Mouza and Lavigne briefly discuss the application (by Vahey and colleagues) of Activity Theory to develop a curricular activity system framework. Vahey et al’s discussion is focused on student use of SimCalc and Geometer’s Sketchpad as dynamic representation tools to engage in meaningful mathematics which results in deeper learning and greater equity. In terms of the curricular activity system, SimCalc and Geometer’s Sketchpad are historically and culturally constituted tools used for cognitive development through a process of mediation. This mediation (as well as the curricular activity system and Activity Theory) has its roots in Vygotsky’s cultural-historical development theories.
Early in his presentation, Sugata Mitra, quotes Arthur C. Clarke: “A teacher that can be replaced by a machine, should be.” He goes on to describe the results of his Hole in the Wall experiment wherein he placed computers with online access in various regions of India and observed children’s efforts to self-organize and teach themselves with the help of the computer. His thesis examines the ability of learners to assemble and organize themselves around a technology in order to learn. Thus, he recognizes the changing role of the teacher based on the affordances of emerging educational technologies. He examines one extreme of the changing role of the teacher – the removal of the human element and finds that for some learning tasks, the human element can be removed by a machine.
I was intrigued by the term Affinity Spaces in this week’s reading, because the choice of words allowed me to understand the underlying concept in a new light. Some characteristics of Affinity Spaces (as defined by James Gee) are:
- active participation by members
- deeper engagement with popular culture (as compared to engagement with textbooks)
- sustainment by common endeavors
- diversity of age, class, race, gender, educational level and experience
- fluid, dynamic, negotiated norms and levels of participation depending on skills and interests
- informal hierarchy of expertise wherein participants act as mentors to some participants while mentees towards others
- constant motivation to learn and build expertise
Gee argues that these characteristics make Affinity Spaces powerful learning environments.