A consideration of learning activity: towards an activity-based approach

Talk by Fiona Concannon at ISKS conference, 11 May 09

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Gráinne Conole
11 May 2009

•    What’s good about e-learning? – don’t know the answer and don’t think the research is very clear about it
•    About articulating our learning designs and implicit practice
•    Dominance of the acquisition metaphor, content- driven perspective
•    Confusion of the role of technology and digital tools play in learning: spectrum from enthusiasts in terms of using technologies and those who are phobic about it, don’t want to use the technologies. At both ends of the spectrum we need a more reflective approach
What is activity theory?
•    Engeström’s work Recording at CSALT 2002 video summarising CHAT. Explains what it is and how it is useful for understanding learning and in particular how it can be used wrt new technologies. A movement to have a more socially mediated cultural perspective of learning. Learning distributed between individuals, tools, resources and community. Expanding the unit of analysis for learning. Shift from some of the cognitive science perspectives of learning – information processing to socio-cultural perspective
•    Card, Moran, and Newell (1983) The psychology of human-computer interaction, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum GOMS lab-based work shift to an AT framework
•    Nardi and others argued that we needed alternative theories to take account about the social dimensions of learning.
•    Third generation AT: when 2 or more activity systems come into contract there may be contradictions and tensions. Can look at micro, meso and macro levels, Gay and Hembrooke, 2004 Activity-centre design an ecological approach to design smart tools
•    Roth (2004) AT and education an introduction – mind, culture and activity 11(1), 1-8
Case study 1 – using a VLE in large class teaching
•    1st year U/G in Business, large groups of students, used AT to analyse the introduction of online activities and multimedia tutorials in the VLE within particular modules
•    How do the technologies mediating the students in terms of achieving their objectives, used focus groups, think-aloud, contextual interviews, surveys, diary studies and observation
•    VLE played a small part in their overall activities
•    Nuances of students’ appropriation of the VLE and conceptualise this practice
•    Online space – new shared object for students and teachers
•    Identification of influential variables – time online, alignment of assessment, peer group, interactive tutorials integrated with course design VLE as one-to-many medium
•    Tension emerged with new workload and assessment methods but student received more feedback than previously and lecturer could make course milestones more visible
Case study – blogs for learning
•    One to many relationship of the VLE, web 2.0 practice, was there a change did it help facilitate the students in a different way
•    2nd yr u/g occupational therapy students on clinical placement, fieldwork activities with professional therapists in a range of setting, use of blog
•    Interested in roles and division of labour, tutor led, but want students to critically reflect on their practice, blogs allowed a new dimension of social support
•    Changes in role of students – participative mediated through the use of blogs, Visibility of activities of members, tensions emerged compulsory nature of the task
Value of adopting an AT approach
•    AT useful for design, implementation and evaluation of technology, provides a basis for dialogue of context and role awareness, provides a roadmap detailing opportunities to integrate research findings on a theoretical empirical and practical level, recognised the multi-dependent variables at play at multiple levels
•    Challenges: not explicit in how to investigate the mediating role of technologies (methods and interpretation of data), difficult to generalise findings  across contexts
•    Roth 2004 AT as a dynamic system – transformational potential, agency of AT, a means of changing the current systems and processes, expose the current status quo to a critical gauze, there is potential for change
•    The shared challenge: understanding the mediating potential or application of new technology can be challenging; we aren’t walking up the hill alone, lets help each other up the hill.

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