Designing tabletop applications for collaboration in non-collaborative learning tasks in the classroom : learning persuasive writing

Philip Heslop

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Learning in a face to face collaborative setting can have many benefits, such as leveraging differing peer proficiency to obtain an outcome not reachable by the individuals involved. Including expertise provided by teachers decreases this gap between potential and current ability, while also providing opportunity for the expert to impart timely and appropriate assistance to the learners. In the fields of Human Computer Interaction and Educational Technology, digital tabletops have come to the fore as a medium for facilitating small groups of collaborative learners, and suitable applications can provide at least some of the support that the teacher’s expertise would in the learning process. Previously, most explorations in this area have concentrated on learning tasks that are already collaborative in nature, and have focused on single group deployments, and usually in controlled settings such as a research lab. This thesis focuses on two main aims: (i) investigating the design of such applications, and how learning tasks not normally considered collaborative, such as Persuasive Extended Writing, might be adapted to a digital tabletop mediated collaborative learning task; and (ii), how to expand this application from a single group to a classroom scenario, and overcoming all the challenges that an “in the wild” deployment of this kind might entail. A review of previous literature on collaborative learning and collaborative learning technology inform a learner centred design process of an application for the collaborative learning of Persuasive Extended Writing. This design process was conducted with three groups of three learners aged 13 – 15 in the lab. Based on this investigation of the literature around collaborative learning, there is a potential learning impact from allowing collaboration in a usually non-collaborative learning setting. The application incorporates factors designed to elicit collaborative behaviours, such as visuospatial representations and decision points. The work then sets about identifying and evaluating these collaborative behaviours, with a view that they are potentially in line with this ultimate learning goal. iii The Collocated Collaborative Writing application (CCW) is deployed and evaluated in an “in the wild” classroom setting. This involved two studies in real classrooms in schools, with eight digital tabletops allowing for a class-wide deployment. In the first study, participants were students of mixed ability, year 8 (aged 13-14), studying English, Geography and History. In the second study, participants were mixed ability year 8 students (aged 13-14) studying English. Studies were facilitated by teachers who had created the material for the studies based on their current teaching and curriculum. The process identified the issues and challenges involved in this kind of “in the wild” deployment. The lessons learned from this process about the differing expectations of the stakeholders involved in the first study informed the second deployment. A combination of addressing the issues directly, forming a more equal partnership with the school and teacher, and differences in culture between the schools lead to a study in which the collaborative writing application is evaluated. There are two main contributions of this work. Firstly, a set of design guidelines derived from lessons learned during the design process. Their intention is to assist in the process of making a normally non-collaborative learning task into a collaborative one, by exploiting affordances of the technology. The second contribution comes from lessons learned from two “in the wild” classroom studies. It outlines a deeper understanding of how this kind of application can be extended to the classroom by gaining insight into expectations of the parties involved, understanding the culture of the school and making the process a partnership rather than an imposition. The work also evaluated the Collaborative Writing Application in terms of the type and quality of the collaborative behaviours of the participants, and how they changed over time, as well as the adoption of the technology by the teacher, eventually being seen as a tool for their own agenda rather than an external element in the classroom.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Newcastle University
Award date5 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


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