[xmca] Third Generation Activity Theory

From: Mark de Boer <mark.yomogi who-is-at gmail.com>
Date: Sun Nov 18 2007 - 05:16:21 PST

Dear Dr. Cole and all those who replied to my request,

Thank you very much for your advice. There is so much out on the
internet and I've ordered a plethora of books on the subject, I don't
even know where to begin. Leont'ev's books are the last ones to come
in... I will look at the articles on the web Dr. Cole and if there are
any I can't access, then I would like to take you up on your offer.

I have looked at all kinds of possibilities to figure out what is
going on with the members of the skype group and how the interaction
that occurs can be supported by theory. Wells' books have given me
great insight to the aspect of teachers working through their zpd's
through collaboration, and I've been able to support my argument for
the skype group and collaborative reflective teaching through that,
but it's not that simple.

The hierarchal structure of activity Leont'ev proposed (Activity,
Action, Operation) helps me support my argument that collaboration
between teachers in this setting can actually achieve the goal of
becoming better educators by helping each other through their zpds.

Wells states (Tharpe and Gallimore, 1988 cited in Wells 1999 p. 329)
'teacher development' has meant teacher training, that is to say,
something that is done to teachers. Only recently has this begun to
give way to a more agentive view of development: teachers learning in
their zones of proximal development, constructing their understanding
of the art of teaching through relective practice, and drawing for
guidance and assistance upon the same range of sources that is
available to other learners'.

He goes on to say 'A further significant feature of the growing
practice of teacher research is the emphasis on community and
collaboration with other teachers. ... Equally important, they
transform their own identities as teachers, as they take greater
responsibility for their learning and for the learning opportunities
they provide for their students (Chang-Wells and Wells, 1997 cited in
Wells, 1999, p. 329-30).

This is important for the one activity system, in which I think this
is clearly happening. David Kellogg suggested I look at the more
simpler triangles, in Daniels and in Cole (1996). I felt that for a
teacher - teacher collaborative forum over skype the uses of child
didn't seem to fit. Looking at the first generation model gave me
insight into a very simple use of what the skype group could be, but
the level of community (of teachers) in which each teacher is a
subject forced me to look at the second generation model. Subject and
community need to be different.

>From David Kellog's mail I was perplexed by his suggestion for subject
to be the actual lesson plan in the activity two system. I hadn't
thought of it that way at all.

>From the perspective that it is a human - computer interaction, this
one I find that I have not at all agreed with, as this is not learning
by using a computer, this is clearly a sense that the computer is
being used as a mediational means much like anyone who picks up a
telephone and makes a conference call. The only difference here is
that the technology affords us the luxury of sharing documents, or
using google docs for example as a central point for discussion while
using skype as a tool to allow communication.

The concept of the lesson plan being the object - from David was also
a great point thank you.

I'm going to try to propose something different based on the feedback given.

If we think of the first activity system as teachers studying through
collaboration only without moving to a classroom, the model seems very
clear. The object or motive simply becomes the understanding of the
materials and the outcome we would hope to be a pass on each test or
But from Wells, comes the real intention of why myself and five others
have formed a group. The object remains the same, I firmly believe
this. The outcome though I believe is different. The outcome of this
is the ability to now go into the classroom to use the knowledge. But
this cannot happen either without a cyclic formation of the activity
system one combined with some other activity system. The fueling that
occurs form one, cannot form new theory unless it comes back again to
the activity group one for analysis.

Thinking of the hunting example that seems to be used abundantly; if
one activity system based on the motive for needing food, goes
hunting, and is successful, then all the hunters come back and all are
well fed. Let's say for the sake of argument that there is a desire
for those hunters to be able to hunt without putting themselves in
danger and devise a new method of hunting i.e spears vs say a bow and
arrow. Now just to be on the safe side, the hunters split up, one
group armed with the traditional methods and one group armed with the
collaboratively formed new method.

They come back later both with food, and the new method group shares
their findings with the old method group. They can then begin to go
out hunting again, this time with new knowledge. If the new method
group though came back foodless, then the collaboration would begin
again. The cyclic process of these two separate activities - no pun
intended - feed each other, and the collaboration efforts I think can
be seen as a separate activity. But they are separate.

Going back to the teaching part, the teachers who are collaborating
now go away to their classrooms to test theories. The subject in both
cases needs to be the teacher (individual). They are armed with new
knowledge, for example a lesson plan based on new theory or even
simply a new methodology. The object (or if I may say motive for both
activities) are different. In the first, it is the understanding of
materials. The same subject - the teacher moves to the classroom and
this is the second activity. The motive for the second activity is to
gather knowledge based on the theory put into practice (the hunters
armed with new hunting methods). The lesson needs to be the mediating
artifact. (Does this go back to Wells paper last month?) The lesson
outcomes are examined (not based on success or failure, but instead,
'what happened') and brough back to the collaborative group. From here
the workings of Wells really helps in understanding the cyclic nature
of collaboration with two activity groups. There is no possibility for
the reflective teacher training to occur within only one activity
group. The teachers need to examine their findings (this gets into
before the zpd and the concept of self scaffolding through

Looking then at Daniels p. 92, it is not the object/motive we should
be looking at. It is the combination of the theory brought into the
classroom based on new understanding from collaboration, combined with
the practice results brought back from the classroom based on a
classroom setting. This then produces a cyclic effect to either
one; produce an outcome of being a better educator thus feeding the
activity system one (scaffolding) or
two; reflective teaching - what really happened (again scaffolding).
At the same time feeding activity system two, the students benefit
from the use of the teacher collaboration from activity group one. The
Object three that is cited in Daniels, then simply becomes the
combination of theory to practice, back to collaboration and the
result is new theory. The new theory being object 3. But I would
propose that object three is not static and eventually the object
three will become the mediating artifact for activity system 2.

What I am proposing in my MA paper is that through the combination of
these two systems, the benefits of distance education are fantastic if
collaboration occurs. Teachers are already in a position to use new
knowledge and this gives us a much better perspective of what happens
in the classroom because we can jump from activity system to activity
system. Of course the activity systems change as the teachers
(hopefully) become more knowledgeable and the management of activity
system one also changes based on workings within the teacher
collaboration group.


Does this make sense?

My only problem is putting this into a mere 4000 words. The MA has its
limitations. ... sigh...

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Received on Sun Nov 18 05:18 PST 2007

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