Contradictions and Technology in Higher Education

Contradictions and Technology in Higher Education

Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4590-5.ch004
OnDemand PDF Download:
$30.00
List Price: $37.50

Abstract

This chapter is about how new forms of activity emerge in higher education and the role that contradictions in general and tools specifically play in that emergence. Activity system components such as norms, division of labour, and tools develop but at different rates and in different ways over long periods of time. Likewise, different activities may share a component but the component may be more developed in one activity than in the other. The development at different stages means that there are always disconnects within and between activity systems. Activity Theory calls these disconnects by the term contradictions. The chapter begins with an overview of contradictions. It follows with hypothetical examples to illustrate contradictions in a context of technology-mediated higher education. The second part of this chapter provides an overview of how contradictions have been used to analyze technology and learning.
Chapter Preview
Top

Introduction

In reality, it always happens that a phenomenon which later becomes universal originally emerges as an individual, particular, specific phenomenon, as an exception from the rule.

(Il’enkov, 1982, pp. 83-84)

In Activity Theory, expansive learning means learning new forms of activity and a new form of activity means a transformed, expanded object. In higher education, that object could hypothetically be personalized and self-regulated growth, adaptation, and development supported by powerful digital networked devices equipped with customized knowledge and applications, the outcome of which is a self-actualized learner who is better able to make sense of the world. That new form of activity would represent a transformation of the culturally and historically rooted institutions and organizations that make up higher education. It would blend congruously with other activities such as work, which itself can be potentially continuously transformed into a more expanded form.

More culturally and historically evolved forms of activity emerge as a result of a complex and interactive development process. Activity system components such as norms, division of labour, and tools develop but at different rates and in different ways over long periods. Likewise, different activities may share a component but the component may be more developed in one activity than in the other. The development at different stages means that there are always disconnects within and between activity systems.

Activity Theory calls these disconnects by the term contradictions. The contradictions may manifest themselves as problems. Resolution of the problems allows for a better fit within and between activities. It is in this sense that contradictions can be a mechanism of transformation (Mørch, Nygård, & Ludvigsen, 2009, p. 191) or motivating force of change and development (Engeström & Miettinen, 1999, p. 9) and of innovation (Engeström, 2001). The resulting fit and congruity of components within and between activity systems allow new forms of activity to emerge.

This chapter is about how new forms of activity emerge in higher education and the role that contradictions in general and tools specifically play in that emergence. In Chapter 2, we provided an overview of Activity Theory. We concentrated on describing some of the main principles as well as the components of the theory. We made only brief references to contradictions and to possibilities for expansive transformations because the central role of these two principles merits chapters devoted solely to their discussion. This chapter begins with an overview of contradictions. It follows with hypothetical examples to illustrate contradictions in a context of higher education. The second part of this chapter provides an overview of how contradictions have been used to study technology and learning.

Top

Contradictions: From Underlying Disconnects To Surface Problems

Engeström and Sannino (2011) commented on the vague, loose, and ambiguous use of the term contradictions as a “fashionable catchword with little theoretical content and analytical power” (p. 368). The authors further cautioned against the “watering down” that occurs by not defining them theoretically, depicting them ahistorically, and presenting them as mere “constellations of competing priorities” (p. 369). The goal of this section is to synthesize some of the interpretations and to provide an interpretation applied to higher education with an emphasis on the role of tools in contradictions.

Contradictions are not directly observable; “they can only be identified through their manifestations” (Engeström & Sannino, 2011, p. 369). These manifestations have been referred to in the literature as: disturbances (Capper & Williams, 2004); disruptions (Berge & Fjuk, 2006); problems, ruptures, breakdowns, clashes, misfits (Kuutti, 1996); conflicts (Dippe, 2006); inconsistencies or discrepancies (Kaptelinin & Nardi, 2006); cross-purposes (Russell & Yañez, 2003); historically accumulating structural tensions (Engeström, 2001); and systemic tensions (Barab, Barnett, Yamagata-Lynch, Squire, & Keating, 2002; Yamagata-Lynch, 2010). Engeström and Sannino (2011, p. 373) used four terms to mark manifestations of contradictions: dilemmas (e.g., incompatible evaluations); conflicts (e.g., interference, opposition, disagreement); critical conflicts (e.g., paralyzing inner doubts), and double binds (e.g., unacceptable alternatives).

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Reset