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The mergence of CHAT with TPCK: A new framework for researching the integration of desktop documentary making in history teaching and learning

James E. Schul (Winona State University)

The description of the integration of desktop documentary making into a history classroom requires a research model or heuristic capable of capturing students' interactions with various mediating agents, including their history teacher. This article claims that a mergence of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) with Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) provides a model sufficiently dynamic to describe how students making documentaries draw upon their teacher's instruction, the software's history making operations, and other resources while engaged in the compositional process.

Introduction

Teachers who seek to enliven their classroom instruction give birth to new instructional approaches, and hence open up new opportunities for researchers to examine these new approaches in practice. Nowhere is this truer than with the surge of desktop documentary making (DDM) in classrooms, particularly in history classrooms where teachers and students have found it to be a viable and productive way to teach and learn history (Ferster, Hammond, and Bull, 2006). A visit to YouTube, for instance, shows that students in secondary school history classrooms have created hundreds of desktop documentaries and decided to share them with a worldwide audience. A desktop documentary, also known in some circles as a digital story or digital video, is a film production created on a desktop or laptop computer using a specified type of computer software, such as Photostory 3, iMovie, or Moviemaker. The software enables users to download from various sources, including online archives, aural and visual materials. The software also enables users to organize images and sounds, as well as to set them "in motion" through panning, fading and transition operations. With the advent of such digital software, classroom practice is at the cusp of a digital turn (Coventry and others, 2006) where teachers may assign students to create multimedia productions which were, not so long ago, only accesible to the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ken Burns, and other professional filmmakers.

Since teachers are increasingly finding DDM appealing, research is warranted that informs teachers and teacher educators about the nature of its integration into classroom instruction. While researchers (i.e., Hofer & Swan, 2005, 2006; Kearney & Schuck, 2005) have focused on how and why a teacher integrates DDM into classroom instruction, little empirical research exists on students as they compose their documentaries. While varying greatly in their production features, these documentaries involve a student interacting with documentary making software and online archives, as well as with his or her teacher and probably fellow students. Moreover, students likely develop and evolve narrative structures in their compositional processes as a way to organize and relay a story, or history, to their prospective viewing audiences. As a result of these interacting factors that influence students as they compose their desktop documentaries, researchers of this complex social phenomenon may find it difficult to sort and analyze the activity that so many teachers find to be a worthwhile learning experience. The dilemma for the researcher therefore becomes: "How can we effectively examine the social activities of the teacher and his or her students as they together integrate DDM into their history teaching and learning?"

In the Spring of 2008 I conducted research on a high school history teacher, Mr. Jones (a pseudonym), and seven of his students as they together integrated DDM into their history teaching and learning. As a researcher I knew that a study of DDM as a classroom phenomenon undoubtedly required me to use a naturalistic paradigm (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) through such data retrieval means as classroom observations and think-aloud protocols (Ericsson & Simon, 1993). To sort and analyze such data, therefore, required theoretical models sufficiently defined to identify common elements in the production of a student's documentary. At the same time the models needed a sufficiently sophisticated design and flexibility to capture the unique, complicated interactions each student initiates and develops while making his or her desktop documentary. To solve this research dilemma, I identified Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) as models that, together, are sufficiently powerful for describing social processes involved with DDM in a history classroom. CHAT provides a model, or heuristic, that enables description of the variety of resources students draw upon in the process of making their desktop documentaries, including the teacher's integration of DDM into the classroom curriculum. TPCK enables refined descriptions of why and how a teacher integrates DDM into his or her classroom instruction. The mergence between CHAT with TPCK, I argue in this essay, allows researchers like myself, who are interested in describing how student practices are influenced by teacher practices, to proceed with their work.


The Explanatory Powers of Cultural Historical Activity Theory

Students call upon diverse resources as they compose desktop documentaries. Knowing this signaled to me that an empirical investigation of student practices with DDM is best served with a socio-cultural framework. Vygotsky (1978) asserted that knowledge was situated "first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level" (p. 57). The basis of socio-cultural theory, therefore, is that a person's individual development is intertwined with his or her social environment. Leont'ev (1974, 1978) introduced activity as the unit of analysis in the sociocultural framework and incorporated human behavior with mental development. Since DDM is a socially constructed activity, with students using such resources as websites, audio-clips, project guidelines, as well as various other historical practices, a complex, yet fluid, model was necessary to capture its complex, socially-oriented activity. My determination to find a model well-suited to empirically study students' practices as they compose desktop documentaries led me to Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT).

In the past, researchers have associated CHAT with teacher practices (Daniels, 2004) and several researchers have used it to analyze human interaction with digital technologies (e.g., Gay & Hembrooke, 2004; Kaptelinin & Nardi, 2006). Although research using CHAT to examine DDM is scarce, at least one other researcher (Tatum, 2009) has associated the two as being compatible with one another. My primary influence, however, for how CHAT may assist with describing the integration of DDM into history teaching and learning was Yamagata-Lynch's (2007) research regarding one school's partnership with a professional development program for teachers. In her study, Yamagata-Lynch used the various features of CHAT to describe a myriad of interactions made during the integration of a professional development program in a school.

Yamagata-Lynch (2007) used Engestrom's (1987) model of CHAT that derived from his efforts to describe an "activity system" wherein there is a distribution of knowledge sources among the various elements of the triangles making up Figure 1.



Figure 1: General activity system heuristic for desktop documentary making in a teacher's classroom.


I use Engestrom's model as a generalized system to examine a student's construction of a desktop documentary from data collected through think-aloud protocols (Ericsson & Simon, 1993; Smagorinsky, 1998; Wineburg, 1991). Using the triangular model displayed atop Figure 1, the subject's relation with the object is associated with a mediating tool. In the example of DDM in a classroom, a student (subject) may use a mediating artifact such as a teacher, classmates, computer software, or as is the case in Figure 1, a narrative, to make the desktop documentary (object).

At the points of the internal triangle are rules, community, and division of labor. Rules are the formal or informal constructs that constrain or allow activities to occur in a particular community. These rules may range from a code of ethics of an organization to the formal/informal rules of a school or history classroom. The category of community essentially refers to the social group to which the subject belongs while engaging in activity, such as classmates in a history classroom. Finally, division of labor consists of any task-sharing that occurs while the subject is in the midst of activity. While making a desktop documentary, for instance, a student may benefit by the labor of others invested into the construction of websites or the expertise of the school librarian. These three elements inevitably have an interconnected relationship, as Figure 1 shows.

The external triangle incorporates the points of the internal triangle (rules, community, and division of labor) with the mediating triangle atop Figure 1. In the case of making a desktop documentary, this allows for a study of, for example, the role that a teacher's instruction and project guidelines (rules) had on a student's construction of their desktop documentary (object). Yet another example of the fluidity of CHAT is that it allows for a study of historical narrative (tools) over the span of time, including the impact that various web-based images or audio-clips (division of labor) can have on the narrative evolution (outcome). These are just some examples of how I see the complexity and fluidity of the CHAT model as usefully serving the exploration of the activity of students as they compose desktop documentaries. CHAT essentially allows researchers to maintain focus on students' mediation with many artifacts and tools as they participate in an activity over a span of time, namely the composition of their desktop documentaries. However, it is necessary to first identify these mediators and the potential that each have on altering student behavior during their compositional processes.

Kozulin and Presseisen (1995) suggested three classifications of mediators: material mediators, psychological (cultural) mediators, and other human beings. Following is a brief explanation of these types of mediators and how subjects may interact (Wertsch, 1998) with them while composing a desktop documentary. I use the CHAT model as a visual guide to show how one student in my study interacted with the various mediators.


Material Mediators

Material mediators are physical artifacts that can influence the activity of individuals. The classroom setting itself provides a multitude of material mediators for students and teachers alike, with some being essential to classroom activity (McDonald and others, 2005). It is imperative, therefore, that material mediators be considered when using emergent technologies, such as DDM software, as these technologies can affect activity when individuals interact with them (Kaptelinin, 1996). With DDM, individuals encounter not only the documentary-making software, but also web-based sources, of both visual and aural nature. Often originating under the category of "division of labor" during a compositional process, material artifacts such as images or audio-clips play a central role with the production of a desktop documentary. Additionally, physical artifacts can later become a mediating "tool" that produces a certain "outcome."

As a case in point, Harmony (a pseudonym), a student assigned by Mr. Jones to compose a desktop documentary on Benito Mussolini, discovered images of Mussolini's childhood which led her to the conclusion that Mussolini was once an innocent young man who had bad influences in his life. Figure 2 shows where the CHAT model can illustrate how Harmony used a physical artifact in this particular situation as a mediating "tool" that produced an "outcome" during a moment of activity in her compositional process.



Figure 2: Depiction of physical artifact used as a mediating tool to develop an outcome of empathy.


For the sake of clarity I highlight only the pertinent forms of Harmony's mediation with the boxes in Figure 2 and subsequent Figures that involve the CHAT model. Using Figure 2, for example, the box attached on the triangle to the left, a physical artifact, namely a web-based image, served as an outcome of a website (division of labor) search for Harmony as she composed her history of Mussolini. The image initiated an emotional response within Harmony. This image proceeded, as shown on the triangle to the right in Figure 2, to be used as a mediating "tool" that developed an outcome of empathy upon the student, which was shown by her actions and comments during the think-aloud protocol.


Cultural Mediators

Figure 2 represents how the CHAT model can depict how a material mediator may develop an outcome of empathy on behalf of the student as he or she composes a desktop documentary. However, material mediators only partially represent the mediating process that occurs during DDM. Can something intangible, like empathy, serve as mediator during a compositional process? In order to positively answer that question, it is necessary to understand the concept of cultural mediators. Cultural mediators are different from material mediators in that they are within the individual. Kozulin (1998) explained how cultural mediators, or what he termed as "psychological tools," are different from material mediators: "Unlike material tools, which serve as conductors of human activity aimed at external objects, psychological tools are internally oriented, transforming the inner, natural psychological processes into higher mental functions" (pp. 13-14). Cultural mediators, in essence, allow subjects to gain control of the mental processes associated with a particular object.

The term "psychological" may infer that these types of mediators only resonate from and affect the mind and not necessarily consider affective behaviors of individuals. Wertsch's explanation of cultural tools bears a strong resemblance to Kozulin's (1998) description of psychological tools in that they are internal tools that pervade human discourse and thought and are used in the outside world in new and different ways. I prefer using "cultural tools" over "psychological tools" because it better incorporates, for me, both mental- and emotional-centered mediators and infers that these mediators are each culturally bound and dependant upon the nuances of a culture. With regard to history making, Wertsch (1998) made the claim that historical writing involves the use of cultural tools such as annals, chronicles, and narratives (Wertsch, 1998; White, 1987).

The annals form of history consists of listing things in chronological order; the chronicles form attempts to tell a story but lacks a conclusion, or ending; and the narrative consists of a plot with a beginning, middle, and end, along with an identifiable narrative voice (White, 1987). As a subject conceives a desktop documentary, the notion of cultural tools as mediating agents serves as a useful heuristic for researchers because students may be inclined to use one cultural tool or another to compose their documentary just as they would when composing written history. Students may, for example, use either the annals or chronicle to organize their images and information when constructing a desktop documentary, while the student may later add something to a narrative in the documentary to tell a certain point of view or to evoke certain emotional reactions. However, if a student is predominantly concerned with coverage of information, a chronicle may be the predominant tool used by the student to compose a documentary.

To further elaborate cultural tools constructed and employed in history practice, Barton and Levstik (2004) conceived of several cultural tools used in history practice, including narrative structure, and two different types of empathy: perspective recognition as empathy, and care and commitment as empathy. Wertsch's (1998) and Barton and Levstik's (2004) conception of understanding the construction of history through the use of cultural tools is especially beneficial in a study of the processes involved in historical documentary filmmaking. For instance, to continue the activity captured in Figure 2, Harmony used empathy as a cultural tool to change the narrative structure in her documentary. Figure 3 shows how this scenario within Harmony's compositional process looks using the CHAT as a heuristic model.



Figure 3: Depiction of how empathy, as a cultural tool, alters the narrative structure of a desktop documentary.


The triangle on the left is a continuation of the right triangle from Figure 2. It depicts the development of empathy as an outcome of a particular web-based image. The triangle on the right shows how Harmony used this outcome of empathy as a cultural tool that actually evolved her narrative into something different than originally conceived. Because activity is never ending, the subject's new narrative structure could then be used as a cultural tool throughout the remainder of the composition of the desktop documentary. In Harmony's case, she used the aforementioned empathy for Mussolini, which emanated from various images that she encountered, as a cultural tool that produced a new outcome, namely a new narrative that transitioned from an original conception of Mussolini as a dark, powerful figure to one that showed him as an "ordinary" Italian who had rose to power through ambition. This narrative formation, as is a customary practice in history making, paved the way for Harmony to proceed in making her unique history of Benito Mussolini.


Human Mediators

Closely linked to the classification of cultural mediators is the human mediator. Human mediators may consist of an individual's parents, teachers, or classmates, each of which may directly or indirectly convey instructional symbols. The conception of a human serving as a mediator allows researchers to conceive of the teacher as prominently entering the arena of a student's DDM process. Kozulin (1998) noted that "the major contribution of the mediating adult," namely the history teacher in the case of DDM in a history classroom, "is to turn the interactive situation from an incidental into an intentional experience" (p. 64). For instance, with DDM in a secondary history classroom, a teacher may assign certain rules, such as a time limit. These rules can have both an enabling and constraining effect on the students as they compose their documentary (Wertsch, 1998). For example, the time limit might create an organizational structure that pushes the student composer to find new images. On the other hand the time limit may also constrain the creative flow of the student composer (i.e., fill time with slides of information rather than of imagery), causing him or her to focus more on pleasing the teacher than on creating an effective visually-based documentary. The conception of the teacher as a human mediator with regard to DDM in a history classroom is useful because a teacher's instruction pertaining to various restrictions or allowances placed on students may affect student compositional behavior.

One example where the teacher serves as a human mediator may be if the teacher sets the purpose of the desktop documentary for the students. For instance, the teacher might require that the documentary serve as a "teacher" for the entire class. CHAT is well suited for analysis of this particular instance of human mediation in DDM because it takes into consideration the mediation of "rules" and "community." Figure 4 depicts Mr. Jones, the teacher in my study, as a human "tool" who set a "rule" for the documentary to teach a particular viewership "community," namely the classmates.


Figure 4:The teacher as a human mediator who arranges for a particular rule and community for a subject's documentary.


By staying true to the socio-cultural theorist's belief that the individual learns within the context of his or her social environment, the teacher may be one of several mediating agents which a student interacts with throughout his or her compositional process of making a desktop documentary. Classmates, for example, may be the community but also may serve as tools that shape a subject's documentary through how the subject perceives their needs or empathetic impulses. Continuing with the case of Harmony, these guidelines drove her compositional process toward something, which she aimed, was meaningful for her classmates. Harmony's aim with most of her image selection, juxtaposition, text addition, and implementation of audio, was to pique her classmates' interests. In other words, using language from CHAT, Mr. Jones' project guidelines (rules) influenced Harmony to consider her classmates' interests (community), which she subsequently used to shape the aesthetics of her documentary (tools).


The Explanatory Powers of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge

If a teacher, as a mediating human tool, may serve a prominent role in a students' compositional activity, I believe it is pertinent for researchers to also have, at their disposal, a model to analyze teacher behavior. To provide such a model that captures and articulates teacher behavior with regard to his or her integration of DDM into classroom instruction, I alight upon TPCK, referred to by some as TPACK for Technology, Pedagogy, and Content Knowledge (e.g., Hammond & Manfra, 2009; Marino, Sameshine, & Beecher, 2009). Developed first by Mishra and Kohler (2006), the TPCK framework builds upon Shulman's influential formulation of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Shulman (1986) uncovered the signature pedagogical approaches in the professional development of, for example, physicians and lawyers. He documented that the education of these professionals required them to actually practice the intellectual skills and social interactions they would enact after they graduated and set up their own practices. Shulman developed PCK to provide a generalized description of how experts in various fields enact powerful teaching strategies to introduce novices to their profession.


Pedagogical Content Knowledge

According to Shulman (1986), PCK is the "dimension of subject matter knowledge for teaching" which consists of "the ways of representing and formulating the subject that make it comprehensible to others" (p. 9). PCK distinguished content specialists from pedagogues. The key to distinguishing a teacher's professional knowledge from the knowledge of the content specialist or the pedagogue lay in the teacher's ability to transform the content knowledge in such a way that it can be comprehended by students with different abilities. Shulman (1987) explained the process involved as a teacher transforms academic content into something meaningful and relevant for students:

[T]he idea is grasped, probed, and comprehended by a teacher, who then must turn it about in his or her mind, seeing many sides of it. Then the idea is shaped or tailored until it can in turn be grasped by students (p. 13).

This transformation of the content knowledge through a unique pedagogical lens, according to Shulman, is the professional knowledge of the teacher.


Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge

Recognizing that technological introduction profoundly shifted both knowledge-generating and pedagogical practice, Mishra and Koehler (2006) formulated TPCK as a workable framework of teacher knowledge based on Shulman's earlier PCK formulation.


Figure 5: TPCK model


As shown in Figure 5, the TPCK framework possesses a dynamic feature in that along with looking at each component (Technology, Pedagogy, and Content) in isolation, each feature can also be looked at in pairs: Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK), Technological Content Knowledge (TCK), Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK), and the summation of the three as Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) (Mishra and Koehler, 2006, p. 1026).

Whenever I studied Mr. Jones, via classroom observation, interview, or document retrieval, I did so through the TPCK lens. First, TPCK enabled me to keenly observe Jones' technological (T) instruction. For instance, whenever Jones instructed students about DDM software or various filmmaking techniques, I made sure to take note of that particular instruction and categorized it under technological instruction. Second, TPCK enabled me to a keep a close watch on Jones' pedagogical (P) philosophy. In so doing, I was able to conclude that Jones believed in and enacted a constructivist conception of teaching. In particular, he believed that students learned best by solving problems on their own and by experiencing cognitive dissonance that he aimed to spur new learning for his students. Finally, TPCK enabled me to observe Jones' content (C) knowledge. My interpretation of Jones' content knowledge was based on the fact that he had certain curricular objectives and intended learning outcomes pertaining to the subject matter which often revolved around analyzing primary sources through the lens of a critical historian. For instance, he aimed for his students to explore and subsequently know the philosophical roots of the Nazi regime through primary sources that the students were asked to critique rather than accept as fact. The fact that Jones used primary sources in his instruction led to the dynamic nature of TPCK, namely that I was able to pay attention to how his content knowledge (C) mixed with his pedagogical (P) practices, which I could also see as being compatible with his (T) technological practices all while he intended to use DDM as a compliment to his conventional instructional practice.


The CHAT-TPCK Mergence

One fruitful result of employing CHAT with TPCK may be its synergistic capacity to help researchers see how a teacher's technological, instructional and historical practices (TPCK) suffused students' decision making, and their compositional practices, as the students composed their desktop documentaries. As researchers analyze students' documentary making activities through CHAT, they may observe them using their teacher's technological (T) or content knowledge (CK) as resources. As students consult with their teacher, or reflect upon his or her instructions of their understanding of the particular assignment, the teacher exercises his pedagogical skills (P) when students called upon him for help or advice. Students may also ask their teacher for technological advice: e.g., how they could manipulate an image(s) or sound(s) to better convey an idea. Figure 6 represents how the CHAT and TPCK models can, together, assist researchers in tracing the relationship between teacher and student activity.


Figure 6: Teacher's TPCK provides students with cinematic instruction that they use to make their documentaries useful to their classmates.

Using a TPCK modular lens, researchers may disseminate classroom observations of teacher activity as he or she integrates DDM into the classroom curriculum. A teacher may also, as Mr. Jones did, provide students with cinematic instruction (T) as he or she assigned a desktop documentary project to students. By doing so, Jones essentially equipped his students with certain pedagogical skills (P) that were aimed at transforming content (C). Figure 6 shows, in the left triangle, how Mr. Jones' cinematic instruction equipped his students with the skills of filmaking, which they later used (refer to the right triangle) as a tool to make their documentaries useful for their classmates. Through Jones' interactions with his students, the former's actions suffused the activity system within which the students constructed their desktop documentaries.

The TPCK-CHAT framework, therefore, enabled me as a researcher to place students' compositional practices within a particular activity system that was initially arranged by the teacher through his TPCK. For instance, Jones' technological instruction (T) emphasized that students network with other students whenever they encountered technological difficulties. With that in my mind, CHAT allowed me to consider whether or not the students networked with one another (division of labor) or had actually discarded the teacher's advice and behaved in an insular fashion whenever they encountered technological problems. As a result, I observed some students heeding their teacher's instructional tip while others did not. CHAT also enabled me to observe the impact that the project's guidelines (rules) had upon students' historical practices. My findings revealed that each student obeyed their teacher's five minute time limit and also practiced the historiographical skills, such as analysis of historical source and and source citation, harnessed by their teacher's history instruction (C) that occurred prior to and during the DDM project. CHAT also enabled me to examine the role of audience (community) in the students' compositional practices, as shown earlier with the case of Harmony. These frameworks, when used together, enabled me to observe how the students' concern for audience (community), which the teacher required in his instruction of documentary making (TP), influenced the aesthetics of the students' documentaries. As with any form of activity, the relationship of a students' practices with varying mediating agents goes on and on. A students' particular learning activity system, while unique in their development, is almost always set-up by a teacher. In this case, Jones' instruction set up the original parameters around which students, like Harmony, originated and later developed her compositional process of Benito Mussolini's biography. The mergence of TPCK-CHAT allowed me to view both Jones' initiation of the activity system and his students' unique development within it.


Conclusion

DDM is an activity where students use various mediating agents (i.e., narrative, online archives, classmates, teacher) to aid in the compositional practices of desktop documentary making. CHAT provides a complex, but flexible generalized model from which to analyze students' activity of composing desktop documentaries. CHAT, therefore, may be used as a generalized system to help maintain focus on students' compositional practices. CHAT enables researchers to analyze the relationships that a student has with various mediators and how these relationships help to shape the process of his or her history making as they compose a desktop documentary. Research on the integration of DDM into a secondary history classroom involves an analysis of both the teacher who assigns the project and of the students as they compose desktop documentaries. As a teacher integrates DDM into his or her history instruction, various forms of instructional knowledge is employed by the teacher. TPCK is a useful model to analyze the teacher as he or she assigns desktop documentary making into classroom instruction because it sheds analytical light on the teacher's integration of digital technology (TP) with his or her history instruction (PCK). Moreover, the two models (CHAT and TPCK), when combined, become useful for researchers who aim to examine the complexities of the intermingling social activities of a teacher and student as they, together, integrate DDM into their history teaching and learning.

While this article dealt singularly with the CHAT-TPCK model mergence as it pertains to research on the integration of DDM in history classrooms, the applicability of the two models may go wide and far for educational researchers. The CHAT-TPCK merger need not be limited to DDM alone. Researchers who, in general, aspire to explore the social activity of technology integration between any teacher and her or his students may freely use CHAT-TPCK to observe and describe this most pivotal relationship in the entire school experience.


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