Learning in a virtual world : expanding activity theory for the design and evaluation of group praxis
Includes bibliographical references (p. 217-230).
This text responds to the increasing demand for frameworks to support the design and evaluation of virtual worlds which are effective in their particular learning context by developing, a meta-theoretical framework for understanding "learning in a virtual world" and the novel dialectical methodology for designing and evaluating learning activities in it by "expanding activity theory for the design and evaluation of group praxis". It emerges from exploring learning in a virtual world in all of its complexity. It illuminates two competing perspectives of learning and VR. On the one side, individualistic learning (mental representations) and rationalistic VR, based on the dualistic ontology; and on the other, social learning (human development) and dialectical or relational VR, based on the non-dualistic ontology. This historical perspective reflexively leads to Cultural-historical activity theory, which is identified as the most appropriate and productive framework for considering learning in a virtual world. Activity theory facilitates the comparative evaluation of learning in virtual worlds; i.e. comparing them to the same learning activity in another situation. Activity theory furthermore provides the key analytical category of object-relatedness, necessary to make such a comparison possible. True to the dialectical method this text proposes it then moves to applying theory in practice. The approach utilizes Activity theory as an instrument and analytical lens to describe, design and evaluate learning activities in virtual worlds (3D videogame implementations utilizing the Unreal2Engine). The approach is applied to two case studies conducted in the domain of Film Studies. Activity theory proves a successful analytical tool for describing the structures of the activities analyzed. These descriptions are adequate for informing the design of the virtual worlds. However, the more complex second scenario proposes challenges for the traditional activity system representation and unit of analysis. Activity cell transformation develops in response to these challenges and enables the dialectical reflection back on Activity theory to provide new insights into contemporary Activity theory and some of the 3rd generation theoretical challenges identified. In addition to the individual and collective activity analysis, this new intermediary lens focuses on the interrelationship between the individual and collective activity, i.e. collaborative group activity.