Activity Theory To Analyze Trust Assessment

A Way to Analyze How We Do Things

As described in Media Analysis, the digital media landscape changes too rapidly to rely on anyone's checklist of how to fact-check. We can take 40 questions and put them in 5 groups of 8 and think we've simplified matters, or we can hide the complexity in a few simple directives that rely on an ability to recognize and respond to clues, or we can just rely on Wikipedia to tell us who to trust and not develop the ability to notice things. But a teacher who chooses to help students name the distinctions they have already started to make instinctually (assess the reliability of what they see) should ground the instruction not only in what a found resources says, but in an analysis of their own practice.

This is where Activity Theory comes in. It's a way of analyzing how a subject (someone looking at a page), attempts tasks with an objective (assessing trustworthiness) to arrive at an outcome (discernment), by pulling apart all the pieces.

Activity Theory, developed by Yrjö Engestrom and Aleksei Leontiev (students of constructivist learning theory founder Lev Vygotsky), is a framework for designing learning. It draws connections between what people think and feel, and what they do.

Activity Theorists represent this analysis in activity triangles like the one at right. Nowadays, “Mediating artifacts” are called “tools”, and “Division of labour” is called “roles”.

Activity Theory considers social context more deeply than a standalone media literacy curriculum might. Teachers whose classrooms prioritize social learning (those who are learner-centered and project-based, for example), are less likely to solve a curriculum adoption problem by adopting an instructional platform where students log in to a website and do activities individually.

Such platforms exist for media literacy (The News Literacy Project’s Checkology is a great example, full of rich media, expert testimonials and interactive tasks of all kinds), but a “high-social” learner-centered teacher would need to also develop lessons that invite students to talk about their Checkology work, and create reflection documents or case study projects of their own, often in groups.

Engestrom’s Activity Triangle below maps teacher considerations for teaching students to “Use contextualized historical data in an argument”.

  • Tools might also include data drawn from lateral reading (reliable sources that cite the same sources as the one being fact-checked).

  • Community could mean classroom peers who critique work; when published, readers who consult fact checks by Politifact, Snopes, the Washington Post,

  • Rules might include a classroom process for peer review of student annotations based on a found source.

  • Roles could document how an individual consults other sites to complete the SIFT process.

What could this triangle look like for “Fact-checking a found source for a claim”?