Home » Posts tagged 'community'

Tag Archives: community

How do you use an Activity System to improve accessibility to e-learning by students with disabilities?

Fig.1. A knight and two bishops from the iconic Lewis Chess Set role playing to represent ‘Community’ in an Activity System. After (Engeström, 2008) 

Visualizing actions between people, concepts and things requires more than words – models and metaphors are needed to create meaning. I will visualize connections on sheets of backing paper or a white board, or get out a box of Lego. Here I used Lewis chess pieces (resin replicas naturally) on a model of Engeström’s Activity System that I draw out on a piece of laminated board the size of a door (Engeström, 2008)  in order to get a sense of people working in collaborative teams to a common goal and to understand that an Activity System doesn’t represent an entity so much as a framework or scaffold that is held together by the energy of action.

Why use any model?

A model should be a well-founded visual simplification of an aspect of a complex reality that communicates its concept clearly, is based on thorough research, and is easily shared for feedback and review. Users should find that a model, like an experiment, is repeatable so that in time a body of work including case studies and a critique of the model builds credibility. A conceptual model such as an Activity System is ‘particularly useful when one wants to make sense of systemic factors behind seemingly individual and accidental disturbances, deviations, and innovations occurring in the daily practices of workplaces’. Engeström (2008:27)

Conole and Oliver (2011) mention four levels of description:

1. Flat vocabulary
2. More complex vocabulary
3. Classification schemas or models
4. Metaphors

The use of vocabulary is inevitable, though talking this through to an audience would be my preferred approach, so that with engagement response is invited. The models used here, from Vygotsky (1978) and Leon’tev (1978) to Engeström (2008) may appear familiar and set – they are not. There is a group that likes to see everything ‘triangulated’ – diamonds and stars, though evident in the literature on education – maybe akin to complex rather than plain language. From models we move to various metaphors – and you are certain to have your own. While Engeström (2008:19) himself moves on to ideas of how a fungi grows, to ‘knotworking’ and fluid, organic representations.

Fig.2. Scrutiny of Activity Systems. Based on Engeström (2008) 

Do we use models so that we spend more time thinking through the problems related to efforts to achieve what we desire? Or is the model a product of this effort? There’s a point in the social sciences where a model may lose more readers than it converts – the perseverance is worth it.

Why use an Activity System?

Activity Systems derived from a century of analysis of the way people construct meaning (Vygotsky, 1978.  Leon’tev, 1978) that later researchers applied not simply to how people think, but how groups of people act in collaborative ways  (Engeström, 1987).

Fig. 3.   Vygotsky’s model of mediated act

There are two parts to an Activity System – upper and lower. The upper part is the triangle drawn to represent the interaction of Subject, Tools and Object. Engeström (1987) took a current model – that of Vygotsky (1978) and made it his own and has since offered a metaphor to explain it further.

Fig. 4.   Vygotsky’s model of mediated act and (B) is common reformation. Cole and Engeström  (1993)


Fig.5. The structure of a human activity system. Engeström  (1987:78)

Historically this is where Vygotsky began in Moscow in the late 1920s (Fig.3) Engeström and others turned the experssion of Vygotsky’s model the other way up. This split of upper and lower serves another purpose – Yrjö Engeström likens this expression of an activity system to an iceberg where the top triangle – Subject – Tools – Object is what we see, while the other actions, that give the system context – he added when developing Vygostky’s (1978) original model, are beneath the surface. Engeström. (2008:89). (Fig.4) It’s worth remembering that Vygotsky was working on how people create meaning, while later thinkers have adapted this to help scrutinise how communities or groups of people, tools and sets of guidelines create (as Engeström puts it above, ‘sense meaning’ Engeström 1987).

Here the author Jane Seale (2006) takes an Activity System and applies it, as a management consultant might, to a humdinger of a problem. What this reveals is the interdependence of many factors, groups, tools, artifacts and interests on a desired objective.

Fig.6. Application of Engeström’s (1987) systemic model of activity to the accessible e-learning practice of a higher education practitioner. Featured in Seale (2006)

When is the construction of an Activity System useful?

Engeström (2008:27) suggests that it is particularly useful ‘when one wants to make sense of systemic factors behind seemingly individual and accidental disturbances, deviations, and innovations occurring in daily practices of workplaces’. Someone needs to think it is necessary to study the status quo – perhaps because there is an awareness that something, somewhere is going wrong, or that there has been an actual downturn in business or collapse in profitability, or a desire simply to look at things in a different way to understand where improvements can be made, a change in policy and law, or a reinvented or renewed.

Fig. 7. Engeström.Y (2008) From Teams to Knots: Activity-theoretical studies of Collaboration and Learning at Work.

Engeström (2008:207) suggests that there are five principles in relation to theories of activity systems.

  1. Object Orientation
  2. Mediation by tools and signs
  3. Mutual constitution of actions and activity
  4. Contradictions and deviations as source of change
  5. Historicity

Fig.8. Scrutiny of Activity Systems . Object. Based on Engeström (2008) 

1) Object Orientation

The Object is a problem, the purpose, the motivation and opportunity – the modus operandi behind the activity. ‘Object orientation’ (Engeström 2008:222) is a crucial prerequisite of working with an activity system. In the context of accessible e-learning Seale (2006:165) creates an Activity System in which the object(ive) is ‘to make e-learning accessible for disabled students’. As an exercise considering its widest application this object definition suffers because the object is so broad it embraces a myriad of issues and circumstances, each word is open to interpretation – what, for example, is meant by ‘e-learning’, what is meant by ‘accessible’ by ‘disabled’ and by ‘student’. Rather than an object as an opportunity or goal as Seale uses, a fix, the desired outcome, is more likely to be found where, at least in the first instance, we identify a particular context and a tightly defined problem.

Not only that, but to contain the likelihood of ‘ruptures’ across the activity system clarity and agreement is required on the problem that needs to be fixed. In relation to accessibility to e-learning for students with disabilities there are multiple problems, many unique to a student with a particular disability or, where feasible and appropriate, a group that can be identified by the nature of their disability, for example, deaf students who are seen as, and many want to see themselves as a ‘minority language’ group. What is more, a disabled student may have several impairments and the degree to which these are a barrier to e-learning is fluid, perhaps ameliorating with treatment, or getting worse, transmogrifying, or simply being intermittent. As these are known issues that would cause problems or clashes within the activity system and prevent its working it seems futile to build an activity system on this basis – knowing that it will fail.

A problem well stated is a problem half-solved’. (Charles Kettering)

This may be an aphorism, but it rings true. Problem scoping is necessary but where a problem remains elusive, or is ‘messy’ rather than ‘tame’ (Rittel and Webber’s 1973, Ackoff 1979, Ritchey 2011) a variety of creative problem solving techniques (VanGundy, 1988. Griggs, 1985). Knowing what the problem is enables innovation – identifying the problem and devising a fix, and in communications, where, for example, advertisers prepare a creative brief that begins by clearly identifying the problem.

‘Object orientation’ and in this context, problem definition and refinement, is the first in five principles set out by Engeström (2008:207) for using activity systems. The drive, purpose and motivation for all the actions between the six identified nodes depends on the object ‘that which is acted upon’. A key component of activity theory is the transformation of this object into an outcome i.e. to solve the problem. If solving a problem is the goal, and recognition of a successful enterprise undertaken, then all the more reason to get the definition of the object correct – the process can be repeated for different problems, at different scales and over time. Without absolute clarity over the object you may find that different people in the system have differing interpretations of what it is. Kuutti (1996) found that having more than one object under scrutiny was a reason for an activity system to fail.  An answer where there are two distinct problems may be to treat them as such and attach them to separate activity systems. Whilst for the sake of scrutiny it is necessary to isolate an activity system, they do of course interact – indeed it is by looking at how two activity systems interact that you may reveal how problems are solved or innovations produced. However, if the object is wrong, or ill-defined or ambiguous then the motives may be out of kilter and it would therefore be necessary to transform all of the components of the activity system, especially and including those at the bottom half of the ‘iceberg’. Engeström (2008:87)

Fig.9. Scrutiny of Activity Systems . Tools. Based on Engeström (2008) 

2) Mediation by Tools and Signs

Tools might be evaluation and repair tools and assistive technologies, software or legislation, guidelines or staff development. Tools are a mediating factor between the Subject (student, lecturer, facilitator of the desire outcome) and the Object – the purpose of all this activity.

Tools play a significant role in the history of tackling accessibility issues, to undue, out do or transform resources or interpret platforms in a way that communicates their meaning offering some if not all the affordances of the tools as designed for students, who, having gained a place to study a degree  in Higher Education might be thought of as some the most able’, not simply the ‘able’.Tools in this role at the apex of the Activity System and can include guidelines and legislation where they are an applied ‘tool’ rather than a rule or standard. ‘ A functioning tool for the analysis of teams and organisations’. Engeström  (2008:229) Of course the category includes evaluation and repair tools, assistive technologies and software and equipment. Tools ‘mediate’ between the Subject – the facilitator of change through activity and the outcome of the activities – the Object. ‘To build a website that complies to level AAA’ may be achievable whilst ‘to make e-learning accessible for disabled students’ Seale (2006:) sounds like wishful thinking, rather ‘to build an e-learning module that when scrutinised by a representative range of people with dyslexia’ receives a grading of ‘satisfactory’ or above’. This would suggest the involvement therefore of dyslexic students in the testing of a navigation interface for the virtual learning environment as an ‘action’ between subject and object.

There is a particular congregation of ‘contradictions’ stemming from the relationship between Tools and both Subject and Object:

  1. The array of design and evaluation software applications (Seale, 2006)
  2. The mastery of external devices and tools of labour activity (Nardi, 1996)
  3. No rules of practice for use of that tool (Isscroft and Scanlan, 2002 )
  4. Tools that are overly prescriptive (Phipps et al, 2005)
  5. How do you choose from amongst such a plethora of tools?
  6. The context in which tools are introduced (Seale, 2006:160)

The use of tools, the choice of kit and even supporting software beyond the virtual learning environment, should be the student’s decision. “Learners can be active makers and shapers of their own learning. They should be supported in using technologies of their own choice where appropriate”.(JISC, 2009, p.51)

3) Mutual constitution of actions and activity

This is what activity looks like in a group – evidence of several thousand recorded actions within a group of students (as subject), including the group tutor, and course chair; the Open University Virtual Learning Environment, computer, device, software and network link some of the tools; the rules set by the context of postgraduate e-learning with this institution, the community all those who can be reached online the division of labour the roles we all take as students, mentors, teachers and tutors, technical help desk, subject matter expert, novice or guru – the subject specific learning outcomes for each block, for each assignment or the goal of completing the module with a pass or distinction.

Fig.10. The consequences of an activity system – loads of action. Here a tutor group over a period of 27 weeks. ‘Activity’ is represented by messages in a tutor forum. H810 is an Open University postgraduate course in Education. Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates

The links between each component – object, tool, subject and so on – should equate to a burst of electricity or perhaps a chemical induced response between a synapse and a neuron – Engeström (2008) goes as far as to liken an activity system to a type of fungi – mycorrhizae like formation  Engeström (1997).

Fig.11. Mycorrhizae – one way Engeström sees an Activity System

An Activity System should be seen not as a concept of a static entity, but rather a living and growing thing. The actions, the double-arrows between each concept, are what gives an activity system structure  – it’s the management  of the disturbances, contradictions and conflicts along these lines of action that disturb effective flow where the role of an activity system comes in – identify then fix these and you move towards achieving the object orientation or outcome. Knorr-Cetina (2003) talks of ‘flow architecture’ and if neither of these concepts ring true for you in relation to activity systems then Zerubavel (1997) talks of ‘a mindscape’ while Cussins (1992) talks of ‘cogntive trails’. There is a caveat when using a metaphor – we tend to look for similarities, rather than see the differences and a choice of metaphor will itself skew our thinking. Morgan (1986/1997).

4) Contradictions and deviations as source of change

I would have opted for Subject as the third issue, but reading Engeström made me think again. Subject, Tools, Object reduces the Activity System to the far simpler upturned triangle Vygotsky devised to explain how people create meaning (Vygotsky, 1978:86)  without further thought to the deeper and wider issues once learning is put in context, that Engeström (1987, 2008, 2011) added by broadening this way of showing how ‘meaning is created’ in the workplace by adding Rules, Community and Division of Labour.

Rather than picking one more of these concepts at the expense of leaving the others out I think that the ‘Actions’ the double arrows that indicate something happening between the elements is of interest. I believe this would be the fourth of Engeström’s five principles – Contradictions and deviations as source of change. This after all is, literally, where all the ‘action’ takes place, what Seale (2006:164) describes as ‘problems, ruptures, breakdowns or clashes’.  (I need to go back and to understand what is meant by Engeström’s third principle – ‘Mutual constitution of actions and activity’) I think this is the principle that the Activity System has to be seen as a complete, self-contained entity, that any break or failure or misunderstanding in the system would call it to fail so you’d be better of starting again from scratch until the scale or context works. Engeström uses the metaphor of a very particular kind of lichen (‘mycorrhizae’, Engeström, 2008:229) to describe Activity Systems – he doesn’t suggest however that you attempt to work with this kind of complexity, rather it is a reminder that an activity system is fluid and changing and depends on activity taking places between the defined nodes.

5) Historicity

Fig. 12. A discontinuous series of Activity Systems … like Toblerone at Christmas.

‘Historicity’ – Engeström’s experssion (2008) is a term referring to ‘the historical actuality of persons and events’,(Wikipedia, 2012) suggests the need to see an Activity System as a snapshot, a sequence and a discontinuous one at that. So take the familiar equilateral triangle of the Activity System model and run a line of them. Seale (2006) suggests there is value to be found by doing some ‘archaelogy’ – I think ‘historical research’ would be an adequate way to think of it, for what this may reveal about how these ‘rupture, conflicts’ Seale (ibid) or ‘contradictions’ and ‘deviations’ as a source or change’ Engeström (2008:223) along the lines of activity. Seale (2006) talks of how an activity system ‘incesstanly reconstructs itself. Engeström (1994) talks of an ideal-typical sequence of epistemic actions in an expansive cycle. To Vygosky (1978), learning is a continual movement from the current intellectual level to a higher level which more closely approximates the learner’s potential. This movement occurs in the so-called “zone of proximal development” as a result of social interaction

Subject

Fig.13. Scrutiny of Activity Systems . Subject. Based on Engeström (2008) 

By definition here the ‘non-disabled’, particularly in the cognitive sense though sometimes with athletic promise too. Ironically whilst ‘non-disabled’ is not a favoured term it does at least relate to a homogenous group, while ‘disabled’ does not given the range, scale and potentially shifting nature of impairments to learning from hearing, to visual, cognitive and mobility.

Subject to be of most importance – this is the person, actor or lecturer, indeed a student – anyone who is responsible for facilitating and supporting the student’s learning experience. This may be a practitioner who works with a Higher Education Learning Technologist or the digital media access group if there is such a thing. Engeström (2008:222).

Any of the team members may be a novice, which may be a positive or negative influence for the actions in the system. A novice is inexpert, on the other hand they are free from the habits that may be causing problems and creating barriers. Because of the way a novice learns they are more inclined to innovate as they are not bound or even aware to rules, guidelines and beliefs that may hold them back.

Rules

Fig.14. Scrutiny of Activity Systems . Rules. Based on Engeström (2008) 

These can be formal, informal or technical rules. They are institutional and departmental policies and strategies. These are rules of practice, and legislation, as well as strategies and research. They are explicit and implicit norms. These are conventions and social relations. These in the context of accessible e-learning are the various guidelines related to web usability and legislation related to accessibility and equality. Universal Design and User Centred Design are rules too. Rules mediate between the subject and the community. The actions, the ‘doing in order to transform something’ or ‘doing with a purpose’ are the activities that link Rules with Subject, Rules with Object and Rules with Community.

Community

Fig.15. Scrutiny of Activity Systems . Community. Based on Engeström (2008) 

These are ‘people who share the same objective’ – their being in this activity system is dependent on their wishing to engage with the object, the opportunity, to strive to achieve the stated outcome. Any ruptures are therefore not a consequence of having the wrong person in this community – this grouping, this loose gathering of like-minded people, is what Engeström has come to describe as a knot and the actions these people take as ‘knotworking’ Engeström (2008:194) – latent, informal, sometimes impromptu gatherings of people who assemble to address a problem or to take an opportunity – what Rheingold (2002) describes as ‘smart mobs’.

Fig.16. Scrutiny of Activity Systems . Division of Labor. Based on Engeström (2008) 

Division of Labor

This concept, or node as an ethereal entity is ‘how people are organized to realise the object’. Not one to represent by a chess piece and one may think that this ought to be the link that joins people together … this is where working with a model as the beat of a heart, not the heart itself, requires acceptance of the way a model is designed to work. Division of labor This is planning and funding, designing and developing, implementing and evaluating, using, specialists vs. the mainstream).

Fig.17. A Wordle using the text from this blog.

Conclusion

Fig. 18. The Water Cycle – imagine this reversionsed to represent a digital ocean and content in the ‘cloud’.

Digitization of assets is akin to the creation of an ocean in which the binary code are the molecules of water – apt then with the shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and our adopting the use of ‘the Cloud’ and ‘Cloud Computing’ to take this metaphor into a more dynamic form and think of it as a water-cycle. This system is shifting continually horizontally with currents and tides, but also vertically – the exponential growth in computing speeds and memory capacities the energy that drives the system. This global system hasn’t taken adequate account of people with disabilities – as in the real world there are barriers to access caused by visual, hearing, mobility and cognitive impairments – just as these have been addressed in a piecemeal way through legislation, funding, programmes and promotions, by disability groups or holistically, so too with adaptations or changes to the digital world – there is no panacea that will remove all barriers for all people with any disability, of any kind, type or stage of deterioration or amelioration.  Stretching the metaphor further I wonder if at times this digital water-cycle, again like the real one, is polluted, that translucence as well as flotsam and jetsam in this ocean are the barriers – on the one hand the pollutants have to be removed – the barriers taken down – but at the same time, cleaner purer water, in the form a universal design that is simpler and usable would gradually cleanse some of system. Once again, a mirror to the real world responses, specialist schools and associations, say for those with dyslexia are blind or deaf, become an oasis or island in this digital system.

‘Those not engaging with technologies or without access are getting left further and further behind. We need to be mindful that the egalitarian, liberal view of new technologies is a myth; power and dynamics remain, niches develop and evolve. Applications of metaphorical notions of ecology, culture and politics can help us better understand and deal with these complexities’. (Conole. 2011:410)

FURTHER  READING

Cecez-Kecmanovic, Dubravka, and Webb.C (2000) “Towards a communicative model of collaborative web-mediated learning.”Australian Journal of Educational Technology 16. 73-85. Towards a communicative model of collaborative web-mediated learning  (last accessed 20 Dec 2012) http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet16/cecez-kecmanovic.html

Hardman, J (2008) Researching pedagogy: an acitivty system approach Journal of Education, No. 45, 2008. PP65-95 (last accessed 20 Dec)  2012 http://joe.ukzn.ac.za/Libraries/No_45_Dec_2008/Researching_pedagogy_an_Activity_Theory_approach.sflb.ashx)

Engeström’s (1999) outline of three generations of activity theory (last accessed 20 Dec 2012) http://www.bath.ac.uk/research/liw/resources/Models%20and%20principles%20of%20Activity%20Theory.pdf

Engeström.Y (2008) From Teams to Knots: Activity-theoretical studies of Collaboration and Learning at Work. Learning in doing: Social, Cognitive & Computational Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. Series Editor Emeritus. John Seely Brown.

Engeström.Y (2011) Learning by expanding: ten years after (last accessed 19 Dec 20-12) http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Paper/Engestrom/expanding/intro.htm

REFERENCE

Ackoff, R.L. (1979) The Art of Problem-Solving, New York: Wiley

Cole, M. and Engeström, Y. (1993) A cultural-historical approach to distributed cognition, in: G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations (New York, Cambridge University Press), 1-46.

Conole, G (2011) Designing for learning in a digital world. Last accessed 18 Dec 2012 http://www.slideshare.net/grainne/conole-keynote-icdesept28

Conole, G. and Oliver, M. (eds) 2007 Contemporary Perspectives on E-learning Research, Themes, Tensions and Impacts on Research. London, RoutledgeFalmer.

Cussins, A. (1992). Content, embodiment and objectivity: The theory of cognitive trails. Mind, 101, 651–688.

Engestrom (2008-04-30). From Teams to Knots (Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives) (p. 238). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Engeström, Y. (1987) Learning by Expanding: An Activity-theoretical Approach to Developmental Research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit.

Engeström, Y. (1994). The working health center project: Materializing zones of proximal
development in a network of organizational learning. In T. Kauppinen & M. Lahtonen (Eds.) Action research in Finland. Helsinki: Ministry of Labour.

Engeström.Y (1999) Learning by expanding. Ten Years After. http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Paper/Engestrom/expanding/intro.htm

Engeström.Y (2008) From Teams to Knots: Activity-theoretical studies of Collaboration and Learning at Work. Learning in doing: Social, Cognitive & Computational Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. Series Editor Emeritus. John Seely Brown.

Griggs, R.E. (1985) ‘A Storm of Ideas’, reported in Training, 22, 66 (November)

Issroff, K. and Scanlon, E. (2002) Using technology in higher education: an Activity Theory perspective. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 18, 1, 77–83

JISC. (2009). Effective Practice in a Digital Age: A guide to technology-enhanced learning and teaching. Retrieved from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/programmerelated/2009/effectivedigital-age.aspx

Knorr-Cetina, K. (2003). From pipes to scopes: The flow architecture of financial markets. Distinktion, 7, 7–23.

Kuutti, K. (1996) Activity theory as a potential framework for human–computer interaction research. In B. Nardi (ed.) Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human–Computer Interaction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pp. 17–44.

Leon’tev.A.N. (1978) Activity, consciousness, and personality. Englewood Cliffs. NJ. Prentice-Hall.

Moessenger, S (2011) Sylvia’s Study Blog (Last accessed 19 Dec 2012) http://sylviamoessinger.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/h809-reading-oliver-et-al-chapter-2-a3-6/

Morgan, G. (1986 2nd 1997) Images of Organisation

Phipps, L., Witt, N. and Kelly, B. (2005) Towards a pragmatic framework for accessible e-learning. Ariadne, 44. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/ issue44/ phipps/> (last accessed 19 Dec 2012).

Rheingold, H. (2002). Smart mobs: The next social revolution. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.

Ritchey, T. (2011) Wicked Problems – Social Messes: Decision support Modelling with Morphological Analysis.Springer.

Rittel.W.J., Webber.M.M. (1973) Dilemmas in a general theory of planning Policy Sciences, June 1973, Volume 4, Issue 1,

Seale, J. (2006) E-learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice

VanGundy, A.B. (1988) Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, 2nd ed, Van Norstrand Reinhold. Techniques 4.01, 4.06, 4.57

Vygotsky.L.S. (1978) Mind in Society. The development of higher psychological process. Cambridge. MA.

Wikipedia (2012) Definition of ‘Historicity’ – (last accessed 19 Dec 2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity

Zerubavel, E. (1997). Social mindscapes: An invitation to cognitive sociology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Conflicts in an Activity System

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:

  1. Objects and tools – if we agree that the tools currently available are weak (or too many of them, or too specialist or too expensive)
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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:

  1. The array of design and evaluation software applications
  2. The mastery of external devices and tools of labour activity (Naardi 1996)
  3. No rules of practice for use of that tool (Iscorft and Scanlon)
  4. Tools that are overly prescriptive (Phipps et al 2005)
  5. How do you choose a tool?
  6. The context in which tools are introduced (Seale, 2006:160)
  7. The array of guidelines and standards and lack of information on how to use these.
  8. Constraints caused by formal, informal and technical  rules and conceptions of community (Seale, 2006:161)
  9. A framework for describing current practice both individual and social (Seale, 2006:160)
  10. More than one object (Kuutti, 1996)
  11. When different but connected activities are an object or an artefact but place a very different emphasis on it (McAviia and Oliver, 2004)
  12. Conflict over who does what within ‘Divisions of Labour’
  13. 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’.
  14. 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.

Cloudworks

Grainne Connole is the ‘star turn’ in Cloudworks. She is Oprah. This is a channel, a network, a show. To stand out, let alone to be attractive to users, it requires this kind of ‘ownership.’

This ‘online filing system’ is weak because of how it is presented NOT for what it does and can do.

It has the potential to be a social educational campus/network. The key is to overlay ALL assets with an image of the person who composed the material, i.e. the entry into the content is the person or if not an image, then at least the opportunity to add a ‘book cover/sleave’ i.e. something visual, relevant to the content, personal and engaging.

Facebook has the right balance between form and functionalty. There is a caareful balance of personalisation and prescribed layout/design. (Like a good TV channel, you know where you are when you’re in Facebook).

Often I see ideas screaming out for the input of a designer

Here I mean a visualiser, an art director kind of designer, someone who can take the excellent functionality, the problem solving, engaging, satisfying programming/sites – and add some feeling.

We are emotional beings, we respond and are motivated for subjective reasons. We chose one thing over another because we ‘like’ it, not necessarily because it is better than another product or service.

In time it won’t just be an art director that is required, you’ll need a producer

… someone who can run the ‘channel’ as a living entity, as a live-show, that will include video. Am I describing the librarian of the 21st century, an ‘asset manager’ who is not working in the City of London?

If you give the new bubbl.us a go I promise that some of the things it does, and how it looks, makes it a joy. Every time you create a new node or bubble it automatically offers a different, though matching, graded shade of the previous colour.

(Six months ago it was more child-like – you deleted a bubble you didn’t want and it bursts into flames! Now they fade away like mist on a Spring morning).

There is a war going on out there.

Make yourself attractive. People haven’t time to compare sites, they’ll just run with what looks right and if it delivers they’ll stick with it.

See Visualising the Learning Design Process, A. J. Brasher, below.

See Information is Beautiful, David McCandless.

Humbug, journalism, popular writing, academic writing, dumbing down, engagement, access and democratization – the maelstrom of e-learning.

Have we dumbed down in the last decade?

I was on H804 BR227 Block 2-A1 on the 19th March 2001. I was in Barbara’s Tutor Group.

The block reading was extensive; it had arrived in a large cardboard box, along with CD-roms. Books galore. I’ve numbered the 33 items from which I need to read x paper or chapters. Have we dumbed down in the last decade?

Is reading, if only on a Kindle, no so valid?

Has quantity of content provided been replaced by the quantity of content we generated between each other? If so, it makes contribution the peer group and module cohort all the more important.

We are meant to browse through these and select one. Skim reading as a ‘good study technique’ of the 1990s at the OU. Is this no longer so? I fancy an Amazon reviewing approach to all required reading. I’d then pick one five-star, one three star and one that hadn’t received a rating. It’s about as good as my old technique – alphabetical order. Skim read 33 items then choose one? Never. Read all of them, then choose surely. In business if I had to review products, or interview new candidates would I do the job properly, or just give them a cursory glance? ‘If you find something on ODl course design in the set books, or in H80X Resources, which is not currently listed in the Reading guide, just email me with the details. I’ll add it to the list. John (John Pettit).

Interestingly an article we then read from Cisco does something similar to the review suggestions above, not as basic as a start rating but ‘Sounding Off’ in which the first few words of comment and listed from sixteen or so commentators.

I then turn to printed off pages, marked up with a highlighter pen. (I can’t find myself stumbling across such paperwork with such Serendipity in ten years time should I care to reconsider the contents of MAODE 2010-2011. It will be buried in, by then, 10,000 assets in my e-portfolio. As I call it, like looking for a needle in a stack of needles. Something no string of tags can save you from … because every item has a similar set of tags. Where is ‘serendipity’ 2021? Years ago I put an ‘Enter@Random’ button in my blog., I’m yet to think of a more advanced way to tap into my mind).

In this article John Chambers CEO of CISCO says

‘The next big killer application for the Internet is going to be education.’

This is too often misquoted outside the realm of corporate training – what he has in mind here is how to keep 4,000 Cisco sales people up to speed and better able to sell, not how to educate classroom based school kids.

Is the next step the Open School?

To home educate? It would make better use of what the Internet offers. I do wonder how or why I’ve ended up nailed first to the locally primary school and then an affordable private school within walking distance. My wife and I are both freelance, who cares where we could be in the world as we do everything online.

Remind me to go to the estate agents. We’re selling up!

Meanwhile, I’m glad to see ‘e-learning’ used here; I was convinced it was a term coined recently. ‘Ultimately, Tom Kelly says, e-learning will be most effective when it no longer feels like learning – when it’s simply a natural part of how people work.’ If you do things in small chunks, she continues, they become just another part of your job. And what I like most of all, ‘E-learning will be successful when it doesn’t have its own name.’

My children wouldn’t call it e-learning

It’s just homework, whether in a text book or using a computer, which may or may not go online. Do we different where our TV feed comes from anymore? It’s just more TV. It is has taken me exactly one week, courtesy of a Kindle, to drop any idea of e-readers, e-books or e-reading … these are books, this is reading – the means of distribution is different, that’s all, it’s as if I have an electronic butler handing me one sheet of the book at a time. Bliss.

I’m still some way off why I’m reading this and writing about, just picking up echoes from the past as I go through it. Kelly had some insights on e-learning (which he defines as Web-based education):

    1. Small is beautiful
    2. Blends are powerful
    3. Measure what matters
    4. New technologies require new leaders

      Was I listening back then?

      I think we were too busy trying to reinvent the world.

      These four points are understood today as:

      • Chunking
      • Participation across platforms
      • The business of measuring outcomes.

      Simply put ‘If technology adoption occurs faster because the sales force is better-trained, we have real business impact that’s measurable.’

      And then the punch line

      “One real; problem with e-learning is that traditional training people are in charge of it. No wonder it doesn’t work! Can you imagine if the post office was in charge of email?”

      Does this apply to libraries?

      Think of a book as a parcel, a report as a letter. Do we want it delivered by the Post … or by email? Are librarians best equipped to migrate digitised content to the e-brain?

      There is then a paper, I guess the equivalent of a lecture, a piece of content purpose-written for the course.

      It is good to see Vygotsky, Piaget and Papert in here .. but what of Prensky from ‘The Power of Digital Game based Learning’.

      Prensky makes this suggestion via research done by cognitive psychologists ‘such as Bruer and Tapscott in the late nineties who speculated that the young people’s minds have been literally ‘altered by the effect of a key set of digital formative experiences‘.

      Prensky then, no better than a salesman links a truism with an unproven (and unfounded) suggestion.

      ‘Tapscott’s research indicated that young people are living, playing, communicating, working in and creating communities very differently than their parents (truism) and that the ‘hard wiring’ of young people’s brains has been effectively altered by digitally based learning experiences in the last decade.’ (unfounded, ‘effectively altered’ is what alerts me).

      Let me see what I can find, where all just a click away from Google

      So I buy this to feast on:

      I’m going to have to go through these notes.

      Courtesy of Kindle I can highlight and take notes.

      I find myself rattled by everything Prensky says and how it is presented, from the glowing recommendations, to his extensive biography, to the unqualified, uncited, unresearched ‘hear say’ that considers itself to be serious study.

      He mentions the ‘popular writer Malcolm Bradbury’ but falls into the same trap of conjuring up presumptions that have no foundation in fact. This is less than journalism. It is invention. It may be what he thinks, but no one gets a word in edge ways to say whether he is right or wrong.

      As I read I felt as if I was at best listening to an after dinner speech, at worst a stand-up comic

      Prensky preaches to the converted, a certain group of secondary and primary school teachers who I can see nodding along to every platitude that Prensky offers.

      That’s my summary; the report will follow

      Book by book, blow by blow.

      Seeing Prensky so often quoted in the OU files, in 2001 and still, surprises me.

      I feel like the little boy in the crowd pointing out that the King is wearing no clothes.

      I may eat my words, I often do

      But for now, this is my stance, which I prefer to sitting on the fence.

       

      REFERENCE

      Cisco’s Quick Study by Ann Muoio. From FC issue 39, page 286. http://www.fastcompany.com/online/39/quickstudy.html

      Prensky M (2001) Digital Game based learning, McGraw Hill.

       

      Flickr for learning and the First World War

      Dear Great War Archive Flickr Group,

      How would any of you answer this?

      I am a lecturer in the Department of Information Studies, University College London, and specialise in the digitization of cultural and heritage material.

      I’m currently carrying out a small study regarding non-institutional digitization: that is, digital resources such as online museums or Flickr groups created by amateurs, enthusiasts and specialists. The study aims to look at the range of material created by amateur enthusiasts, the motivation for doing so, and the level of interaction these resources have with their intended audience.

      The pool of those being ‘interviewed’ given that is it only on Flickr and is self-selecting means that it can never be selective. So this is a piece of qualitative research? There are no objective criteria to be met? Is Flickr paying for this research? Who knows.

      I’m really interested in the way that people are using Flickr as a platform to share images of their collections. I wondered whether you could spare the time to answer a few questions about your activities?

      Any responses I get from this brief survey – I’m looking to survey fifty or so Flickr users creating high quality resources that are not part of any established memory institution – would be kept anonymous, although you would be credited in acknowledgements, should the results be written up. I aim to present the results at an academic conference such as Digital Humanities, or Museums and the Web, but depending on the quality of the results I may also write up the results for an academic journal.

      So we .. I have done all the work for you?

      I’ve attached a few brief questions below, and it should take about 10 minutes for you to respond. Please let me know if you have any questions about this. I’m really impressed by the Flickr group you contribute to, and I’d really like to include it in the survey!

      It might take 10 mins. But I’ve given it 60.

      I’d appreciate your response by the 1st of June 2009, responses can be sent to my email (m.terras@ucl.ac.uk) or via my user account on flickr (enthusiast_digitization).

      Best wishes,

      Dr Melissa Terras
      Senior Lecturer in Electronic Communication
      Department of Information Studies
      University College London
      www.ucl.ac.uk/infostudies/melissa-terras/
      m.terras@ucl.ac.uk

      Questions for Flickr Users:

      Part A. Motivation

      1. Can you tell us a little about your collection. Presumably, this existed prior to contributing your items to the Flickr group? Has your collection grown alongside your activity with Flickr?
      2. What motivated you to contribute to your chosen Flickr group?
      3. Is your Flickr group entirely your own, or are you part of a team or wider community? Did you set up the group yourself, or join an existing one?

      Part B. Creation and Maintenance

      4. Can you describe how long it took to create the images you uploaded to Flickr? What tools and techniques did you use, ie for scanning, or photography of objects?
      5. How much time do you spend contributing items to Flickr?
      6. Were you aware of any standards (for example for photography, or cataloguing, or copyright clearance) that are used in creating digital resources?

      Part C. Interaction with User Community

      7. Do you know who looks at the images you contribute to Flickr? Do you have an established audience?
      8. Are you aware of any usage statistics, such as the number of “hits” you get per day?
      9. Do you engage with other members of the Flickr community creating and uploading similar images?
      10. How often are you contacted by people interested in your resource?
      11. Are you aware of your resource ever having been used in research – for example to provide dates or historical detail for historians?

      Part D. Interaction with Memory Institutions

      12. Have you every been contacted by an established museum, library or archive regarding the images you contribute to Flickr? If so, could you tell us a little about this interaction?

      Part E. Any Further Comments?

      13. Is there anything else you would like to add regarding the creation, maintenance, or use of the material you contribute to Flickr?
      Posted at 6:09PM, 19 May 2009 BST ( permalink )

      view photostream

      mymindbursts says:

      From the age of 5 or 6 after Sunday Dinner my grandfather sitting with us children might start a story,’ Did I tell you about the time that …’ and so would begin some account of his experiences in the First World War: machine guns, prisoners, bombs & bullets … and aeroplanes. He was 67 perhaps …. and lived another 30 years. Between us, a brother & two sisters, I became the most interested in his accounts. My mother wrote them off, couldn’t stand it … clearly he had this ever present desire to relive, or recount his experiences. Age 13 I started keeping a diary and in time would have jotted down some of my grandfather’s stories. I had a life to lead, exams, and ultimately a university degree at Oxford. The First World War wasn’t history so I had to stick with the Tudors & Stuarts! I accepted this. A decade on I a, living in France and as part of a film crew on behalf of the French Ministry of Culture we are travelling to all the ‘tough’ urban district of towns … most of which happen to be along the old Western Front. The joke is that I am always interested in and photography war memorials. Abbeville, Verdun, Mountaban all made the First World War feel real. So I would share my experiences in France with my grandfather. INcreasingly frail when I was in town (my parents had long divorced) … and then my granny had died … he craved company. Technology first in the from of VHS let me indulge my grandfather further … he had books on planes, the trenches & all the rest … but he hadn’t see ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ in 50 years. Working in Television Production I understood the value of getting his story down and chose to do this on a Sony Digital audio kit … transcribing these notes I went back to ask further questions. Yes, I should have got him on Broadcast Video … but he looked so old and frail and I had never planned to broadcast him. Anyway … as I grew up, as my comprehension of his world , let alone my own, become clearer how I had seen his war changed. I wrote a piece called ‘That’s Nothing Compared to Passchendeale’ in 1990 ? while sitting with him watching the First Gulf War. A lad from the Durham Light Infantry was interviewed in the desert which prompted this remark … he had signed up with the Durham Light Infantry in 1915. He also had something to say about the Tornadoes as he had transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. And I got in touch with Lyn MacDonald and he went on a trip to Passchendeale … and his medals came out (he has the Military Medal) and he shook hands with the King of Belgium … and photographs he had and those of his kid brother Billy who had joined the RFC age 16 and died in a crash in 1919 … and after his death … and with so much coming on line I found I could add even more detail to his recorded memoir by checking details of those who had served and died … and then researching their own family background. Slowly it all came painfully to life, the family members lost, the closeness of the community … the very different attitude to the ‘working class’ then … they were cannon fodder. My gradual loathing for Haig who cheated his way into Oxford and Sandhurst and weazeled his way into the affections of the Royal Family & as a result of this, not his ability ended up responsible for the death of millions …

      Is the First World War more deeply a part of the British psyche than that of Canadians, Anz’s … those from South Africa?

      At an MCG event in London I was invited to be the standard bearer in front of he Boy David. These people gave their lives, or their leg, or their face for others at home making a mint … or not.

      Accounts of young lads being killed today astounds me … not just how young they sound, but how dumb. The army is putting the ignorant in danger … again 🙁

      Surely the sharpest minds should be the ones in the Front Line in a modern war? I’d love to know the average IQ of those being sacrificed.

      Flickr is a service/software that sits on the shoulders of many others. I’ve been online since 1998 and blogging regularly since 1999. Flickr is easy, that is all. Though I WILL NOT pay anything for the privilege of loading images to this advertising infested homepage.

      Perhaps I should be taking a closer look at the legalease that could very well have been written by a fellow Oxford alumni who specialises in Intellectual Property Law. Are we being hood winked?

      My joy in Flickr is in part contributing, and sharing and letting the world know that what I do exists or existed … however, Flickr is fast becoming some kind of landfil for crap pics …

      I’m careless about uploading more than one click of the same image and more than one enhanced image …

      Having already put on line the 25000 memoir of my late grandfather I had fun putting in some pics of my own but am having even more fund linking his story to images others have collected … and pasting verbatim memories of his into the comment slot of pics of others.

      It is very much about keeping his memory alive. Is this a human thing? Camp fire stories of warriors and their fights? For me it is an intellectual journey too … I simply cannot find a way to get over to others what these men, these boys, went through. So I have read everything … and ought to be taking an MA or reading for a doctoral thesis on some aspect of the Great War.

      My greatest latest acquisition a full set of magazines published on the Great War in the 1930s in which each edition opens with an editorial from H.G.Wells.

      Flickr? So far it works …. I have all my images on a disc and will share them with whatever site I like, on my own and with others. Things will move on.

      I will find I am linking all of this into family trees & war grave info and census returns.

      And perhaps a couple of bodies will be dug up, given a military burial and their names lifted from those of the missing.

      Perhaps human kind will get the message – one hideous death through a bullet, a bomb or gas is enough.

      We should be seeing more pictures of the horribly injured from WWI & WWII … and the current conflicts in the Middle-East. Death we do well, maimed young men we cry over.

      Getting the images online is a pelarva: photo or scan, the manipulate to make black & white, sharpen, then upload for the web so you don’t blow the permitted bandwidth in one go.

      Standard are irrelevant as the pictures I post I expect to be only of a quality to observe online, not download for print publication or posters. Copyright isn’t an issue yet as my sharing these images is part of singing this song. I would take issue with anyone claiming copyright to a picture they didn’t own. I have wallets and packets of photographs that I have been given … that have been handed down.

      Stats matter becuase they satisfy my ego … they are of interest. In particular it is the linking of my grandfather’s verbatim words to images supplied by others that is ringing true.

      A picture might be worth a thousand words … but a thousand words goes a long way to make an image a narrative, to put it into context and give it meaning and relevance.

      Age 87 I took my grandfather to the Imperial War Museum where he was re-introduced to the Vicker’s Machine Gun. He had not been behind one in nearly 70 years. He crouched behind this gun in the armoury in his mack and flat cap as if he was 20 years old, his thumbs went to the locks, checked the sights, and fiddled about and then he placed the two enormous pads of his thumbs onto the triggers.

      He was ready to kill, or guard, or save his skin and that of his mates … he was back in a recently captured Jerry pill box with those he had known for months in his unit clutching their guts and breathing their last. I wish I had filmed that!

      I have in mind an installation that uses Flickr images of the Great War that might start to enthrall, intrigue and perhaps terrify visitors. A walk through maze with life size images, and smells and dummy limbs and rats, and lice … and mud up to the throat and bullets whizzing bombs going off while solders do diarrhea into their trousers and commit on the duckboards ..

      I guess I am there from an historical research perspective ‘read in a subject until you can hear the people speak.’ I can smell them, touch them, speak to them … I an empathise with them.

      My grandfather survived, his efforts set his daughter on a middle-class platform and I was born into a family of aspiring professionals & entrepreneurs. Indeed my grandfather had been the son of the chauffeur of some big family who owned breweries & the like … and lived to see his grandchildren living that lifestyle with domestic staff, a cook and groundsman, a chauffeur even, the Rolls on the gravel courtyard of the castle …

      All of this, yet right to the moment of his death, he feared this moment, the potential loneliness leading up to it and certainly his growing incapacity.

      With a few sips from a can of Newcastle Brown Ale Jack Wilson passed away in December 2nd 1992 age 96 years and 3 months. His parting words were no different to those his mates had used on the Western Front.

      Okay, he didn’t call for his mother. He realised that was a non starter.

      ‘Bugger’ was his final word. Or as he put it ‘You Bugs.’

      We are still yet to scatter his ashes …

      Over the North Sea where he was training as a fighter pilot in 1919 I think.

      Or a grain glued to every picture I have of him from this period.

      Have I said enough?

      My blog is 1.6 million words thick. Courtesy of Flickr I intended to illustrate it. I am starting with the 24+ entries and 25000 words of my late grandfather’s memoir. At some stage I will go out and film it. I have in mind an open cast mine in Canada as the spot to recreate Passchendeale.

      The Imperial War Museum has the transcript of interviews I conducted. I have the digital cassettes that I have copied and should digitize.

      On the 90th anniversary Grantham did a thing on the Machine Gun Corps and used chunks of Jack’s memoir and pictures I had supplied.

      it will never be enough. Not until I own the rights to ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and make another movie of it to the standard of ‘Saving Private Ryan.’

      Much, much more at www.jonathan.diaryland.com

      %d bloggers like this: