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Cognitive Technologies Essay 1

Gary Ewing 13/11/2015


In the modern world it is clear that the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is ubiquitous,
and also extends to use in the school classroom. In a learning context ICT is often described as Cognitive
Technology (CT) (Kirschner & Wopereis 2003) and may be classified as either productivity tools or mindtools
(Jonassen 2000, pp.4-8). In distinction from the traditional learning use of CT, mindtools are used to assesses the
students knowledge gained by interacting with the technology, and operates via learning from the technology
rather than learning with technology1. This essay is discussing the enhancement (or otherwise) of human
cognitive performance in the context of learning by means of (CT) and the associated emerging ideas about the
human brain/mind and its functioning2. Here, the discussion focuses on the use of mindtools in the education
arena. Further, some actual examples of appropriate ICT are presented and discussed.

The disciplines covering the study the brain include: Neuroscience, Cognitive Psychology/Science,
Education, Computing Science (as inspiration for artificial intelligence [AI]), and related sciences (Barnes
2015). What do they tell us about the human brain? The human brain has been under intense study during
the 20th century3 until now, with technological innovations such as electroencephalography (EEG) and
more recently brain imaging technologies like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) (Posner &
Rothbart 2007), which allow scientists to map the locations of various brain functions. Originally the brain
was thought to consist of a large general processor4 with peripheral input modules (Lindsay & Gorayska
2002, p.67), but later the predominant and current view is that the brain consists of specialised local areas
controlled by an executive function (Hall 2005, pp.6-8).

In terms of discovered brain functioning, learning and action have been described by various authors by
different names, but often similar mechanisms. Csikszentmihalyi (2007, ch. 9) describes fluid and
crystallized intelligence, first introduced by (Cattell 1963). The former is described as the ability to
respond rapidly, to have quick reaction times, to compute fast and accurately., while the latter is
described as involves making sensible judgements, recognizing similarities across different categories,
using induction and logical reasoning and are learnt rather than innate skills. This sounds remarkably
similar to what Sweller et. al. (2011, ch. 1) describes as biologically primary and secondary knowledge
respectively, except that Sweller has placed them firmly in an evolutionary context. For example he gives
face recognition as an example of biologically primary knowledge, which is done effortlessly and is
obviously important from both survival and cultural perspectives. On the other hand, Sweller describes
biologically secondary knowledge as requiring explicit effortful learning such as in learning to write (as
distinct from acquiring speech). It is biologically secondary knowledge that is important when considering
educational paradigms (Low, Jin & Sweller 2011) and in gaining crystallized knowledge

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Also, the learner has no opportunity to input into the process itself. In the case of mindtools the learner working with CT may result in
synergistic gains (Jonassen 1998, p. 4). Examples of mindtools include: databases (building), spread sheets (designing), semantic
networks (concept maps), computer conferencing, hypermedia construction, microworld environments.
2
Other means of cognitive enhancement, such as neuroceuticals, were discussed in class, but not within the assignment brief.
3
Particularly in the 1990s known as the decade of the brain (Hall 2005, p. 1).
4
Much like the central processing unit (CPU) of a computer.
(Csikszentmihalyi 2007, ch. 9). Further, Roda (2011, ch. 1) discusses exogenous (bottom-up) and
endogenous (top-down) processes, which map, at least approximately, to Swellers biologically primary
knowledge and biologically secondary knowledge (processes) and Csikszentmihalyis fluid intelligence
and crystallized intelligence respectively. Exogenous processes guide ones attention (focus) to salient
elements of the environment; e.g. to potential hazards ( la biologically primary knowledge and fluid
intelligence) and can process stimuli in parallel, while endogenous processes guide attention to the task at
hand (that requires secondary knowledge and skills and crystallized intelligence); i.e. top-down
(endogenous) processes information, in sequence, relevant to the current task, using the attentional
template (Desimone & Duncan 1995). The work of Schwartz, DL, Martin and Nasir (2005, pp. 25, 26)
also fits here with their discussion of First-hand and Second-hand knowledge. The former refers to
knowledge gained (acquired) by relating directly with the immediate environment (perception and action)
and seems, to at least overlap, primary biological knowledge, while the latter is gained indirectly, from
reading books for example and is akin to biologically secondary knowledge.

The human brain has been modelled as an information processor5 containing working (short term)
memory, long term memory, sensory memory and associated processing capacity, which is limited
particularly for working memory (Driscoll 2005, pp.71-108; Sweller et al. 2011, ch. 2; Woolfolk &
Margetts 2013, pp. 252, 253), and some authors have included prospective memory, which is purported to
be involved in planning. (Roda 2011, ch. 2). Top-down (biologically secondary) process sequences are
represented as schema in long term memory, which require effort to develop and use working memory and
are thus limited due to both working memory limitations and the serial nature of data input; versus parallel
input for bottom-up/ biologically primary acquisition (Driscoll 2005, ch. 4; Roda 2011, ch. 2; Sweller et
al. 2011, ch. 2). Nevertheless, with practise (first-hand learning), top-down processes can become
automatic, much like bottom-up processes. Automacity is associated with (Roda 2011):

1. Low effort to perform;


2. quick response times;
3. obligatory execution (high effort to override automatic reactions, which can lead to errors);
4. no interaction with concurrent processes;
5. high transferability (specific behaviour independent of task it is used for);
6. no subject awareness of the process;

Shown in Figure 1 in Appendix 3 is a semantic map that was used during the planning of this part of the
essay and depicts the relationships between various views and nomenclature for brain processes just
discussed.

Notwithstanding the discussion so far, in todays computer age, a primary question arises: is the brain a
complex computer (Turing machine)?, where a Turing machine is a universal computing device. All

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The idea of the human as a computer-like device, information processor, sometimes called the cognitive processor (Driscoll 2005, p. 71
110). The schema based theories (Driscoll 2005, p. 111 - 152). also fall into the information processor approach to modelling human
cognition, but focus more on the relationship between the components of the human information processor i.e. how humans arrange and
associate concepts in their head (quite often sub-consciously).

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Cognitive Technologies Essay 3
Gary Ewing 13/11/2015

modern computers are examples of (finite input and output) Turing machines (Penrose 1989, pp.46-75).
According to the well known Moores Law computing power doubles about every 18 months (Gallaugher
2012) and, if the brain is (just) a complex computer, it would be expected that computers would achieve
brain-like capabilities6. Is this plausible? General computers can solve any computable problem (Penrose
1989, pp.61-64), but many, even mathematical problems, are not computable7 (Penrose 1989, p.167); i.e.
there is no algorithm, with which to program a computer to solve some tasks. To the contrary, humans can
solve non-computable problems [see footnote 7] (Freidman 2002; Penrose 1989), which indicates that
indeed the brain is not purely a Turing machine (computer). Nevertheless, this does not preclude the brain
from containing Turing machines. Whether the brain is a computer or not still poses the problem of how
consciousness arises. However, if the brain is not simply a computer raises further philosophical issues;
e.g. are the brain and the mind different entities, rather than the mind being a manifestation of the brains
functioning? These questions are beyond the scope of this essay.

A major consideration within the context of CT and education is whether or not these technologies
enhance or replace cognition. The data from my case study (Ewing 2015) suggested that there was
confusion/contradiction among the teachers about whether or not CT enhanced cognitionstating that CT can
either enhance cognition or replace it if the students are lazy or it is not used correctly (by the teacher or student).
One teacher suggested that CT (particularly online) discourages student from learning (committing to memory).
This begs the question: is committing to memory synonymous with learning (which seems not to be in the
teachers mind)?, or does knowing where to find knowledge also equate to learning. In context, this also begs the
associated question what is cognitive enhancement/augmentation? Many researchers in CT have shed some light
on this question. Some examples include the following. The description/definition of Kaptelinin and Kuutti
(1999, p.6) seems particularly compelling8. Basically saying that the combination of humans with CT overcome
the natural limitations in human cognition so as to solve difficult problems. Gorayska, Marsh and Jacob (1999,
p.2) talk about amplifying their natural capabilities. Suggesting that natural abilities are enhanced in
themselves by use of CT. Though Vliz (2011) counters stating that some skills are only improved with practise
(refer to Automacity earlier). Whereas, Bostrom and Sandberg (2009) seem to sit somewhere between
Kaptelinin & Kuutti and Gorayska, Marsh & Jacoband state the amplication or extension of core
capacities of the mind through improvement or augmentation of internal or external information
processing system., and who assert that external hardware and software amplify cognitive abilities. Bostrom
and Sandberg give examples from pen & paper to computing software that act as cognition-enhancing

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The human brain has been estimated to have a computing power of about 20 Petaflops (Westbury 2014), where a Petaflop is 1015
flops. Current supercomputers are currently exceeding posited human brain computing power at about 33 Petaflops (Wikipedia).
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For example, the Penrose tessellation of the plane is a non-periodic tiling that cannot be programmed into a computer, but which
humans can solve.
8
First, there is a set of some native cognitive capabilities of human beings which make it possible for people to solve certain
kinds of problems. Second, these capabilities are limited, meaning that some problems are too difficult for people to solve. Third,
the limitation of native human capabilities can be overcome to some extent if a hybrid cognitive system consisting of an
individual human and an external means is designed.
environments; e.g. by performing routine tasks and acting as external memory. Further, they state that data
mining and visualization tools allow humans to perform tasks beyonds their natural abilities (extension), and that
other toolslike: decision support systems, expert systems symbolic maths processers etc. enhance existing
abilities or skills. Similar to Bostrom and Sandberg, Angeli (2008) defines the roles of educational CT as either
(cognitive) amplification or augmentation (enhancement). Where Angeli describes amplification as CT sharing
the cognitive burden in tasks that humans do poorly (such as complex calculations and information
storage/retrieval), while augmentation is described as the amplification and the shaping of human cognition by
enabling the contruction of various mental representations of knowledge that otherwise would be difficult or not
apparent. This is reminiscent of Jonassens productivity tools (amplification) and mindtools (augmentation). The
well known educational theorist Jerome Bruner (1971, ch. 3) having great insight also talked about amplification
systems in an educational settings and stated What a culture does to assist the development of the powers of mind
of its members is, in effect, to provide amplification systems to which human beings, equipped with appropriate
skills, can link themselves. Bruner went on to discuss the use of technological tools from basic (e.g hammers) to
complex (e.g. sense amplifying), language and semiotics as cultural extensions of human abilities. He was in
effect discussing (situated) external cognition (see below).

Much of Bostrom and Sandbergs discussion is similar in concept to that of Distributed Cognition first introduced
by Hutchins (1995). The Distributed Cognition (DCog) approach assumes cognition is not a localised
phenomenon within a specific individual, but rather, a distributed phenomenon including people, media,
information and artefacts. It dissolves the traditional divisions between the inside/outside boundary of the
individual and the culture/cognition distinction that anthropologists and cognitive psychologists have historically
created. Instead, it focuses on the interactions between the distributed structures of the phenomena that are under
scrutiny. The term artefact refers to any object or tool which is used by people to accomplish a task. People are
said to use external cognition, where information is created and used in the world around us, rather than purely
inside our minds (Scaife & Rogers 2005, p. 11). We do this to reduce memory load ( la Sweller), simplify
cognitive effort (like offloading computationally heavy problems onto external media) and trace changes (like
crossing-out items bought, on a shopping list). This idea of external cognition is central to the DCog approach.
The idea that cognition is based on actor-tool-activity networks, rather than processes solely within the head has
also been proposed by Activity theorists. Activity theory (Vygotskii & Cole 1978) attempts to describe human
activities as complex and socially situated phenomena, where the focus is put on interaction with ones
environment and the resulting task objective. The concepts of Distributed Cognition has been considered in the
context of the use of ICT in schools (Angeli 2008; Schwartz, NH 2008) and as a framework in teacher education
(Steketee 2006). The interest in DCog, vis--vis external cognition, as a framework for ICT use in schools may be
because it fits well in to the contructivists perspective that knowledge is shared between minds [students and
teacher(s)] and DCog facilitates this approach via technological artefacts (described earlier).

To take the concept of external cognition further we return to Bostrom and Sandberg (2009) who discussed the
idea of the exoself (quotes in the original), which they ascribed to the mediation between an external system and
the human user. Examples such as wearable computers and virtual reality environments were cited. This idea of

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Cognitive Technologies Essay 5
Gary Ewing 13/11/2015

the strong connections between the human (or animal) and their environments was postulated much earlier with
Gibson (1986) and his ecological psychology (though initially applied to vision), but popularised and developed
by Norman (1988) and others (Bower 2008; Fitzgerald & Goldstein 1999; Fuente et al. 2015; Gaver 1991;
Hammond 2010; McGrenere & Ho 2000; Zhu, Fathi & Fei-Fei 2014) who developed Gibsons notion of
affordances. The concept of affordance has been poorly defined over the years since Gibsons introduction and
has varying definitions (Holloway 2015), but a simple definition according to Salomon (1993, p. 51) (cited in
Conole & Dyke 2004) is Affordance (single inverted commas in the original) refers to the perceived and
actual properties of a thing, primarily those functional properties that determine just how the thing could possibly
be used. Further, Fitzgerald and Goldstein (1999, p. 180) state that affordances are not just properties of an
object. They also involve the relationship between an object and an agent and the individual and social history of
the agent and other objects perceived to be in the same class. (c.f. Bruner 1971 cited earlier). Also, Fitzgerald
and Goldstein (1999, p.181), in the context of design, consider an affordance as a communication between
the designer and the user (of a cognitive tool), which is salient in the educational context. Moreover,
Bruner (1996, pp. 1-3) asserts, in his views of the human mind9, that knowing and communication are
intertwined, which is mediated by shared symbolism and cultural situatedness of meanings, which is particularly
important in an educational context and applies to the affordances of ICT systems and focuses the application of
ecological and DCog based frameworks. Finally, the literature on affordances debates whether or not an
affordance must be perceived to be considered an affordance and is a major difference between Gibsons and
Normans definitions (Holloway 2015), but for our purposes it is assumed that affordances can be perceived.

The essay thus far has provided a summary of the theoretical development of neuroscience and cognitive
technologies relevant to education with some input from my own case study (Ewing 2015). Now a specific and
practical analysis of the use of a mindtool in education is provided. An analysis is given of the use of a
microworld provided by Chantelle Reece (2015) in her case study. This CT has been selected for two main
reasons:

1. Microworld technologies were not evident in my own case studies, and


2. microworld technologies provide an interesting case for the analysis of the application of affordances,
which will now follow.

Reece in her case study analysed the use of a microworld game called Playconomics developed and used at the
University of Adelaide for use by Economics students. Here the putative microworld is analysed in terms of its
affordances, which are presented in Table 1 in Appendix 1. This table was adapted from Table 3 and Table 6 in
Webb (2005) and using information from Reece (2015).

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Bruner highlights two predominant models of the human mind; the Information Processor (Computationalism), discussed earlier,
and the mind as a product of culture (Culturism). Clearly, there are situations when both views may be applied together
simultaneously, such as when trying to understand the symbology used in science and mathematics, where how the brain
processes symbols and their meanings are both in view.
In her analysis of the the use of affordances in ICT in Science teaching Webb (2005) has shown that microworld
simulations can help students make conceptual change when they have alternate (and presumably wrong)
conceptions. Also Webb (citing Huppert et al. 1998) indicates that simulations can increase the efficacy10 of
affordances of associated laboratory based experiments. The case analysed from Reece (2015), is within the
Economics discipline, so laboratory experiments are inappropriate, but it seems from Reecess report that students
gained enhanced insights and improved ease of conceptual change by using the microworld simulation. For a
comparison to Webbs approach to analysis of microworld efficacy as an educational tool, Appendix 2 contains
Table 2 that indicates Jonassens (2006, p. 161) measures for evaluating simulation models. Jonassen, who
is not thinking explicitly in terms of affordances, intended it to evaluate simulation models developed by
students, but they could equally well apply to the evaluation of a commercial microworld simulation used
for educational purposes. Interestingly, it is possible to consider some of Jonassens rubrics (as he calls
them) as affordances; e.g. Provides restricted range of tests; enables manipulation of limited variables or
values provides the affordance of Enables users to test a range of hypotheses by manipulating
appropriate variables or values.

In conclusion, a summary of the salient emerging ideas about the human brain/mind and its functioning
has been provided indicating that rapid advancements in knowledge have been recently achieved leading
to developments s in cognitive technology. The computer based cognitive technologies have been shown
to both enhance and extend human cognitive capabilities by distributing cognition between human and
external artefacts (including computing technologies), which can partly replace aspects of human
cognition. Insights were obtained from student case studies and affordance theory (from ecological
psychology) was applied to a specific example of a microworld mindtool and showed that indeed student
performances were enhanced.

Word count (excluding Appendices, references and footnotes): 2771

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Webb used the term degree, but I think that efficacy is more appropriate.

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Cognitive Technologies Essay 7
Gary Ewing 13/11/2015

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Cognitive Technologies Essay 9
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Appendix 1
Table 1: Analysis of affordances offered by the PlayconomicsTM microworld simulation.

Affordance for Elements that provide Elements that may Elements that provide
students affordance increase efficacy of information about affordance
affordance
Identifying factors Presentation of the Discussion with other Lectures and tutorials.
from the real-world modelling task by the students.
scenario that are software or the teacher
important for the (lecturer/tutor/demonstrator).
microeconomics
model.

Investigating what- Modelling facilities of the Simulation enables Simulation software menus,
if scenarios by simulation software. rapid investigation. buttons and help files.
creating and/or
Worksheet with instructions.
changing agents, Discussion with other
objects and resource Students.
Lectures and tutorials.
allocations.
Identifying Modelling facilities of the Discussion with other Lectures and tutorials.
relationships between simulation software. Students.
factors in the model.
Presentation of the
modelling task by software
or the teacher
Checking hypotheses Modelling facilities of the Appropriate rapid Simulation software menus,
simulation software. outputs may be graphs, buttons and help files.
diagrams, spatial
Feedback from simulation representations.
software; e.g. improved Other students by questioning,
efficiency in economic Other students and the exchanging ideas and
production in microworld. teacher challenge comparing results.
thinking.
Verbally justifying Modelling software Knowing that a Worksheet with instructions,
hypotheses. feedback on calculations. hypothesis can be other students prompting and
tested quickly. Explaining.
Questions on work sheets

Prompts from other students


Applying ideas from Software outputs from Software outputs from Worksheet with instructions.
one simulation to running simulations. as many runs of
another population. simulation as student
needs. Other students by exchanging
Worksheets with
Worksheet with ideas, prompting and
Prompts.
instructions. Other explaining.
students by exchanging
ideas, prompting and
explaining.
Explaining the value Other students prompts. Other students and the
of modelling in the teacher challenge
real-world. thinking.
Teacher prompts and
questioning.

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Cognitive Technologies Essay 11
Gary Ewing 13/11/2015

Appendix 2

Table 2: Jonassen's measures for evaluating microworld simulations (Jonassen 2006, p. 161).

Quality of factors
Factors are irrelevant; Factors are important;
insufficient factors identified; enough factors identified to
important factors are missing represent complexity of system
Relationship quality
Relationships are associative; Relationships are causal; use
use incorrect mathematic appropriate mathematic
functions; connected to functions; flow between
incorrect objects appropriate objects
Quality of model
Inaccurately simulates Simulates real-life system;
systems; represents naive simulates appropriate student
student understanding; makes understanding of system; makes
incorrect assumptions; appropriate assumptions;
cannot support predictions supports predictions/hypotheses
or hypotheses
Appropriate objects
Objects (concepts) too Objects (concepts) appropriate
advanced or too simple for for target audience
target audience (challenging but not
impossible)
User Testing
Provides restricted range of Enables users to test a range of
tests; enables manipulation of hypotheses by manipulating
limited variables or values appropriate variables or values
Appendix 3
Figure 1: Semantic map showing relationships between various views and nomenclature for brain processes (constructed in Freeplane a free application).

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