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Concepts, materiality and emerging cognitive habits: The case of calculating carbon footprints for understanding environmental impact.

Chapter in book
Authors Annika Lantz-Andersson
Geraldine Fauville
Emma Edstrand
Roger Säljö
Published in Designs for Experimentation and Inquiry: Approaching Learning and Knowing in Digital Transformation. Åsa Mäkitalo, Todd E. Nicewonger, Mark Elam (red.)
ISBN 9781138592711
Publisher Routledge
Place of publication New York
Publication year 2019
Published at The Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction, and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society (LinCS)
Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Language en
Keywords symbolic technologies, Carbon Footprint Calculator, environmental education, learning,
Subject categories Educational Sciences, Pedagogy


The interest behind the present study can be found at two levels. First, our aim is to show how what is commonly conceived of as acts of thinking and reasoning are grounded in materiality, in artefacts, and in what Donald (2010) refers to as symbolic technologies. Thinking (and learning) in this perspective implies engaging with symbolic technologies designed to provide access to human insights and experiences that have been generated over a long time and then built into artefacts. A corollary of this perspective is that human agency is shaped by the use of symbolic technologies, but the opposite is also true; technologies embody and exercise agency in social practices. Second, our aim is to illustrate some of the consequences of this perspective in the specific case of learning about the environment. More precisely, we will report a study of how students learn to understand, calculate and account for the environmental impact of their own daily activities. The symbolic technology they engage with is a so-called Carbon Footprint Calculator (CFC), a tool for estimating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This study investigates how the use of a digital tool such as a CFC co-determines high school students’ ways of reasoning about their carbon footprint in the context of a global online discussion forum. In other words, our analysis concerns how students learn to understand what a carbon footprint is, and how it may be measured and related to how they lead their lives.

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