Does Technology Make People Smarter?

Salomon, G, & Perkins, D. (2005). Do technologies make us smarter? Intellectual amplification with, of and through technology. In R.J. Sternberg, & D. D. Preiss (Eds). Intelligence and technology: The impact of tools on the nature and development of human abilities (pp. 71-86). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Salomon and Perkins present an exceptional article by asking, “Do technologies expand our cognitive capabilities in any fundamental sense?” This clever approach in questioning extends the age-old question of “Do technologies really enhance the classroom?”, by providing a much deeper focus on the role that technology plays in cognition. Their schema uses a discerning lens to study three kinds of “effects” that technology has in learning: 1) “effects with technology”, when it is used to improve the intellectual performance while one is operating the tool; 2) “effects of technology”, when the use of technology may leave cognitive residues which enhance performance even after one stops using it; and 3) “effects through technology”, when the technology sometimes does not just enhance performance, but fundamentally reorganizes it (p. 72). Salomon and Perkins’ definitions of the “effects” of technology assist stakeholders in determining the affordances and also the limits of the role that technology plays in the classroom before, during and after integration into the learning setting.

Salomon and Perkins clearly provide a value-added pathway to determine in what sense a technology or technologies might make the end-user cognitively more capable. Their strategy of determining the role of technology using the effects with/of/through, can serve as a powerful system for planning, implementing and evaluating the sustenance of classroom technology tools, apps, web tools and standalone software. It should be noted though, that it would be quite easy to use the three buckets of “effects” individually to disseminate a technology tool’s effectiveness, but there should really be some flexibility applied when appraising how technologies support cognitive functioning. Salomon and Perkins also identify the importance of technology as an intellectual partnership where there is a distinct and appropriate division of labor by both the technology and the end-user. Furthermore, the authors skillfully compare the effects with/of/through of technology on cognition to determine the pace and magnitude of impact to anticipate how quickly such effects can emerge throughout the learning process. These comparisons help stakeholders solidify the individual pieces into one puzzle, thus offering a complete picture.

I think this article has tremendous impact in the field of K-12 education. There are so many ways in which technology can make us smarter, but there are also many ways in which technology can derail the learning process. As more and more technology tools, web-based programs and apps get folded into the classroom environment as well as students actively participating with their own devices through BYOD, there is a greater and more urgent need from all stakeholders to better understand the “effects” that technology is having to enhance programmatic learning, positive return on investment and long-term sustainability. In the future, I could see our district using a two-fold approach to implementing the Salomon and Perkins framework. The first approach could be initiated when making new building, department and/or specific classroom technology tool purchases by hosting a collaborative instructional team to work through a matrix of intended use, effects with/of/through, support to instructional strategies, etc. The second usage of the “effects” that technology is having could occur in the classroom setting with the students and teacher debating the technology uses from a cognitive and social standpoint. Although the second process is perhaps a little too cerebral for some grade levels, I believe it would serve as a compelling exercise for both the teacher and students to defend the technology tools they use. Personally, I performed this analysis on an app-based platform that our district has used for a few years. My evaluation served as a great reminder of why we selected the tool, the grade levels paired with the tool, the intellectual partnership that the tool encourages, the content residues that the tool affords and the inclusion of the 4C’s that we strive to achieve every day. Additionally, I think there is more leverage up front in having an idea of how the technology will benefit the learner vs. here’s the technology, now go build some impactful lessons or units of study with the tool(s) provided.