Dec 282017

On to the qualitative analysis. (For the quantitative, see previous post)

In the #mtbos, we talk of ourselves as a ‘community.’ We talk of the community of TMC, and a community of mathematics educators. The problem, then, is that there is not a clear definition of the ‘community.’ Anyone who says they are a member of the community IS a member. Literally the only requirement for membership is that the person claims membership.

In the literature of communities, one of the main authors is Wenger (1998) Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Connected to this book is the theory of learning called situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991). The theory of learning is a social theory, which fits well with the practices of TMC, however there is a critical difference, in my opinion. In situated learning, the learners move from incompetence to competence in a linear, unidirectional method. The goals and methods of learning all fit into this ideal of moving the learners from incompetence to competence.

Although the social elements of Wenger’s theory of learning are relevant, the theory doesn’t connect with the ideals or practices of TMC in a strong manner. Another theory of learning does fit better, however. This theory is Engeström’s theory of expansive learning (2017). This theory does not require everyone move from incompetence to competence. Rather, it focuses on the idea that the process of learning expands the realm of knowledge as learners learn. The theory of expansive learning also has roots in Vygotsky’s Activity Theory. Instead of only looking at individuals, tools, and objects of activity, Engeström expanded activity theory to include communities, rules, and a division of labor.

Engeström’s diagram of Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT)

In this model of the theory, there are four sub triangles that can be explored, however to fully understand a community of expansive learning, the entire triangle must be utilized. The one element of the triangle that is difficult to pin down is the objects, because individuals and the community can work on different objects simultaneously. Each individual or groups of individuals in the community can interpret what their objects of focus are independently. (sounds like morning sessions to me!)

For there to be a community, there must be rules of the community, and those rules must be taught somehow. That is the lower left triangle, because ‘must be taught’ is shorthand to must be taught ‘to people.’ The individuals in the community matter!

As I thought about why CHAT and expansive learning is a better theory to use to understand the workings of TMC, I made this diagram based off of Engeström’s.

CHAT applied to TMC

This is a qualitative analysis, so I will analyze all 6110 unique tweets that occurred at TMC over the 41 days I collected data and see how the fit into this schema. To do this analysis I will be using MaxQDA. I imported all of the tweets into the software as a survey, so I have some information as quantitative (for example the names of who tweeted so I can quickly see the frequent tweeters and the hashtags used other than #TMC17) but the most important data is the text of the tweets. I will have to read each and every tweet, and tag the tweet with one of the tags in the diagram.

But the tweets were not the only qualitative data generated from the conference. Since its inception, TMC has archived blog posts from the conference, and this year was no different. Therefore, I also collected all of the text and images from the blog posts (there were over 110) archived on for the 2017 conference. Each of those blog posts is now saved in a separate word docx file, and will be imported to MaxQDA as well.

Finally, in order to reach some understanding of the ‘Historical’ part of CHAT, I also collected the 2012 blog posts. Well, let me be clear. I did not collect them. I paid a small amount to a programmer on who created a script which did the web scraping for both the 2012 and 2017 conference. That saved me hours of work on the data collection phase.

I have done none of the analysis yet. I have a proposal meeting in late January, early February, and then I can start analyzing. I just know how much data I have at the moment. It is a lot.

So far, I have explained the quantitative, and the qualitative, but not the mixing part. That is the next post.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>