I is for Interaction

At the end of last week, I was at the Quakers Uniting in Publications conference for, oh, almost twenty-four hours. In that time, I presented a two different sessions – one with Gil Skidmore on the Quaker Alphabet Blog project, and one with Susan Robson about Living with Conflict (the book, the website and the Facebook page). Both sessions were lively and interactive, and the interaction was at least partly around the topic of interaction: conflict and disagreement in the broad sense require interaction (the ‘it takes two to tango’ principle), and questions about the alphabet blogs sometimes focussed specifically on the nature and purpose of the interactions taking place. Interaction is key to community, of course, and to communication, and also to many people’s learning styles.

In teaching, one of my interests is to encourage interaction with the material and with other students or participants in a course. It’s possible to take this too far – some topics need a certain amount of straightforward input, and some people are much more comfortable listening to a speaker than discussing questions in a group. That said, I think a lot of people don’t go far enough, and much of today’s media (at least, the traditional media: TV, radio, newspapers) don’t readily support interaction with the material they present.

The nature of online material often makes interaction much more possible – comments sections on news articles, message boards and blogging sites where you can share you views with other fans, and of course social media sites which are designed to facilitate interaction (and then market your desire for possible interaction as a point at which you can be shown an advert). It’s not always clear what these interactions mean and what weight they should be given. To some, a handwritten letter is more precious than an email; depending on the topic and recipient, I can spend an hour on an email and dash of a handwritten note (in ink pen on proper letter-paper) in ten minutes, so I don’t tend to share that weighting. Sometimes when people click ‘like’ on Facebook, they also comment to say what they mean (“Liked for happy ending”), but much more often we are left in the dark. Does ‘like’ mean that you’ve seen it, that it made you pause, made you smile, made you happy? All we can say for sure is that it made you click your mouse.

Sometimes, of course, there is a much more substantial interaction – in response to my post last week, Gordon Ferguson posted at Sheffield Quakers, and we continued the conversation a little in the Quaker Renewal UK Facebook group. At other times the interaction is less obvious, or not online: people coming back months or even years later. After my workshops, I try and measure ‘impact’ (an academic ‘i’ word I’m avoiding writing about!) by asking people whether they will change what they do or say. Of course, at 4pm having only met the material for the first time at 10am, they don’t really know. It’s the bits which come back later – the ministry inspired by something which was said, or the way it feeds into another project – which is the longer term and I feel more valuable form of interaction.

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