Toolforthoughts: Reexamining Thinking in the Digital Age


Readers may make verbatim copies of this document for noncommercial purposes by any means, provided that the above copyright notice appears on all copies. Madison. Any opinions, findings, or conclusions expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies, WCER, or cooperating institutions. New technologies pose a challenge for educators. Theorists argue that personal computers, personal digital assistants, Game Boys, and the Internet may displace formal schooling as the primary means of developing thinking skills Computational media may create new skills and habits of mind, such as programming and algorithmic thinking, that students need to master (diSessa, 2000; Papert, 1980). Spreadsheets and statistical analysis tools may shift emphasis in mathematics from algorithmic fluency to Video games and word processors may move the focus of language arts from reading and writing the printed word to participation in multimodal literacy spaces But perhaps the most profound educational challenge posed by new technologies is to how we think about thinking itself. This would not be the first time that a technological shift has changed our understanding of thinking. The field of cognitive science was based on the advent of computers when theorists described human cognitive activity in terms of computational processes (see also Pinker, 1997). These models challenged the behaviorist paradigm by providing testable assertions about otherwise implicit cognitive activity within the mind of an individual. More recently, sociocultural theories—including—have argued that mind does not exist solely within an individual but arises in activity. Intelligence, these theories suggest, is an attribute of a system involving multiple individuals and the tools they use in a larger social context. In this paper, we ask: Do computational media again provide a means and a motivation to push beyond current theories of cognition—in this case, to extend and perhaps reframe sociocultural theories of cognition? We approach this question by starting with the theory of virtual culture, an extension of ecological theories of cognitive co-evolution of humans and artifacts (Clark, 2003; Donald, 1991, 2001) that suggests that computational media are creating new forms of cognitive activity and with them a new cognitive culture (Shaffer & Kaput, 1999). We then discuss the concept of agent-acting-with-mediational-means (Wertsch, 1998) as the fundamental analytical unit for sociocultural analyses. We focus in particular on how theories of mediated action, activity theory, and distributed cognition view thinking as an interaction between person and …

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@inproceedings{Shaffer2005ToolforthoughtsRT, title={Toolforthoughts: Reexamining Thinking in the Digital Age}, author={David Williamson Shaffer and Katherine A. Clinton}, year={2005} }