ETR 790 Workshop: Activity Systems Analysis Methods

Instructor: Lisa C. Yamagata-Lynch
Office: Gabel 101E
Office Hours: Arranged by appointments
*Upon further consideration and discussion with students, the instructor reserves the right to make revisions to the course stated in this document

Course Description

This course is intended for advanced graduate students for examining Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and activity systems analysis as a qualitative educational research framework and methodology. The focus of this course is for members to engage in active reading, discussions, data analysis, and reporting of an educational study from a CHAT perspective. You will be introduced to various CHAT perspectives and methods for engaging in qualitative activity systems analysis. Please note that many of the activities in this course are self-directed and you are expected to take your own initiative to engage in activities that meet both the course requirements and your graduate career. Most assignments for this course have been designed to support progress on your Master’s Thesis or a Doctoral Dissertation. Therefore, all assignments can be centered on a topic of your interest.

Course Objectives

  1. Understand and describe the historical developments related to CHAT from a variety of critical perspectives that is reflected in a literature review or report on a study
  2. Gain an accurate understanding of activity systems analysis as a qualitative data analysis method
  3. Demonstrate competence in qualitative data analysis
  4. Develop a working set of readings related to CHAT
  5. Complete a study using activity systems analysis as a data analysis method
Course Format
This course will be primarily face-to-face. As you are all graduate students/professionals I am going to assume that you will take responsibility in making the experiences from this course to benefit your learning/work. That means that I am not going to tell you what you need to know, check attendance, or try to motivate you, but I will expect that you will come to class ready to participate and contribute to our collective understanding of the topics each week.

Texts Required
  • Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation: Revised and Expanded from Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education (3rd ed.). San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
  • Yamagata-Lynch, L. C. (2010). Activity Systems Analysis Methods: Understanding Complex Learning Environments. New York: Springer.

  • American Psychological Association. (2009). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition (6th ed.). American Psychological Association (APA).
  Assignment Name
 Points Possible  
 Option A
 Option B
 1 Course Participation
 300 * *
 2 Qualitative and Activity Systems Analysis 300 * *
 3 Topic centered CHAT Literature Review 200 * 
 4 Results Narrative with Findings 200  *
 5 Presentation 200 * *
  1000 1000

1. Required: Course Participation 300 points
During each class session, you are expected to come prepared by having read the materials, by identifying 2 to 3 questions that may lead course discussions, and by participating in discussions initiated by others. The discussions during class will stem from the readings and are intended to help you develop further understandings about CHAT and activity systems analysis.

2. Required: Qualitative and Activity Systems Analysis 300 points

You will engage in a qualitative activity systems analysis of a data set of your choice related to a set of research questions you identify. You can choose to use a data set from an ongoing study you are involved or find a body of qualitative data from newspapers/trade magazines for conducting the analysis. In a narrative format you need to identify your data sources, provide the steps you took in the data analysis, and a thick description of the data. Then you need to conduct an activity systems analysis of your data based on the thick description and provide your reflections on the analysis

The required components of this assignment include:
  • Overview of where the data came from and data collection methods
  • Research questions
  • Data sources
  • Steps involved in the qualitative activity systems analysis
  • Code and definition table of your thematic analysis
  • Thick description of the data
  • Activity systems analysis of the thick description
  • Your reflections on the findings, how the activity systems analysis addressed research questions, and what contributions your work will make for future researchers and practitioners.
Your narrative should be double-spaced using 12-point Times New Roman font following APA style guide 6th edition.

3. Your Choice: Topic centered CHAT Literature Review 200 points
You will engage in a literature review on a topic of your interest related to your field of study within the context of CHAT. You will build a convincing argument for conducting a study on the topic from this theoretical perspective by using activity systems analysis. In your discussions you need to articulate the theoretical/practical value of your study, the importance of your topic to your field, your research questions, the unit of analysis in your study, and what new knowledge your work will contribute to your field and CHAT. This paper is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your understanding of your topic of interest, your understanding of CHAT, and evaluate how the CHAT framework and activity systems analysis can help you answer research questions that otherwise will be difficult.

Your paper should include the following topics:
  • Purpose of your study
  • Analysis of your topic of interest
  • Discussion of your topic in the context of CHAT
  • Research questions
  • Unit of analysis
  • Value of your work and future contributions to your field and CHAT
Your paper should not exceed 20 pages double-spaced using 12-point Times New Roman font excluding references and following APA style guide 6th edition.

4. Your Choice: Results Narrative with Findings 200 points
You will provide a narrative of your study findings based on the thick description of your qualitative analysis and activity systems analysis. Your narrative needs to describe each activity system you introduce and contextualize it within the thick description from assignment 2. Then you need to identify and describe the overall findings from the qualitative analysis and activity systems analysis. This discussion needs to be supported by your data and relevant literature to your study and/or CHAT.

Your paper should roughly address the following topics:
  • Descriptions of the activity systems analysis within the context of your qualitative data (you will need to provide the graphics)
  • Discussion of your research questions in the context of your findings and CHAT
  • Overall findings from your analysis within the context of your study and works of others
  • Contributions of your work to your field and CHAT, make sure to make connections to other works
Your narrative should be double-spaced using 12-point Times New Roman font following APA style guide 6th edition.

5. Required: Presentations 200 points
You will engage in a 10-minute presentation of the Topic Centered CHAT Literature Review or the Results Narrative with Findings. You will prepare an appropriate form of electronic presentation to engage the class. Upon completion of your presentation you will earn 200 points.

NIU Conceptual Framework

NIU Dispositions Assessment

Assignment of Final Grade
A = 1000-900; B = 890-800; C = 790-700; D = 690-600; F < 590 pts.

A= Superior, B= Satisfactory, C= Marginal, D= Deficient, F= Seriously Deficient

For more information please visit:

NIU Academic Integrity Policy
To make authoritative statements without giving credit to the author of those statements is considered plagiarism and violates the academic integrity policy of Northern Illinois University:

Good academic work must be based on honesty. The attempt of any student to present as his or her own work that which he or she has not produced is regarded by the faculty and administration as a serious offense. Students are considered to have cheated if they copy the work of another during an examination or turn in a paper or assignment written, in whole or part, by someone else. Students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging those sources or if they paraphrase ideas from other sources without acknowledging them. Students guilty of, or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university (2003-04 Undergraduate Catalog, p.48).

Writing Center
It is imperative that ALL teacher certification candidates meet the Illinois Language Arts Standards for All Teachers. Therefore, students who would like assistance in or further developing their writing style and skills can do so through the NIU Writing Center located in Stevenson South Towers - Lower Level, 815-753-6636. Website:

Students with Special Needs

Northern Illinois University abides by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which stipulates that no student shall be denied the benefits of an education solely by reason of a handicap. Disabilities covered by law include, but are not limited to learning disabilities and hearing, sight or mobility impairments. Your success as a student is of utmost importance to me. If you have a disability or any other special circumstance that may have some impact on your work in this class, and for which you may require special accommodations, please contact me early in the semester so that accommodations can be made in a timely manner. The NIU Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR), located on the 4th floor of the University Health Service (753-1303), is the designated office on campus to provide services and accommodations to students with diagnosed disabilities. You need to provide documentation of your disability to this office. For more information, visit the CARR website:

Add Schedule Here
WeekDateCourse Topic/Activity
 1 8/23Introduction Course Expectations
  • Course purpose, structure, and schedule
  • Introduction to CHAT
Yamagata-Lynch (2010) Preface, pp. vii-xi
 2 8/30Value of CHAT and Activity Systems Analysis
  • What contributions do CHAT and activity systems analysis bring to Educational Research?
  • What contributions do they bring to you?
Yamagata-Lynch (2010) Ch. 1, pp 1-11, Rasmussen, & Ludvigsen,   (2009) pp.83-104
 3   9/6Labor Day
4 9/13CHAT History
  • Vygotsky
  • Kharkovites Leontiev & Galperin
  • Engeström
Yamagata-Lynch (2010) Ch. 2, pp. 13-26 Sannino, Daniels, & Gutiérrez (2009) pp. 1-15, Van Der Veer (2007) pp. 21- 49—skim
5 9/20CHAT Main Concepts
  • Vygotsky’s Mediation
  • Object-Oriented-Activity
  • Culture
Leontiev (1981) pp. 37-71 in (Wertsch originally published in 1972) Vygotksy (1978) pp. 52-57 Wertsch (2007) pp. 178-192
6 9/27Making sense of Object-Oriented ActivityReadings
Kaptelinin, & Miettinen, (2005) pp. 1-3—skim Kaptelinin (2005) pp. 4-18 Stetsenko (2005) pp. 70-88
7 10/4Qualitative Research Methods Review
  • Data collection methods
  • Triangulation
  • Maintaining Trustworthiness
Merriam (2008) Ch. 8 pp. 169- until 197 & 9 pp. 209-235 and Ch. 5, 6, 7 pp. 87-163—skim
8 10/11CHAT Criticisms
  • Inadequate
  • Too Complicated
  • Cannot Generalize
  • Too Simple
Yamagata-Lynch (2010) Ch. 3, pp. 27-35
9 10/18CHAT Research and Methods
  • Activity Systems Analysis
  • Descriptive Studies
  • Intervention Studies
  • Double Stimulation
Cole & Engeström (2007) pp. 484-507 Yamagata-Lynch (2010) Ch. 4, pp. 37-62

In Class Activity
Bring a data set with you, be ready to explain data collection methods, and if human subjects are involved bring IRB approved informed consent form

10 10/25Student Work Time
Spend time with your data or literature review

Online Activity
Post questions or thoughts on Blackboard as Necessary
11 11/1 Qualitative Activity Systems Analysis and In- Depth ExampleReadings
Yamagata-Lynch (2010) Ch. 5 & 6 pp. 81-128

In Class Activity
Bring drafts of your analysis or literature review to class
12 11/8 Student Work Time
13 11/15As a class work on building trustworthiness
  • Bring part of your data set, code and definition table, initial findings, and be prepared to share to individuals in class for peer constructive comments
Spend time with your data and share them to peers
14 11/22 Student Work Time
Merriam (2008) Ch. 10 pp. 237-264—skim and spend time with your data
15 11/29Report on Findings Presentations and Discussions on Future of CHAT and Activity Systems Analysis
Yamagata-Lynch (2010) Ch. 7, pp. 129-132 Engeström (2009) pp. 303-328 Rosa & Valsiner (2007) pp.692-707

Qualitative Activity Systems Analysis or Results Narrative with Findings and

Readings in Text in Order of Appearance in the Schedule

Week 2
  • Rasmussen, I., & Ludvigsen, S. (2009). The Hedgehog and the Fox: A Discussion of the Approaches to the Analysis of ICT - Reforms in Teacher Education of Larry Cuban and Yrjö Engeström. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 16(1), 83-104. doi:10.1080/10749030802477390

Week 3—Labor Day--

Week 4
  • Sannino, A., Daniels, H., & Gutiérrez, K. D. (2009). Activity theory between historical engagement and future-making practice. In A. Sannino, H. Daniels, & K. D. Gutiérrez (Eds.), Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory (pp. 1-15). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • Van der Veer, R. (2007). Vygotsky in context: 1900-1935. In H. Daniels, M. Cole, & J. V.Wertsch (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky (pp. 21-49). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Week 5
  • Leontiev, A. N. (1981). The problem of activity in psychology. In J. V. Wertsch (Ed.), The concept of activity in Soviet psychology (pp. 37-71). New York: M. E. Sharpe.
  • Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Wertsch, J. V. (2007). Mediation. In H. Daniels, M. Cole, & J. V. Wertsch (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky (pp. 178-192). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Week 6
  • Kaptelinin, V., & Miettinen, R. (2005). Introduction: "Perspectives on the Object of Activity". Mind, Culture, and Activity, 12(1), 1-3. doi:10.1207/s15327884mca1201_1
  • Kaptelinin, V. (2005). The object of activity: Making sense of the sense-maker. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 12(1), 4-18. doi:10.1207/s15327884mca1201_2
  • Stetsenko, A. (2005). Activity as object-related: Resolving the dichotomy of individual and collective planes of activity. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 12(1), 70-88. doi:10.1207/s15327884mca1201_6
Week 8
  • Cole, M., & Engeström, Y. (2007). Cultural-historical approaches to designing for development. In J. Valsiner & A. Rosa (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of Sociolcultural Psychology (pp. 484-507). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Week 12
  • Engeström, Y. (2009). The future of activity theory: A rough draft. In A. Sannino, H. Daniels, & K. D. Gutiérrez (Eds.), Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory (pp. 303-328). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • Rosa, A., & Valsiner, J. (2007). Socio-cultural psychology on the move: Semiotic methodology in the making. In J. Valsiner & A. Rosa (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of Sociolcultural Psychology. (pp. 692-707) New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.'
Readings Included in the Extra Readings
  • Cole, M. (2009). The perils of translation: A first step in reconsidering Vygotsky's theory of development in relation to formal education. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 16(4), 291-295. doi:10.1080/10749030902795568
  • Foot, K. A. (2002). Pursuing an evolving object: A case study in object formation and identification. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 9(2), 132-149. doi:10.1207/S15327884MCA0902_04
  • Friesen, N. (2009). Discursive psychology and educational technology: Beyond the cognitive revolution. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 16(2), 130. doi:10.1080/10749030802707861
  • Nardi, B. A. (2005). Objects of desire: Power and passion in collaborative activity. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 12(1), 37-51. doi:10.1207/s15327884mca1201_4
  • Roth, W. (2008). Where are the Cultural–Historical critiques of “Back to the Basics”? Mind, Culture, and Activity, 15(4), 269-278. doi:10.1080/10749030802390981
  • Roth, W., & Cole, M. (2010). The referencing practices of Mind, Culture, and Activity: On citing (sighting?) and being cited (Sighted?). Mind, Culture, and Activity, 17(2), 93- 101. doi:10.1080/10749030903402040
  • Worthen, H. (2008). Using activity theory to understand how people learn to negotiate the conditions of work. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 15(4), 322-338. doi:10.1080/10749030802391385
  • Yamagata-Lynch, L. C. (2003). Using activity theory as an analytical lens for examining technology professional development in schools. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 10(2), 100- 119. doi:10.1207/S1532-7884MCA1002_2
  • Yamagata-Lynch, L. C. (2007). Confronting analytical dilemmas for understanding complex human interactions in design-based research from a Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) framework. The Journal of The Learning Sciences, 16(4), 451-484. doi:10.1080/10508400701524777
Resources to Monitor
Centers and Organizations Monitor
Resources on Qualitative Data Collection and Analysis
  • Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. C. (2008). Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory (3rd ed.). Sage Publications, Inc.
  • Glesne, C. (2005). Becoming Qualitative Researchers: An Introduction (3rd ed.). Allyn & Bacon.
  • Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications. Strauss, A. L. (1987). Qualitative Analysis for Social Scientists. Cambridge University Press.
Resources for searching relevant articles:
Last Updated January 2, 2011