RE: Self-Determination theory versus SCT and AT

From: del Valle, Rodrigo Tomas (
Date: Mon Feb 07 2005 - 14:11:32 PST

Hi Lara, Jim, George and all...

I am running now and taking of for a couple of days, but I wanted to
thank you for your insights...


-----Original Message-----
From: Lara Beaty []
Sent: Monday, February 07, 2005 3:11 PM
Subject: Re: Self-Determination theory versus SCT and AT

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.
Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University
        Litowitz, B. E. (1997). Just say no: Responsibility and
resistance. In M. Cole, Y. Engstr^m, 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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