Monday, October 31, 2005

Location-sensitive technology--How may we exploit it in learning

Hey guys,
Here is a piece regarding the location-sensitive technology and its commercial use today. Isn't it interesting that what we have been doing will be commericalized in the near future?

Indoor tracking system available for commercial use

So, it seems that indoor location tracking technology has grew mature enough for education. I am not sure how it will work comparing with MIT's indoor AR engine, but I will be glad to use it for indoor games in Museums, Greenhouses, or Libraries. The following article is from the link here.

Ubisense Reports 60 New Customers as Demand for High Accuracy Indoor Location Technology Intensifies; Ubisense Enhances Process Efficiencies, Space Utilization and Security for Healthcare, Industrial, Military and More DENVER--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Oct. 31, 2005--Ubisense, the leading provider of high accuracy indoor location technology, has secured 60 new customers in just nine months since earning approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its advanced ultra-wideband (UWB) technology. This technology offers the most cost-effective, precise indoor location tracking commercially available. Ubisense is being used across many different industries to analyze and improve processes, space utilization and security.
Ubisense provides innovative, sensor-driven technology that utilizes UWB to report person and asset location within one foot of accuracy. Small sensors are placed within the indoor environment and active tags worn by people or attached to assets provide location information that can be viewed in 3D. This location data can be used to determine the efficiency and security of any indoor space or training scenario.
For instance, U.S.-based DSCI provides live, virtual training scenarios for the Department of Defense (DoD) training centers. DSCI needed high resolution indoor tracking capabilities for Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) training. Finding that WiFi and Radio Frequency ID (RFID) systems do not offer the near-precise accuracy and reliability required by the DoD, DSCI turned to Ubisense.
"Indoor tracking has always been our greatest challenge for training soldiers, and Ubisense's ultra-wideband technology solves this challenge," said Eric Wagner, director, DSCI. "Ubisense is now integrated into Ft. Benning's MOUT McKenna site, one of the premier U.S. Army infantry training centers, and operates flawlessly with our integrated soldier tracking system. With this technology, we can monitor every soldier participating in indoor training exercises to determine accuracy of execution as well as identify maneuvers that require changes or more training. Having the ability to view combat training in this manner is critical because in the real world this training makes all the difference."
In Europe, the Technical University of Graz (TU Graz) recently installed Ubisense and is investigating the range of rich and meaningful augmented reality experiences enabled through a combination of Ubisense's UWB-based technology with those more traditionally associated with virtual reality applications.
"Ubisense has the potential to become a key enabling technology in bringing augmented reality out of the research lab and into a part of our everyday building infrastructure," said Dr. Dieter Schmalstieg, professor, TU Graz.
As its customer base increases so too do the applications for which Ubisense is used. In addition to education and military organizations, workplace engineers, healthcare facilities and industrial businesses are using Ubisense for a wide range of applications. Some uses include automatically determining space utilization in office environments to improve productivity and identify cost savings, locating people and assets in healthcare facilities, and monitoring and improving manufacturing processes.
"Demand for Ubisense is growing even faster than we anticipated, and the market need continues to expand," said Richard Green, CEO, Ubisense. "Our focus now is to extend our software platform to deliver greater value to our customers and to build a thriving partner network to further address the many different industries and uses for which our technology is suitable."
About Ubisense
Ubisense provides location-aware, sensor-driven technology that increases the usability and security of space. Ubisense utilizes advanced ultra-wideband (UWB) to deliver real-time location data within one foot of accuracy to more than 60 customers spanning workplace, healthcare, industrial and military organizations worldwide. The company is headquartered in Cambridge, England, with offices in Denver, Colorado, and Dortmund, Germany. For more information, visit

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Nature vs. Simulation

"To many who care about the natural world, no modern phenomenon seems more troubling than the emergence of "virtual reality" as a new form of human experience...and yet it is also true that our awareness of potential environmental problems has an increasingly virtual quality as we turn to computer models and simulated ecosystems to try to understand the complex changes going on around us in the natural world. Drawing the boundary between "real" and "virtual" nature turns out to be rather more difficult rather more revealing and instructive concerning our ideas of nature than we might have first thought"

Page 439 - Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature (Cronon, 1995)

Katherine Hayles chapter in this book titled, Simulated Nature and Natural Simulations: Rethinking the Relation between the Beholder and the World” (pp. 409-425) may be of interest. It breaks down the traditional dichotomy between "nature" and "simulation".

Monday, October 24, 2005

pocketPC emulator?

Does anyone know of an emulator or similar software that will allow you to run pocketPC software on a windows XP desktop?

This would be useful as we begin to work with teachers (and poor grad students) who may want to construct and experiment with designs, but don't have constant access to a PDA.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


I've been obsessing on this idea since Jim, Mingfong, and I talked about it at Indie Coffee a few weeks ago. I've finally "put pen to paper" (as the saying goes, although "pen" and "paper" are soooo archaic!) and finally fleshed out the idea using Keynote, which I'm beginning to realize may be my preferred method of working out and communicating ideas. (This might be problematic for me as I begin the rather-archaic, text-based Prelim Exam process next week.)

At any rate, building off my last post, and (let me emphasize this) VERY CLOSELY RELATED to my research interest in Augmented Reality Games -- making it a tool for user-production of content (letting the players make their own games). GeoAnnotation is sort of like location-based blogging, and Collaborative Cartography might be seen as a Wiki-Map. But instead of entries existing nowhere tangible in cyberspace, they are grounded to a specific location, thereby also further situating their writers and readers into that place.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Wikipedia + GPS

Here's what I'd love to see in the near future: A wearable (or handheld) location-enabled (GPS or WiFi, or other) computer that you can access at any location to find out "official" and unofficial information and opinions about, and have the ability to add your own. In other words, take a project like LifeClipper (non-Flash Wikipedia entry), mix it with GPSter and geograffiti and a web-based version of Murmur and throw in Google Earth for good measure.

The result is a powerhouse of a personal assistant. Take notes (or pics, audio, video) of a location with your own annotations, and when you return to the location your "memory" of the event is jogged like it's never been jogged before. And access others' public notes of the place. Upload pics of the place before development, articles and stories of its history, etc.

Or, play a number of games developed for the area. When touring Europe, access historical info about the sites while you "play" the DaVinci Code game. Choose the info about the place that interests you. If you're tracing family lineage, battleground history, or just looking for a nice latte nearby.

AR Quake

I was Wikipedia-izing away for better definitions of Augmented Reality (some say that it's not AR unless computer graphics are digitally merged with surroundings. Obviously, for them "reality" is a visual phenomena), when I ran across ARQuake, which fits the more restrictive definition.

While unwilling to give up the AR term to a visually-dominant culture, I wonder if there is a higher-order term that would include the augmenting of any or all of the physical and social "senses" from which our "realities" are formed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The what questions and the how questions

So I went to Randall School and discussed the MadCity Murder with the kids who played this game in the last 30 days. Yes, since September 26, we had played the game with more than 20 kids. Each day and each group was a different scenario as well as a different case given that the group dynamics among them were all different.

And here comes a quesiton that I have been asking myself: what should we study?

The quesiton comes before the quesiton "how should we study" since a question of "what" is often an ontological quesiton which will pretty much predetermin the methodology, the how questions, that we employ to study the AR game.

Should we ask how before we ask what?
It seems that my position is clear--we ask the what question before the how question.

In some way, we have been asking questions of what and we have predetermined the what questions we need to answer--narrative, space and place--because we all agree they are the key features in the AR learning environment.

Does the what questions that we asked block our sights for other significance? Have we been making the familiar strange? What have been filtered out when we have adapted to certain theories?

I believe these are important questions that we need to ask more when we study AR games.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Narrative as Situator

I'm reading Henry Jenkins' Tales of Manhattan and noticed, again, his emphasis on the importance of narrative in cultures to explain and situate themselves in space. I thought this might speak to our discussions on the immersive aspects of our respective GPS games.
"Spatial Stories. Cultures, Michel De Certeau tells us, construct stories to explain and justify their occupation of geographic spaces, to describe and record their collective journeys and migrations, and to map the boundaries between known and unknown territories. Telling a story is an act of clarification which bestows coherence on ambiguous or ambivalent relationships between people and places. "Every story is a travel story," De Certeau writes, and often, the stories themselves circulate beyond their original cultures, justifying one community to another" (p. 3).
Further on, he speaks of cinema's ability to shift scale -- starting with overviews of cities, for example, and zooms to the particular story being told. I'm wondering to what extent the editor would allow us to do this. I'm thinking of last Wednesday's Environmental Detective Game, where the girls playing kept losing site of the lake, and needed constant redirection (literally) from their parents.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

What counts as authentific scientific inquiry? A Summary of Chinn and Malhotra's seminal paper

What is authentic scientific inquiry?

The following summary is based on Chinn and Malhotra's "Epistemologically Authentic Inquiry in Schools: A Theoretical Framework for Evaluating Inquiry Tasks." Based on a couple of expert/novice studies, Chinn provides a framework for evaluating what counts as authentic reasoing in science inquiry. His main arguments are based on the following assumptions:

1. Authentic reasoning in science is the way scientists think and do in their scientific inquiry.
2. Authentic reasoning needs to be developed in schools because non-authentic, simple task-based inquiry leads to oversimplification and pseudoscience; therefore it also hampers students' ability to reason and generates false epistemology about science.
3. We can teach authentic reasoning by studying how scientists reason.

Based on these assumptions, he proposes
There is a need to develop school tasks that come closer to the cognitive processes and epistemology of real scientific inquiry.

The following passages will briefly introduce
1. What counts as authentic scientific inquiry
2. How do we analyze scientific inquiry
3. How to develop more authentic reasoning in schools

Part I: What counts as authentic scientific inquiry

Authentic scientific inquiry
Chinn argues that science standards (e.g., AAAS, 1993; National Research Council, 1996) pointed to important features of "authentic inquiry," but they DO NOT develop an analysis in detail(Chinn and Malhotra, 2001). Hence he tries to develop a framework that explains the nature of authentic scientific inquiry (Chinn and Malhotra, 2001)

National Science Education Standards

Simple Inquiry Tasks
According to Chinn, authentic scientific inquiry "refers to the research that scientists actually carry out." Since authentic scientific inquiry is too complicated to be implemented in classrooms, the goal of science instruction in shool is to develop relatively simple inquiry tasks which capture core component of scientific reasoning. However, Chinn argues that most simple inquiry tasks (i.e. textbooks, educational software and websites of science activities) available in educational settings are not authentic and they don't resemble authentic science.

Authentic scientific inquiry(ASI) v.s. Simple Inquiry Tasks (SIT)
Authentic scientific inquiry is different from simple inquiry task (which is prevelent in classroom science pedagogy) in at least two aspects: the cognitive processes and epistemology.

Difference in Cognitive Process: Six Fundamental Cognitive Scientific Processes (Authentic Reasoning)

  1. generating a research question ( In SIT, students are told what the RQ is)
  2. designing a study to address the research question (The difference can be found in (a) selecting variables, (b) planning prodedures, (c) controlling variables and in (d) planning measures. In SIT, for example, students are told the variables to investigate while in ASI, scientists select their own variables to study)
  3. making observations (guarding perceptual bias is seldom addressed in SIT while scientists employ specific method to avoid perceptual bias)
  4. explaining results (scientists usually need to (a) transform observations (i.e. raw data), (b) find flaws in design, experiment or in hypothesis, (c) reason indirectly, (d) generalize and (e) use borad reasoning strategies)
  5. developing theories (In ASI, scientists focus on developing theories while in SIT students usually focus on observation and experiment. Students usually get no experience in generating theoretical explanations on the basis of evidence. Also, scientists will synthesize results from multiple studies to generate their theories)
  6. studying others' research (A scientist's knowledge is grounded in the work of other scientists)

Chinn's definition of epistemology:
"Epistemology refers to people's basic beliefs about what knowledge is and when it should be changed." (Well, I think my definition will be sort of different than his)Difference in Epistemology:
Chinn proposes that "simple inquiry tasks (SIT) assume an epistemology that is opposed to the epistemology of authentic sicencce. As a result, students who learn about scientific reasoning through SIT may actually learn a nonscientific epistemology."

1. Purpose of Research:
Scientists: to develop and refine theoretical models in response to evidence.
Students: to uncover easily observable regularities or salient structure of objects--Baconian gathering of facts about the world.

2.View of Science
Scientists: complicated view of science, seeking global consistency of data and theories
Students: overly simple view of science, seeking local consistency

3. Method
Scientists: interdependence between theory and method
Students: no critical reflection on method

4. Response to Anomalous Data
Scientists: many different legitimate responses to anomalous data, including changing theory, discounting the data, reinterpreting the data, etc.
Students: very limited...usually will respond by changing hypothesis

5. Nature of Reasoning
Scientists: involve uncertain judgements and heuristics...use a wide range of fallible heuristics
Students: use simple and often algorithmic strategies of reasoning

6.Social Construction of Knowledge
Scientists: build on each other's work...acquire knowledge by studying other scientists' work
Students: Do they even study other students' work?"Simple inquiry tasks may not only fail to help students learn to reason scientifically; they may also foster a nonscientific epistemology (simple, certain, algorithmic and surface meaning about scientific reasoning)"

Part II Analytic Tools
Models-Of-Data theory: An analytic tool for evaluating scientific inquiry

" According to models-of-data theory, an experiment of other forms of research can be represented as a model that integrates theoretical explanations with the observations and with the details of the data gathering procedures.(p.191)"

An analytic tool
The models-of-data theory proposes that "experiments and other forms of research can be represented as cognitive models." Analyzing the models would afford the reseachers to know the differences of cognitive process involved in authentic scientific inquiry and simple inquiry task.

Authentic scientific inquiry v.s. simple inquiry task
1. complexity vs simplicity
2. multiple measures vs single measure
3. inductive and analogical references vs single causal link
4. rich, complex models of data vs simple models of data

Part III How to develop more authentic reasoning for schools

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Scaffolding + Scientific Reasoning in PDA/AR Games

After looking over Ming-Fong's list of observations related to the recent tests of Env Det and reflecting on our related discussion on Wednesday I think that it would be beneficial to start a reading category related to scaffolding (artifact, curricular, and human-based scaffolding) and another related to scientific reasoning. These topics may not take priority at the moment, but we have identified them through our discussions as critical components of the PDA/AR design.

Here are a few articles that can provide a starting point. Please post additional suggestions. The first two relate to scaffolding and the third one deals with developing and defending scientific arguments.

Puntambekar, S., & Hübscher, R. (2005). Tools for Scaffolding Students in a Complex Learning Environment: What Have We Gained and What Have We Missed? Educational Psychologist, 40(1), 1-12.
Presents a set of characteristics that define scaffolding and provides background on the use of tools to scaffold student learning. Could be used as a framework for exploring how PDA/AR games and associated curricula could better incorporate scaffolding.

Sherin, B., Reiser, B., & Edelson, D. (2004). Scaffolding analysis: Extending the scaffolding metaphor to learning artifacts. Journal of the Learning Sciences: 13(3), 387-421.
Provides a brief genealogy of scaffolding (pgs. 387-398) and presents a framework for analyzing artifact-based scaffolding (pgs. 398-421). Scan part one and skip part two if you have limited interest in this topic.

Kuhn, L & Reiser, B. (2004). Supporting Evidence-Based Scientific Explanation. Prepared for NARST 2004, Dallas, TX.
Provides a framework that can be used to teach students how to construct and defend scientific evidence. Offers a starting point for someone looking to address the the problem related to kids supporting “their arguments with imagination.”

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Pierre Levy

Was wondering if this book might be of interest or if anyone else might have some thoughts.



To your right, you'll notice that I added a link to the WebBoard login page.

Although it's a bit of an inconvenience, I'd propose that we use both. The WB, with its login requirements, is great for posting files, "private" papers, etc. but it's not accessible to others in the field who may be interested in what we're doing, won't show up in Google searches, etc. and I'd like to continue to engage in an "open" dialogue (or monologue) with the world -- in case there's anyone beyond us who cares.

For both systems, there's an option post via email, and to have postings emailed to you. So it's not terribly inconvenient to stay abreast of the postings on both without having to log in. And, since we've already invested a half semester on the blog, I'd sort of hate to abandon it now.

Cognition, Space, and Bears

I think I'm ready to move on beyond Cognition and Space after this...

Situated Action, Distributed Cognition, Activity Theory, and John go camping and meet a bear.

AT (subject) makes a plan (object) to go camping (activity). It gathers its camping gear, gets in the car (both mediating artifacts), and drives to the wilderness. When the bear shows up, AT makes a plan to plan to run. When the tree with the low branch appears on the path, AT plans to climb it.

DC gathers people and gear (artifacts) in order to be a camping system whose goal is to "go camping". There's a sleeping bag and pad and tent and camp stove and tarp and flashlight, bear spray, and a bunch of other artifacts designed for the goal of "camping". When the bear shows up, DC grabs the bear spray, and maybe a frying pan.

SA finds itself in a camping situation. That's okay -- SA is good at improvising. It'll use the sleeping bag and plastic wrap it found. When it finds itself being chased by a bear, it runs, sees a tree and climbs it.

John decides to go camping, he makes a plan like AT, gathers some stuff like DC, and given that he's a semi-forgetful sort, does without a few things, or improvises like SA. When the bear shows up, he panics for a moment but calms down and starts to plan out a better reaction. When the bear suddenly moves toward him, he forgets the plan and runs like hell. As he runs, he considers his options, and weighs them according to a number of factors including, but not limited to: logic and practicability, an assessment of his past performance and experience in similar situations, his state of panic, the affordances for flight or flight of the landscape that he's passing on his sprint, "things to do when meeting a bear" that he's read or heard of, rational and irrational fears fed by everything from Goldilocks to the bear expert that was mauled in Alaska not so long ago, the depletion of the endorphins and adrenaline, the shortening of the distance between the bear and him, and "Holy Wow! There's a tree I can climb!!" -- his plan is set.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Immersive Gaming and Embodiment

Just want to make a plug for this website (Avant Game). Although, I've only had time to run through the information, there seems to be a lot of information on immersive environment and embodiment.

Topics of interest -

how the players define boundaries in AR games between the real and the virtual.

The manifestos on game and performance might have some interesting thoughts.

Lastly, the effect that specific technologies have on the game player.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

DC & space -- More of John's Thoughts

The Emergence of Distributed Cognition: a conceptual framework [PDF] by Francis HEYLIGHEN, Margeret HEATH and Frank VAN OVERWALLE from Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium; {fheyligh, mheath, fjvoverw}
ABSTRACT: We propose a first step in the development of an integrated theory of the emergence of distributed cognition/extended mind. Distributed cognition is seen as the confluence of collective intelligence and “situatedness”, or the extension of cognitive processes into the physical environment. The framework is based on five fundamental assumptions:
  1. groups of agents self-organize to form a differentiated, coordinated system, adapted to its environment,
  2. the system co-opts external media for internal propagation of information,
  3. the resulting distributed cognitive system can be modelled as a learning, connectionist network,
  4. information in the network is transmitted selectively,
  5. novel knowledge emerges through non-linear, recurrent interactions. The implication for collective intentionality is that such a self-organizing agent collective can develop “mental content” that is not reducible to individual cognitions.
Reading through this, even in the abstract, my eye caught what I think may be a key piece in my quest to find out how DC deals with space and place. The piece is tacked on, almost as an afterthought, to the first assumption: "adapted to its environment."

DC picks up on cognition and learning after it's already been shaped by space, after the "adaptation" has already occurred. Perhaps it assumes that factors of space are already accounted for. They're not; the system continues to adapt to its environment. It slices, dices, and organizes its space through labeling (turning space to place). And from time to time individuals or groups within the system experience significant events in certain spaces, at which time (or afterwards when conveying to others) the places take on symbolic meaning, and that symbolic meaning starts being factored into the cognition system.

DC might be bent open to accompany what Simone Schweber (2005) calls "consequential places" but it doesn't seem to be able to address what she calls "symbolic places". For my research on location-based games, as they're located in culturally-meaningful places, it needs to.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

DC & space -- John's Thoughts

What is the role of space and place in distributed cognition (DC)? Here are my thoughts:

DC places a lot of emphasis on the role of artifacts as they mediate our behavior and contribute to our cognition. I think I could easily argue that one such tool that mediates our behavior, and lessens the mental energy we spend cognating (is that even a word?) is a road. We build a road to help us get from place A to place B, but the road also marks the way; it directs us; it channels us. The road is a man-made artifact.

I could make the argument then, that the trail and the pathway are also artifacts. They do the same as the road on a smaller scale. But what about a deer trail? Is it not an artifact because it was made by deer? Or does it become an artifact once it is "repurposed" for human use? I think it does, just as the "old oak tree on the hill" becomes an artifact when it is repurposed as a landmark. The space of the hill becomes a place "Old Oak Hill" when it is given the consequential meaning of guidance (Schweber 2005).

I would further argue that the importance of the place in DC is amplified when the meaning of the place is enriched. Turning right at Old Oak Hill to get to grandmother's house gives Old Oak Hill one level of meaning, but having direct (or indirect) experience there gives it symbolic meaning (Schweber 2005) which can play a much richer role in DC. For example: having your first kiss in a tree fort on Old Oak Hill, or being proposed to there, or getting married there, or being buried there, (or being lynched there) has a profound effect on the importance of the artifact in DC.

Rogers and Scaife on DC

There's a good (1997) article on Distributed Cognition by Yvonne Rogers and Mike Scaife that touches on some general assumptions. I've quoted liberally here because I think it's that good. (These two also have an article on Activity Theory (1997) that I think I should read, and one called "A conceptual framework for mixed reality environments: designing novel learning activities for young children" that sounds promising for our Augmented Reality work.
General properties of cognitive systems

A general assumption of the distributed cognition approach is that cognitive systems consisting of more than one individual have cognitive properties that differ from those individuals that participate in those systems.

Another property is that the knowledge possessed by members of the cognitive system is both highly variable and redundant. Individuals working together on a collaborative task are likely to possess different kinds of knowledge and so will engage in interactions that will allow them to pool the various resources to accomplish their tasks. In addition much knowledge is shared by the individuals, which enables them to adopt various communicative practices (e.g. not having to spell out every time they meet someone what they know about a practice, procedure or state of affairs).

Another important property is the distribution of access to information in the cognitive system. Sharing access and knowledge enables the coordination of expectations to emerge which in turn form the basis of coordinated action.
and summaries of a few of DC's classic articles
Case Studies

i) Hutchins (1995) Cognition in the Wild

An example provided by Hutchins (1995) of a distributed cognition analysis of a cognitive system is the navigation of a ship. Here, his focus is on the cultural-cognitive processes that take place when steering a ship into harbour. At a micro-level of analysis, Hutchins describes the detailed coordination of representational states across media that take place for the relatively simple, but critical coordinating activity of plotting a fix. This involves several members of the navigation team taking and plotting bearings of the ship as it comes into the harbour at regular intervals of every 3 minutes or so. It is a highly routinized activity, requiring the complex coordination of people and artefacts - all of which is crucial for ensuring the ship is on course. At a macro level of analysis, Hutchins also describes how these coordinated activities of plotting a fix provide a structured experience for the team members enabling more generally, individual learning of procedures and the cultural practices of the navy. As noted by Hutchins (1995, p374):

"...since most learning in this setting happens in the doing, the changes to internal media that permit them to be coordinated with external media happen in the same processes that bring the media into coordination with one another. The changes to the quartermasters’ skills and the knowledge produced by this process are the mental residua of the process".

Hutchins goes into great detail analysing how the various representational state are propagated across media for this collective navigation activity and in so doing show how ‘the properties of this computational system are as much determined by the nature of the representational media and the pattern of interconnection among representations as they are by the cognitive properties of the individual actors". (Hutchins, 1992, p.2).

This distinction is critical for the distributed cognition approach, emphasising again the importance of focusing on the distribution of cognition through analysing the interactions between the different ‘components’ (i.e. the changes in representational state) of the system over time and place.

2) Hutchins and Klausen (1995) study of cognition in the cockpit

The study analyses the interactions of internal and external representational structure and the distribution of cognitive activity among members of a cockpit flight crew. The analysis shows a pattern of cooperation and coordination of actions among the crew which is viewed at one level as a structure for propagating and processing information and at another level a system of activity in which shared cognition emerges.

3) Rogers (1992, 1993) study of engineering practice

Rogers carried out a study of how networking technology has changed the working practices of an engineering company. Through doing a Distributed Cognition analysis she was able to reveal various breakdowns that occurred in the work activities and the mechanisms by which the group had adapted their working practice to overcome them.

4) Halverson’s (1995) study of Air Traffic Control

Halverson carried out a study of how air traffic controllers interact with a radar system when controlling air traffic. From her observations and analysis she was able to make recommendations of what was important to retain of the existing design with a view towards developing future automated decision-making tools for the controllers.
and a bit on Methodology that suggests what sorts of studies can use DC

The distributed cognition approach uses a number of methods: from detailed analysis of video and audio recordings of real life events, to neural network simulations and laboratory experiments. The type of methodology adopted depends on the unit of analysis that is being adopted and the level at which the cognitive system is being explained.

For cognitive systems that are being described at the ‘work setting’ level it is imperative to carry out extensive field work and become familiar with the work practice. This entails observing the work, making copious field notes, recording events and then transcribing and encoding these. An important part of this kind of ethnographic analysis is re-representing the raw data collected at different levels of abstraction and detail, focusing on the changes in representational state in the cognitive system. Theoretical analyses are also carried out in relation to the assumed properties of distributed cognitive systems.
and some discussion that makes me question (again) whether it's the right framework to look at the role of space in learning. If "place" can be considered an artifact, then I think DC can work. If it can't, I may need to find somehting else.

One of the key questions often asked about the distributed cognition approach is how does it differ from a traditional cognitive science explanation of human activity. Furthermore, what leverage is gained from giving an account of collaborative activities in terms of ‘propagation of representational state across media’? In support of the distributed cognition approach it can be said that it provides a framework and analytic methodology for examining the interactions between people and artefacts which is not possible with traditional approaches to cognitive task analyses. In doing so, it can highlight the complex interdependencies between people and between people and artefacts in their collaborative activities, which in turn, can lead to a better understanding of why, for example, seemingly trivial breakdowns in the communications and interactions between them can have significant and sometimes drastic consequences.

A challenge for the distributed cognition approach is how to integrate concepts from the social and organisational sciences with the cognitive analysis of ‘representational states’. In particular, it is difficult to combine macro-level theories, such as organisational learning, with micro-level detailed descriptions of the intersubjectivity that goes on between two people during a two second encounter. The goal is to find the appropriate level of analysis and explanatory description for the problem that is being addressed.

Nardi (1995) thoughts and summary

A Review of Bonnie A. Nardi's (1995)"Studying Context: A Comparison of Activity Theory, Situated Action Models, and Distributed Cognition" [PDF] (Besides being available as a PDF, it's a chapter in Nardi's (1996) Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-Computer Interaction).

This article plugs Activity Theory (AT) and to a lesser extent Distributed Cognition (DC), while throwing a few bones of appreciation to Situated Action (SA) as a small thanks for reminding everyone that things change in the heat of the moment. It's all well-and-well to remember this, says Nardi, but one can hardly build a useful all-encompassing theory based on it. Instead, Nardi backs AT for now, speculating that the three may someday merge into a powerhouse theory.

To sum up the differences:

SA focuses on the "situation" -- what's occurring that spurs on goals and activity. SA says that we're thrown into a situation (defined by the researcher) and goals and activity arise simultaneously, through improvisation, in the immediacy of the situation. Goals are not a condition for action. Suchman, Lave, and Triggs are SA scholars. The unit of analysis in SA is typically very short. 1-1/2 hours at most.

AT focuses on "activity" -- the subject (person), object (objective), (goal-directed) actions, and operations (routinized actions). AT allows for transformation of its objects over time, but not on a moment-by-moment basis. Actions, like driving a car, can become operations as less mental energy is devoted to them, but operations can also return to actions, for example, immediately following an accident or close call one tends to drive more consciously. AT says that the Activity is the context, and it is created by the person, based on his/her historical and developmental changes. AT also allows for Artifacts, created by people to mediate activity (control their own behavior). Artifacts include: instruments, signs, language, and machines. I would suggest that space and place could also be considered artifacts, if they are used consequentially (Schweber 2005, vs. symbolically) as landmarks, shelter, paths, etc. Because AT is predicated on the conscious goal-based action of the subject, it can be analyzed in longer sections. Vygotsky, Leont'ev, Bodker, Kuuti, Wertsch, Davydov, Zinchenko, Talyzina, Christiansen, Engestrom, Escalante, Kozulin, and Norman are cited here.

DC focuses on the "system" -- cooperating individuals and the artifacts they use to complete the cognitive system's (or "functional system's" goals). Flor and Hutchin's 1994 study of shipboard navigation system is the classic article. Others include Miller, Nardi, and Zhang. DC analyses tend to be finely detailed examinations of artifacts, focusing on finding stable design principles.

When Nardi mentions "persistent structures" that extend beyond the duration of the activity, it's interesting that she mentions artifacts, institutions, and cultural values, but doesn't mention spaces which play a huge role in structuring not only activity, but other persistent structures -- artifacts, institutions and cultural values are all deeply influenced by the environment in which they are created, or of which they were created to mediate. To illustrate, consider how the culture of hunting societies or agricultural societies developed, and how they'd develop differently different geographical spaces. "Of the three frameworks, distributed cognition has taken most seriously the study of persistent structures, especially artifacts" (p.42). People and artifacts as "agents" in a system, but Nardi notes that the problem with this is that artifacts can't know anything, they can only be mediums of knowledge (p.43).

What this all means to me is that none of the three really handle space and place well, but DC at least has some room in its structure to deal with it. I'd like to pry that structure open further. If we break "spaces" in three, I could see what Simone Schweber (2005) calls "consequential space" (landmarks, paths, etc. that we've imbued with meaning that directs us) defined as an "artifact". And, I could see what Schweber (2005) calls "symbolic space" (Simone said I could cite her on this ;-)

My concern now turns to how DC will work with my research -- am I really interested in cognition? Or is my concern more about the role of space (consequential and symbolic) in the design and structure of learning environments? And if the latter, am I wasting time looking at DC, or is there an element of it that I can use?