Week 8 – activity 1 – affordance

What is affordance ?

‘An affordance is an action that an individual can potentially perform in his or her environment’ wikipedia

Norman’s defines affordance : ‘affordance refers to the preceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used.’ …thus affordance refers primarily to the fundamental properties of an object. Norman also distingusihes between real and perceived affordances where it is important to distinguish betwen the affordance and the information which specifies the affordance.

course material: ‘The use of the term now becomes decidedly post-Gibsonian, but it is still focused on the interaction between user and tool. Affordances are being applied to higher cognitive functions, such as communication, rather than the simple interaction with an object such as a handle or button. It is with this extension to more complex actions that it becomes useful in terms of educational technology. Conole and Dyke (2004) suggest a taxonomy of ten affordances for computers in education. For example, they argue that ‘asynchronous technologies (in particular) offer the potential for encouraging reflection and critique, with users engaging in discussions over a longer time frame than is possible in face-to-face discussions.’’

‘McGrenere and Ho (2000) provide an informative analysis to clarify the situation. They distinguish the utility of an object, the actions it affords for the user, from the usability of an object, which is related to the perceptual information that signals the affordances. They propose that there can be degrees of affordance (Warren, 1995), and that affordances can be related in sequential or nested structures.’ (Boyle & Cook, 2004)

Consider the now commonplace communication technologies of email and blogs, which you encountered earlier. Suggest the affordances found in each technology. Think about how the affordances influence the type of communication you engage in when using the technology.

>> How does the technology itself shape that communication? What are the technologies good at?

email: asyncronous, private, two way communication

blog: asyncronous, public, may be used for collaborative communication

Such technologies give the possibility to the user to reflect on what is being posted and thus being able to discuss in a different mode than that possible in face to face communication. (conole & Dyke, 2004). I see this similar to half -duplex  and full duplex communication in networking where each modehas its advantages and disadvantage. Therefore these tools shape a different channel which allows interactivity with other users.

>> When are they a poor medium for communication?

Need an internet connection, need accessibility to a PC.

>> Was the concept of affordances useful when thinking about the technology? Do you find your behaviour shaped significantly by the affordances of the technology? Were there other explanations for any behavioural influences?

The individual’s perception of what the properties of a technology are will determine the perceived usefulness of the tool and thus will also determine how much this will be used and how it will be used.


Boyle, Tom andCook, John(2004) ‘Discussion Understanding and using technological affordances: a
commentary on Conole and Dyke’, ALT-J, 12: 3, 295 — 299


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