Understanding and using technological affordances: a response to Boyle and Cook
Our use of affordance draws on Salomon (Salomon, 1993) who takes the definition back to Gibson and Norman (Gibson, 1977; Norman, 1988). Perhaps a key difference between the use of the term affordance in design is the emphasis on intended use, whereas our approach reflects Salomon’s focus on ‘possible’ use. Like Gibson the approach taken in our paper is focused on the relationship between the infrastructure of information and communication technologies and people’s use of those technologies. We are interested in asking questions about what uses ICT invites and facilitates, what it lends itself to and what it can do well. A potential difficulty with using a term so popular in the field of design is that ‘use’ tends to be focused on how something ‘should’ be used, what it is designed for. Discussion about affordance can be limited to the intended, prescribed or designed function of technology. We are also interested in exploring the creative and innovative way people respond to technologies and perhaps adapt them for use in unforeseen circumstances. An affordance of the technology does not simply refer to the intended use but also to the unintended consequences. Google’s use of hyper text links to drive the indexing of web searches might be an example of an affordance that is a consequence of creative engagement with technology, the adaptation rather than a feature of the original design related to hypertext. Another example of this adaptive use of hypertext might include its use by teachers to provide a digital framework for formative assessment and support for student learning. Class room teachers were quick to adapt presentation software and hyper text to present more interactive activity lessons. Software affording transmission modes of delivery was thereby adapted to users needs and a more interactive affordance created.
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