Using cultural-historical activity theory to describe a university-wide blended learning initiative


  • Anselm Paul



Cultural-historical Activity Theory (CHAT), Blended learning, university evaluation


Institution-wide evaluations of Blended Learning implementations are rare. Even less common are evaluations that report the sociocultural context of the implementation. Recently, an Australian university in the western region of Victoria embarked on an initiative to blend all course units over a three-year period. Stemming from a rigorous analysis of reporting documents and participantresearcher observations, an attempt has been made to describe the sociocultural context of this blended learning initiative through the lens of Engestrom’s Cultural-historical Activity Theory (CHAT). This description, along with the challenges surfaced will serve as a precursor to the university-wide impact evaluation of this blended learning initiative. The objective of the analysis was to reify the complex processes, intricate relationships and dynamic environmental elements, which tend not to be captured by impact evaluations. Understanding what exactly is going on will enable the University to situate evaluation findings in the context of factors that might have helped or hampered the achievement of outcomes, and remediate process-related problems in a timely manner. Amidst the flurry of focused and coordinated blended learning activities, eight key process-related challenges emerged: Staff Capacity, Engagement, Deployment, Workload, Technological Issues, Project Management, Communication and Unit Stability. These challenges could potentially make or break ‘the Blend’ if not adequately addressed. This paper highlights the value of process evaluations for online and blended learning implementations and argues for such evaluations to be grounded in ontological realities reflected on accountability reports and observational data.






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