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Activity Theory as a model of
analysis
(an introduction)
João Filipe Matos
Instituto de Educação, University of Lisboa
jfmatos@ie.ulisboa.pt
13th Joint European Summer School on Technology Enhanced Learning | 11 Sept 2017
University of Aveiro
window... a metaphor to keep in mind
window... a metaphor to keep in mind
Convento de Cristo (Tomar, Portugal)
window... a metaphor to keep in mind
Window of Convento de Cristo (Tomar,
Portugal)
summary
I. the role of theory in research
II. the researcher from a socio-
cultural point of view
III. basis of Activity Theory
IV. implications for research on TEL
I
the role of theory in
research?
there is nothing so
practical (and useful)
as a good theory…
theories and theories…
long range theories (e.g. Darwin)
medium range theories (e.g. Piaget)
substantive theories (e.g. your
thesis…)
and everyday theories
role of theories
descriptive [identifying key concepts or
variables and its relations; establishing clear
conceptual distinctions]
explanatory [revealing relations and processes]
predictive [making possible to preview in a
variety of potential contexts]
prescriptive [providing structuring rules]
generative [orientating discovery]
What do we need in research?
theory rich enough to capture
relevant aspects of the situation/
phenomenon/ problem
theory descriptive enough to
become useful in analysis
à the relevance of the conceptual
framework
theoretical framework
“A theoretical framework is a structure that
guides research by relying on a formal theory;
that is, the framework is constructed by using an
established, coherent explanation of certain
phenomena and relationships, e.g., Piaget’s
theory of conservation (...)” (Eisenhart, 1991, p.
205)
the nature of the framework: explanatory
structure
the role of the framework: data are
integrated in the logic of the theory (the
logic of the theory prevails)
Exº: studies on the development of the concept
of proportionality among children (based on
Piaget)
theoretical framework
practical framework
“a practical framework, then, guides research by
using ‘what works’ in the experience or exercise of
doing something by those directly involved in it
(...)” (Eisenhart, 1991, p. 207)
the nature of the framework: grounded in practices
the role of the framework: data are intertwined
with theory and are constituted in theory
Exº: study on proportionality in non schooled adults
using ethnomathematics (Ubiratan d’Ambrosio)
practical framework
conceptual framework
“A conceptual framework is an argument
including different points of view and
culminating in a series of reasons for
adopting some points – i.e., some ideas or
concepts – and not others. The adopted
ideas or concepts then serve as guides: to
collecting data in a particular study, and/or
to ways in which the data from a particular
study will be analyzed and explained”
(Eisenhart, 1991, p. 209)
the nature of the framework: structure of
justification
role of the framework: argumentative network of
concepts for analysis
Exº: study on the use of tablets as meditating artefacts
for computational thinking in its relations to
practice
conceptual framework
II
the researcher from a
sociocultural point of view
(towards Activity Theory…)
Representant Object
keep the space clean
Interpretant
(throwing papers in the basket means do
not throw them on the floor)
Jf matos activity_theory_as_model_of_analysis
mediation
the ways how humans create
representations and interact with the
social world constitute processes of
mediated action
(in semiotic mediation) ideas,
concepts, meanings, words become
substitutes of concrete referents in the
absence of the objects
Jf matos activity_theory_as_model_of_analysis
Jf matos activity_theory_as_model_of_analysis
research
researcher object
new
object
acts upon…
mediated action
(unit of analysis)
researcher object
new
object
elements of
mediation
1st generation of Activity Theory (Vygotsky)
mediation in research
researcher
situation/
problem
results
elements of
mediation
1st generation of Activity Theory (Vygotsky)
mediation in everyday
individual situation explanation
pre-conceptions,
ideas, myths
III
Basics of Activity Theory
Activity Theory (AT)
to understand humans in their
individual and social dimension in
their everyday through the analysis of
the sources, structure and processes of
development of activity
activity...
mediated action in research
(unit of analysis)
researcher situation/pro
blem
results
elements of
mediation
mediation in research
researcher situation/pro
blem
results
theories,
instruments,…
acting upon…
researcher situation/problem results
theories,
instruments,…
division of
labour
Leont’ev, 1978; 1981
goal-oriented actions (short lived)
object-oriented collective activity
(durable)
researcher situation/problem results
theories,
instruments,…
rules/
norms
community hierarchy,
power relations
2nd generation of AT
activity system
(individual action and collective activity)
community (those who share a common
object)
needed for integration of systemic relations
rules (explicit and implicit norms, conventions, and
social relations with the community)
created by needs within the activity
division of labour (explicit and implicit
organization of a community)
needed to the process of transformation of an object in a
result/product
concepts
Activity: example within school
student
Ways of behaving
in the class,
commitments to
the group and the
teacher…
Working group,
class,…
implicit and explicit
distribution of tasks,
cooperation,…
ideas, conditions,
problems,…
Computers, working
sheets,...
better ideas,
closer to the
legitimate
repertoire
elements of mediation
reified in a
report
researcher
results
theory, …
rules,
norms
community hierarchy
object1 reviewer
theory(s), …
rules,
norms
community hierachy
researcher reviewer
but we operate in multiple activity systems…
3rd generation of Activity Theory(Y. Engeström)
object2
subject
rules community division of
labour
object1
instruments
subject
rules community division of
labour
object2
instruments
sharing and transforming the
potential object
Expansion of the basic model of AT to include at least two
interacting activity systems
object1 object2
object3
activity system
minimum meaningful context that
allows the understanding of
individual actions
activity system as the unit of analysis
conceptual framework of
AT
A - hierarchical structure of activity
B - orientation towards the object
C - internalization / externalization
D - mediation
E - development
Activity
Operations
Actions
conscious
orientated
towards the
objective
unconscious
automatic
A - hierarchical structure
Activity
Operation
Action use of the clutch
push down the
clutch, listening
to the motor
driving a car
hierarchical structure in AT
Activity
Operations
Actions linked to objectives
linked to conditions
linked to motives
hierarchical structure
on activity, action and operation
an activity may loose its motives and
turn into an action
an action may become an operation
(by automatization or when the
objectives change)
those definitions are totally dependent
of what is defined as subject and object
in a given situation
on actions
action as a chain of operations
a given action may belong to different
activities
actions serve a phase of orientation within
the planning of an activity
the role of resources in action
B - Orientation towards the object
object
orientation towards the object is characterized
by properties that are socially and culturally
defined
activity
internal activity?
external activity?
Activity Theory does not accept a
dualistic vision of the activity
the internal side of activity can
not exist without the external one
and vice-versa
C - internalization
transformation of external activity in
internal activity [seeking for potential
interactions with external reality without
manipulation of external objects]
externalization
transformation of internal activity in
external activity [seeking for interactions
with external reality from internal activity]
Internalization and externalization
Internalization
transformation of
external activity in
something internal
Externalization
transformation of
internal activity in
something external
a dialectic relation
D – mediation and artefacts
artefacts give form to the ways humans
interact with physical reality
giving form to external reality results in
giving also form to internal activity
the use of artefacts is a way to
elaboration and transmission of social
and cultural knowledge
artefacts and mediation
are shaped by social and cultural context where
they are used
reflect the experience of people through the
structural properties of those artefacts as well as
in the knowledge about how they should be used
are created and transformed within the very
activity
carry a particular culture – the use of artefacts is a
way of elaboration and transmission of cultural
knowledge
artefacts
physical or conceptual
expands our possibilities of manipulating
and transforming different objects
provides power to the individual in the
process of transformation
constrains the interaction (other
characteristics of the object may remain
invisible to the individual)
artefact
E - development
human activity develops in an
historical framework
long range perspective (we can
not understand activity unless if
we observe it in its
cycles of change)
Principles of activity systems
(Engeström, 2007)
1. activity system as the unit of analysis
2. multi-voices within the activity systems
3. historicity of activity systems
4. central role f contradictions as sources of
change and development
5. possibility of expansive transformation in
the activity systems
1. activity system as the unit of
analysis
an activity system orientated towards
an object is taken as unit of analysis
• action mediated by artefacts
• the collective nature of the activity
system
2. multi-voices within an
activity system
Activity system:
- constitutes a community of multiple points of
view, traditions and interests
- involves multiple dimensions and socio-
historical trajectories (e.g. in its artefacts,
rules, conventions,…)
Division of labour within an activity creates
different positioning stances to the
participants
3. historicity of activity systems
systems of activity take shape and transform
over time
- problems and potentials may be
understood in an historical frame
- the history of objects and artefacts needs
itself to be analysed
4. key role of contradictions
/tensions /conflicts as sources of
change
researcher situation/
problem results
theories,
instruments,
procedures,…
rules,
norms,…
community hierarchy, power
relations,
…
5. possibility of expansive
transformations in the activity
systems
- cycles of qualitative transformation
- expansive transformation when object
and motive of activity are re-conceptualized
into new horizons of possibilities
(a note on knowledge)
knowledge understood not as a
(individual) property...
rather as a collective product constructed
in the processes of interaction with the
structuring resources of action
the other
the artefacts
the situations and problems
participating in a social practice where
knowledge exists is an epistemological
principle of learning
o possibilities of learning are defined by:
o the social structure of the practice
o the power relations and conditions of
legitimacy and of access
IV
implications
1. looking at the researcher
from a sociocultural point of view
the researcher is a systemic being who is socially,
politically and historically inscribed
the researcher is not only a product of the culture
but also a creator and transformer of the collective
subjectivity
the researcher and the objects transformed in
his/her practice can not be considered nor
understood without looking at the cultural means of
access to knowledge (mediating artefacts)
implications
MEANS OF PRODUCTION:
theories camera, methods,
computer, instruments,...
SUBJECT: researcher
RULES: scholarly
conduct, honesty,...
COMMUNITY:
scholars,
participants,
country,
humanity,...
DIVISION OF
LABOR: research
director, assistant,...
OBJECT:
science in
schools
OUTCOME: article,
policy,...
Adapted from Roth, W.-M. (2007). Doing qualitative research: praxis of method. (p.120. )Rotterdam: Sense Publishers
ACTIVITY SYSTEM - RESEARCH
implications
2. an alternative to the circular
design in research
Taken for granted:
requires no serious analysis
Educational
institution
Oops, it didn’t work!
we must improve the learning environment
next time
learning
environment as
a closed world
expected powerful
effect on learning and
motivation
foundational
assumption:
digital
technology
will make a
difference
Engeström, Y. (2016). Studies in expansive learning. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
students
(p.106)
implications
3. improving the relation
theoretical field ß àempirical field
methodology
data methods
empirical field theoretical
field
conceptual framework
implications
http://multimedia-gallery.web.cern.ch
What is data analysis about?
implications
http://multimedia-gallery.web.cern.ch
What is analysis about?
implications
it involves the definition of conceptual categories,
typologies, that mediate the interpretation of data to
the reader
categories are concepts indicated by data – not data
itself
a category is described by its properties
Objective: construction of hypothesis/links/ between
categories and within its properties à development of
substantive theory (referred to the specific empirical
setting under analysis)
What is analysis about?
there is an uncertainty between the design and
its realization in the practices of research
(given that those practices are not the result of
the design but an answer to the design)
4. improvement of the design of research
critical relation
design ß à emergent
implications
why is Activity Theory important to
TEL research?
it demonstrates context
is stresses the usefulness and limitations of
technological artefacts
it underlines that technological artefacts
are embedded in meaningful contexts – just
like humans
are socially constituted (used and built upon
the social world)
implications
conceptual framework
(relevance and implications)
explicit and understandable
support of substantive theory
intentionality oriented to the problem
may adopt aspects, concepts, relations of
several theories
implications
• points to criteria for selection of:
– empirical field
– forms and content of empirical data to be collected
• it is an instrument of analysis in the empirical
field
• circumscribes the theoretical field of research
conceptual framework
(relevance and implications)
implications
● it assumes a dynamic character
● it answers to the problem generating new
questions and new scenarios
● it dialogues with alternative models
conceptual framework
(relevance and implications)
implications
bibliography
jfmatos@ie.ulisboa.pt

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Jf matos activity_theory_as_model_of_analysis

  • 1. Activity Theory as a model of analysis (an introduction) João Filipe Matos Instituto de Educação, University of Lisboa jfmatos@ie.ulisboa.pt 13th Joint European Summer School on Technology Enhanced Learning | 11 Sept 2017 University of Aveiro
  • 2. window... a metaphor to keep in mind
  • 3. window... a metaphor to keep in mind Convento de Cristo (Tomar, Portugal)
  • 4. window... a metaphor to keep in mind Window of Convento de Cristo (Tomar, Portugal)
  • 5. summary I. the role of theory in research II. the researcher from a socio- cultural point of view III. basis of Activity Theory IV. implications for research on TEL
  • 6. I the role of theory in research?
  • 7. there is nothing so practical (and useful) as a good theory…
  • 8. theories and theories… long range theories (e.g. Darwin) medium range theories (e.g. Piaget) substantive theories (e.g. your thesis…) and everyday theories
  • 9. role of theories descriptive [identifying key concepts or variables and its relations; establishing clear conceptual distinctions] explanatory [revealing relations and processes] predictive [making possible to preview in a variety of potential contexts] prescriptive [providing structuring rules] generative [orientating discovery]
  • 10. What do we need in research? theory rich enough to capture relevant aspects of the situation/ phenomenon/ problem theory descriptive enough to become useful in analysis à the relevance of the conceptual framework
  • 11. theoretical framework “A theoretical framework is a structure that guides research by relying on a formal theory; that is, the framework is constructed by using an established, coherent explanation of certain phenomena and relationships, e.g., Piaget’s theory of conservation (...)” (Eisenhart, 1991, p. 205)
  • 12. the nature of the framework: explanatory structure the role of the framework: data are integrated in the logic of the theory (the logic of the theory prevails) Exº: studies on the development of the concept of proportionality among children (based on Piaget) theoretical framework
  • 13. practical framework “a practical framework, then, guides research by using ‘what works’ in the experience or exercise of doing something by those directly involved in it (...)” (Eisenhart, 1991, p. 207)
  • 14. the nature of the framework: grounded in practices the role of the framework: data are intertwined with theory and are constituted in theory Exº: study on proportionality in non schooled adults using ethnomathematics (Ubiratan d’Ambrosio) practical framework
  • 15. conceptual framework “A conceptual framework is an argument including different points of view and culminating in a series of reasons for adopting some points – i.e., some ideas or concepts – and not others. The adopted ideas or concepts then serve as guides: to collecting data in a particular study, and/or to ways in which the data from a particular study will be analyzed and explained” (Eisenhart, 1991, p. 209)
  • 16. the nature of the framework: structure of justification role of the framework: argumentative network of concepts for analysis Exº: study on the use of tablets as meditating artefacts for computational thinking in its relations to practice conceptual framework
  • 17. II the researcher from a sociocultural point of view (towards Activity Theory…)
  • 18. Representant Object keep the space clean Interpretant (throwing papers in the basket means do not throw them on the floor)
  • 20. mediation the ways how humans create representations and interact with the social world constitute processes of mediated action (in semiotic mediation) ideas, concepts, meanings, words become substitutes of concrete referents in the absence of the objects
  • 24. mediated action (unit of analysis) researcher object new object elements of mediation 1st generation of Activity Theory (Vygotsky)
  • 25. mediation in research researcher situation/ problem results elements of mediation 1st generation of Activity Theory (Vygotsky)
  • 26. mediation in everyday individual situation explanation pre-conceptions, ideas, myths
  • 28. Activity Theory (AT) to understand humans in their individual and social dimension in their everyday through the analysis of the sources, structure and processes of development of activity
  • 30. mediated action in research (unit of analysis) researcher situation/pro blem results elements of mediation
  • 31. mediation in research researcher situation/pro blem results theories, instruments,… acting upon…
  • 32. researcher situation/problem results theories, instruments,… division of labour Leont’ev, 1978; 1981 goal-oriented actions (short lived) object-oriented collective activity (durable)
  • 33. researcher situation/problem results theories, instruments,… rules/ norms community hierarchy, power relations 2nd generation of AT activity system (individual action and collective activity)
  • 34. community (those who share a common object) needed for integration of systemic relations rules (explicit and implicit norms, conventions, and social relations with the community) created by needs within the activity division of labour (explicit and implicit organization of a community) needed to the process of transformation of an object in a result/product concepts
  • 35. Activity: example within school student Ways of behaving in the class, commitments to the group and the teacher… Working group, class,… implicit and explicit distribution of tasks, cooperation,… ideas, conditions, problems,… Computers, working sheets,... better ideas, closer to the legitimate repertoire elements of mediation reified in a report
  • 36. researcher results theory, … rules, norms community hierarchy object1 reviewer theory(s), … rules, norms community hierachy researcher reviewer but we operate in multiple activity systems… 3rd generation of Activity Theory(Y. Engeström) object2
  • 37. subject rules community division of labour object1 instruments subject rules community division of labour object2 instruments sharing and transforming the potential object Expansion of the basic model of AT to include at least two interacting activity systems object1 object2 object3
  • 38. activity system minimum meaningful context that allows the understanding of individual actions activity system as the unit of analysis
  • 39. conceptual framework of AT A - hierarchical structure of activity B - orientation towards the object C - internalization / externalization D - mediation E - development
  • 41. Activity Operation Action use of the clutch push down the clutch, listening to the motor driving a car hierarchical structure in AT
  • 42. Activity Operations Actions linked to objectives linked to conditions linked to motives hierarchical structure
  • 43. on activity, action and operation an activity may loose its motives and turn into an action an action may become an operation (by automatization or when the objectives change) those definitions are totally dependent of what is defined as subject and object in a given situation
  • 44. on actions action as a chain of operations a given action may belong to different activities actions serve a phase of orientation within the planning of an activity the role of resources in action
  • 45. B - Orientation towards the object object orientation towards the object is characterized by properties that are socially and culturally defined
  • 47. Activity Theory does not accept a dualistic vision of the activity the internal side of activity can not exist without the external one and vice-versa
  • 48. C - internalization transformation of external activity in internal activity [seeking for potential interactions with external reality without manipulation of external objects]
  • 49. externalization transformation of internal activity in external activity [seeking for interactions with external reality from internal activity]
  • 50. Internalization and externalization Internalization transformation of external activity in something internal Externalization transformation of internal activity in something external a dialectic relation
  • 51. D – mediation and artefacts artefacts give form to the ways humans interact with physical reality giving form to external reality results in giving also form to internal activity
  • 52. the use of artefacts is a way to elaboration and transmission of social and cultural knowledge artefacts and mediation
  • 53. are shaped by social and cultural context where they are used reflect the experience of people through the structural properties of those artefacts as well as in the knowledge about how they should be used are created and transformed within the very activity carry a particular culture – the use of artefacts is a way of elaboration and transmission of cultural knowledge artefacts
  • 54. physical or conceptual expands our possibilities of manipulating and transforming different objects provides power to the individual in the process of transformation constrains the interaction (other characteristics of the object may remain invisible to the individual) artefact
  • 55. E - development human activity develops in an historical framework long range perspective (we can not understand activity unless if we observe it in its cycles of change)
  • 56. Principles of activity systems (Engeström, 2007) 1. activity system as the unit of analysis 2. multi-voices within the activity systems 3. historicity of activity systems 4. central role f contradictions as sources of change and development 5. possibility of expansive transformation in the activity systems
  • 57. 1. activity system as the unit of analysis an activity system orientated towards an object is taken as unit of analysis • action mediated by artefacts • the collective nature of the activity system
  • 58. 2. multi-voices within an activity system Activity system: - constitutes a community of multiple points of view, traditions and interests - involves multiple dimensions and socio- historical trajectories (e.g. in its artefacts, rules, conventions,…) Division of labour within an activity creates different positioning stances to the participants
  • 59. 3. historicity of activity systems systems of activity take shape and transform over time - problems and potentials may be understood in an historical frame - the history of objects and artefacts needs itself to be analysed
  • 60. 4. key role of contradictions /tensions /conflicts as sources of change researcher situation/ problem results theories, instruments, procedures,… rules, norms,… community hierarchy, power relations, …
  • 61. 5. possibility of expansive transformations in the activity systems - cycles of qualitative transformation - expansive transformation when object and motive of activity are re-conceptualized into new horizons of possibilities
  • 62. (a note on knowledge) knowledge understood not as a (individual) property... rather as a collective product constructed in the processes of interaction with the structuring resources of action the other the artefacts the situations and problems
  • 63. participating in a social practice where knowledge exists is an epistemological principle of learning o possibilities of learning are defined by: o the social structure of the practice o the power relations and conditions of legitimacy and of access
  • 65. 1. looking at the researcher from a sociocultural point of view the researcher is a systemic being who is socially, politically and historically inscribed the researcher is not only a product of the culture but also a creator and transformer of the collective subjectivity the researcher and the objects transformed in his/her practice can not be considered nor understood without looking at the cultural means of access to knowledge (mediating artefacts) implications
  • 66. MEANS OF PRODUCTION: theories camera, methods, computer, instruments,... SUBJECT: researcher RULES: scholarly conduct, honesty,... COMMUNITY: scholars, participants, country, humanity,... DIVISION OF LABOR: research director, assistant,... OBJECT: science in schools OUTCOME: article, policy,... Adapted from Roth, W.-M. (2007). Doing qualitative research: praxis of method. (p.120. )Rotterdam: Sense Publishers ACTIVITY SYSTEM - RESEARCH implications
  • 67. 2. an alternative to the circular design in research Taken for granted: requires no serious analysis Educational institution Oops, it didn’t work! we must improve the learning environment next time learning environment as a closed world expected powerful effect on learning and motivation foundational assumption: digital technology will make a difference Engeström, Y. (2016). Studies in expansive learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. students (p.106) implications
  • 68. 3. improving the relation theoretical field ß àempirical field methodology data methods empirical field theoretical field conceptual framework implications
  • 71. it involves the definition of conceptual categories, typologies, that mediate the interpretation of data to the reader categories are concepts indicated by data – not data itself a category is described by its properties Objective: construction of hypothesis/links/ between categories and within its properties à development of substantive theory (referred to the specific empirical setting under analysis) What is analysis about?
  • 72. there is an uncertainty between the design and its realization in the practices of research (given that those practices are not the result of the design but an answer to the design) 4. improvement of the design of research critical relation design ß à emergent implications
  • 73. why is Activity Theory important to TEL research? it demonstrates context is stresses the usefulness and limitations of technological artefacts it underlines that technological artefacts are embedded in meaningful contexts – just like humans are socially constituted (used and built upon the social world) implications
  • 74. conceptual framework (relevance and implications) explicit and understandable support of substantive theory intentionality oriented to the problem may adopt aspects, concepts, relations of several theories implications
  • 75. • points to criteria for selection of: – empirical field – forms and content of empirical data to be collected • it is an instrument of analysis in the empirical field • circumscribes the theoretical field of research conceptual framework (relevance and implications) implications
  • 76. ● it assumes a dynamic character ● it answers to the problem generating new questions and new scenarios ● it dialogues with alternative models conceptual framework (relevance and implications) implications