The Change Laboratory A means to overcome the crisis of collective learning in educational settings? Jaakko Virkkunen Prof.emer. Center for Research on Activity, Development and Learning CRADLE University of Helsinki
The outline of the presentation 1 The crisis of collective learning in educational settings 2 The two basic principles of the Change Laboratory method The principle of ascending from the abstract to the concrete: development through re-mediation The principle of double stimulation 3 The Change Laboratory as an instrument for re-mediating instructional practices at school 4 Change Laboratory as a platform of collaboration between researchers and practitioners Center for Research on Activity, Development and Learning (CRADLE)
A failure of collective learning Hubbard, Mehan and Stein’s (2006) conclusion about the school reform in SanDiego: "(…) a reform that began as conceptually driven was proceduralized; an approach to learning that began as student-centered became teacher-centered; a framework with many openings for the application of professional judgement became understood as scripted." The outcomes of the reform were not only unintended but represent the very opposite of its objectives. Instead of stimulating collective learning about a possible new way of working, the reform seems to have led to its stagnation. Center for Research on Activity, Development and Learning (CRADLE)
Incremental vs. transformational change and learning In most institutions work practices are continuously developed through incremental improvements based on accumulated experience and learning. The crisis of collective learning manifests itself when this kind of learning is not good enough for meeting current challenges, in situations that call for a transformation of the concept and logic of the activity. In educational settings, the crisis manifests itself in the failed attempts for concept-level change such as the SanDiego example.
The need for concept-level change and expansive learning Experience is always tied to a specific, historically evolved understanding of an activity that is embedded in its structure. A need for concept-level change arises when the actual situation changes and does not any more correspond to the presumptions of the understanding on which the structure is based. Breaking out of the prevailing conceptions and practices in such a situation calls for expansive learning, in which the practitioners’ rise their eyes from their individual tasks to the purpose and structure of their joint activity and start to analyze and develop it collaboratively.
The Change Laboratory is a method and set of instruments for a work community to carry out expansive learning that is needed for concept-level change of their joint activity. The method was developed by Prof. Engeström in the early 1990s on the basis of the Developmental Work Research methodology. It is based on two fundamental principles: The principle of ascending from the abstract to the concrete that is related to the idea of development through remediation (Ilyenkov,1982; Davydov, 1990) The principle of double stimulation (Vygotsky, 1987)
All thinking and learning takes place by abstracting meaning from immediate sensory experience. This can take place in two different ways. Empirical abstractions are based on comparison and classification of objects on the basis on their external features and on generalizations concerning repeating relationships between objects. Theoretical abstractions are based on practical transformations, experimentation, and change of relationships in systems of interdependent elements. Theoretical abstraction captures a basic functional relationship and principle in the reality under scrutiny. (Davydov, 1990) Two forms of abstraction
The two meanings of ‘ascending from the abstract to the concrete’ In knowledge creation: a process of breaking out of a one sided understanding based on an empirical abstraction to an understanding of the phenomenon as a moment in a developing system of interactions. In historical development: a process, in which an initially unique and isolated instance of a new functional relationship and form of interaction spreads and generalizes into an integral part of reality. This is how inventions become innovations that change societal practices.
The developmental dynamics of living systems cannot be captured by empirical abstraction alone H. Maturana: “A basic conceptual difficulty in understanding living, self regenerating and self developing systems arises from our habit to think in terms of ”causes” that blinds us from the spontaneous nature of life processes. Explanations should instead be based on the description of the generative mechanisms that produce and change the structure of the system.” Maturana’s critique concerns the use of empirical abstractions about linear causal relationships in biology but it applies also to the understanding of cultural systems of human activity. Re-mediation of relationships of interaction within a system is a central “generative mechanism” that changes their structures.
Development through mediation of contradictions Vygotsky’s great insights was that human action is culturally mediated. Each cultural mediator has been at a time an innovative new way to resolve or manage a restrictive contradiction within an existing form of human activity. As Latour (1996) puts it, a mediator is not completely a cause nor a consequence but ties two phenomena together into a process of co-evolution. A new mediator creates a new functional relationship of interaction that can spread and eventually lead to the transformation of the existing structure.
Mediating a contradiction An object or process that comprises in itself the polar aspects of a contradiction can be used as a mediator to resolve the contradiction or make it manageable by uniting the opposites into a process of co-evolution.
An example: re-mediating the interaction between teachers and students at a Finnish middle school Based on Engeström, Engeström, Suntio, 2002
The new form of interaction challenged the prevailing structure of the activity “The final project allowed the students and forced the teachers to operate beyond and across encapsulated school subjects and work on a long-term basis. The final project introduced work motivated by the pride of achieving something beyond the demands of the curriculum, but offered the students also a change to enhance their grades.” Engeström, Engeström, Suntio, 2002
Ascending from the abstract to the concrete can be understood as the process of identifying a contradiction in a system, finding a mediator that resolves it or allows to manage it better, and generalizing the use of the new form of functional interaction based on the new mediator.
Ascending from the abstract to the concrete takes place by taking expansive learning actions Davydov, 1990, Engeström,1999 The Change Laboratory is a workshop in which the practitioners can take jointly expansive learning actions initially in collaboration with an external researcher-interventionist. Center for Research on Activity, Development and Learning (CRADLE)
Vygotsky saw that the double stimulation method Sakharov had used in studying concept formation demonstrated the principle of how human beings can intentionally break out of a contradictory situation, change their circumstances, or solve difficult problems. • The first stimulus is a challenging problem. • The second stimulus is an external artefact which the subject turns into a sign, a psychological tool, by filling it with a meaning that is related to the problem situation. • With the help of the second stimulus the subject gains control of his/her action and a new understanding of the problem situation. Double stimulation: from an experimental method into a theoretical generalization
The two phases in double stimulation and the emergence of agentive action A chain of double stimulation processes Vygotsky 1997, Engeström, Sannino, 2011
Double stimulation creates a new layer of causality in human action Causal layer: Individuals base their actions on generalizations concerning causal relationships. Contradictory layer: In collective work activities, individuals are often driven by contradictory motives and pressures and can act in unpredictable ways when trying to find a resolution. Agentive layer: People can proceed from the contradictory situation to taking transformative actions by inventing and using artefacts to control their behaviour from the outside. (Engeström, 2011)
The Change Laboratory as an instrument for re-mediating instructional practices at school
The layout and instruments of the Change Laboratory Center for Research on Activity, Development and Learning (CRADLE)
The model of the basic structure of human activity as a second stimulus The model can be used as an instrument for contextualizing the problems that individuals encounter in their work in the historically evolved structure of their joint activity and for finding the systemic causes of the problems as inner contradictions within the system.
The Change Laboratory Process in the Molefi Senior Secondary school in Botswana Virkkunen, Newnham, Nleya, Engeström, 2012
Re-mediating the rehabilitation in a school for neurologically ill and disabled children in a Change Laboratory process Due to a change in the division of labor between normal schools and special schools the school received more severely ill and disabled children than before and had to provide a greater variety of special therapies. Virkkunen & Tenhunen, 2010
Summary of the three school cases In all the three cases, the mirror of practice led the practitioners to question their empirical abstractions concerning the students as the object of their activity and to a search for a more concrete way of constructing students as objects of their work. In all cases the Change Laboratory produced a view of the systemic cause of the practitioners’ daily problems as an inner contradiction in their activity system. It also produced a principle of mediating the contradiction and instrumental second stimuli for the transformation of the activity system.
Progress of the expansive learning process in the three schools The progress in ”ascending to the concrete” from the model of mediating the contradiction varied and was related to the length of the collaboration between the researchers the school.
Change Laboratory as a platform of collaboration between researchers and practitioners • In their review of four major school reform projects Confrey, et al. (2001) conclude, that • building a fruitful collaboration between researchers and school practitioners takes at least five years • reform of school education should be viewed as a ‘stepwise’ process, in which advances alternate with periods of reflection and consolidation • In a Change Laboratory process the practitioners carry out a cycle of expansive learning with the support of researchers. The transformation of the activity calls, however, a chain of several cycles of expansive learning.
Stepwise expansion in the Finnish middle school In the first Change Laboratory in the Finnish middle school, the teachers brake away from a generalized negative view of students and created a new form of working with them in the last school year A year later they initiated another Change Laboratory process, in which they focused on instructional practices and use of computers as students’ instruments in learning. The teachers planned new thematic units, video recorded their realization, and evaluated them with the students, and developed them further.
Students were involved in the second Change Laboratory as active members The natural next step would be a Boundary Crossing Change Laboratory with parents and members of the community A two dimensional model was used as an instrument when evaluating experimental units of instruction and the direction of change in instruction Engeström, Engeström & Suntio 2002b
Conclusions The potential of the Change Laboratory in helping to overcome the crisis of collective learning lies in the way it supports practitioners’ collaborative, theoretically oriented analysis of their activity, builds their joint transformative agency in experimenting with new solutions and carrying out concept-level change of their activity. The Change Laboratory can function as a microcosm of this new kind of collaborative learning over traditional boundaries in schools and as a platform for developmental collaboration between researchers and practitioners.
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