Activity theory as a framework for analysing knowledge building

Jan van Aalst*, Cher M. Hill

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Content analyses of computer databases parsed into notes or ideas do not shed adequate light on the role of collaboration and the Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning environment in knowledge building; analysis of what is happening in the classroom and how students interpret that is also needed. This study used ethnographic methods to explore activity theory as an analytic framework for knowledge building, drawing from a class of Grade 4 students' contributions to online and face-to-face discourse over a period of five months, as well as end-of-year interviews with the students. The analysis focuses on four issues: community; rules; mediating artefacts; and division of labour. The findings indicate how understanding such issues can lead to better understanding of collaboration and of the role of the online environment. The use of activity theory as a framework for improving pedagogy aimed at knowledge building is also outlined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-44
Number of pages22
JournalLearning environments research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Activity theory
  • Collaboration
  • CSCL
  • Knowledge building
  • Mediating artefact


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