Enabling a Classroom Design Studio with a Collaborative Sketch Design Tool

Author(s): Dastyni Loksa, Nicolas Mangano, Thomas D. LaToza
Venue: International Conference on Software Engineering
Date: 2013

Type of Experiement: Case Study
Sample Size: 54
Class/Experience Level: Undergraduate Student
Participant Selection: Undergraduate student classwork
Data Collection Method: Observation, Survey


The idea of using design studios to teach certain topics in software engineering is gaining popularity due to its effectiveness for giving students opportunities to practice lecture concepts with the guidance of an experienced instructor. Software engineering instructors face challenges like inadequate facilities, lack of dedicated studio spaces for students, and unsupportive sketching mediums.

The authors deployed and observed the usage of a collaborative sketch-based design tool called Calico in two studio sessions of the Software Design I course at UC Irvine. The course is part one of a two-part series that presents students with a broad perspective on software design and equips them with code and application design techniques. Student teams were given tablets with the Calico software as well as instructions for installing it on their personal machines. Using the software, students could simultaneously draw, erase, manipulate, and interact with sketches on a digital canvas. UI elements, UML diagrams, architecture diagrams, and other helpful figures could also be modeled using the software.

The first studio session was asked to design a “virtual campus visit” that could be used to advertise university activities. The second studio session was given the task of creating an educational traffic signal simulator for an urban design course. Both studio sessions were permitted to use paper but were asked to provide their final designs in Calico.

The authors observed that during the brainstorming process, the Calico canvas became central to the discussion, with students using the shared notes as documentation and starting points for additional ideas. Many teams started with concept sketches that were reworked and refined as discussion continued. The dynamic quality of the notes facilitated the transition from the brainstorming phase into more concrete designs. The authors found that Calico provided more support for the collaborative nature of the design process.