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In everyday life, we interact with cognitive artifacts to receive and/or manipulate information so as to alter our thinking processes. CHEM/TEAC 869Q is a distance course that includes extensive explicit instruction in the use of a cognitive artifact. This study investigates issues related to the design of that online artifact. In order to understand design implications and how cognitive artifacts contribute to students’ thinking and learning, a qualitative research methodology was engaged that utilized think aloud sessions. Participants’ described constrained and structured cognitive models while using the artifact. The study also was informed by interviews and researcher's field notes. A purposeful sampling method led to the selection of participants, four males and two females, who had no prior history of using a course from the 869 series but who had experienced the scientific content covered by the CHEM869Q course. Analysis of the results showed both that a cognitive artifact may lead users’ minds in decision making, and that problem solving processes were affected by cognitive artifact's design. When there is no design flaw, users generally thought that the cognitive artifact was helpful by simplifying steps, overcoming other limitations, and reducing errors in a reliable, effective, and easy to use way. Moreover, results showed that successful implementation of cognitive artifacts into teaching –learning practices depended on user willingness to transfer a task to the artifact. While users may like the idea of benefiting from a cognitive artifact, nevertheless, they may tend to limit their usage. They sometimes think that delegating a task to a cognitive artifact makes them dependent, and that they may not learn how to perform the tasks by themselves. They appear more willing to use a cognitive artifact after they have done the task by themselves.
Advisor: David W. Brooks