AECT Handbook of Research

Table of Contents

24: Learning with technology: Using computers as cognitive tools

24.1 Introduction
24.2 Computers as cognitive tools
24.3 Why cognitive tools?
24.4 Overview of the chapter
24.5 Computer programming languages as cognitive tools
24.6 Hypermedia/ Multimedia authoring systems as cognitive tools
24.7 Semantic networking as cognitive tools
24.8 Expert systems as cognitive tools
24.9 Databases as cognitive tools
24.10 Spreadsheets as cognitive tools
24.11 Conclusions
24.12 A final word
Search this Handbook for:

24.12 A final word

We perceive major differences between the types of studies we advocate for investigating computers as cognitive tools (cf. Harel, 1991; Lehrer, 1993) and the morass of pseudoscience research studies endemic in the field of educational communications and technology (Reeves, 1993). In the first examples, pedagogical models grounded in robust cognitive learning theories have been identified, and, subsequently, powerful technologies have been used to implement these models. In the latter, the power of various forms of technology to instruct has been assumed, and reductionist experiments were conducted to detect the effects on students. Further, in Harel's (1991) and Lehrer's (1993) studies, students with authentic needs experienced powerful learning opportunities over a period of weeks and months. By contrast, in most pseudoscience studies, undergraduates earn "extra credit" for less than an hour of their time spent using some form of mediated "treatment" that has little or no relevance for them. The ethics of conducting the latter types of reductionist experiments in education should be more closely examined.

In a landmark paper, Salomon (199 1) describes the contrast between analytic and systemic approaches to educational research. Salomon claims that this analytic-systemic contrast transcends the "basic versus applied?' or "quantitative versus qualitative" arguments that so often dominate debates 'about the relevancy of educational research. Salomon concludes that the analytic and systemic approaches are complementary, arguing that "die analytic approach capitalizes on precision, while the systemic approach capitalizes on authenticity" (p. 16).

While we agree with Salomon in theory, the dominance of pseudoscience in educational communications and technology research threatens to invalidate this complementarity in practice. Many of those who engage in analytic research approaches consistently. violate the basic premises of the empirical paradigm they espouse, especially with respect to the testing of meaningful hypotheses derived from strong theory (Reeves, 1993). The question must be asked: Can society continue to afford the conduct of atheoretical analytical research in education on the scale reported elsewhere in this volume? We think not. Educational communications and technology require a much more valid body of systemic and analytical research grounded in sound theory than currently exists. Although limited in scope, we believe that the research focused on the effects of using computers as cognitive tools described in this chapter points the way toward a more valid and socially responsible research agenda for the 21st century.

Updated August 3, 2001
Copyright © 2001
The Association for Educational Communications and Technology

1800 North Stonelake Drive, Suite 2
Bloomington, IN 47404

877.677.AECT (toll-free)

AECT Home Membership Information Conferences & Events AECT Publications Post and Search Job Listings