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13 Learning Theories for e-learning

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Learning is complex so is creating.

All observations are theory impregnated. Popper, (1996:86)

Learning can broadly be defined as ‘any process that in living organisms leads to permanent capacity change and which is not solely due to biological maturation or ageing (Illeris 2007, p.3)

Learning involves both internal and external factors. (Conole and Oliver, 20xx)

Human learning is the combination of processes throughout a lifetime whereby the whole person – body (genetic, physical and biological) and mind (knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, emotions, beliefs and senses) – experiences social situations, the perceived content of which is then transformed cognitively, emotively or practically (or through any combination) and integrated into the individual person’s biography resulting in a continually changing (or more experienced) person.

(Illeris, in Contemporary Theories … 2009)

There are many different kinds of learning theory. Each emphasizes different aspects of learning, and each is therefore useful for different purposes. (Conole and Oliver, ) What matters in learning and the nature of knowledge. And how families develop their own practices, routines, rituals, artifacts, symbols, conventions, stories and histories. (Conole and Oliver, )

Identify the key components of a number of theoretical approaches. Briefly introduce, say what it is and highlight key concepts.

How these might be applied to learning design with technology.

Clear RQs that are clearly derived from specific theories.

Recommend which data collection processes would be appropriate.

Conole et al (2004) x 7: Behaviourism, Cognitive, Constructivism, Activity-based, socially situated learning, experiential and systems theory.

Cube Representation of model. (Should be those things you roll) ADD OLDS MOOC and/or H817open

Mayes and de Frietas (2004) x3 Associative (structured tasks), cognitive (understanding) and situative.

Beetham (2005) x4: Associative, cognitive constructivist, social constructivist, situative.

See x4 Learning Theories Mind Map

Edudemic (2013) x 4 behaviourist, cognitive, constructive and connectivism

Traditional Learning Theories

http://edudemic.com/2012/12/a-simple-guide-to-4-complex-learning-theories/

Etienne Wenger (2007 in Knud Illeris) x9: organizational, neurophysiological, behaviourist, cognitive, activity theories, communities of practice, social learning, socialisational, constructivist.

Community of Practice and Community of Interests

‘Practitioners and overwhelmed by the plethora of choices and may lack the necessary skills to make informed choices about how to use these theories’. (Conole and Oliver 20xx)

Behaviourism A perspective on learning (Skinner, 1950) reinforce/diminish. Stimulus/response. Aristotle. Hume. Pavlov. Ebbinghaus.
Cognitivism Kant, Gagne, Rumlehart & Newman.
Activity Theory Builds on the work of Vygotsky (1986). Learning as a social activity. All human action is mediated through using tools. In the context of a community. Knotworking. Runaway object. Useful for analysing why problems have occurred – discordance. See Greenhow and Belbas for RQs.
Constructivism Engestrom, Soctrates, Brown, Bruner, Illich,
Connectivism Bush, Wells, Berners-Lee.
Humanism Leonard (500 Theories)

Learning Theories from Wenger and others applied to OLDS MOOC

Organizational, Neurophsiological, Behaviourist, Cogntive, Resistence to or defence learning, activity theory, communities of practice, accommodation learning, social learning, transformative learning, socializational, constructivist.

Conole x6 pairings diagram

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

Formulate clear questions.

Amplification (Cole and Griffin) Amplifying as an increase in output – give a hunter a gun and they kill more prey. Give someone a computer and they write and calculate more. ‘Technology is best understood not as a static influence on literacy practice, but as a dynamic contributor to it’.

Learning and teaching: Behaviourism x3, cognitive theories x10 (including constructivism), humanisitc approaches, and others.

RQ

Quality not quantity

How these depend on the theoretical approach.

Strengths and Limitations

S – Situation, interactions, mechanisms can be more or less collaborative (Dillenbourg, 1999:9). Knowledge always undergoes construction and transformation in use. Learning is an integral aspect of activity. (Conole and Oliver, 2005). Communication is learning.
W – Across cultures, not just US and West. Caricatures/simplistic. Not a neat narrative.
O – Donations, Funding, Book promotion (MIT). The learner as a unique person.
T – Funding

REFERENCE

Conole (2007)

Conole, G; and Oliver, M. (eds) (20xx) Contemporary Perspective in E-learning Research. Themes, methods and impact on practice.

Crook, C and Dymott, R (20xx) ICT and the literacy practices of student writing. a

Edudemic. Traditional Learning Theories. (Accessed 19th April 2013)

http://edudemic.com/2012/12/a-simple-guide-to-4-complex-learning-theories/

Greenhow, C and Belbas, B (20xx:374)

Unscrambling the presumptions of research in e-learning educational practice

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).

Reference

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

Teenagers doing physics with the intervention of a computer to prompt discussion: a paper reviewed

In the abstract we are told that ‘Although ICT resources are commonly expected to produce uniform benefits’ Tolmie (2001) Are they? And that, ‘they are necessarily employed within pre-existing contexts of educational and social activity’. Tolmie (2001)

When and where could a context NOT be pre-existing?? Something is, or is not. Context is an absolute.

Rather, what is that specific context. Otherwise this is tautology. It is like saying that electricity pylons go into an existing landscape. Isn’t this stating the obvious so that a gullible audience nod in agreement?

Tolmie (2001) talks of ‘unexpectedly diverse effects’. Unexpectedly or diverse? Surely not both.

Is this not something of an exaggeration? And in any case, such diverse responses should be either expected, or not presumed either way to be likely or unlikely to happen. It is very dangerous to pre-empt findings.

I visualise the introduction of new technology such as this as drops of ink in a pool of water in a stream  – it has to compete with the mix that is already there, as well as its natural flow and other behaviours – leaking away into the land and evaporation for a start.

My conclusion based on reading the abstract is to: Think people above all else. Internal and external contexts are fluid and based on responses too and feelings.

It is all complex, and more to do with the brains of the individuals than simply their context . Everything can and should be measured in some way, from an agreed benchmark, to monitor, track then analyse. It is far more complex.

Take any class, habituated by the classroom, the people around us and the pattern and behaviour of the teacher … especially on a warm Friday afternoon, no wonder the mind wanders. Just because a person is physically in a classroom, even participating in a task, does not mean that much is going in if they are dreaming of the weekend or Fiona Henderson from the girl’s school down the road …

The expression ‘oversimplified’ used by Tolmie (2001)  is a) hyperbole b) a value judgment.

Better ‘simplified’, preferably qualification of the term – simplified as in ‘clipped or contained’ that parameters are created because of the remit of the funding process. You are not able to ‘look outside the box’ as only that which takes place in the box is funded. There needs to be some of one and some of the other – research based on ‘tackling circumscribed needs’ while at the same time research that has an open brief and is open ended – that stands back to see the wood for the trees, rather than, to continue the metaphor, to examine only one kind of tree in the woods in order to avert the ‘mentality of one-stop resources’ mentioned by Oliver & Conole (1998)

How else do you address improving a situation other than by identifying the problems?

Anything else is misguided (literally), or indulgent. Far worse, in the NHS, and Post Office and Banking System have been wholesale computing systems that really were alien and universal.

Change management. Everyone has a point. Time to listen and involves matters most. The psychology of innovation. Resistance is despised. (Robinson et al., 1998)

Making the wrong assumptions that blame the teachers rather than the technology – which is a catalyst for complexity, rather than a tool for conformity.

Evaluation work also rarely does more than examine the explicitly intended effects of ICT, and so fails to identify unintended or serendipitous repercussions that may actually be a critical aspect of its impact (Jones, 1998).

But the entire point and context of an exam is to remove such context in the surroundings by placing the student in ‘exam conditions’ in a neutral space, where parameters of time and context are controlled and aim to be common to other students and impartial.

Surroundings mean different things to different people. It is naive and deterministic to think that people are so easily governed by their context. The individual over the surroundings. Unless we think students are like a uniform tribal grouping.

I’m through the reading and taking it further – reading the original paper to see if my concerns and amusement are justified.

I find the gender difference uninsightful and unhelpful – we know this anyway. Men and woman are different physiologically – which includes the brain where there are various documented differences especially between the differing amount of grey and white matter and the concentration of neurones and close connections in women compared to men. But the differences between men and women are not black and white (and their are not racial differences whatsoever) … within these differences there is considerable variety.

Now add each person’s context – which for me starts a few months after conception and every possible influence since – the same chaos theory that says that when a butterfly beats its wings in the Brazilian Jungle there is a typhoon in Malaysia will suggest that that marshmallow your grandmother gave you on Christmas day when you were six while watching Jimmy Saville introduce the Chart Show will influence how you respond to the 14 year old boy you have been paired up with in a physics class who offers you a handful of mini-marshmallows by way of ‘making friends’ who in turn is nervous about this strange but beautiful creature who he hasn’t noticed all year but rather fancies even though his older brother has his eye on her – what was that the teacher said checking the trajectory of your balls on the computer ?????

The wrong approach was taken, though the theory throws up some interesting questions

I will change my opinion as I go through my notes but my current stance is that a quantitative before and after study requires many hundreds of participants in a randomised controlled trial and the gender differences are a distraction – far better to have administered questionnaires before and after and drawn upon each students SATS results or some such to get some sense of where they were coming from in relation to physics.

More interesting pairings would be like-minds and enemies – really. A couple of buddies having a laugh might learn less than a pair who can’t stand each other, or another pair who are rivals.

Have I been watching too many teen movies? Probably.

Already I have a script in my head based on Tolmie in which far from being the less talkative, the FM pairs are chatting away to themselves (in their heads, written and delivered as stream of consciousness voice over), communicating in subtle ways through body language and as a result actually communicating more, not less than the ones who won’t shut up – and who may be playing up to the research conditions.

This is the other fundamental humdinger of a problem – these students are being tested under ‘lab conditions’.

My memories of teenager physics classes are more akin to St.Trinian’s with boys. I even have a diary to call upon which I may look at just to get me into the role. I have a household of teenagers and another five nephews and nieces in this age bracket if I need to be reminded of what it is (and was) like.

Oddly enough, work is often the last thing on their minds. Which is why homework is so important – fewer potential distractions.

This will be less than hearsay in due course – I am also refreshing what it was and is like to be a teenager through some additional reading. Problem is my daughter senses that I am observing her from time to time.

I’m just asking myself the same question I asked when she was born, ‘what is going on in there?’ – but in a quasi-academic rather than father-daughter way.

Researchers make the mistake of believing that their intervention – in this case using a computer to support a physics class by trying to prompt discussion – is going to make some measurable difference.

Can they not see the bigger picture, and how vast it is?

If each human brain has as many neurons in it as the visible galaxy – 98 billion, and each brain though similar, is connected in different ways, by gender but essentially by genetics, with every remembered moment of waking and sleeping life in between. This is why, to have something measurable, researchers taken to the lab and until recently would have stuck with sea-snails, rats and in the past cats and primates … while gradually observation and measurement of electro-chemical activity in the human brain has become possible.

When it comes to exams surely examiners know that the response to a unique set of questions in an exam, certainly at undergraduate level, if not at post compulsory level, will test the student’s ability to construct a response both from what they know, and what they have to surmise.

REFERENCE

Jones, C. 1998 Evaluating a collaborative online learning environment Active Learning

Oliver, M. & Conole, G. (1998) Evaluating communication and information technologies: a toolkit for practitioners. Active Learning, 8,3–8.

Robinson, H., Smith, M., Galpin, F., Birchall, D., Turner, I. (1998) As good as IT gets: have we reached the limits of what technology can do for us? Active Learning, 9, 50–53.

Tolmie, A. (2001), Examining learning in relation to the contexts of use of ICT. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17: 235–241. doi: 10.1046/j.0266-4909.2001.00178.

Mapping Pedagogy and Tools for Effective Learning Design

This is an activity in week 7 of Open University postgraduate module H809: Practice-bases research in e-learning which forms part of the Masters in Open & Distance Education. Shared here, as in my student blog, in order to invoke discussion. I’ve successfully completed the MAODE so this is something of a ‘bonus track’ (I graduate in April then look onwards). The activity is drawn from the Conole et al paper referenced below. Theories are catergorised and a model produced to help define the learning theories that can be identified.

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KEY

Green = Activated

Amber = Engaged

Red = Blocked

What concerns me is the belief that theories of learning, which academics have identified in education in the last 90 years, are either key drivers or influencers in the design of learning.

Surely these are all observations after the event.

Like trying to analyse a stand-up comedy routine using a set of plans and parameters – ‘Good Morning, Vietnam‘ comes to mind. As, I suppose would ‘Dead Poets Society‘ to bring in Robin Williams again. Was the Khan Academy a product of such analysis? No? An investment banker wanted to help his nephews out with their Math so he recorded some videos. Actually, I just realised my wife is doing this for a friend’s daughter who is learning French – creating bespoke French language pieces for her to practice on. I can’t even think what either of them are – behaviourist or social-constructive and experiential. I’m afraid, given what the academic ‘gurus of e-learning’ keep coming up with they are probably the least intuitive or inventive because their hands and minds are tied by this kind of thing.

Just my forming and fluid opinion.

If I want to develop a platform or school that uses e-learning I’ll go find myself a ‘Robin Williams’ kind of educator – someone has a natural flair for it, who engender a following, who most importantly delivers extraordinary results.

Looking back at school I know that what motivated me was two fold – my own long term goal and the quality of an inspired and informed teacher who had tutoring, moderating and teaching in their blood.

There’s a reason why research and teaching don’t mix. I’ve asked some academics about this and they have told me that they haven’t gone into the commercial sector, nor do they teach … ‘because they hate people’.

Where in these theories is the person?

This relationship, the rapport that can form between tutor and student is what is lacking and it is why, in my opinion, the likes of the Oxbridge Tutorial, that one to one, or one to two or three hour long session once a week is far, far, far from dead.

Neuroscience is going to blow this allow out of the water.

Already the shift is very much in favour of genetics and the way our unique brains are formed as we develop as a foetus. It is nature, not nurture, so frankly, we can have anything thrown at us in terms of life experience and how we learn and how we respond will remain individual. This is the perspective of my father in law whose secondary education was the being in the Polish resistance during the Second World War, his first university a prisoner of war camp. He had England or the US as choices having decided not to return to Poland. And found himself learning English in Gateshead. The story continues … so what kind of learning was occurring in the POW camp?

He bartered lessons in German for lessons in English.

Social-situated in extremis.

Not that it can be injected into a class, and even less so in online learning, but ‘fear’ doesn’t half help turn a short term memory into one that will stick. Playing Devil’s Advocate, can ‘e-learning’ only ever be ‘cotton wool’ the safest, tamest learning you will ever receive? Try reading an essay out in a tutor group – there’s fear! Try getting up in a hall of 300 people to make your point in a debating chamber – terrifying.

An odd conclusion to reach at the end of this reflection on the exercise – but where is the ‘fear’?

And I mean the right kind of fear, not the threat of the cane or other such punishment, but the fear of letting you down, or your side down, or of humiliation … against the public reward if you get something right?

Pinned down in a collapsed cellar in Warsaw my father in law believed he would die. He was the only one alive. Everyone else had been flattened. By some chance he had been standing under a beam that had partially protected him. He made promises he’d keep if he lived. He was found. A smash to the head.

  • Does learning have more impact when there is something at stake?
  • Try introducing this element into an e-learning module.
  • The impossible hypothesis – people learn better and make decisions with firmer convictions, where their life is at stake?

Then again we turn to neuroscience and will conclude that some will, some won’t, that the response of the individual to a shared experience means that you get as many different outcomes as there are people.

Institutions think that grades divide students – that’s only the tiniest fraction of what makes each person in that class different. If the student isn’t suitably self aware to know how to play to their strengths and managed their weaknesses then the observant tutor and others who are part of the institution should be doing this on their behalf – as parents, friends and siblings might do.

Even with medical intervention.

The ‘Flipped classroom‘ for me is finding ways to work with the individual who happens to be in a class that is probably already sorted by age and culture, if not also social class and gender.

And therefore already inappropriate.

Maybe the classroom has had its time. A short-lived interlude in human development over the last 70,000 years.

REFERENCE

Conole, G, Dyke, M, Oliver, M, & Seale, J (2004), ‘Mapping Pedagogy and Tools for Effective Learning Design’, Computers And Education, 43, 1-2, pp. 17-33, ERIC, EBSCOhost, viewed 25 March 2013.

 

Someone who correctly sensed what was coming in 2004 might be a person to ask what is due in 2013/1014

In this paper from Grainne Conole she says (writing in 2003, published 2004) that wireless, smart and wifi will have a huge impact … prescient. Can you remember how little of what we now take for granted was around in 2004? I was probably using a Psion and a bog-standard phone. 

‘Technologies do have great potential to offer education, however this is a complex multifaceted area; we need rigorous research if we are going to unpick the hype and gain a genuine understanding of how technologies can be used effectively’. (Conole. p.2 2004)

  • Pedagogical
  • Technical
  • Organisational

‘Academics working in this area need to demonstrate that the research is methodologically rigorous, building appropriately on existing knowledge and theories from feeder disciplines and feeding into policy and practice’. (Conole, 2004)

  • effective models for implementation
  • mechanism for embedding the understanding gained from learning theory into design
  • guidelines and good practice
  • literacy needs of tutors and students
  • the nature and development of online communities
  • different forms of communications and collaboration
  • the impact of gaming
  • cultural differences in the use of online courses

‘much of the current research is criticised for being too anecdotal, lacking theoretical underpinning’ (Mitchell, 2000)

This is what you find in the press, newspapers and magazine always go for the anecdotal and sensationalist view of what technology may do. Has technology yet brought the world to an end? I guess the atomic bomb has always, legitimately, been more scary than other technologies although I dare so there are those who say Google will bring about the end of the world.

‘A more detailed critique of the methodological issues of e-learning research and its epistemological underpinnings are discussed elsewhere’. (Olive and Conle, 2004)

  • A better understanding of the benefits and limitations of different methods.
  • More triangulation of results.

What people are looking for:

  • potential efficiency gains and cost effectiveness
  • evidence-based practice with comparison of the benefits of new technologies over existing teaching and learning methods
  • How technologies can be used to improve the student learning experience.

No surprises that in business use of e-learning is benchmarked with cost and outcomes closely followed – are we improving and saving at the same time? Typically travel and accommodation costs are saved where people don’t have to be away from work and learning times can be cut without loss of information retention on the compliance like stuff – health and safety, data protection, equity in the workplace and basic induction (or as American companies call it ‘on boarding’ which sounds to me like something you do with guests on a cruise liner – or is them embarking)

How do we capture experience in a way that we build it back into design and implementation. (Point 8 of 12 p.8 Conole 2004)

What are the inherent affordances of different technologies? (Conole. p. 8 2004)

‘Only time will tell’. (Conole. p. 17, 2004)

Or as I would say, ‘on verra’.

I am doing the classic ‘expand and contract’ of problem solving – the problem is finding an area of research I can believe in and sustain for four years. Though for H809 all I need is a title of a research paper. I still would prefer to be narrowing down the areas that interest me:

  • memory
  • virtual worlds
  • blogging
  • spaced education (see memory)
  • lifelogging / sensecam (see memory)
  • Artificial Intelligence (learning companion … see memory?)

Whilst the research question ought to come first, I hope that Activity Theory will have a role to play too.

REFERENCE

Conole, G (2004) E-learning the hype and the reality

Oliver, M. and Conole, G. (2004) Methodology and e-learning. ELRC research paper. No. 4

 

 

Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education

Fig.1. Why Blog?

If anything has been written on blogging I want to read it. On 27th September 1999 I posted to my first blog – it was on blogging and new media. We’re now in the phase of transition that took the printed book after the Gutenberg Press some 400 years. The clunky blog of 1999 barely compares the variety and scope of what we still call a blog today.

This rightly questions when and where blogging should be an endeavour to use with students. 

Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education (2007) Kerawalla, Minocha, Conole, Kirkup, Schencks and Sclater.

Based on this research blogging is very clearly NOT of interest to the majority of students, NOR is it likely to be of value to them for collaborative learning. There may be value in blogging for your own sake – aggregating content in one place.

(Research on using blogging with students of Public Relations gives a far more favourable response … I would suspect that this would apply to courses on journalism and creative writing i.e. use the medium that is appropriate for those on specific courses).

This is a study of OU students.

A more promising, and appropriate study I am looking at concerns PR students who a) need to develop their writing skills b) need to understand what blogging is all about.

The greatest value I have got from this self-inflicted exercise is to deconstruct the research that was undertaken should I wish to undertake research of this ilk myself. Can I fault the research?

What do you think?

Problem Does blogging support student in their learning or not?
Are educators perceptions of the positive uses of blogging for learning borne out by the perceptions of and uses of blogging by students?
Questions QQ Designed to ascertain their level of experience of blogs and to gather their opinions about how blogs (and other tools) could support their learning.

The research questions we sought to answer were as follows:

1) What degree of blogging experience do students have?
2) Do students want to have blogging as part of their course?
3) In what ways do students think blogging is (not) a useful learning tool?
4) Is there a disparity between what course designers think blogging is useful for, or would like blogging to be used for, and students’ opinions of usefulness?

Setting Online students at the OU
Survey of 795 student and course designers
Authors ‘Enthusiastic’ OU IETT Academics
Previous research O’Reilly 2005, Sade 2007, Weller 2007 – literature search, previous research …
Concepts/theories
Methods Qualitative – explorative/iterative rather than set

All questions required students to select their response by clicking on a radio button, (e.g. ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or Likert scales such as ‘not at all’, ‘slightly’, ‘in-between/no opinion’, fairly’, or ‘very much’). (Kerawalla et al. p. 6. 2007) + an open question for expanded thoughts.

Interviews with course designers – Interview questions were designed to address the following areas: the rationale for introducing blogs, whether blog content would be assessed, whether blogging was compulsory, uptake levels and whether there were any plans to evaluate the success of blogging activities.

– extract, collate and compare.

Quantitative

Analysis – The survey generated both quantitative and qualitative data.

SPSS Analysis
Manual coding of responses
Coding of responses

Findings
  • Affordances of blogs not taken up, support meaning making, (Fiedler, 2003)
  • reduce sense of isolation (Dickey 2004).
  • knowledge communities (eg Oravec 2003).

i.e. Not everything they’re cracked up to be.

Krause (2004) reports haphazard contributions to blogs by his students, minimal communication between them, and found that posts demonstrated poor quality reflection upon the course materials.

Williams and Jacobs (2004) introduced blogs to MBA students and although he reports overall success, he encountered problems with poor compliance as, for example 33% of the students thought they had nothing valuable to say in their blog.

Homik and Melis (2006) report only minimal compliance to meet assessment requirements and that students stopped blogging at the end of their course. Other issues include:

  • students plagiarizing from each others’ blogs
  • the need for students to have developed skills in choosing which hyperlinks to include in their blog (e.g. Oravec, 2003)
  • an ability to manage the tension between publishing private thoughts in a public space (Mortensen and Walker, 2002).

It appears that the ideals of educators can be difficult to implement in practice. (Kerawalla et al. p. 5. 2007)

Paradigms A cultural psychological approach to our research that proposes that learning is a social activity that is situated and mediated by tools that fundamentally shape the nature of that activity (e.g. Cole, 1996, Wertsch, 1991 and Vygotsky, 1979).
Limitations Expectations about sharing, enthusiasm for the genre …definition of blog (see e-portfolio and wiki), journalism …. hard to define (Boyd, 2006).

They mean different things to different people. Uses to collate resources (portfolio) (Huann, John and Yuen, 2005) , share materials and opinions .. (Williams and Jacobs, 2004).

Implications Guidelines, informs design
  • 53.3% of students had read a blog
  • only 8% of students had their own blog
  • 17.3% had commented on other people’s blogs
  • 23% of students thought that the commenting feature on blogs is ‘slightly’ or ‘not at all’ useful,
  • 42% had ‘no opinion’
  • 35% thought that commenting is ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ useful.
  • only 18% said that they thought blogs would be ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ useful.
  • of those who blog only 205 of these thought blogs would be ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ useful.

Students were asked ‘how much would you like to use a blog provided by the OU as part of your studies?’

35%  ‘not at all’
13% said ‘slightly’
34% had ‘no opinion’,
12% said ‘fairly’
6% responded ‘very much’

Students were asked ‘how much would you like to use a blog provided by the OU for personal use?’.

52.6% said ‘not at all’
8.7% said ‘slightly’
28.3% had ‘no opinion’
8% said ‘fairly’
2.7% responded ‘very much’.

Chi-square analyses

Examination of the observed and expected frequencies for this data suggests that in both cases, there is a relationship between not seeing a role for blogs and not wanting greater use of conferencing.
Supporting findings that when given a choice between classroom based learning or e-learning those who have a choice are equally satisfied by what they get.

All of the positive responses refer to the students’ own (potential) study blog. (Kerawalla et al. p. 7 2007) Others use their blog as a repository. Few saw the benefits of linking or using a blog to for reflection and developing ideas.

Responses to the question ‘would you like a blog provided by the OU to support your studies?’ reveal that there is a profound lack of enthusiasm (from 82% of the sample) for blogging as part of courses.

Later this year, we plan to explore PhD blogs. This variety and combination of methods will enable us to gather different perspectives and to triangulate our findings. (Kerawalla et al. p. 7 2007)

REFERENCE

Cole, M. (1996) Cultural Psychology. Camb. Mass: The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press.

Kerawalla, Lucinda; Minocha, Shailey; Conole, Grainne; Kirkup, Gill; Schencks, Mat and Sclater, Niall (2007). Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education. In: ALT-C 2007: Beyond Control: Association of Learning Technologies Conference, 4-6 September 2007, Nottingham, UK.

Vygotsky, (1979) Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. M. Cole M, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner and E. Souberman (eds and trans). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wertsch, J (1991) A sociocultural approach to socially shared cognition. In L.Resnick, J. Levine and S. Teasley (eds), Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition, Washington: American Psychological Association.

Digital Scholarships Considered: How New Technologies Could Transform Academic Work.

From, Pearce, Weller, Scanlon, Kinsley

Boyer’s dimensions of scholarship:

Discovery – research The creations of new knowledge in a specific area or discipline. Breakthroughs and innovations. Research Excellence Framework (REF)
Integration – synthesis Creating knowledge across disciplines. Wider context Research Excellence Framework (REF)
Application -practice Use in the wider world based on the scholar’s disciplinary knowledge and background (Pearce et al )
Teaching
Where the biggest impact of digital technologies and open approaches.

(Boyer, 1990, p. xi)

The internet lies at the core of an advanced scholarly information infrastructure to facilitate distributed, data and information-intensive collaborative research. (Borgman, 2007, xvii)

There have been extravagant claims about transformational potential of computers for almost as long as there have been computers. Pearce et al (2006). (CF. Shields, 1995)

Openness and transparency are significant drivers of change in education.

Getting the word out:

  • Journals
  • Conferences
  • Monographs

Problems with journals:

  • long lag times
  • increasing subscription costs
  • resentment by the volunteers
  • limitations of paper publishing replicated in digital formats (word limits, dynamic content, links)

Digital scholarship is more than just using information and communications technologies to research, teach and collaborate, but it is embracing the open values, ideology and potential of technologies born of peer-to-peer networking and wiki ways of working in order to benefit both the academy and society. Pearce et al (2006)

REFERENCE

Borgman, C.L. (2007) Scholarship in the digital age: Information, infrastructure, and the Internet. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Boyer, E.L. (1990) Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton. N.J. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Conole, G. (2004). E-learning: the hype and the reality. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 12

Pearce,N., Weller,M.,  Scanlon,E., and Kinsley,s (2006) Digital Scholarships Considered: How New Technologies Could Transform Academic Work. In Education. Issue 16 (1)

Shields, M.A. (ed) (1995) Work and Technology in Higher Education: The social construction of academic computing.

Siemens, G. (2009). Open isn’t so open anymore. Connectivism. Retrieved from http://www.connectivism.ca/?p=198

 

Blogging breached the guidelines a bunch of us followed in 2002 – now anything comes and goes on e-folded origami paper we call a blog

Fig. 1 Blogging brings like minds together – through their fingertips

I did a search in my own blog knowing that somewhere I cited an academic who described blogging as ‘whatever you can do on electronic paper’.

Chatting about this at dinner my 14 year old son trumped my conversation with his mother as I tried to define a blog and what can go into one with one word ‘anything’.

For me there has been a slow shift from text (the weblog-cum-dairy journal thingey), to adding pictures (which have become photo / image galleries, photostreams of Flickr and concept boards of Pinterest), to adding video … to adding ‘anything’ – apps, interactivity, grabs, mashups, music …

My starting place is here.

This ‘eportofolio, writers journal, aggregating, dumping ground, place for reflection and course work’.

You see, is it a blog at all? This platform, I’m glad, has its design roots in a Bulletin board.

The limitations of our OU Student Blog platform works in its favour.

I can only put in two search terms. In Google I might write a sentence and get a million links, in my wordpress blog it might offer have the contents.

Less is more.

Here I search ‘blog paper’ and get 112 posts that contain both words.

I’ll spin through these an add a unique tag. My starting place.

But to study blogging would be like researching the flotsam and jetsam that floats across our oceans – after a tsunami.

RESEARCH

Starting with a book published in 2006 ‘Use of Blogs’ I want to read a paper ‘Bloggers vs. Journalists’ published in 2005. A search finds richer, more up to date content. Do I even bother with this first paper? (ironic that we even call them papers).

I can’t read everything so how do I select?

  • Toggle through the abstract, check out the authors, see where else such and such a paper has been cited.
  • Prioritize.
  • Use RefWorks rather than my habit to date of downloading papers that MIGHT be of interest.

Whilst storage space is so inexpensive it is virtually free there is no need to clutter my hard drive, Dropbox or Google Docs space.

Which makes me think of one of my other favourite metaphors – kicking autumn leaves into the breeze. That or drowning in info overload, or as the Robert de Nero character in Brazil, Archibald ‘Harry’ Tuttle, who vanishes in a pile of discarded paper … my mind wanders. We do. It does.

I stumble in the OU Library as I find I am offered everything under the sun. I am used to being offered academic papers only. So far all I’m getting are scanned images of articles in newspapers on blogging. All feels very inside out.

Where’s the ‘turn off the printed stuff’ button?

I fear that just as I have never desired to be a journalist, preferring the free form of your own diary, letters, and of course blogging and forums online, I will struggle to write within the parameters of an academic paper. I’m managing assignment here, so I guess I’m learning to split the two. A useful lesson to have learnt.

Serendipity

Is this a research methodology?

I am looking at a book on blogging, ‘Use of Blogs’ (Bruns & Jacobs, 2006). I have it open on p.31 Notes (i.e. references) for the chapter Journalists and News Bloggers.

As I pick through these articles, papers and reviews written between 2002 and 2005 I find several of the authors, a decade on, are big names in the Journalism/Blogger debate. It’s as if I am looking at a tray of seedlings.

It strikes me as easier to start in 2006 with 27 starting points when the field of debate was narrow, rather than coming in from 2013 and finding myself parachuting into a mature Amazonian jungle of mixed up printed and digital, journalism and blog content.

Courtesy of the OU Library and RefWorks I have nailed this article after a decade of searching:

Druckerman, P (1999) Ellen Levy Has Got The Write Project For the Internet Age — It’s a Year of Scribbling Down Almost Everything; Ah, Yes, It Was a Raisin Bagel, New York, N.Y., United States, New York, N.Y.

Reading this around 23rd /24th September 1999 prompted me to start blogging

Then I’d been reading blogs for a few months but had a mental block with uploading HTML files and then along came the first ‘ready made’ DIY blogging platforms.

The last 12 years makes amusing reading – particularly the battle between journalists and bloggers. And who has won? Is there a difference anymore? Journalists blog and bloggers are journalists and entire newspapers are more blog-like from The Huffington Post to the FT … which within three years will close all its print operations.

To be used in learning and to be a genre to study blogging needs to be part of formative assessment

A blog therefore becomes ‘an active demonstration of learning’ with cumulative feedback. I’ve only received ONE Tutor comment in my OU blog and that was to say why was I blogging and not getting on with my TMA. This person had their head so stuffed inside primary school education of the 1960s it made me feel like tossing my cap in the air.

Why MAODE students blog (Kerawella et al, 2009) depends on their perceptions of, and for:

  1. an audience
  2. community
  3. the utility of and need for comments
  4. presentational style of the blog content
  5. overarching factors related to the technological context
  6. the pedagogical context of the course

Cited x30

REFERENCES

‘Bloggers vs. journalist: The next 100 year War?’ 2011, Public Relations Tactics, 18, 4, p. 17, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 18 February 2013.

Bruns, A. Jacobs, J. (2006) Use of Blogs.

Kerawalla, L, Minocha, S, Kirkup, G, & Conole, G (2009) ‘An empirically grounded framework to guide blogging in higher education’, Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 25, 1, pp. 31-42, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 18 February 2013.

Rosen, J. (2007) ‘Web Users Open the Gates’, Washington Post, The, n.d., UK & Ireland Reference Centre, EBSCOhost, viewed 18 February 2013.

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.

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