Part of the
Centre for
Engineering Education
TU DelftTU EindhovenUniversity of TwenteWageningen University
Centre for
Engineering Education


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Project introduction and background information

The aim of the project is to investigate how students collaborate over distance with mobile technology, where in this case mobile technology entails iPads and Pencils. This distance-collaboration setup allows students to communicate  by using symbolism or drawings, which would not be possible with a regular laptop, which could benefit learning in mathematics or physics. Also, this setup allows students to collaborate in a lab, as one student's lab work can be streamed to the collaborating students, this way enabling them to participate in and to support the lab work. 

Objective and expected outcomes

The objective of the project is to describe students' strategies for engaging in challenging problems in the above-described distance-collaboration setup. These strategies will allow to formulate principles for how to support students' distance collaboration with mobile technology. 

Results and learnings

Overall, the main finding of this exploratory study is that, in contrast to the traditional use of handwriting in pen-and-paper setups, the distance collaboration setup allows for handwriting to become a synchronous collaboration tool. This collaborative function is probably enabled by the fact that handwriting is always public, that is, visible to the other group members. If implemented over a longer time, handwriting could become a fully utilized collaborative tool in distance collaboration, possibly fulfilling similar functions as oral communication. Compared to traditional setups, handwriting has some limitations here, as deixis or gestures cannot be used to reference previously written elements. We suspect that this limitation could well be an advantage, as it forces students to make implicit connections explicit in their reasoning process, e.g., by highlighting written elements so that these elements can be used as anchors during their reasoning processes.  


Distance collaboration in the setting explored here seems to have no negative impacts on students' proving activities. Students should be provided with tools that allow for handwriting to become a collaboration tool during distance collaboration. 

Practical outcomes

As a tentative practical outcome, we found that distance collaboration with mobile technology does not hinder learning. It can be suspected that distance collaboration can have specific benefits, as it requires students to make their reasoning more explicit.