3. Methodology Activity Theory

What Activity Theory is and how it relates to my research project.

‘Activity Theory is a practical framework which can be used to understand the complex and dynamic problems of human research and practice.’ (Hashim & Jones p6)

The aim of my research project is to better understand the experience that teachers have when teaching students with specific learning requirements. The focus is on how teachers can provide a more inclusive environment to disabled students.

Activity theory is a methodology of analysing human interaction through the use of tools.  The idea behind this theory is that things happen through people doing things. Activity is broken down into five parts, subject, tool, object, rules, community, and division of labor which will result in an outcome.


In the research project, the subject is the staff members at UAL, the tool is the research methods ie questionnaire to the staff experience, the object of this project is the teaching of disabled students. These factors will be influenced by the rules of ethics and disability policy, the community of the institution of UAL and finally, the division of labor is the disability service. The desired outcome of this project is a more inclusive environment and disabled student’s needs being met.

This is the activity system for my research project:

Activity Theory

Activity theory sees the introduction of a tool, in my project the questionnaire to create an action of recommendations to meet the needs of disabled students. The interaction between the staff (subject) and the institution (community) is effected by the ethics and disability policy of UAL (rules) and the interactions between the teaching of disabled students (object) and the institution (community) will be affected by the disability service (a division of labor). This highlights that to achieve the best understanding of the activity you must look at the whole picture. I must look at all the elements to make the analysis of the project and each element will have an effect on the other. Hashim and Jones sate ‘it is only when viewing the larger activity that individual actions are comprehensible.’ (Hashim & Jones p.4)

It is through the tool of interviews and questionnaires with the staff at UAL and the disability service that I will reveal the experiences of teaching and meeting the need of disabled students. The tool in action will provide methods to improve and show the benefits of learning more about how to provide an inclusive environment.

By observing and analysing the experiences of the teachers through the questionnaire I can observe the patterns of positive and negative experience to create awareness and to influence the tool or outcome I may create as a result. The outcome for the project could become a tool to be observed and analysed again in a cycle to continue improving the goals of meeting the needs of our disabled students.

Activity Theory can be used to clarify the way disabled students needs are met and indicate to the staff through participation and the outcome of how they could provide better support for their students.

I believe Activity Theory will help me to push my project further and perhaps to provide a suggested solution. Although this was not the intention of my project I feel it will help me to focus on the project. I agree with the way Hashim and Jones describe ‘activity as hierarchical’ (Hashim p.18), this model is for ‘decomposing activities into actions and operation’ (Hashim p.18) with contextual and historical background.  If I can provide staff at UAL with a list of recommendation to help them meet the needs of their students I will feel this project has a purpose. My role as a support worker is focused on removing barriers and supporting students, I would like this to influence the outcome for this project.

Hashim, N and Jones, ML, (2007) Activity theory: a framework for qualitative analysis, in 4th International Qualitative Research Convention (QRC), Malaysia, PJ Hilton

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