Appropriation of technology for collaboration : From mastery to utilisation

M. Overdijk

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


Technologies for collaboration in education are designed to alter the interaction of learners with other learners in order to support or facilitate collaboration. The effect of these technologies is often explained from their structuring influence on the learners’ behaviour: the technology provides opportunities for action and exercises constraints so that specific ‘desired’ behaviour occurs, in accordance with the intentions of the educational designers. This rationale of ‘shaping behaviour’ carries a risk of oversimplifying the relation between the technology and the learners. In this thesis we argue in favour of a more dynamic view on this relation wherein technology both shapes and is shaped by the learners. We argue that technology for collaboration finds both its use and its effect during a process of technology appropriation. In this thesis we study the appropriation of a shared workspace technology in two types of classroom learning activities: plan construction and argumentative discussion. We conceptualise this appropriation as a progressive development from personal mastery, via personal utilisation, to a collective utilisation of the features of the technology, whereby the effect of the technology is shaped in the interaction between the learners and these features. The three main research questions addressed in the thesis are: 1) how do learners progress from personal mastery to collective utilisation? 2) How does the interaction between learners and the features of the technology shape the effect of the technology? And 3) what is the relation between personal action and group interaction during technology appropriation? The development from personal mastery to collective utilisation involves constant breakdowns that can cause regression, and recovery from these breakdowns. We found three types of breakdown. Type 1 breakdown results from resistance caused by physical constraints. Type 2 breakdown results from resistance caused by semantic constraints. This resistance results from the transposition of conventions of the regular task-artefact situation that causes tension with predefined structures in the technology. Type 3 breakdown results from resistance caused by divergent utilisations of the technology. To overcome breakdown, reflection, negotiation and (mutual) adaptation between learners is required. Rules for utilisation are hereby formulated, and these rules allow coordination and fine-tuning between learners. Breakdowns are an important resource for a productive appropriation of educational technology. They help to counter the ‘blindness’ inherent to the way things are ‘normally done’, and they may uncover a space of alternative actions in taken-for-granted activity. Utilisation of technology, however, does not always induce breakdown and reflection. Moreover, when it occurs, breakdown is not always successfully resolved. When technology is too flexible, the transposition of conventions does not cause breakdown, and no improvement occurs. When technology provides too many constraints, there will be no breakdown and no substantial improvement of activity either. When the technology provides a right level of constraints, the transposition of conventions causes breakdown, and an opportunity for improvement of the learning activity arises. Our research indicates that a successful design strategy is to depart from flexible technology and gradually add semantic constraints, following iterative evaluations in the local classroom context.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Kirschner, P.A., Primary supervisor
  • Andriessen, J.E.B., Co-supervisor
Award date8 May 2009
Print ISBNs978-90-811309-2-9
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2009

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