Using activity systems analysis to identify inner contradictions in teacher professional development

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    what do teachers perceive as sources of conicts in their professional development? Semi-structured

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    example, in a comprehensive two and-a-half year case study of two new practices in their classroom.In another example that highlights how situational factors

    inuence teacher professional development, the rst author wasinvolved in a university partnership-based technology integrationprogram that was in operation from 1999 to 2003 in Indiana.During the ve years, the program included 133 teachers and eightrural school districts. While working with teachers in this program,the university staff recognized that, in order to enhance andmaximize situational factors to support sustainable teacher change,

    q This project was made possible through the University of Utah, UniversityResearch Committee Faculty Research and Creative Grant. A previous version of thisarticle was presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational ResearchAssociation Conference at San Francisco.* Corresponding author. Tel.: 1 815 753 5842.

    E-mail addresses: (L.C. Yamagata-Lynch), michael.haudenschild@

    Contents lists availab

    Teaching and Tea

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    Teaching and Teacher Education 25 (2009) (M.T. Haudenschild).development programs. However, both universities and schoolshave experienced challenges in facilitating effective professionaldevelopment. Despite the fact that educators, policymakers, andresearchers are aware of the importance of professional develop-ment, current practices inadequately address teacher needs (Borko,2004). Thus, many traditional school administrators and universityfaculty-led programs have not been able to facilitate teacher changein classroom practices (Guskey, 1986, 2002; Sykes, 1996).

    Researchers have paid little attention to how teacher learning isheavily inuenced by the interactions between situational factorsin their school (Borko, Davinroy, Bliem, & Cumbo, 2000). For

    factors of the program were intertwined in facilitating teacherchange:

    Collaboration, weekly meetings, and resources were inextri-cably intertwined to provide a combination of information,support, and accountability that made teachers willing to risktrying out activities that represented fairly substantial depar-tures from their current practice (p. 298).

    Additionally, the study reports that the personal factors of theindividual teachers, such as beliefs about teaching and personalstages of life, contributed to the teachers willingness to introduceIn the United States, teacher prepabeen identied as being directly reclassroom teachers (National CenterThus, university researchers andcollaborated to ensure quality teache1 Tel.: 1 614 485 6453.

    0742-051X/$ see front matter 2008 Elsevier Ltd.doi:10.1016/j.tate.2008.09.014and facilitated professional development activities. This misalignment contributed to various situationalchallenges that became obstacles for teachers to improve their classroom practices through curricular-based interventions.

    2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    and qualications haveto the effectiveness ofcation Statistics, 1999).chool personnel haveration and professional

    veteran third grade teachers, Borko et al. examined the changeprocesses teachers experienced while participating in a university-based partnership professional development program in Coloradofor designing and using math and literacy performance assessmenttools in their classroom. They describe how the various situationalActivity theory

    professional development were not in alignment with their school district and universities that designedTeacher professional developmentinterviews with participants were the primary data source in this study. By using this analysis method,the ndings indicated that teachers perceived that their motivation and goals for participating inUsing activity systems analysis to identprofessional developmentq

    Lisa C. Yamagata-Lynch a,*, Michael T. HaudenschilaDepartment of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, Northern Illinois Unb eTech Ohio Commission, 2323 West 5th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43204, USA

    a r t i c l e i n f o

    Article history:Received 27 August 2007Received in revised form 28 August 2008Accepted 23 September 2008

    a b s t r a c t

    This study took place in ththat inuence their profeexpanding: An activity-theolevels of inner contradictiAll rights reserved.inner contradictions in teacher


    sity, DeKalb, IL 60115, USA

    nited States and explored teacher perspectives on the situational factorsnal development using Engestroms (Engestrom, Y. (1987). Learning byal approach to developmental research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit Oy) fourin activity systems analysis. In this process, we addressed the question:

    le at ScienceDirect

    cher Education

    lsevier .com/locate/ tatethe program had to include (a) classroom-based curriculum

  • 1. CHAT background

    Engestrom (1996, 2001) describes three distinct approaches toactivity theory and refers to them as three generations of activity

    Mediating Artifact / Tool

    Subject Object


    Object --> OutcomeSubject

    ching and Teacher Education 25 (2009) 507517In the last two decades, there has been growing interest inpursuing theoretical paradigms that capture complex learningsituations. CHAT is one of several theoretical frameworks thatbecame very popular among educational researchers because itconceptualizes individuals and their environment as a holistic unitof analysis. It assumes a non-dualistic ontology and acknowledgesthe complexities involved in human activity in natural settings.Recently, reputable journals targeted at a wide range of audiences,such as American Psychologist, Educational Psychologist, EducationalResearcher, and Review of Educational Research, have included arti-cles on CHAT. In many such articles, CHAT has been referred to associal constructivism, sociocultural theory, or activity theory.Through these publications, CHAT is building a reputation as aneffective alternative research perspective to traditional learningtheories (Roth & Lee, 2007).

    Vygotsky (1978, 1986) who is often referred to as a leader inCHAT, claimed that human learning took place in the form ofinteractions among signs, mediating artifacts/tools, and the indi-vidual. He believed that signs were impressions made on individ-uals from their interaction with tools, and this impression assistedthe mediation or the meaning making process of the individual.Signs do not have concrete physical existence in the environment.Instead, signs are the byproduct of the interaction between indi-viduals and the tools that mediate thought processes.

    This process has been traditionally identied as the basicstructure for mediated action, and is graphically represented asVygotskys basic triangle (Cole, 1996; Cole & Engestrom, 1993), asin Fig. 1. The subject is the individual or individuals engaged in themediated action, the mediating artifact/tool includes physicalitems, social others, and prior knowledge of the subject. Theprojects, (b) teacher choice, (c) systematic reection on practice, (d)opportunities for teachers to share their work with other teachers,and (e) opportunities for teachers to become future technologyleaders in their school districts (Ehman, Bonk, & Yamagata-Lynch,2005).

    For future professional development programs to succeed,researchers and practitioners must attend to situational factors thataffect the program at both the institutional and individual levels.Newmann, King, and Young (2000) identied some of these factors,which included teacher knowledge, skills, dispositions, schoolcommunity, program nature, available resources, and school lead-ership. The demands of standards-based educational reform areanother highly relevant situational factor that cannot be ignoredbecause they introduce signicant pressure to schools anduniversities (Delandshere & Petrosky, 2004; Gore, Grifths, & Lad-wig, 2004).

    In order to enhance future professional development programs,the goal of this study was to explore methods from a CulturalHistorical Activity Theory (CHAT) perspective to identify situationalfactors that inuence teacher professional development, andcapture how these factors inuence teacher activities. We presentthe use of activity systems analysis as a descriptive research tool tohighlight its potential for meaningful application in teachereducation research. In this study, we introduce exploratorymethods that can be used at the initial stages of developing futureprofessional development programs. We used Engestroms (1987)activity systems analysis to analyze what teachers perceived asfactors that affected their professional development. We then usedEngestroms four levels of inner contradiction to document andanalyze the challenges teachers found in their activities.

    L.C. Yamagata-Lynch, M.T. Haudenschild / Tea508object is the goal of the activity. This triangular representation ofmediated action was Vygotskys attempt to explain humandevelopment that did not rely on the dualistic stimulus-responseassociation.

    2. Understanding and using activity systems analysis

    Activity systems analysis is based on Vygotskys work onmediated action (Barab, Evans, & Baek, 2003; Cole, 1996; Cole &Engestrom, 1993). This method of analysis became well knownafter Engestroms (1987) original conception and the wide circu-lation of his work through publications of Cole and Engestrom(1993) and Engestrom (1993). Since then,Western researchers haveapplied activity theory to (a) summarize organizational change(Barab, Schatz, & Scheckler, 2004; Engestrom, 1993), (b) identifyguidelines for designing Constructivist Learning Environments(Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999), (c) identify contradictions andtensions that shape developments in educational settings (Barab,Barnet, Yamagata-Lynch, Squire, & Keating, 2002), (d) demonstratehistorical developments in organizational learning (Yamagata-Lynch, 2003), and (e) evaluate and improve K-12 school anduniversity partnership relations (Yamagata-Lynch & Smaldino,2007).

    The elements of activity systems, as shown in Fig. 2, includesubject, tool, object, rules, community, division of labor, andoutcomes and each element represents specic, transactionalaspects of human activity. Subjects are participants in an activity,motivated toward a purpose or attainment of the object. The objectcan be the goal of an activity, the subjects motives for participatingin an activity, and the material products that subjects gain throughan activity. Tools are socially shared cognitive and/or materialresources that subjects can use to attain the object. Informal orformal rules regulate the subjects participation while engaging inan activity. The community is the group or organization to whichsubjects belong. The division of labor is the shared participationresponsibilities in the activity determined by the community.Finally, the outcome is the consequences that the subject facesbecause of his/her actions driven by the object. These outcomes canencourage or hinder the subjects participation in future activities.

    Fig. 1. Vygotskys basic mediation triangle adapted from Cole (1996).Rules Community Division of Labor

    Fig. 2. Activity system model adapted from Engestrom (1987).

  • theory. He refers to Vygotskys mediated action triangle as the rstgeneration activity theory that allowed researchers to conceptu-alize human activity as an integrated unit of analysis capturingindividuals interacting with the environment while makingmeaning of the world (Center for Activity Theory and Develop-mental Work Research, 2004). The second generation was inspiredby Leontievs (1978) work, which emphasized the collective nature

    Primary contradictions occur when activity participantsencounter more than one value system attached to an elementwithin an activity that brings about conict. For example, accordingto Supovitz and Turner (2000) professional development programsthat are sustained and intensive have greater value for professionaldevelopment coordinators for moving the school reform agendaforward. On the other hand, it may haveminimal appeal to teachers

    t 3

    L.C. Yamagata-Lynch, M.T. Haudenschild / Teaching and Teacher Education 25 (2009) 507517 509of human activity. Engestrom (1987) demonstrated this analysismethod through the graphical expression shown in Fig. 2. Enges-trom (1996, 2001) further developed the analytical scope of activitysystems analysis by introducing the third generation activity theorywithin the context of Developmental Work Research (DWR), inwhich researchers often take a participatory and interventionistrole. In third generation activity theory, shown in Fig. 3, theminimum unit of analysis is joint activities. This analysis methodattempts to understand the interactions among joint activities andtheir outcomes to resolve tensions that are brought upon by thejoint activities.

    In Fig. 3, there are two interacting activities initiated by differentsubjects (subject 1 and subject 2). The two activities are bound bythe shared object (object 3) in the two activities. The relationshipbetween the two activities can trigger a chain reaction of mediatedactions within the individual activities. These chain reactions fromthe joint activities can lead to inner contradictions for the indi-vidual activity and the joint activity.

    Many studies in the United States using activity systems anal-ysis have primarily focused on the descriptive nature of secondgeneration activity theory, and used activity systems analysis asa supplementary tool in qualitative research. Additionally, thirdgeneration activity theory is still in its developmental stage amongNorth American researchers. Although this study was notdesigned as a participatory and interventionist study, we explorethe use of third generation activity theory by using activitysystems analysis as a tool for examining the intersection ofactivities shared between teachers and professional developmentcoordinators such as school districts and universities. We providerecommendations for how future research in teacher educationcan take advantage of the interventionist nature of third genera-tion activity theory.

    2.1. Engestroms four levels of inner contradictions

    One of Engestroms (1987) original motivations for developingthe activity systems model was to allow researchers to identify theinner contradictions that impose tensions on participants worksettings and help them change the nature of an activity to over-come those tensions. When analyzing the various sources oftension, Engestrom identied four levels of inner contradictions,described in Table 1. Inner contradictions can be observed byresearchers when they identify an activity that is central to theirstudy and is affected by other related activities (Engestrom, 1987,1993). This assumes that human activities do not exist in vacuum,and it emphasizes how a relationship between joint activities canbring imbalances to one of the activities with the po...