Several investigations have pointed out the benefits of collaborative learning in the classroom (Roggoff, 1990; Wood & O’Malley, 1996) and the value of technological support for this type of activity ( Zancanaro et al. 2007; Neale & Nichols, 2001, O’Malley, 1995).
Anyway, peer collaboration and cooperative learning require specific conditions to occur effectively, as well as integrating technology into the classroom is a task that requires specific conditions.
Collaborative interaction mediated by multimedia tools is effectively when technology is designed to fit the context. Otherwise, the interface can become a barrier to collaboration and learning (Stock & Zancanaro, 2007; O’Malley, 1992).
Research on TUIs (Tangible User Interfaces) offers new and interesting perspectives for the educational context (Khandelwal et al., 2007, Eisenberg et al., 2004; Resnick et al., 1998; Ullmer and Ishii, 2001). TUIs are tools that combine digital and tangible experience, using tangible-physical materials from the user’s environment connected with digital components.
Tangible narrative applications include physical objects which can be represented and handled through digital elements, combining experience in both environments (Ishii & Ukmer, 1997). The connection between both levels seeks a more natural, direct and easily understandable interaction for the user. In some cases, the tangible objects used may be tokens that represent narrative content; while in others, they are used for the exploration or creation of content (Harley et al., 2012).
The strengths of the combination of tangible, digital and collaborative elements in the educational field are:
- They allow amplifying the experience, involving the sensorimotor interaction with the digital learning environment (Giovanella, 2014). In this way, the user interacts with a tool that is simultaneously physical and digital, coordinating reality with the virtual and digital environment.
- Collaborative activities between students both in the game and in didactic activities involve physical interactions with space, objects, and others. Manipulative materials have proven useful in learning mathematical concepts, so they can be extended to other fields, such as the linguistic-verbal and narrative area.
- The use of common digital interfaces such as the mouse and keyboard can be complex for younger children, not only because it requires coordination of fine motor skills or eye-hand coordination (required for the use of the mouse or keyboard) , but also they often require competencies of understanding and use of abstract menus and written language.
- Interfaces designed for larger groups imply the need for an advance from traditional screens and devices to tools that allow simultaneous and shared use by several students (Zancanaro et al. 2007; Stanton et al., 2001).
Story creation with I-Theater
The i-Theater system is a tangible digital storytelling instrument. Aimed to support the development of narrative skills in pre-school and primary school children. It is based both on the elaboration of chronological sequences of events and on the exploration of their creative, expressive, personal, emotional and social aspects.
The approach adopted by I-Theater focuses on the combination of traditional manual activities with digital tools. This approach makes easier for children to have greater control over history, which is considered a key aspect according to children’s demands in relation to technology (Druin et al., 1999). Beyond control, technology in the educational field must also focus on providing children with expressive tools, supporting their curiosity and desire for repetition (Druin & Solomon, 1996).
Unlike other digital storytelling instruments, more focused on the primary education stage (such as TellTable, Cao, et al., 2010), i-Theater is directed to younger children too. Its design does not imply menus, written or abstract components that could generate confusion. Instead, the system relies on the manipulation of physical objects that accompany children in the different phases of the narrative.
It’s an interactive system for creating stories and narration, based on tangible interfaces for children between 4 and 8 years-old. Children can animate their own characters and stories through a creative process that combines traditional tools and digital media.
i-Theater allows to create, record, reproduce and manipulate stories in a simple way. It has the appearance of a table and consists of two basic elements: a multi-touch interface for the composition of scenes and control of the characters, and a set of physical objects that make up the toolkit for recording and saving the story.
First, users are invited to create their story and draw the characters and scenarios on paper. Successively the drawings are loaded, digitized and manipulated in the digital table.
Based on previously created drawings, children can animate their own characters through the multi-touch screen, managing the content in a simple way, as if moving objects on a table. Any object (e.g. a paper cup) of a certain size can be used as a tangible interface to save elements of the stories or complete stories.
Other manipulative objects, the scene cards, are also used to divide the stories into scenes that can be recomposed in different ways. The opportunity to reorganize the scenes encourages children to explore different narrative schemes and allows the creation of different activities.
The use of the multi-touch screen offers the possibility of recording the narration, maintaining all the expressiveness, spontaneity and creativity of the game moment. The stories can be reproduced, modified and improved later through the scene cards.
In this way the system encourages creativity, turning a complex task such as creating stories into an easy and intuitive task, through the manipulation of physical objects and digital play.
- Cao X., Lindley S.E., Helmes J., Sellen A. (2010). Telling the whole story: Anticipation, inspiration and reputation in a field deployment of TellTable. In Proceedings of the 2010 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work (pp. 251-260). ACM.
- Costa, C. E., Mayora, O., & Gabrielli, S. (2011). I-Theatre: developing narratives skills in kindergarten children. In 2nd CHI workshop on UI technologies and their impact on educational pedagogy.
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- Eisenberg, M., Buechley, L. & Elumeze, N. (2004). Computation and Construction Kits: Toward the Next Generation of Tangible Building Media for Children. Proceedings of Cognition and Exploratory Learning in the Digital Age (CELDA), Lisbon, Portugal, 2004.
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- Zancanaro, M., Pianesi, F., Stock, O., Venuti, P., Cappelletti, A., Iandolo, G., Prete, M., & Rossi, F. (2007). Children in the museum: an environment for collaborative story telling. En Stock, O. & Zancanaro, M., eds, PEACH – Intelligent Interfaces for Museum Visits, Cognitive Technologies. Springer Science & Business Media.
INCLUDED – Digital Storytelling for Inclusion