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Activity theory and analysis

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  1. Activity theory and analysis Dr Christina Davidson School of Education

  2. Some considerations • What counts as context? – defined in different and numerous ways • For activity theory: “What takes place in an activity system composed of object, actions, and operations, is the context.” (Nardi, 1996, p. 38) Context is both internal and external • Definitions have implications for the application of research approaches • This is particularly apparent at the level of data collection methods and methods of analysis

  3. Methodological implications for data generation • A research time frame long enough to understand users’ objects • Attention to broad patterns of activity rather than narrow episodic fragments • Use of varied set of data collection techniques e.g. interviews, observations, video, historical materials • Commitment to understanding things from users’ points of view (Nardi, x, p. 47)

  4. Analysis • ethnographic data generation with an activity theory analytic framework (Douglas, 2011) • coded in terms of categories arising from both the empirical data and from the theoretical framework of activity theory (Hardman, 2005) • models for applying activity theory in work with stakeholders –so research for development e.g. Activity Analysis and DevelopentActAD(Korpela, 1997, cited in Igira & Gregory, 2009)

  5. Steps in ActAD • Identify elements of the activity system • Checklist to inform structural analysis of the systems components to understand linkages between components and between other activities • Developmental analysis by participants that focuses on how the central activity could be improved; consists of three phases -history (how did the activity emerge and develop?) -weaknesses (what are these in relation to linkages?) -potential (what are the emerging strengths and possibilities?)

  6. Development of new tools for improvement • Dissemination and evaluation

  7. Approaching analysis: • Ensure that analysis encompasses the unit of analysis so defined • Carefully define and clarify the components of the framework and related notions

  8. For example, for Nardi: ”A subject is a person or a group engaged in an activity” (Nardi, 1996, p. 37) ”An object (in the sense of “objective”) is held by the subject and motivates activity, giving it specific direction” (Nardi, 1996, p. 37) “Actions also have operational aspects, that is, the way the action is actually carried out. Operations become routinized and unconscious with practice” (Nardi, 1996, p. 37) • Activity theory holds that the constituents of activity are not fixed but can dynamically change as conditions change” (Nardi, 1996, p. 37)

  9. Approaching analysis • Ensure that analysis encompasses the unit of analysis so defined • Carefully define and clarify the components of the framework and related notions • Consider the various ways that analysis has been approached (and why) • Collect published accounts of methods of analysis and their applications • Look for ways that researchers have been explicit about how they conducted analysis • Consider how you will it clear in the thesis/written report • Examine differing ways of producing the written analysis for others • Maintain the intellectual roots of the theory

  10. Reference Douglas, A. S. (2011). Learning on the job: A cultural historical activity theory approach to initial teacher education across for secondary school subject departments. Ethnography and Education, 6(2), 195-211. Hardman, J. (2005). An exploratory case study of computer use in a primary school mathematics classroom: new technology, new pedagogy? Perspectives in Education, 23(40), 1-13. Igira, F. T., & Gregory, J. (2009). Cultural historical activity theory. Korpela, M. (1997). Activity analysis and development in a nutshell. Retrieved May 12, 2008, from http://www.uku.fi/tike/actad/nutshell-97.html Nardi, B. A. (1996). Studying context: A comparison of activity theory, situated action models, and distributed cognition. In Context and consciousness: Activity theory and human-computer interaction, 69-102