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 International Journal of Education and Development using ICT > Vol. 3, No. 4 (2007) open journal systems 

Making sense of the meaning maker: tracking the object of activity in a computer-based mathematics lesson using activity theory.

Joanne Hardman, University of Cape Town, South Africa

This paper outlines how one can use activity theory (AT) as an analytical framework to understand tool use and its attendant developmental impact in context by selecting object-oriented activity as the unit of analysis. While an understanding of object-oriented activity is central to activity theory, the notion of object is a frequently-debated and often misunderstood one. The conceptual confusion surrounding the object arises both from difficulties related to translating the original Russian conceptualisation of object-oriented activity into English as well as from the different interpretations of the object currently in use within two contemporary approaches in activity theory. Further compounding the understanding of this notion as it relates to pedagogical practices within schools is its use as a predominantly interventionist tool in work settings to understand transformation rather than as a theory to explain activity in classroom settings. This paper sets out to develop a methodology for studying the object of mathematics lessons by exploring notions of object-oriented activity, before discussing the conceptual challenges arising from its use in two contemporary versions of activity theory. To this end, the paper traces the historical development of the object through Leontiev (1975/78; 1981) and Engeström’s (1987) expansion of Vygotsky’s original triadic understanding of object-oriented activity. The paper goes on to elaborate a methodology for using AT to analyse observational data by developing the notion of evaluative episodes as pedagogical events in which the pedagogical object is made visible in computer-based mathematics classrooms. Findings indicate that an evaluative episode can serve as a moment in which the dynamism of an activity system is momentarily frozen, enabling one to model human activity in the system under investigation and, hence, in this study, to understand learning in context.

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International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology. ISSN: 1814-0556