reading responses & reviews, thoughts on ed tech

What are “mindtools”?

The following is my response to reading Jonassen, Carr, & Hsin-Ping’s 1998 article “Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking.

From reading this article, I believe I will better evaluate the effectiveness of the technology that I incorporate in the classroom. The authors’ identification that technology “should be used as knowledge construction tools that students learn with, not from” and their distinction that “technologies should not support learning by attempting to instruct the learners” clarify the attributes that make technology most effective in an educational setting. The name “mindtools” is a clever way of identifying that software applications in education should be tools students use with their own knowledge and understanding in order to scaffold and build more knowledge for themselves: tools used with the mind to construct knowledge.

Although the authors outline a comprehensive list of mindtools, a key concept is the versatility and usability of these “mindtools” for students and educators. For example, as an English teacher I have used semantic networking for literary analysis while the example English teacher in the text used a systems modeling tool for literary analysis of Lord of the Flies. The authors’ section on hypermedia describes the benefit to students when they “create their own hypermedia knowledge bases that reflect their own understanding of ideas.” As the authors explain, “designing multimedia presentations is a complex process that engages many skills in learners, and it can be applied to virtually any content domain.”

The authors’ take on conversation tools is noteworthy, especially in light of the rise of social media since the article’s publication. I agree that often students “have been too busy memorizing what the teachers tell them,” and, therefore, we need to “support students’ attempts to converse” in a “cogent and coherent” manner. Although many of the methods for encouraging students to participate in meaningful conversations do not require technology (i.e. Socratic seminars, literature circles, debates, etc.), the pervasiveness of these conversation tools throughout our daily lives creates numerous opportunities for teachers to incorporate these mindtools into classroom instruction. The methods for incorporating social media in education remain more problematic, however, and continue to be something with which I struggle.

The authors’ outline of the “rationales for using technology as mindtools” is important to take-away; the sections on knowledge construction and distributing cognitive processing were especially interesting to me. The constructivist approach to learning dovetails directly into the authors’ own definition of mindtools: specifically, the distinction that the constructivist approach strives for learners to “construct their own knowledge, rather than having the teacher interpret the world and insure that students understand the world as they [the teachers] have told them.” Isn’t that ultimately what we want from students: to give them the tools to think for themselves?

Regarding “distributing cognitive processing,” the idea that we, as educators, should “allocate to the learners the cognitive responsibility for the processing they do best while requiring the technology to do the processing that it does best” resonated with me. During training for AP Calculus teachers this summer, I encountered a mindtool,, that allows users to manipulate variables within equations to see their relationships. The software takes on the cognitive process for which it is best suited, computations, while the student manipulates the variables in order to draw conclusions about the relationships among those variables and the equation. What I take-away from this is that many educators may have scoffed at allowing the computer to do the calculations and might have missed the opportunity for their students to get a better sense of the interconnectedness of the variables in these complex equations (I had my own “ah-ha” moments using this program!).


Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C. & Hsin-Ping, Y. (1998). Computers as mindtools for engaging learners in critical thinking. Tech Trends, 43(2), pp. 24-32. Retrieved from


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