Interactivity and Its Effect on Student Learning Outcomes

Interactivity and Its Effect on Student Learning Outcomes

James P. Gleason (Eastern Kentucky University, USA) and Laura Beth Daws (Georgia Highlands College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-347-8.ch008

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The old joke about our parents “walking to school every day through the snow, uphill both ways” is obviously an exaggeration, but it’s undeniable that today’s students—the Net Generation students—live in a world vastly different from that of prior generations. Their educational environment is shaped by virtually unlimited information access and a wide range of communication technologies at their fingertips. More importantly, these “digital natives” (Bennett, Maton & Kervin, 2008) have grown up with advanced technologies, accustomed to using them as learning aids in the classroom and expectant that their instructors will be adept at successfully integrating them into the curriculum.

Members of the Net Generation display a comfort level with digital communication and technology that is at once inspiring and daunting. They effortlessly embrace opportunities for multitasking, vigorously use social media (to excess, some would argue), and casually expect instant gratification from the digital world. On the other hand, they often show less tolerance for traditional media and teaching approaches. For example, few students in my recent upper division communication classes got their news through old media sources such as television news. Not one read a newspaper on a daily basis!

Educators have increasingly integrated interactive digital technologies and applications into the classroom in an effort to attract and motivate these digital learners, but often without due consideration to the impact these approaches have on the learning process. While it’s clear that students like these more interactive approaches to instruction, collaboration and even advising, what is less obvious is the manner in which these approaches affect both the learning process and the learning outcomes they yield. An aspect that demands great scrutiny is the measurable value delivered by these interactive technology applications.

In this chapter, we take a fresh look at this critical aspect of teaching and learning by examining the nature and impact of interactivity as a discrete element within an instructional setting. We explore whether the recognition of interactivity by students measurably contributes to actual cognitive learning and, more importantly, how. In addition, as interactivity itself is generally considered to be a multidimensional construct, instructors must understand which elements of the construct contribute to online student learning, in what ways, and to what degree. In this way they can apply the positive impact of interactivity in a meaningful way within the teaching process.

As a framework for this discussion, the chapter presents Outcome Interactivity Theory (Gleason & Lane, 2009) as a theory-based conceptualization of the interactivity construct, one that encourages empirical testing and generalization. In addition, it describes a study that stands out from earlier scholarship by examining interactivity’s role as a receiver-based construct and measuring its contribution to outcomes for participants in a communication event. This study operationalizes interactivity as a positive learning outcome (in this case, knowledge acquisition), and tests several hypotheses regarding interactivity’s contribution under experimental conditions. Also of particular value, a set of original and highly reliable measurement scales were applied for the first time, and quantify the influence of specific individual dimensions and elements on interactivity as defined by the Outcome Interactivity Theory model.

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