distributed cognitive system may transfer responsibility in scaffolding

December 19, 2012

One question in networked scaffolding is how fading out nature of scaffolds can be achieved. The paper of Bellan (2011) proposes that distributed cognition that appears in human-artifact networks may serve as a scaffold, since it allows to transfer responsibility to the parts of the distributed cognitive system external of individuals similarly as in scaffolding support the tutor (or the scaffold) enables to share some cognitive efforts.


Distributed Cognition as a Lens to Understand the Effects of Scaffolds: The Role of Transfer of Responsibility by Brian R. Belland

Educ Psychol Rev (2011) 23:577–600

This paper proposes an alternative way to conceptualize transfer of responsibility through the lens of distributed cognition.

Pea (2004) argued that scaffolds without fading were not really scaffolds as Wood et al. (1976) originally intended. Pea (2004) wrote that scaffolds that do not incorporate fading were actually part of distributed cognition, or the division of an overall cognitive task into subtasks that can be completed by different people or tools (Hutchins 1995).

Fading out: To promote the effect of scaffolding, one needs to promote the transfer of responsibility from the student and scaffolds to just the student.

In the distributed cognition model, tools and other individuals are considered equal agents in a cognition system (Halverson 2002). Distributed cognition occurs when one cognitive task (e.g., solving a problem) is distributed among individuals and tools such that no one individual must carry out the entire extent of the cognition required to complete the overall task (Giere 2004; Hall 2005; Hutchins 1995; Vosniadou 2007).

The metaphor of distributed cognition may be appropriate to apply to computer-based scaffolds because the latter do not simply add to but fundamentally change the nature of cognition. That is, scaffolds allow students to engage in cognition that is beyond what they can do by themselves.

The ultimate determinant of whether students can assume responsibility from a distributed cognition system is the extent to which they maintain throughout the executive function of the system, defined as “making choices, operating at decision points to explore the consequences of options and select[ing] a path of action” (Bibok et al. 2009; Landry et al. 2009; Perkins 1996, p. 96; Salomon 1993).

Within a distributed cognitive system, there is information and the executive function (Perkins 1996).  Within a distributed cognitive system that performs ill structured problem solving, the information consists of thinking dispositions, basic thinking techniques, tools, and technical realms (Perkins 1995). Executive control refers to students’ abilities to make choices, explore consequences of options, and otherwise make decisions regarding strategy (Bibok et al. 2009; Landry et al. 2009; Perkins 1996; Salomon 1993). The explore consequences aspect of the definition relates to metacognition (Fernandez-Duque et al. 2000). Self-regulation can be defined as the ability to set and pursue learning goals (Pintrich and De Groot 1990). Thus metacognition and self-regulation appear to be related to students’ ability to adopt and maintain the executive function.


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