Multi-touch screens are very fashionable these days, but there are not many practical applications for them. Now, researchers at Durham University in the UK are using them to develop the world's first interactive classroom. The new learning environments are using 'interactive multi-touch desks that look and act like a large version of an Apple iPhone.' Their initiative, called SynergyNet, has several goals, including the development of learning by sharing. So far, the research team has linked up with manufacturers to design software and desks that recognize multiple touches on the desktop. But read more...
You can see above one of these multi-touch smart desks in a classroom. "Schoolchildren were given a glimpse of the desks of the future yesterday (September 16, 2008) as researchers at Durham University unveiled the world's first interactive classroom." (Credit: Durham University) Here is a link to a much larger version of this photo.
You also can see children enjoying these smart desks here and there. You can even buy printed copies of these photos from North News, a company based in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. You also can watch a short video (1 minute and 15 seconds) -- also available from the Multitouch project page -- to see how these screens are used for teaching.
The SynergyNet solution -- whose motto is 'Supporting Collaborative Learning in an Immersive Environment' -- "will integrate Information Communications technology (ICT) into the fabric of the classroom. The new desk with a 'multi-touch' surface will be the central component; the desks will be networked and linked to a main smartboard offering new opportunities for teaching and collaboration. Several students will be able to work together at a desk as the desks allow simultaneous screen contact by multiple users using fingers or pens. Durham researchers want to create a 'natural way' for students to use computers in class. The system encourages collaboration between students and teachers, and a move away from teacher-centric learning."
Here are some quotes from Dr Liz Burd, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Dean in the Department of Computer Science at Durham University. "Our vision is that every desk in school in 10 years time will be interactive. IT in schools is an exciting prospect -- our system is very similar to the type of interface shown as a vision of the future in the TV series Star Trek! We can now by-pass the 'move-to-use' whiteboard. The new desk can be both a screen and a keyboard, it can act like a multi-touch whiteboard and several students can use it at once. It offers fantastic scope for more participative teaching and learning. The system will also boost equal access in school. In IT, we have found that males have been the dominant actors -- interactive classrooms will encourage more females to take part in lessons. It will also enable more disabled students to participate in lessons and allow more personalized learning."
Another researcher involved in the project, Dr Andrew Hatch, Teaching Fellow in the Department of Computer Science, added: "It changes the move-to-use principle; instead the computer becomes part of the desk. It's a practical change that will provide a creative interface for life-long learning for all students!"
The team doesn't know when their system becomes available. But they said that "the software will be available to schools for free as open source code."
Sources: Durham University news release, September 16, 2008; and various websites
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