Once upon a time there lived a scholar. This scholar believed he could transform learning by focussing on improving communication and participation in the classroom, thereby raising academic achievement. He conducted a classroom experiment with a mixed ability group of 24 teenagers from a typical comprehensive school.
(Classroom Experiment on UniTube at: https://unitube.hud.ac.uk/View.aspx?ID=3179~4u~vz7aUON7 Broadcast on 27/09/2010 for BBC2)
The first thing he noticed whilst observing lessons was that the “interactivity” in the classroom did not encompass all learners’ needs. Teachers often asked questions but only the higher level learners ever put their hands up to answer the questions leaving the lower level learners to switch off. Also, it appeared that some teachers were not aware of all learners’ understanding of the subject matter. So the scholar developed a strategy which the teachers and learners had to comply with.
1) Learners were not allowed to put up their hands to ask questions. The teacher was given 24 lolly sticks. Each stick had the name of a learner on it. Throughout the class a teacher would take one of the lolly sticks and call out the name of that learner to answer a question thereby involving all the learners at some point in the lesson.
2) The learners were given small whiteboards to write their answers onto. The tutor could then view all learners’ responses without having to focus on any one individual. This feedback from the whole class increased the teacher’s awareness of their overall level of understanding and could pace the lesson accordingly.
3) All learners were given 3 traffic light coloured paper cups; red, orange and green. They were used to highlight their level of understanding to the teacher enabling the teacher to support individuals on a one to on, need to know basis.
Red:“I’m totally lost and cannot budge until I get help”.
Orange: “I’m a bit stuck”
Green: “I’m doing fine”.
4) The learners had 15 minutes of P.E every day before lessons to get the blood flowing to the brain with the aim to increase their attention span.
5) One of the teachers was given “constructive feedback” on her performance by two of the learners who were taught observation skills.
The teachers struggled with the new strategies and the learners found it unsettling. The teachers thought the process undermined their professionalism. The scholar persevered. Over time, some of the lower level learners began to reap the benefits. Communication and participation improved. The higher level learners who found the process very frustrating at first began to realise that whole class participation gave other learners a voice. Teachers were getting valuable feedback to reflect on their pedagogical framework and were made aware of who needed help and when. The chapter was about to finish. But there was dissent in the ranks. One day, the teachers found one of the lolly sticks had been stolen by a learner.
Who stole the lolly stick and why…..?
I don’t know. Sorry guys. You’ll have to watch part 2 of the Classroom Experiment.
But what has all this to do with interactivity?
As eLearning evangelists we are always exploring innovative and exciting new technologies to increase “interactivity” with the aim of improving engagement and promoting active learning. It is our maxim. Yet as this low tech classroom experiment highlights if you dissect the concept of interactivity it is largely to do with communication. Of course it’s not quite as simple as Muirhead and Juwah point out in their review of the literature on interactivity (2004). It is indeed a “multifaceted concept and can be described to mean different things in a variety of contexts” (Muirhead and Juwah, 2004, p.13). But before getting down to the nitty gritty of online interactivity I have been searching for the bare bones of what “interactivity” means. Muirhead’s definition of interactivity resonates well with my own understanding of it. Isn’t it primarily about “communication, participation and feedback?” (Muirhead and Juwah, 2004, p.13).
So whatever you think about the scholar’s strategies in this story in the classroom experiment, good, bad or downright scary, I have found it personally stimulating. It has made me reflect that interactivity, without the whistles and bells that technology affords it, is as simple as a mutually coherent dialogue between individuals that satisfies their needs. The teachers at the school were not getting the feedback they needed to respond effectively to the learners’ needs. The exercise merely illustrates that simple, interactive strategies can be put in place to improve teaching practice without having to resort to highly technical solutions. I love Yacci’s definition of interactivity based on his 4 characteristics in Interactivity Demystified: A Structural Definition for Distance Education and Intelligent CBT
- Interactivity is a message loop;
whether this is student-student, student-teacher, student-computer
- Instructional interactivity occurs from the learner’s point of view;
and how often do we as practitioners fail our learners by thinking that their answers to our questions with a titbit of feedback has completed the process?
- Instructional interactivity has 2 distinct classes of outputs: content learning and affective benefits;
how often do we as practitioners tend to focus on the content learning rather than the affective benefits when we all know that fun learning is the best kind of learning?
- Messages in an interaction must be mutually coherent?
Any parent will know what this refers to:
6 year old son says “Mummy look, I’ve made a monster, see what it does!”
Mummy says, “Wonderful darling, come and sit down for dinner”.
Confessions of a bad mother!
So know I’ve got some basic understanding under my wing I now need to think about the task in hand.
What kind of interactions are made in online communities using social media and what can we learn from this?
I can also apply one of Feurstein’s killer questions from his Instrumental Enrichment and Metacognition programme which focussed on helping learners to think for themselves.
- What have I just done?
- How can I apply this?
I am sorry! I have already lapsed into reflective monologue blogger. I will try harder next time but, I do find this kind of reflecting blogging helps scaffold tacit knowledge to make it more explicit.
Anyone want to join me in a Blogger’s Anonymous meeting? Hi, my name is Beth and I am a monologue blogger!
“People take turns telling others what they already know and their monologues often bear no relation to one another except that they address the same topic or question.” (Allman, cited in Williams 2006, p.109).
Does anyone know who stole the lolly stick and why?