Where’s the interaction?

By May.31, 2010

Last Thursday I attended a VITAE workshop on Integrating Technology for Researcher Training where I presented about ‘ A shared space for learning about YOU and your research. The main ideas and slides of that presentation can be found here.

I like this kind of small events, where people get to talk to others and share their experiences. Such events are really good for people to discuss and share ideas. Although the majority of people attending were, in one way or another, already using technology, not all of them were totally convinced about this story of going online. I like the challenge such mix of opinions and approaches generates. It makes us think from a different angle, and consider other people’s perspectives too. I liked the fact that the entire afternoon was dedicated to group discussion. The facilitator did a great job as usual.  She’s so full of energy. It’s contagious!
We were asked to form groups with people who we didn’t work with or had never met before. I knew very few people at this event, which is something that I always think to be quite scary but also really good, as it ‘forces’ me to connect to people I don’t yet know.
Usually when we go to conferences and events with people you know there’s a tendency to not even look outside that group. I am not really fond of cliques and like the idea of having to challenge my initial fear to go and meet other people. It usually turns out to be quite enriching. This time it was no exception. Apart from the Manchester colleagues and  Tristam Hooley, whom I only knew from twitter, the group I ended up working with all afternoon was new to me. And their opinions were diverse, which was great.

At some point we were discussing how we can support/enable/help interaction online. We obviously had different definitions of interaction in mind. I, for once, could not think of anything else, but the communication flow social media enables. The conversation, as Tristam so rightly put it. Nevertheless, some people were still holding on to the idea of Human-computer interaction (HCI), in which one can develop given skills in a mechanical way, as a response to the stimulus provided by the software. I was miles away from the Pavlovian mode of learning, but indeed this is something that many of us still see as elearning.
Especially at a Higher Education level I don’t see the point of such HCI packages. I truly believe in the power of conversation, be in face-to-face or online. The advantage of it being online is that it does not (have to)  happen behind closed doors, be restricted to an hour session, nor limited to the people in the room. It is how people become intellectually attached to each other by the stories they share, and the narratives they jointly create while taking part in that collective learning experience that sells it to me. I see (spontaneous) interaction being a fundamental aspect of any learning experience, both face to face or online.


Yesterday I was reading one of the Nieman 2010 fellows experience at Harvard, and she also touches on this subject.  I like her enthusiastic description of students engaging in the discussions in a bold, passionate way. That’s the romantic view I always had of University, which I never experienced as a college student, but which I get to engage with now as a lifelong learner!
I much prefer the idea of creating content relevant to my learning needs to the notion of being given access to ‘packages’ of it. I like the idea of picking and choosing; having the freedom to choose and especially the opportunity to get advice on it.

We all have access to content these days. Sometimes too much!  the problem is to make sense of it all without getting overwhelmed. Hence, the need to connect and access people who not only can point us to key resources but convince us of their importance (negotiation of meaning). That’s interaction again, isn’t it?!
Although there is a new area to explore, that of managing and selecting information available online, what students (should) want is to be stimulated with activities/debates that allow them to build on established knowledge. Isn’t that what research is supposed to be and do: to advance knowledge? In my opinion, that is better achieved in a dynamic, flexible, multi-layered, interactive environment, where the individual can voice their thoughts. Their own voice, that is!
One of the things I like about interaction online, be it through twitter, blogs posts and comments, discussion fora, etc is that I not only learn about others, I end up learning also about myself as my ideas start forming at the tips of my fingers as I type them away! However, thou shalt not think it is an easy deed! In matter of fact it is a hard one, but, truth be said, it also gets easier with practice! Broadcasting our thoughts for the www to see (and react on) is hard, mainly because we fear fierce criticism. It’s a natural feeling. We are being exposed. But it shouldn’t be a bad one. What we need to work on is actually on becoming better feedback provider and educate others to do the same. It is quite an important aspect of (academic) learning, isn’t it?. We learn with different opinions, what we do not learn with is with patronising, unthoughtful comments. And that’s what we need to aim to change!


So all of this to say that in parallel conversations I had with Lisa Harris , who, by the way, I still haven’t met face to face, and also with Tristam at teh Vitae event , we all agree we should start collecting evidence regarding online interaction. We were thinking about personal testimonies of how the social web has really worked for you and added value to your research/learning journey.

It would be interesting to learn about your interactive experiences online, with all its advantages and implications. It is as important to learn about what works as it is to know what may not, or what we need to be aware of. You can post them here in the comment box, as a guest blogger, or simply link it to your blog.
Which ever way you decide to do it, we look forward to your contributions. Just get in touch! 😉

I’ll be sharing some more of mine soon too.


11 thoughts on “Where’s the interaction?

  1. 10 years ago  

    Just an update: I tweeted about an article I want to read and which have no access to. [The reference, by the way, was shared with me via twitter http://twitter.com/veletsianos/status/15271925047 – Thanks @veletisianos] in less than an hour I had 3 copies of the article in my inbox and another offer in my DMs – Thanks: @lfpedro ; @TerryWassall @marloft & the author herself.

    Now, if this is not interaction, and the power of my Personal Learning Network, then I don’t know!!!

  2. 10 years ago  

    Interesting point you got there Pat. And because it’s a bigger effort (and less automated) to offer feedback people really do have to be interested to bother.

  3. 10 years ago  

    I was going to say something similar, Cris. “The interaction is in the people”; if they don’t want to interact, then fair enough, but if they do you can get rich, interesting, vibrant conversations happening. Not every post is going to attract a conversation; most of my blog posts get very little in the way of comment. I like to think it is because people think “Wow that is so brilliant” and they are embarrassed to comment, but I suspect it is more ‘huh, yeah, so what?’ 😉

    I find the interaction in SM to be much more polite than in face to face situations. Why? In F2F, I find people have a tendency to try to force you to pay attention to them (also true when they are using that most evil of devices, the telephone). In most cases, it is just that they really want feedback on their idea – but this is a continuum of experience up to the hard sales pitches and political nagging which can occur. Obviously there is also the nice end of that – where people are genuinely interested in what you are talking or thinking about, or just in who you are. Online, it is much harder for them to force you to pay attention to them. Even people who spam others’ blogs with comments can’t really hold the “other’s” attention if they are unwilling to lend it.

    But then, I am a ‘digital native’ and only an occasional (reluctant) visitor to the F2F world…

  4. Cristina

    10 years ago  

    @Gareth – the interaction is here… in the conversation, in the sharing and the caring people put in answering each other questions. I share a different opinion from you. There are loads of people ‘listening’ … they just aren’t yet prepared to contribute…probably the same way you are not prepared to engage in the conversations of others or those you have yourself started. No one’s rubbish at this stuff (!) , but everyone can improve…just as in any physical context. You just need to make an effort and think that your contribution is as valuable (which is not the same as to say that only your opinion is right 😉 )
    Today as I was walking back home from town, and I was thinking of it. A couple of days ago I left a comment in someone’s blog… someone else added another comment and even commented on mine. No sign of the author until yesterday… but he ended up adding more questions to his post …instead of engaging with what we had said. I mean: sharing his own point of view and his experience about the discussion he had started. He could still have posed the questions in the end…but the conversation that would lead to them was missing… so I posted again…this time with just questions…and yes, so far no answer. This is what I call ‘sterile contribution’… They lead nowhere; create no deeper thinking… That’s what happens when people take a more top down approach. They are willing to take but not so much to give.

    So ‘the interaction’ is wherever several people come together to contribute. Hence, we need to put ourselves out there and talk to people. That is, in itself, also a way of listening here in cyberspace, since body language is lacking, and onine presence cannot really be counted by the numbers of hits you get.
    It is when we stop worring about these things (statistics, having many followers, etc) that things start working, because we will have more time to focus our energy on what really matters.
    Above all you have to feel generous to share; most people will reciprocate.

  5. 10 years ago  

    Hi Cris,

    I’m not sure where the interaction is. It’s not my best skill, I don’t comment on other peoples posts that much, I’m pretty rubbish at replying to people on my own blogs. Its a peripheral activty the SM stuff is. I like it but I wouldn’t say I was getting loads of value from it, but i’d rather still have it than not. I’m waiting to see what develops in the future, and that includes my own skills for sure.

    I do see a lot of SM enthusiasts talkin to other enthusiasts but within the fields of my own interest its an underused resource. People don’t really know how to use it, or maybe now we have the opportunity to talk to each other a lot more and share stuff, we’ve found that we’re not that bothered about listening to what each other has to say. Like in the real world, there is more people wanting to talk than to listen. Other people I see talking about homelessness are campaigners, usually using it to shout louder and more often, I dont see the point trying to discuss stuff with them, they’ve made their minds up and they have their stance. They just want people to take notice of them and agree with them.

    Maybe we dont have the time, maybe its too overwhelming, maybe we’re wrongly expecting the technology to make up for our own laziness. But where is the interaction? I’m still searching for it.

  6. 10 years ago  

    Hi Cristina, great blog post, many thanks for sharing your ideas. I think the point about showcasing examples of success is a critical one to help convince the sceptics. Most of the time when running workshops, we are preaching to the converted.

    I find social media to be critical in helping me keep up to date with how both marketing and education are changing/need to change. I try to set an example with my own online activities (mainly Twitter, blog, Delicious, Slideshare, a bit of LinkedIn) to encourage students (and staff) to do likewise – but while some get it, many don’t. Despite sharing my Delicious links, I have students still searching for books on topics such as cloud computing in the library…

    There is a great quote (that I can’t fully remember!) about expertise only equipping people for a world that has already past. Surely the whole point of research is to keep learning something new, and then encourage others to take a similar journey?


  7. 10 years ago  

    Hi Crista – recent conversations online made it clear to me how professionally I’d like to describe myself – Interactive Learning Designer – Your article touches a cord.

    By the way, saw your piece on facebook – recently i took the plunge and starting mixing social with professional. Facebook is amazing for professional development – currently it has distracted me from twitter- have a look at my profile http://www.facebook.com/SteveMackenzieUK – see the sorts of things professionally i have been up to – Much more impressive is John Mak, i think you know John


  8. Cristina

    10 years ago  

    @Pat – wow – thanks for the thorough testimony! So much to think about.
    @andy – I couldn’t agree more. These links take time to develop. There has to be some personal investment in it. As I mentioned in my other post, it’s up to individual to foster that network around them. Creating an account and waiting for people to come and approach them is just not going to happen. Even the big ‘Academic stars’ have realised they need to give if they want to receive.Interaction is a two way road. As Lessig recently said – it doesn’t even feel right just to consume. You need to contribute to. Be part of the conversation.

    The other key aspect for me is persistence. With people in our field it is becoming easier to connect to/find other people. There is a pretty broad distributed network right now. I am not sure we can say the same thing about other areas of knowledge. Sometimes even showing interest in being part of these new ways of communicating is not enough, if they don’t find anyone to ‘talk to’. I think the role of the ‘connector’ – someone who identifies links and brings people together is very important, as is the role of those who keep those links going.
    All of this is a collaborative effort.
    Any stories, vignettes of how Social Media has worked for you personally? Any ah-ha moments worth sharing?

  9. 10 years ago  

    I agree with Pat’s last point. People are the best filters. Particularly as the processes and modes of communication and interaction that we adopt can evolve and shift within (and occasionally across) specific platforms and tools, often in very subtle ways – whether influenced by learning or professional needs, institutional or technical constraints, or wider socio-technological shifts.

    Therefore, creating communities and networks of both co-located and distributed people in our fields of study (and maybe some on the peripheries) across a range of tools and platforms can provide the flexibility and sustainability we need to access our information resources effectively. But these take time to develop, and require ongoing monitoring, evaluation and maintenance; processes that are themselves dependent on regular participation and interaction.

  10. 10 years ago  

    Well, now, where to start?
    First of all, I should say I agree about the need to help promote change so that instead of the classic ‘YouTube’ style responses, people are more inclined to give helpful, if critical, feedback on online interactions. I can’t imagine that it is going to be an easy change to help mediate, but those of us engaged in thoughtful debate online benefit from it, which I cannot imagine the mud-slingers and trolls really do.

    I also do at least some of my thinking in the thick of online communication, whether it is realtime, using tools like Twitter or an instant messaging service, or asynchronously using email, or commenting on a blog post. I started using online social tools way, way back – although some may not think of them as such.

    I’m a gamer; I have been since I was 6 or 7 years old. I used to play figure games (‘wargames’), and started fantasy role-playing (Dungeons and Dragons being the first…) as soon as the concept hit the UK’s shores (’75 if I recall correctly). It took some time for the technology to catch up, but that table-top style of role-playing is something which was eventually accessible to casual users, even on a dial-up modem, in the form of MUDs. Little worlds, with lots of other people from around the globe, in which you play out the life of an intrepid hero or ne’er-do-well. And many of these games were very social, with chat ‘channels’ which seldom stayed ‘in character’, offering instead an open dialogue to explore ideas and pick up techy tips from geeks around the world.

    It was fascinating, especially when “meta-role-playing”. I often had multiple characters I would use in a game, and because of the occasional spiteful player who would take out their frustrations at not being as good as my main character on ‘younger’ characters in the game, it made sense to pretend to be a different player. Watching the way different people reacted to the different personae I adopted for the /player/ of the character was possibly even more fascinating than watching their responses to the different characters themselves.

    Unfortunately, time does not allow me the opportunity to engage in such simple pleasures any more. There was a period, before ‘social networks’ took off (despite the fact that usenet provided similar functionality, really, if you knew how to use it), when the Web effectively deadened the social side of the internet for me.

    With the rise of the social networking tools, however, I have found that I can now engage, again, with a global audience. Experts and skilled amateurs, those with an interest in the things I find fascinating, are available at the click of a mouse and the tapping of a keyboard at any time of day or night. I am much more inclined to engage in conversation online than spend ages reading blogs. I am even less inclined to spend time listening to podcasts or watching video, as they are so linear and do not allow me to skip ahead (with any ease) to the interesting bits. I can maintain conversations with half a dozen people (generally) across a range of topics by using text based media – something the attention hogging audio and video modes of communication just do not allow.

    People provide different insights, respond in different ways, share their cultural ‘bias’ and provoke thought and new insights by just being themselves online. Of course, maybe it helps that I am interested in how people present themselves online, and what affordances different media provide for them.

    Sometimes I find the stream of information and opinion too much, and back away for short periods. But, much as recent research has shown that our brains quickly adapt to include tools we use in our internal models of ourselves, I suspect that the always on, ubiquitous (yes, I also access the sites that I use to connect via my phone), rapid-response network of people who form my PLN are already modelled in my brain as being part of my sensory network. Switching them off for any period of time is an uncomfortable experience. I would tend to think of myself, in this regard, as being adapted to the social web – if I dared use the term these days, as being a Digital Native.

    The Web, and services such as Google Scholar, are marvellous tools for helping me find academic resources. But they pale into insignificance in comparison to the community which explores, filters and recommends for me. The people I connect to online, who, by virtue of me filtering who I choose to follow, provide a bespoke search engine, coupled to a responsive conversation ‘machine’ which will critique my thinking, steer me back on to the right track, but also, crucially, let me make my own mistakes and learn from them.

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