I attended another presentation today where the presenter said "I would like this presentation to be interactive, so feel free to interrupt me at any time to ask questions." The presenter went on to say that she would stop presenting from time to time so we could ask questions. Clearly, her view was that interaction would make it possible for us to learn more effectively.
What is behind the connection between "interaction" and "interruption?" I have tended to think it is laziness--the presenter doesn't take the time to plan actual interaction, so instead s/he invites the audience to do it instead. Or, there isn't enough time for presentation and interaction, so the presenter gives over the responsibility to the audience to decide whether interaction is worth it. Almost always, the audience declines the offer. It is one of those tacit agreements on which the machinery of education runs.
After thinking a bit more, though, I'm not sure I should be so cynical. "Interact" means "to act on each other;" "interrupt" to "cause or make a break in the continuity or uniformity of." So the question really ought to be which sorts of interaction are best facilitated by interruption?
I once gave a lecture in a huge American Institutions class in which I invited students to interrupt me whenever I said something they didn't agree with. At each interruption I invited the student to come to the front of the class to explain her/his objection. Those breaks had an interesting result--students listened closer to what I was saying so they could object.
Lots of people have argued that groupthink is a problem for learning, for decision-making, and for society. Yet just as often, when someone points out the groupthink, that person is shamed. (Joe Wilson anyone?) I'm not coming out in favor of public belligerence. But I do wonder if schools, communities, and homes wouldn't be better off if we strengthened the link between education and interruption.
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