Productive Encounters – 4/23

For this week’s readings, we will consider some productive comparisons of the approaches covered in the course and discussions between their founders and defenders.

Everyone Read

Discussion Groups

Groups will be assigned in class. Each group will be responsible for informing the class about what is interesting

  1. Latour Meets Activity Theory (ANT vs CHAT):
  2. Book Symposium on Hutchins’ Cognition in the Wild  in Mind, Culture, & Activity (DCog vs ANT (& more))
  3. Comparisons – Situated Action, DCog, CHAT, and ANT
  4. Hutchins on Clark’s Supersizing the Mind, symposium from Philosophical Studies (DCog vs. Extended Mind)

Research Proposal Assignment

In this assignment, you will propose an empirical research project that could be undertaken employing the methods and theories you’ve learned in this course. Preferably, this research project would be related to your own research interests. So, e.g., students in EMAC might do research on existing C3 systems mediated by social media; students in ATEC might create C3 activity systems mediated by educational software or augmented reality devices; etc. You can even create a gaming software to run some of the top games right now, like Overwatch. If you´re interested, then here are OW: Guides so you can learn about the game. And if you are already a player of overwatch but want a new account for it you can buy Overwatch accounts here.

Think of this research proposal in terms of grant applications, applications for IRB approval, and dissertation proposals. They should provide a clear description of the project in a way that can be understood by a scholar who is not a specialist in the field, such that it could be competitive in a multidisciplinary panel evaluation.

Part I – Letter of Intent

1 page document (see formatting guidelines below), due 4/9 on

The letter of intent describes the proposed research, including the research question, hypothesis, and methods to be applied. Pay special attention to the intellectual merit and broader impacts of the project (see evaluation criteria below). Your LOI should include a very brief bio that describes your background and experience as relevant to the proposed project. LOI should include the project title. (The goal of the LOI is to receive instructor feedback on the basic topic and ideas of your project before getting too far with the proposal.)

Part II – Final Proposal

Final proposal is due May 12 at 11:59pm on Final proposal must have the following components:

  • Project description – 8 pages maximum, not including references (see formatting guidelines below). Describes the research project, including the research question, hypothesis, methods and theoretical framework. Should include a literature review that makes clear the intellectual merit of the proposal as well as a separate section addressing the broader impacts of the project.
  • Abbreviated budget – 1 page max document that gives the major budget items and descriptive justification for those items.
  • Biographical sketch – 2 pages max biographical sketch of the researcher, including relevant publications, coursework, and other experience relevant to the proposed project.
  • Supplementary documents – Sample informed consent form, recruitment materials for gathering research subjects, etc.

Group Project Option

Interested students can choose to submit research proposals in groups of two or more. Two-person projects are subject to the following modified requirements:

  • Project description – 15 pages maximum, not including references. 
  • Full budget – You must fill out and submit the UT Dallas Office of Sponsored Projects Standard Budget Template as well as a justification for each line in the budget. (More info on preparing a budget here.)
  • IRB Review Application Form – Application for minimal review is fine IF your project meets minimal review criteria. You only need to attach the form to your submission. You do not need to send it to the IRB.
  • Separate biographical sketches for each researcher.
  • LOI should be submitted jointly with bio for each researcher.

Three person projects are subject to the following modifications (including all 2-person modifications):

Groups of four or more should seek prior approval from the instructor and instructions modifications of requirements.

Evaluation Criteria

The evaluation criteria for the proposals is similar to the major review criteria for grant proposals at the National Science Foundation (NSF):

  1. Intellectual Merit – What is the potential for the proposed research to advance knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields?
  2. Broader Impacts – What is the potential for the proposed research to benefit society or advanced desired social goals?

Further review criteria include:

  1. Does the project follow all of the content and formatting requirements?
  2. How creative, original, and potentially transformative is the proposed research?
  3. Is the research based on a sound rationale, including a solid theoretical and methodological basis?
  4. How realistic is the project? Could the researcher likely complete it as planned? Is there a mechanism for evaluating success?
  5. How well does the proposal incorporate theories and perspectives from the course?

Formatting Guidelines

Formatting guidelines are consistent with and based on the NSF Grant Proposal Guide. The proposal must be clear and easy to read, and it should follow these general guidelines:

  1. Use one of the following typefaces:
    1. Arial, Helvetica, Palatino, or similar typeface at font size of 10 points or larger.
    2. Times New Roman or Computer Modern family of fonts at a font size of 11 points or larger.
  2. No more than six lines of text within a vertical space of one inch. Beyond this, line spacing (single-spaced, double-spaced, etc.) is at the discretion of the proposer, but readability should be taken into account.
  3. Margins, in all directions, must be at least an inch.
  4. Use only a standard, single-column format for the text.

The guidelines specified above establish the minimum type size requirements; however, you are advised that readability is of paramount importance and should take precedence in selection of an appropriate font and page formatting for use in the proposal. Too many characters or words on a single line combined with closely spaced lines can have a negative effect on the readability of your proposal. Poor readability can impact your score on the assignment, and exceedingly unreadable formatting may lead to a failing grade on the project. (These things have a very real effect on reviewers in the real world.)

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Theoretical Research Paper

Goal: To further the theoretical discussion about cognitive-cultural-communicative (C3) processes and systems by research and argument.


Your paper should be of one of the following types:

  1. Interpretation / Explanation: Analyze or interpret an existing C3 system or process using theoretical concepts from the course and empirical data from existing studies. (You are not to gather new empirical data for this project.) The empirical studies you cite do not need to apply C3 theories themselves. Indeed, it is better if they do not. Your job is to show that some C3 ideas better account for some existing phenomena than the orthodox theories of cognition, culture, or communication.
    • A great example of this kind of work is Jean Lave’s discussion of previous studies of learning transfer in Chapter 2 of Cognition in Practice
    • Another example is Mike Cole’s discussion of classic cross-cultural psychology in Cultural Psychology
  2. Theoretical / Methodological Issues: There are a number of unsettled issues and theoretical disputes among C3 theories about the best way to study C3 systems and processes. Your job is to give a clear explanation of the dispute or issue, explain what is at stake, and provide a way of resolving it that is philosophically, theoretically, or empirically well-motivated and compelling. Here are some potentially fruitful issues.
    • Actor-Network Theory and many of the other views differ on whether humans have a special place in C3 systems, or whether they are to be treated symmetrically with non-human cultural artifacts and parts of the natural environment.
    • D-Cog sticks closest to classic cognitive science by continuing to rely on the resources of classical and connectionist computation to analyze the cognitive activities of C3 systems. Should cognition still be analyzed computationally in C3 theories?
  3. Critical Engagements: In the course we have read mostly defenses of radical approaches to C3 systems and processes. Of course, these approaches have been criticized from the more orthodox point of view. Your job is to research one particular set of criticisms. You can either respond on behalf of some C3 theory, validate and extend the critique, or find some middle ground. For example:
    • Philosophers like Robert Rubert, Ken Aizawa, and Fred Adams have attack philosophical and scientific theories that extend the mind beyond the brain or individual. They argue that a more conservative account which treats the mind as “embedded” without treating the external factors as “constituent” parts of mind / cognition.
    • Psychologists like Margaret Wilson have questioned views of “embodied cognition” that involve environment and action as central to cognition along empirical and explanatory grounds.
    • Sociologists (and other social scientists) like Graham Button have questioned distributed cognition theories from the perspective of adequate theories of society.


  1. Ordinary, easily readable fonts, font size, margins, etc. Be reasonable; aim at readability not flashy style.
  2. First page must include your name, UTD-ID, date, the section number you are registered in (e.g., “ACN 6V81.501”, “EMAC6372.501” etc), the title of your paper, and an abstract, 100-200 words.
  3. Every subsequent page should include a page number and preferably your last name in the header or footer.
  4. Citations according to some major manual of style, preferably APA or Chicago, preferably author-date format. Take proper citation practices seriously.
  5. Maximum of 2400 words (including references and footnotes but not abstract and header).
  6. Review these further generic tips and guidelines.

Egregious failure to follow formatting guidelines will result in an automatic failing grade on the assignment at the discretion of the instructor.

Due 4/30, in class and online via You will have to give a relatively informal presentation of your paper.

This project is optional. You can choose to do it or to complete the Video Ethnography Project.

Video Ethnography Project

Goal: The goals of this project are to document how real people on campus or in the local area engage in some meaningful activity. You should have already made contact with the people in an interesting activity setting for your earlier projects. If those contacts are still working, collect your video there. If, for some reason you cannot, or choose not to, collect video in that setting, you should quickly find another setting where you can collect video data.

Getting Started: I strongly recommend you re-read many of the methodological readings associated with ethnography, participant observation, and cognitive ethnography as you carry out this project. I especially recommend you have another look at Robert F. Williams, “Using Cognitive Ethnography to Study Instruction” and Lindlof & Taylor, “Participating, Observing, and Recording Social Action”.

Part 1: Transcription of Activity in Video from Your Setting


  1. Remember that you cannot collect any video data until you have obtained informed consent. All participants in the activity being videoed (or who might be incidentally videoed) must sign the video consent form.
  2. Make observations: You may already have observed, photographed, and interviewed some members of the community. In this project you should conduct a more systematic study of the ways that people make meaning in everyday activity. Talk to the people and observe them in the activity. Take notes on their activities, describe their tasks, and videotape a person or, preferably, persons interacting with their environment or with one another. Collect at least 15 minutes of video.
  3. Create an index and select clips for analysis: Using the method introduced in the interview activity, create an index for your video. Select clips totaling at least 30 seconds duration for analysis.
  4. Transcribe clips: Make a detailed transcription of the activity in your selected clips. Use the assigned readings for models of ways to transcribe non-verbal aspects of on-going activity. Here is a sample transcript by Professor Edwin Hutchins.

Part 2: Analysis of Activity in Video


  1. Analysis: Analyze the recorded activity using the concepts presented in the lectures and readings.
  2. Write up the analysis. Be sure your analysis makes use of the concepts in the readings.
  3. Please also turn in a copy of your index and transcription. It is expected that you will have made changes to these during the course of your analysis.

Maximum 1000 words of text for your analysis. Attach the index, transcript, and any additional figures and tables.

Due 4/30, in class. You will have to give a relatively informal presentation of your project. If you have received consent to use the video in a classroom setting, you may show clips if you bring them in a suitable format. (Please make arrangements ahead of time.)

This project is optional. You can choose to do it or to complete the Theoretical Research Paper assignment.

CCC Weekly Methods Activities

Each week will include certain reading assignments, activities, or both. These activities supplement our main texts by focuses primarily on the methods of research. Consult the weekly schedule to determine reading assignments. Here are all of the major activities:

  1. Leave a comment on the introductory webpage. Due 1/15.
  2. Cognitive Diary and Everday Activity Analysis. Due 1/22
  3. Complete NIH Protecting Human Research Subjects training. Due 2/12
  4. Photo Documentation of an Everyday Activity Due 2/26
  5. Interview Project Part 1: Collect and Transcribe an Interview Due 3/19
  6. Interview Project Part 2: Describe and Analyze Cultural Models Due 4/2

Note: For most of these projects, you will have to obtain informed consent.

Credit to Ed Hutchins from whom I’ve adapted some of these project ideas and taken some of the text for the directions.

Interview Project Part 2: Describe and Analyze Cultural Models

Goal: To find and document cultural models used in the construction of meaningful passages in your interview.


  1. Search:
    1. Look through your interview transcript for evidence of cultural models. It may be necessary to go back and listen to your whole interview again to find passages that contain clear cultural models. Choose a passage that makes it easy for you to find and document the cultural models involved.
    2. Consider each word in a transcript. Pay attention to detail. As you go along, make sketches, notes, rough drafts, of models. Try highlighting in different colors to represent emerging categories of events in the material.
  2. Analysis: Describe the cultural models that are required to make sense of, or establish the meaning of, the passage. Make sure that your description is accurate and clear. You might consider expressing it in a diagram or some other notation. Show how these models are used in the passage and how the passage relies on the listener having access to these models. Describe any inferences that the passage suggests. How is the listener expected to go beyond what is literally present in the passage? If possible, provide other evidence (beyond the inference or interpretation that is to be explained) in support of the claim that these models are cultural models.
    1. Choose to develop models that are well supported by the data. You will need to choose, and in order to choose intelligently you will have to do at least a partial analysis. This means that you will probably discard some part of the analysis you do. This is normal. It is the right thing to do.
    2. Describing the model. Use text for the full description. Be sure to include the parts of the model that are necessary to understand the material. As you develop the description of the model continually test it against the data. You may include other parts of the model too. If you do, try to indicate which parts of the model are needed to understand the data, and which are not.
    3. Represent the models as diagrams or in propositional form. This process will help you get the details of the models right, will help you see and understand the relations among models (hierarchical, sequential, competing, etc.), and will allow you to write the main description and analysis sections more concisely.
    4. Examine the role of the models in the organization of the material. This is the big question. Cultural Models organize meaningful discourse. Your job is to show which models organize the discourse you examined and show how those models were used by your informant (or author of other media) to construct the inscription you examined.
    5. Once you have identified some models, you can ask (and answer) these questions. Where does the model appear to be at work? What is it doing? How is it instantiated? (for example, informants often give a specific instantiation before a more general statement of the structure of the model). How is it related to other models? Here is where taking your time and attending to details pays off. Insight will be rewarded. You can discover something new while doing this. Even if it is only new to you, it’s important, and genuine discovery is a great feeling. Writing up steps 5 and 6 will produce the analysis section of your paper.
    6. Include the data! Attach segments of transcript or photocopy of other media. Be sure to make it easy for a reader to find the elements of the data to which you refer in the description and analysis.
  3. Write it up including all of the above. When you make a claim about the presence of a model, you may wish to include brief excerpts from the transcripts in the body of the text in support of your claims.

Maximum 1000 words of text. You can include additional figures and tables if they contribute to the description.

Due 4/2

Credit to Ed Hutchins from whom I’ve adapted this project idea and taken some of the text for the directions.

Interview Project Part 1: Collect and Transcribe an Interview

Goal: To learn how to conduct an interview, and transcribe an audio recording.


  1. For this project you will need some sort of audio recorder. This might be a tape recorder or an app for your phone. Make sure you know how it works before your interview, and that it will record for at least 60 minutes.
  2. Before interviewing, read Ed Hutchins’ interviewing tips and potential interview questions and read Lindlof & Taylor’s discussion of “Qualitative Interviewing”.
  3. Contact a participant in the activity from Project 2 who is willing to talk to you about the activity.
  4. Set up a time and a quiet place to talk to your informant.
  5. Obtain informed consent for interview recording from your informant using the interview consent form.
  6. Turn on the tape recorder and interview your informant about the activity you took photos of. Start with the photos you used in Project 2, but feel free to use other photos as prompts in the interview. Ask your informant to explain what is going on in the activity.
  7. Record at least 30 minutes, but no more than one hour of interview.
  8. Listen through your interview and make an index of what it contains. This should be a list of topics discussed or events in the conversation with some indication of where they appear on the tape. Then choose one or two passages to transcribe.
  9. Transcribe about 1000 words using relaxed transcription techniques. For this, you should just try to get all of the words that are said, including false starts and other disfluencies.
  10. Consider using Express Scribe, a handy transcription tool, that can be downloaded for free here Before trying it out, you should read the tutorial.
  11. Write up the index for your interview. Be sure to indicate on the index which sections of the interview were transcribed. Type up the transcription in clean form. Ed Hutchins has a really nice example of an index and transcription


Due 3/19: Turn in your index and transcription.

Part 2: Describe and Analyze Cultural Models

Credit to Ed Hutchins from whom I’ve adapted this project idea and taken some of the text for the directions.