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Explorable Explanations by Bret Victor

Throughout the essay, Bret speaks of how simple text can be used to nudge and satisfy the curiosity of the reader. He states how our instruments of reading have changed but the method of conveying information has not. The author encourages us to take advantage of the possibilities of text by creating an interactive textual environment to convey information in a manner that encourages exploration; but at the same time keep the experience seamless and intuitive.

I agree with what the author says. Exploration should be one of the core values of learning and this is not limited to the medium of text. Bret has written an article on something called Dynamic pictures (!/DynamicPicturesMotivation) which encourages visual exploration. The same can be said for videos or animation. Seamless interaction with videos or animation is not possible by definition according to Crawford; however efforts have been made in that direction. It would be interesting to see how exploration can be integrated as a part of the video viewing experience.

I also believe such textual environments can be useful for interactive storytelling and not just conveying information. In the essay, Bret took a small excerpt which changed it’s conclusion based on the changes made in it’s paragraph. This could be a basis for creating plots or stories which change based on the user input; more like R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps.

With a reasonable user interface, interacting with the story would become very easy. But books like ‘Goosebumps‘ used to engage the user by it’s ‘hands-on’ approach, this does seem missing in such experiences.

7 comments to Explorable Explanations by Bret Victor

  • nh19

    Aha.. very interesting. Can you imagine a Goosebumps approach to learning historical facts, or learning science, or reading the morning paper? That would change altogether how students read in school, wouldn’t it?

  • ssb425

    It would be a very interesting approach! Although I think one would have to very careful that such user-interaction dependent information is very accurate. For example, historical elements can easily be misinterpreted if the alternative cases are not accurate.

  • nh19

    Yes that’s true.. but then people should be VERY careful when ‘delivering’ facts to students. I wonder if you could create something where students get a lot of original documents and have to piece together the story. There was one curric unit like that on the HAymarket Riots of 1885 or 1886 in the US a while ago. Two teams of students were given all the original docs from the case, and were assigned to be the legal team for and against… so they had to argue for their side based on the same set of facts.

  • Sam Slover

    Interesting article. And thanks for reminding me of Goosebumps (what a great approach to get younger kids reading!). What struck me was how we could use this “Goosebumps-style” approach to more effectively get people to do the things they normally find tedious. For example, I immediately thought about its ramifications for designing UX/UI. A huge issue we face as UX designers is getting people to fulfill the necessary steps that they often find tedious (for example, completing a form, authenticating a sign-in, completing a purchase). But what if you playfully guided them with interactive text and fun choices (a la Goosebumps)? Think about a sign-in form that gave the user fun “paths” to go on to complete the form (with simple and playful text). It would be unique and I think people would be much more likely to want to complete the process. This is a type of gamification in design that I don’t think has really been experimented with much. I’d love to see it (and try it myself!).

    – Sam

  • Esteban

    This is really interesting. I never thought about this topic in an educational context. It makes sense if you’re trying to engage children and have them pay full attention. They’ll be more vested in the outcome. If you think of toys designed for toddlers, they are highly interactive and yet it’s odd that the older we get there exists an inverse relationship with how interactive certain mediums become. We go from books with pictures and noises and in some cases animation to books with hyper dense material that is incredibly esoteric and intentionally confusing. Fascinating!

  • ssb425

    I would love to see some of the ideas Sam mentioned come into real-life. Gamifying sign-ins could be a very interesting approach to user authentication and perhaps even help strengthen the entire procedure.

    Esteban – I agree, I see a lot of monochrome interaction among the tools in real-life. People start following a rut of doing things the same way and the most easy way possible. But that does not mean it does not have to be interesting!