Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Exploring Teaching Programming Online through Web Conferencing System: The Lens of Activity Theory

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Exploring Teaching Programming Online through Web Conferencing System: The Lens of Activity Theory

Article excerpt


Researchers indicate that instructors face several problems during the programming courses (Yang et al., 2015). Abstract nature of the programming task (Katai & Toth, 2010), students' readiness for problem-solving (Ozdinc & Altun, 2014) and, repetitive failures in the instructional process (Law, Lee & Yu, 2010) are the frequently faced problems. In recent years, the increasing demand for programming courses has led many institutions to utilize online environments for delivering these courses. The attributes of the technologies and instructional methods have crucial roles in the effectiveness the courses. In this sense, Levy (2006) suggested that designing and implementation of the activities in instructional process required considerable attention to organize all components that affect the learning outcomes. Therefore, exploring learning contexts in online programming course may guide online instructors.

The analysis of relationships between the components in learning contexts may facilitate understanding how online programming teaching learning process occurs. Thus, there is a need to explore the process in a philosophical framework. In this regard, Activity Theory (AT) is suggested as a framework to clarify the activities within a course after a certain amount of time (Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999; Karakus, 2013). In this study, AT was used for the purpose of exploring the context of teaching programming online considering technology, people, and learning environment.

Activity theory

AT offers a framework for modeling human behaviors in the activities (Kuutti, 1996). Human interactions with other components are recognized using activity as basic analysis unit. AT takes its origins from both Leontev's notion of activity and Vygotsky's idea about the tool mediation. This idea is generally considered as the mediational model of human interactions with environment as seen in Figure 1 (Mwanza, 2001).

The subject and object components have a mediated relationship through the use of tools each other. Leontev (1978) developed a hierarchical model for human activity by addressing social and cultural mediation. Based on Vygotsky's idea, Engestrom (1987) expanded the relationship between subject and object in terms of social and cultural aspects of human activity. He developed the activity triangle model, which presents interactions within the activities in a more comprehensive manner, by adding components such as rules, division of labour and tools.


The activity triangle model incorporates subjects, object, and community components as well as mediators of human activity, tools, rules, and the division of labour. These components are briefly defined in Table 1.

Within these definitions, Kuutti (1996), who analyzed Engestrom's AT triangle, pointed out that the relationships between subject and object is mediated through tools; subject and community is mediated through rules; and object and community is mediated through division of labour. The AT components are in a continuous interaction during activity process and create the contexts including deliberate actions that they develop to achieve the objectives (Sam, 2012).

Activity theory as an analysis framework

Social learning perspective indicates that learning occurs as a result of interactions with the human and objects (Driscoll, 2005; Vygotsky, 1978). According to Vygotsky, social interaction and cultural context have an effect on cognition and learning. Likewise, AT suggests that learning emerges from human activity in a complex activity with interaction among subjects, objects, and tools (Engestrom, 1987; Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999). For understanding and analyzing complex human learning activities in a context, AT may be an analytical framework for analyzing the system (Yamagata-Lynch, 2013).

Activities consist of actions that are chains of operations (Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999) and subject performs to transform object into outcomes in an activity system (Karakus, 2013, p. …

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