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H809 – Socio-cultural theory (A8.5)

April 6, 2011

One thing is for sure, I definitely did not learn enough about learning theories during my teacher training and my subsequent years as teacher. I acknowledge their importance, particular in research and how they determine research and methodology, but I am relatively overwhelmed by all the different perspectives and struggle to fully understand them  😕 However, it is nevertheless an absorbing topic.

After finishing reading Crook and Dymott (2005) we are asked to answer the following questions.

  1. What part do the five aspects of writing (text on the screen; text on the network; text as electronic traffic; text and the website; and the dialogue around text) play in describing the activity of writing? Do they ‘effect’ writing or ‘constitute’ it? How?
  2. Do you think that the learning involved in writing the assignments, or carrying out the other tasks described, is located in the head of the students? Or do you think it is distributed and situated?
  3. Crook and Dymott discuss the fact that there were substantial differences in the ways in which individual students used resources in one of the tasks (p. 103). What does this tell us about the mediated, situated and distributed nature of the activity?
  4. If you were given the opportunity to assess some of the students’ assignments that are described in this chapter, where would you focus your attention: on the end product or on the process of writing, and why?
  5. Which methodologies would you use to carry out your assessment of the students’ assignments, over and above those described in the chapter, and why?

Question 1

Crook and Dymott claim that the five aspects of writing do not change the individual behaviour itself, but the manner in which some activity can be carried out – when the technology is available. Hence the aspects do not effect writing, but constitute it. The use of technology is a relationship of re-configuration, not enhancement. The use of ICT re-mediate the writing process, writing is now done differently. The design of word processors re-mediates composition, as well as the networked nature of ICT and different audience re-mediates writing. Both authors claim that  technology actually shape the practices themselves, it is a dynamic contributor, it is about the affordances and constraints associated with the use of a certain technology, not the properties of technology per se.

Question 2

I would say that learning is located in the head of the learner – not for nothing is our brain located their that processes all the information, and I have the feeling that my head runs over with all the input we get from this course ;-). Yet, viewing it from the socio-cultural perspective learning is of course distributed and situative. Situative, because people within the same culture learn in different ways depending on the mediating artefacts they apply, and people in different cultures learn as well in different ways because their learning is mediated by different cultural artefacts.

Taking our tutor group for example, we come from different cultures, this apply different cultural artefacts (technology, ways of learning, doing things, etc). But also some of us belong to the same culture do we still differ in our learning, due to different physical environment, the connectedness with others, etc.

Distributed because according to Vygotsky (1981) ‘by being included int the process of behaviour, the tool (artefact) alters the entire flow and structure of mental functions’. Artefacts are a fundamental part of the mental function itself, not just a separate context.

Question 3

It tells us that we are all socially determined or mediated by cultural artefacts, that learning is situated within our current context, if we prefer to study e.g. at home or at the library, if we have internet access, the type of computer or software we use, the way we prefer to learn and/or design or environment, thus cognition is ‘spread over (Lave, 1998) the artefacts present. Crook and Dymott also claim that technology does not change some property of the individual, but re-mediates the manner in which an activity is organized or exercised which might explain why there were substantial differences in the ways in which individual students used resources in the task.

Question 4

Unfortunately, the school system still focus too much on the product, the outcomes and not on the process. During my teachers training I often thought how unfair it actually is that only the demonstration lesson  was graded, but not the whole process, the preparation of students that actually lead to a certain result. The lesson itself was simply the tip of the iceberg, and the whole hidden mass beneath the surface was actually not accessed. I try as often as I can to take the process as well into consideration, but in an educational system that focus on tests and exams, thus what is in the heads of individuals, it is often difficult to consider the process as well. I experienced frequently that a test result is not in accordance with the classroom performance of the student. I can give the student two grades, which levels out the discrepancy, but I am actually not allowed to allocate additional points in the test, just because I observed a different behaviour during lessons.

Question 5

I would use qualitative research methodologies, because the focus is on the process not the outcome of learning, as well as on meaning making in social settings. Qualitative research is designed to help researchers capture and understand social phenomena in their natural contexts rather than in their experimental settings. The research is sensitive to context and content and the temporal development of meanings. It also provides useful insight in the study of human perception and interactions. Crook and Dymott used e.g. interview, invited students to keep detailed diaries (qualitative data), but logged the manner in which they used their personal ICT resources, thus collected as well quantitative data to support and explain their claims.

Where does that lead us?

Is the media now the message (McLuhan) or is technology/media a mere vehicle that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition (Grocery truck analogy, Clark, 1983). McLuhan set a basis for considering the relationship between modern technological forms and the form of society.

The next time I write something, e.g. the blog here or an essay, I really have to consider how the computer and I are involved in complex transactions that shape my literary activities. How could I be so ignorant and miss that relationship between me and my computer 😉

However, I am still quite unsure how our relationship looks like and if blogging effected writing or constitute it. Contrary to what I read in Crook and Dymott do I have to say blogging effected my writing it does not only constitute it. I also claim that not only the manner in which I carry out the activities, we are asked to do for the single modules, changed, but it changed me as a person as well, thus it affected on my behaviour and I would consider it in terms of a ‘cognitive amplifier’. Blogging amplyfies my power as writer (Crook and Dymott, 2005). Certainly, blogging changed the manner in which I organized or exercised my previous study, thus re-mediation took place as a new technology (blogs) entered my existing cultural practices (use of a word processor, no audience).


Crook, C. and Dymott, R. (2005) ‘ICT and the literacy practices of student writing’ in Monteith, M. (ed.) Teaching Secondary School Literacies with ICT, Maidenhead, Open University Press.

From → H809

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