Technology as a cognitive partner – an empowering affordance

Another section of my dissertation developed the argument that a major affordance technology provides is within its potential use as a cognitive partner – facilitating our thinking and problem solving, carrying some of the cognitive load.

I look forward to your thoughts:
Describe scenarios where technology has been your cognitive partner…..
Explain any challenges you have experienced and how you may have used technology to overcome these challenges…..
With the profusion of web 2.0 tools, have you created a community that can serve as a cognitive partner?

As Angeli (2008) explained in her introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Research on Technology in Education, distribution of cognitions offers us the benefit of a conceptual and analytical framework to interpret and assess the value of how technology is used to nurture cognitive development.  Documenting and analyzing the intricacies of classroom interactions, contextual factors and the interdependent interaction of individuals and a range of cognitive tools within classroom settings can help researchers and practitioners realize the value and recognize how students have learned in technology-rich environments.  Interpreting technology’s effects to augment and amplify the content and skills can also distill the benefits and shortcomings, and hint at useful techniques for the management of a diverse range of technologies and cognitive tools teachers select or customize to address students’ needs. 

Technology has been described as a cognitive partner (Salomon, Perkins, & Globerson, 1991), where individuals gain from effects with the technology (amplified cognitive functioning) and there are outcomes that add to individual experience due to mindful engagement in the cognitive partnership with the technology.  The benefit is gained from working with the technology of choice (word processing application, digital camera, web 2.0 tools, etc.).  Salomon, Perkins and Globerson (1991) extended the concept of a cognitive partnership in that there are long-term, residual cognitive effects of the interaction with computer tools.  The impact of technology is recognized through the transfer of generalizable, lasting use of newly acquired skills and knowledge to other appropriately matched situations.  As Salomon and Perkins (2005) explained, the effects of technology allow individuals to shed the scaffolds or rules learned so they can apply knowledge and skills automatically.  Due to the transformative impact of technologies, Salomon and Perkins (2005) noted the qualitatively different effects people gain through the use of technology.  If indeed the transformation of classroom practices is desirable (as noted by Cranton, Guskey, King, Kopcha, Schifter, among others), then perhaps teachers may require an instrument or schema to guide the orchestration of such effects through the use of technology.  These distinctions regarding the use of technology require educators to apply sophisticated and varied levels of reflection (as noted by Brookfield, 1995; Mezirow and Associates, 2000, and Merriam, 2004).  When teachers have opportunities to delve into these exemplar studies, investigate or experiment with forms of technology and computers as cognitive tools, document, reflect upon and evaluate their observations and outcomes, teachers may start to use technology in more desirable ways, effectively and more consistently (see Derry & Lajoie, 1993; Gibson, 2006; Lesgold, 1993; Salomon, 1993). 


Angeli, C. (2008). Distributed cognition: A Framework for understanding the role of computers in classroom teaching and learning. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 40(3), 271-279.

Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Derry, S. J., and Lajoie, S. P. (1993). A Middle camp for (un)intelligent instructional computing: An Introduction. In S. P. Lajoie & S. J. Derry (Eds.), Computers as cognitive tools (pp. 1-14). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gibson, I. A. (2006). Enhancing learning and leading in a technology-rich, 21st century global learning environment. In E. K. Sorensen & D. Ó. Murchú (Eds.), Enhancing learning through technology (pp. 75-102). Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing.

Lesgold, A. (1993). Information technology and the future of education. In S. P. Lajoie & S. J. Derry (Eds.), Computers as cognitive tools, (pp. 369-383). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Merriam, S. B. (2004). The Role of cognitive development in Mezirow’s Transformational Learning Theory. Adult Education Quarterly, 55(1), 60-68.

Mezirow, J. and Associates. (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Salomon, G. (1993). Distributed cognitions: psychological and educational considerations. NY: Cambridge University Press.

Salomon, G., and Perkins, D. N. (2005). Do technologies make us smarter? Intellectual amplification with, of, and through technology.  In R. J. Sternberg & D. D. Preiss (Eds.), Intelligence and Technology: The impact of tools on the nature and development of human abilities. (pp.71-86). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Salomon, G., and Perkins, D. N. (1989). Are cognitive skills context-bound? Educational Psychologist, 24(2), 113-142.

Salomon, G., Perkins, D. N., and Globerson, T. Partners in cognition: extending human intelligence with intelligent technologies. Educational Researcher, 20(3), 2-9.

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