Activity Theory as a Lens for Analysis of Collaborative Interaction


The students are introduced with activity theory used as a lens to understand mediation of technology as a tool in collaborative interaction. Students describe the key concepts and principles accounted in activity theory and discuss its use in different cases in related fields that study information systems and technology design. Topics for the final discussions is on analyzing the breakdown situations or contradictories in current collaborative activity systems and bring ideas to modify the system to enhance the collaborative interaction.

In the exercise, the students are expected to work in groups (max. 4 people in one group) use Activity Theory as an analytical framework to examine an existing technology mediated collaborative interaction in three levels (i.e. coordination, cooperation, reflective communication), and create a (re)conceptualization of the collaborative interaction to improve the breakdown situations or contradictions in the current mediating technology design.

Learning Outcomes

On completing this module the students should be able to:

  • identify the underlying concepts and principles of activity theory,
  • explain different components or aspects of a system that mediate the collaborative interaction,
  • analyze different levels of a collaborative interaction by using Activity Theory as a lens to look at different components of an activity system,
  • evaluate the breakdown situations or contradictions occur between different actors in different levels of collaboration.

Teacher Guidance

This teaching activity consists of two main components, a lecture and an accompanying exercise. The expected length of the lecture is 30-45 minutes. The exercise can be given varying amount of time, but a couple of hours is recommended giving a total duration of about 3 hours.

  1. In the lecture (30 min), the teacher introduces students the activity theory and explains key concepts and principles as well as its use.
  2. For the exercise (90 min), the students work in groups practice an analysis of the levels of collaborative interaction of a selected activity system.
  3. The teacher checks what the students are doing during the analysis practice, and advises on aspects to consider.
  4. The students share their practice outputs with peers (30 min), and gain access to peers’ outputs as a model for their practice.
  5. Students provide Peer-feedback to one other group to assess what they have learned (15 min).
  6. The teacher chairs a class discussion, asking for reflections on experiences, and consolidating the lessons learned (10 min).

Note: The number of people in each group can be adjusted depending on the number of students in class

Recommended Readings

  • Bertelsen, O. and Bødker, S. (2003) Activity theory. In J. Carroll (ed.), HCI Models, Theories, and Frameworks: Toward a Multidisciplinary Science. Amsterdam: Morgan Kaufmann. Pp. 291–324. 
  • Kaptelinin, Victor, and Bonnie A. Nardi. Acting with technology: Activity theory and interaction design. MIT press, 2006.




Activity Theory, brief history of the trajectory of Activity Theory, key concepts and principles, use of Activity Theory in practice


Design and engineering in higher education


Online, face-to-face, or hybrid


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