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Activity theory in relation to group work

Your attempts to apply activity theory to your group work as an emerging activity system produced some interesting thoughts, although, I noticed that some of you decided to limit the analysis to the mere description of your group work and its problems without any effort to connect it to activity theory and its components. Nevertheless, some of you being part of the same group demonstrated nice variety of perceptions and interpretations of the “activity system”.

For instance, while Tiina and Mattias had more or less the same understanding and interpretation of the group work as an emerging activity system, Giga perceived it a rather different way. Giga also points out the need for a control instrument in activity systems such as we experience in formal higher education. He adds “I think that, every system somehow has a control mechanism to look through the process of it, so this system needs this kind of addition. The solution of this problem might be some tricked rules, but generally it is very hard to control personal contribution in the group work“.

It was interesting to see that most of you pointed out how messy the “system” was in the beginning, without any established structure, any clear leader or assigned tasks. Bringing people together from different countries and cultures requires to explore first the potential of a particular group. We act in the context of formal education, which makes it quite likely that students expected to have a leader and clear structure worked out for them by the tutors before the actual group work could start. This typical learning myth (teacher takes a lead, establishes structures, assigns roles and tasks) seems to be so deeply rooted in our mental models and is perceived as a drawback of an educational experience. It is true, the biggest challenge is to find common understanding, divide roles, define rules and get started. Alessandro rightfully points out that subjects in our activity systems are influenced a lot by the bigger systems (universities we are enrolled in) and their internal rules and regulations.

To solve the initial mess of the emerging “activity system” Tiina and Mattias started to ponder about some project management tool. Mattias said that “A project management system allows clearly assigning roles and assignments to people, monitoring the process and seeing who has done what and when”. Perhaps something to keep in mind while working in groups in the future. Furthermore, Mattias points out nicely “Problems aren’t always bad, because through them a higher qualitative level is achieved”. Establishing a proper and suitable structure for the group, dividing tasks, assigning roles, etc. is as important part of the learning process as studying the actual subject matter.

Group 6 with Alessandro and Darja decided to organise their internal group structure by dividing themselves into smaller groups.

While most of you explicitly pointed out that the object of the activity system is a joint book chapter, Alessandro sees this as a secondary object as he claims: “The first explicit purpose that jumps to my mind is undoubtedly the organization of a coordinated and fruitful cooperative action to create a research product that might be useful to academics and theoretical ends“. So, first it is important to establish a coordinated and successful action, which allows to concentrate on a joint product.

The second issue, which turned out to be rather common was related to the amount of different technological tools and services used to support regulative and productive actions. Not being very familiar, the subjects of the system had to consciously mediate their activities with different technological solutions. Karmen points out that as soon as a familiar tool (Facebook) was taken in use, the group’s progress was better. Eret outlines in her analysis the perceived drawbacks of the tools and services her group was using. It seems that finding a suitable set of technology that can be turned into instruments and is accepted by all the group members is a challenging task.

Thank you for your interpretations!

Categories: musings
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