Posted by: crudbasher | September 3, 2010

Teaching to an Extended Mind

It’s not such a great stretch to imagine everyone reading this post has a cell phone right?  How many numbers do you have programmed into it right now?  I have about 20. Now how many of them do you have memorized. I have 4.  I don’t even know my brother’s cell number off hand.

Does it matter?  Only when I forget my phone.

The Extended Mind

Andy Clark and David Chalmers wrote a book called Extended Mind.  Basically it it talks about how people’s brains can process information from external storage sources.  This means that while we have a lot of things in our memory, we can also function perfectly well with things stored outside of our brains, such as in cell phones.

This didn’t used to be such as big deal because we didn’t have much information we could readily access.  Now we do.  The cell phone is just a start.  Turn it into a smart phone and the Extended Mind becomes globally connected.

Just In Time Learning

This in turn leads to Just In Time Learning.  This is learning how to do something right before doing it.  I had an example of this a month ago. I had to replace my kitchen faucet as the old one was leaking.  I had no idea how to do it, but I watched some youtube videos, went out and bought a special wrench and poof.  It’s installed. (and not leaking now).  The ability to do this has exploded over the last 10 years. In the future, once you combine it with Augmented Reality, you will be able to have a virtual guide show you the steps as you do it.

Classroom Implications

So how does this connect with Education?  First it’s important to remember that schools are not a requirement for learning.  Our students learn every day outside of our four walls.  The difference is, that kind of learning is something they choose to do.  Their ability to learn things on their own is increasing every day.  I think their ability to seamlessly integrate this external information into their mind is one of the things that make them Digital Natives.

I think the way to deal with this in the classroom is to acknowledge it’s there.  The traditional classroom method is:

1. Teacher presents information.
2. Students try to memorize it.
3. Teacher presents an assessment of how much is retained.
4. Repeat 1-3.

I think students get frustrated with this because they can just Google a lot of this information when they need it.  For example: Why teach state capitols?  I had to memorize that in school when I was a kid.  Why?  How does that help me in my current job?  More importantly, I can find out in 0.41 seconds. (that’s how long google said it took)

Students are perfectly happy to leave this kind of information in the Extended Mind. So what do we do as teachers?

Simple: Get the next question.

The Next Question

New classroom method:

1. Students get the topic of discussion the day before to start doing research on it.
2. Every child has access to the net via smart phone or laptop or tablet.
3. In class the teacher assumes a certain level of pre-knowledge or Extended Mind knowledge.
4. Teacher asks students about the information and solicits student questions.  These are the next questions.
5. Students are divided up in working groups. They start to answer the questions (using Just In Time learning and the Extended Mind). The teacher acts as a roving guide.
6. Students create projects to present to the class.  They are engaged and have ownership of their work.

This going beyond facts and data into thinking and researching is how to engage students who have access to an abundance of information.  Some people will complain about how they don’t have computers in their classrooms or a good connection or their schools are blocking things.  This_will_change_rapidly.  Don’t fret on the tech. Think about how to use it because it will just show up one day.  Not every kid has to have a smart phone when they work in groups btw.

So what do you think?

This was sparked from this excellent article below.

  • Great article about the abundance of information

    tags: education abundance technology

    • While most of our classrooms were built under the assumption
      that information is scarce and hard to find, nearly the entire body
      of human knowledge now flows through and around these rooms in one form or another, ready to be accessed by laptops, cellphones, and iPods. Classrooms built to re-enforce the top-down authoritative knowledge of the teacher are now enveloped by a cloud of ubiquitous digital information where knowledge is made, not found, and authority is continuously negotiated through discussion and participation.
    • This new media environment can be enormously disruptive to our current teaching methods and philosophies.
    • Our physical structures were built prior to an age of infinite information, our social structures formed to serve different purposes than those needed now, and the cognitive structures we have developed along the way now struggle to grapple with the emerging possibilities.
    • Stadium seating, sound-absorbing panels and other acoustic
      technologies are designed to draw maximum attention to the professor at the front of the room.
    • The “message” of this environment is that to learn is to acquire information, that information is scarce and hard to find (that’s why you have to come to this room to get it), that you should trust authority for good information, and that good information is beyond discussion (that’s why the chairs don’t move or turn toward one another). In short, it tells students to trust authority and follow
    • Most of our assumptions about information are based on characteristics of information on paper.
    • Even something as simple as the hyperlink taught us that information can be in more than one place at one time
    • Blogging came along and taught us that anybody can be a creator of
    • Wikipedia has taught us yet another lesson, that a networked information environment allows people to work together in new ways to create information that can rival (and even surpass) the content of experts by almost any measure.
    • Our old assumption that information is hard to find, is trumped by the realization that if we set up our hyper-personalized digital network effectively, information can find us.
    • It is like continuously working with thousands of research associates around the world.
    • Unfortunately, many teachers only see the disruptive possibilities of these technologies when they find students Facebooking, texting, IMing, or shopping during class.
    • We have had our why’s, how’s, and what’s upside-down, focusing too much on what should be learned, then how, and often forgetting the why altogether.
    • All of this vexes traditional criteria for assessment and grades. This is the next frontier as we try to transform our learning environments.
    • Content is no longer king, but many of our tools have been habitually used to measure content recall.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.



  1. The cellphone is an excellent lead in for this post. It is so true, I used to have all of my friends and families phone numbers memorized. Now I know my parents home phone (because it used to be mine) my husbands phone number (because I have had to write it on so many applications), and my brothers cell phone (because I gave him my old number). That is it. I couldn’t tell you even one of my friends numbers. I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on students who don’t know their home phone numbers, they are just products of the age we live in where they truly do just have a button to push on the cell phone.

  2. Absolutely brilliant. I do think with the Internet age we need to be teaching our children how to find good information online. There’s so much crud out there; we need to teach how to separate wheat from the chaff.

    Unfortunately many schools are removing their media specialists and replacing them with part time aides. This is where the media specialists should shine; how to find good information.

  3. I think you are right on the mark with this. And what an exciting time is ahead for students/teachers!

  4. […] Teaching to an Extended Mind […]

  5. […] will become something of the past.  The AR system and AI agent will act as an "extended mind" allowing the brain to spend more time on concepts and free thinking.  A child raised […]

  6. […] written previously about a concept called the Extended Mind. It is a theory about how the brain works that says it can problem solve without having all the […]

  7. […] that makes sense to me. I followed that up with a concept I found called the Extended Mind. In Teaching to an Extended Mind I gave the following […]

  8. On my website you can find an article I wrote for the AR[t] Magazine on the role of Augmented Reality in extended cognition and how this should affect the field of education

  9. […] is the extended mind I have written about in the past. Of course everyday, students in classrooms all across the US are […]

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