Monday, August 25, 2008

Notes on Margaryan, Littlejohn and Activity Theory as a framework

Margaryan and Littlejohn (2007, 2008) analysed the mismatches in the perception of repository curators and users. One of the issues really hit home for me:

The curators focus on repository centric factors, while users spotlight a wide range of contextual factors.
They explain this as following: Repositories are frequently introduced to users as sandalone tools. Users, however, see them only as one component within an entire activity system. They recommend that curators and users have to think through the ways in which individual components inter-relate.

This is what I actually realised this summer when we were at the summer school with MELT teachers. At the point where our system failed to work, teachers did not loose too much time but started checking their delicious accounts and bookmarking some interesting learning resources there that had been introduced earlier during the day. That moment, somehow, was an awakening moment for me. I realised that what I've been hassling about for so long, our dear repository, the one and only, is not really one and only source of information for them. Just one among many others that we are not even interested about.

Hence the little idea of integrating users delicous tags and bookmarks on the MELT portal. A logical place for them would be at the Favourites' section: here, on the first tap, are my bookmarks from MELT, and over here on the second tap, are my bookmarks from delicious too. Cool,ugh, inter-relating the services that teachers use. Also, since by default all my Favourites in MELT are publicly available to other users, so would my delicious bookmarks be.

The whole idea goes much further to integrating these using APML to create a profiling tag cloud from my tags from both places. The workshop paper is found here, I still need to work on it a bit.

Other interesting things about the papers:

The study was build using the Activity Theory from Engström 1987 as a theoretical framework. It also might be interesting for me, as I am missing one. Margaryan and Littlejohn (2007, 2008) claim that it offers a holistic framework that allows to study LORs and communities as a single system, rather than as a loose set of instruments, subject, objects and outcomes. It provides an analytic lens to understand the complex relationships wihin each system.

Activity Theory as such belongs to the family of socio-cultural approaches to learning (e.g. Vygotsky), situated learning theoris (Lave) and communities of practice approaches to learning (Wenger, there he is again..). The paper explains that the common denominator for socio-cultural theories is the importance of social and cultural contexts in learning.

From that perspective Activity Theory might make a nice match. One thing why I first was skeptical about it was that Margaryan and Littlejohn in (2007) say this theory offers a method of analysing the development of LORs as participatory environment where knowledge is co-constructed rather than "exchanged" or "consumed". I am not sure whether LORs really were developed in thinking of co-construction of knowledge, at least not before we mixed in the social tagging stuff. From that point, then, it becomes interesting, maybe.

In Margaryan and Littlejohn (2008) authors also talk about how social co-creation of knowledge is facilitated through the use of tools, either concepetual or physical. A dialogue can be such a conceptual tool, but so can email or blogs. Also tags, I guess, can subscribe to that.
Another thought that came out from reading the 2008 journal paper was that it also talked about Leontiev (1981) and analysing an activity from 3 different levels. The first level related to the overall motive for engaging with an activity. The second level relates to the actions that constitute an activity that are governed by (short-term) goals. The third level of activity related to the operations necessary for carrying out the actions. This made me think of "levels of participation" like in this ladder (or the long tail one). What they also try to depict is that there are different levels of participation, they are differently motivated, and maybe when talking about learning, we can also observe similar levels as pointed out by Leontiev (1981).

A few ideas for the evidence finding paper:
  • The dimensions of repositories and communities can be used to describe the datasets that I will use
Start for the evidence paper: Assume that repositories and learning resources get rid of technical, socio-cultural and pedagogical barriers for usage (references from the JISC report on Learning Communities and Repositories from CD-LOR project), does the re-use across the national and linguistic borders happen? If evidence is found, how much and where?

Engestroem, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity theoretical approach to developmental rsearch. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit Oy. Retrieved August 25, 2008, from

Margaryan, A., & Littlejohn, A. (2008). Repositories and communities at cross-purposes: Issues in sharing and reuse of digital learning resources. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (JCAL), 24(4), 333-347.

Margaryan, A., Littlejohn, A. (2007) Communities at cross-purposes: Contradictions in the views of stakeholders of learning object repository systems. Proceedings ascilite, Singapore 2007.

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