Presidential Invited Address: Intervening to Shape the Future

Scheduled Time: Sat, Apr 9 - 4:05pm - 6:05pm Building/Room: Sheraton, Floor Third Level

Session Participants:

Participant: Yrjö H. Engeström (University of Helsinki)

Discussant: Jan Derry (Institute of Education - London)

Chair: Barbara Rogoff (University of California - Santa Cruz)

Discussant: James G. Greeno (University of Pittsburgh)

Discussant: Hugh Mehan (University of California - San Diego)

Dewey – 1927 Experimental thinking vs absolutist thinking

  • Systematic knowledge is shaped and tested as tools of inquiry

  • social action is a working hypothesis.

  • Much of the problems that ppl are facing now, it that fact that we try to have complete control – which we can't. We need to accept that our actions have unexpected consequences – and figure out what that may be. We can not push thru complete designs – without adaptation.

  • Cultivate tentative solutions by means fo experimentation, first locally and then generalizing them through dialogue and further experimentation

Bronfenbrenner 1977

  • Naturalistic studies are limited by presently located systems

  • In the USSR, we are looking to see what children can become. (rather then in the US, where we look at what he come from).

  • Transforming experiments – how to change what a child is

Formative interventions (trans-formative experiments) – not micro study of a few subjects, but entire schools or organizations.

Why intervention research?

  • All research intervenes anyway – we should be transparent about this

  • Interventions are going on anyway – not just the researchers

  • Intervening deliberately and methodically generates possibility knowledge, so we need to stop being satisfied with categorical knowledge about what already exists.

These ideas come from Newman 1990 and Cobb et al 2003, Long 2001.

The actors in our interventions, influence the intervention, sometimes works against. We need to recognize the agency of the actors/participants.

Two Vygotskian Principles – leads to agency

  1. Volitional Action

  2. double stimulation

A thought experiment of Vygotsky's – bring a subject into a room, and then leave. Do not interact. What do the subjects do? If there is a clock, the subject can make deals – when it gets to be 2pm, I'll leave. Without a clock, they don't know how long to wiat, of if they are waiting. First stimulus, the contradictory task of waiting for an experiment. Second stimulus, the clock. Give agency, or action to the subject. Volitional action is not simple 1) Preparation (fan take a long time 2) Execution is smooth. Looks like a conditioned response.

Agency must be built through the creation of double stimulation

Learning activity – starts with sensory concrete experience and builds up to expanding conceptual concreteness. There are demanding learning actions in the process. 7 learning actions – which looks liner in the model, but it isn't.

  1. Questioning

  2. Analysis

  3. Modeling the new solution

  4. Examining and testing the new model

  5. Implementing the new model

  6. Reflecting on the model

  7. nnn

This is called expensive learning. Used in Engstrom's learning

1st stimulus – mirror, recurring roles

2nd stimulus – Model or vision

In between, the participants move between the past, present and future.

Used within situations that are facing contradictions and crisis without a clear directions for the future.


Location of work – experimental and naturalistic work. All research, is reflexively related to the context and the people within it. Even the act of setting up a clean experiment, that too is an intervention. We need to make this recognition clear – no matter what type of research we do.

In defense of design research. In relation to formative intervention.

  • There are many of the same qualities.

  • Design research, does have agency in it, as the practitioner/researcher relationship. This is in response to the researcher designing a program, and the teacher implementing, which has been the traditional paradigm. This is shifting to a joint construction of research – the goals, the problems etc. Results should be jointly prepared and presented. Not only should research build knowledge, but also be useful.

  • This is deep ethnographic work – in it for the long term, which gives us the insights we need.

  • Yes, knowledge is distributed, but also concentrated

  • Collaborative work is not a smooth research design. There are personalities, conflict of goals etc. When the results are not positive, it makes many people uncomfortable.

  • Through the process of working with researchers, teachers learn new ways of viewing and articulating their practices, which can help them in their work.

  • At the same time, researchers become more sensitive to the realities of teaching. Yet, to be careful of “going native” and becoming to assertive and supportive of the work as to lose credibility.

Working Group Conversation

Should research be interventionist?

  • From Cobb's session Saturday – we need to be less school-centric, and look at the broader community.

  • Rather than experimental and absolutist thinking – we might think more in terms of possibility knowledge and categorical knowledge.

  • From Engstrom – a fundamental shift in the division of labor in research. Rather than researchers intervening with their ideas, collaborating with teachers to see more possibilities. Expending the circle of who gets to have a say (agency) in the research.

  • From a session yesterday – group called “Rethink” which was a group of students and adults and how they try to reform their own spaces. They are taking on leadership roles, while at the same time fostering active engagement with the rest of the students. When the researcher talk and work with them, they are addressed as colleagues. The students feel they are experts.

  • How does CHAT connect to action research?

    • Learning can be almost absent in some action research - depending on the context and purpose.

    • Action research should help practitioners formulate questions and way of investigating, but it can't be mandated.

    • This is similar to the role of researcher in Engstrom's talk – that the research is a mirror for the space.

      • Critical mirror – what is happening? What is the expressed need? How are the systems working or not working together?

      • Problem identifier – when people are in the system, sometimes the problems are obscured. A researcher can help identify the problem/need.

  • Culture of Mathematics – Chapter

    • Middle level –

    • Should we go out and intervene with ideas that are not fully developed?

      • Tools work in different ways of different groups - CHAT is a tool to help us understand the world in one way, yet isn't the only way to understand. Network analysis might work.

        • The triangle – how much boundedness does it show? How much time? What space? How often do we need to re-imagine the triangle?

  • Balance of expertise and innovation

    • Diversity is a resource in activity systems - there needs to be a little bit of redundancy in a system, so that people can take over when the expert isn't able to.