Archive for the ‘activity theory’ Category


Interactive television seminar: developing new interactive experiences for television audiences

January 27, 2010

Today we had a guest researcher’s seminar in HTK. I have taken some notes from his ideas.

Teijo Pellinen
doctoral student of Lapland Uni

Artistic search as new source of innovation. In Finland there are Sibelius academy and Fine Art academy where you can do artistic research related to domains such as opera etc. In Aalto University and Univ. of Lapland there are artistic research methods applied to art and design research.

Interactive narratives you can find in videogames.

To understand interactivity the narrativity in interactive television must be cut down to mental representation dimension, so narrative is emerging in the spectator’s mind through the interaction with the film.

Social media is a lot about storytelling. Traditional telephone conversation has changed from professional interaction to domestic enjoinment in time. In core it is a lot about telling stories, skipping technological functionalities. Same we see in modern social media services such as Twitter, Blogspot, Myspace etc.

Always when you watch narrative you are willing to see the narrative, the will to hear is the will to be seen. When we experience the story we also tell the story.

Not so many interactive, sustainable television programs exist (quiz games, chatting programs), it is quite new phenomena in TV.
Regular interactive TV programs have been around a decade. Lottery TV program is interactive if you participate with your ticket.

Big question is: What kind of experiences can be transmitted in TV to audience interaction?


Almost non-existing narrative
Akvaario program in Finland.
Sheep TV
Mind Saver (interactivity of taming a wild animal)
The age of Garbage (work in progress) (birds are recycling garbage in TV screen, if you call the program contacts you and the birds can come to your telephone and you can interactively control the game in your phone). television + game + story (it might be a Facebook application)

Control interactivity is established with phonecalls

A story between stories: algorithmic and audience control of video segments in an experimental interactive television programme
Chris Hales; Teijo Pellinen; Markus Castrén

Digital Creativity
2006, Vol. 17, No. 4, pp. 234–242

TV and art are polarised, antagonistic. You cannot say i do art in TV.
If i want to develop interactive TV programs, a good way is to make an artistic research. Methodology should grow from research.

Three models are applied in interactive art research of Teijo:

a) Kari Kuuti 1996 activity theory model

We think how individual is related with the community?
How individual is related with the target?
The reflection – how the target is related with the community creates the communal aspect of the interactive TV program?

b) Eija Timonen’s Practical based research model

According to this model we can create knowledge in artistic research, theoretical work is growing and shaping the practical research. The research question is still changing all the time, but eventually it will be fixed.

c) The relation of art and research (the relation of design and research)

Research about art
Research for art
Research through art

Results of Teijo’s studies

Sheep TV: people were willing to interact with the program and were long time interested in interaction. Question why are people willing to interact? Is it a game, a social game, is it just looping nature video that is attractive? Quite often 2 people started interaction (dialogie) with eac other (2 telefone numbers) to control the lamb.

The Mind Saver included database to record interaction.
The popularity of the program was surprising, a lot of software components crashed by the amount of interactivity.
Many callers called several times.
What to do with the data? The data indicate that people are really willing to interact.
In the Mind Saver there were more than 100 000 telephone calls, website got 2 000 entries. I assume that the website didnt get enough entertainment value as a component in interactive television.

Big question:

What kind of experiences can we transmit through audience interaction?

Is repetition key to new way of narrative?

This point i loved the most, because it is really related with the ontospacial view of writing digital narratives i have tried to explore. Practically, in ontospacial view we see repetition emerge in spacial terms, people come back and interact with the certain spaces meaningful or them in ontospace.

Repetitive action can be basis for new routine

Interactivity brings intimacy


Team as my tool

March 31, 2009

Last spring we run in Tallinn University an international course ‘eLearning’ in the frames of the IST 6th Framework project iCamp ( One of the students’ weekly tasks was to write reflections of their individual and group-work.

We aimed to investigate the occurrence of self-direction in these reflective postings and developed a categorization scheme with Sonja Merisalo, a master student of Tallinn University.

An elaborated Activity system framework provided a model to illustrate self-direction categories.


The most interesting in this model is that it enables to see three types of mediators of action (‘tools’) that individuals use to achieve their objectives:

- material tools, services and resources (any kind of social software for example)
– self-direction as a cognitive tool
– team as a tool

The first type of tools is following Vygotsky’s (1978) account of mediation by tools, which is also including words as sign-tools.
For the second type of tools, Wegerif (2007) has suggested it’s not just the use of explicit reasoning but the ability to change one’s mind and see things from a new perspective, that is essential for learning.
Second and third type of tools also follow Bakhtin’s (1986) account of mediation by the voices and perspectives of others (dialogic).

In a book chapter Knowledge Media Tools to Foster Social Learning (Okada et al. 2009) wrote:

The boundary between subjects is not therefore a demarcation line, or an external link between self and other, but an inclusive ‘space’ within which self and other mutually construct and re-construct each other

This becomes also apparent from the figure in which self as a tool and team as a tool have the moving, perceptional borderline.

Another interesting thought is that several kinds of ruptured situations become visible. Ruptured situations are usually assumed to be the triggers of self-reflection.

We used the categories to analyze the weekly progress of students, and statistical analyses demonstrated that the categorization system has a very good internal logic… so now we are quite enthusiastic of writing these data.

One more idea is to demonstrate how the perception of your learning environment and tools (here i mean all three types of ‘tools’) is changing when learning in social settings, and designing something in teamwork.

I imagine the course as some kind of timeline-pipe for learning in which the flow of initiating the use of certain types of ‘tools’ fluctuates and is regulated by the availability of some types of ruptured situations that the learners notice in the environment. The ruptured situations trigger and constrain the use of ‘tools’, the use of these ‘tools’ puts more attention on noticing and creating the ruptured situations.


Anyway, if i find time i try to formulate it better.

Bakhtin, M.M. (1986/1978). Speech genres and other late essays. In C. Emerson & M. Holquist (Eds.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Wertsch, J. V. (1991). Voices of the mind: A sociocultural approach to mediated action. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Wegerif, R. B. (2007). Dialogic, Education and Technology: Expanding the Space of Learning. New York: Springer-Verlag.


Summer school activity in Ohrid

June 13, 2008

Here are some resources for ProLearn summer school workshop.

Some files can be accessed from here.


Here are the results of our workshop:

Planning doctoral landscape and activity pattern

Doctoral students’ activity niche

Doctoral students’ activity ontospace plotted on tool landscape


Multi perspective view to affordances of tools

June 5, 2008

Today at master defences commission i played a bit with my data collected from students’ course.
Here is the demo tool to play with your dataset:

The formation of learning spaces happens through the social definition of several learning and teaching related environmental gradients that define the niche as the multidimensional space. In general, any gradient is a peak of the fitness landscape of one environmental characteristic, which can be visualized in two-dimensional space as a graph with certain skewness and width, determining the ecological amplitude. The shape of the fitness graph for certain characteristic can be plotted through the abundance of certain specimen benefitting of this characteristic. Each niche gradient defines one dimension of the space. Any learning and teaching gradient is determined as a characteristic that learners and teachers as creative knowledge constructing organisms perceive and actualize as useful for their activities and wellbeing individually or in groups. These niches gradients that make up learning and teaching spaces may be ecologically named learning affordances of the space – they are defined mutually in interaction both by the learner and the surrounding system.

Niche gradients emerge in the course of the embodied simulation processes of several individuals. Both the environmental cues and activity traces from surrounding environment, as well as, learner’s embodied knowledge involving the use of this environment in action, would trigger the actualization of certain learning affordances.

The activity system model provides a meaningful framework for describing the components of the surrounding environment where the learners and teachers are embodied during their activities. These involve individuals with certain objectives aiming to work together and defining certain rules and roles within their community when using tools and artifacts as mediators of their actions. Hence, the learning affordance descriptions involve the learning action verbs, people who are involved in action, and mediators of actions (various tools, services and artifacts). Any individual conceptualizes learning affordances personally, but the range of similar learning affordance conceptualizations may be clustered into more general affordance groups eg. pulling social awareness information or searching artifacts by social filtering etc.

Since in the learning design models the choice of the software tools plays an important role, niches may be defined by the frequency each learning affordance is perceived useful when making use of the certain tool.

The most useful affordances of each tool are demonstrated at upper right corner.

Here are the affordances of blog and wiki.

Affordances of social bookmarks and google search engine

Affordances of chat and aggregator


Ecological aspects for learning theory of new Digital Age

March 25, 2008

Recently, the widespread public use of social software has triggered for the need to theoretically ground the learning phenomena in this new environment.

Siemens (2005) has suggested Connectivism as the learning theory for new Digital Age. Connectivism focuses on how information, situated externally from people in the web, and creating meanings publicly in social software environments, aids through connective processes the new creative learning- and knowledge-building cultures.

Besides information-centred view to learning, what Connectivism carries, the other view should explain how learning is triggered by the involvement into the activities or by the observation of the activities of other individuals and groups. This view suggests that embodied cognition could be also considered as part of our knowledge.

Thus, while modelling the learning theories the new social software environments call for, an activity centred view to learning would be of same importance as the information-centred view, and should be theoretically entwined with the latter.

In order to extract the new principles of learning, while considering the activities that are part of the digital culture in social software environments, the web of social software tools with its inhabitants as an evolving and ecological environment must be described. The interrelations between individuals, and the real and virtual places they adopt for themselves in the process of manifesting their ideas, and engaging themselves into various learning activities in self-directed manner should be theoretically explained. This new ecological perspective to learning in social software environments can reside on the ideas of Gibson‘s and his followers approach to ecological psychology, elaborated approach of Engeström’s Activity Theory, rising theory of embodied cognition, but also on the Lotman’s school of cultural semiotics.

Some aspects to be considered and elaborated:

It is generally accepted that learning and tools used by certain culture from one side, and individuals of this culture and their learning and tool-using habits from another side, are influencing and shaping each other mutually (see Vygotsky, 1979). By definition the more social software tools are used, the better they become adjusted to the cultural habits of their users. The more user-defined interrelations between the meanings exist and can be activated by certain social-software specific microformats, the better the systems get for social retrieval of information. The more users‘ activities in social environments are externally marked by the users, for example with machine-readable formats describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do (FOAF), the better the access to the activity-related information and people becomes. The positive side effect of it is also, that the systems obtain new qualities for monitoring and getting awareness, that would open the gateway to the otherwise non-traceble communities in which the members are not personally related into social networks through shared activities. They may or may not have an awareness of each other, but they share similar meanings or perform same type of activities. Access to such people in new environments is potentially opening a multi-dimensional place where individuals can learn from each other or where shared group activities can be initiated for learning purposes. The more people get involved into the similar activities while evoking for themselves certain functions the social tools offer, the stronger the pressure gets of developing the systems towards facilitating this activity, and the more this activity becomes part of the learning culture in this environment.

This presumes the ecological relationships between people and their objectives for action in certain learning environments, and the personally differentiated perception of meanings and tools in their surrounding environments which would all-together dynamically shape the social software environments as places for learning. In particular, the focus is on how social software systems become accommodated with their users through evoking different affordances in the environment, discussing the multi-dimensionality and dynamicity of such places, and explaining how creativity and active participation are triggered in these places ecologically through different types of interactions.

The inhabitants of social web are characterised as distributed selves between different real and virtual social spaces. They express their identity as part of indistinct activity patterns, involving different social tools and different people. They influence social environments by virally spreading ideas that weave people and social places into invisible meaning dimensions. They leave activity traces as cultural prompts for new similar activities within certain dimension of the environment. The personal meaning-space and activity-space may be or may not be transcendent for the other individual learners in the web if the learner is distributing one‘s self between different social software tools.

The awareness of different dimensions of the social web as places for creative learning is obtained by perceiving the other inhabitants of social web as similarly distributed wholes. Tracing the meaning-spaces and activity patterns of other people twined between the distributed real and virtual places they inhabit, the dimensions of social space become unfolded and usable for our own self-directed learning.

Two aspects here are important. The meaning centred aspect suggests to use distributed self to be aware of more communities and their meaning spaces, and to create conditions for transferring information from one conceptual dimension to another. This precondition for cross-border meaning-building activities has been focused both in cultural semiotics as well as in the theory of Connectivism. Weaving one’s own coherent meaning web on top of such connections in distributed places is part of learning practices individuals do in social web to propagate their own self. Second aspect is finding people to learn together with. To be involved in the similar activities, similar spaces need to be used for interaction. The activities the members of such lose communities get engaged with, do not necessarily have to be centrally coordinated, but rather may emerge and exist as social patterns.

Learning through meaning building, and learning from participating in socially shared activities can be explained all together as part of emergent hybrid ecologies. The architecture of such environments interrelates various meaning dimensions, activity dimensions, and the distributed selves. By distributed self people can access different dimensions, propagate their meanings and activities into these dimensions, and use crossing borders of different dimensions for creative knowledge-building, as well as, for embodying and embedding cultural practices of new social web.


Socio-cultural and ecological explanations to self-reflection

February 10, 2008

I was reading this sunday morning the chapter from the Cambridge Handbook of Sociocultural Psychology (2007) by (eds.) Jaan Valsiner and Alberto Rosa:

Social basis of self-reflection
by Alex Gillespie


Since i have been thinking in terms of inter-subjectivity, activity theory and cultural semiotics earlier, while now my understanding has more and more shifted towards the embodied cognition and hybrid ecology ideas, i tried to see where my standing-point is and where it differs from socio-cultural ideas.

It seems to me that the basic idea in this chapter is recognizing that signs (but then also tools, since both are mediators of action what person needs to realize his objectives in an environment?) are created during culturally constrained actions as multi-perspective and inter-subjective representations, including both the actor’s and the observer’s experiences of that action.

Gillespie suggests that in different social acts we will get experiences of the both sides of the act in lifetime (learner/teacher, giving/receiving), so we can activate these perspectives simultaneously when the we need to create/activate a mediator (sign, tool) to carry out any act.

The re-using of the signs means activating these embodied experiences and switching between these multiple perspectives when using certain sign either alone or with the others in interaction.

In Gillespie’s elaboration i can see direct relations with embodied cognition and mirror-matching theories: these theories assume that we need to experience something, embody it, and only then we can observe others doing it so that it might reactivate our similar neural processes. But embodied cognition has not dealt with this constant activation of different experiences simultaneously – my own perspective as an actor, and the other’s perspective as an observer of that action.

Secondly, in embodied cognition the representational mediation, the processing of signs that represent something is excluded, and the observation, hearing or reading can directly activate sensory-motor paths that make as feel and act.

Following Gillespie, and relating it how i understand these issues, in case of conscious self-reflective activities we might simultaneously activate several previously embodied affordances of the environment (extracted dimensionalities) to do something what we wish to do (eg. my experience of learning and also my experience of teaching), then we are running these sensory-motor activations in parallel/simultaneously/one-by-one that means as a result that we sometimes suppress some affordances in the environment that we initially perceived as coupling with our anticipated affordances for doing some actions.

Rupture and the use of internalized actions as part of self-reflection in this case are the constraints we put to the anticipated affordances of actions internally before even trying to carry them out. Can it be like conscious hindering certain sensory-motor neural activation patterns as part of our decision-making of what act to perform?

Mirroring from others and the social conflict are the constraints emerging from the environment as the response to find/make use our anticipated affordances of action. It means we consciously accommodate our sensory-motor activation paths ecologically, searching in other people, in the environment for coupling affordances of our anticipated affordances for action and hindering those sensory-motor activation paths that do not find the match to become activated.

These are some ideas what i got reading the following parts from the Gillespie’s article:

Self-reflection can be defined as temporary phenomenological experience in which self becomes an object to oneself.

People use semiotic mediators, or signs by which they pick out certain affective experiences or situations, thus distancing themselves from both self and immediate situation. These signs are combined into complex semiotic systems (representations, discourses, cultural artifacts, symbolic resources), that provide even greater liberation from the immediate situation.

Such distance enables self to act upon self and the situation.

Four socio-cultural theories of the origin of self-reflection:

1. Rupture theories of self-reflection posit that self-reflection arises when one’s path of action becomes blocked or when one faces a decision of some sort.

Peirce: A problematic situation. a small irritation or rupture stimulates reflective thought (1978/1998).

Dewey (1896): in ruptured situations the object becomes subjective because the actor has two or more responses toward the object, and the self-reflection arises.
However, from Pavlov’s experiments it is shown that contradictory responses can co-exist without leading to self-reflection.

According to Piaget (1970) the problem situation forces the child to abstract and recognize his/her developing schemas when these schemas lead to unfulfilled expectations.

It was not clear from this explanation, why semiotic mediators must be stimulated.

2. Mirror theories of self-reflection suggest that the defining feature in self-reflection is the presence of an other.

The other perceives more about self-reflection than self can perceive.
The reflective distance from self which self-reflection entails first exist in the mind of other. This can be fed back to self by other, such that self can learn self from the perspective of other (Bakhtin 1923/1990).
Other provides feedback to the self same as mirror provides feedback about our appearance that we cannot perceive unaided.

The society can be a mirror as well, leading to self-reflection (Cooley, 1902). According to him, self is a social product formed out of our appearance to the other person, the imagination of his judgement of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling such as pride or mortification.
Cooly always related self-reflection with judgements leading to emotions such as pride, shame, guilt etc.

Questions: How does self take the perspective of the other? Is other a passive mirror, neutrally reflecting back to self?

3. Conflict theories of self-reflection suggest that self-reflection arises through social struggle.

Hegel: self-consciousness arises through gaining recognition from an other who is not inferior to self. Self and other treat each other as physical objects, and thus deny any recognition to each other. Due to this denial they enter into a struggle, the outcome of which is the relation of domination and subordination, that is master-slave relation. The slave can get recognition from the master but not vice versa. Slave struggles for recognition, developing new skills and competences. Self-onsciousness arises from struggling for recognition.

Psaltis & Duveen: Explicit recognition of new acquired knowledge by other and self is needed for durable cognitive development through interaction – the interaction needs to provide mutual self-reflection.

Sigel’s (2002) Psychological Distancing Theory asserts that discrepancies introduced by utterances of others can put a cognitive demand on the child which can in turn lead to representational work and thus distancing.

Activity Theory (Engeström, 1987) assumes that problematic situation includes problems introduced by the perspective of others. Participants within an activity system prompt each other to reflect upon the conditions and rules of their ongoing interaction. Thus contradictions between different counterparts of an activity system lead to reflection.

Social representation theory (Duveen) emphasizes that there are contradictions in the bodies of knowledge that is circulated in modern societies. Bauer and Gaskell (1999) suggest that people become of aware of the representations at the points at which they overlap or contradict each other. This coexistence of multiple forms of knowledge in the society can lead to self-reflection.

Similarly to rupture theories, it is not clear through which semiotic processes self-reflection arises.

4. Internalization theories of self-reflection posit that thought is a self-reflective internal dialogue with absent others, between their internalized perspectives.

Self-reflection arises through internalizing the perspectives that the other has upon self, followed by self taking the perspectives of other upon self.

Vygotsky (1997) emphasized that the process of internalization is a process of transformation rather than simple transmission. Signs are first used to mediate the behaviours of others, and later used to talk about self, reflect upon self, and mediate the behaviour of self.

Mead and Vygotsky conceive the sign (or significant symbol) as comprising two perspectives – the actor perspective and the observer perspective.

On one hand, there is the embodied actor perspective (the response) to some object (the child reaches hand to point to an object she wants to get). On the other hand, there is the distance introduced by the observer perspective of the other on the action (mother sees the grasping gesture indicating desire to get the object). The grasping becomes pointing when the child uses both of these perspectives.

Thus the sign (significant symbol) is fundamentally inter-subjective: it evolves both actor and observer perspectives in both self and other.

Questions: if the sign is composite of the perspective of self and other, how does this composite form, how are these two perspectives brought together.

Gillespie (2005) now starts to generate his own theory. He relies on the Mead’s theory of the social act suggesting that people move amongst the positions with a relatively stable social/institutional structure (host/guest, buyer/seller).

Each social act pairs (eg. giving/receiving, teaching/learning) entails reciprocal actor and observer positions and perspectives which mots people have enacted. They have previously been in these social positions of the other. Thus we are able to take these perspectives in each social act. The self becomes dialogical, containing multiple social perspectives for each act.

The social act is the institution that first provides individuals with roughly equivalent actor and observer experiences, and second, integrates these perspectives within the minds of individuals. When both actor and observer perspectives are evoked within a significant symbol (or sign) /like in gesture/, then there is a self-reflection, because self is both self and other simultaneously.

Gillespie calls self-reflection triggered by an actor perspective self-mediation and the self-reflection triggered by an observer perspective on an actor short-circuiting.

Gillespie assumes that different socio-cultural theories of self-reflection are not in opposition, but rather theorize different proximal paths leading towards self-reflection.

The magic of social act is that it integrates the actor and the observer experiences or perspectives into the formation of signs enabling higher level of semiotic mediation. Conceiving of the sign as this integration of perspectives elucidates the logic of self-reflection.

Whenever one uses the sign it can carry self from one perspective to another continuously.
Introducing the concept of sign (significant symbol) as a complex semiotic system entails abandoning the assumption that complex semiotic systems mirror the world. Instead, it conceptualizes these semiotic systems as architectures of inter-subjectivity, which enable translations between actor and observer perspectives within a social act.

Any narrative is not just a narrative that is analogical to self’s own experience, it is an inter-subjective structure that enables translations between actor and observer perspectives. Partially integrated actor and observer perspectives are the pre-condition for self-reflection. Rupture, feedback, and social conflict can cause self-reflection because of a pre-ecxisting and only partially integrated architecture of inter-subjectivity.


The illusion of Mediationism

January 23, 2008

To do something, what i wanted to do for a long time, i read the chapter claiming that mediationism is used like a miracle-tool in different theories. Why i was so hopeful – because there are approaches that deny the perceptional and representational way of making the world meaningful. For example, there is a theory of embodied cognition, where the processing of representations is not needed but they claim that persons directly activate the sensory-motor action paths in brain when being imposed to the sensory-motor action potentialities or affordances in the environment.

The Windowless Room:’Mediationism’ and how to get over it
by Alan Costall
pp. 109-123
From Cambridge Handbook of Sociocultural Psychology
Eds. J. Valsiner & A.Rosa

The book is standing on my table for a while, but the only chapter i have managed to take a look is the intriguing one by Alan Costall. I never saw such a lecture-style in a handbook!
His beautiful saying is: ‘making a fetish of mediation’. He describes several approaches how mediationism is used.

He uses the metaphor of windowless room to describe the mediationism. We find us over and over again in a room without windows, with pictures hanging on the walls, which depict other windowless rooms.

His conclusion is that there are so many ways of getting into this windowless room.

He does not want to suggest direct theory of perception or action, but wants to indicate that mediationism seems like a barrier between us and the world.

Within cognitive psychology mediationism has taken the form of representationalism.
Cognition has long been defined in terms of representations.
To deal with situated actions, representationalism gets into trouble because in different contexts the different representations become the second order representations that also involve contexts.
The meaning of representations is obtained when they are mapped onto the world.
It is believed we need to run internal representations to bridge the gap between the perceiver and the real world.

According to the social cognition approach we can only know about other people in an indirect way. Persons’ internal states cannot be observed directly and must be inferred from different cues.

Knowing as a representation or correspondence: knowing is viewing from outside, true knowing is theoretical not practical. Cognitive theory continues to identify knowing with practices of abstraction, such as classification, computing, calculation, logical inference. Our ability to interact approprately with objects depends on the capacity, fundamental of human beings, for categorizing objects and storing information about them, thus forming concepts, and on the capacity to associate concepts with names.

All apprehension of objective reality is mediated through subjective existence, ideas forever interpose themselves between the knower and the, objects which he would know.

In cultural psychology the representations are primary, they are situated in social practices rather than in mental models. But what then do these representations re-present?

In social constructivism the realm of socially constructed imposes itself between us and nature and through which we cannot reach the world itself.

For constructivists it is not material world itself what conveys meanings, but the language system or whatever system we are using to represent concepts. Social actors use conceptual systems of their culture and the linguistic and other representational systems to construct meanings and make the world meaningful and to communicate world meaningfully to others. Culture is about shared meanings. Meanings can be shared through our common access to language. Culture emerges from nature as the symbolic representation of the latter.

He suggest that we need to find a place in our theories for the existence of both meaning and mediation before and beyond the realm of representations and symbols, and take their materiality much more seriously. Mediation is taking place in the world and is changing the world, constituting objects not constituted before.


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