Activity Theory and the Design of Pedagogic Planning Tools

Activity Theory and the Design of Pedagogic Planning Tools

Elizabeth Masterman (University of Oxford, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-861-1.ch009
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This chapter uses activity theory to construct a framework for the design and deployment of pedagogic planning tools. It starts by noting the impact of digital technology on teachers’ practice, particularly the role of planning in the creation of effective technology-mediated learning. It espouses the reconceptualization of planning as design for learning and identifies a key role for the emergent genre of pedagogic planning tools in stimulating practitioners’ engagement in this reconceptualized practice. Drawing on activity theory, the chapter then characterizes the principal elements and relationships in design for learning. From the insights gained, it analyzes research data from two projects to pinpoint the enabling factors and tensions in current practice that might be conducive to (or, conversely, impede) the effective design and deployment of pedagogic planning tools. It then synthesizes these into a framework in which software developers and policy makers can explore their own contexts for implementing such tools.
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It fundamentally made me think about what I actually do in the class. …The VLE [virtual learning environment] really made me think about “how am I going to project what it is that I give to a lesson when I’m face to face on this screen?”…Usually I don’t have to plan my lessons, I just go in and do it. …What it brought me back to was the actual lesson plan, you know, like when you first started off. …it was like that all over again (Masterman, 2006a, p. 31).

E-learning is often talked about as a “trojan mouse”, which teachers let into their practice without realizing that it will require them to rethink not just how they use particular hardware or software, but all of what they do (Sharpe & Oliver, 2007a, p. 49).

These observations come from, respectively, a teacher who had recently encountered a virtual learning environment (VLE) for the first time and two researchers with considerable experience in staff development issues. Both express the now commonplace truth that, for many teachers, introducing digital technology into their pedagogy can have ramifications for the whole of their practice—even forcing them to replan from scratch classes which they have taught successfully for years. Many teachers embrace this disruption willingly and with enthusiasm; others, however, remain reluctant to engage with technology, even in institutions where its use is already embedded in the overall teaching and learning strategy.

The reasons for this reticence may lie with the individual practitioners themselves. Data from recent research by Masterman and Manton (2007) point to factors that include a lack of awareness or curiosity regarding the possibilities afforded by technology, “technophobia,” lack of time to explore technology, aversion to the risks inherent in experimentation, and—even today—a fear of being supplanted by the computer. Alternatively, the problem may lie in the workplace: for example, other teachers may be using technology to enhance their students’ experience, but there are no mechanisms for spreading the message or sharing learning designs. Nevertheless, these individuals find themselves under pressure to adopt technology in their teaching, whether from above (e.g., through making technology use a criterion in performance assessment) or from below, as more and more students arrive at college or university already expert in the use of digital technologies and expecting their tutors to be likewise.

To address this state of affairs, institutions within UK post-compulsory education have begun to assume responsibility at the corporate level for promoting the uptake of technology-mediated learning (e-learning) among teaching staff (Oliver, 2004; Sharpe, Benfield, & Francis, 2006). The concern of this chapter is to drill down directly to the bottom of such institutional initiatives and examine how the uptake can be optimally supported: that is, how to bring institutional change to the individual university or college tutor in such a way that the encounter with novel concepts, forms, practices, and tools will be productive at both levels. This entails studying the individual’s practice within the institutional system, keeping the interests of both in balance.

This chapter focuses on planning as the locus of this encounter: that is, where individual practitioners start to get to grips with technology and explore its implications both for their pedagogical (i.e. theoretical) approach and the practicalities of their teaching. More specifically, it is concerned with the mediation of this activity by the emergent genre of pedagogic planning tools (e.g., Earp & Pozzi, 2006; Masterman & Manton, 2007; Walker, Laurillard, Boyle, Bradley, Neumann, & Pearce, 2007). These tools are purpose-built to guide teachers through the construction of plans for learning sessions that make appropriate, and effective, use of technology.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Activity Theory: A descriptive framework for studying the contextual aspects of different practices, linking the individual and social dimensions of that practice.

Learning Session: A stretch of learning broadly equivalent to a lesson, lecture, seminar, tutorial, or practical class.

Technical Tools: Tools that mediate physical actions: for example, pens, pencils, scissors, computers. Technical tools are needed to produce psychological tools such as written texts, diagrams, and maps.

Practitioners: Professionals who participate in the activity of design for learning, including teaching staff, curriculum development teams, instructional designers, learning technologists, and e-learning “champions.”

Contradictions: Within activity theory, structural tensions or problems that emerge within and between activity systems. Contradictions form the key drivers for change and development within an activity.

Psychological Tools: Tools that mediate cognitive actions: for example, language, counting systems, algebraic symbol systems, works of art, writing, diagrams, maps, and mechanical drawings.

Pedagogic Plan: In design for learning, the equivalent of a lesson plan, comprising, inter alia, a statement of the learning objectives; a description of the learners’ characteristics (level of learning, special needs, etc.); the sequence of activities which students and teacher are to carry out to meet the learning objectives; a specification of the environment in which learning will take place; and a list of the technologies and other resources required.

Design for Learning: A perspective closely associated with learning design, that (a) focuses on the process of planning for a learning session which makes appropriate use of technology and (b) recognizes the distinction between the systematic and the creative dimensions of this process.

Post-Compulsory Education: In the UK, a generic term for the educational sectors covering students aged 16 and upwards: chiefly further education, higher education (universities), adult and community learning, and work-based learning.

Learning Design: As an outcome of the activity of design for learning: a pedagogic plan plus (a) the artifacts necessary to realize the plan in a learning session with students and (b) information relating to the outcomes of that session that may aid other practitioners in determining the reusability of the learning design for their purposes.

Complete Chapter List

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Table of Contents
Tom Carey
Lori Lockyer, Sue Bennett, Shirley Agostinho, Barry Harper
Lori Lockyer, Sue Bennett, Shirley Agostinho, Barry Harper
Chapter 1
Shirley Agostinho
The term “learning design” is gaining momentum in the e-learning literature as a concept for supporting academics to model and share teaching... Sample PDF
Learning Design Representations to Document, Model, and Share Teaching Practice
Chapter 2
Isobel Falconer, Allison Littlejohn
Practice models are generic approaches to the structuring and orchestration of learning activities for pedagogic purposes, intended to promote... Sample PDF
Representing Models of Practice
Chapter 3
Rob Koper, Yongwu Miao
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Using the IMS LD Standard to Describe Learning Designs
Chapter 4
David Griffiths, Oleg Liber
The IMS LD specification is internally complex and has been used in a number of different ways. As a result users who have a basic understanding of... Sample PDF
Opportunities, Achievements, and Prospects for Use of IMS LD
Chapter 5
Franca Garzotto, Symeon Retalis
“A design pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that... Sample PDF
A Critical Perspective on Design Patterns for E-Learning
Chapter 6
Sherri S. Frizell, Roland Hübscher
Design patterns have received considerable attention for their potential as a means of capturing and sharing design knowledge. This chapter provides... Sample PDF
Using Design Patterns to Support E-Learning Design
Chapter 7
Peter Goodyear, Dai Fei Yang
This chapter provides an overview of recent research and development (R&D) activity in the area of educational design patterns and pattern... Sample PDF
Patterns and Pattern Languages in Educational Design
Chapter 8
Gráinne Conole
The chapter provides a theoretical framework for understanding learning activities, centering on two key aspects: (1) the capture and representation... Sample PDF
The Role of Mediating Artefacts in Learning Design
Chapter 9
Elizabeth Masterman
This chapter uses activity theory to construct a framework for the design and deployment of pedagogic planning tools. It starts by noting the impact... Sample PDF
Activity Theory and the Design of Pedagogic Planning Tools
Chapter 10
Barry Harper, Ron Oliver
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Developing a Taxonomy for Learning Designs
Chapter 11
Carmel McNaught, Paul Lam, Kin-Fai Cheng
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Using Expert Reviews to Enhance Learning Designs
Chapter 12
Matthew Kearney, Anne Prescott, Kirsty Young
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Investigating Prospective Teachers as Learning Design Authors
Chapter 13
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Using IMS Learning Design in Educational Situations
Chapter 14
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Online Role-Based Learning Designs for Teaching Complex Decision Making
Chapter 15
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Facilitating Learner-Generated Animations with Slowmation
Chapter 16
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Representation of Coordination Mechanisms in IMS LD
Chapter 17
Johannes Strobel, Gretchen Lowerison, Roger Côté, Philip C. Abrami, Edward C. Bethel
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Modeling Learning Units by Capturing Context with IMS LD
Chapter 18
Daniel Burgos, Hans G.K. Hummel, Colin Tattersall, Francis Brouns, Rob Koper
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Design Guidelines for Collaboration and Participation with Examples from the LN4LD (Learning Network for Learning Design)
Chapter 19
Tom Boyle
This chapter argues that good design has to be at the heart of developing effective learning objects. It briefly outlines the “knowledge... Sample PDF
The Design of Learning Objects for Pedagogical Impact
Chapter 20
Margaret Turner
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Visual Meaning Management for Networked Learning
Chapter 21
Christina Gitsaki
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Chapter 22
Daniel Churchill, John Gordon Hedberg
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Chapter 23
Peter Freebody, Sandy Muspratt, David McRae
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Technology, Curriculum, and Pedagogy in the Evaluation of an Online Content Program in Australasia
Chapter 24
David Lake, Kate Lowe, Rob Phillips, Rick Cummings, Renato Schibeci
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Effective Use of Learning Objects in Class Environments
Chapter 25
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A European Evaluation of the Promises of LOs
Chapter 26
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Instructional Effectiveness of Learning Objects
Chapter 27
Robert McCormick
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Evaluating Large-Scale European LO Production, Distribution, and Use
Chapter 28
John C Nesbit, Tracey L. Leacock
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Collaborative Argumentation in Learning Resource Evaluation
Chapter 29
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For the Ultimate Accessibility and Reusability
Chapter 30
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A Needs Analysis Framework for the Design of Digital Repositories in Higher Education
Chapter 31
William Bramble, Mariya Pachman
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Costs and Sustainability of Learning Object Repositories
Chapter 32
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A Learning Design to Teach Scientific Inquiry
Chapter 33
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Chapter 40
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Designing Learning Objects for Generic Web Sites
Chapter 41
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Standards for Learning Objects and Learning Designs
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Principled Construction and Reuse of Learning Designs
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