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“The Dig” Distributed Cognition and the Postmodern Classroom

, University of Nebraska, United States

Journal of Interactive Learning Research Volume 13, Number 1, ISSN 1093-023X Publisher: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC


The insights accumulating from advances in distributed cognition pose particular challenges to pedagogical practice. When we consider the significance of material and social configurations in the real business of knowledge building, naturally the question arises, how classrooms and teaching as a whole can change to accommodate these demands. If we begin to take seriously that knowledge is located not in the person, but in the "person plus" (Perkins, 1993), then, as teachers, don't we need to start thinking about our roles in creating and using this "plus" in all its concrete manifestations? If we finally "get it" that the acquiring of "actionable" as opposed to "inert" knowledge (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989) is essentially bound up with the context of its use, then, as designers of instructional environments, should we not be seeking out those contexts of "authentic presence" (Courtney, 1995), environments in which learning comes to have an undeniable legitimacy by being linked to the pursuit of a real, motivating goal (Schank, 1992)? My purpose here is to attempt answers to these and related questions or to at least give them a more concrete form. I want to consider what might be the features of a postmodern class/room conceived as a complex, socially distributed, goal-driven, cognitive system (Hunt, no date; Rogers, 1997; Rogers & Ellis, 1994), in other words as an instantiation of distributed cognition. To explore this potential, a case is presented and discussed which depicts the work of a teacher singled out for outstanding innovation in classroom teaching. This case highlights the contrast between a classroom tightly bounded by traditional norms of authority and discourse and one in which those same norms are reconstituted in ways that dramatically liberate the learning process, and, in so doing, free up the inherent potential of pedagogical action.


Courtney, S. (2002). “The Dig” Distributed Cognition and the Postmodern Classroom. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 13(1), 71-92. Norfolk, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved March 1, 2021 from .



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