Home » Posts tagged 'activity system'
Tag Archives: activity system
Activity Theory (AT) according to various authors …. , supposes a quest to solve a problem, an ‘activity theorist’ looking at certain kinds of research, understanding activity system as being driven by outcomes, would therefore annotated the six nodes of the AT pyramid with this in mind.
Fig. 1. Activity Theory (Engeström, 2008)
In contrast, considering the same subject of research, a sociologist would be inclined to look for power structures.
In turn how might a management consultant, or psychologist approach this? And in relation to H809 and the MAODE, how differently would someone educated in each of the following theories approach the same subject matter: behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism and connectedness?
The suggestion that the theory behind a piece of research or OER from H809 TMA02 predisposes a specific research response is like having an undefined medical problem. In turn each specialist offers a view based on the narrow perspective of their specialism.
By way of example, with sinus/earache like symptoms from which I have always ‘suffered’ I in turn visit a neurologist, immunologist and dentist. I discover from each in turn that I must be depressed/stressed, have an allergic response to something, need a tooth filled/crowned. In turns out that I have a pronounced response to house dust mite and due to physical damage to a channel in one part of the maxillary sinus it doesn’t drain so the slightest infection, a mild cold, will cause inflammation and pain. The response that works is primarily preventative with self-medication of prescription pain relief at a dosage that works – co-codomol and occasional antibiotics. (The above over a 33 year period of investigations that included several other excitable consultants who each in turn gleefully hoped that I might have a very rare condition X or Y that they would investigate).
Just as medical specialists are inclined to come at a situation with too narrow a perspective, so too can we when wishing to study, in a learning situation, what is going on … in there (the brains of each student) and externally, the context and situation of the ‘learning’ that they are doing (or having done to them).
Conole, G., and Oliver, M. (eds.) (2008) Contemporary perspective in e-learning research. Themes, Methods and Impacts on Practice.
Engestrom, Y (2008) From Teams to Knots
Sequence showing my conceptions of the shift in learning.
From traditional top down, to horizontal and collaborative and what’s goes in in the human brain – the interaction between different parts of the brain.
However, whilst this might be an expression of traditional classroom based teaching, through to collaborative Web 1.0 and the semantic Web 2.o as I have illustrated before, the reality is that all of these approaches are going on simultaneously: we still have, and benefit from top down learning – being told or shown stuff, there is collaborative learning, more so in certain subjects.
The second line suggests how things are changing: traditional learning being tipped on its head and on its side or at various angles as an institution, or policy changes, due to the influence of the teacher or because of the subject.
Horizontal learning from siblings, friends, family and extended family – always there in the past goes into hyper-mode as we can connect with ease with many of these people making every day like a family event if you so choose, following and joining in with the antics of others or sharing thoughts on school and life. I should add unconscious learning too – asleep, that sorting process we go through when we dream.
I doubt, from what I am coming to understand about neuroscience, that activity in the brains is greatly different or increased courtesy of the Internet or that stimulation has increased – this is for various reasons: our brain gets bored with the familiar, we turn off, we filter, we select. There is a limit to how much can be process. We give up other things to engage online – though I wouldn’t think giving up ogling at the TV all evening is any loss – the average viewing in the UK is 4 hours a day? Really!!
Open Learning is the last image in the bottom right hand corner – a lot going on, a good deal of connectivity.
But not less perhaps than living in a close, frenetic, village community – more akin to how we lived thousands of years ago with the world at our doorstep rather than our being squirreled away as we now are.
Informal learning (circles look good, or a hub)
Neuroscience for Dummies (a great intro to the subject, I recommend it!)
Put it all together – as your brain does in sleep, and as occurs anyway as you daydream in class or have a parent help you with homework …
Open Learn is kindle in the fire … it stokes it up, motivating, demotivating and distracting. Key is the continued connectivity to friends and family wherever they may be. That ‘hub’ of activity you may get after a family holiday or gathering can be with you in your pocket to support and advise.
Is this what Open Learning looking like? More of what we’ve always had, but now, if you want him, your grandfather can sit on your shoulder all day – in our family my brother would have been asking advice on car maintenance, I would have been quizzing him on first hand detail of the war. Cousins often get briefings from my father-in-law a retired Oxford Philosophy Tutor.
And now, courtesy of all learning online, open and formal, the action really gets going. Or does it? Is it not simply replacing something else? The very active person in clubs, societies, in a large extended family and so on would be getting this anyway?
This second A2 sheet works with Vygotsky and Engestrom and the idea of how we construct knowledge in a context.
The second image shows the familiar Activity System, an expanded version of how Vygotsy expressed how we learn. The activity system has six interacting components: subject and object, mediated by tools or artefacts, rules, community and division of labour. Enegstrom’s next generation expression of the Activity System is to show two systems interacting, the key here being the interaction of two objects or outcomes to produce a third.
This model is manageable, with set links between the components.
‘In the field’ it is possible to allocate roles to people or departments, to kits and guidelines but then on the second line you start to consider how many activity systems are connected. However, it is no longer simply the case that there is one point of contact – this drive to an outcome or objective.
Already authors wonder if Activity Theory (I have the reference I’ll dig it out for you) can no longer apply, that it has melted.
The middle image in the middle of the bottom row circumvents the set connections to indicated that everything can interact with everything else. Feed this into a multitude of Activity Systems (the final diagram in the bottom right) and you see what complexity is created – the suggestion being that the there is more direct connecting between people with no mediation factors or systems. This assumes that there are no gatekeepers or other barriers, but increasingly, in tertiary education you may find yourself in a discussion alongside the biggest names in your field, whether you are an undergraduate, postgraduate or doctoral student, no matter what institution you are signed up to.
In fact, it is far more open than that of course – by chance or because of an enthusiasm or wish to connect anyone in theory can connect with anyone else – or at least with those who are taking part.
Some 4% of the population in Great Britain who by all accounts should be digital residents don’t event visit – there lifestyle choice is not to use the Internet, just as in the past people may have chosen not to have a TV. Another13% don’t have access at all – no connection, no kit, no space or place to use kit that is shared. And this is the UK. So Open Learning, though not exclusive, cannot be called universal.
Of course, being a purist, if you’re interested in Vygotsky you need to study him in Russian. Now where is there an Open Learn course on Russian?
Models work, as do metaphors, but with the digital world are all such models melting like sheet ice in a warming climate? Merged and blurred like so much ink dripped into a digital ocean?
Though Engestrom sees this as things and institutions, I like to see two people here, say an Art Director and Copywriter working together to solve problems. Two heads better than one and all of that. Any psychologists out there might offer me person to person models as alternatives.
And how many institutions can and do interact? Think of a $100m movie. Think of planning the Olympics. Think of six people with different skills and experiences working together.
Is this what Open Learning looking like?
At what point does the model break down?
Become redundant? Even ideas of ‘learning from the periphery’ (JS Brown and Duguid) falls apart if there is no centre, and no periphery, if everyone is equally ‘linked in’ with no degrees of separation at all, where you are anyone else’s father, brother or son. (mother, sister or daughter).
Engestrom ends up using the metaphor of a Mycorrhizae fungi growth such as this. I also found this rather beautiful image. But can art therefore fool? Something beautiful that is attractive and persuasive may not acutally be representative of the ‘truth of the matter’ – but what is?
Mycorrhizae = the real thing (apologies to the originator, when I can find the reference I will add it)
Which has me thinking of something more fluid, like the water cycle (think digital ocean into the could, then back again)
And in a system, as something more dynamic, with patterns behind the chaos.
In which case, to my mind, Open Learn and e-learning is like global warming to the climate – it is simply putting more energy into the system. Just re-annotate the above (which I will eventually get round to doing).
And if this doesn’t make your brain hurt or your jaw drop take a look at this:
and click on ‘Powers of Ten’ which is, I feel, evocative of Open Learning too – scalable from the micro to the infinite.
Engestrom, Y Various. I recommend ‘From Teams to Knots’
Vygotsky, L (1926 if you want it in Russia, 1974 for the first translations into English)
Rebecca Eynon from the OII for ‘Mapping the Internet’ stats on GB Internet use.
(I’ll flesh this out in due course. There are a dozen references related to the above. But this is Open Learning. You get my thoughts on this in all its various drafts).
- Openness in Education WK1 MOOC (mymindbursts.com)
- Inter-life, Young People and Activity systems (mymindbursts.com)
- OLD MOOC 2013 – Why Activity Theory needs to be seen, not itemised, to have any chance of being understood (mymindbursts.com)
- “More Complex Than the Milky Way?” –Project ‘Blue Brain’ and New Insights into the Biochemical Makeup of the Human Brain (dailygalaxy.com)
- Martin Weller and the MOOCers (mymindbursts.com)
- Has education come full circle? (jmajor.org)
- Who would you invite to an e-learning dinner party? (mymindbursts.com)
OLD MOOC 2013 – Why Activity Theory needs to be seen, not itemised, to have any chance of being understood
I dutifully followed an OLD MOOC 2013 link to an article that pertained to offer a checklist for a would-be e-learning designer to get their head around the ‘context of learning.’ The article takes the model and theory of an Activity System and implies they will then offer this as a check list – I literally expected a set of questions and a check box set against the key concepts/issues of an Activity System:
- Division of Labour
Though by doing so forgets crucial hidden issues such as the ‘action’ or activity between these points, the historicity of an activity system in a chronology of change, the interaction of more than one activity system to generate an alternative object … and so on.
It has to be a matter of choice and working practice, but for me an Activity System drawn up as a triangle with interacting nodes on a large sheet of paper is a far better way to visualise and share the components involved. The very process of explaining what each node represents becomes a point of discussion, disagreement and compromise that forces ideas into the open.
Fig. 2. Engestrom’s Activity System in practice – addressing accessible e-learning
I have even gone so far as to take out chess pieces and put them at these nodes to represent ‘community’ for example … and have pieces of string to denote the activity and interactions.
Fig.3. Getting an Activity System visualised and closer to the real world – as interaction between people.
Then if people aren’t flummoxed to add a second activity system to represent separate communities or system with a common goal that through interaction will produce a valid, for different, new and unexpected outcome (or Object 3 if you follow Engeström closely). In this respect sharing how Activity Systems can help explain the context becomes a creative problem solving exercise and a crucial part of early learning design analysis.
Fig. 4. How Engeström takes Activity Theory to the next step and conceptualises the interactions between two systems. A meeting of minds or a meeting of institutions?
I found reading about Activity Theory without the classic equilateral triangle rather like trying to describe a rhinoceros without a picture.
Fig. 5. From ‘Methods & Tools’ (1999) Not a checklist so much as a table.
The above strikes me as rather like itemisizing the parts of a jelly-fish in an Excel Spreadsheet. This works for some people – a unique a tiny minority. The entire purpose of laying out an Activity System as a diagram is to help make the complex seem less so – Kaptelinin et al have done the exact opposite.
WHAT NEXT ?
Fig. 8. Third generation Activity Theory expressed using Lewis Chess pieces
I’ve used chess pieces on a front door sized board drawn up as a third generation set of two activity systems to visualise the interplay between systems.
Fig. 9. Twister Max
What I’d like to do is work with 20+ people with a set of Twister Max discs to walk through some ‘live’ activity system scenarios … like a piece of improvised theatre ala Mike Lee, with people role playing personas or ‘insurgents’ in the system.
Fig. 10. Career Guidance for Year 11
To create a Year 11 careers guidance video I did something like this with some 30 students from a local youth theatre. The dots were placed out on the floor in various configurations and the players invited to say what they were doing x years away from their current age i.e. at key life stages in training, employment, at college, or school … beyond at university and so on. So bringing personas to life. This was then translated into identifying and interviewing people at these life stages on the street.
Engeström, Y (1999) ‘Activity theory and individual and social transformation’, in Y. Engeström, R, Miettinen and R.-L. Punamaki (eds) Perspectives on Activity Theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kaptelinin, V.; Nardi, B. A. & Macaulay, C. (1999), ‘Methods & tools: The activity checklist: a tool for representing the “space” of context’, interactions 6 (4) , 27–39 .
- How do you use an Activity System to improve accessibility to e-learning by students with disabilities? (mymindbursts.com)
- Accessible e-learning – identifying issues, actions and problems using an Activity System (mymindbursts.com)
- What is a mind burst? (mymindbursts.com)
- A chat with image-tagging startup Thinglink: “2012 was about social, 2013 will be about mobile” (thenextweb.com)
Fig. 1 Seale (2008) chapter 12 on activity systems in relation to accessibility in e-learning as an Activity System
The six potential areas of conflict Seal identifies occur, from the Activity System, between:
- Objects and tools – if we agree that the tools currently available are weak (or too many of them, or too specialist or too expensive)
- Objects and division of labour – a fragmented division of labour that is pulling the different stakeholders apart and preventing them from working together to meet the objective.
- Community and division of labour – a contradiction could be perceived to exist between community and division of labour if the rules that the community develop divide labour in such a way as to mitigate against the objective of the activity being achieved
- Community and rules – a conflict with the community whether guidelines are seen as tools or rules. A contradiction may be perceived to occur between community and rules where the community cannot agree on the rules and how they should be applied
- Rules and subject – where the rules or guidelines are not specific to the object, or difficulties in interpreting the results having used tools. A contradiction may be perceived to occur between the rules and the subject where the rules are non-existent, weak or inconsistent and so not good enough to enable the users of the rules (subjects) to meet the objective of the activity.
- Tools and subject – If the subjects of an activity system are unable to use the tools in the way they were intended, then conflict or contradiction may occur.
There are a further 8 discussed tangentially in relation to the Activity System, some within individual nodes. In total the full list looks like this:
- The array of design and evaluation software applications
- The mastery of external devices and tools of labour activity (Naardi 1996)
- No rules of practice for use of that tool (Iscorft and Scanlon)
- Tools that are overly prescriptive (Phipps et al 2005)
- How do you choose a tool?
- The context in which tools are introduced (Seale, 2006:160)
- The array of guidelines and standards and lack of information on how to use these.
- Constraints caused by formal, informal and technical rules and conceptions of community (Seale, 2006:161)
- A framework for describing current practice both individual and social (Seale, 2006:160)
- More than one object (Kuutti, 1996)
- When different but connected activities are an object or an artefact but place a very different emphasis on it (McAviia and Oliver, 2004)
- Conflict over who does what within ‘Divisions of Labour’
- Novice or expert … good thing or bad? The novice is more likely to be the innovator – if brought in from outside the system, while the expert in the system may be too set in the ways of the ‘community’.
- Excuses about the lack of information. Steyaert (2005)
I like Seale’s concluding remarks – Subject and object, object and community, subject and community – Contradiction in any or all of the relationships described in the previous section has the potential to threaten the central relationships between object and community, subject and object and subject and community.
And the over all thought:
‘Design for all’ probably requires a commitment to ‘design by all’.
According to Activity Theory, any or all of the contradictions will prevent accessible e-learning practice from developing and therefore accessible e-learning will not develop or progress unless these contradictions are resolved.