mercier, E., Burd, E. & Hatch, A. (2011). Multi-touch tables and the relationship with collaborative classroom pedagogies: A synthetic review. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning 6(4): 515-538.


Big thanks to Professor Steve Higgins, Durham University, who generously provided this paper and the additional references.


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