The Interaction Equivalency Theorem in a Multimodal Blended Course
With the rapid development of instructional technology, it is conceivable that learning experiences in the future will be blended, a combination of face-to-face and computer-mediated instruction. This form of education has raised questions about the integration of face-to-face and online interaction. In the research on interaction theory, Moore was one of the first investigators to systematically identify the three most common types of interaction, namely student-teacher, student-student, and student-content interaction. Anderson (2003a) suggested that the three types of interaction are equivalent, and instructors can substitute one interaction for another with little loss in learning effectiveness if they are at the same level. Blended learning has the potential to increase the quality and amount of interaction and to provide possible solutions for the problem of escalating costs. Understanding students’ perceptions of interaction may help educators produce the right mix of interaction in a blended learning environment. The purpose of this study was to examine students’ perceptions of interaction and their learning experiences in a multimodal blended course, a course that provided face-to-face, blended, and online learning modes concurrently. Anderson’s (2003a) theory was used as a guideline for the analysis of student-teacher, student-student, and student-content interaction. This study focused on the following questions: (1) How do students perceive the quality and amount of interaction in a multimodal blended course? (2) From the students’ point of view, how does interaction affect their learning experiences in a multimodal blended course? This mixed methods research collected quantitative and qualitative data through a survey and individual interviews. The quantitative data were analyzed using a descriptive approach and the qualitative data were coded by Carspecken’s (1996) coding method. In addition, a peer reviewer helped the researcher check biases or omissions in the data analysis and interpretation. The findings of this study suggest that students perceive interaction with the teacher and with the content as more valuable than the interaction with other students. The interaction in a face-to-face environment could lead to a closer relationship between teachers and students, and it should not be discounted when designing a blended course. For online interaction, students perceived online tutorial videos as one of the best aspects of this course but criticized some outdated online content. That would be improved if it were updated frequently. In addition, the lack of communication from instructors can create inconsistent course information, which may cause confusion and sabotage students’ learning experiences. This study found that the interaction with the teacher, students, and content were mostly equal and substitutable. Anderson’s Interaction Equivalency Theorem was supported in this study. Instructors and instructional designers should combine and balance the interaction in face-to-face and online learning environments as seamlessly as possible when designing a blended course. The findings of this research suggest that interaction design in blended learning environments should include face-to-face and online dimensions, and all three types of interaction. Because the optimal blend of face-to-face and online interaction may vary in different subjects and courses, course development should be an iterative process where instructors and instructional designers periodically refine the interaction design to meet the needs of students.