Please see Gary’s profile on the TESOL MAs@Manchester blog for more information about him and his recent publications. Here he writes about his thesis:
My thesis makes use of activity theory as a lens to explore how professionals learn. The study focuses initially on my professional understandings arising from the application of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) to the eChina-UK project funded by HEFCE in the UK, an attempt to develop collaborative elearning projects in British and Chinese universities, and secondly on purposeful interviews with project staff about their professional learning in the project.
The thesis begins by setting the scene for the project showing how it came about. The literature review explores CHAT and allied issues of Adult Education considering how adults may learn in both formal and informal contexts. It also contextualises the project by giving background on Higher Education, China and distance/ e-learning. The research questions that it addresses are:
1. What roles do artefacts have in mediating collaborative working on elearning
2. How do boundary crossers/ brokers impact on a project of this type?
3. How do different cultural histories have an impact on the disposition that the ‘developers’ have to artefacts and materials?
4. What and how do the subjects of the activity systems learn? What role, if any, do artefacts play? What role, if any, do the brokers play in the learning?
This practitioner case study makes use of a variety of data. The initial data consisted of field notes which were part of the project process. Theoretically driven hunches that surfaced from these data led to further purposeful data collection via interviews investigating the following: Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), a materials design template and pilots; and boundary crossers. Also considered is the nature of the professional learning that occurred for eight core participants in the project. The thesis in addition explores the constructs of transfer, transformation and expansive learning. The study proposes a refinement of our understanding of these constructs. It also demonstrates how important and significant boundary objects are to successful international project work along with the boundary crossers who support the development of the artefacts. In addition, it shows how an engagement with transfer, transformation and expansive learning contributes to the professional development of the subjects in their respective activity systems.