Case Study: Sociotechnical system in education

Definition of key terms

  • Sociotechnical Systems: the interplay, impact, and mutual influence when technology is introduced into a social system, i.e. workplace, school, home, etc. (com, n.d.; Sociotechnical theory, n.d.) The social system comprises people at all levels of knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and needs (Sociotechnical theory, n.d.).
  • Formal Learning: scholastic learning in schools (Hayashi & Baranauskas, 2013)
  • Non-formal Learning: scholastic learning outside of schools (Hayashi & Baranauskas, 2013)
  • Informal Learning: other learning that occurs outside of schools (Hayashi & Baranauskas, 2013)

Case Study Description (Hayashi & Baranauskas, 2013)

This qualitative study introduced 520 donated laptops among the students (ages 6-14) and teachers in the public school, Padre Emilio Miotti School, in Campinas, Brazil.  With a goal of providing a detailed description of the results in order to inspire (transfer knowledge) over focusing on generalizing the results to other schools and scholastic-socio technological systems.  The sociotechnical system is defined by cultural conventions, where the participants in the study can be classified under in the formal, informal, and technical levels of a Semiotic Onion (Figure 1).


(Source: Adopted directly from Hayashi and Baranauska, 2013)

Therefore, the goal of this qualitative study was to understand how to insert the technological artifacts (the laptops), into the scholastic curriculum, that makes sense to the end users (scholastic community: teachers, students, etc.) into a meaningful integration across all aspects of the Semiotic Onion.  Data collection for this qualitative study was done through interviews and discussion in the Semio-participatory Workshops in 2009, as well as the authors being participant observers over a one year period in the scholastic activities.

There were four opportunities that should be considered (supporting forces for adoption):

  • Transforming homework assignments: Allowed for teachers to bring some homework into the classwork and allow the students to conduct their searches, normally done at home at school. Teachers could now observe the emotional flux of their students evolve while they complete the assignments.  This evolution of the emotional flux during homework use to be only observed by parents.
  • Integrating the school in Interdisciplinary Activities: In a collaborative fashion, teachers were able to create assignments using the laptop cameras to capture everyday objects or events of the students to help show them how to eat healthier, different animals and their behaviors, save on the electric bill, teach them about calories, watts, electricity, animals, etc. This creates a path of data to information to knowledge that helps motivate the students to learn more.
  • Laptops inside and outside the school walls: Students have more pride in using their own devices and were willing to showcase and educate the public about their technology and its effectiveness. This has far reaching results that were not explored in this study.
  • Student Volunteers: The use of older students to help troubleshoot younger student’s laptop problems, which taught some students patients and other skills across the Semiotic Onion. The students learned about responsibility, empathy, and other vital social skills.

There were issues across the Semiotic Onion that were also enumerated (challenging forces for adoption):

  • Technological: Internet connection was slow and intermitted even though there was broadband internet available and wireless routers
  • Technological: How to recharge 30 laptops at a time with only two wall sockets
  • Technological: How to transport laptops back and forth from storage rooms to classrooms
  • Technological: Laptop response times at certain periods of times were slow at best
  • Technological: Demand for technological support increases dramatically
  • Formal: The fear of laptops being stolen from the students on their way to or from school
  • Formal: Teachers worried that they could find or create technological assignments that fit their lesson plans
  • Informal: Teachers are not comfortable in teaching with technology they are not familiar with themselves
  • Informal: Most parents didn’t and couldn’t use the student’s laptop to assist them

This study concludes by saying that the introduction of technology into the education system in these scenarios for this case study had a positive response and that key lessons learned, assignments could be duplicated and studied in other scenarios.  Therefore, the authors emphasized on the transferability of the study rather than generalizability of the results.

Evaluation of this case study

This study was a case study of the socio-technological scholastic system when donated laptops were introduced into a Brazilian school.  This paper presented the socio-technological plan and its analysis.  The authors were thorough by listing all the opportunities (supporting forces for adoption) and issues (challenging forces for adoption) of technological inclusion into the scholastic system by evaluating it from the perspectives of the Semiotic Onions.  Therefore, this was a thorough study of this study’s positive introduction of technology to the scholastic, social system.  The only drawback in this study is that the researchers failed to interview how the laptops affected the world outside of the school walls and familiar homes.

This paper is a well-designed qualitative study that uses surveys, interviews, etc. to gain their primary results, but to improve the study’s credibility, the researchers become a participant observer for one-year videotaping and taking field notes to supplement their analysis.  They mention that case studies are done to foster transferability of ideas across similar situations rather than generalizing the results.  Therefore the authors stated the limitations of this study and how they mitigated issues that would arise about the study’s credibility.