A few weeks ago, in Interaction in online media, I explained why I believe that interaction is so fundamental to our online experience, how it helps us to navigate, to configure, to converse, to explore, to provide information and to answer questions. I also described four basic mechanisms for interacting online – selecting, supplying, sorting/connecting and exploring. I said I’d go into these in a little more detail, so I’m starting now with selecting.
There are many forms that selections can take, some extremely commonplace, some more rarely deployed:
Multiple-choice questions (MCQs)
In this familiar format, the user is presented with a question stem and picks an answer from the options provided. Typically the stem is presented textually, but may be more elaborate than this, using images, audio or video as required. The options are also usually textual, but could as easily be pictorial. Some examples:
Santa Cruz is the capital of La Palma. True or false?
Which of the following countries is a member of the European Community?
Tick those items on the list which best represent how you feel about working with customers?
Click on the picture of the person you would select for the position.
The simplest questions ask the user to make a binary choice – yes or no, true or false. Multi-choice questions give a wider range of alternatives, typically between 3 to 6, from which the user chooses one option. With multiple selection questions, the user can choose more than one option from the list.
MCQs can be used as polls, where the objective is simply to gauge opinion, or as elements within learning materials and assessments. When the objective is to check knowledge, then well-constructed MCQs certainly can be valuable, although they can only assess recognition (of a fact, an instance of a concept, a cause or effect, a place or position, etc.) rather than the ability to recallthe same. Generally speaking, recognition will always be easier than recall. If the user needs to be able to recall something specifically to carry out a task effectively, then an MCQ (or any other interaction involving selection) will not test this adequately.
MCQs can also be used to challenge the user to make critical judgments, to think for themselves:
What would you do if you were …. ?
What do you think was the cause of … ?
How could … have been avoided?
How would you remedy … ?
Ideally the user should be provided with a response that is tailored to their particular choice. This could take the form of some immediate feedback, but could also result in the scenario being taken to another stage with further decisions for the user to take. Branching scenarios may sound complex, but in fact they are just MCQs sequenced conditionally in this way.
In this case the user is asked to select one or more parts of a picture, for example:
Identify the tibula in this diagram of this skeleton.
Where on this map of Europe is Estonia?
Identify the safety risks in this photograph.
As you would expect, these interactions are extremely useful for assessing any knowledge that has a spatial element.
Another interesting variant is to ask the user to stop an audio track, video or animation when they spot something in particular, for example:
Press the stop button when you har jargon used unnecessarily.
Click on the pause button whenever you spot a good example of non-directive questioning.
This format, while more technically complex to implement, could play a valuable role in checking whether users can recognise particular behaviours or circumstances. It could also be implemented with a group in a virtual classroom, perhaps by asking participants to click the ‘raise hand’ button, or something similar, when they spot something occurring in a piece of audio or video.
Here the user is presented with a series of statements and is asked to rate each one against a pre-defined scale. This scale may expressed numerically (1-5, 1-10, etc.) or using labels (strongly disagree, disagree, etc.).
We all know what these do. A hyperlink, whether textual or pictorial, navigates the user to a different resource or a different part of the same resource. Links can be displayed separately or embedded within textual content.
Menus provide a more structured means for navigation and for accessing the various features available within a resource. Menus can be activated as simple lists, rather like multiple-choice questions, as scrolling lists, as rows or columns of buttons, as drop-down menus, as tabs, or as hierarchical trees. Menu selections can also be made by voice recognition.
All sorts of devices can be used for making selections, including keys, a mouse, a touch screen, or the user’s own voice. Whatever the device, the user is restricted to choosing from predetermined options, a constraint that is lifted when we take a look next time at the second form of interaction, ‘supplying’.