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Living With Contradiction: Cultural Historical Activity Theory as a Theoretical Frame to Study Student Engineering Project Teams

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Conference

2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

Critical Thinking, Leadership, and Creativity

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count

15

Page Numbers

24.871.1 - 24.871.15

DOI

10.18260/1-2--22804

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/22804

Download Count

366

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Paper Authors

biography

Michael L. Jones Faculty of Information, University of Toronto

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Michael Jones is a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto and professor of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology at Sheridan College, Oakville ON. Michael's research interests are in project-based learning in technology education, with his dissertation looking at how Formula SAE engineering student project teams engage information management contradictions.

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Abstract

Living  With  Contradiction:  Cultural  Historical  Activity  Theory  as  a  Theoretical  Frame  to  Study  Student  Engineering  Project  Teams    Problem-­‐based  learning  supports  collaborative  constructivist  learning  by  encouraging  students  to  engage  in  independent  investigation  of  specific  problems  (Savery,  2006).    Engineering  disciplines  tend  to  engage  project-­‐based  learning  opportunities  that  are  characterized  by  longer  engagement  with  more  complex  projects  than  traditional  PBL(Bédard,  Lison,  Dalle,  Côté,  &  Boutin,  2012),  such  as  capstone  projects  or  competitive  project  teams.    Such  extended,  complex  projects  provide  students  with  multiple  opportunities  to  develop  both  technical  knowledge  and  professional  judgment  –  and  multiple  challenges  that  might  jeopardize  a  project  group’s  success.    This  paper  outlines  cultural-­‐historical  activity  theory  (CHAT)  as  a  theoretical  lens  to  understand  the  challenges  engineering  PBL  student  groups  face.    Building  from  Vygotsky’s  social  constructivism,  CHAT  squarely  situates  human  agency  in  sociocultural  forces  that  shape  and  constrain  the  nature  and  execution  of  that  activity.  (Engestrom,  1987).    By  balancing  human  agency  with  rules,  community  and  power  concerns,  contemporary  CHAT  highlights  the  situated  nature  of  technical  work  and  highlights  multiple  points  of  contradiction  that  must  be  negotiated  and  considered  (Engestrom,  1999).    Perhaps  particularly  disquieting  for  engineers,  these  contradictions  are  often  highly  social  and  political  in  nature  and  resist  simple  analysis  or  resolution.    This  paper  grounds  CHAT  analysis  in  continuing  research  into  the  management  practices  of  Formula  SAE  (FSAE)  student  engineering  teams.      The  core  activity  of  a  FSAE  team  is  to  design,  manufacture,  test  and  race  a  small  racecar  in  intercollegiate  competition.    Towards  this  goal,  FSAE  teams  must  learn  to  negotiate  a  range  of  organizational  contradictions.    FSAE  teams  must  recruit  and  retain  team  members  in  a  high-­‐turnover  environment.    They  must  learn  to  operate  within  the  constraints  established  by  the  competition,  school  administration  and  societal  laws  and  mores.    Teams  may  also  strategically  choose  to  share  some  information  and  collaborate  with  competitive  teams  for  mutual  gain.    CHAT  as  a  theoretical  frame  highlights  these  and  other  points  of  potential  contradiction  and  allows  for  sharing  of  experiences  to  help  determine  best  practices  in  a  variety  of  team  contexts.    References    Bédard,  D.,  Lison,  C.,  Dalle,  D.,  Côté,  D.,  &  Boutin,  N.  (2012).  Problem-­‐based  and  Project-­‐ based  Learning  in  Engineering  and  Medicine:  Determinants  of  Students’  Engagement   and  Persistence.  Interdisciplinary  Journal  of  Problem-­‐Based  Learning,  6(2).   doi:10.7771/1541-­‐5015.1355  Engestrom,  Y.  (1987).  Learning  by  Expanding:    An  activity-­‐theoretical  approach  to   developmental  research.  Helsinki:  Orienta-­‐Konsultit.  Engestrom,  Y.  (1999).  Activity  Theory  and  Individual  and  Social  Transformation.  In  Y.   Engestrom,  R.  Miettenien,  &  R.-­‐L.  Punamaki  (Eds.),  Perspectives  on  Activity  Theory.   Cambridge:  Cambridge  University  Press.  Savery,  J.  R.  (2006).  Overview  of  Problem-­‐based  Learning:  Definitions  and  Distinctions.   Interdisciplinary  Journal  of  Problem-­‐Based  Learning,  1(1),  9–20.    

Jones, M. L. (2014, June), Living With Contradiction: Cultural Historical Activity Theory as a Theoretical Frame to Study Student Engineering Project Teams Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22804

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