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The Virtues of Interactivity

Adrian Longstaff, Institute for Learning and Research Technology, University of Bristol

Interactivity is the hallmark of all good teaching. Even a good textbook can be interactive to the point that it can pose problems and then provide solutions. The computer, however, in certain circumstances, is excellent at some forms of interactivity. Interactivity means creating a need to know. It does this by setting learning tasks from the relatively simple 'press this button to find a definition' through 'Answer these questions on the case scenario just described' to 'Search this database for documents giving a range of views on.... and then write an essay on the subject'. The following list is not exhaustive, but contains a number of possible interactions that can be used to enhance understanding and retention as well as to motivate and challenge students to move through the learning process in an enjoyable way. 

Some interactions used currently are:

  • Click for a definition/reference/explanation. 
  • Click to move into a resource database (eg relevant pictures, legal cases, CD-based textbook). 
  • Select the correct range of tests to reach a diagnosis in this case. 
  • Simple text entry (fill in the blank). 
  • Complex text entry (modified essay questions)
  • Multiple choice. 
  • Multiple response.
  • 'Pick from a list'. 
  • Select or identify an item or an area of a picture, diagram or a piece of text. 
  • Compare these 2 pieces of text (one may be student-generated). 
  • Click and drag items of pictures or text into a hierarchy, into categories, or into a complex algorithm or process. 
  • Label a diagram. 
  • Work this example (there is an opportunity here to split a problem into its component parts and then lead the student gradually to a point where he/she is asked to undertake the whole exercise in one go). 
  • Type in your opinion or explanation (and then compare it to the model answer which appears when you have finished). 
  • Halt the video in order to intervene appropriately in this interview. 
  • See what happens when you change the parameters of this experiment or economic model and draw conclusions from your analysis of the results. 
  • Search this database/hypertext universe for examples of views on topic x and then pull the differing views together in the form of an essay. 
  • Search the following Internet addresses or archives for documents and papers on this issue and draw a series of conclusions to be discussed in the next seminar. 

Clearly the tasks which require analysis and recall are more educationally effective than the ones which simply reveal more information, but any interactivity is better than no interactivity. This list grows all the time, and is only limited by human ingenuity.

 Two points:

  1. The interactions and tasks may or may not be restricted to the computer and may well have motivational, informational or assessment components which are located within other resources such as teachers, libraries and peer students.
  2. The purpose of these interactions/questions/tasks is primarily to promote learning and retention and only secondarily to provide assessment, even self-assessment. 

Even the term 'Electronic page turning' used to damn some of the more unsophisticated forms of Computer Based Learning, (CBL), can be misdirected if the page turning or 'look up' system is set within the context of a larger task such as the writing of an essay. It is the quality of interactivity which raises CBL material from the mundane and motivates students to prefer this form of learning to the passive reading of textbooks.

Finally, the provision of factual data and exercises on computer can enable the time spent in face to face teaching itself to become more interactive. More time to respond to student problems because less time spent on feeding them basic information


Adrian Longstaffe
Institute for Learning and Research Technology
University of Bristol
email: a.longstaffe@bristol.ac.uk



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