Models and Theories in Human-Computer Interaction/Activity Theory and Cultural Artefacts
Activity Theory and Cultural Artefacts (Briana Bettin)
Activity Theory as a concept for describing social mediation through a computational interface is certainly an intriguing idea.
What is Activity Theory?
Activity Theory views the user not as a faceless "entity" in the system overall, but rather as a complex user who's prior experiences, models, background, and tools all work toward affording and limiting their ability to utilize a given tool to complete an action. This means ideas such as cultural background, past jobs, language fluency, and more are all considered very important in the development of a user and their success or failure when introduced to a tool or system.
Activity theory views an activity as someone or some group modifying some sort of artefact in the culture to achieve a desired result - and this modification is typically achieved through the use of a tool - be this tool a protest, a hammer, a software program, a marketing graphic, or whatever they have been provided or conspired as means (the conspiring of means could also be considered an activity theory opportunity as groups or individuals use methods, tools, and models they have experienced and utilized before to consider what works best in their newest attempts at modification).
Wikibooks as a Cultural Artefact
Wikibooks can most certainly be considered a cultural artefact as editing users work to share their knowledge and insights based upon their backgrounds and understandings with other users in order to help enlighten and enrich their knowledge and mental models, as well as preserving their understanding as part of an intricately woven body of knowledge from other users for historical and referential needs.
The Wikibooks editing user interface, including the editor and "coding" associated with it can be seen as the tool users must develop experience with in order to achieve the desired outcome with this artefact. As Carroll's reading states, the historic models that led to the development of the Wikibook's editing tool model have aided in "crystallizing" concepts for users regarding use of the tool, but can also limit it by constraining it to ideas of the models it was based upon and what those models lacked.
For instance, the editor was likely based off of word processing documents such as Microsoft Word, which were based off of traditional writing, print-pressing, and typing needs, which were based upon the early foundations of modern language and the tools we had to convey meaning. As each tool evolved in the historical chain, the descendant grew from the ancestor's short-comings but also were limited by the understanding and experience the original model afforded.
Users Influencing Artefacts
This means a user's success with the Wikibooks editor very much depends on a user's understanding of the ingrained models "crystallized" in the editor based upon the models it was built on (word-processing interfaces, conveying knowledge with language in a meaningful way, etc.), and how their experience grows to account for the differences within the Wikibooks tool and to reassess their model for Wikibooks as such (the specific codes needed to create headers and subheaders in Wikibooks, etc.)
Activity Theory also accounts for the potential for growth or failure of a tool's model dependent not only on its emulation and expansion of historical artefacts, but on how the tool fits into or embodies cultural standards and needs as well. For instance, if the Wikibook editor is not designed in the same way as a word processing software in another country may be, then it may be easy to understand with activity theory that the tool is lacking as it did not account for the historical and cultural needs of its users.
In this regard, activity theory is very great in describing the concept of Wikibooks as users sharing with other users - oftentimes a user's personality or background may influence what they feel comfortable sharing information about or how they share and portray this information (those who often write, speak, or lead may share more thoroughly or more verbosely; those who are passionate may write vividly on a very narrow topic; etc). Because Wikibooks is openly collaborative, users can associate themselves with that which interests them in the way which interests them so long as it is understandable and relevant. This allows freedom for users to leverage the tool for any outcomes that involve sharing information with other individuals so long as they wish to do so in an online, text-based manner and the tool's interface does not limit the need with which they are trying to achieve (and if it does, activity theory may postulate how we might grow this tool to decrease these limitations but preserve the historic knowledge in the next descendant).
Because the tool has versatility and can fit with user needs, background, and desires, activity theory affords that Wikibooks can succeed as users make what they choose of it to share with other users and build relevant artefacts of information.
Carroll, J. M. (2003). HCI Models, Theories, and Frameworks. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.