Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Myth #4: Digital Learning is Interactive

SpellTower is interactive
in multi-player mode

8 Myths About Digital Learning

"Learning has become more and more interactive with an increased dose of engagement, no wonder we are teaching with the thing students love the most : technology."  (25 Techy Tips Every Teacher Should Know About)

This is a myth.

Itsy Bitsy Spider is not interactive
but it is very good
Actually, there is a lot of myth in the above statement; its mythic richness is right up there with the ubiquitousness of the digital native.  My focus is on the world interactive, probably the most over-used word in learning today.

Confusion: To my surprise, I find confusion in the education world about what interactive learning means. To some, it requires only that the learner engage in conversation with other learners or with teachers.  To others, it requires that the learner engage meaningfully with a learning environment or with elements within this environment, thus becoming a subset of hands-on. Increasingly, interactive learning requires only that technology is the tool used to deliver instruction, content, and/or a hands-on and engaging experience (whatever that means - in general, it seems to mean total student focus and no educator is needed).

Definition: What is missing from all but the 1st of these definitions, the one with which I mostly agree, is the most important element of interactivity: reciprocity.  This is where conversation comes it.  Conversation is based upon a give-and-take pattern, with the provision that each response and each stimulus adjusts to what has come previously. This means for learning that the learner develops and adapts (learning approaches and systems, content knowledge, understanding) as a result of input, receives stimulating responses from a separate learning element (human or digital), then inputs responses to these new stimuli.  The other learning element alters responses as a result of the development of the learner (increasing/decreasing content depth or difficulty, making problems harder to solve, altering format delivery, growing or changing).  And, most importantly, the other learning element sets or communicates the (higher) standards to which the learner is climbing.

Examples of Interactive Learning: 

  • A Socratic discussion
  • Scientific and tech inquiry is interactive when the student has the freedom to design experiments or solutions to problems
  • Group role play
  • Much of the Plato Learning system
  • The best online classes
  • Serious digital chess instruction
  • Synchronous chat and other digital discussions

Examples of Mythical Interactivity:

  • Where's My Water 
  • Most eBooks, including those for elementary school
  • The new app called KWHL Chart (which I recommend to all iPad mSchools - it's free)
  • digital whiteboard apps
Animated does not equal interactive.  Critically read this iTunes description of Old MacDonald HD, the newest app from Duck, Duck Moose:
"Visit this farm where you can shear a sheep, push a tractor, flip a cow, make a chicken cluck, see pigs scurry, and watch ducks waddle. This unique rendition of the classic song also includes many new surprises: a philosopher cow, the painter Pig-casso, disco dancing sheep, mid-century modern furniture, spaceships, floating balloons, a bulldozer, a dump truck, and much more!" 

Touted as fully interactive, the app has, in fact, no interactivity at all.  What it has is a lot of animation triggered by random or purposeful screen-touches.

Responding to user input does not equal interactivity.  For the most part, apps that make this claim, like the excellent KWHL Chart, have generally only improved upon paper and pencil.

The fact about apps: In fact, most apps for education are not interactive.  Sorry - but unless the app embeds either an adaptive element or a social media element, it is not reciprocal.  Most apps are 1-way learning environments in which content, including rewards, can be replicated endlessly.  The precision with which a task is replicated will improve with repetition, and in elementary apps the rewards may vary (with choice and with upgrades), but the content itself does not alter with learning or app experience.

Not a criticism: It is not a criticism to say that a mobile app for children is not interactive.  Many excellent on-interactive apps teach children necessary skills, for example those listed in this short post on letter apps at Adventures in Technology Integration.

Just be accurate: An app or a use of an m-Tool that is not interactive should not be called interactive. It should be called responsive, animated, creative (reading, learning play).  All of these are buzz words sufficient to support the selling of an app or tool as engaging.

Any good app can be used in an interactive environment to create interactive learning:  Learning happens when curiosity and persistence address problems.  Interactive learning happens when  the learner is engaged in a conversation about those problems and their solutions.  New concepts, new words, new letters, how best to memorize massive amounts of material, how to use a semi-colon - all of these can be viewed as problems for the learner.  Interactive learning is best because it moves students forward from problem to problem.

Interactivity and Engagement: A teacher, parent or other agent who engages with the student to solve the problems of learning creates interactivity.  It is not the app, Google Chrome, or the mobile device itself that creates interactive learning - it how these learning tools are used.  Learning can be interactive when the tool is not.

Learning should be interactive when the tool is not.

This is not new pedagogy.  Teachers and parents have taught this way for centuries.  Until AI is ubiquitous in mobile devices, an app or tool that stimulates interactive learning in the classroom will:

  • require and encourage a more knowledgeable co-learner or mentor to engage the student in conversation about content - rewards can be helpful in creating this, especially when there are multiple levels of problem or challenge
  • connect smoothly and seamlessly to another app that "ups the problem"
  • provide tools for (or direct access to tools for) the creation and sharing of new content that demonstrates understanding, and of products and problems 

Tools and apps that discourage interactive learning:

  • are "closed systems" that discourage intervention and conversation - lack of complexity and challenge often create this situation
  • do not have a mechanism for digitally sharing learning problems and understandings
  • do not require or celebrate student creativity

The key to making learning interactive, then, is not purchasing large numbers of "interactive" apps.  It is not in sending students to internet video events and games.  It is in the hard fun conversation about learning.

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth, I really appreciate the time you have put into the evaluations so far. Thank you for the effort in communicating your points so clearly and comprehensively. I look forward to following this over time. I have added a link to my iPad homepage - to ensure it doesn't get overlooked in the busy-ness of life. I have also shared the link to this page with some colleagues regionally (here in Australia), so hope to engage with the content more fully.