coed glas/the blue wood

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This page provides summary information on Steve's previous and current research. Fuller accounts of the research briefly described here can be found on the publications page of the site.

on this page: sustainability | systems | science communication | education


My current research mainly focuses on climate change and sustainability issues, with a particular emphasis on population, energy and resources. I am currently working to elaborate a science-based, technologically-optimistic and consistent 'bright green' understanding of these issues, in order to contribute toward generating and communicating a positive vision of the way forward through the various crises faced by humanity. This involves a (re)committment to the 'grand narrative' of human progress through science and invention, tempered and guided by a deep humanist committment to equal rights and opportunities for all. In developing an explicitly anthropocentric vision of 'ecological humanism' I draw on both the wisdom of Buddhism and our growing scientific understanding of the possibilities and limitations of our human nature as highly-evolved, culturally-historically developing primates. A basic assumption is that we are now irrevocably in the Anthropocene, the age of human impacts on the Earth, and that we must fully and gladly assume our role as Earth Stewards. Some work-in-progress on these topics, in the form of an ongoing series of short essays, can be found on the Sustainable Wales Blog.

Much of my early research in the area of climate change and sustainable development (2006-) was carried out through various community-based projects devloped by Science Shops Wales. More recently (2010-11) I led a Welsh Government-sponsored pilot study which investigated setting up a learning network or 'Communiversity' of community-based sustainability organisations in Wales.

Systems Science and Activity Theory

My main area of scientific enquiry has involved complex systems approaches to the fields of computer-supported co-operative work, human-computer interaction, and ergonomics.  I have specialised in the theory and application of Systemic-structural Activity Theory, (SSAT) a systems approach to the analysis and design of human activity initially developed in the Former Soviet Union. SSAT, which understand human activity as an integrated system of cognitive, behavioural and motivational components, grew out of general Activity Theory, cultural-historical psychology and psycho- and neurophysiology. It is strongly cybernetic, with an emphasis on the self-regulation of goal-oriented activity. My most recent work in this area has focused on safety analysis methods for work process design.

AT-IT: Activity-theoretical Information Technology (design & Development)
The title of my Doctoral thesis is "Supporting Learning-in-Use: Some Applications of Activity Theory to the Analysis and Design of ICT-Enabled Collaborative Work and Learning". Click here for the abstract and a link to download the complete thesis. The thesis reports work in the areas of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Participatory Design (PD) and Computer Supported Collaborative Work and Learning(CSCW/L), based on the observation and analysis of ICT use by non-professionals in real-world settings. This work was carried out within the University of Glamorgan School of Computing Hypermedia Research Unit, under the supervision of Dr. D. S. Tudhope.

Much of the data underpinning the research was gathered in south Wales, through work with groups of Adult Basic Skills literacy and numeracy learners at the nearby Pontypridd School of Basic Skills Open Learning Centre. In one example, the Computer Creative project of 2000-1, we explored the use of new media technologies as tools for creativity and communication, where the course curriculum and activities were developed in a student-led learner-centred, participatory design process. Other projects at the Centre have been based around the use of Internet technologies (e.g. Web authoring, email), virtual reality, and computer programming. My involvement with these projects has given me a passionate interest in adult basic education, and has lead directly to my involvement with the NRDC and Science Shops Wales (see below). The empirical research setting, in the post-industrial South Wales Valleys, has also led to my becoming interested in the issues raised by the impact of ICT on communities and individuals who are already excluded or marginalized from full socio-economic participation - issues that can be loosely grouped under the heading of 'the digital divide'.

Theoretically, this research developed out of an early interest in (loosely Piagetian) constructivist approaches to using technology in education, inspired by the work of Prof. Seymour Papert & his associates - ideas that are embodied in the well-known computer programming language LOGO. However, growing awareness of the multilevel, collective, historically formed and developing nature of the human-computer interaction led me to seek more developed, consistent and holistic frameworks for my analyses. Through contact with the work of Prof. Susanne Bødker & her associates in the Human-Computer Interaction Group at Aarhus University, Denmark, I adopted activity theory as the principal framework for my investigations. I have subsequently worked to expand the interpretations of general activity theory used by the Scandinavian School of HCI to include insights from the Systemic-Structural Theory of Activity, an activity-theoretical approach specifically tailored to the study of human work and learning.

Science Communication

I was a member of the University of Glamorgan's Science Communication, Education and Engagement Research Unit (SCEER), where I was involved in several lines of research into the effective communication of science to and between various audiences. I carried out investigations into developing scientific literacy through ICT-based activities in a variety of educational settings, including Adult Basic Education, Further Education and University, at both under- and post-graduate level. For more detail, see the publications page.

From 2006-2010 I managed Science Shops Wales, a four-year action research project which initially involved setting up a network of community-based research centres or "Science Shops" in local venues such as shopping centres. Science Shops Wales was part of the International Science Shops Network 'Living Knowledge'.


I contributed as a practitioner/researcher to a DFES funded investigation into the effective uses of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in adult literacy and numeracy. This project was carried out by the National Research & Development Centre for Adult Literacy & Numeracy (NRDC) and the University of London Institute of Education. The project directors were Dr. H. Mellar & Dr. M. Kambouri.