Information Obesity: The web site

Resources for chapter 3: The Social Shaping of Technology

3.1 Online resources for the Social Shaping of Technology

As with all such lists on this site, this is deliberately a highly selective one. A long bibliography can be found on STS Wiki (link will open in a new window).

3.2 Hebden Bridge pictures [page 26]

Click on each to see a full-size image. From left-to-right:

  • Birchcliffe, from Keighley Road. Except for the newer houses in the immediate foreground, all the houses you can see here are the distinctive "top and bottom" configuration.
  • The bridge for which the town is named, with houses rising steeply up the hill behind.
  • View of the town from the south, showing how deeply it is indented in its valley. [This image from www.hebdenbridge.co.uk.]
  • Lees Road
  • View from the back of my house, in January.
Thumbnail: birchcliffe_from_keighley_road
Thumbnail: bridge and town
Thumbnail: Hebden bridge from South
Thumbnail: lees road
Thumbnail:view of snow

See also the Hebden Bridge local web site.

Back to the top

3.3 Cultural-historical activity theory, and single/double-loop learning [page 33]

See also the paper by Benson, Lawler and Whitworth which you can freely access via this link.

Below you can see the "activity triangle" first developed by Yrjo¨ Engeström. In the paper linked to above, we explain how we used Mwanza’s Eight-Step Model (that link will open in a new window) to guide our analysis, which poses questions as follows:

  1. What sort of activity am I interested in ? --> Activity
  2. Why is this activity taking place? --> Object(ive)
  3. Who is involved in carrying out this activity? --> Subjects
  4. By what means are the subjects carrying out this activity? --> Tools
  5. Are there any cultural norms, rules or regulations governing the performance of this activity? --> Rules
  6. Who is responsible for what, when carrying out this activity, and how are these roles organised? --> Divisions of labour or roles
  7. What is the environment in which this activity is carried out? --> Community [Community influence can include “top down” directives from managers, or “sideways” influences, from practitioners in different systems or organisations. Conduits for these sideways influences include staff development, personal acquaintance, workshops and the research literature, which can all catalyse activity in a system.]
  8. What is the desired outcome of the activity? --> Outcome.
Image: the activity triangle, showing how relationships between subjects, communities and objectives are mediated by tools, divisions of labour and roles

For example - and the descriptions here have been kept deliberately brief - the following answers could be given to these questions when directed towards one of the course units I teach on the MA: DTCE:

  1. What sort of activity am I interested in ? --> Designing and delivering the Development of Educational Technology course unit
  2. Why is this activity taking place? --> To help MA: DTCE students gain a strong grounding in the history of educational technology and the pedagogical and organisational principles which have driven this history
  3. Who is involved in carrying out this activity? --> The course unit tutor (Drew), teaching assistants, administrative support staff
  4. By what means are the subjects carrying out this activity? --> Drew's pedagogical knowledge and prior experience with this course; Blackboard (the VLE/CMS in which this course is partly taught); Breeze (videoconferencing software used for some classes); other resources available online and on-campus through the university of Manchester (e.g. the library).
  5. Are there any cultural norms, rules or regulations governing the performance of this activity? --> Wider regulations governing the offering of course units at the University of Manchester, delivery of grades, use of Blackboard, etc.
  6. Who is responsible for what, when carrying out this activity, and how are these roles organised? --> Drew has written the course material and undertakes most of the teaching. Teaching assistants help with uploading material and some of the teaching. Administrative support staff deal with assignment submission and maintain the general course environment (e.g. the technologies).
  7. What is the environment in which this activity is carried out? --> Wider community of teachers on the MA: DTCE. Wider academic community of teachers, courses and research work into the history and development of educational technology.
  8. What is the desired outcome of the activity? --> A successful and enjoyable learning experience for all students on this course.

THINK: Can you answer these questions for an activity that you regularly engage in at work? It does not have to be a teaching-based activity.

Engeström's theories (and see Mwanza's paper as well) are designed partly to highlight the tensions in a system. For example, the University of Manchester are keen for all its courses to be taught using Blackboard, but as we are running a course which is intended to give students a wide experience of many educational technologies, we also use Breeze and (not on this course unit, but others of the MA: DTCE), Moodle and other tools like Word Press. This creates a certain tension between, for example, the object of this activity and the rules which, in part, govern it.

THINK: What tensions (real, or potential) exist in your chosen activity system? How do you and the other subjects of the system learn from these tensions? Are you able to change or adapt the system in any way as a result of this learning process?

This latter point is what Engeström calls expansive learning. But the ability to recognise and reflect on tensions does not always result in subjects being able to so change the system. In some cases subjects may pull back around their communities of practice and "subvert" or ignore certain rules [see the quote from Wenger on pages 29-30 of the IO book]. As page 34 of the IO book says:

...learning processes within activity systems may only seek to adapt to changes originating outside the system which cause tension. The system adapts but the underlying cause of tension – the “primary tension” as Avis puts it – is not attended to. This criticism is linked to Argyris’s (1999) idea of “double loop learning”. An organisation engaged in “single-loop learning” is one that questions the results of its practices, but does not attend to the premises beneath these practices. For example, do declining student numbers on a course indicate that more needs to be spent on marketing (single-loop) – or that the course is less relevant in a changing age (double-loop)?

THINK: Think once more about your chosen activity system. At what points in your activity, if any, do you engage in double-loop learning? What about the organisation of which the activity is part?

Back to the top

All photos © Drew Whitworth except the view of the town from the south which is taken from www.hebdenbridge.co.uk. [If you are the photographer and wish to be credited on this site please contact us.]