Wednesday, June 08, 2005

More Activity Theory

One of the reasons that I use Activity Theory to understand the impact of tools comes from this discussion:
Activity Theory differentiates between internal and external activities. The traditional notion of mental processes corresponds to internal activities. Activity Theory emphasizes that internal activities cannot be understood if they are analyzed separately, in isolation from external activities, because there are mutual transformations between these two kinds of activities: internalization and externalization It is the general context of activity (which includes both external and internal components) that determines when and why external activities become internal and vice versa.

The Activity Theory emphasis on social factors and on interaction between agents and their environments explains why the principle of tool mediation plays a central role within the approach. First of all, tools shape the way human beings interact with reality. And, according to the above principle of internalization / externalization, shaping external activities ultimately results in shaping internal ones. Second, tools usually reflect the experiences of other people who have tried to solve similar problems at an earlier time and invented/ modified the tool to make it more efficient. This experience is accumulated in the structural properties of tools (shape, material, etc.) as well as in the knowledge of how the tool should be used. Tools are created and transformed during the development of the activity itself and carry with them a particular culture - the historical remnants from that development. So, the use of tools is a means for the accumulation and transmission of social knowledge. It influences the nature, not only of external behavior, but also of the mental functioning of individuals.
This quote supports my belief that electronic portfolio software tools have a major impact on how individuals perceive the portfolio development process.

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