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Pass the iPad: Collaborative creating and sharing in family groups


Abstract and Figures

The increasingly cross-generational use of personal technology portrays families each absorbed in individual devices. Tablets potentially support multi-user working but are currently used as personal devices primarily for consumption, or individual or web-based games. Could tablets support creative co-located groupwork in families and how does such creative work differ from the same task on paper? We designed and evaluated an app requiring individual and group co-creation in families. 262 family groups visiting a science fair played the collaborative drawing game on paper and iPads. Group creations were rated significantly more original and cohesive on iPads than paper. Detailed video analysis of seven family groups showed how tablets support embodiment and use of digital traces, and how the different media sustain individual and shared actions at different stages in the creative process. We sketch out implications for ownership and 'scrap computers': going beyond personally-owned devices and developing collaborative apps to support groupwork with tablets.
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Pass the iPad: Collaborative Creating and
Sharing in Family Groups
Nicola Yuill
Children and Technology Lab
University of Sussex
Yvonne Rogers
University College London
Jochen Rick
Educational Technology
Saarland University
The increasingly cross-generational use of personal
technology portrays families each absorbed in individual
devices. Tablets potentially support multi-user working but
are currently used as personal devices primarily for
consumption, or individual or web-based games. Could
tablets support creative co-located groupwork in families
and how does such creative work differ from the same task
on paper? We designed and evaluated an app requiring
individual and group co-creation in families. 262 family
groups visiting a science fair played the collaborative
drawing game on paper and iPads. Group creations were
rated significantly more original and cohesive on iPads than
paper. Detailed video analysis of seven family groups
showed how tablets support embodiment and use of digital
traces, and how the different media sustain individual and
shared actions at different stages in the creative process. We
sketch out implications for ownership and ‘scrap
computers’: going beyond personally-owned devices and
developing collaborative apps to support groupwork with
Author Keywords
Tablets; collaboration; families; shareable interfaces; group
working; creation; scrap computers
ACM Classification Keywords
H.5.m. Information interfaces and presentation (e.g., HCI);
Interactive displays have in the past been designed mainly
to support either single-user interactions (e.g., iPods, PCs,
cell phones) or multi-user interactions (e.g., multi-touch
tabletops, interactive whiteboards, multiplayer game
stations, tangibles). The former have supported people
working individually and remotely together while the latter
have begun to support new forms of simultaneous
collaborative work and play. For example, gamestations
and surfaces can support group play in intergenerational
settings [12, 18, 20] and have been hailed as tools providing
rewarding family interaction, while interactive surfaces are
marketed as ideal for collaboration at home and school [14].
Intermediate-size tablet devices such as the iPad offer new
possibilities for collaboration, and in particular, flexible
switching between individual and group activity. People
naturally use technology in shared ways, even with devices
designed for an individual user [11], with people handing
over devices and ‘shoulder-surfing’. Tablet devices would
therefore seem ideal for sharing given their screen size and
other form factors, such as portability and direct
However, so far, tablets have not been exploited or used
widely for group activity, and there has been little
discussion of their possibilities for groupwork, other than
the sharing of individually-created products. Popular apps
involve individual consumption, such as digital textbooks,
newspapers or learning games, or apps mimicking computer
games, usually single-player or online with remote others.
Where multiplayer games are used, they generally involve
remote users with personal devices in asymmetrical roles
taking turns as leader, e.g. in guessing game apps such as
Taboo or Charades, where one person individually acts or
writes something to be shown or sent to other users who
have to guess its identity. It is not uncommon to see a
family or social group seated around a table each with their
own personal device, communicating with remote others
but not among themselves, ‘alone together’ [17]. While
media consumption and games (e.g. chess, duet-playing)
can be collaborative, the existence of individual devices
providing content favors individuals each choosing their
own preferences on their own device, rather than sharing.
Does this mean that tablets will remain primarily as
individual and personal devices despite their potential for
sharing? We argue that the potential for sharing might be
realized more easily with apps that involve co-creation on
multiple devices with shared ownership, rather than
individual consumption on personal devices. Creative apps
do exist, such as the very popular ‘Draw Something’, but
they are still designed for one user to produce something
alone on their own device and to send it to others for
reaction. However, the form factor of tablet devices,
discussed in more detail below, supports sharing and
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swapping devices and shifting between individual and
group work. The digital nature of the group product
supports collective editing, production and distribution of
multiple versions of a group creation.
Our research is concerned with how we can design shared
apps for groups to create and co-create. Creative activities
require active exploitation of the properties of a device and
doing so in groups tests the feasibility of tablets for flexible
group working. In this paper, we examine the potential of
tablet devices for creativity in family groups. Our
motivation for targeting families is that they are natural
groups who potentially spend a lot of time together,
sharing, negotiating and playing, but that to date technology
has tended not to support co-located creative collaboration.
We first compare the qualities of different devices for
supporting individual and group working and then briefly
review literature on use of such devices with families. We
then describe the MultiDraw app for creating shared
drawings on multiple tablets and report two studies to
address the following questions: can such an app support
creativity and cohesive group products in family groups,
does the group product and the collaborative production
process differ from paper and pen methods and how might
tablet devices support a workflow that shifts between
individual and group working, as on larger devices such as
multi-touch surfaces? This last question paves the way for
serious consideration of Weiser’s [19] ideas about pads as
devices matched to purposes in opposition to the
‘misplaced’ concept of personal computing.
Collaborative Working On Mobile Devices
There are many facilities for sharing information across
mobile devices, which can then be used for collaborative
working. For example, Luchini et al. [6] describe a concept
map application for children using handheld devices, with
the facility to beam their maps to other children’s devices,
followed by critiquing and enabling individual revision of
work. However, this pattern of working often falls short of
features of collaboration on two counts: first, if individual
devices are used, this involves shared commentary on
individual work, rather than co-working on a group product
that might be more than the sum of the individual
contributions. Second, multi-user devices tend to involve
uninterrupted sharing, or at least parallel working, rather
than switching between individual and group working [4].
Collaborative working does not always mean uninterrupted
sharing throughout a whole task, but can involve frequent
switching between working by oneself and with others, as
the task and situation demands. Moreover, work activities
shape themselves as they evolve, often in unexpected ways
[6]. Sometimes people will work together with great
benefit, but at other times they will want or need to work in
isolation from others. Paper is an excellent medium for such
flexible working, easily viewed, transferred and
manipulated for individuals and the group [10].
However, trying to collaborate around a computer designed
for single use is often sub-optimal [7]. The single display
groupware (SDG) approach [15] was proposed as an
alternative. Multiple input devices (e.g., mice, pens) were
added to a single computer so that users could
independently or collaboratively control multi-user
software on a shared display. This combination has been
found to enhance collaboration, with users swapping input
devices, erasing each other’s work and learning to use tools
together [15]. Since then, separate input and output devices
have been combined to support co-located collaboration,
such as PDAs with whiteboards, and tangibles with
tabletops. Examples of systems built to encourage moving
from individual to collaborative working include Geney [8],
linking multiple PDAs combining individual and shared
display spaces to learn genetic concepts, CARETTA [16],
combining RFID sensing with individual PDAs for an
urban planning task, and MUSHI [7], a shared tablet PC
and PDAs for an ecosystem simulation. These kinds of
integrated systems, however, come with an attentional
overhead; users have to switch frequently between the
current state of information on their handhelds and the
changing state represented on the shared display. As a
consequence, some users may choose to work more on their
own PDA, and less in the shared space. Mandryk et al. [8]
intended to have individual PDAs making up a shared
display, but abandoned this because the users did not want
to limit their mobility, and the physical borders between the
devices were felt to be distracting.
Large shared surfaces can be demarcated to provide users
with their own personal space alongside a shared space. As
the two are physically adjacent it is easier to move digital
objects between them. However, having one’s own space
can encourage territoriality [13], with implicit or explicit
constraints on who can act on a particular area. In turn, this
may encourage more individual and parallel working,
where users work on objects largely in their own space and
then add them to the shared space. This territoriality is
exacerbated when devices are owned by individuals. There
is thus a conflict between the desire for a controlled
personal space at the same time as the need for
collaborative working.
Technology Use For Shared Family Activity
Many devices have been proposed for family use, primarily
in the area of task scheduling and keeping in touch with
family activities, generally for asynchronous use [9]. There
are also tabletop applications that support co-located family
interaction, often combined with personal devices such as
PDAs, involving puzzle-solving and games, which share
the difficulties we raised above about shifts between
personal and shared space and control. Family use of
gaming environments has been more extensively studied,
with high commercial interest in gaming for families. Voida
and Greenberg [18] highlighted many issues arising in
intergenerational gaming environments. In particular, such
gaming often involves older people who are technical
novices but socially adept in games and younger people
with the reverse skillset, sometimes leading to conflict. A
benefit of tablets, and drawing applications in particular, is
their ease of use for novices.
Evaluations of technology for groupwork depend very
much on the tasks and workflow involved. Sharing with
personal devices seems to work well for tasks that are
essentially individual and revised using feedback from
others, or tasks that might have top-down managerial
control, as in Geney or turn-taking quiz games such as
Taboo. Single-display groupware works well for
simultaneous groupwork, though there remains a difficulty
of how each individual can contribute: for example,
research into multi-touch tables has focused on the
difficulties of achieving equity of participation [4], of
supporting awareness of others’ actions, and of managing
turn-taking. Some have suggested ways of constraining
action so as to minimize domination by one user [21].
When used as personal devices, tablets clearly do not
present a problem of user domination, but how can they
support groupwork? We argue that they are potentially
cheap and portable enough for each user to work
simultaneously on individual tablets, as on a sheet of scrap
paper, that is then passed on to the next user, enabling
collaborative co-creation, as we describe below.
To explore the potential support for flexible collaborative
activity in digital and paper format, we chose a task that
involves shifts between collaborative and individual
working, including purely individual working in the
absence of others’ awareness (shielding), transfer of
individual work (shifting), and simultaneous collaborative
working (sharing). To do this, we used the game of Picture
Consequences (or exquisite corpses’ as developed by
Surrealist artists). This is a pencil and paper parlor game
with four players each drawing part of a figure on their
separate sheet of paper, starting with the head, folding the
paper over to hide their drawing but leaving neck lines to
support continuity, then each passing the paper to their
neighbor, who draws the torso in ignorance of the head.
This carries on in four rounds (head, torso, legs, feet). Each
of these steps can be completed privately, with only the
lines at the lower edge of each stage providing information
for the next person’s contribution. In the paper version,
players can shield their drawing from other players at this
stage and fold to conceal the result. After the feet are
drawn, the stage shifts from private to public, where
someone unrolls each paper to show the four completed co-
created figures (the ‘reveal’). The fun lies in revealing the
whole for the group to share, that no-one could predict from
their own individual contributions, and that are true group
creations which can then be evaluated together.
Because we wanted to assess the use of group products
beyond the serendipitous product of a parlor game, we
added a group task at the end of the game. Players were
asked to make up a name for the four completed pictures
and choose sound effects for each one. Clearly, for a digital
product, it would be possible to take the group creations as
a starting point for further collaborative development, e.g.
improving them as a group.
The Consequences game illustrates the flexibility of paper
in regards to ownership. In each individual drawing phase,
there is a clear ‘owner’. Through passing the paper,
ownership is quickly and definitively transferred. In the
end, both the artifact (the drawing) and the medium (the
paper) are owned by the group. In contrast, the medium in a
typical digital setting (i.e., the computing device) usually
has a continuing owner and, by implication, so does the
artifact. We designed the MultiDraw iPad application to
overcome this implication of ownership: as in the paper
game, players drew individually, then passed ‘their’ iPad to
the left, while receiving another iPad from the player to
their right. Pads are small enough to enable individual
work, portable enough to allow passing and large enough to
support group work. As such, they have the potential to
support similar ownership switches.
Figure 1: Drawing a head using MultiDraw
The MultiDraw iPad app (see Fig. 1) was designed and
piloted for usability with 48 adults in formal and informal
settings. It uses a simple finger-drawing tool, with a 15-
color palette selection and extra functions: a choice of how
to deal with multiple touch points (individual lines or filling
in the area in between touch points), an indicator of what
body part to work on, an eraser and a timer to keep groups
in sync. Simple task instructions are provided on screen.
After each round / body part drawing, the previous drawing
is shifted up 80% of its size, thereby implementing the
folding function of paper while allowing a much larger
drawing surface and reliably including the lowest part of
the previous drawing.
The final ten seconds are marked by the timer turning red
and at zero, the drawing disappears, with an instruction to
pass the iPad to the left (Fig. 2, left). On completion of the
final body part, players stack all four iPads at the center of
the table: this is designed to support lack of ownership and
presentation of one drawing at a time (Fig. 2, right),
enabling shared attention of the whole group for each
creation in turn. We chose to explicitly pass the device
rather than transfer the data, so as to separate issues of
device and artifact ownership. These instructions were
made explicit to counteract the natural instinct towards
viewing digital devices as having an owner.
Figure 2: Instructions to pass and stack the pads
When each final picture is revealed by a button press, there
is a space to write a character name, and the side borders of
the picture, when touched, produce a range of sound effects
(laughs, honks, etc.) for choosing a character’s sound (Fig.
3, left). The creation can then be saved and viewed in a
gallery with the previous four co-created figures, names and
sounds created on that tablet (Fig. 3, right), making links
between different groups of players.
Figure 3:
Collaborative naming and viewing the gallery
In Study 1 we used a large sample of families to address the
usability of the app, and to compare with paper, in
particular for the originality and cohesiveness of group
products. In Study 2 we make in-depth observations of
workflow processes in a smaller sample of families and
draw out the implications for sharing devices in groupwork.
We compared Picture Consequences on the MultiDraw
tablet app with paper, making the two similar in structure.
In the paper version, players are each given 1 sheet of plain
paper, a clipboard if they wish to use it (to support drawing
with the paper angled towards the self, out of others’ view,
a facility available with the iPad) a shared box of 24
colored crayons (2 each of 12 colors) in the center of the
table, pencil sharpeners, erasers and a choice to use a sand
timer. After each individual section of drawing, players fold
the paper over to hide all but the connecting lines and pass
to the left, and at the end, the four sheets are stacked and
unrolled for the reveal.
We took four iPads and the paper-based drawing materials
to a science fair
, choosing the day when families were
encouraged to come with their primary-age children (3-11
years). This context gives a natural place where families are
out together for joint entertainment and challenge. Families
could play the game with either medium, in either order,
depending on which activity was free at any particular time.
There were roughly equal numbers of families playing in
each order. Throughout the day (10am to 4pm) this yielded
93 family groups (of 3 to 4 people) trying both media, a
further 76 doing just tablet and 93 just paper. One
researcher took snapshots and field notes, and all group
creations were kept for coding, as detailed below. Most
people had not used an iPad before. The activity, drawing,
was seen as something suitable for any age and children
were accompanied by parents, siblings and sometimes
grandparents. Each person could make an equal
contribution to the completed drawing. There seemed,
therefore, to be few barriers to family use.
General observations on usability
We found no difficulties other than the occasional technical
hitch, either the tablet running out of battery or storage
space or a user’s stray arm or hand producing unplanned
marks on the screen. Passing and stacking were accepted
with little remark. For pen and paper, several younger
children had difficulty folding the paper correctly and
needed adult help. The MultiDraw autotimer provided a
strong constraint that kept the group working in a
synchronized way, but the sand timer for paper was a much
weaker constraint that could be ignored, and was less often
used, causing impatient waiting if one family member spent
much more time drawing than others. This could also
happen when ‘no timer’ was selected for the iPad, but given
how busy the stand was, many opted, or were encouraged to
use, the auto-time options, which focused players on
completing the drawing quickly. This resulted in some,
mainly younger children, not managing to finish their
drawing in time, but it also had the beneficial effect of
making some players less precious about the quality of the
drawing, seeing it as a race against time rather than a
serious test of drawing ability. Several adults also noted that
they felt more comfortable drawing on the tablet (one father
claiming ‘This is more my style!’) than using paper and
crayons, which were perhaps seen as childish toys. There
appeared to be more engrossment, and hence less self-
consciousness, in drawing with the tablet.
The main intergenerational difference observed for the
tablet was that inventive use of the tools came mainly from
children, not adults. For example, one child discovered
interesting effects by drawing with a finger of one hand
while running a finger of the other hand over the color
palette, producing attractive rainbow lines and shapes. This
idea was transmitted to other children in following groups.
Children were also more likely to use the extra features
such as the two-fingered drawing that enabled a block of
color. When voting which medium was preferred, people
overwhelmingly chose the tablet, as well as judging it
‘easier’ for the required task. The activity proved overall to
be very popular, with long queues at the stand throughout
the day. This was partly the result of the very clear signs of
enjoyment and laughter as each group revealed the final
products and loudly discussed names and sounds.
Qualities of group product
We were interested in qualitative differences of group
products across media, and in particular, whether the
pictures could be judged in terms of their cohesiveness (the
extent to which the figure seemed a unified whole, rather
than a collection of disparate parts) and originality (whether
the figure was highly conventional or highly original e.g.
with non-human parts, unusual drawing effects, extra
features) on 5-point scales (very much or somewhat, at each
end of the scale, or neutral). Two psychologists with coding
experience independently blind-coded a random sample of
22 drawings on each scale. Inter-rater reliability was
satisfactory, with kappas of .81 for originality and .72 for
cohesiveness, so one rater coded the remaining 311
drawings. The two rating scales were not significantly
intercorrelated. For the 93 pairs of drawings from groups
trying both media, tablet pictures were rated significantly
more original (mean = 3.76) than paper ones (mean = 3.25),
t (92) = 2.94, p<.01, and also more cohesive (mean = 3.62)
than paper (mean = 2.69), t (92) = 5.83, p<.001. Drawings
from groups who did just paper or iPad were also compared
in a between-subjects analysis: here, there was no
significant difference in originality but iPad creations were
rated significantly more cohesive (mean for 76 pictures =
3.65) than paper ones (mean for 93 pictures = 2.67), t (167)
= 6.33, p<.001.
What accounts for the greater originality and cohesion of
family group creations on tablet versus paper? Two features
may explain this: embodied drawing and digital traces.
Embodied drawing
Drawing on the iPad provided a different experience from
paper, in that it was novel and seemed to engender fewer
worries about ‘not being artistic’, being rather like finger-
painting, with its child-like connotations, or drawing with a
finger on a misted window. Also, finger drawing seems to
provide a more direct feel to creation: one child changing
the color palette inspected his finger curiously as if
expecting to find it had turned red (Fig. 4). The artist David
Hockney himself commented on his use of the iPad, ‘You
know sometimes I get so carried away, I wipe my fingers at
the end thinking that I've got paint on them’
. This
embodiment perhaps engendered greater engagement and
freedom to produce original creations.
Figure 4: Eric inspects his finger for paint
Digital traces
A distinctive feature of the MultiDraw application is that it
leaves digital traces for the next user in a way that is less
apparent with paper. For both media, there is the possibility
of peeking at what others are doing, but for the tablet
application, choices of color and pen width remain selected
so the next player to use that tablet has information about
values chosen by the previous player. Also the lowest part
of the drawing is kept visible for the next user. While this is
also part of the paper game, it was less reliable: players,
particularly the less dextrous younger children, did not
always manage to fold the paper so that the lines of the
previous figure were clearly visible. Supporting our
findings of greater cohesiveness with tablets, some players
reported their own sense that the tablet drawings ‘fitted
together better’, with apparently serendipitous similarities,
e.g. in color or style, across different contributors to the
same drawing (Fig. 5): one adult commented, ‘I’m amazed
this is the same by chance’ in the absence of peeking.
Figure 5: Matching style (left) and color (right)
A clear advantage to drawing on a tablet is the production
of a digital object that can be edited, shared, emailed and
enhanced, e.g. with sound or animation. Although we did
not provide this facility directly, several families took a
photograph of their creations to take home. Families also
enjoyed seeing the digital traces of previous users, when
viewing and playing the previous creations in the gallery.
As well as commenting on the work of different individuals
within their own group, they also compared their work with
that of previous groups. Although we had a gallery for
paper creations, displaying each creation as it was finished,
this was less direct and personal since each was on a piece
of paper used by another group, rather than being physically
on the tablet the group had used for their own creation.
Fine-grained observations in this sample were precluded
given the high level of traffic and noise: there were
generally queues waiting to play and many other activities
in a crowded hall. This busy environment hampered
detailed comparison of workflow patterns between
individual and group phases in the different media. To
understand workflow in more detail, we videotaped a
smaller number of family groups playing MultiDraw on
paper and on tablets in a quieter home-like setting.
Seven family groups were videotaped playing picture
consequences on paper and with an iPad, four groups (A-D)
in a comfortable lab setting and three (E-G) at home, with
location dependent on opportunity. Each group sat round a
rectangular table with a seat on each side, and played the
game first on paper and then on the iPad: all but one group
knew the game and three groups (B, D and G) had
previously used an iPad. At the end, each group answered
questions about their experience. Two researchers viewed
all the videotapes repeatedly to identify relevant behaviors
at each of these stages of the workflow (e.g., peeking, turn-
taking to show). Families were:
(A) mother and two daughters, aged 8 and 10
(B) father with 2 sons, 7 and 9, and a daughter, 3
(C) four siblings, sisters of 9, 11 and 15, and brother, 17
(D) father with 2 daughters, 12 and 10, and a son, 6
(E) three brothers aged 3, 6 and 8
(F) mother, father and son aged 13
(G) two sisters, 8 and 9, two female friends of 8 and 9.
General observations
We found similar general patterns of behavior as in Study
1, except that the situation was much less pressured given
the lack of competition for the devices, so the atmosphere
was more relaxed than at the science fair. Apart from the
occasional technical hitch on the tablets (primarily children
pressing buttons too early or making unintended marks),
collaboration was smooth and families showed enjoyment
in both the activity and the joint product.
We rated enjoyment in two ways: by asking an observer to
make a global judgment from the videos and by asking the
players. There were high observed levels of enjoyment and
very little negative emotion for both media. Unsurprisingly,
all players said they preferred the tablet. Reasons for this
included the novelty of trying an iPad for drawing, the ease
and pleasure of drawing on glass with a finger, not having
to fold the paper (tricky for younger ones) and being less
able to cheat by peeking. All except three of Family D
thought the iPad was better for the game: in D, a technical
problem halfway through with one iPad meant one of the
figures was lost. All except one child thought that the iPad
produced better pictures, with reasons including the
brightness of colors, the full space available (thus not
having to worry about leaving room for the next drawing)
and the additional drawing functions including erasing.
The first task, individual drawing, involves working
privately, and at this point many players want to ensure
shielding of their work from others, so as to enjoy the
unexpected results in the group drawing. The next step is
how groups manage the shifting of the device. We could
have chosen to design the app so that pictures transferred
digitally between devices, with each user having their own
device, but we aimed to mirror the lack of device ownership
as with paper, where the medium is transferred along with
its content. The next step, crucial for collaboration, is
showing, when players reveal the resulting group products.
Here, the private individual products are revealed in
serendipitous combinations that no individual player can
anticipate, so there can be general group surprise. Finally,
group decisions about naming and sound effects involve
sharing decision-making.
Shielding differed more by family than by technology: for
example, Family A used exaggerated hiding of the paper,
employing their non-drawing arm, and this function was
easily replicated with the iPad, either by using the arm to
shield or by holding the tablet towards oneself with the
screen out of others’ view. They used this hiding to comic
effect, e.g. one player exaggeratedly hid her individual
drawing and later pretended to hide the iPad at an
inappropriate stage, in the shared naming task. Family B
felt little need to hide at this stage, either with paper or
iPad, using both media similarly, having their drawing in
full view on the table, and looking to each other for ideas.
Family C used both media with the device flat on the table,
and their members were mostly absorbed in their own work,
but this group had a varied attitude to shielding. Two
players in this group shielded their work in both media by
curving the non-drawing arm round the device (Fig. 6), but
the other two did not shield in either condition, with the
youngest feeling free to point to and comment on her older
brother’s work while he was drawing. Family D again used
the flat position for paper and iPad, making no attempt to
shield, but ‘peeking’ was avoided by an honor system: the
youngest member checked others were not peeking and
once suggested his father was looking over at his work,
prompting the father to look fixedly upwards and the son to
monitor this closely.
Figure 6: Shielding work with paper and iPad
Where differences arose (in E, F and G) there was less
shielding in the iPad condition than paper, seemingly
because individuals were more absorbed in the tablet
drawing, with its greater novelty and embodiment. In these
cases, shielding was not needed as other players were
absorbed in their own work. There were several instances at
this stage, in both media, of excited anticipation of the
effects of sharing, with players giggling to themselves in
anticipation of others’ reactions to their drawing something
odd, and some self-talk: ‘I know what I’m going to do’.
The shift between working individually and transferring
was clearly marked by the placing of paper or iPad on the
table by each player versus holding it up or passing it
round. Again, there were similarities between media in how
the medium was transferred, except for slightly more care
(e.g. bimanual shifting) in transferring the heavier and
considerably more expensive iPad than the paper.
One potential difficulty in the game is coordinating the
timing of each round and ensuring continuity of the
drawing. Here, digital media had an advantage: the timing
was automated and the software allowed the lower section
of each drawing to appear at the next stage to ensure
alignment. Where groups did use free timing, they
coordinated through showing awareness of others’ progress
while drawing, e.g. by glancing round and sitting back
when finished, so that timing was under control of the
group by implicit common consent. This occurred for both
media. The decision about using the technical capability for
timing will depend on the task and the users. Children in
particular worked well when the automatic timer controlled
their actions, whereas they tended not to notice or to abide
by the physical sand timer.
Two groups used strict timing (A and B, by sand timer and
automated on iPads), and this sometimes caused a rush to
finish by slower players. Despite the flashing 10-second
countdown on the app, users did sometimes run out of time.
Where no time constraints were used, there was often a
slower or more careful player who continued drawing after
the others had finished. In both paper and iPad cases, the
other players generally waited quietly, or used displacement
activities such as drumming the table, and the ‘slow’ player
gave quick glances to the waiting players, showing mutual
awareness of the need to remain in concert with the timing,
and not to leave others waiting too long.
As with shifting, showing produced differences by family
rather than by medium for how creations were revealed.
Families A, D and G arranged to have a group focus, by
stacking papers or iPads in the center and revealing one at a
time, generally organized by an adult. Families B, C, E and
F were unstructured, with each person revealing for
themselves the full drawing, but then holding it up in a very
similar way for iPad and paper, to display to the others (Fig.
7). While this meant that sometimes the full group’s
attention was not captured, there were in every case
moments of shared attention and enjoyment for both media
as finished images were held up for display and comment.
Figure 7: Presenting the reveal in iPad versus paper games
The final naming task was used for both media but the
sound files were provided only in the tablet condition. The
sound effects were highly engaging as they provided a
strong stimulus to shared attention, especially for groups
not using a shared reveal. This tended to focus the group on
a joint decision, and there was implicit decision-making
through gaze, laughter and gesture: for example, father and
middle daughter agreed on a sound for one of the figures by
playing it and exchanging a glance that sealed the deal (Fig.
8). The sounds enabled some disinhibition, encouraging
playful fun, and also distraction, for example when the sons
in Family B wanted to try repeatedly pressing a sound and
‘sampling’. In Family D, this ‘noise’ was controlled by the
youngest member, who requested quiet at one point so they
could all hear and agree on a sound. Because of this shared
focus, decision-making tended to be more of a shared
decision with the iPads than with paper.
Figure 8: Picking a laugh with a look (girl plays a sound and
before pressing ‘save’ exchanges a look with her father)
Families differed according to how much they managed this
process of shared decision-making, over and above the
advantage for iPads, varying in how much they made
decisions as a consensual or individual activity. For
example, Family C decided as a group that they would each
name one figure, for both media, though they did share
suggestions while doing so, whereas Family D named
collaboratively, the father asking ‘What shall we call this
one?’ and ensuring all agreed.
The shared focus on a specific tablet or paper, belonging to
no-one in particular and containing a group product,
seemed to contribute to a sense of shared ownership of
product but not of device. Post-session interviews of
Families A and B showed agreement that it would be hard
to choose who could take which creation away with them,
and that all would need to ‘sign’ the product. Players in all
groups had good memory for which parts they had drawn,
though, and often announced this during the reveal, in
excitement at seeing their contribution as part of a shared
whole. They were also very quick to identify their own
contributions if asked at the end of the session.
There is a sense in which putting data onto a piece of paper
confers ownership of the paper, and similarly with a tablet.
However, we noticed in pilots that when we had the iPads
in different colored casings, we inadvertently personalized
them, and users were sometimes quick to ‘bag’ a specific
one, so we moved to using identical black casings. This
supports the separation of data and device described by
Weiser [19] and discussed further below.
Sharing ideas and experience
In families who drew covertly, there was no sharing during
drawing for either medium. However, the digital traces
provided by MultiDraw led to greater perceived cohesion
because of the traces from previous rounds. Of course, with
multiple games, groups would see and share ideas over
time. Family B, who drew overtly, showed evidence of
ideas passed round in both media within games: again,
differences that arose were between families rather than
media. While both paper and digital can provide traces for
the next user, the potential for these is greater in the digital,
in that software can select what history might be revealed to
or hidden from the next user.
The task we chose deliberately conceals much information
until the end for comic effect, and such ahistorical
structures are also used e.g. for brainstorming tasks where
the idea is to generate fresh, ‘uncontaminated’ ideas. The
shifting between private and public allows individual ideas
to be generated as well as contributing to communal
products and experiences, in this case producing shared
laughter and enjoyment. Both paper and digital produced
original ideas, e.g. drawing hooves for feet, wings on the
torso and ladders for legs, though originality was apparently
fostered better with the tablet app. Sharing of ideas may
well have been enhanced by the fact that authorship of
contributions could be less explicit, e.g. by labeling,
handwriting style, etc., something which is also enhanced
with the tools available in MultiDraw.
Product evaluation
Families A to D were asked to judge the drawings: there
was little agreement within group about which picture was
best and worst, but there was agreement within and between
groups and across media on the criteria for making these
judgments: pictures that were rated lower were ‘ordinary’,
‘boring’ or poorly proportioned, and pictures rated highly
were ‘creative’, ‘crazy’ and ‘funny’. In addition to the
premium placed on creativity, though, several players
mentioned the importance of cohesion: the parts ‘working
well together’ and being ‘linked up’.
Naming was generally considered a minor group task, but
Family D saw it as an important group product. The father
commented that ‘putting the name brings the character
together’. This family also discussed ways that they might
make changes to the final pictures (an option that is
technically possible but not implemented here). Most of
these changes were to increase consistency (e.g. making six
arms for a six-legged character), or to fill in a gap left when
a user pressed the ‘next’ button prematurely. In this sample,
it seemed that users were equally happy to make changes to
correct their own mistakes, or to bring into line one
person’s contribution with another. Thus, although users
could very well recall which bit they had contributed, they
seemed happy, once the final product was made, to take
shared ownership for changes.
Our starting point was that the potential of tablets for family
creative collaboration had not been fulfilled. One reason,
we argued, was the preponderance of personal devices
focusing on individual consumption or asynchronous
scheduling. We therefore developed an app requiring
synchronous collaboration in a creative task, and a work
pattern that involved transitions between individual
working, shared attention and decision-making, using
tablets as shared rather than personal devices. The tablet
application yielded drawings that were rated as more
original and coherent than drawings produced on paper, and
we argue that this arose because drawing on the tablet
encouraged a more immersive experience and supported
digital traces of previous users. We found many similarities
between the ways that tablets and paper were used for
creative collaboration. This suggests that tablets could go
part of the way to becoming the ‘scrap computers’ (like
‘scrap paper’) envisaged by Weiser, that ‘can be grabbed
and used anywhere; they have no individualized identity or
importance’ [19, p. 99].
The workflow differences we found existed more as a
function of family style rather than of medium, suggesting
that the different ways people use paper for this task can be
mirrored as the task is transferred to a different device, and
that tablets provide some of the same degrees of freedom as
paper in accommodating different groups’ preferred
behavior patterns. Both media enabled choices to be made
about features to enhance group working, notably timing
and continuity of the figures drawn, but these both worked
better with the hard constraints imposed by the software.
Coordinating the timings of individual activity and
continuity between sub-stages were important for this task.
Using the digital to ensure continuity of drawings and to
provide traces (selection of drawing options) improved the
experience, because users cited the importance of the
different individual parts coalescing into a coherent whole
and noted the greater coherence of iPad drawings. This
suggests that transferring this activity to tablet added
functionality for groupwork without apparently sacrificing
the flexibility afforded by paper.
Table 1 presents a framework of the different ways
technologies have been used to support individual and
group working. The last cell shows how it is now possible
to combine form and function in the same device, such as a
tablet, so that it can readily flip between being personal and
being shared, potentially enabling more fluid transition
between individual and group working. Such fluid
transitions would potentially support engagement,
awareness and mutuality among groups using them.
Personal devices are very much the property of one person,
whereas shareable interfaces such as tabletops are not
owned by anyone. Tablets, like sheets of paper, occupy a
dual role: they can be used by one person privately, or by a
small group, or passed around the group without necessarily
engendering any sense of territoriality or ownership. Of
course, a tablet can be personalized e.g. by being labeled
with a name, distinctive color or styling, but if not
personalized, it is a potentially shareable resource,
particularly if content is provided and stored remotely.
Even cellphones, which tend to be intensely personalized,
have been reportedly used as shared resources, at least in
Asian cultures [2].
device (I)
Shared multi-
user display
display (I+G)
display, same
device (I+G)
Table 1: Types of personal and shared display and devices that
support individual (I) and group (G) working
Similar contrasts can be seen with the use of traditional
work surfaces. Thus, pieces of paper start off as resources
to be used by anyone, but an exercise book, signed paper or
diary is marked as a personal device: it would be
trespassing to write an appointment in someone else’s paper
diary, and one would seek permission to lean over and write
or demonstrate something on a neighbor’s paper workspace.
Shared multi-user paper displays such as flipcharts are
common resources but often have a single coordinator or
scribe. The limitations of such shared multi-user displays
can be overcome if users have their own ‘devices’ e.g. post-
it notes, with their individual work on. Having a personal
and shared display on the same device is relatively simple
with a large piece of paper. We have argued here that tablet
technology offers the same possibilities as paper, in terms
of being personal or shared, and being usable for individual
work, groupwork and the shift between them, as well as
enabling the major addition of digital functionality for
supporting and enhancing groups working together.
A more revolutionary possibility is to think of tablets in the
way that Weiser envisioned, where interactive displays of
various sizes would seamlessly interoperate to
accommodate different (individual and group) tasks. As
Abowd [1] notes, the mobile phone provides ubiquity,
being portable, well-connected and location-aware, but we
do not want to share it with others. It contains our data and
is thus tied to us. Weiser's vision was more that data and
devices were flexibly separated. Tablet computers can act
as pads (in Weiser's terminology) as they are small enough
to count as individual devices, but large enough to allow
group interaction. In our design, we explicitly asked people
to pass the pad rather than to transfer the data, and had them
stack the pads, thereby indicating a lack of ownership. In
essence, we created an application and implementation to
erase device ownership. That groups were able to
collaborate as well if not better on the pad than on paper
indicates that the possibility of pads transitioning between
individual and group devices is supported. It is also worth
noting that the explicit decision to pass devices (rather than
data) led to more coherence through the trace markers. This
illustrates the consequences of designing around the
paradigm of device matched to purpose, rather than device
matched to person. That differences between groups were
more significant than differences between media (pad vs.
paper) indicates that we succeeded in replicating the
flexible ownership patterns of paper.
The current study involved a parlor game with private and
public stages that was light and entertaining. Like paper, the
tablet provided for shifting smoothly between small group
and individual work, especially through the processes of
shielding, shifting, showing and sharing. The findings
suggest that devices such as iPads have the form factor that
can support rapid and smooth shifting of attention between
individual and group activities and so have the potential for
being effectively used for a range of collaborative activities
in learning and play, towards an ‘ecology of shared devices’
[5]. New educational and creativity apps could therefore
productively go beyond the individual or the two-player
game mode to tasks that shift between individual and group
working. The game we chose yielded serendipitous
products, but the digital medium makes possible the further
development and manipulation of digital products,
apparently without losing the flexible qualities of paper.
This bodes well for the development of more collaborative
creative apps for tablet devices, making use of the ability to
network between devices and the potential for flexible
workflow patterns. Many creative tasks such as
brainstorming, or designing new products might benefit
from the ability to work privately but also by sharing ideas
to produce serendipitous combinations of ideas.
We thank all the participating families and science fair
volunteers, all on the ShareIT project (EPSRC grant no.
EP/F017324/1), Victoria Bonnett and Catherine Wright for
research support and Stefan Kreitmayer for comments.
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This is the author’s version of the work. It is posted here by permission of ACM for your personal use. Not for
redistribution. The definitive version was published in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in
Computing Systems (CHI '13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 941-950 doi: 10.1145/2470654.2466120
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Conference Paper
Weiser's landmark Scientific American article inspired many researchers to explore an exciting socio-technical vision of a third generation of computing. At the 21st anniversary of that published vision, I want to assess ubicomp's maturity and explore the identity challenge it faces. Today, ubicomp as a niche research topic no longer makes sense; we must celebrate its "disappearance" as a well-scoped research agenda because it has become a profound agenda across most of computing, and beyond. This should not be surprising; the 2nd generation of computing, the personal computer revolution, experienced the same profound disappearance. In celebration of this imminent disappearance, I will highlight the unique contributions of the ubicomp community, express some remaining intellectual challenges, and speculate on how to formulate new visions of computing that might succeed this third generation.
Specialized elements of hardware and software, connected by wires, radio waves and infrared, will be so ubiquitous that no one will notice their presence.
This chapter discusses about the computer for the 21st century and the tabs. Tabs are the smallest components of embodied virtuality. Because they are interconnected, tabs will expand on the usefulness of existing inch-scale computers, such as the pocket calculator and the pocket organizer. Tabs will also take on functions that no computer performs today. For example, computer scientists at PARC and other research laboratories around the world have begun working with active badges—clip-on computers roughly the size of an employee ID card, first developed by the Olivetti Cambridge research laboratory. These badges can identify themselves to receivers placed throughout a building, thus making it possible to keep track of the people or objects to which they are attached. The chapter also discusses about page-size machines known as pads.
In this paper, a system called Caretta that integrates personal and shared spaces to support face-to-face collaboration is described. We use PDAs and a multiple-input sensing board for personal and shared spaces, respectively. Users of Caretta can discuss and negotiate with each other in the shared space by manipulating physical objects, while they individually examine their ideas in their own personal spaces. Caretta allows users to participate in group activities interchangeably and seamlessly using both these spaces. Caretta is applicable to various collaborative tasks. In this paper, it supports users in urban planning tasks. User studies of Caretta demonstrated that it allowed users to collaborate in a flexible fashion: users could work individually in their personal spaces at their own pace, cooperatively work together in the shared space, and smoothly transition between both of the spaces.