Project Overview

Durham’s Technology-Enhanced Learning Research group have been investigating ways of enhancing ICT learning spaces (Hatch and Burd 2006). Our concern is that, too often, ICT requires pupils to adopt a ‘move to use’ approach which detracts from technology’s educational value. The outcome of Durham’s research is a proposal for a new learning environment called ‘SynergyNet’. This learning environment will be technology rich, where ICT is seamlessly integrated into the fabric of a classroom but the technology does not intrude on the main focus of the activity (Smith and Harrison 2001). Our enthusiastic claims for the positive impact of this technology on learning are based on its ability to facilitate classroom dialogue and pupil collaboration. Central to SynergyNet is a new form of desk that contains a large built-in multi-touch surface. Multi-touch surfaces are similar to PDAs or tablet PCs in that they obviate the need for a mouse or keyboard by allowing the user to interact with a finger or stylus. Therefore, they potentially have considerable benefit for younger pupils who find using mice difficult (Goodison 2002). However, unlike interactive whiteboards (IWBs) and tablet technologies, multi-touch surfaces can detect simultaneous contacts by fingers or pens. Therefore, two or more pupils can operate the desk at the same time. So, feasibly, a single multi-touch desk can operate as a set of individual computerised work spaces and/or a single large digital workspace allowing pupils both to work individually and to cooperate on a task. We believe that once users become familiar with the intuitive multi-touch functionality, single-touch devices will feel as obsolete as typewriters.

This proposal puts forward plans to develop the potential for multi-touch surfaces to transfer seamlessly between teacher-, learner- and group-centric learning spaces. The SynergyNet immersive classroom consists of the multitouch desks and the communication software needed to allow transitions between large screen displays and desks. Our proposal is that SynergyNet will therefore enhance the pupil/teacher dialogue (see the summary of issues and research in this area by Wersch, (2003)). In a SynergyNet classroom everyone has easy access to the equipment so that the dialogue currently generated between small numbers of pupils gathered around an IWB can be extended to the whole class. We propose that such a classroom will resolve the problems associated with pupils use of IWBs and offer a more flexible solution to the limited dialogue (Draper and Brown, 2004) of electronic voting systems (EVS). This proposal therefore demonstrates a way forward to enabling a pupil-centric pedagogy.

Research Aims

This research aligns directly to TLRPs evidence-informed pedagogic Principle 7 (James and Pollard, 2007) that
effective teaching and learning foster not only individual but also social processes and outcomes. Thus this
research aims:

  • Aim 1: To create a radically new technology-rich learning environment that integrates with traditional classroom layouts and collective activities.
  • Aim 2: To design and implement a new form of user interface for educational multi-touch systems.
  • Aim 3: To formulate a new pedagogy that eases transition and movement between teacher-centric and pupilcentric interaction.
  • Aim 4: To analyse pupils’ learning strategies to inform fundamental research by capturing data as pupils use the SynergyNet environment.