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  • 2018snowdenphd

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Examining the mechanisms for variation in student outcomes from work placements: glimpsing expansive learning in a placement student change laboratory

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Simon Snowden
Publication date2018
Number of pages238
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The research in this thesis is an exploration of the experience of students on work placement as a part of their degree. Using Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and the Change Laboratory (CL) methodology it investigates the barriers to business students using taught theoretical structures to understand their concrete practice and the use of the CL to address these barriers. The CL is a tool to raise awareness of contradictions that participants experience in their practice settings and seeks to empower them to resolve the contradictions. 12 participants from a Russell Group business school, working in a variety of organisations and locations, partook in an exploratory online CL.

It was found that the primary contradiction that affected the students was expressed in their conception of education. The study suggested that they see taught theory as simply something to be learnt for assessment and not necessarily as a tool for shaping interventions in the business environment. The mediating power of theory was diluted, if not eclipsed, for the placement students by their experience of an education they felt to be focused on exam performance more than understanding the social world around them. The study further suggested that the use of a Change Laboratory, through its intentional intervention in the students’ development helped them address this contradiction and begin to remediate theory.

From this analysis the thesis examines the role of mediation in the internalisation/externalisation process detailed in CHAT. It extends the idea of vectors of mediation where each mediating component in an Activity System has both a magnitude and direction of mediation. Different mediating components can vary in the strength that they mediate a subjects understanding. The manner in which a subject perceives a mediating component can actually redirect the mediating force in such a way that it can be limited in its ability to mediate effectively.