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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.

We forget, it’s only natural – what can we do about it?

Fig.1. The Forgetting Curve. Ebbinghaus (1885)

‘The psychological conclusion demands a distribution of repetitions such that some of them should be produced at a later time, separated from the first repetition by a pause’. (Vygotsky, 1926)

More recently, in the last ten years in fact, Dr B Price Kerfoot of Harvard Medical School (2006) created a platform called SpacedEd (now Qstream) that uses multichoice questions, typically and most successfully with first year medical students, where sets of questions are randomised then sent out as text or email to tackle, I suppose, what Ebbinghaus (1885) identified with his ‘Forgetting Curve’. An evidence based paper on the effectiveness of ‘spaced learning’ showed how there was better retention three months, six months and a year down the line.

REFERENCE

Ebbinghaus, H (1885) Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology.

Kerfoot, B, P (2006) SPACED EDUCATION. Interactive Spaced-Education to Teach the Physical Examination: A randomized Controlled Trial.

Vygotsky, L (1926) Educational Psychology

FURTHER LINKS

Formative Tests Aid Retention

The Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE).

Fig. 1. The Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE).

Expressed as a Wordle. A personal collection of key influencers based on those tagged in this blog. Includes my own reading and indulgences.

On Friday, at midday, My OU student blog reached a significant milestone.

I’ve been at it for 33 months. I’ve blogged the best part of FIVE modules now – most of which required or invited some use of the blog platform (or another). I required little encouragement – I used to keep a diary and have found since 1999 that in their digital form they are an extraordinarily versatile way to gather, consider, share and develop ideas.

The investment in time, on average, an hour a day in addition to – though sometimes instead of coursework over 1000+ days.

(This excludes 8 months I spent on the Masters in Open and Distance Learning in 2001)

To mark this event, and as I need to go through this online diary, this e-journal, this ‘web-log’ (as they were also once momentarily called) ahead of some exciting meetings coming up next week I thought a simple task might be to click through the tags to identify who have been the key influencers in my reading and thinking over the last two and a half years.

Fig.2. Another way of looking at it.

Beetham, Conole and Weller are key MAODE authors from the Open University. John Seely Brown is a vital undercurrent, Engestrom one of several enthusiasms like Vygostky. While Gagne, second hand hardback, needs to be on your desk for frequent reference.

What I thought would take an hour has taken nearly 40 hours.

Clicking on a tag opens a corner of my head, the notes take me back to that day, that week, that assignment or task. It also takes me back to the discussions, resources and papers. And when I find an error the proof-reader in me has to fix. Aptly, as we approach November 5th, and living in Lewes where there are marches and fireworks from late October for a couple of weeks peaking of course all evening on the 5th, my head feels as if someone has accidentally set light to a box of assorted fireworks.

Just as well. Meetings these days are like a viva voce with eager ears and probing questions – they want the content of my mind and whatever else I bring to the subject after thirty years in corporate training and communications.

Fig. 3. Wordle allows you to say how many words you want to include in the mix.

To create weight I had to repeat the names I consider most important twice, three or four times in the list. I also removed first names as Wordle would have scattered these into the mix independently like peppercorns in a pan of vegetable stock.

The Task

    • List all authors who have been part of my learning and thinking over the last couple of years.
  • Include authors that my antennae have picked up that are relevant to my interest in learning, design, the moving image and the english language.
  • Visualise this and draw some conclusions

Fig.4. This even makes three of the key protagonists look like an advertising agency Gagne, Beetham and Conole.

The Outcome

I can never finish. Take this morning. I stumble upon my notes on three case studies on the use of e-portfolios from H807 which I covered from February 2010-September 2010. To begin with I feel compelled to correct the referencing in order to understand the value, pertinence and good manners (let alone the legal duty) to cite things correctly. (Even though this post was locked – a ‘private’ dump of grabs and my thoughts).

Then I add an image or two.

These days I feel a post requires a visual experssion of its contents to open and benefits from whatever other diagrams, charts or images you can conjure from your mind or a Google Search – ‘the word’ + images creative commons – is how I play it.

Fig. 5. From David Oglivy’s book ‘Ogilvy on advertising‘ – a simple suggestion – a striking image, a pertinent headline and always caption the picture. Then write your body copy.

A background in advertising has something to do with this and the influence of David Ogilvy.

I spend over two hours on the first of three case studies in just one single post. At the time I rubbished e-portfolios. The notes and references are there. Tapped back in I can now make something of it. A second time round the terms, the ideas – even some of the authors are familiar. It makes for an easier and relevant read. What is more, it is current and pertinent. A blog can be a portfolio – indeed this is what I’d recommend.

From time to time I will have to emerge from this tramp through the jungle of my MAODE mind.

Not least to work, to sleep, to cook and play.

Fig. 6. In a word

USEFUL LINKS

Wordle

Date duration calculator

REFERENCE

Gagne, R.N. (1965) Conditions of Learning Holt, Rinehart and Winston

‘Expansive learning is based on Vygotsky, though three times removed; it implies that we learn within activity pockets as individuals and groups. The interplay between these groups are the consequential objects of learning that in turn transmogrify in the presence of other objects. Solving problems, dealing with contradictions, may come about as these learning systems slide or shift’. Engeström (2001)

I’ve taken this, from Engestrom and considered this as the interplay between SIX people (or groups) – or a mix of the two. Six people who are bringing to the discussion their different backgrounds and ideas in order to address a topic. At arm’s length, the objects, the ideas, views or knowledge that they have begins to take on an identity of its own.

‘Expansive learning is based on Vygotsky, though three times removed; it implies that we learn within activity pockets as individuals and groups. The interplay between these groups are the consequential objects of learning that in turn transmogrify in the presence of other objects. Solving problems, dealing with contradictions, may come about as these learning systems slide or shift’.

Amyone care to comment?

This is my take on a topic that has taken me through the briar-bush and out the other side. Has the struggle been worth it. The challenge I feel I face when reading papers such is this is how to make the subject matter comprehensible to the non-academic, I challenge I throw down to every academic: it is possible to make yourselves understood by the majority, rather than a minority.

REFERENCE

Engeström (2001) article, Expansive learning at work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualisation

Learn – Repeat – Learn

 

Fig. 1. Spaced education randomised trial. Kerfoot (2008)

‘The psychological conclusion demands a distribution of repetitions such that some of them should be produced at a later time, separated from the first repetition by a pause’. (Vygotsky, 1926:Location 2686)

So wrote the educational psychologist Lev Vygostsky over 80 years ago. Putting this into practice using email (and now Smart Phone apps and eventually Facebook), the team at Spaced-Ed have created a learning system that works.

SPACED EDUCATION – DR B PRICE KERFOOT

Interactive Spaced-Education to Teach the Physical Examination: A randomized Controlled Trial

BACKGROUND/PROBLEM

Several studies have documented that physical examination knowledge and skills are limited among medical trainees.

OBJECTIVES:

The objective of the study is to investigate the efficacy and acceptability of a novel online educational methodology termed ‘interactive spaced education’ (ISE) as a method to teach the physical examination.

DESIGN:

Randomized control trial.

PARTICIPANTS:

170 second year medical students.

MEASUREMENTS:

  • Spaced-education items (questions and explanations)
  • Validated by two experts
  • Piloted and 36 items selected for inclusion
  • 6 spaced-education e-mails each week for a 6 week cycle.
  • Students submitted answers to the questions online and received immediate feedback
  • An online end-of program survey was administered.

RESULTS: Successful 85% participants recommended the ISE programme for students the following year.

CONCLUSIONS: ISE can generate significant improvements in knowledge of the physical examination and is very well-accepted by students.

While many studies have documented the dearth of physical examination knowledge and skills among trainees, ISE has the potential to remediate these deficiencies across the spectrum of medical education’. (p977)

Why necessary?

Students do the training, but may still have poor recall a year later. Spacing works.

The spacing effect is the psychological finding that educational encounters that are spaced and repeated over time (spaced distribution) result in more efficient learning and improved learning retention, compared to massed distribution of the educational encounters (bolus education). (P973)

As Vygotsky expressed it 80 years previously:

‘It should also be emphasized that every person has his own customary rate of response, and that any change in this rate, either speeding it up or slowing it down, weakens the force of recall’. (Vygotsky, 1926:Location 2686)

And so here students can tailor the timing of questions they are fed – spacing them out or bunching them as they see fit and circumstances change. Go try it, there are courses you can do on topics that a far less demanding that second year physical examinations. Try world history in maps, for example, or getting the most out of your iPhone.

A distinct neurophysiologic basis for the spacing effect has been identified

‘Spaced education’ refers to online educational programs that are structured to take advantage of the pedagogical benefits of the ‘spacing effect’.

Interactive spaced-education (ISE) combines the pedagogical merits of both the ‘spacing effect’ and the ‘testing effect. (974)

Each spaced-education item consists of an evaluative component (a multiple choice question based on a clinical scenario) and an educational component (the answer and explanation)

Psychometric analysis of the questions was performed using the Integrity test analysis software (http://integrity.castlerockresearch.)

Based on item difficulty, point-biserial correlation, and Kuder–Richardson 20 score, 36 of the questions were selected for inclusion in the ISE program.

  • Students receive spaced-education e-mails at designated time intervals which contain a clinical scenario and question (evaluative component).
  • Upon clicking on a hyperlink in this e-mail, a web-page opens which displays pertinent images and allows the student to submit an answer to the question.
  • Upon downloading this answer to a central server, students are then immediately presented with a webpage displaying the correct answer to the question and an explanation of the curricular learning point (the educational component).
  • By having the provider submit a response before receiving the correct answer and an explanation, this process requires greater interactivity, which educational theory argues may improve learning outcomes.
  • The submitted answers of students were recorded using the MyCourses™ web-based education platform

The survey was constructed and administered online using the SurveyMonkey web-based platform.

Future developments and assimilation of spaced-education alongside traditional medial school teaching methods

For example, as ISE utilizes traditional web-pages for the submission of answers and for the presentation of learning points, it should be possible to use all of the functionalities of web-pages within the ISE program to meet the training needs of care providers. For example, physician trainees learning how to auscultate the heart can be presented with ISE items which contain an audio recording of an unknown heart sound, and then, trainees can be asked to identify the murmur.

LESSONS LEARNT

Micro-learning is favoured over more substantial time being given to this. I can imagine many applications.

This finding is in stark contrast to the strong resistance we encountered when conducting a recent trial of web-based teaching modules among 693 medical residents and students. In this trial focusing on systems based practice competency education, trainees were expected to spend 20 minutes per week over 9 weeks completing web-based teaching modules (interactive web-pages and online narrated slide presentations). (p977)

This high acceptability also likely reflects the ease of use of the spaced-education delivery system, the immediate relevance of the content, and the importance that students attribute to learning the physical examination. (p977)

Some items to cover if you are thinking of being a professional and thorough as the team at Harvard and Spaced-Ed:

  • · Conflict of Interest:
  • · Funding/Support:
  • · Financial Disclosures:
  • · Author Contributions:
  • · Conception and design:
  • · Acquisition of data:
  • · Analysis and interpretation of data:
  • · Drafting of the manuscript:
  • · Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content:
  • · Statistical analysis:
  • · Obtaining funding:
  • · Ethical Approval to Perform the Study:
  • · Corresponding Author:

And a finaly word from Lev Vygotsky.

‘Rhythm plays a decisive role in the learning process, unifying some of the material, conferring on it a sequential symmetry, and, finally, organizing the various elements into a unified whole’. (Vygotsky, 1926)

REFERENCE

Kerfoot . B. P (2006) SPACED EDUCATION. Interactive Spaced-Education to Teach the Physical Examination: A randomized Controlled Trial.

Kerfoot. B. P (2008) Interactive Spaced-Education to Teach the Physical Examination: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Armstrong,E.G., O’Sullivan,P.M., JOURNAL OF GENERAL INTERNAL MEDICINE Volume 23, Number 7 Harvard Medical International.

Vygotsky, L (1926) Educational Psychology

The creation of Kindle Knowledge

Unable to sleep I do this.

A mini-reflection on building a profile in Linked In.

Then get on with reflecting on my notes on Vygotsky (1997/1926).

The more I read, the greater my fascination. Vygotsky (translated in 1997 from the 1926 original in Russian) I find like H.G.Wells, also of the era, extraordinarily readable and current. A considerable amount of ‘Educational Psychology rings true.

There is then at the confluence of a thought regarding Vygotsky as uploaded this image above; I am only saved from tears by what I was reading about Educational Psychology – understanding does this to you.

This screen image on a Kindle reminds me of my late father, a conservationist, who would have been 80 last week.

The thought produced a physical response.

(James, 1929)

Have we all had an encounter with a thief? If the image of the birds has me thinking about my father (conservationist, ornothologist, rubbish dad … ) then the mention of the word ‘thief’ has me visualising a large screw-diver, the weapon of choice I picked up in the garage as someone tried to break in.

(By now we’re living in a studio flat on Hamilton Terrace, though chronologically we’ve slid back a few years).

The text from Vygotsky has a resonance, and as I keep reading, a convincing argument in relation to education.

Work with these kinds of responses of the individual = success

My concern in relation to e-learning is how easy it is to duplicate what is inappropriate for a class of 30, but the authors (and their sponsors) believe is appropriate for 10,000.

Which in turn brings me to the week 2 activity in H800 of the MAODE

Online through the participation and collaboration of others in your immediate circle, which includes your tutor group, module cohort, wide MAODE colleagues and like-minded OU friends identified here, can your learning experience be personalised.

Ergo, we have a duty to comment, and only through writing ourselves, might we enable (or expose) our selves to comment in turn.

It does strike me that there is a ‘layer’ to the OU blogs-cum-threads that is missing: the MAODE or ‘Education’ blog platform.

As I’ve commented some thousand entries back, writing here is perhaps like doodling on a scroll of toilet paper in a public convenience.

Not the image or sentiment I wanted to conjure up, but a scroll, with perforations top and bottom comes to mind. What you do with this script if you’ve even read it is for your mind to decide.

Kindle doesn’t give you a page number, presumable all e-Reader follow a similar convention. To cite do I give Location 1874?

Without knowing what I am doing or what it will achieve I search ‘James’ in the Kindle PC version, am about to click when a drop down offers me not a reference at the back of the ‘book’ but a link to Google or Wikipedia. I click Wikipedia and seamlessly, find myself here.

 

(Wikipedia, accessed 17 FEB 2011)

And as we’re talking about physical responses to things then this brought a shiver down my spine and matching the cliched ‘reflexive’ action my draw dropped.

I don’t know what planet I’m living on any more.

No wonder I can’t sleep, Kindle content isn’t a soporific book, rather it’s wired into your cerebellum where in an action not dissimilar to Ken Dodd’s tickling stick, your mind is suitably agitated.

Ken Dodd and his tickling stick 😦

(I saw him live as a 10 year old, insanity. About as funny as my Granny sitting on a bowl of peaches).

P.S. Whether for personal, OU or the wider world, this demonstrates a value of blogging … just start to write and let your mind unravel. And if you’ll only get quiet for 90 minutes in the dead of night, that’s what you’ll have to do.

REFERENCE

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

Williams, J (1929) Quoted in Educational Psychology, Vygotsky. Chapter 6.

 

Vygotsky on reflection as wool gathering

On Reflection

I can appreciate that a psychologist or therapist can guide someone through patterns of thinking and behaviour in order to resolve issues. However, reflection without guidance, without parameters, might simply re-enforce the underlying patterns of behaviour and thinking.

Does it help to dwell on the past?

Might it be no better than what Vygotsky calls ‘ideal wool gathering’? (1998:23)

Might it not be better to worry more about what you do next, your mood, behaviour and attitude in the future – this you can effect, the past you cannot. If reflection is used in any way as a form of assessment then it is inviting the student to expose themselves, to provide a biased insight into how they go about things.

If psychologists are to be understood, as well as the views of some very successful woman, whilst men will overplay their skills and abilities, women will underestimate them. If used as a tool to form a view of a student’s successful acquisition of subject knowledge will such reflection therefore tend to favour men over women?

Would we not achieve more if we treated this reflection as an audit, an objective statement of what took place in the past?

Then, instead of reflection we ‘project,’ we envisage, predict or plan, simple set-out what we’ll do next, do in the future? i.e. we put more thought, if not most of our energy, into thinking what we are going to do, rather than what we did.

I come to this conclusion after three decades of keeping a diary, often reflective.

Far from reassuring me about the value of reflection to change behaviour I detect patterns of behaviour that are so repetitive it becomes boring – too much navel gazing. Some successful people I know don’t give the past a moment’s thought, indeed, I do wonder if it is this that allows them to be successful. Instead of travelling with their head constantly turning to look back, their thoughts and actions are fixed firmly on the future.

Or is reflection of the moment? It is neither of the past or the future. Is it simply a mulling over of things? How prescribed can it be? Is it an objective or subjective exercise? Could someone else do it for you, or of you? Would the views of someone else not in fact be of greater value? Instead therefore of ‘looking at yourself in a mirror,’ you look into the eyes of someone else and ask them what they see.

Most importantly, by reflecting on the past, you plan your future actions, trying to build on experience and to avoid making the same mistakes.

REFERENCE

Vygotsky, L.S. (1998). Child psychology. The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky: Vol. 5. Problems of the theory and history of psychology. New York: Plenum.

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