ELI Study on Activity Theory and student use of REAP (Spring 2007)

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This research project using REAP describes a study that brings together activity theory (Leontiev, 1978; Kuuthi, 1995), vocabulary acquisition research, individual differences and the use computers (CALL) in classroom vocabulary learning.

The context is the intensive English program at the University of Pittsburgh.

The REAP program is part of an implicit/explicit vocabulary learning experiment using automatically web-generated texts from an open source of more than 10 million documents.

One of the original goals of the research (see other studies in this section) was to compare the number of mouse clicks and new word look-ups with learning outcomes. It became clear that the goals of the researchers and the goals of the students in the use of the tool did not fully coincide.

A follow-up pilot study with 13 students using class observation, questionnaires, and interview data (both student-student open discussion and researcher-led discussion) revealed that students split into two main groups. Some students prefer to read, look-up words using the tool and take notes and others prefer to consult their teachers while using the tool and take fewer notes. Interestingly, first language education background also played a role, with Arabic speaking students being more likely to ask questions than Korean-speaking students.

The pilot results showed that activity theory is a useful lens through which to see students as individuals and not as ‘a collection of attributes of cognitive processors’ (Bannon, 1991) and that such research techniques are vital in putting into context the quantitative results of learning gains. The sample was too small to determine whether learning outcomes varied according to the results of post-tests. A larger study of 45 students in three classes was carried out in the spring of 2007.

Data for this study included:

Classroom observations of the students and teachers using REAP and learning vocabulary in the regular reading class. Interviews with selected students. Survey data about the students attitudes and beliefs about REAP, learning English, and the ELI. Quantitative data from student learning outcomes.


This paper illustrates a small step in response to the call made by Hulstijn (2006) for a credible bringing together of perspectives in our field including linguistics, pedagogy, and activity theory.

The full written version of this paper is available here. The paper includes a full list of references and discussion:[[1]]

Juffs, A., Friedline, B. F., Eskenazi, M., Wilson, L., & Heilman, M. (in review). Activity theory and computer-assisted learning of English vocabulary. Applied Linguistics.