Four Types of Interaction

Martha Dillner

Note: After reading this editorial, please visit the transcript of the discussion forum to view readers' comments.

The Internet has much potential for increasing interaction among its users and the materials available on line. Many educators who develop courses designed to teach learners from a distance, rather than in traditional classroom settings, have spent time investigating these interactions. Moore and Kearsley (1996) distinguish three types that are practiced in successful distance education programs delivered via some form of technology: learner-content interaction, learner-instructor interaction, and learner-learner interaction. These categories may be adapted and expanded to describe four types of interactions that can take place in an electronic journal: reader-content, reader-author, reader-reader, and author-content. For the purposes of this explanation, reader is defined as someone who processes information presented in a variety of formats, including multimedia as well as text.

Reader-Content Interaction

The first type of interaction is created when the reader processes the information presented. In conventional text, the author may facilitate or guide such interaction by including programmed text, guided reading sheets, descriptive passages that lend themselves easily to visualization, strategically placed questions to which readers are asked to react, or illustrations or other graphic elements. For example, suppose an author were writing an article for a traditional print journal in which he or she described the atmosphere in an American first grade classroom in which 90 percent of the children were not native speakers of English. The author might decide to enhance readers' understanding by including photographs of such a classroom for publication alongside the text. As readers read the article, they would process the text and photographs, perhaps visualizing their own first grade classrooms and thinking about how different they were from the one being described.

In the electronic medium, however, there are other possibilities. The author might include a video clip of the first grade class. As the reader views the video, he or she actually sees some of the children described in the article. This would clearly help the reader visualize the classroom in a more precise manner. The author could also draw the reader into the content more explicitly, perhaps by posing a direct question and providing links to process the response. For example, the reader could be asked, "How many non-native speakers of English do you think there are in the first grade in your local school district?" In the process of keying in an answer to the question, the reader might activate a link to an animated graph displaying the percentages of second-language speakers of English in various districts. Alternately, the reader might be forced to choose from among a handful of alternatives-say, (1) none, (2) less than 50%, (3) more than 50%, or (4) don't know. After he or she responds, a chart providing the average number of speakers of English as a second language in first grade classrooms throughout the United States might appear on the screen. The article might also include links to other web sites that present more demographic information.

The articles published in Reading Online vary greatly in the amount and type of reader-content interactions they inspire. For example, the "Resolution on Policy Mandates," adopted by the IRA Delegates Assembly in May 1998, is a text-only article with no links to internal or external resources. It was written to speak to "the trend for policy makers to mandate specific instructional practices, programs, or materials, classroom reading assessments, and narrowly restrictive content knowledge requirements for pre- and inservice preparation of reading teachers." Reader-content interaction is created by the content itself, facilitated by the well chosen words that make the message easy for readers to comprehend.

On the other hand, "Space-Age Technology: A Catalyst for Content Literacy" by Joan N. Maier and Judy Lucas enhances the reader's understanding of the teaching strategy it describes by using video clips, including a slide show depicting a skit on pollution made up by Judy's ninth grade students. Likewise, "Technology and the Revival of the Hawaiian Language" by David Hartle-Schutte and Kahealani Nae'ole-Wong makes much use of Internet resources and enhancements. Both internal links and external links are used to illustrate such items as traditional songs, chants, and materials developed by the children.

Within this editorial, readers are participating in varying levels of reader-content interaction as they choose to link to the articles cited or simply to read the descriptions.

Reader-Author Interaction

In the traditional setting, readers may react to what they read by writing letters to the author or to the publication's editor. In the electronic medium, readers can react in more immediate ways. All articles published in ROL are accompanied by a discussion forum. Readers who want to make a "public" response to the content and its author are encouraged to make comments in that forum. An example of several such reader reactions can be found in the discussion forum following Hartle-Schutte and Nae'ole-Wong's "Technology and the Revival of the Hawaiian Language." For example, Snow wrote as follows:

I attended BYU-Hawaii for a semester in my pursuit of my degree in education. The majority of my close friends were Hawaiian and I enjoyed the many stories, traditions, and aspects of their wonderful culture. However, I was very surprised that many of them knew few words in their native language. They knew familiar sayings and phrases of communication. But if asked to carry on a conversation in Hawaiian, they were unable to.

What a wonderful opportunity for these students to be able to learn their native language to carry on their culture and heritage!!…

And Sansom wrote,

I really enjoyed reading all of the different ways this elementary school was able to integrate technology into the classroom. After reading this section I felt like I was given a plethora of ideas that I could implement and use immediately in my classroom. I liked how there were many diverse ways to use the limited technology resources available. All too often we hear teachers complaining about the lack of resources and funds available, thus convincing themselves that these types of "technological projects" are out of reach. I applaud the Keaukaha Elementary for their valiant efforts in not only preserving the Hawaiian language, but plunging forward with limited funds and resources. Thank you for sharing your ideas!!

Reader-Reader Interaction

When readers respond to an article published in an electronic medium by making comments to a discussion forum, their comments are read by others. As readers read one another's comments, it is possible for them to react to those comments. An example of such reader-reader interaction can be found in the discussion forum following "Space-Age Technology" by Maier and Lucas. First Scheck wrote,

…The most helpful part of the article for me was the list of authentic assessments. As a social studies teacher, I am constantly looking for new ideas for class projects for my students to work on. I thought the ideas given were fantastic, and I can't wait to implement them into my classroom!

Cheek responded to Scheck's comment by saying,

I too was very impressed with the extensive list of authentic assessment products (and their usability as genuine tools for assessment!)…

Another example of reader-reader interaction appears in the discussion forum following Rob Tierney et al.'s "Assessing the Impact of Hypertext on Learners' Architecture of Literacy." There, Melville states,

…In one of my graduate courses, I designed a Hyperstudio stack which could be used to teach children about Julius Caesar. The information I found on the Internet was overwhelming; I was able to use links in the stack and bring over pictures from actual productions. This is the kind of real-world link that students need. Because, as you say, they are the same students and they need to feel connected to the world. Today that means computers.

Hackerman reacts by saying,

…It is interesting to note that you have created a unit on Julius Ceasar using hypertext. My question is, how do we go about allowing the students to create their own "units" on class topic material. Exciting as it is, can all schools afford to purchase and have available such exciting technology?…

Author-Content Interaction

As authors read comments generated in discussion forums attached to their electronic publications, they are able to react by re-evaluating what they wrote and how they wrote it. Many readers made comments about David Reinking's "Me and My Hypertext:) A Multiple Digression Analysis of Technology and Literacy (sic)." In the discussion forum, Amy Augenblick responded to the article by saying,

I enjoyed reading the article and exploring the format. I would have liked to have a map follow me around, or be on the top of each page, so that I had a sense of place. But perhaps the lack of a map was part of the point. I was overwhelmed by the block text and length of sentences. Though I was interested in the subject matter, the density of text and wordiness of sentences distracted me. The article reminded me of the book, The Pleasure of the Text, by Roland Barthes (1973). Barthes, a literary theorist, writes about what we do when we enjoy a text. Barthes argues that there is an important relationship between what is written, how it is written, and the way we consume what is written - the way paper feels in between our fingers and the chair we choose to sit in for reading.…

David Reinking responded in tems of a changed perspective on his original article:

I enjoyed reading your thoughtful response to my hypertext (you and others are now a part of it too), and it has extended my thinking in a useful way. I've applied some of Barthes' ideas to hypertext before (borrowing from George Landow), specifically the idea of readerly and writerly texts, but I had never thought about making the connections to his ideas about what defines pleasurable reading.…

Another example of author-content interaction can be seen in the discussion forum on adolescent literacy, centered around "Adolescent Literacy: How Best Can Middle and High School Students Be Supported?" by Carol Santa, president-elect of the International Reading Association:

Donna Alvermann, Rich Vacca, and I (Carol Santa) appreciate your responses. They are extremely helpful in crafting IRA's future plans for adolescent literacy.

In Orlando, we had an informal session, Deliberate Dialogues, focusing on adolescent literacy. It was extremely helpful--so much energy and passion for this neglected area. I thought I would share with you some of the conclusions from this superb session….

Later in her response, Santa supports the need for educators to make their voices heard:

There was a strong calling for preservice as well as in-service for classroom teachers to be more proactive in teaching reading….


Today, governments the world over are drafting legislation on education policy and practice. Unless, as professional educators, we ensure that our voices are heard, other less informed voices will make decisions that affect how our children are taught.The interactive format of Reading Online encourages the participation of educators. The materials it publishes in peer-reviewed articles, columns, and discussion forums all offer ways to ensure that our voices are heard. I encourage you to use ROL's avenues of communication to share your ideas with your colleagues.

A powerful example of the effects reader input can have concerns the history of "Phonemic Awareness and the Teaching of Reading," a position statement of the International Reading Association written by its Board of Directors. A first draft of this statement was published in ROL, and a discussion forum was established to solicit reader input. More than 40 IRA members posted their comments. These classrooom teachers, college professors, preservice teachers, and IRA Board members reacted to the content and to one another's ideas during the few months the draft statement was online. The comments made, for example, by a first grade teacher with many years of experience, a university professor whose publications focused on strategies for teaching reading, and a preservice teacher who asked for clarification of terms were all read by the IRA Board, whose members used them in revision of the draft. The final version of the statement has now been published in ROL.

The development of this document is an excellent example of how interactions among IRA members in an electronic journal can (and did) affect decisons made by the Association's Board of Directors. By making their voices heard in ROL, these members had an impact on an Association position that will be disseminated far beyond the confines of the electronic journal.


Moore, M., & Kearsley, G. (1996). Distance education: A systems view. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

About the Author

Martha Dillner is a professor of reading and instructional technology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in Houston, Texas, USA. She earned her doctorate in reading and curriculum and instruction at the University of Florida and has spent over 25 years teaching in both public school and university settings. In addition to coauthoring five textbooks, Dr. Dillner has developed and published instructional software, including an application that uses interactive multimedia to help preservice and inservice teachers learn how to use the Language Experience Approach. She also has created a set of hypertext lessons for elementary-level reading instruction and an interactive computer kiosk that uses photographs, audio clips, and video clips to depict the history of the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Dr. Dillner has contributed numerous articles to international, national, and state journals, and has been awarded several grants for her continued research, including a US$100,000 grant from the United States Office of Education Right to Read Program. She has presented papers at international and regional conferences, has served as president of the International Reading Association's Microcomputers in Reading Special Interest Group, and has served as editor of the group's electronic newsletter, MicroMissive.

Transcript of the Discussion Forum

Note: When this editorial was originally posted in January 2000, readers were invited to post comments about it in an online discussion forum. These forums were subsequently discontinued when the journal was redesigned in July 2000. Readers who would like to comment about this editorial are now invited to contact the author directly or to post messages to Online Communities.

Following is a transcript of the comments posted to the forum.

Post 1
Author: Sandra_Richardson0
Date: 07-07-1999 17:23

"Four Types of Interaction" does an excellent job of focusing on the many types of interaction with text now available to educators through Reading Online. It is especially exciting to see educators with expertise from preschool to graduate school and from all countries sharing ideas. As more opportunities for interaction become available, educators will feel a strong sense of community with educators at various grade levels, with various specialty areas, and from various countries.

I am hopeful that education at all levels and in all countries will greatly benefit from our shared knowledge and collaboration. I am interested in knowing to what extent educators in countries other that the United States are able to access the necessary technology to write articles with the types of interaction discussed in theeditorial.

Reply 1a
Author: Maria_Gonalves
Date: 07-07-1999 17:24

I'm a Portuguese teacher and I Think tjis may be an interesting way of interacting. I'm interested in changing ideas about the professional development of teacher. Another problem is: what special kinds of skills do teachers need? Is teacher a "real" profession? In fact, there are many contradictions in our action. We're persons, and before being a teacher. Does this have any implications inour performance? I'd like to discuss this. And how do "train" teachers? Only in technical aknowledge? In social interacting? Are our problems in Portugal the same as in USA?

Reading Online,
Posted November 1998
© 1998-2000 International Reading Association, Inc. ISSN 1096-1232