Nascent attempt at using Foam to curate and leverage a personal memex

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Instrumental Genesis

How does a tool become something that is used by someone to achieve a meaningful task? How does a tool become an instrument?

What are the rules for applying a tool to a task? Why/how does that application become meaningful to the user?

Instrumentalisation - the act of a tool becoming an instrument - is a dialectical interplay between understanding the tool and how it relates to the context of the required task.

A process which changes the person as they develop the knowledge/skill required to use the instrument.

A process that requires time.


White (2008) examines the value of instrumental genesis to understanding learners use of mathematical learning tools. It could also be used to understand teachers’ approaches to using tools to create learning environments and tasks

There are connections with this perspective with [[chat]] and [[practice-theory]]. The same “distributed” perspective.


CASA embody both types of knowledge tool and activity.

Tool - is how the user understand how to use the tool. e.g. the Card Interface

Activity - is the process of modularisation and/or providing an overview of the modules in a course.

Similarly, using the Content Interface to develop a learning sequence. Which requires understanding the value, purpose and process of developing a learning sequence.

CASA and Context

Instruments thus emerge through a dialectical interplay between the techniccal demands of mastering a device and the conceptual work of making that device meaningful in the context of a task (Artigue 2002)

Suggesting that modularisation at on Uni is different from another. Context matters to this understanding. It should perhaps show up in the schemes of the people involved.

Different tools, different supports, different contexts should lead to different schemes.

The theory of instrumental genesis emphasizes the nature of instruments as fluid and emergent phenomena, the meanings of which are negotiated and renegotiated by particular users in the context of particular activities. (p. 5)


White (2008)

Verilon and Rabardel’s (1995) account of instrumental genesis, the process through which artifacts become tools to be utilized in the accomplishment of a task (p. 3)

The instrument

represents the union of an objective artifact, such as a physical device or software component, with a particular user’s conceptual scheme for implementing the artifact in a specific activity situation

Instruments thus emerge through a dialectical interplay between the technical demands of mastering a device and the conceptual work of making the device meanirgful in the context of a task

Through instrumentalization, an artifact becomes a means of achieving an objective, solving a problem, completing a task - it becomes meaningful to an activity situation, and thus has been transformed into an instrument.

instrumentation involves forming a utilization scheme that provides a predictable and repeatable means of integrating artifact and action

utilization schemes include both

theorems-in-action “specify the knwoeldge underlying a particular scheme”

This process requires time. It changes over time.


White, T. (2008). Debugging an Artifact, Instrumenting a Bug: Dialectics of Instrumentation and Design in Technology-Rich Learning Environments. International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning, 13(1), 1–26.