Co-Construction of Learning Objects: Management and Structure

Co-Construction of Learning Objects: Management and Structure

Thomas Hansson (Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-668-1.ch013
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It is an unsettled issue between research traditions how we should negotiate the implied rather than acknowledged dispute between individual agency, i.e. the ability/need/urge of a manager to act on/in the world on the one hand and the functioning of a structured social system where management and employee initiatives, relations and reactions are crucial for the main activity. This chapter resolves parts of the debate by drawing on general activity theory and a digital tool for facilitating job-related group interaction.
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Kaptelinin & Nardi (2006, p. 235) suggest research should “theorize transformations between individual and collective levels.” Regardless of methods, however, there seems to be creative dynamics at work between approaches. The reason is that there is transaction of situated and de-contextualized meanings going on. Furthermore, human interactions form (Wells, 2007, p. 165) an “occurrence of a joint activity in which multiple employees are collaboratively involved.” And so, it is intriguing to learn how management, staff and employees deal with recurring contradictions between agency and systems thinking.

Garrison (2001, p. 276) argues against Western thinking based on a list of dualisms in Dewey (1952/1989, p. 408): “The material and spiritual, the physical and the mental or psychological; body and mind; experience and reason; sense and intellect, appetitive desire and will; subjective and objective, individual and social; inner and outer;” In responding to the Deweyan philosophical approach, Roth (2007, p. 40) acknowledges the dialectical as opposed to dualistic relation between managerial agency and collective employment. Kaptelinin & Nardi (2006, p. 11) outlines agency versus structure for ICT environments, saying: “activity theory has always had a strong notion of the individual, while at the same time understanding and emphasizing the importance of a socio-cultural matrix within which individuals develop.” So, emphasis is on management, structure and a combination of the two deployed as a way of describing and explaining team learning in a digital setting.

Lev Vygotsky (1987) is a renowned proponent of a combined view on agency and systems thinking. He emphasizes the crucial impact of “structured situatedness” for development of human activity systems, suggesting that facilitating agency, today categorized as ‘scaffolding’ (Wood, Bruner & Ross, 1976) as a way of enhancing sought processes and outcomes of contextualized learning. Scaffolding is a pedagogic strategy which a facilitator employs to support the learner. Peter Senge (1990), a contemporary promoter of organizational theory, likewise outlines the significance of personal mastery in learning organizations, emphasizing the crucial impact of management to help employees think about the company and themselves in terms of relation building processes in a social system.

By agency we understand that individuals are ready, willing and able to act on impressions, take action, support activities and adapt to people and objects. A preparedness to act on personal needs, motives and goals so as to control other people’s actions is a specific human ability, be it informed, planned or spontaneous. Furthermore the general idea for exercising agency, leadership or management is to produce an effect according to an original plan or to follow an adjusted intention. People seem to continuously contribute to the functioning of social systems where they listen to, calculate, process and respond to what is happening in physical, virtual and social worlds. Thus, any such system – a football team, an army, an orchestra or a staff meeting – is made up of people relating to each other with a shared understanding of the borders of the system, what the consequences would be if they crossed them, what keeps the community going and what separates the insiders from members of a neighboring system.

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