Connecting agents and artifacts in CSCL: Towards a rationale of mutual shaping

  • Maarten OverdijkEmail author
  • Wouter van Diggelen
  • Paul A. Kirschner
  • Michael Baker


Studying how collaborative activity takes shape interactionally in the context of technological settings is one of the main challenges in the field of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL). It requires us, amongst other things, to look into the ‘black box’ of how technical artifacts are brought into use, or rather, how they are attuned to, interacted with, and shaped in various and varied practices. This article explores the establishment of a purposeful connection of human agents and technical artifacts in CSCL, that we call ‘the agent-artifact connection’. In order to contribute to a grounded conception of this connection, we reviewed three theoretical positions: affordance, structures and instrument. Although these three positions differ in how they conceptualise the connection, they share the assumption that a technical artifact carries a potential for action that becomes available when artifact and agent connect, and that the availability of action opportunities is relative to the ones who interact with the artifact. In this article, we map out the conceptual and methodological implications for each of the positions. We argue that the rationale of ‘shaping’ collaborative interactions that underlies a part of CSCL research should be replaced by a rationale of ‘mutual shaping’ of human agents and technical artifacts.


Affordance Agent-artifact connection Instrument Mutual shaping Structures 


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Copyright information

© International Society of the Learning Sciences, Inc.; Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maarten Overdijk
    • 1
    Email author
  • Wouter van Diggelen
    • 2
  • Paul A. Kirschner
    • 3
  • Michael Baker
    • 4
  1. 1.Independent researcherLeidenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Research Centre Learning in InteractionUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies (CELSTEC)Open UniversityHeerlenThe Netherlands
  4. 4.CNRS & Telecom ParisTechParisFrance

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