Digital Mysteries (Digital Tabletops and Collaborative Learning)

The mysteries learning techniques was created to develop and assess students’ higher-level thinking, with their cognitive processes being shown through their manipulation of data slips. Groups of students are given a mystery with an open question and a number of slips with clues and evidence that may point to the question’s answer. The mystery is usually solved by the group in three stages: a reading stage, a grouping stage for categorising the data, and a sequencing stage for building sequences and cause-effect relations that explain their answer. For Digital Mysteries, we adapted the technique to be carried out on a multi-touch tabletop, hypothesising that the digital tabletop’s unique affordances lent themselves better to collaborative learning than traditional paper- or computer-based tools.

Digital Mysteries evolved through a design process that consisted of three iterations. The first version was a simple translation of the paper version of the Mysteries learning task into digital format. The second aimed to make it easier for users to visualise their thought processes and focus on what the entire group was doing, and to emphasise the grouping and sequencing stages, which had been largely overlooked in the first iteration. The final version of the application encouraged more explicit grouping of evidence, provided integrated scaffolding for low achieving groups, and added support for students to reflect on and increase awareness of the problem solving techniques they had used.

Trials were conducted in schools with groups of students aged 11-14. The evaluation of the final version of Digital Mysteries involved a total of twelve trials using six groups of three students. It produced evidence that the application increased encouraged effective learning mechanisms and higher-level thinking through reflection.


Date: Jan 2007 – Sept 2010

Project Supervisor: Patrick Olivier, David Leat.

Funding: Diwan Software