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 (http://icamp.eu). 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.



  1. Is a ruptured situation always a trigger to the use of ‘tools’? Or do students have to learn to make the step to the tools and to be aware of “its better to struggle for better than to weep for a worse situation?”
    Blaming others or self blaming can be an obstacle in improving oneself.
    (I try to put teachers to reflect on the results of their work and to make them work for better professional development)

  2. Good point. I went to see what my data say about it. It seems ruptured situations in the environment (rupture 1) and in self (rupture 2) were related with new tool use, but ruptured situation from the team (3) was not.

    Correlations appeared between ruptured situations in self (ruptured situation 2), and using new tools but not if ruptured situation was perceived in others (ruptured situation 3).

    Students’ ‘reflections about unknown aspects that they recognized for themselves’ (ruptured situation 2) correlated positively with ‘starting to use new tools’ (r=0.96, p>0.001).
    ‘Diagnosing oneself, what they know or don’t know’ was positively correlated with ‘starting to use the new tools’ (r=0.85, p>0.001).

    However at the start of the course this correlationis very logical, you enter with new tools and you have simultaneously a ruptured situation and need to diagnose the situation.

    Maybe your phrasing ‘ blaming self or laming others’ is not correct. I is not blaming but noticing two voices.

    The positive correlation between the ‘self-directed mode of reflections’ and ‘un-clarity of the course’ occurred (r=0.86, p>0.001).
    When students perceived that ‘course was not clear’ (ruptured situation 1), they started ‘organizing the team-work’ (r=0.83, p>0.001).
    ‘Organizing the team-work’ was correlated with ‘the self-directed mode of reflections’ (r=0.86, p>0.001).

    So, if one tool did not seem to work they turned to use another ‘tool’ – team.

    Corresponding correlation was found about the reflection mode ‘I as part of the team’ and ‘the clarity of the course’ (r=0.83).
    ‘Expecting team-members to work’ mode correlated with the reflection mode ‘I as part of the team’ (r=0.53, p>0.001).

    This may have indicated that if people perceived unclear situations individually (that was correlated with ruptured situations 2), it triggered them to consider using team as a tool to clear their individual understandings. That is similar as initiating the usage of a new ‘tool’ a team.

    However, the perception that one was actively involved into group-work (when ruptured situation 1 was not at present) brought along the greater trust towards the team (expectation), and relying on their activities, as if it was their personal and well-accommodated tool.

    ‘The team-directed reflection mode’ (indicating that teamwork situation worked well) correlated positively with ‘continuing to use some tools’ (r=0.68) and ‘starting to use some tools again’ (r=0.74). It could be that group work was a powerful trigger to persuade students to keep using certain team tools and start using again some initially used tools.

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