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Posts Tagged ‘interaction

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I had previously shared one of my comments to a student-teacher who asked me how to conduct online lessons in an “interactive manner”. I started by questioning exactly what “interactive” means. 

This is not a trivial or theoretical pursuit. It is a pedagogical and practical one. For a lesson to be “interactive”, some interactions to design for are:

  • Student-Teacher (S-T)
  • Student-Student (S-S)
  • Student-Resource
  • Student-Interface
  • Student-Self

There are many other interactions, but for now consider the depth and nuance of just S-T interactions in an online session. 

For example, is the main interaction meant to be one of advising, coaching, counselling, direct instruction, mass lecturing, mentoring, or a mix of methods? Each of these main interaction methods is undergirded by different educational philosophies, theoretical approaches, and instructional strategies.

Every one of the “interactions” is complex and should not be left to chance or lazy habit. By the latter, I mean teaching as you were previously taught and without understanding the why of the how.

You also cannot assume that what works face-to-face will also work online. There is an immediacy and social presence that is difficult and possibly not desirable to replicate. For example, you cannot replicate physical proximity to dissuade misbehaviours; you might not want to be ever-present if you want to nurture independent learners.

Not many are effective online instructors or facilitators. It takes time and effort to unlearn old behaviours and adopt new ones so that you learn to be a better teacher online. This is why I replied that “…those topics need such in-depth study that they would probably take a basic degree or a Masters to explore”. 

The depth, breadth, and nuance of conducting “online lessons in an interactive manner” was outside the scope of my short course. But I hope that my learners caught what I tried to model and that my questions led to the realisation that there are no easy answers for complex and worthwhile efforts.

Talks are the least effectiveness way to effect change, but they are a necessary evil because people still organise them and the talks can have extensive reach.

But when I conduct talks, seminars, or keynotes, I ensure that I interact with my audience richly in a few ways.

Why do this? Most speakers will use an “e” word like engagement or even entertainment. I do not play these games because I know my participants are smarter than to fall for that.

I use tools to interact so that my audience (listeners) become participants (thinkers, doers). I do not wish to merely engage, I want to participants to take ownership of learning and responsibility of action.

Beth Kanter shared some ideas last week. I am weighing in on my own and I suggest free tools combined with basic principles of educational psychology.

A backchannel is an online space for participants to comment, discuss, and ask questions while I am speaking or after I have asked them to consider an issue.

My favourite backchannel tools are Twitter and TodaysMeet.

Twitter is great when an organiser already has one or more event #hashtags that participants can use. This presumes that a sizeable number of participants already use Twitter or are willing to get on it quickly.

Twitter backchannel.

TodaysMeet is better when participants have not committed to any particular platform. If they can text or SMS, then can use TodaysMeet.

With my own free TodaysMeet account, I can create an online text-based interaction space and define how long it will be open for. I then invite participants to it by sharing the access URL. (Pro tip: Create a custom URL with and a QR code with this generator.)

One of the most recent versions of Google Slides lets you invite questions from the audience. The URL for participants to submit questions appears at the top of your slides and they can vote up the best questions. (Read my review of Google Slides audience tool.)

Audience Tool URL as overlay.

This is not quite a backchannel because it is not designed for chatter. It favours focused queries. This tool might be better for less adventurous participants who are not used to switching quickly between tasks.

Whatever the backchannel tool, its use must be guided by sound educational principles. You might want to provide participants with a space to be heard immediately instead of waiting till the end, or you want to monitor their thoughts, sense their doubts, or get feedback.

The visualisations I am referring to are not images and videos. These are show-and-tell elements which are attempts to engage, but have little to do with interacting with participants.

My most common strategy of participative visualisation is to incorporate data collecting and collating tools like Google Forms and AnswerGarden.

Both these tools require user inputs that can be visualised. For example, I could ask the room which major phone platform they are on: Android, iOS, other in a Google Form.

The data they provide is collated in a Google Sheet and can be visualised in a pie chart or bar graph. The relative proportions are more obvious to see than asking the participants to raise their hands.

There are many tools that do what Google Forms and Sheets do, possibly a bit quicker and slicker. But these normally come at a premium. The GSuite is free.

One way to visualise a group’s grasp of concepts is to use a word cloud. For example, I am fond of asking participants what they consider the most important 21st century competencies.

AnswerGarden word cloud.

I invite them to share words or short phrases in an AnswerGarden in brainstorming mode. The most commonly cited concepts appear large while the less common ones become small.

The purpose of such illustrations is not just to leverage on the fact that we are visual creatures and the visuals make an immediate impact. I want participants to get involved in real time and this helps also me illustrate how the technology enables more current forms of learning and work.

One of the worst things I could do as a speaker is talk about something that the audience has no interest in. As it is, some or most of the people there might be present as an obligation and not by choice. So I try to find out what they might want to learn.

I often use Google Forms to find out beforehand and present the popular suggested topics in the form of a chart.

With smaller seminars, I might use Dotstorming to determine which direction to take midway through the event. I ask participants to suggest areas to explore and they vote on topics each others topics.

Dotstorming is similar to Padlet in that users input ideas on online stickies. However, Dotstorming allows me to let them vote on the best ideas and arrange the notes by popularity.

Dotstorming example.

The idea here is to give the participant a say in what gets covered or uncovered. It is about providing and fulfilling user choice instead of focusing on a potentially irrelevant curriculum or plan.

My perennial favourite for quick-quizzing participants is Flubaroo, an add-on to Google Forms for auto-grading quizzes as well as providing feedback and answers to my learners.

Google Forms has since upped its game to offer quiz-like functions, but it still lags behind the leader, Flubaroo in some ways. This site provides a detailed breakdown of a Forms quiz vs a Flubaroo one.

Quiz is coming!

The point of quizzing is not just to keep participants on their toes. Some might be driven by such a challenge, but all benefit from evaluating themselves in terms of learning. The results can also be an indicator of how much my talk was understood.

I am fond of using Padlet and Google Forms for pitstops and one-minute papers.

Pitstops are pauses in my sessions for participants to collect their thoughts and think of questions. They are an opportunity for them to see if they can link the negotiated outcomes with their current state of learning, and to see where they still need to go.

A takeaway or “dabao” (in local vernacular) is a terminal activity in which I ask participants to tell me their biggest learning outcome from the session.

In both I find that there is an even mix of planned and unplanned learning outcomes. This is a good thing because the internalisation and ownership of learning is important, not just the blind reception of information.

I do not only like to connect with participants before and during a talk, but also after it. I do so a few ways.

I leave my social media information in one of the final slides.

Contact me.

If I use a backchannel, participants can contact me indefinitely on Twitter and up to several days or weeks after on TodaysMeet.

I also use my blog to reflect on the events and to answer questions I might not have been able to address during the session.

Last year I outlined how the poorly designed McCafe app could be used to learn design principles. Missteps and mistakes are often the best sources of learning.

My StarHub is an app that I use to check my data consumption and it is a wellspring of lessons on how NOT to design a mobile app.

The app claims to let users customise what they see. Currently, there are four fixed cards and six selectable ones. The latter are selected by default.

One cannot actually customise as 1) there are fixed selections (including ads), and 2) if deselected, the optional cards return after restarting the app.

The people behind the StarHub app might have forgotten (or do not care) that the customer likes to customise. Perhaps they need to adopt a new custom and repeat it as a mantra.

The app also breaks the old web page three-click rule. This is the rule that states that a user should be able to find what they need within three mouse clicks. In the mobile app universe, this should be a one or two tap rule given the nature of the platform.

Once I open the app, I need to make six taps to know how much data I have consumed in detail. I need to tap on:

  1. My Account.
  2. Mobile usage.
  3. The filter option (I manage and pay for my family’s numbers and mine does not appear by default and I have no option to choose my mobile number as default.)
  4. My number in the filter.
  5. The done button.
  6. Data usage to view current usage.

The app offers a minimalist graphic on main page that looks nice, but 1) it does not always appear, 2) when it does, it sometimes happens after a delay, 3) it is not detailed enough for my needs.

All this puts form over function and the needs of the designers over that of the user. This makes for a terrible app experience and I am reminded of it every time I use it.

Designers of user interfaces should be familiar with the concept of user-centric design. I wish more were passionate about the practice of the same. This is particularly important for designers of educational apps, especially those that provide access to content and learning management systems. No one wants angry, frustrated, or anxious users even before the learning begins.

Yesterday I shared some visual design considerations I take for my talks. Today I focus on interaction design.

My latest effort is a step down from what I normally do. I am designing for lower grade interaction by leaving out a backchannel throughout the session and one-minute paper at the end.

I am doing this because I understand my overseas audience. It is a place I have been invited to every year since 2013 and the mobile connection is unpredictable. It is not that they are unresponsive; they just cannot reliably connect to the Internet.

That said, I am still relying on two online tools that require low bandwidth from the participants.

My go-to presentation platform is Google Slides because it is free, flexible, and online. I can edit the content up to the last minute and share the slides with my audience.

Video source

In terms of interaction, I intend to try Google Slide’s “new” Q&A tool since I am not relying on my preferred tool, TodaysMeet. The audience can participate by suggesting and ranking questions.

I will also use Google Form’s quiz and auto-grading feature (similar to Flubaroo). I will create this experience for my participant as an introduction to being information literate and to establish the themes of my session.

Mobile access to online quiz and themes of my session.

I anticipate that most participants will be armed with their own phones and this will also be message about leveraging on BYOD and personal forms of learning.

Most talks seem to focus on the talk. I plan mine with lessons from educational psychology and visual design principles. I try to focus on listening as I talk in order to change minds. This is effort that often goes unappreciated, but I know that it matters.

Sometimes I draft blog entries and I forget about them. I was reminded of this one when it popped up on one of my mobile devices.

I had read this NYT article about the Learning Without Frontiers conference and was surprised that the delegates were “given” an iPad. The cost must have been included in the high conference fee.

Here is the article in a nutshell along with a nut I would like to crack:

Tucked into a small fraction of London’s cavernous Olympia convention hall — whose other temporary tenants, fittingly enough, were an exhibition on learning technologies and the 2012 London Toy Fair — the 650 delegates to Learning Without Frontiers found themselves in an event that felt like a mashup of a music festival, a political convention, and freshman orientation at a college campus on a slightly more advanced planet. Instead of mundane exhibitors’ stands, delegates made their way through a forest of bright white inflatable domes — including one devoted entirely to the joys of Lego. Just to complete the picture of geek heaven, on entry each delegate was given a new iPad — included as part of the two-day conference’s £995, or about $1,500, registration fee.

These were people who could feel Ray Kurzweil’s pain when he said, referring to Wikipedia’s recent 24-hour blackout to protest pending U.S. anti-piracy legislation: “When Wikipedia went down I felt like a part of my brain went on strike.” And when he told the group “the era when we could just spoon-feed facts to kids is over,” and exhorted the teachers and parents in the room to “let your children take their iPads into school,” they looked up from their own iPads to nod (or Tweet) their approval.

I can imagine some folks tsk-tsking the geeks typing away on their iPads. But really, just how different was their behaviour from the learner of today?

The interaction was still there. It was just different.

Having learners in the room establishing eye contact with you does not mean they are engaged or learning anything. They could be watching a YouTube video or typing on their iPads before, during, or after a class and be even more engaged.

The Internet-connected iPad might be an unwelcome distraction to some. To me it is a portal to information and other people that you can leverage on in a class. That is what makes things engaging. Someone yapping at the front does not.

I have said it before and I will say it again: If you don’t reach them, you can’t teach them.

It is almost the weekend and here is something lighthearted.

[Youtube source] [Vimeo source]

At the end of 2011, a boy decided to propose to a girl.

What was uniquely early 21st century about it was the Internet memes that the guy used in his proposal. (If you need to catch up on memes, visit 9gag regularly or try this app.)

Video source

Another boy proposed to another girl, but this time the guy used stop-motion LEGO minifigs to make his intentions known.

Stop-motion has been around since movies were black and white. LEGO has been around for about as long. But stop-motion was not something that the layperson could do easily or conveniently. Today we have tools like JellyCam on the Mac and iTimeLapse on the iPhone to make short stop-motion movies.

We really should stop labelling the time we live in as the Information Age as it reeks of consumption. We are in the Creation and Interaction Age!

As a side note, I think that most Singaporeans will have this reaction: Spoil market! All I can say is I am glad that I am happily married and do not have to think of outdoing proposals like these!

… because they are not truly interactive white boards.

Normally the only one interacting with them is the teacher. More often than not, the type of interaction is limited to the vain attempt to deliver information (the same information that is often better learned by other means) in a flashy manner. I think that IWBs promote tired and increasingly irrelevant teacher-centred pedagogy.

But there is one thing I like about IWBs: Their high cost has got innovative people like Johnny Lee figuring out ways to not only create cheaper ones with the Wiimote, but also how to make them multi-input-capable. This multi-input capacity makes multi “touch” computing possible (see video below) and can allow more than one student to interact with the resources on it!

[YouTube video source] [Original TED talk source]

What I like most about Lee is his personal philosophy of getting as many of the people who don’t have the technologies to help themselves! He has offered his ideas and software online for free.

If you use his hacks, acknowledge him and please don’t just create an IWB. Use it to allow students to learn better!

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported how a professor encouraged his students to contribute to his ‘live’ classes via Twitter.

It did not work at first, but after a few weeks, they started

floating ideas or posting links to related materials… in some cases, a shy student would type an observation or question on Twitter, and others in the class would respond with notes encouraging the student to raise the topic out loud. Other times, one of the professors would see a link posted by a student and stop class to discuss it.

Why did he do this?

He replied that his hope is that the second layer of conversation will disrupt the old classroom model and allow new kinds of teaching in which students play a greater role and information is pulled in from outside the classroom walls.

Bravo! I might just do something like this next semester. Perhaps I’ll encourage my teacher trainees to tweet more than blog. For that matter, I think I may require them to maintain small group blogs rather than individual ones.


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