Archive for November, 2006

Levels of Interactivity

Now that we’ve talked about Interactivity using Chris Crawford‘s definition, here’s a slightly different twist. The level or quality of Interactivity can be measured on a scale. There’s a lot of writing out there on whether there are 3, 4, or even 7 levels of Interactivity. Chris would probably argue that the first one isn’t interactive at all. Many of the lists leave the fourth or fifth one off. In my opinion, both ends of the scale are necessary to understand the impact on learning and especially transfer. However, these are not discrete points and it is really a continuum, so the points are somewhat arbitrary anyway.

As with the definition of Interactivity, these levels can apply on-line or off-line to games, learning, web surfing or just about any activity. Here are my 5 levels:

LEVEL 1: OBSERVATION
As the lowest level of interaction, Observation requires no effort or input from the participant. In Chris’ definition, this would not qualify as interactivity because it lacks both “listen” and “think” components on one side of the cycle. However, I think it still belongs as a baseline, and is a significant tool in the arsenal for trainers and communicators. Examples of this level are traditional broadcast television and large lecture halls.

LEVEL 2: PARTICIPATION
Participation, as the name implies requires some, albeit minimal, involvement from the participants. Examples include books, small classrooms, web surfing, and standard e-learning. Each of these have the complete Interactivity cycle though with some significant limitations, particularly in the “listen” component on the computer side of the equation. Still, the participant is more involved in the direction and content of the story than in Level 1.

Books are an interesting add to Level 2. An argument could be made that says they should be in Level 1. However, they seem different, in that–especially in fiction books–the participant adds to the story as they read. They often provide settings and back stories in their mind. This is probably why most people are disappointed when they see a movie made from a book. It never seems to match the image they had created. This creation is what prompted me to promote books to this level. There’s some amount of Participation going on in the storytelling.

LEVEL 3: ACTION
The next level, Action, requires significant input from participant. The previous levels have focused on the involvement of the antagonist. In these later levels, the protagonist gets more and move involved. This is the first level in where the participant’s “speaking” (and hopefully “listening” and “thinking” as well) come into play. Examples of interactivity at this stage are sorting, branching, and ranking. Finally, the participant is involved in directing the outcomes. Some action they take has an impact on the outcome.

LEVEL 4: AGENCY
The fourth level requires significant input from the participant. Actions are directly related to results that would be expected in the real world. Examples include simulations, lab experiments, some games, and role playing. The term “Agency”, which comes from Janet Murray‘s book Hamlet on the Holodeck (Free Press, 1997, $25), refers to both the actions and the outcomes which have some direct link to real world actions and outcomes. Unlike previous levels, well designed interactivity at this level should have little issue with transfer into the real world. The actions and the outcomes should be “realistic enough” that people could believe that they are interacting with the real world. What is “realistic enough”? What’s the difference between a simulation and a game? What are types of simulations? Those are topics for later posts.

LEVEL 5: OWNERSHIP
Ownership is really the step beyond learning where participants integrate the content into their daily lives. In someways, this is the ultimate interactivity. Participants take charge of the content and use it to their advantage to create real world results. At the high end of this level, the participant should know something well enough to start the cycle over and teach it to the next generation.


What Is Interactivity?

A lot of people throw the term Interactivity around pretty loosely. So what does that term mean anyway? How do you determine if something is interactive or not? Chris Crawford (wikipedia bio), in his book Interactive Storytelling (New Rider Games, 2004,$23), has an interesting definition of interactivity. He relates it to the prototypical example, human conversation. For a good conversation to occur, it must have at least 2 people (though I would argue that talking to myself might count). Each person must exhibit 3 competencies: listening, thinking, and speaking. If the process is working right, the steps would go something like this:

1. Person A thinks
2. Person A speaks
3. Person B listens
4. Person B thinks
5. Person B speaks
6. Person A listens

…and, hopefully, the cycle repeats itself. Here’s a graphical representation of this process:


I think this is a pretty interesting model for thinking not only about conversations, but about all interactivity. First, lets think about a conversation. What happens when Person B speaks without thinking? At best, they say useless things. What happens when Person B thinks without listening first? Or what happens if Person B can’t speak well? You get the idea, the process breaks down. In fact, one could suppose that almost all communications-related issues are possibly related to one or more of these steps breaking down.

But what does this have to do with interactivity? The conversation is a prototype for interactivity. For a glimpse at how a online interactivity might work, just substitute Person B with a Computer.

The problem becomes that the computer isn’t as good as a person at listening. It can’t understand natural language very well, it has a limited set of words that it understands, and it’s input mechanisms (keyboard, mouse, etc) are clumsy at best. I would also argue that the computer has a hard time thinking too. It can process a lot of information, but it’s thinking is limited to the words that it knows and if the words are limited, so is it’s thinking. So it can listen and think to some extent, and it certainly knows how to speak. It at least has enough to do rudimentary interactivity.

So when you’re designing your interactivity, here are a couple tips to consider:

  • Make sure all 6 steps are involved, don’t skip a step
  • Don’t skimp on a step

Most importantly:

  • Be sure to give the participant something to think about. Real learning and real interactivity can’t occur without real thought.

Patents, why bother?

Recently, there’s been a lot of writing on the learning blogs about the uses of patents (Jay Cross, Tim O’Reilly, and most notably Michael Feldstein). A lot (though not all) of emphasis has been placed on the negatives of patents. I just want to start a discussion about some of the positives.

While patents can certainly be misused and the patent system is broke in quite a few ways, there are a lot of good reasons to have and to obtain patents. While it’s important to talk about the misuse, it’s also important to talk about good uses for patents.

Here are the 4 primary reasons for obtaining a patent:

1. Protection – a defensive strategy to protect a company from lawsuits. The easiest way to demonstrate that you had the idea first when you get sued is to show a patent award. It’s not full proof, but it’s a good start.

2. Valuation – patents have value in the public markets and stock exchanges. They can increase the value of a company. If a company’s strategy is to be sold, issue stock, or even acquire debt, patents can increase the likelihood of getting a higher price or a more favorable rate since they are assets to the company.

3. Marketing – patents are one indicator of innovation. If a company wants to be perceived by their customers and potential customers as innovative, the number and scope of patents can be used to influence that view. Several public companies have used this approach in marketing materials that say something like “With over X patents, the most in the industry, we lead the way in doing Y. Clearly that makes us a leader and you want to work with a leader.”

4. Revenue – an offensive strategy used to obtain revenue sources from competitors through licenses or legal judgements. Often this is used to put a competitor at a disadvantage by increasing their direct costs (cost of operations) and indirect costs (legal fees).

The last one of these is the center of the controversy. It seems that the founding fathers clearly intended #1 (Protection) and that #2 (Valuation) and #3 (Marketing) are direct outcomes of a free market relating to the scarcity created by a patent. Should it extend to a source of revenue? This is where we should focus our debate rather than the virtues (or lack of virtues) in the patent system.

When I’m looking for potential vendors/partners, I look at what they are doing with new innovations, operational efficiency, sales and marketing, and business strategy. If I see a company that has to rely on patents as a way to tip the scales in their favor, it’s probably not the company for me. Some companies (commonly referred to as patent trolls) rely solely on lawsuits for their revenue and never produce a product. This approach fundamentally locks up innovation and doesn’t provide the benefits the founding fathers intended with the patent process.

For more information, search Micheal Fieldsman’s blog for “patent”. He presents a great list of how you can and should get involved, some of the positives, and some of the things that will likely directly impact your work if you’re in the learning field.


Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC

Besides the usual family and food fare, my girlfriend and I went to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC for the first time over the Thanksgiving Holiday. We spent nearly a full day at the Estate and then almost as much in the town itself. Apparently the largest home in America, built by George Vanderbuilt in 1895, was also home to almost every American within a 10 state region that day…the busiest of their year. We tried to get on the candlelight tour but it was sold out. Suprisingly, while it was certainly crowded, you wouldn’t know all of those people were there. They were better organized and frankly more friendly than Disney’s reputation. The staff seemed genuine and sincere in their welcoming.

We got a package deal (hotel, house, grounds, audio tour, +++) which turned out to be a great money saving idea by the Biltmore people. If you’re spending the night, this is definitely the way to go. If you’re just going for the day or staying with friends, get the audio tour. Why they would ever sell the audio package separately, I don’t know. The tour wouldn’t have been the same without it.

The house was amazing and the winery was a lot of fun too. We took the free Chocolate & Wine tour which was brief, but informative and fun. More importantly, it let us skip to the head of the huge tour and tasting line for the rest of the winery. I was suprised by the quality of wines. Having been to a few wineries outside of the typical California/France/Italy growing regions, I’m always pretty skeptical about local wines (like Missouri or Michigan). If they’re even remotely good, they probably got their grapes from elsewhere. However, nearly half of the grapes for the Biltmore are grown onsite or nearby which makes it all the more suprising how many moderate to really interesting wines they had.

Asheville was a quirky little town with lots of local restaurants and shops featuring local artists. It’s well worth a day or two visit to try out the fare.

Overall it was a great trip…good food, fun with the family, great weather, and good customer service at an amazing place. The Biltmore and Asheville get rave reviews.

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Introduction and Welcome!

Welcome to my blog. This is my first entry on my own blog. You can expect the entries to be all over the place from travel and food to business to gaming to learning, probably all with a thread of technology. Enjoy! Definitely let me know your thoughts.


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