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Using activity theory to make sense of online moderating


Mods hunt in packs ... Mods also clearly make decisions about giving ... Again the research does not show how mods make those choices and what influences them. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Using activity theory to make sense of online moderating

Using activity theory to make sense of online
  • Rob Parsons

  • 6 mods. 800 students. 12 weeks. 10000 messages.
  • How do we teach in that environment?

  • Original aim behaviours, examples, toolkit
  • Got more complicated
  • Activity theory, runaway objects, wildfire
  • Implications for activity theory
  • Implications for this work
  • Metaphors

Students and mods
  • Student behaviours broad categories
  • Testing boundaries
  • Seeking solutions
  • Social contact
  • Seeking reassurance
  • Interacting
  • Process

Students and mods
  • Moderator behaviours broad categories
  • Maintaining boundaries
  • Show how to find answer
  • Maintain environment
  • Encourage interaction
  • Encourage learning
  • Engage in problem solving
  • Process

  • Analysing the data took me in a variety of
  • Three main aspects
  • Efficiency
  • Moderators hunt in packs
  • Shepherding and learning choices mods make

Example 1
Will I be penalised for going too high on the
present status of my report? No.
Example 2
do we describe how they navigate around the
navigational structure of the template and
explain why my choice of structure in a
non-technical way? Yes. If the latter is
correct, then part II is the same but
technical? Yes.
Example 3
Well actually as I keep counting all the words,
I've been keeping details to the minimum so
that's why I would like to know whether the
references and two or three word titles are
included in the word count. I still need to reach
the 2000 mark! So are references (i.e. author
name, year, page) included? FAQ 12
Example 4
Please can someone tell me where FAQ 13 is? In
the conference entitled "TT280 FAQs".
Mods hunt in packs
The first example here also illustrates the
practice of point, show, give whereby as a
general habit moderators don't answer questions
directly - we point to the area where the
answer can be found - if that does not suffice,
we show more clearly where the answer can be
found - if that is not appropriate either, we
give them answer
Example 5
, is this ok? Look again at referencing in the
Course materials. In the case you cite, include a
url. Sorry, I still haven't understood the
format required. If you take as the example the
one used in the course guide and OU help sheet,
i.e. As X has said it is the url and the date
accessed which should be listed as a
reference. I understand the url/visited
reference, but it's the previous line I was
querying, with regard to the author reference
(Smith, J.) in the example. Should this just be
W3C if it's referencing one of their documents?
Or should I just leave it blank? You could say
w3c, or you could say no author if there is no
obvious author, as is frequently the case with
Example 6
So what you are trying to say is that, hand
coding our pages, gets straight to the point,
whereas, authoring tools have unrelavant heml
code thats just a waste? Whilst a little 'black
and white' as a comment - yes, in my view good
handcoding will usually produce shorter,
'cleaner' and more efficient code for a page that
will meet the criteria that the course is
promoting. And I'm sure you will have noted X's
view. ltsnip approx 350 wordsgt Which is exactly
what I saw the other day when my wife had used
Dreamweaver, Y. It all started out OK, then,
after making numerous alterations, degenerated to
the scenario you describe.
Example 7
thanks for the quick reply. u took me wrong ,
actually it was regarding the case project at the
back of each chapter in PWD and not the ECA.
The answer to that really is that it's a
question of your judgement. As you say you're new
to coding, I'd suggest that you do all that the
study guides say you should do. If you feel it
would benefit you to do others that are not
mentioned in the study guides, then that will
benefit you - but clearly you need to find the
time. As for css, it makes sense to start using
it, not necessarily for everything that it can
do, but enough to get practised in using it and
combining it with html. Your use can increase as
you get more practice. That is for your own
practice only. The only submissions required are
the three CMAs and the ECA.
Example 8
Is that particular study available on the
website or are you just explaining the details as
'your' (The OU's) source of reference? It's a
refernce to a book by Neilsen and
Tahir. Nielsen, J. and Tahir, M. (2001)
Homepage Usability 50 Websites Deconstructed,
New Riders, ISBN 0-7357-1102-X. What the link
is encouraging you to do is look at what Neilsen
is doing. If the links in the Study material
don't work for you try Googling Jakob Neilsen and
read the interviews.
Example 9
3. According to the ECA booklet, some titles are
not part of the word count unless lots of words
are used, so which ones are part of the word
count? For instance, I think you need to have a
look at the parts of your report ( big text
chunks) which are pushing your wordcount to the
extent that you have to worry about the above.
For example to have to worry about the length of
a title or reference would make me concerned that
you have been overly verbose in some of your
explanations etc.
Example 10
i know i have just finished a 12hr night shift
and could be tired but I am feling abit lost on
how to read the course, are you expecting us to
read through study guides, work through
activites????? I just cant quite see the
structure of it? maybe i am tired!!!!! Plan....St
udy...Reflect ( How did plan work out ). Courses
have essential elements and interesting (but not
necessarily essential) activities. Identify the
essential and make these priority in your plan
..then if you feel you have some more time you
can afford have a look at the interesting. Often
at the stasrt of a course it is difficult to get
your plan exactly to meet expectations which is
why reflection is a key part of the cycle.
Initial Results
Pattern of moderating work is quite clear much
short, answering, interspersed with more
discursive answers, which generally contain more
subterranean teaching. Many of the answers work
in terms of point, show, give. What the research
does not yet indicate is how mods decide which to
employ in any given response. Mods also clearly
make decisions about giving shorter or longer
answers the longer answers generally, but not
exclusively, containing shepherding or
subterranean teaching. Again the research does
not show how mods make those choices and what
influences them.
Primarily what the students are doing, hence how
the mods' responses can be best value And the
issue of individual / collective
Activity theory
  • Yrjo Engestrom, based on Vygotsky and Leont'ev
  • Proposes a framework of subject, instrument and

Activity theory
  • Issues for activity theory to do with
  • - different environment
  • - the idea of the object
  • - motivation and feeling
  • Note that activity theory as currently stated has
    no place for objective as I have outlined it in
    the following diagrams that's there as a
    heuristic tool for me

Activity theory

Activity theory

Student's viewpoint
Runaway objectsWildfire communities
  • the object gives durable direction and purpose to
    activity it is the true motive of activity (not
    reducible to conscious goals)?
  • object is a moving target, never fully
    accomplished a horizon of possible actions
  • object is multi-faceted, a mosaic of multiple
    interpretations, voices and positionings
  • object resists and bites back

Runaway objects

They grow rapidly beyond all anticipated
boundaries They are poorly controlled They enable
continuous, engaged, self-renewal They show
remarkable sustainability and expansion in spite
of severe adversities and constraints They
require excessive expenditures of time and
energy Theres a high risk of failure There are
minimal monetary rewards Theyre not supported by
institutional structures They begin as small
problems or ideas and then expand rapidly There
is constant feedback and commentary, and peer
Runaway objects

Perfect description of an OU student Puts
tutor/moderator student relationship into an
interesting perspective
Runaway objects
Issues about meaning Communities of practice
properly used (though other issues)? In teaching
we talk about communities a lot, without paying
attention to the meaning of the word (they do
this in activity theory too)?
Issues about meaning Community or environment -
Issues of focus - different emphases Community
of practice Information ecology
Wildfire communities
  • humans and their organizations are seeking models
    that enable continuous engaged self-renewal,
    innovation and expansion, yet are sustainable and
    dont burn out their own energy
  • there are activities that have such qualities -
    for example, skateboarding, birding, and disaster
    relief of the red cross

Wildfire communities
May have application to the moderating context
and to OU student careers If students approach
forums as wildfire communities, what would they
bring to it, and hence how should the moderators
Look back to activity theory motivation,
purpose, feelings etc Also the idea of community
requires use of the imagination
So I've been considering metaphors as a way of
encapsulating what happens in forums to see if
any of them can help to give shape to the
form - the uncertainty principle - a bus
station - the London Marathon
So I've been considering metaphors as a way of
encapsulating what happens in forums to see if
any of them can help to give shape to the
form - the uncertainty principle - you can
know either the position or the velocity of a
student but not both - a bus station lots of
chaotic movement, with groups randomly dispersing
in one direction or another moderators are
drivers, conductors, maybe ticket sellers - the
London Marathon everybody going in the same
direction but for their own individual purposes.
People do it in their own, often inimitable way.
Participants say how much encouragement they get
from the crowd the moderators
We started with the data, and student and
moderator behaviours We then looked at activity
theory as a way of deepening understanding of the
data... ... and particularly at the ideas of
runaway objects, and wildfire communities We took
note of some issues about objects and about
communities And we ended up with metaphors Now
for me it's back to the data