Monday, September 19, 2011

From the macro to the micro

If the previous readings (Nardi & O'day, 1999, etc.) can be categorized as reminiscent of a macro-analysis of the way that individuals interact with technology, Enyedy (2003),  Koedinger & Corbett (2006) and Schartz et al (2007) present a micro-level analysis of the interactions between individuals and technology. I borrow the terms micro and macro here from sociology to distinguish the analysis of systems and cultural structures from the analysis of everyday social interactions (in some sense, the individual acting within the system). In fact, the classroom is a locus of everyday social interactions. In the micro analyses presented by  Koedinger & Corbett (2006) and Schwartz, Blair, Biswas, Leelawong & Davis (2007), the authors focus on individual structures of thinking (schemas) and recognized the taken-for granted influence of social interactions on individuals cognition to a limited extent, or not at all (Schwartz et al. were arguably more overt in this recognition). Enyedy (2003) on the other hand, understood learning as social practices, or culturally-derived standards of behavior. Additionally, he argued that learning extended beyond the individual-social dichotomy, acknowledging that meaning (or learning) is "interactionally co-constitued" (pg. 365).

Given the interplay between the agency-system and mind-social dichotomies that arise in these articles, I have sought to revise my model by acknowledging that the nature of the lifeworld as inter-subjective, in which experiences are social in nature and can be shared with others. For instance, the interaction between peers and/or teachers are intersubjective in that each party comes with their own interpretation of the situation and affect each other's interpretation of the situation before them (recall Schwartz et al.'s example of the mother and child interaction). In some student interactions with technological designs on the other hand, students are in effect interacting with the embedded intention of the designer (e.g., cognitive tutors). Successful learning as such, depends on the perceived affordances of the designed technology. Perceptions of affordances however, are drawn from the lifeworld, as well as the presence of others. As noted by all the authors, successful use of the technology used in the classroom depended on social interactions with peers and teachers.

As I reflect on the model further however, perhaps there should actually be another thought-bubble that arises from the subject-object interaction, since this interaction affects how each would be thinking/thought of. Here, objects are taken to mean as artifacts that are imbued with cultural meanings drawn from one's lifeworld. They are thus not neutral, but instead imbued with a variety of meanings. Admittedly, the model is still general, but does capture the various aspects that are important in understanding the role of subject and objects in relation to the lifeworld (structures and systems included!).

Monday, September 5, 2011

Person-Lifeworlds-Technology versus Information Ecologies

A common theme among the three papers was the nature of technological affordance and in particular, how these affordances depend on the interaction potential of users (Stahl & Hesse, 2009). Interaction potential in this sense refers to users' ability to perceive the constraints and possibilities in the activity and environment (Gibson, 1977). This echoes the other authors' argument that a shift of perception is necessary in order to understand technology and for users to be critical and reflective of the corpus of information found in information ecologies, as well as being aware of the invisible  practices and working styles present in such ecologies (Burbules & Callister, 1999; Nardi & O'day, 2000).

Model Version 1.0
The original model I had about the role of technology in education leveraged affordances as a heuristic about how to think about the role of technology in our lives. It was general, and purposefully so, since I wanted to focus on the dialectical interaction between person and environment, as well as what Husserl (1936) characterizes as our lifeworld. While the concept of lifeworld is complex, I use it here to represent both one’s personal attitudes and the sociocultural established meanings given to experiences and/or interactions with objects or persons in the world.

Model Version 2.0
In the updated model, I have chosen to specify the components of the interactions among individuals, their lifeworlds and technology. This model mirrors Nardi and O'Day’s (2000) concept of information ecologies to a certain extent. Nardi and O’Day make a compelling argument for the concept of information ecologies; local environment with various practices, values, technologies and people. These ecologies encapsulate the three metaphors or holistic assumptions and questions regarding technology as tools, texts, and systems.

Much like information ecologies, the concept of lifeworld allows us to understand the impact of lifeworld on individuals and can be further operationalized into the existing material and symbolic aspects of the human condition.  Drawing on this model, the interaction between person-lifeworld-technology can impact one’s use of material technology (as a tool) and the intention and symbolic meaning embedded in these interactions (as text) and represents the magnitude and scale of the role of technology in our lives (as a system). Nardi and O'Day presented a good overview of the complexities involved in the idea of systems, but I found it undefined and problematic since it did not seem as if the ideas were synthesized usefully. I have chosen here to define system as the replicated relations between actors which are in turn structured as social practices (Giddens, 1984).

To illustrate this model, I have selected the gaming ecology in a World of Warcraft raid instance. The raid instance represents the technological world of an online gaming environment, complete with various tools and interactions with others which are necessary for the success of any given encounter. Players must not only know how to use the material aspects of the technology, but must also pay attention to the interpretation and meaning of symbols embedded in the local environment, which functions as an enclosed system. Simply put, a person's interaction with the designed game environment (which represents technology) is informed by her lifeworld, which in turn affects her gameplay and the uptake of the technology. This lifeworld can  consist of the norms associated with what it means to play a certain class, the practices associated with the group that one belongs, but can also be affected by the lifeworld of others. On the other hand, the existence of the designed game environment presents constraints and affordances and thus changes how people interact with one another.

As I ponder on this model however, it seems to mimic Marx’s conceptualization of human society as consisting of the base (technological and social forces of production) and superstructure (beliefs systems/practices). This is not necessarily a surprise, given Marx's influence in dialectical materialism, but certainly leaves more room to explore the model currently represented.