Memory devices

Although not a design concern of paramount importance, a practical application of the knowledge of memory and cognition as outlined in Chapter 2 can be found in the Xerox machine that our organization uses with alarming regularity. All functions are located within an entry pad, complete with a number keypad and color coded function buttons that have a singular purpose as defined by their color and symbol. Some functions are used with more regularity than others and are therefore more difficult to recall in the form of a simulation. There are very few buttons required to initiate any particular function, which alleviates any concerns over the perpetual memory trace fading and the Working Memory reaching capacity. Therefore, process of initiating a function is established as a cognitive process.

The most vivid illustration is the big green button which initiates the print function. Since it is the raison d’etre of the copier, the button is green and considerably larger than the other buttons due to the frequency of its use. Its color and size also makes it easier for it to be encoded as a cognitive process. Furthermore, once the green button is pressed, an audible sound is emitted, which signals that the process was completed satisfactorily by the user. If that isn’t enough, the light from the copier itself as it scrolls across the glass is also green, matching the color of the green print button, further establishing a connection between the physical and the logical and serving to imprint the process deeper in the perpetual memory. The matching of the green stimuli helps memory to make the transition from working memory to long term memory.

At least for the purposes of our organization, the most difficult process is the entering of the personal identification code of the user, which we use to track the amount of copies made per person. This identification number is a sequence of 9 numbers. The fact that it is nine numbers implies that mistakes will be made as one attempts to move this bit of information from working memory to long term memory. However, we have found that chunking the information, as mentioned in chapter 2, leads to greater retention. Therefore, the following sequence:


can be redistributed as:

426 347 235

When we give new teachers this information, we write it down in three separate groups as illustrated above. It seems, and chapter 2 seems to indicated, that this facilitates retention of the information more so than offering one linear sequence of numbers. The same logic seems to apply to social security numbers. The quicker one moves this information to long term memory, the less likely they are to feel the practical effects of working memory decay. Listing the information in chunks also helps recall the information from long term memory. For example, the number as listed:

426 347 235

Experiences the situation where the first two numbers total the third, as is the case with 4+2=6. So, if the teacher cannot remember 426, then perhaps they can remember just the 6 and work backwards. By creating sequences in this way, the chunks of numbers are linked with other memory devices offering alternative methods of recall.
A further example can be found when the copier misfeeds or jams. The process by which we clear out the various nooks and crannies can be associated with the level of profanities cast at the machine. We are creating our own associations by which to recall the correct procedural information from long term memory to avoid it decaying in working memory.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.