Distributed Cognition as a Lens to Understand the Effects of Scaffolds: The Role of Transfer of Responsibility

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Problem solving is an important skill in the knowledge economy. Research indicates that the development of problem solving skills works better in the context of instructional approaches centered on real-world problems. But students need scaffolding to be successful in such instruction. In this paper I present a conceptual framework for understanding the effects of scaffolding. First, I discuss the ultimate goal of scaffolding—the transfer of responsibility—and one way that scholars have conceptualized promoting this outcome (fading). Next, I describe an alternative way to conceptualize transfer of responsibility through the lens of distributed cognition and discuss how this lens informs how to promote transfer of responsibility. Then I propose guidelines for the creation of problem solving scaffolds to support transfer of responsibility and discuss them in light of the literature.
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