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Untitled Document William S. Beachley
Assignment 7
Due: 2/18/04

Hollan, J., Hutchins, E., & Kirsch, D. (2001) "Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-Computer Interaction Research." In J. M. Carroll (Ed.) Human-Computer Interaction in the New Millennium, ACM Press, New York, pp. 75-94.

Briefly discuss the following issues: 1. what did you find

1.1. interesting about the article?
What I found most interesting about the article was the discussion about culture and cognition and how culture limits our perception of what is possible. I have been interested for a while in how culture limits conscious experience and this is a good example. Another thing I found interesting was the analogy between social organization and cognitive architecture. It seems so obvious, but I had never thought about it before. It is interesting to think about a business or a military as one mind whose efficiency and power relies on its architecture with each connection serving some role in the larger unit.

1.2. not interesting about the article?
I personally don't think user interfaces need to be improved all that much. I feel sometimes that user interfaces already do too much and I get very annoyed by tools like AOL that act more like a baby sitter than a useful tool. I did like the idea of the PadPrint browser tool which provides easy access to previous sites visited during a web session. I think that would be a very useful tool.

2. what do you consider the main message of the article?
The main message of the article is that when designing a HCI, one must really know the end-users from how they think to what tools they use to how often they use those tools, to what they know to how they use what they know.

3. are themes discussed in the article which you would like to know more about?
I was not entirely sure was was meant by "cognition is embodied," and I don't feel as though it was explained well.

4. please describe briefly your understanding of

4.1. distributed cognition?
Distributed cognition is the idea that cognition (thoughts, ideas, knowledge, memory, etc) is distributed over individuals grouped by their knowledge of some domain. No one individual knows everything, but together, the group of individuals know everything that is known about the domain.

4.2. ethnography
When I think of ethnography, I think about the study of different cultures and primitive societies, but I think that the article was talking more about sub-cultures. In this article, ethnography is the study of experts of a domain of knowledge, what they do, how they use what they know, etc.

4.3. active representations (which is the most important example you can think of?)
After reading the article I would say that an active representation is one which not only captures the semantics of that which it is representing, but also provides clues about what follows from the captured information. I would say that a compiler provides an active representation of the current state of a computer program because it provides warnings and error messages which the user can use to isolate problem areas of code. MS Office's grammar and spelling features provide an active representation of a document's correctness.

5. the article talks about "new foundations" for HCI

5.1. please discuss a couple of "old foundations" for HCI
One old foundation in the realm of ethnolgraphy is to focus on knowledge of individuals and ignore action. How people use their knowledge is equally if not more important than what they know. Another old foundation in the realm of cognition is to focus on individual cognition as opposed to group cognition. It is important to explore how information flows through groups of domain experts when designing an HCI.

5.2. how "new" according to your knowledge are these ?new foundations??
I would guess that these foundations are not all that new because certainly businesses have been using these concepts to design efficient architectures for years. I think the idea that efficiency is better maximized at the group level as opposed to the individual level is not new. It could very well be that people have been using these ideas for years because they worked, but did not know exactly why they worked. The article really brings these ideas into the open and exlains in detail what makes them powerful as well as showing new ways in which they can be applied.

6. do you have any ideas how this research could / should be extended based on your own knowledge and experience?

7. in the class on Jan 14, 2004, we showed a multi-media show about the CLever project ? question: which elements of distributed cognition are described in this video?
I would say that there are many elements of distributed cognition in the video. Parents of people with disabilities are able to access the experience and knowledge of other parents using web2gether. People with disabilities are able to access the experience and knowledge of their parents with their handhelds. In this case the distributed knowledge flows accross the internet through web2gether and into handhelds through the MAPS software.

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