Mobile Collaboration for Young Children: Reading and Creating Stories

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Within the last decade, mobile devices have become an integral part of society, at home or work, in industrialized and developing countries. For children, these devices have primarily been geared towards communication, information consumption, or individual creative purposes. Prior research indicates social interaction and collaboration are essential to the social and cognitive development of young children. This dissertation research focuses on supporting collaboration among mobile users, specifically children ages 6 to 10 -- while collaboratively reading and creating stories. I developed Mobile Stories, a novel software system for the Windows Mobile platform that supports collaborative story experiences, with special attention to two collocated collaboration experiences: content splitting and space sharing. Content splitting is where interface parts (e.g. words, pictures) are split between two or more devices. Space sharing is where the same content (e.g. a document) is spread or shared across devices. These collocated collaborative configurations help address mobile devices' primary limitation: a small screen.

The three research questions addressed are: how does Mobile Stories affect children's collaboration and mobility, what are some appropriate interfaces for collocated mobile collaboration with children, and when are the developed interfaces preferred and why. Mobile Stories was designed and develop using the Cooperative Inquiry design method. Formative studies furthered the design process, and gave insight as to how these collaborative interfaces might be used. A formal, mixed method study was conducted to investigate the relative advantages for each of the collocated collaborative interfaces, as well as to explore mobility and collaboration.

The results of the formal study show children were more mobile while creating stories than when reading and sharing them. As for task effectiveness, children read more pages when they were closer, and created more pages when they were further apart and more mobile. Children were closer together when they read using the content split configuration. While creating their stories, children rarely used the collocated collaborative configurations and used verbal collaboration instead. Several indicators pointed to relative advantages of the split content configuration over the share space configuration; however, the advantages of each are discussed.