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Hybrid nature of education as a collaborative intervention

As the historically transitional age continues to move toward globalization in every field of human activity, even if the activity is physically limited to local areas, expansive learning has clearly become increasingly valuable for creating new forms of activities. The world of human activity is increasingly dominated by longitudinal dialogic relationships of collaboration between multiple activity systems. Although these partnerships and alliances arc obviously relevant to rediscovering and expanding use values in the objects of activities, they are extremely difficult to sustain and manage. This is where collaborative learning possibilities and challenges become essential. Such learning can be characterized as a hybrid learning activity engaged in the expansive reforging of shared objects and creating new forms of activity between different activity systems.

What type of agency might be urgently required in such a horizontal movement of expansive learning across boundaries? In the new generation of activity theory, this focus on agency must shift to an analysis of a new type of agency in fields of distributed and networked activities.

Based on the principle of hybridity in activity-theoretical collaborative interventions, Part III of this book focuses on new emerging hybrid forms of educational activities in Japanese schools and communities, which generate new types of distributed, multiple, and networked agency in dialogic, boundary crossing, and hybridized activity systems. In other words, Part III reveals that new types of agency are collaborations and engagements with a shared object in and for relationships of interaction between multiple activity systems. This new type of agency is closely relevant to the notion that Clay Spinuzzi (2018) highlights: contemporary activity theory “locates the abilities in the activity in which the individual is situated” rather than “in the individual” ’(p. 132). Formative interventions based on activity theory consider not the self and the state but the participants as agents to make their own interventions. Likewise, as proposed by Masakazu Tanaka (2005), a new approach to the concept of agency would radically criticize the dominant conceptualization of agency, which still remains within the traditional notion of the individual, and alternatively conceptualize agency in the following manner:

[A]n agent, rather than being the puppet of others, is a communicating being along with others in a community of communicating beings.... Even when communication takes place on an individualized or one-to-one basis, a mutually negotiated site—community—is created. Agency is the power that endows such a site, creates and, moreover, transforms the character of this space.

(p. 12)

In this manner, Chapter 6 proposes hybrid educational innovation as an intermediate theoretical concept to analyze and construct hybrid forms of learning activity at school in which various partners such as community organizations, businesses, experts, and other relevant actors outside the school collaborate. Hybrid educational innovation as a collaborative intervention has the potential to stimulate participating organizations and actors to share a new, expanded sense of the sites, objects, and scope of educational work. Chapter 6 presents an example of an expansive learning approach to changing schools by creating networks of learning that transcend the institutional boundaries of the school. The idea of this collaborative intervention is that changes in schools are carried out in various networks of learning and hybrid forms of activities.

Work activities arc becoming increasingly networked, hybrid, and weakly bound forms of organization. Different agents contributed to the reshaping of their work method toward emerging organizational forms called “negotiated knotworking” (Engestrôm, 2008, 2018). Chapter 7 theoretically forms an intermediate theoretical concept of knotworking agency as applied to analyze and discuss findings from intervention efforts in the community-based hybrid learning activity for disaster prevention. The analysis and discussion in this chapter illuminates the participants’ knotworking agency to enable them to shed the passive role of the victim, thus creating a site based on mutual dialogue and negotiation where they can discuss their future lives and society.

Distributed agency located in knotworking-type formations, which can solve problems and make decisions in situations “without strong predetermined rules or central authority” (Engestrôm, 2008, p. 208), is valuable for the movement of changing initiatives from moment to moment and distributed leadership to produce hybrid forms of learning activity. Drawing on the idea of knotworking, the aim of building hybrid activity systems as a form of collaborative intervention is to have no fixed center of authority or control. By utilizing a knotworking-type formation for collaborative practice, participants involved in the intervention avoid being cast as the “authorities” in the joint venture. Simply put, knotworking allows for the tying and dissolution of knots of collaborative work that are not reducible to any specific individual or fixed organizational entity as the center of control.

In the third generation and post-generation of activity theory, focusing on reaching beyond and across the boundaries and gaps between activity systems must be acknowledged as a historically new feature of distributed or fractured agency located in the knots. Such historicity of agency is currently sought in network organizations where a new type of agency might be visible, required, and emerging. Participants and parties from different terrains involved in the network and beyond organizations seek innovations through collaboration across traditional boundaries. In such organizational forms, the nature of agency, as Engestrôm (2005c) states, can “connect and reciprocate.” This imperative of a new type of agency principally differs from the historically previous forms: “control and command” for management, “resist and defend” for workers in hierarchy organizations, and “take advantage and maximize gain” in market organizations. The efficacy and value of collaboration and reciprocity are missed or limited in both forms.

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