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Touchscreens Could Foster Future Collaboration

Using a computer for many individual users


For all their advantages, most touchscreen devices currently in use are unable to recognize more than one user at a time. “Multi-touch” screens are therefore the next goal for touchscreen manufacturers, which would enable multiple simultaneous users on a device and illustrate what analysts believe is the future direction of education technology: collaboration. A recent report by research firm Compass Intelligence found that “implementing collaborative tools to enhance instruction” would be one of the main growth areas in future education technology plans. The Sarasota County (Fla.) School District, for example, spent $14 million over four years installing some 3,000 Promethean ActivBoards in classrooms across the district and in every grade.

"We are looking at getting the teacher away from being the only one with the knowledge, the only one interacting with the board." Mike Horan, director of information technology, Sarasota County (Fla.) School district

Multi-touch screens could prove to be an important part of the trend. Education technology researchers from Durham University in the U.K . demonstrated their prototype “interactive desk” with students in a British elementary classroom in September, a project that was part of the government-funded Teaching and Learning Research Programme. Like a desk-sized iPhone or interactive whiteboard, the prototype is intended to be a combination desk and computer, and it “allows for multiple finger presses on a screen at one time, unlike one computer mouse,” says Liz Burd, lead researcher for the project. The unit demonstrates the possible future for collaborative, touch-based school technology. “With three kids at one unit, you can have thirty pointers to the screen at any time. For the first time you have one computer for many individual users.” Students can work alone or together on the desks, while teachers are able to control the content via a master console. “They can send out to the desks whatever activity they want pupils to work on. A panel on the teacher’s console will show what each of the pupils are doing, so they can offer extra instruction or support where necessary,” says Burd. “Significant bodies of research highlight how students learn more deeply when they are engaged in discussing their work with others. We believe that the combination of direct touch and group activity through a multi-touch environment will significantly enhance students’ learning experiences.”

Kurt O. Dyrli is products editor.