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Enhancing brainstorming through scripting at a tabletop


Abstract and Figures

Brainstorming is a collaborative technique for enhancing creativity in problem solving. It has two main stages, storm-ing and norming. To make the best of this valuable tech-nique, learners need to build skills in the best practices for each stage. Tabletops have the potential both to support brainstorming and to help learners to build their skills in doing it effectively. This is important for those just learn-ing brainstorming. It is also useful when any member of the group may have forgotten how to do it effectively. This paper introduces a scripting approach to support this learn-ing. Our contributions are the identification of a three stage brainstorming process to supporting learning and the design of a script-based interface to aid the brainstorming process at each stage.
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Figure 1: Example tableshots for
Firestrom at end of storming
(top) and norming phases.
Figure 2: Collaborators using
Firestorm to organise ideas
during the norming phase.
Enhancing brainstorming through
scripting at a tabletop
Andrew Clayphan, Judy Kay
School of Information Technologies
The University of Sydney
NSW, 2006, Australia
Armin Weinberger
Department of Educational Technology
Saarland University
Campus C5 4, 66123 Saarbr¨ucken, Germany
Brainstorming is a collaborative technique for enhancing
creativity in problem solving. It has two main stages, storm-
ing and norming. To make the best of this valuable tech-
nique, learners need to build skills in the best practices for
each stage. Tabletops have the potential both to support
brainstorming and to help learners to build their skills in
doing it effectively. This is important for those just learn-
ing brainstorming. It is also useful when any member of
the group may have forgotten how to do it effectively. This
paper introduces a scripting approach to support this learn-
ing. Our contributions are the identification of a three stage
brainstorming process to supporting learning and the design
of a script-based interface to aid the brainstorming process
at each stage.
Copyright is held by the author/owner(s).
CHI’12, May 5–10, 2012, Austin, Texas, USA.
ACM 978-1-4503-1016-1/12/05.
Author Keywords
Reflection, learning, collaborative learning, interactive sur-
faces, tabletops, design.
ACM Classification Keywords
H.5.3 [Information Interfaces and Presentation]: Group
and Organization Interfaces - collaborative computing.
Introduction and Background
Brainstorming is a technique to enhance creativity and to
help small groups articulate ideas. The central mechanism
of brainstorming is that first, a large quantity of novel ideas
is being created while judgment of those ideas is being de-
layed to a later point in time. This paper aims to improve
support for the two key phases of this technique. In the ini-
tial storming phase, people should generate ideas, without
critique, welcoming the unusual, combining and improving
ideas and aim for quantity. Once this freewheeling stage
is complete, the group moves to a norming phase, where
it is important that all participants actively collaborate to
assess and organise ideas [7].
Tabletops offer the promise of an excellent medium to sup-
port brainstorming. In early work supporting brainwriting
[4], one person creates an idea and places it at the centre
of the table for their partner to read and then take a turn
at creating an idea. This conflicts with recommendations
for free flow in the storming stage [7]. Recently Buisine et
al. [1] compared two similar techniques, Mindmapping and
one based on the original Osborn [7] brainstorming method.
Our Firestorm brainstorming system [2], the first tabletop
system designed to faithfully follow Osborn, provided key-
board input to ensure quick idea generation, with ideas ap-
pearing in the middle of the table, colour coded to show the
creator. An example tableshot at the end of the storming
stage is shown at the top of Figure 1. Firestorm provided
interaction elements to support the norming stage. The
lower image in Figure 1shows an example and Figure 2
shows people using these elements.
Figure 3: Staged brainstorming
approach, allowing a group to
reflect on the process and restart
a part of the interaction if so
The design principles underlying Firestorm were based on a
careful analysis of literature on how to make brainstorming
effective [2]. These were:
DG1: Support fast, concurrent idea generation.
DG2: Many ideas visible on the tabletop at once.
DG3: Don’t enforce orientations or territories.
DG4: Foster awareness of ideas as they are generated.
DG5: Make clear the creator of each idea.
DG6: Support flexible grouping for idea convergence.
DG7: Capture the group’s process and final outcome.
The evaluation study of Firestorm indicated that it was
effective in terms of the number of ideas generated and user
satisfaction. At the same time, some important limitations
were identified.
1. It seems useful to introduce a new reflection stage,
where participants consider what they have achieved,
potentially reconsider the conceptualisation under-
lying the organisation, and consolidate their under-
standing of the group operation.
2. While the system followed DG7: Capture the group’s
process and final outcome, it did not make use of
this information to inform the group, or a facilitator,
about the operation of the group.
3. Some individual participants and some whole groups
failed to follow the instructions for the storming phase
and this compromised the quality of outcomes.
Broadly, we concluded that tabletops have the potential
to help people learn to use the brainstorming technique
more effectively with more guidance and additional struc-
ture. To address Limitation 1, we propose the addition of
a new stage as shown in Figure 3. To address Limitation 2,
we propose to exploit the captured data in two ways. One
is to capture a set of results so that groups can revisit parts
of the process without loss of previous outcomes. Secondly,
we will provide additional interface elements to support re-
flection. Both of these can include mechanisms to travel
back in time to key stages. For example, the group may re-
turn to the end of the storming phase to consider a different
conceptualisation of the ideas. Figure 4shows the history
of a group at set time intervals from the end of the storm-
ing phase through a top-down approach to norming, where
they create categories and then place ideas into them. By
contrast, a bottom up approach would group ideas and only
later identify labels for them.
An example of Limitation 3 was where one participant be-
gan playing with the tabletop during the early storming
phase, disrupting the rest of the groups’ free flow of ideas.
If the tabletop were disabled in this stage, with the only
action being the generation of ideas at the keyboards, this
disruptive behaviour would not be possible. Another ex-
ample of Limitation 3 occurred where groups had previous
experience of mindmapping and ignored the instructions to
generate ideas quickly without any comment of judgement
on them. To address this, we consider that it would be
useful to help participants consider carefully each element
of the recommended approach at each stage.
A promising approach to address Limitation 3 is to intro-
duce collaboration scripts. These “promote productive in-
teractions by designing the environment such that sugges-
tions of different degrees of coercion are made” [5] which
encourage specific activities that otherwise may not oc-
cur. Scripts provide an effective scaffold for learning and
represent procedural knowledge and heuristics which form
specific activities for which participants need to engage
in. Scripts complement people’s internal scripts, such as
a checklist of things to do, with explicit actions for moving
along in a process.
Scripted Design
Our design approach aims to gain the potential benefits
of scripts to “(1) Regulate learning activities, (2) Provide
complementary procedural knowledge, (3) Provide process-
oriented instruction, (4) Alleviate coordination, and (5)
Foster awareness” [9]. At the same time, we aim to avoid
the acknowledged pitfalls of scripts. Notably, overscripting
with overly coercive scripts may dampen student motiva-
tion [8]. Interference with learners’ own effective scripts
can cause problems [6]. Script adaptation may be needed
as learner’s knowledge advances [9]. Script mismatch be-
tween the system and the learner context may lead to mo-
mentary lack of support (under-scripting) or interfere with
the developing scripts of learners [3].
Figure 4: Viewing the history of
a session at the reflection stage.
The key design principle to avoid these limitations is to
provide user control of the scripting. Essentially, while we
aim to identify the interface restrictions and advice that are
appropriate for each of the three stages of the brainstorm-
ing process, we give the participants ultimate control over
whether to enable or disable each of them. We anticipate
that the decisions associated with this will enable the group
members to discuss each aspect. This could help individ-
uals learn about the recommended process for each stage.
Support for this could be provided in tutorial information
available at the table. It could also come from discussions
within the group.
We now describe the design of the interfaces for controlling
the scripting options for each of the stages shown in Fig-
ure 3in terms of the prototype designs shown in Figure 5.
Disable table. This follows the recommendation that
the group should focus on generating ideas in a free
flowing manner during storming. Only the physical
keyboards operate until the end of the phase. In the
figure, the default toggle value is set, with the option
preventing use of the table.
Enable colour coded ideas. This makes the system
colour code each idea to show who created it (as in
the tableshots for Firestorm). This increases account-
ability for the extent and nature of contributions. We
used this in Firestorm, following DG5 to reduce loafing.
However, one may argue that this may make people
feel inhibited, so reducing creativity.
Enable facilitator. This allows the tabletop to provide
advice according to set rules. For example, when the
volume of ideas begins to decrease, the facilitator can
issue suggestions to help generate ideas. In the figure,
it has been disabled.
Advise to move to the norming phase. This allows
the system to suggest a move to the next stage of
the brainstorming process. In the figure, it has been
Top Down Approach. Groups first identify categories
and then move ideas into them. The tabletop provides
visual warnings for groups deviating from the method
by just grouping ideas. This is the default.
Bottom Up Approach. Groups group ideas and later
identify labels for each group.
Make new ideas appear near the creator. During storm-
ing, ideas appear at the centre of the table, but this
option for norming makes new ideas and category la-
bels appear near the creator, ready for discussion and
Figure 5: Options for the scripts
in each stage of the brainstorm
process. The options selected
allow for a dynamic script to be
built to guide the process and
scaffold the interaction for the
Self-assess. Activates interface for each participant to
rate the quality of ideas and their organisation. This
is a prelude to deciding to take more time to work
through the following approaches.
Restart Norming Phase in the opposite approach (Top
down versus Bottom Up). As the group in Figure 5
had done Top Down Norming initially, the reflection
phase in Figure 5shows this option as regroup with
Bottom Up.
Try regrouping ideas for a different organisation. Al-
low a group to go back and redo the norming phase,
perhaps after a period of discussion.
Per User Analysis. The system provides information of
the level of each individual’s participation.
Group Analysis. Corresponding information for group.
Compare approaches. Allows return to this and other
group’s previous brainstorms on the same topic.
Key goals of this scripting is to help participants follow
recommended techniques and better understanding group
This work aims to improve support for learning brainstorm-
ing. It blends CSCL research on scripting with user control
and systematic design of a brainstorming system. We have
identified a new reflection phase and designed prototypes
for dynamic scripted collaboration. These offer promise of
increased awareness of how to brainstorm and collaborate.
This work is partially funded by the Smart Services CRC.
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J. Kay. Firestorm: A brainstorming application for collab-
orative group work at tabletops. In Proc. ITS 2011, pages
162–171. ACM, 2011.
[3] P. Dillenbourg. Over-scripting CSCL: The risks of blending
collaborative learning with instructional design. In Three
worlds of CSCL Can we support CSCL, pages 61–91. Open
Universiteit Nederland, 2002.
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and A. Butz. Designing for collaborative creative problem
solving. In Proc. C&C 2007, pages 137–146. ACM, 2007.
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Conference Paper
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