Partners in Cognition: Extending Human Intelligence with Intelligent Technologies

Salomon, G., Perkins, D. N., & Globerson, T. (1991). Partners in Cognition: Extending Human Intelligence with Intelligent Technologies. Educational Researcher, 20(3), 2-9.

“In this age of making machines more intelligent, we began by asking whether machines can make people more intelligent. The answer we suggest is yes, and in more than one way. Effects with technology can redefine and enhance  performance as students work in partnership with intelligent technologies — those that undertake a significant part of the cognitive processing that otherwise would have to be managed by the person. Moreover, effects of technology can occur when partnership with a technology leaves a cognitive residue, equipping people with thinking skills and strategies that reorganize and enhance their performance even away from the technology in question” (p.8).

“Technologies and cultural surrounds that foster mindfulness are more likely to yield cognitive residue than are technologies that let the user lapse into mindlessness. Moreover, when benefits do accrue, they bring with them problems that need sorting through — for example, the risks of inappropriate deskilling, the need to rethink what intelligence means” (p.8).


This distinction has a parallel in the contrasting emphases of scholars who have studied the impact of literacy on cognition (how alphabetic literacy has redefined the roles and functions of memory and empowered it; and effects of literacy on other mental functions and abilities)

“Rather then asking how technology “naturally” affects minds, the way scholars studied the cognitive effects of literacy, one should ask how the partnership with it can be made to have transferable cognitive residue” (p.2-3).

Effects with technology

  • Concerns changes in performance that students display while equipped with a technology. For example, the level of sophistication in the hypotheses generated while working with a computerized model-builder
  • Working w/ an intelligent tool has effect on what students do, how well they do it, and when it is done
  • Involves working with technologies that afford us an intellectual partnership in which results greatly depend on joint effort (p.3)
  • Partnership with computer tools entails the 3 major ingredients one finds in human partnership: 1) a complementary division of labor that 2) becomes interdependent and that 3) develops over time
  • Even the novice might gain from certain computer tools that support cognitive processes (ex: STELLA allows the construction of mathematically based models. Students do not need to commit anything to memory but instead can generate and test the wildest hypotheses about the interrelations among conceptual entities. Also allows learners to organize ideas according to deep rather than surface criteria.)
  • Call such computer tools that offer an intellectual partnership cognitive tools (Pea 1985) or technologies of the mind (p.4)
  • These tools might redefine and restructure the learning or performance task, musch as the pencil has qualitatively restructured the act of remembering.
  • The intellectual partnership with such tools can change the ratio between accessing prior knowledge and constructing new knowledge, in favor of the latter (p.4).
  • The role of mindful engagement
    • The employment of such nonautomatic, effortful, and thus metacognitively guided processes has been defined as a state of mindfulness
    • State of mindlessness characterized by blind reliance on marked structural features of a situation without attention to its unique and novel features
    • For partnering to attain higher levels of intellectual performance, the human’s mental processes have to be of the nonautomatic type.
    • This is less important “when learners are given close guidance and more important when learners are left on their own: In the former situation, mental processes are channeled by instructional processes, whereas in the latter, the employment of nonautomatic processes very much depends on the learner’ initiative” (p.4)
    • Attributes like control of the activity, interactivity, immediate results, graded goals, conflict, moderate uncertainty increase intrinsic motivation and mindfulness in users (Malone & Lepper, 1987) because they face the user with choice points that invite mindful consideration, and they confront the learner with cases of conflict. (Caution: such features can also invite mindlessness.)
  • The question of ability
    • When measuring ability of a joint tool-human system, what would we say of a partnership that performs well but leaves the human partner to persevere with a naive preconception when functioning w/o the technology? What if the technological component decreases the intellectual share of the human partner (ex: expert piloting systems)?
    • Two ways to evaluate intelligence of partnerships: systemic and analytic (p.5)

      • Systemic: examines the performance of the whole system and judges the products of its joint intelligence w/o distinguishing the contribution of the human partner from that of the technology. There is a problem with this approach in that one can lose sight of the individual’s unique contribution.
      • Analytic: examines the specific kinds of mental processes that the human partner contributes. This approach is more oriented toward the study of human potential and toward educational concerns. It favors the instructional use of cognitive tools that afford higher order mental engagement (STELLA), rather than tools that upgrade performance of the the system but not the individual.

Effects of technology

  • Concerns relatively lasting changes in students’ general cognitive capacities in consequence of interaction with an intelligent technology (changes in mastery of knowledge, skill, or depth of understanding once the student is away from the computer)
  • The intellectual partnership with a computer tool can leave a transferable cognitive residue (eg, a generalized ability for self-regulation and guidance  (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987; Salomon, Globerson, & Guterman, 1990)).
  • Possibility of cognitive residue assumes that higher order thinking skills that are either activated during an activity with an intellectual tool or are explicitly modeled by it can develop and become transferred to other dissimilar, or at least similar situations. This rests on a more basic assumption that, contrary to some views (eg, Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989), cognitive skills of the kind one would want to cultivate in school are not necessarily context-bound or “situated.”
  • Existence of transfer effects may lie in the qualitative ways students engage in the  partnership or the instruction.
  • Some transfer can be attained by much and varied practice to near skill automaticity by means of what J. Anderson (1983) has described as “skill generalization.” However, most instructional and experimental situations do not and cannot provide such extensive practice.
  • Nevertheless, situations in which students become engaged in mindful abstraction of procedures, self-regulation, or strategies of the kind activated or modeled during the partnership, transfer of these does take place. Although people rarely engage in such mindful processing when using a  technology under normal noninstructional circumstances, it can be provoked (ex: computer programming class).
  • These findings suggest that “Is there a cognitive effect of technology” is the wrong question…The needed mindful abstraction is not likely to occur spontaneously. One might better ask, “Can a cognitive effect of technology be ‘engineered’ by designing the technology, the activity, and the setting to foster mindful abstraction of thinking skills and strategies?”

“…If computers become as central in education as some predict they are bound to, the whole culture of school is likely to change — from knowledge imparting to self-guided exploration and knowledge recreation — and such a change would in turn change the place of computers in schools, disclosing important and often unexpected roles for them”  (p.7).

“Examinations of the effects with and of intelligent technologies stands to benefit from widening the theoretical perspective to include cultural context as a source not only for distal independent variables but also for variables that interact with each other simultaneously (Cole, 1985) in what Scarr (1985) has called “a cloud of correlated events.” Controlled experiments may show that certain effects can be engineered under favorable conditions. They can also suggest possible mechanisms, such as internalization or aroused mindfulness, that might mediate the effects. However, such experiments do not tell us what happens — or can be made to happen — under natural conditions where powerful roles are played by the cultural, social, and institutional contexts” (p.7).

“…Profound effects of intelligent technology on minds can take place only when  major changes in the culture take place as well… It is not the technology alone affecting minds but the whole ‘cloud of correlated variables’ — technology, activity, goal, setting, teacher’s role, culture — exerting their combined effect” (p.8).

2 Responses to “Partners in Cognition: Extending Human Intelligence with Intelligent Technologies”
  1. JimmyBean says:

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

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