Reflection in Learning: Tabletops & Beyond

Last Wednesday our HCI group had the opportunity to meet with the folks of CUO, the Centre for User Experience Research, at the Social Science department of our university for a little brainstorm session. I was asked to present a bit of my work with which I threw a few ideas into the group and which provided me with some nice feedback. The slides of my presentation are available here, but they are pretty visual so won’t make much sense without me yapping along to them. The first half is much in line with what I’ve posted here and here though. As for the second half, let me give you an update.


We want to promote reflection and think our badge data is a good starting point. The badge data is an abstract, high level representation of the activity and achievements and can be a central access point from which we can further drill down into the raw data. While a student can figure things out by himself, input and guidance from a teacher through this reflection process can greatly improve the result. Putting students and teacher around a table for discussion seems like a good idea, so why not use a digital tabletop?

Tabletop Reflection

Let me explain how the first few steps of this process would work:

We put the teacher and a couple of students around the tabletop. The teacher drags out the names of the present students onto the tabletop. These expand and become the students’ personal consoles.

The teacher then pulls up the badges. As the tabletop app now knows which students are standing around the tabletop, it can adjust its badge visualisation and limit it to data relevant to these students. Dragging a badge onto the tabletop will expand the badge, provide more options such as showing its relation to the students and the class and provide a drilldown point to more information, in our case: tweets, blogs, comments, etc.

This provides the teacher and students with the basic elements required to facilitate discussion and reflection. The teacher has an immediate overview of the progress and the data of the students. He/she can give feedback, discuss the artefacts and guide the students in their learning process with the data available on the tabletop. The students can study and discuss the artefacts and compare their own work to that of their peers.

A couple of screenshots of the rough tabletop prototype:

Fullscreen_07_05_13_11_52 Fullscreen_07_05_13_11_51-4


Let’s do a quick tech intermezzo, before we lose half of the audience ;) While the goal is to create a tabletop reflection tool, we also want the technology to support multiple platforms. I walked away from the pure Paper.js idea I mentioned previously though and have now created a custom Javascript framework to suit my specific needs. The framework logic is built on a mix of Object-Oriented with Component-based design, the visual design is all HTML5 and CSS3. This allows me to quickly create classes that support multi-touch, animations (CSS3 and custom) and event triggers and can easily be hooked up to the DOM elements. No rocket science, just very helpful for rapid prototyping ;) As an example, the above prototype was developed in a couple of days.


The features required in our process aren’t all available yet in our prototype but will be developed soon. The next step (after some evaluations) will probably be about how we can expand this to collaboration. We want the students to collaborate around the tabletop but also collaborate with people out in the field. Imagine students outside or even out of the country being guided by the tabletop users and in turn providing the class with realtime data from these locations. Google Glass as a direct stream to what’s happening there? Why not!

We think there is potential in not just taking learning outside and the outside into the classroom, but also bringing these learning artefacts and analytics into the real world. We have more interesting ideas on this and how to involve the parents into the process, but more on that later. If I tell you everything now there’s no reason to come back right? ;)

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