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[xmca] (PhD Thesis) LEARNING IN A VIRTUAL WORLD: Expanding Activity theory for the design and evaluation of group praxis

Dear XMCA community

I have recently graduated with a PhD from the Department of Computer
Science at the University of Cape Town. It has been a challenging but
very rewarding experience and I would like to share the fruit of my
labor (PhD thesis) with you. Please read the Abstract at the bottom of
this mail and if you are interested, kindly request a PDF copy from me
by replying to this thread or emailing me at hendranus AT gmail DOT

I would love to hear what you think of it and possibly collaborate. I
would also like to publish my thesis as a book and take my research
further (postdoc, etc.). I would therefore greatly appreciate any
advice that could make this possible.

Warm regards
Hendranus Vermeulen

PhD thesis abstract of "LEARNING IN A VIRTUAL WORLD: Expanding
Activity theory for the design and evaluation of group praxis":

This text responds to the increasing demand for frameworks to support
the design and evaluation of virtual worlds which are effective in
their particular learning context by developing, a meta-theoretical
framework for understanding “learning in a virtual world” and the
novel dialectical methodology for designing and evaluating learning
activities in it by “expanding activity theory for the design and
evaluation of group praxis”. It emerges from exploring learning in a
virtual world in all of its complexity. It illuminates two competing
perspectives of learning and VR. On the one side, individualistic
learning (mental representations) and rationalistic VR, based on the
dualistic ontology; and on the other, social learning (human
development) and dialectical or relational VR, based on the
non-dualistic ontology. This historical perspective reflexively leads
to Cultural-historical activity theory, which is identified as the
most appropriate and productive framework for considering learning in
a virtual world. Activity theory facilitates the comparative
evaluation of learning in virtual worlds; i.e. comparing them to the
same learning activity in another situation. Activity theory
furthermore provides the key analytical category of
object-relatedness, necessary to make such a comparison possible. True
to the dialectical method this text proposes it then moves to applying
theory in practice. The approach utilizes Activity theory as an
instrument and analytical lens to describe, design and evaluate
learning activities in virtual worlds (3D videogame implementations
utilizing the Unreal2Engine). The approach is applied to two case
studies conducted in the domain of Film Studies. Activity theory
proves a successful analytical tool for describing the structures of
the activities analyzed. These descriptions are adequate for informing
the design of the virtual worlds. However, the more complex second
scenario proposes challenges for the traditional activity system
representation and unit of analysis. Activity cell transformation
develops in response to these challenges and enables the dialectical
reflection back on Activity theory to provide new insights into
contemporary Activity theory and some of the 3rd generation
theoretical challenges identified. In addition to the individual and
collective activity analysis, this new intermediary lens focuses on
the interrelationship between the individual and collective activity,
i.e. collaborative group activity.
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