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in Asynchronous Online Interaction
Establishing "Experience" Context
Nancy White, Full Circle Associates, with wonderful suggestions and contributions from Mary Kuris, Sandor Schuman, Bill Harris, Bernie Slepkov, Susan Earley, James Dobbins via our Quicktopic space.
Online interaction can be tough. For some of us it is challenging to engage in sustained, thoughtful interchanges in asynchronous (different time) online interactions. Between the lag time from response to response and the flat textual environment, the spark can fade. Some of us get lost wading through pages of text. Others read and then go offline to reflect, only to come back and feel it is "too late" to add a comment.
This is especially an issue for those of us with learning styles that favor visual and kinesthetic experiences -- experiences not supported by text. We may "feel" things that are hard to share. Between us, we may be having very different experiences and never know it. We lose that experience of "staying in the moment" felt in a face-to-face setting. This can occur in other communications media. In telephone conference calls, for example, some people really connect in the aural experience, while others, without a visual focal point, find themselves with wandering attention. Ever check your email while on a conference call? In a face-to-face setting with a highly structured classroom set up, some people feel physically constricted and can only regain focus by getting up and moving around. Each medium has its limitations.
We know online interaction can be somewhat sensory limited. We can consider ways to increase the engagement by making it more multi-sensory from the user side. This creates another layer of "experience" or experience context."Experience Context
We often talk of content-centric context or how our interactions focus around the topics we are discussing. For example, it might be safe to say that most of an online group knows what they are talking about. The topic is "next week's meeting" or "Beatles music." But what is the "experience" context? Experience context addresses issues of attention, mood, responsiveness. "Are you listening to me?" "Am I late to this conversation?" "Is now a good time to speak up?" Since we cannot convey these through body language, we have to make them explicit, both in our preparation of online interaction, and how we convey or express our experience to the rest of the group.
The experience context influences the group dynamic, just as it does offline. Think back to a meeting where you could feel the engagement, or the squirming in chairs. Online, we have to ask explicitly how my experience different from yours? How do I communicate this? What implications does it have for our interaction? What if we experienced our online text interactions in a multi-sensory context -- even if that means "creating" the experience context ourselves?Establishing Personal Experience Context
The first place we start is building our own personal experience context. Here are some simple approaches to creating a more multi-modal experience and hopefully a stronger connection and reconnection in a text-based interaction:
One you have explored your personal context, you want to start bridging this to the group's experience context. As in a face-to-face group, it can be easier to share context when we know each other a bit. Think about your online group experiences, especially if they are work focused. What time and attention do you pay to the group's socialization processes? What do you know about the members that gives you some context of their responses, styles and online interaction rhythms? Find explicit ways to explore these aspects of the group. Have separate social interaction spaces ("online cafes") and utilize the profile or bio features of the software you are using. Then, within the actual interactions, consider ways to surface the experience context.
These are just a few ideas. There are many more, some yet to be discovered. The next time you go online to interact with others, be there in all your senses. Create a fuller context that includes experience. And see if the outcome is changed.