A distinct feature observed in computer use in schools or rural kiosks in developing countries is the high student-to-computer ratio. It is not unusual to see more than five children crowding around a single display, as schools are rarely funded to afford one PC per child in a classroom. One dominant child controls the mouse, while others are passive onlookers, without operational control of the computer. The dominant child is often the most intelligent, the richest or simply the oldest child in the group. Learning benefits appear to accrue primarily to this child with the mouse, with the other children missing out and losing interest.
We are working on a project where we provide each child with a mouse and cursor on screen, thus effectively multiplying the amount of interaction per student per PC, for the cost of a few extra mice. We have developed software that allows multiple colored cursors to co-exist on the monitor, along with numerous games with educational content. Trials with both single-mouse and multiple-mice scenarios suggest that children are more engaged when in control of a mouse, and that more mice increases overall engagement, or connection with on-screen content. Our results suggest new areas of research in pedagogy for computers in education. Large scale field experiments with over 200 students in rural Karnataka have shown strong educational benefits in using multiple mice. Now, the technology to build applications like this is being released as the MultiPoint SDK (Software Development Kit), so that any content developer can build educational content using multiple mice.
This also allows for new pedagogical opportunities, such as enabling collaborative learning, as well as ensuring that the software and educational experience keeps pace with the capabilities of each child using the PC. This is particularly interesting even for developed nation scenarios where we may already have a single PC per child. Even in that situation, we feel that it may be possible to build scenarios where it is beneficial to have multiple children per PC due to the benefits of collaboration amongst the children.
Overall, by adding a few mice, one can instantly multiply the value of a single PC!
We have explored a lot of issues around Multipoint from a variety of angles. One aspect is from a development perspective, where the clear value of multipoint is from an economic viewpoint. For instance, for a typical existing PC, cost is ~$500. A mouse can normally be purchased for $5-6, so about the cost would be $30 for 5 mice. Thus for five children working together, the cost per child is $105, and this too with existing technologies and economies of scale. We are looking at all such scenarios, where computers are used by people in a many-persons-per-computer setting mainly due to economic constraints, under the heading of Simultaneous Shared Access computing, and another project in this area is our project on Split Screen User Interfaces.
The second and primary aspect we have been focusing on is from the education perspective. Multiple mice enable a lot of scenarios for collaborative learning, something which was never really possible easily with single mouse based educational software. Overall we feel that the benefits of this are such, that in some cases, even if one could afford the one PC per user, it might be better to have the users share the PC, as there is a greater learning benefit due to the added value of the new collaborative learning interaction. A third aspect we’re looking at is from the set of usability/HCI focussed issues of how to design good applications in this multiple mice paradigm, and this comes under the broad research area of Single Display Groupware.
Following are our publications so far. Going forward, we are also studying usage with more complex learning tasks, as well as more advanced pedagogical designs.
One of the earliest ideas with regard to MultiPoint was enabling a scenario where one of the mice is used by a teacher, who guides the children (with the other mice), ideally with a larger, shared display such as a projector. This idea led to joint research between Microsoft Research India and Microsoft Research China, on a model called ‘Mouse on Each Desk’.
A sampling of some of the press coverage for MultiPoint (please note that the earlier name for this project was MultiMouse)