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Using activity theory and expansive learning to co-construct understandings of competencies in K-12 education in British Columbia Younk, Karina

Abstract

This formative intervention study used activity theory and expansive learning frameworks (Engeström, 2001) to examine how a working group of 12 educational leaders from one British Columbia school district co-constructed their understandings of competencies. These leaders were supporting school and district colleagues with the redesigned curriculum, originally known as the BC Education Plan (2012a) and later as Building Student Success: BC’s New Curriculum (2018a), as well as with the Ministry of Education’s revised Student Reporting Guidelines (2016). Over nine research sessions, participants explored their contexts and future-oriented visions of learning with a focus on competencies. These sessions were audio-taped; the audio tapes were then transcribed. Transcripts were initially sorted for sensitizing concepts according to the theoretical concepts of activity theory: subject, object, mediating instruments, rules, community, and division of labour. This coded data was then analyzed for themes and sub-themes reflecting needs at each state of the expansive learning model: questioning, double-binds of practice, contextual resistance, and reflection on realignments. The analysis that emerged from this process showed how participants co-constructed understandings of competencies that went beyond demonstrations of knowledge, skills, and aptitudes; instead, they focused on competencies as a collective need to honour local collaborative learning communities, co-construct diverse learning paths, and shift systemic practices toward expansive learning. Participants described the importance of professional collaboration, engagement, relationships, and new assessment models, as well as the challenges of supporting colleagues to act on their ideals and contribute to shifting district practices. This study provides a rich perspective on how activity theory and expansive learning can be used as models for understanding the complexities of systemic change in public education systems.

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