IFI7144 Task 10 – Activity Theory –> NIE vs. PLENK2010

The object of this article is to take a closer look at the understandings of Activity Theory and the application of it in two different online subjects/courses. The courses I will be comparing to each other on the grounds of Activity Theory are:

1. New Interactive Environments (NIE)

2. Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge (PLENK2010)

Activity theory provides us a means to analyze the dynamics of an application or environment as it distinguishes between motives, goals and conditions. When conditions change, operations become perturbed and the system adapts to the new situation automatically. When goals are disturbed, new goals are constructed, providing that motives remain stable. The activity changes when the motive changes. There are three basic components to keep in mind when applying Activity Theory to the analysis of certain applications or environments. Firstly we need to clarify the purpose of the activity system. It is important to clarify the motives and goals of the activity system, to understand the context within which activities occur and to reach a thorough understanding of the motivations. Secondly we need to analyze the activity system and produce the activity system(figure 1).

 This step involves defining, in depth, the components of the given activity, namely, the subject, object, community, rules and division of labour. And finally we need to analyze the activity structure. This step involves decomposing each activity into actions and operations. An important key process in analysis is to analyse the activity structure (all of the activities that engage the subject) that defines the purpose of the activity system. The hierarchy of activity, actions and operations describe the activity structure.The relationship between subject and object of activity is mediated by a tool. A tool can be anything used in the transformation process, including both material tools and tools for thinking. Transforming the object into an outcome requires various tools (e.g., computers, software, methods, ideas, procedures, Internet, paper, pen etc.).

To start off I took a closer look at the subject and environment that I am not familiar with and that is PLENK2010. The purpose of that course is to clarify and substantiate, from the context of new research conducted by facilitators and participants, the concepts of personal learning environments and networks. Course facilitators and participants analyze the research literature and evaluate it against their own experience with the intent of developing a comprehensive understanding of personal learning environments and networks.

1.1 Clarify the purpose of the activity system.

The purpose of the course PLENK2010 is to clarify and substantiate, from the context of new research conducted by facilitators and participants, the concepts of personal learning environments and networks. In a bit larger terms, to try to work together in providing the outlining concepts in order to build and maintain these environments and networks.

1.2 Analyse the activity system and produce the activity system.

The subject in this case is of course the participant and also future participants. Since it is meant to be the means to conceptualize and improve the whole learning process, I would also count the facilitators as a part of the subject in some way. The object, in the long run would be to perfect the concept of PLENK and to establish a valid base on which to build future development in the field. The community is made up of students, facilitators (thinkers, technologists and practitioners in the field) and organizers/administration (Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute – TEKRI). Rules are made up by work ethics, confirmed deadlines and participation within the confirmed curriculum and timeline. The division of labour contains the technical staff, keeping up the whole environment, starting from programmers, developers, managers, administrators etc.

1.3 Analyse the activity structure.

The activity structure based on the subject name. The point of departure is not written down by the facilitators in a strict way, and that makes the structure very flexible from the very start. The whole development starts from the initiative of the participator and moves on from there, from selecting the point of view to formulating it in accordance of obtained information. There are a set of tools that are given to pave the way for obtaining the information, in order to benefit the object (outcome). These are the environments and associated operations provided: course wiki(describing the outline of the course; editable by participants), a daily newsletter (which will aggregate student blogs, Twitter posts, and discussion posts), a Moodle discussion forum (read and responded to by course facilitators), Wednesday Elluminate session (featuring relevant guest speakers) and a Friday Elluminate session, as a weekly review with the facilitators.

Now, to come to the more familiar subject, which is New Interactive Environments (NIE). The course focuses on the (re-)design of new interactive environments for collaborative work and study. Particular attention is paid to the analysis, representation, and (re-)instrumentalisation of human activities and activity systems with networked tools and services.

1.1 Clarify the purpose of the activity system.

The object of the course is for the participants to acquire conceptual knowledge and procedural skills on how to analyze, represent, and (re-)instrumentalise human activities and activity systems with networked tools and services.

1.2 Analyse the activity system and produce the activity system.

The subject of this course is the student/participant. In this course situation, facilitators are in a different category compared to the first. The object in this case is obtaining the knowledge and completing the course with a clear conceptualization on the matter. The community is also made up by students/participators and facilitators. Rules are mainly the same as on the previous subject, so work ethics, confirmed deadlines and participation within the confirmed curriculum and timeline. The division of labour also contains the administration and technical staff, and also the university as an organization, which is important on both subjects (NIE and PLENK). The tools need mentioning also and these vary a bit. Because intermediate tools are the course blog and wiki page, but other options like e.g. piratepad and videosessions are not weekly and not compulsory in obtaining the outcome (object).

1.3 Analyse the activity structure.

In this course the actual starting point is put down and “facilitated” for the participants. Although the participants have the opportunity, and are also urged, to come up with their own conceptualization, the whole idea still stands on the basis of literature and formal views. The actual process is made clear and the insight is provided, but no alteration or redefining of the perspective is encouraged. The tools in this subject are more literal. Articles and definitions are given that should be used as mediators in order to get the whole picture and to be provided with the conceptual knowledge (outcome).

To summarize, I cannot make any definite assumptions about the PLENK subject since I am not participating in it. But, as far as I can see, there are differences that occur mainly in the “object” part of the activity theory. In one case it is the consumption of something to get the desired result (NIE), whereas in the other, is more of consumption in conjunction with something … else(not to be secretive or anything, but unfortunately, I have not been able to come up with the correct formulation of the sentence). Also, one must keep in mind that the tools which are used for mediation change, because the object is different.

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