Re: Self-Determination theory versus SCT and AT

From: Lara Beaty (
Date: Mon Feb 07 2005 - 12:11:03 PST

Jim, Rodrigo, and George,

I've had the question George started off with (what about SDT?) in the
back of my mind for days because I started my dissertation with Deci
and Ryan's work very much in my mind. It is in this last message that
my thoughts have crystalized.

As I am finishing my dissertation, Deci and Ryan are no longer on my
mind. I found that their work was very consistent with my undergraduate
education and that it was nicely optimistic about what was "really"
going on in people's heads. But as I have focused on the contexts of
classroom activity, it no longer had anything to contribute. I still
tend to fall back on a position like their's when I debate "education"
with my spouse, but it doesn't help then either; I am accused of
asserting a belief without evidence. What works is to examine the
contexts and the histories of the people involved.

Rodrigo wrote:
> Usually students must keep the learning demands in the foreground
> as they manage their work and home life, there is no fixed time to be
> in
> class or other cues to say, "time to learn"... In this sense I do think
> that in the context of online learning, theories that are more focused
> on the individual, such as SDT, can illuminate an activity analysis
> approach and vice versa.

Rodrigo began with an insightful description of possible contexts of
online learning for students but concluded by stressing the individual.
Perhaps SDT has something to offer, but everything from WHERE students
have access to a computer to why they chose an online course are
important parts of the context and not parts of the individual. I agree
that Holland's work is useful, more useful than SDT.

As a parent, I am very aware that my children's choice of activities
has a great deal to do with what I have initiated with them. They
transform what I have done with them, but their interest in reading,
for example, has a great deal to do with the fact that I rarely
withhold my attention when they bring me a book. What I might once have
thought of as an innate desire to master an activity or as a way of
asserting one's existence, I now see as--and find concrete evidence
of--emerging from face to face interactions. On the other hand, my
research with adolescents suggests that the self plays a major role--a
self embedded in a context.

These have shaped my thinking more than SDT:
        Holland, D., Lachicotte, W., Jr., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (1998).
Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University
        Litowitz, B. E. (1997). Just say no: Responsibility and resistance. In
M. Cole, Y. Engstrˆm, and O. Vasquez (Eds.), Mind, culture, and
activity: Seminal papers from the laboratory of comparative human
cognition (pp. 473-484). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
        Stetsenko, A., & Arievitch, I. M. (2004). The self in
cultural-historical activity theory: Reclaiming the unity of social and
individual dimensions of human development. Theory & Psychology, 14(4):

I don't feel quite resolved on this issue, though, so please tell me
what you think.


On Monday, February 7, 2005, at 11:36 AM, Jim Rogers wrote:

> hi rodrigo,
> I'm working through similar issues in my research in on-line classes.
> What I will share with you is based on weekly interviews I conducted
> with 5 students in an on-line class. I am still in the "figuring out
> what all this means" stage which the more work with the ideas, the more
> I realize that this might simply be an endless iterative stage ;)...
> but
> still the dissertation must be handed in at some point
>> It seems to me that quite often what happens in e-learning is that the
>> learner is essentially working by himself, of course situated in a
>> specific learning context, culture, probably with other learners or at
>> least a facilitator, etc, but in the absence of a "campus" or
>> classroom
>> other contexts such as work, family, personal needs, etc. could affect
>> how learners self regulate their learning more than in a face to face
>> environment... In fact those that choose online learning probably do
>> it
>> because that personal context does not allow him to learn in a face to
>> face environment.
> I have found similar issues in my own work. But rather than look at
> the
> issues from a 'motivation/goal' standpoint- which to me almost seems
> 'external' to the individual, i.e. yes there are goals (or possibly in
> terms of CHAT thought- motive hierarchies- see leontiev and chaiklin's
> more recent article on personality) but how are they formed and how do
> they become part of the individual? Rather, the way I have been
> looking
> at it is through the lens of identity and agency, e.g. Who are these
> students who participate in our classes and how do they develop into
> the
> students they are? Of course this is the basis of developmental psych
> (look at Scribner's article on Vygotsky's use of history as an
> excellent
> overview). What I am beginning to see is that the students in my class
> did come in motivated to learn and excited to take the online class but
> over the course of the semester they sort of fell back on their
> identity
> as undergraduate students, which in turn mediated their activity.
> I'll give a couple of examples here to help clarify. This identity was
> based partly on how they saw their selves in the classroom (and how
> they
> saw the role of the teacher)- for example, they felt it was not their
> role to comment critically on others' work or ideas and that others
> might think 'who the heck are you to be saying such things'. You can
> see that this would severly limit participation in the class (consider
> this in contrast to a group of teachers I had set up an online workshop
> for a few years back who far exceeded the participation requirements
> that I had set out. They saw their role and mine as the teacher
> completely differently and acted as such. In fact it wasn't until, I
> had to be gone for a week that the participants actually took control
> of
> the class... but that's another story). Another issue was related to
> how the students viewed the class- which was a required undergraduate
> writing class. They categorized this class as one of the many required
> classes which often consisted of a lot of 'jumping through the hoops'
> to
> complete (interesting that 4 of the 5 students mentioned the term
> 'jumping through the hoops'). Again, if the students viewed the class
> activities as such they would be less 'motivated' to do them.
> What I found was that these ideas- which mediated their activity- had
> formed both in the university and before in high school and had become
> part of their identity as a student over time. Now of course, the
> interesting question would be to see if they held a similar identity in
> one of their major classes (and from my interviews I had the inkling
> they did) but that is someone else's dissertation.
> If this sounds interesting to you, I would look to Dorothy Holland's
> work (Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds) for an excellent overiew
> which has a good combinateion of theory and examples. I am working on
> a
> manuscript with a CSCL slant that might be readable in a couple of
> weeks
> and I would be happy to pass that along.
> what do you think???
> jim

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