University of Illinois

Interactive displays advance research into collaborative learning


The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign uses multi-touch tables in classroom settings to study how this technology influences group interactions and learning. It all adds up to another step on the road to better understanding how new technologies can transform learning by improving collaboration and engagement.

A particular challenge that the university identified with high school children was the way they struggled to work together collaboratively because they were used to working individually. The university wanted to create an environment in which they could study and overcome this reluctance to share ideas.


This need was met whe UIUC opened its new Illinois Digital Ecologies and Learning Laboratory (IDEALL) in September 2015. The new facility enables researchers in education and other disciplines to create technology-enhanced learning environments and study their impact on student learning.

IDEALL’s technologies include 360-degree audio and video recording systems - including ceiling-mounted cameras and wireless microphones. There are also four 55-inch MultiTaction tabletop screens for the study of collaborative learning.

The MultiTaction tabletop screens are unique in that they identify hands rather than points of contact only. This makes it possible to implement a richer set of interactions and allows researchers to track multiple users even if they interact close to or reach across one another



The interactive screens have been used to study how touch technology can be used to create a new way to advance human computer interaction. The department has also used it to show how students across all age groups can benefit from collaborative learning and how technology can support general learning.

“Traditionally when we look at collaborative learning in technology, you think of three children fighting over a single mouse,” says Dr Mercier. “There have always been a lot of issues with in-person collaborative learning just with access to who actually gets to participate.”

Professor Mercier and her team spent a year looking at what was happened in a classroom that is free of technology and then built an app called ‘Food for Thought’. This demanded the use of technology. Specifically it could be run on the tables in the university learning lab.

The study and set up in the lab made it easy for the team to study how pupils engage in collaborative learning. Data analytics of the school children’s work on the MultiTaction tables provides insights on how students engage with tasks, based on the frequency of touch and type of interaction.

The data that the research team collected during the trial with the University Laboratory High School students will be used to better understand how learners engage in collaborative problem-solving and to develop technologies that support collaborative learning about climate change.

The University  carried out similar research with college-level engineering students and used data analytics of what the high school children did on the MultiTaction table to give provide teaching assistants with insights into how collaborative school groups work. 

I have been examining the use of multi-touch tables in classroom settings, examining how this technology influences group interactions and learning, the between group and whole class interactions, and the device ecologies, teacher tools and classroom contexts that influence the learning opportunities available when using these tools

Emma Mercier

UIUC Assistant Professor


MultiTaction wins the "Best Video Wall System: MultiTaction Hybrid Wall" award from rAVe Publications, at ISE 2018!