Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

The Double Path of Expansive Learning in Complex Socio-Technical Change Processes

Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

The Double Path of Expansive Learning in Complex Socio-Technical Change Processes

Article excerpt


Engineering is considered a motor of innovation in society. However, engineering itself is always on the move and is affected by change in everyday work processes. The research project AQUIMO developed an adaptable software tool for mechatronical engineering in companies that are engaged in machine and plant engineering and created a related qualification program. One basic assumption for research and development is that engineering processes have to change in order to become more interdisciplinary. To achieve this goal, the AQUIMO project was supported by social research concerning the socio-ergonomic issues in interdisciplinary projects and communities. In the early stage of the project, the main question in social research was to investigate difficulties that emerge in interdisciplinary collaboration in the division of labour between mechanical, electronic and software engineering. These difficulties are thought of as representing specific requirements for the software tool and the qualification programme to be devised by the project. Later in the project, the implementation of the new software tool was reviewed, and the formation of a new mechatronical work team was accompanied by the social researchers.

A formative approach towards evaluation was chosen for the social research on collaboration in the interdisciplinary community of engineers. This approach was based on the cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) since, from a social research perspective, this form of action research matches well to the demands of an accompanying analysis of the technological development. By means of CHAT and action research, a multi- perspective view of the iterative development cycles within the project, as well as participation of all persons concerned, can be achieved, involving the practitioners in engineering as experts in their fields of work and providing a wide range of basic concepts. Thus, the approach offers an adequate theoretical and methodical background to facilitate change in engineering practice. This article illustrates how expansive learning in local activity systems can become a resource for change that is supported by a wider community of practice (CoP). This double path of expansive learning facilitates dissemination and recognition of new tools, new qualification programs or new organisational solutions in a field of work.

To begin with, the next part on communities of engineers covers both background and analytic approach within the AQUIMO project, including the most germane concepts of activity theory (CHAT) and development work research (DWR), as well as details on how we defined the double path of expansive learning. The third part of this paper presents the research approach based on the notion of triangulation in social research that leads from subjective views to reflection and learning in the local communities. The fourth part gives a description of how findings from the case studies in the local CoPs have initiated similar change processes in other companies. This paper concludes with a reflection on the experiences made with the double path of expansive learning.

Communities of Engineers: Focus on boundary crossing

The first section of this part gives a short overview on the background and purpose of the presented AQUIMO project and the way in which interdisciplinary boundary crossing should function. The germane concepts of CHAT and DWR are described in a second section. The third section focuses on the CoPs participating in the circle of expansive learning in the local work teams and the wider community of practice.

Changing Work in Engineering: From subsequent work processes to interdisciplinary work

Three medium-sized companies, leading providers for their specific market in machine and plant engineering, a software company and two university-level institutions participated in the AQUIMO project.

The acronym AQUIMO is made up from the key words in the short description of the project's objectives: Adaptable Modelling tool and Qualification program for generating company-specific mechatronic engineering processes. …

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