Interactivity during conferencing and with recorded audio
Porter characterizes the interaction component of delivery as "concerning the range and types of engagement (between people, between people and information) encouraged or allowed by digital designs" (p. 208). Unlike conferencing with a student about her draftthe gold standard of interactivity in writing response pedagogyrecording a monologue in response to her draft obviously precludes a full back-and-forth dialogue with the student. However, except for the most confident and capable of our students, conferencing might not be quite as interactive as it appears. Students could be cowed by the greater power and knowledge of their instructor into routinely consenting to whatever the instructor says. And students might also be overtaxed by the social dimensions of their dialogue to attend to and later recall all of the response comments that were discussed.
By contrast, with an audio recording, students can control the pace of their instructor's comments, such as by replaying a comment to better comprehend it, a repetition that students might be reluctant to request during a conference for fear of appearing unintelligent or impolite. Students can also pause the recording to revise a draft while the instructor's comment and the student's response to it are still fresh, a kind of productive, synchronous interactivity between listening and writing that is awkward to request during the listening-and-speaking interactivity of an instructor-student conference.
Evidence of interactivity
Indirect evidence of the nature of students' interactivity with recorded-audio response can be derived from students' revised drafts and from students' subjective impressions. My Computers and Composition article synthesizes the published experiences of several instructors to report that the objective evidenceimprovement in students' writingwas mixed, whereas students' subjective impressions were overwhelmingly positive (Killoran, 2013).
Apart from isolated complaints about poor interactions typically caused by technical problems, relatively little evidence has been published about what technical communicators call the usability of such recordings: how students interact with a recording to accomplish their revising task. An initial impression of the usability of students' interactions can be gleaned from a short anonymous survey I conducted with 27 of my studentsnot all of whom had received digital-audio responsein the first semester I had experimented with this delivery method.
In response to a question asking how often students typically listened to a recording of commentary on their writing, about half who had received a digital-audio response (10 of 19 who answered this question) reported listening twice, and most of the rest (8) reported listening an impressive three or more times. For an instructor who, like many, had become somewhat cynical about students' apparent disregard for the written comments on their drafts, such devoted interaction with my audio commentary was heartening. However, it could also be an indication of the usability challenges students face in trying to retrieve comments buried in the middle of a recording, perhaps while revising at the same time.
In response to a question about the synchronous or asynchronous nature of their interactionthis one asking how students typically moved between listening to the comments and revising their draftabout half (11 of 21 who answered this question) reported that they listened and revised almost simultaneously (synchronously), such as by pausing the recording to revise and then resuming play. More than a quarter (6) reported listening and revising at separate times (asynchronously). Most of the remainder (4), who chose the "other" option, explained that their interaction was a mixture of both the previous options. For instance, one described a "Combination of listening first, writing down comments, listening again, and then revising. And sometimes listening while revising." This student's recursive process involving both synchronous or asynchronous interaction was probably more common than these survey results would indicate.
The results of both these survey questions carry implications for how instructors can deliver their audio response in ways that facilitate students' interaction with the recordings. In contrast with the accessible spatiality of written comments distributed along the margins and at the end of an essay, the temporality of an audio recording could be rendered more navigable if it had the oral equivalent of a table of contents at its introduction, a preview or outline that, as Roman rhetorician Quintilian advised, "isolat[es] the points from the crowd in which they would otherwise be lost" (qtd. in Crowley and Hawhee, 2009, p. 307.)
For instructors who are inclined to record unplanned impromptu commentary, inserting such a table of contents before discovering the contents themselves is not as counter-intuitive as it sounds. Just as we advise students to draft an essay's introduction last, or at least to revisit an essay's introduction once they have finished a draft, so too is it advisableand fairly easyto splice in an introduction with a preview of the most important points after recording those points. Instructions for such audio editing are presented in the Body section.
Another way to facilitate students' interaction with the audio recording would be to signpost each new comment with an orientation to the passage in a student's draft to which it refers, enabling the student to find the passage before listening to the comment itself. Likewise, each comment could be concluded with an indication that the comment is indeed concluding, signaling to the listening student that she can and perhaps even ought to pause the recording to attend to her draft. A long pause between comments would also give the student some leeway about when to pause and resume playing without clipping an utterance in the middle.
Higher levels of interactivity
Porter goes on to plot a spectrum with four increasing levels of interactivity: access, usability, critical engagement, co-production. "Most digital information actually falls into the narrow range of access and usabilityideally (when the information is well designed) people can access the information, read it and understand it, and perform tasks successfully" (p. 217). This narrow range might be characteristic of much written response, wherein the best that we might expect of our students is to perform the task of revising based on our usable but curt comments. However, digital-audio response does facilitate reaching the higher level of critical engagement that instructors would typically abstain from when laboriously writing or typing comments, and that cowed students might shy away from during a student-instructor conference.
For instance, when recording an audio response, instructors can more readily elaborate beyond the generic curt written comment in the margin to explain the comment, thereby helping students better understand its rationale. Instructors can also more readily pose a range of brainstorming questions for the student to consider, or introduce a range of options to explore. As reported in the Economics section, instructors can also more readily explore higher-order concerns, offer less directive comments, and weigh the relative importance of their comments. Accordingly, instructors have valued recorded-audio response in part because it facilitates responses that can rise above the mere usable to aspire to a level of critical engagement.