Activity theory and genre ecology: Conceptual tools for understanding technical communication

  • Christine Winberg


This paper reports on a year-long project in an architectural technology department, which studied students’ oral language development in plenary discussions in a first year History and Appreciation of Architecture course. Data was obtained by videotaping classroom activities, and by interviewing the lecturer and students who were participants in the course. The data was analysed, using categories suggested by Activity Theory. The category of ‘rules’ was selected from the activity system for further analysis, using a Genre Ecology approach. The findings of the study show how technical communication is managed within a classroom based activity system comprising lecturer and students, and graphic and verbal texts, in a context of learning.  Learning, teaching, and expert discourses of the architectural review genre interact and are negotiated by participants. Through participation in plenary discussion, students from diverse backgrounds contribute to one another’s experience of architectural design, and by valuing and responding to students’ contributions, the lecturer facilitates students’ understanding of the ‘rules’ of architectural communication, and enables students to access an expanded repertoire of the genre of architectural review.

Author Biography

Christine Winberg
Chris Winberg is the research coordinator of the Faculty of Science at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. She has a strong interest in the role of situated learning in acquiring academic discourse. Email: