Tangible interactions to promote collaborative learning

Ely the Explorer, Interactive Play System is a project carried out by the Umea Institute of Design:

In the search for more intuitive user-interfaces appropriate for young children, we have proposed a play system featuring a set of physical and virtual tools, which explores the qualities of different input and output modalities. The system provides a set of tangible tools that enable children to work together in the exploration and manipulation of content in order to achieve some joint outcome.

the play develops around the story of a group of characters named Elys. With a teleporter, Elys can travel the world, discovering other cultures. Elys send postcards and bring pictures, music and video clips to share with the children. 
The children’s play is to help Elys in documenting their journeys through e.g. words, images, drawings and sounds.

An Ely is both a soft toy and an onscreen character. On screen, Elys are agents that guide the children through the play. The soft toy is a transitional object between the child’s imaginary world and the technology, which may encourage fantasy play and creativity.Elys carry a backpack; a PDA featuring a small display to view content.  The teleporter is a multi-user unit featuring a tabletop touch screen, a set of tools, and compartments to host the tools. The screen provides individual working areas for the users as well as a common display area where the outcome of their collaboration is defined. An RFID* system identifies the tools and a LAN** allows transfer of information.

Up to three children can play at a time. At the beginning of a play session, the players introduce their dolls into the teleporter. The journeys of Ely trigger a variety of activities with which together, children explore other cultures while practicing individual skills such as reading, writing, and counting. Every player completes different tasks; the results are then combined by the group in order to achieve a common outcome.

Why do I blog this? because (1) I like both concepts and design of the objects (2) I think it's an interesting way to engage users in collaborative learning activities (3) the study of the artifacts and the activity provided in this report (.pdf) is amazingly smart and close to what I do with video game companies. A scenario is provided here.

The report is a masters thesis entitled Children’s interaction and collaboration while using a multi-user interactive play system (2003), Persson, A. (Masters Thesis in Cognitive Science).