Introduction to Activity Theory in HCI


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Lecture slides for first lesson on Activity Theory for HCDE 501: Theoretical Foundations in Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington.

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Introduction to Activity Theory in HCI

  1. 1. Introduction to Activity Theory Stephanie Gokhman HCDE 501: May 17, 2011 6:00pm Mary Gates 074 University of Washington
  2. 2. Today's readings <ul><ul><li>Kaptelinin & Nardi &quot;Do we need theory in interaction design?&quot; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Kaptelinin & Nardi &quot;Activity Theory in a Nutshell&quot; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Winsor &quot;Using Texts to Manage Continuity and Change in an Activity System&quot; </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Refresher:  Why do we need theory in HCI? <ul><li>“ The value of any theory is not “whether the theory or framework provides an objective representation of reality”, but rather how well a theory can shape an object of study, highlighting relevant issues.  In other words, a classification scheme is only useful to the point that it provides relevant insights about the objects it is applied to.”   </li></ul><ul><li>Barthelmess and Anderson </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ways to approach understanding a phenomena (analytical power) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ways to find patterns across interactions (inferential power) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ways to describe phenomena (descriptive power) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ways to present phenomena (rhetorical power) </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. Kaptelinin & Nardi &quot;Do We Need Theory in Interaction Design?&quot; <ul><li>Postcognitivist perspective on interaction design (cognitivist view was &quot;limited&quot;) </li></ul><ul><li>Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel and Sacks, who &quot;distrusted&quot; theory) </li></ul><ul><li>    Subjects are experts in their field </li></ul>
  5. 5. Why these theories? <ul><li>Activity Theory... </li></ul><ul><li>Actor-Network Theory... </li></ul><ul><li>Distributed Cognition... </li></ul><ul><li>etc ? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Minimizes the complexities of ethnography by providing focus </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Maps reality to theoretical constructs </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Kaptelinin & Nardi &quot;Activity Theory in a Nutshell&quot; <ul><li>&quot;Separately hydrogen and oxygen are flammable but together they make water&quot; </li></ul>
  7. 7. Kaptelinin & Nardi &quot;Activity Theory in a Nutshell&quot; <ul><li>Origins of Activity Theory </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Developed from Vygotsky & Leont'ev in the 1920s </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Vygotsky's Cultural & Historical Perspective: the mind exists within a human who exists in the world </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Leont'ev claims that you cannot pull apart human activity from the sociocultural context within which the activity is conducted </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Leont'ev: activities, actions, operations </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>AT came to the West in the 1950s through Engestrom, &quot;mediating artifacts&quot; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>AT first used in HCI in the 1990s </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Activity Theory  Tree
  9. 9. What is &quot;activity&quot;? <ul><ul><li>&quot;Purposeful interaction&quot; between subject and object in the world mediated by tools (both psychological and physical) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Socially and culturally determined </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fulfill motives (which are not always consciously aware) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Any task can be broken into actions and subdivided into operations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hierarchy of activity: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Goal (intentional) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Task (intentional) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Operation (automatic) </li></ul></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Activity as the Unit of Analysis <ul><li>From whole system to specific interaction </li></ul><ul><li>Subject + Object + Mediating Tools + Sociocultural Rules </li></ul><ul><li>Context:                 Subject-object interaction </li></ul><ul><li>Analysis:                Meaningful goal-directed action </li></ul><ul><li>Methods:                Real life use </li></ul><ul><li>Time span:             Developmental transformations (practices  </li></ul><ul><li>                                over time, dynamic, continual change) </li></ul><ul><li>Activity theory is truly &quot;human-centered&quot; </li></ul>
  11. 11. Object Orientedness <ul><ul><li>Reality is objective: always doing &quot;something&quot; to &quot;something&quot; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Always directed toward &quot;something&quot; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Automatic, conscious actions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Goal-directed actions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Intentionality </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Agency of humans </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. Agency <ul><li>Agency is an Actor-Network Theory concept </li></ul><ul><li>Asymmetry of agency:  </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Humans are information processing entities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Humans have needs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Humans have power over and attraction to objects </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Objects do not have agency </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Object provides motives </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Contrast with Actor-Network Theory <ul><ul><li>Agency of non-humans </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Symmetry between human and non-human </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>&quot;Actants&quot;: both humans and non-humans </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Material-semiotic: maps things and concepts into a network </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Intermediaries vs mediators </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Mediation & Mediating Tools <ul><ul><li>Tools shape the way a human interacts with an object </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Use of tools reflects previous societal attempts at solving similar problems </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>knowledge of how the tool should be used </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>convergence of internal and external </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mediating tools are also changed by the interaction as activity occurs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mediating tools have been changed through previous interactions </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. Internalization/Externalization <ul><ul><li>Transformation of physical action into mental processing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Example: mental modeling </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>With repetition, goal-directed activities become operationalized/internalized </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>When an internal activity needs to be manipulated it is generally externalized (especially in collaboration) </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. The Triangulation of Activity Theory
  17. 17. Activity Theory & Distributed Cognition <ul><li>Differences: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In DCog, Less vocabulary and less constructs (requires more descriptive work)  </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In DCog, more flexibility in unit of analysis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In DCog, cognition is foreground </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In AT, cognitive processes are underlying </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In DCog, all elements are actors contributing to the cognitive process </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In AT, needs/motivation/goals belong to the subject and are only possessed by living things </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Activity Theory & Distributed Cognition <ul><li>Similarities </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Common intellectual history (cognition) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Began appearing in HCI at the same time w Hutchins / Engestrom </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Emphasize social, cultural and historical context </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>&quot;Unity of Consciousness&quot;: the human mind is intrinsically related to the outside world </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The social nature of the human mind (deeply influenced by cultural/historical) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>More comparison next lecture... </li></ul>
  19. 19. How can we apply Activity Theory in HCI? <ul><li>What are the main things AT does for HCI? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Demonstrates context </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Demonstrates usefulness and limitations of tools </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Technology... </li></ul><ul><ul><li>... is also embedded in meaningful context  just like humans </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>... is more than information processing and exists at several levels of operation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>... facilitates and constrains activity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>... supports human goals </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>... is used and built based on social rules </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. How can we apply Activity Theory in HCI? <ul><li>Physical:  </li></ul><ul><li>    operation of a device as a physical object </li></ul><ul><li>Handling:  </li></ul><ul><li>     logical structure of interaction </li></ul><ul><li>Subject-object directed:  </li></ul><ul><li>     How objects are related to reality </li></ul>
  21. 21. Winsor &quot;Using Text to Manage Continuity and Change in an Activity System&quot; <ul><li>Activity Theory in practice: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Enthographic approach w/ interviews on n=4 group of engineers in cooperative engineering department </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Documents serve as common objects/&quot;illusion of stability&quot; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Uses AT to demonstrate regulation in the creation of documents does not exist as a hierarchy but instead shared negotiation serving the self interests of those involved </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>AT serves &quot;to ask us where regulation (and genre) come from&quot; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>AT provides triangulation at a particular moment in time, representing a stable reality despite that reality is in a state of constant change </li></ul></ul>
  22. 22. Activity: Become an AT Analyst! <ul><li>Working Alone: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Pick out an activity or two that you captured in your field notes that could be looked at through the lens of Activity Theory. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Plot out who are the actors, what is the object, what is the mediating tool, what is the context, what is the goal, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Then, Working Together: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Select the most appropriate activity of the collective activities from the previous exercise. Flesh out how you would talk about this activity. Include discussion of technology affordances and constraints as well as internalization/externalization. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>For the week:  </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Post to Go-Post: Activity and some notes, questions </li></ul></ul>
  23. 23. Questions? Stephanie Gokhman [email_address]