Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Interactivity: Another Tack On It

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 25, 1998

In this series:

- Interactivity and Best Practices in Web Based Training
- Interactivity: Another Tack On It (Part 1)
- Interactivity: Another Tack On It (Part 2)
- Interactivity: Another Tack On It (Part 3)
- Interactivity: Another Tack On It (Part 4)

Posted to WWWDEV 26 October 98

Rory McGreal defines an element of interactivity not envisioned in my earlier post, that of degree of interactivity. He defines in terms of the degree to which a user can influence the behaviour of the container, and defines three levels, low, medium, and high.

It is useful to quantify degrees of interactivity, because such a measurment will relate also to the effectiveness of the medium as a learning tool and will relate to the length of time a viewer will spend with the resource. High interactivity learning materials are generally more effective learning materials, and viewers spend more time with them.

That said, I'm not sure that the measure of "degree to which a user can influence the behaviour of the container" is an effective measure of interactivity. Such is an outcomes-based definition, and therefore does not take into account the process of interaction between viewer and container. For example, compare a multiple-choice form and a short-paragraph form. Arguably, the latter is more interactive, since it requires more work on the part of the viewer, however, the two may be seen as equally interactive, if what follows is only an evaluation of the submitted response.

Moreover, such a definition is applicable only in cases of human-machine interaction. In cases of human-human interaction, much interaction can occur with very little change in the behaviour of either participant. Peace talks are often like that.

I think that a better measure of interactivity would be to construe it as a ratio of the amount of information exchanged between the participants by each participant. The closer the ratio is to 1:1, the higher the interactivity. The further the ratio is from 1:1, the lower the interactivity.

For example, consider a typical page turner. Assume an average of 5K per page. The act of clicking on a link will send (maybe) 512 bytes. Thus we have a 10:1 ratio (web server : viewer), which is fairly low.

Now consider a conversation between two people on a chat server. Each is typing fairly constantly, sending a lot of information. Over the course of an hour, one person sends 10K of text, while the other sends 8K of text. This ration of 10:8 is much closer to 1:1, and therefore, much more interactive than the page turner.

(Strictly speaking, such a measure of interaction should be a measure of the *information* sent each way, as opposed to a measure of the raw number of bytes. I am using byte figures to make the calculations more transparent.)

Rory's email is cited below. My comments end here.

From: Rory McGreal <rory@TELEEDUCATION.NB.CA Subject: Interactivity: Another tack on it

In describing educational materials, Educause's IMS (Instructional Management System) measures interactivity thus: Interactivity Level The level of interaction between the user and the container. Interactivity is the degree to which the user can influence the course of action or the behavior of that materials. The three levels are high, medium, and low. For our TeleCampus Online Course Database, which deals exclusively with online courses, we have refined this definition to the one below: Interactivity Level The default is low for courses that are based on a book or on a Web site that is like a document with some hyperlinks. A medium level course would include interactive multimedia and/or computer conferencing. A high level course would have a great deal of interactivity in nearly every lesson and/or make major use of computer conferencing, listservs or chat. For example: A correspondence course that you can do fully online by email would be classed as low as would a CBT page turner. I do not believe that we will find a definition that will be satisfactory to everyone. This can be an emotional issue. IWe welcome constructive comments on this measure and suggestions on how it could be improved. Is it useful? What would be more useful? Rory

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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