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

2. ‘Disability Matters’: the role of personal tutors for inclusive teaching and learning. Suanne Gibson.

Suanne starts her essay with a statement that I feel supports my rationale for this project. ‘…tutors need to show a greater understanding and awareness of the lived experiences of undergraduates students with disabilities and use their own knowledge to facilitate inclusive teaching strategies.” (2012 page 61).

I am interested in investigating the impact of the teaching role on their students. This will start by researching how UAL is educating its teachers with the right tool to provide inclusive teaching strategies.

The evidence shown in Suanne’s essay is provided from the student’s experience, she gives examples of methods that could be used to help disabled students feel part of the university environment. She suggest that the use of a personal tutor can give the student a connection to the member of staff that is approachable and they perhaps feel happy to share concerns with and will feel understood. I have witnessed this in practice with the students I support. When a student can express themselves to a teacher without the worry of being misunderstood their self-esteem grows they are likely to gain a higher connection to their work.

I believe by equipping the staff with tools to provide an inclusive environment, all students will benefit. By having a diverse cohort of students they can learn from each other and add to their studio community. ‘…encouraging my students and other to grow, to be empowered by and through each other and make a positive impact upon their communities.’ (2012 p.60)

The table below shows six factors that have been highlighted to be contributing to the exclusion of disabled students in higher education. (2012 p 62)





For the Love of Learning: Innovations from Outstanding University Teachers. Edited by Tim Bilham 2013 PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, Hampshire.

1. Social Model of Disability. Tom Shakespeare.

Key points and questions on the Social Model of Disability.

The medical model of disability sees the persons medical impairment as the reason for their limited function. The terminology that would be used is ‘people with disabilities’. They are defined in association with having a disability.

The social model of disability offers a distinct difference between impairment and disability. Impairment is the medical reason for a person’s limitation. Whereas disability is the loss or limitation on a person by societies environment and structure.

Tom Shakespeare says “Disability is now defined, not in functional terms, but as
“the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organisation which takes little or no account of people who have physical impairments and thus excludes them from participation in the mainstream of social activities.” (op cit)

The role of a disabilities support worker at UAL is to remove the barriers of the university environment and the student’s higher education to provide an inclusive and accessible space to everyone.

UAL’s policy on disability is structured around the social model of disability; they develop policies and practices to promote inclusive environments that achieve The Social Model’s goal of removing barriers for disabled people.

Terminology is said to be a key element to the social model movement and has been used to define and promote The Social Model’s message. Shakespeare stated that ‘it has had an impact on how disabled people see themselves … and to assert their right to equality’.

As a support worker, I was required to attend a DET (Disability Equality Training), which focuses on the barriers and attitudes that disabled people with impairments face. They highlight the` role of the organisation’s such as higher educational university into the removal of those barriers and attitudes. One way this is done it through the importance of ‘acceptable’ language.

Some key terms used in the social model.

– ‘People with visual impairments’ or ‘blind people’
– ‘a person with a hearing impairment’ or ‘a deaf person’ or ‘sign language user’
– ‘disabled person or ‘disabled people’

Does UAL have a unacceptable/ acceptable language for staff members at UAL like this one used at Glasgow’s Centre  for Inclusive Living?

Glasgow Social Model Language







Shakespeare, Tom. “The Social Model of Disability.” The Disability Studies Reader. Ed. Lennard J. Davis. New York: Routledge, 2010.

UAL Confidentiality Guide: (https://www.arts.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0028/28828/Disability-Service-Confidentiality-Guide-PDF-1.74KB.pdf)

Access Support and Facilities for Disabled Students at UAL: (https://www.arts.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0023/30767/Access-Support-and-Facilities-for-Disabled-Students-at-UAL-PDF-538KB.pdf)

UAL Disability Service website: (https://canvas.arts.ac.uk/sites/working-at-ual/SitePage/45674/disability-and-dyslexia)