Interactivity – a philosophy for the 21st century

Interaction is something as obvious as brushing your teeth every day. After all, it concerns the interaction of persons, objects or phenomena. We do not live in isolation, but in different kinds of relationships and dependencies. Everyday working and private life is full of situations in which we can and even must demonstrate our ability to communicate, and with this comes the ability to influence one another. In short, interactivity. There are people among us for whom interactivity is the proverbial ‘piece of cake’, but we also see people who are very closed in on themselves and reluctant to enter into dialogue with others.

Perhaps this is the reason why in today’s world we increasingly encounter interactivity on many levels, in many places and in many situations. I think back to when my son – now twenty-six years old – was a child. His mother, a Polish teacher, obviously had as one of her educational goals to show the world to her offspring, who was moderately interested in his parent’s needs. Visiting museums and looking at works of art quickly bored him. Indefatigable in ideas and constantly on the lookout, I finally discovered something that captured the attention and desire of a child and then a teenager.

One day we went to a small Silesian town where I found what I thought was interesting by name – the Museum of the People’s Republic of Poland (now the Museum of the History of People’s Poland). A sentiment was set in motion in my emotions, with which I decided to “treat” my son. And my organising spirit planned the whole trip, which brought together Mateusz’s schoolmates on the occasion. In this merry company we arrived in Ruda Śląska and … That’s right, miracles began to happen, because it turned out that this was not just another boring sightseeing tour, but a whole lot of opportunities to touch objects from those years, to sit behind the huge desk of a party dignitary and make a phone call from a stationary camera standing on it, to play the role of a lorry driver from the People’s Poland era. It was the first time we encountered interactivity in a museum there, and there was no turning back after that. Some of the most interesting places of this type that have stayed in my son’s memory are the Warsaw Uprising Museum and the Żywiec Brewery Museum. In the former, history is presented in a way that requires action on the part of the visitor, while in the latter, the tradition of brewing in Silesia with the history of the Habsburg family in the background is conveyed in an engaging and accessible manner for a young person.

My recollections of the topic addressed in the article overlapped with the activities I undertook in relation to the invitation to join the ABIbooks project. This is a very interesting initiative related to finding ways to encourage young people to read. A traditional paper book may be associated by a child with school reading, and here the choice is not 100 per cent intriguing. The alternative, then, is the interactive book, which uses an old gimmick encapsulated in the latest technology, namely teaching through play. Play that requires activity – touching, clicking, drawing, guessing, telling. It builds on the child’s creativity and imagination. It teaches them to make decisions and to review their choices.

The interactive books I have had the pleasure of reading, based on the child’s everyday life (e.g. family, friends, school), expand the child’s vocabulary. They use rather simple pictures, but nice colours, which do not distract too much, and they offer texts that are not too long, which makes it easier to remember the content. They teach concepts from specific areas, for example music, while allowing the child to activate his or her sense of hearing thanks to the installed music files. The form of questions used arouses the youngster’s curiosity, and in the event of a wrong answer, the toddler can return to the riddle and revise his choice without undue stress. This teaches that making a mistake is not a sentence, that it is possible to correct and change a decision, that it is not a last resort. Of course, making a mistake also shows the consequences, namely a closed path if you want to continue down it. The acknowledgements for help on the way are also great, often placed on the last page of the booklet. This makes the child feel not only a participant in the events, but a person who has contributed to the success!

The texts also use the method of repetition, which consolidates the words learnt and the skills acquired, but builds this repetition on a different communicative situation (e.g. learning notes and rhythm – pieces of an apple and the beating of a clock). In addition to the theoretical knowledge in the areas concerned, the child also receives the practical one, which can be used, for example, when preparing meals. The most interesting books, however, seem to be those in which one has to find the right object by looking for the right way, solving simple mathematical operations, recognising shapes, naming objects, associating well-known figures from history and the world of art.

The advantages of turning to interactive books are invaluable. Keeping a child interested in today’s reality is no easy task. In an age of diverse attractions all around the young person, a text must attract not only with its content, but with what is built around it. The aforementioned play, education by means of it, seems a means to an end. But also the child’s activity, the verbal and non-verbal one, is very much on point. Finally, I would like to emphasise what for me is the most important issue. Today’s young people learn by simultaneously activating various senses. Interactive books that allow them to see, touch and listen provide such an opportunity. The next task before us is to create items with tasks that trigger the use of the sense of smell and taste. Full synaesthesia during reading may prove to be the key to encouraging young readers to reach for the written word and to overcome their fear of not understanding the message.

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