Learning to Interact and Interacting to Learn

Barbara Dieu

Originally uploaded by Pentti Impiƶ.

Teemu Leinonen invited me some time ago to present at ITK2007, Interactive Technology in Education – the largest conference in Finland about information- and communication technology in educational use.

I got worried when I learnt I would far away from home on the day of the conference and without my own computer. When I first gave the title of my presentation “Learning to Interact and Interacting to Learn”, I told Teemu I felt that I should walk my talk. I wondered which tools I would be using and how much they would enable me to interact with the audience. It was a different setting than last year when I presented at Braz-Tesol to a live audience and to the webheads online on Worldbridges (Skypcast + chat) and Alado as I did not have control over the variables.

Here, I would have to present to an unknown public mediated by tools to be decided little time before the conference and not knowing how much support there would be on the other side . Teemu Arina sent me a mail a week before suggesting Skype, Zoho Show to share the slides remotely and their backchannel for questions. I was still in Barcelona and mailed Rudolf in London to check whether he had headsets and could download Skype to his computer. He reported back having pbs so the first thing we did on arrival was to check the settings and the sound. This was just one small part of the affair.

The most important, was the presentation itself and the ideas to be transmitted as simply and directly as possible in the 30 minutes alloted. What I wanted to find was something to illustrate the process of learning how to interact. Interaction is a complex business because it involves not only content (information) but also space, tools (among which language) and finally, the most complex equation of them all, people and their expectations.

I could not prepare the presentation before travelling so kept it in mind as I interacted with the different environments and people during the trip. You find the ideas coming but it is not easy to structure them into a talk without discussing them with someone. The moments of revelation kept coming during the visit to the village of Horta, la Pedrera in Barcelona and the aha moment during and after this crappy snippet I filmed at Parc Guell in the Hall of a Hundred Columns (86 in fact)

Maybe I should have stuck to presentations and illustrations I felt comfortable with aabout how to use social tools in the classroom. Somehow I was not in the spirit and the quote I read about Picasso when I visited Horta d’Ebro kept hammering in my mind : “constant experimentation and a fearlessness about discarding a style that he had already mastered”.

I decided to go for it even if the result was messy, which it obviously was. First, the snippet, which I thought of deleting from the camera at first, illustrates a painful learning moment when I tried to capture an emergent understanding and bring together the various levels of perceived interaction (and lack of) among the elements in the scene (Gaudi’s intention and result of his work; the violinist, his tool and how the music resonated in this space, the people coming and going busy with their own agenda and how I missed conveying meaning because I I shot it on the spur of the moment and was not in control of my tool (the video function of my camera).

The day of the presentation I was not on my computer but adapting to a new working interface (Ubuntu on Linux) and using a borrowed headset apparently not dealing well with the sound, which was as inconstant as the wireless connection. On the other side, the backchannel went dead for lack of wireless LAN and when I started presenting, although I had shared the Zoho show according to instructions, the slides did not move remotely, so Teemu had to move them manually for the audience when I changed them (somewhere in the middle of the presentation I forgot to call them out so people only had my voice). I had the impression my voice was resonating in the void. I did not have the sound or the acoustics of the pavillion at Parc Guell through which I connected to the music being played and I could not see or read the people I was talking to.

I chatted on Skype with Teemu A. earlier this morning when he was editing the tapes. I have not heard my presentation yet but suggested he gives an option to the unedited rough texture version as well. The smooth polished result may be more efficient and less trying for general consumption, but the process shows where things can be improved. It is from daring to experiment, to interact in novel ways and by making mistakes that one learns.

Hey, Zoho is a nifty tool but have just noticed I got my date wrong on the slide – the presentation was on 19th and not 20th. When travelling, I move into cyclical time and do not wear a watch.

Update on May 4th:
this is what I should have done and used a wiki instead of Zoho…as Zoho does not allow you to embed videos or comments.

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