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Finding connection points with activity theory and our own ideas

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

I went through your final analysis and reflections. As expected, cultural historical activity theory framework is more elaborated in comparison to your attempts. The main differences I gathered from your posts are the following:

– external tools (technology) for mediation. Darja admitted that “it never came to my mind that the tools we use have actually a huge impact on our lives and activities”. Mattias realised that “The role of external tools actually is very important according to activity theory, however, people in their everyday lives take it for granted”. Also Tiina claimed that
“I haven’t really focused on tools that are one part of how humans interact with the external world. But I think it is more because we are so used to the things around as and we do not pay any attention on what tools are used to complete some task”.

– focus on subject-object relationship. Tiina, referring to the activity theory says that “the mind can be only understood in the context of the subject-object relationship, human mind has a social nature”.

– although some of you presented your initial frameworks from a process point of view Marta writes that “Activity theory is more concentrated on the process of activity, its actors, tools, mediums and so on, which I didn’t consider in my framework”. Looking back at your frameworks the majority of you pointed out a temporal aspect as an essential component for understanding and describing human activities. To the contrary, activity theory doesn’t consider time as an important factor. Maarja-Triin points out this difference: “I would link Activity Theory with the two practical aspects of my framework – time schedule and choices”.

I want to mention here that every framework has some pros and cons and can’t be suitable for every purposes. The frameworks that were developed in the beginning of the course had different starting points and assumptions; and they were seen from the different perspectives. However, we have also found some similarities. Eret has outlined that some components are actually the same, but we use different vocabulary, different labels. To conclude, I agree with Mehis. He is not sure that Activity Theory is the best way to describe human activity, but it has some potentials…

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Categories: musings

Activity theory in relation to group work

November 27, 2012 Leave a comment

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

On the cultural-historical school of thought

Hi everyone,

I wanted to take a moment to comment on our reading and Activity Theory in general. While I think that Kaptelinin and Nardi (2006) do a decent job in providing a somewhat accessible introduction to the topic, we have to keep in mind that there are different “flavours” of Activity Theory around. If you dig more into the available literature you will find a range of (sometimes contradicting) interpretations and a number of conceptual problems. You will find some rather orthodox proponents of Activity Theory who seem to be mainly in the business of interpreting the Russian Psychologists of the last century on one hand, and some scholars who try to build bridges to system-thinking and media theory on the other hand. Instead of “Activity Theory” I sometimes prefer to speak of the “cultural historical school of thought” if I want to embrace all these different strands of thinking and theorising.

Though our overall (time) resources are obviously limited, I will try to bring in a few additional “voices” beyond Kaptelinin & Nardi over the remaining run-time of the course. Hopefully this will allow you to build up some interest in a much wider field of theorising and application.

One thing that is important to keep in mind, however, is the fact that the unfolding digital transformation also creates numerous challenges for all existing strands of theorising on human (inter-)action. The cultural-historical school of thought is no exception to that. So, we should expect a certain amount of contradictions and tensions right within this particular body of work. A lot of things are in transition (in work, learning, play…) and we are all trying to make sense out of them while we are moving along.

cheers,

Sebastian

Categories: musings

Comparing and developing a framework for human activities

September 29, 2012 Leave a comment

As expected Task 4 turned out to be a rather challenging one. A good comparison needs some effort and time. To get started we should first think about what aspects we are going to compare (what is it we are comparing and in comparison to what) and how to structure the comparisons. The most trickiest part seemed to be coming up with a “comparison framework” (aspects/characteristics that are taken into account while comparing). Some of you preferred to talk about your personal impressions and evaluations (about the ease of reading schemes or whether it was interesting to read or not, etc.) of the actual Weblog posts. Or on the other hand, a rather common approach was to make a summary or a short overview of others’ descriptions and left the actual comparison elements for the reader to figure out. However, I there are interesting attempts, which provide a list of aspects as a basis for carrying out comparisons.

Despite of a somewhat modest output for Task 4, your comparing attempts finally resulted in various interesting models and frameworks for describing human activities, be it just text, colorful graphics or simple schemes; pointing out a list of elements or demonstrating also connections and relations between them (see for example Olga, Sander, Maria, Alessandro).

I was trying to gather your ideas and make a summary of your models.
First, as the main elements of your study plans were work, study, family, hobby (in some cases a slightly different vocabulary was used), it was obvious that they were also used as important elements of your generalised frameworks. The second group took a process perspective, in which one asks him/herself a list of “questions” in order to plan and carry out an activity. The process starts with a motivation or personal need as an important trigger. Alessandro even extends this starting point by emphasising personal vocations, personal interests, personal beliefs, rational considerations. The next important step in the process is to set up personal goals. As soon as one has defined his/her goals, there is a need to evaluate existing resources (or limiting factors versus opportunities), be it time, technology, economic factors, skills, etc. and adjust the planned activity with the existing ones and with the existing schedule.

Third, I would also like to point out that a bit different approach is taken by Marko, which looks promising, but needs a bit more explanation; by Marta, which demonstrates yet another perspective (important elements to consider are physical activity, mental activities, biological needs, relaxing) and some others.

Thank you very much for your attempts to come up with a model/framework for representing human activities. Your contributions provide a good basis to move on with the next task.

Categories: musings

Looking back at how digital technology and media changes our ways of being and structures our activities.

September 25, 2012 2 comments

Thanks a lot for sharing your reflections and thoughts! It sure was an interesting reading and in some cases very thought provoking. These posts showed well that the strength of this group is its diversity. Your different backgrounds and perspectives you considered important while carrying out this task are nicely visible. Thus, for sure something to learn from each other. However, hardly any comments have been posted by you, any questions being asked…

Most of you admit that technological development actually has an impact on our ways of being and the ways we go about life. It is not just a technical progress, but also a social one. Technological development is not seen only as an independent variable, but rather a mutual social shaping process. Many of you have mentioned Facebook as one of the examples of tools, which has a great impact on people. For instance, the concept of “liking” has replaced our conversations and our dialogues. For more see for instance Tiina’s and Karmen’s thoughts. In fact Karmen rightfully points out that “It is an addiction of a sort, looking for people’s approval and reflection on everything”. Thus, I guess you agree that attention has become our currency.

Furthermore, Darja points out that “On a personal level digital technologies became not only mediums I use on a daily basis, but a part of me, almost in a physical meaning”, but she also acknowledges potential threats. She continues “Little do we realize how it can impact our lives and who can use those little pieces of information for creating a bigger picture of our activity and using this picture for their own purposes”. There are many concerns as well as benefits, many advantages and disadvantages. Copyright problems, lost privacy, intellectual property, new laws and regulations, lack of critical thinking, constant multitasking…these were just a few aspects named by you.

I guess you all have experienced a flow state, when you just can’t stop and want to continue with your task. Eret claims “I have recognized that it is like an addiction, the more you consume digital solutions the more you need these”. Karmen continues “at one point we may turn into obsessive compulsive zombies relying only on our smart phones and other gadgets”. I guess to a certain degree we are already there. We have turned to be ‘information junkies’. It reminds me of one of the occasions… I was sitting in the restaurant and there were two friends having dinner at the next table…both of them with their iPhones. And during the whole evening, they hardly exchanged any words between themselves…This is the reality we are slowly getting into…

Reading your posts it reminded me of a year 1996. I was a young student and one of our teachers said that one day we can do shopping, banking, just name it…without leaving home. At that time we found it so hard to believe and so utopian. And some 10-15 years later this is all happening and even more…

Merje says that “…we live in era of interruptions”. Technology frees us, but also restricts us… I sometimes wonder… how much it is related to self-discipline, making conscious choices about the ways to structure our days….maybe our information overload is also due to our sloppiness…we send out messages, e-mails without reading them twice, without thinking if I answered all the questions, if I have provided all the possible information one might need. We create constant information flows, but they might be poor in their essence. Nevertheless, it is self-explanatory…we need a set of additional competencies to handle our lives…

I also found it interesting to see how people from an advertising field interpret the changes. Johan, for instance, points out that with the opportunity to personalise and customise different tools and services, we can avoid advertisements, however, on the other hand we ourselves have become advertisers…and even more aggressive ones.

I want to end this short summary with Karmen’s words: “It really is a very interesting, yet frightening era we live in.” Don’t you think?

Categories: musings

Looking back at Task 2

September 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Thank you very much for your contributions! We have a nice collection of different descriptions and a variety of schemes and visualisations presenting your study plans. However, I have to admit that very often these schemes demonstrated rather the outcome of the activity (creating your study plan for this semester) instead of the actual process itself (finding courses, (re-)scheduling your life due to your studies, coordinating and controlling your resources, using instruments to support the process etc.)
Nevertheless…
I believe they provide a quite rich basis to start comparing them (Task 4) and making an effort to generalise and synthesise the components and processes of these plans on a more abstract level (Task 5). The outcome of the Task 5 should be “a model”, “a framework”, which presents the main components or/and processes of an activity from your point of view… aspects you consider important for describing an activity.

But back to the Task 2.

Reading your posts I uncontrollably started to draw parallels to my studies. I realised that to be a student in a formal educational institution nowadays requires fundamentally different aspects to consider. When I was a student (approx. 15 years ago) it was unthinkable that while making my study plan I had to coordinate my resources and time between work and studies. Having lectures from 8 in the morning till late afternoon one couldn’t afford to go to work. Going through your descriptions, almost all of you have a job (very often full time) and one can imagine how much this simple activity such as creating a study plan is different these days in comparison to 10-15 years ago. At that time there was no serious need for (mediated) interactions, no need to coordinate with other activities, monitor or allocate one’s resources, no need to use extra instruments to make the actual planning happen, etc. Today, we have to look at this simple activity from an overall “life”-perspective including the wide range of activities that make up adult life, which reside outside of formal educational structures and not just one intentional activity. I found it very interesting to see the rationale behind your choice of courses and your criteria for course selection; your adjustment of priorities.

Considering the fact that we are living in the midst of digitization, only some of you pointed out some networked tools and services that were needed and used in order to support the activity. For instance, ASIO, ÕIS, e-mails, calendars, etc. can’t be avoided. They are forced upon you creating (inter)actions. On the other hand, it wasn’t also very visible from your descriptions and schemes self-created interactions that were needed in order to plan your studies. Despite of that, it was a nice exercise to be creative and come up with the description without any specific prior knowledge, based only on your own understanding and experiences. It is our conscious attempt to later compare and complement our current understanding, observations and conceptualisation with some other people’s work.

Categories: musings

Looking back at your personal Webpublishing

September 14, 2012 Leave a comment

I had a look at your experiences with Webpublishing. Very impressive! Every year it is getting more impressive in terms of the variety of networked tools and services we use. I noticed, we have a very mixed group with different backgrounds and expertise. Super! Some of you seem to be very experienced, some of you less, which provides numerous ways to learn from each other and hopefully everybody can finally find something from this course. In comparison to previous years I got the impression that the participants are not only information consumers, but they have also started to produce more actively their own content and contribute to the Web (for instance Youtube, Wikiversity, designing WordPress themes, etc.). However, it was still rather visible that most of the tools and services are used for personal purpose and not that much for work, nevertheless, the trend is increasing.

I have created a cloud of networked tools and services (I used TagCrowd http://tagcrowd.com/), which were mentioned by you.

And below there is one cloud created 2 years ago (tools and services mentioned at least 3 times). You can compare yourself and see the differences.

I found a bunch of new tools and services I had not heard of before. I am curious to play with some of them. And you should follow Rando’s and some others initiative to take a look at other participants’ weblogs, give some feedback, ask questions, reflect. We are here to learn with and from each other.

Categories: musings