Rethinking cognitive tool
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Previous research and development with cognitive tools has been limited by an inadequate conceptualization of the complexity underlying their nature and affordances for supporting learning and performance. This dissertation provides a new perspective on cognitive tools through the lens of the theories of distributed cognition and expertise. This enhanced perspective is used to clarify the nature of cognitive tools and distinguishes them from other types of computer tools used in learning contexts. The implications of this new perspective are presented in reference to research, development, and practice. The first focus of this research was the design issues of a cognitive tool by examining and comparing interactions across different groups of learners engaged in common activities. The main purpose was to examine the roles of a cognitive tool and learners, and the functions of specific pedagogical approach in their tool use, in order to improve the designs of the collective learning system including learner, cognitive tool, and learning activity. This study provided important implications for the future design efforts to adopt advanced cognitive tools for learning. The second focus was on the longitudinal application of a cognitive tool by observing one group of learners interacting with it over an entire semester. The purpose was to develop a deeper understanding of the process whereby learners become more capable of engaging in scientific inquiry with a computer tool. A second purpose of this study was to improve the practice in adopting cognitive tool-enhanced inquiry-based approaches. This study provided insights on what enhances or hinders the development of cognitive partnerships and how to better facilitate the partnering process. Finally, this dissertation explored how we could examine learner-technology-activity interactions as we study learners, their characteristics, learning process, and learning outcomes without isolating one from another. The discussion was based on the reflection on the research approaches for the two such studies. It intended to describe the theoretical assumptions and questions in the research on cognitive tools, to explain methodological assumptions based on them, to present the case of the research studies in answering the questions, and to provide directions for future research and practice.