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The Move is On! From the Passive Multimedia Learner to the Engaged Co-creator

By Margarida Romero, Therese Laferriere, Thomas Michael Power / March 2016

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Despite the promise of great things, the actual integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) in education has led to dashed hopes and myth-making with regard to their potential for improving learner motivation and achievement [1, 2]. The integration of ICT in education has also led to a polarization among educators, creating "techno-enthusiasts" who boldly support the integration of educational technologies by default [3], and "technophobes" who oppose their integration on a variety of grounds, be they pedagogical, technological or resource-based [4]. Such a polarization usually stems from an overly techno-centric vision [5] that expects technology will automatically produce pedagogical benefits without taking into consideration all of the components in a given learning situation [6, 7] or learning activity [8]. Learning is a situated learning process, which requires that learners contextualize the pedagogical usages of ICTs within specific learning situations and activities [9, 10]. In other words, any thorough analysis of the pedagogical usages of ICTs should consider the various components inherent in a learning situation, the multiple factors at play, and the different levels involved—i.e. the individuals involved (the learner, the teacher), forms of interaction (learner-learner, learner-teacher, group-teacher), and the social aspects of learning (the proximal or larger learning community). In the next section, we will critique the techno-centric approach to ICT in education and then we will introduce the Passive-Participatory model (P-PM) and its user engagement levels.

Using ICT to Foster Learning

Learning does not occur in a vacuum. We cannot expect digital technologies (laptops, interactive whiteboards, tablets, etc.) to improve learning regardless of the learning situation and the context in which they are used, no more than we could expect earlier analog tools (chalk, pencils, …) to improve it, in and by themselves. A learning situation includes 1. the learning activity and its specific tasks; 2. the educational resources used during the learning activity; 3. the actors engaged in the learning activity (learners, teachers, experts); 4. the time-on-task activity including the different periods of the learning activity; and, in case of integration of ICT, 5. the (diversity of) ICT integrated in (different tasks within) the learning situation [7]. In other words, technology is only one of several components in a given learning situation; thus, a pedagogical use of ICT must be analyzed in relationship to the other four components (activity, resources, actors, and length of activity). Therefore, the integration of ICT considered here as part of a complex learning situation includes the above-mentioned seven components. Furthermore, it is our understanding that one cannot evaluate the impact of ICT in education using quantitative factors in isolation, such as the ratio between the number of learners and the number of computers (child/computer ratio) or even the time spent on the computer (computer time). Linking quantitative technological factors in isolation and the learning outcomes has resulted in inconsistent results over the years [11, 12]. Such inconsistencies are, inter alia, due to a lack of consideration of all components of the learning situation. So, while many impact studies tend to emphasize a positive relationship between the number of computers and learning, the latest OECD study, "Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection," highlights a negative effect on learning outcomes directly related to the quantity of hardware used in the classroom [13]. This study is based on data dealing with the number of computers in a classroom [11], as well as time spent on a computer by a student [14], which neither take into account the types of uses enhanced by technology (passive or interactive consumer usages, individual or collective creative usages) and other components of the learning situation. The OECD study notes the number of computers in the classroom is negatively linked to mathematics achievement in some countries, such as Spain. However, this study does not control for the type of educational uses of ICT but simply considers quantitative factors.

Indeed, in some schools, students are faced with long periods of interactive, consumer computer use such as interactive mathematical exercises. However, other institutions are moving toward the use of dynamic geometry environments, such as GeoGebra, thereby going far beyond multiple-choice testing to engage learners in the dynamic construction of geometric figures. Such activities could help teachers not only better assess current learning achievement levels, but also develop new learning representations in geometry. Such types of ICT use, which involve choosing the software and applications based on the teacher's educational intentions in a given learning situation, is more significant than the number of computers in a classroom or time using a computer. So it is not so much the amount of time spent on using a computer, or even the novelty of using one, or even the type of technologies implemented that is significant but rather, it is the types of educational uses to which ICTs are applied that hold the potential to foster learning. We aim to highlight the importance of the different types of educational uses of ICT according to the learners' engagement by proposing a five-level hierarchy in the P-PM.

The Passive-Participatory Model

In Figure 1, five levels of educational ICT usage are identified, which are on a continuum from simple to complex, and reflect the degree of engagement a learner can experience as a socio-cognitive process:

  1. passive, consumer ICT usage;
  2. interactive consumer ICT usage;
  3. individual content creation usage;
  4. collaborative content co-creation; and
  5. participatory knowledge co-creation usage oriented toward problem understanding within learning communities.

Figure 1. Learners' engagement according to levels of ICT usage (Passive-Participatory model)
[click to enlarge]

The first level of our model is similar to the "passive" level of Chi and Wylie's ICAP framework [15]. The biggest difference between our model and the ICAP is the consideration of interactivity. While "interactive mode of engagement" is the highest level of cognitive engagement within ICAP, our model considers "participatory knowledge co-creation" as the highest level and situates "interactive ICT usage" in the second-lowest level of learner engagement. Participatory knowledge co-creation engages the participants not only in an interactive and socio-constructive situation, but also engages learners in the identification, understanding, and problem-solving processes of a problematic situation within their learning or neighborhood community, linking the team-based co-creation process with a participatory process wherein a team of learners engages in their learning community in order to improve a real-world problem or valuing community initiatives [16, 17].

The first two levels of educational ICT usage could simply be considered as ICT multimedia consumerism. Learners simply use what is made available to them, i.e. a limited choice of apps provided by instructional designers. Hence, a learner interacts with a technology-based learning environment as prescribed by a predefined set of options that lead to basic, and usually predictable, interactions as governed by a "programmed instruction" approach hailing back to Pressey's teaching machine [18, 19]. Interactive tutorials and manuals, exercisers, and online mini-games are all part of the panoply of behaviorist-style multimedia artifacts leading to interactive consumerism.

The third level of ICT pedagogical usage aims to engage the learner in the creative production of texts, photos, or videos related to a given learning situation or moment. Whereas the fourth and fifth levels of ICT educational usage engage learners in a co-creation process; creating content involves a knowledge construction process [20, 21]. In the case of co-creation, it is a collective process. According to Nizet and Laferrière, it is part sharing "experiences and knowledge and part negotiating their relevance within the group over the issue that learners are discussing or the problem they seek to understand and solve. This process can lead participants to produce new content based on explanations provided or exposure to peer knowledge designs" [22]. Such original productions then become digital media artifacts, such as textual (e.g. when posted to a wiki), audiovisual (e.g. interactive video), multimedia (e.g. digital storytelling), or a programmed artifact (e.g. Scratch visual programming).

While fourth-level ICT pedagogical usage engages a team of learners in the co-creation of texts, photos, video, multimedia, or programming content, it is not necessarily related to current individual learning or community learning problems. However, the fifth level goes a step further and engages learners in the identification, understanding, and problem-solving processes of a problematic situation within their learning or neighborhood community. This level links the team-based co-creation process with a participatory process wherein a team of learners engages in their learning community in order to improve a real-world problem or valuing community initiatives. For example, in a study on how to increase community elders' social participation, children interacted with elders in co-creating interactive narratives of value to the neighborhood historical association and shared with the whole community [23]. This fifth level also aims at engaging the enlarged community beyond the classroom walls (parents, grandparents, professionals, …) in a participatory co-creation process of of knowledge-oriented problem-solving. In this fifth level, the co-creation participatory process is oriented toward the community as well as real-life problems and needs (e.g. helping a grandparent to digitally preserve a memory). At this last level, learners are engaged, for instance, with other actors in their learning or neighborhood community (school, parish, borough, etc.) in a process oriented to improving a challenging issue in a given community [23]. The participatory and community-oriented (or based) knowledge co-creation values local community initiatives, promotes diversity, and regenerates intergenerational and intercultural links that are often missed in our current societies [24].

The table below shows the five levels in the educational usages of ICTs according to learners' engagement and some examples.

Table 1. ICT usages, descriptions, and examples
[click to enlarge]

Engaging in creative and co-creative usages of ICTs do not necessarily require a high-level technological investment. Many creative and co-creative projects could be developed using open software or even free technologies (e.g. Google tools, Scratch, etc.) and could be run on a variety of (old) devices. Some (co)creation projects could require combining different types of educational technologies and repurposing non-educational technologies (e.g., using project management software for a collaborative classroom activity). The teacher can decide on the technology while engaging learners and other community stakeholders (other teachers, parents, administrators, etc.) in the decision-making process in order to take into account their specific needs or recommendations.


The techno-centric approaches based on assumptions of ICT value added integration in education carry not only a certain level of educational risk, but also bear a financial one. Political decision-making leads to huge investments in certain types of technologies (interactive whiteboards or tablets) for all schools. Technological innovation, be it passive or interactive multimedia consumerism, can be motivating during an initial phase; however, such motivation linked simply to technological novelty tends to quickly disappear. For example, the use of passive or interactive consumer applications on tablets can lead learners to consider their mobile device as a toy ('edutainment'), as in the case of videos and games. But when engagement in written creation activities are needed, laptops are preferred [25]. So, even if technological use related to passive or interactive consumerism could have an initial, external motivating effect on learners, their educational value added is very limited. In this short article, we have drawn attention to the importance of selecting educational uses of ICT, which can develop knowledge (co)creation processes through the usage of ICTs both as cognitive [26] and metacognitive tools [27]. In a global context of budget cuts, it is even more important to ensure the right choices are being made in educational uses of ICT, in order to insure public investments in technology do indeed enhance learning beyond the passive and interactive consumer levels and effectively contribute to the latter three levels of pedagogical use of ICT: content creation, content co-creation, and participatory co-creation of knowledge-oriented understanding and problem-solving. These levels engage learners in a process of individual and collaborative creation that respond to social expectations highlighted by the OECD, among others, in a search for new 21st century pedagogies that are conducive to lifelong learning.


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About the Authors

Margarida Romero is an assistant professor of educational technology at L'Université Laval. (Canada). She holds a European Ph.D. in educational psychology from UMR-CNRS France and Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain (Extraordinary Ph.D. Award in Psychology, 2010). Her research is oriented toward the inclusive, humanistic ,and creative uses of technologies for the development of the so-called 21st century skills across the lifespan: cooperation and communication, problem solving, creativity and computational thinking. Her research interests focus on educational technologies in lifelong learning, including educational, organizational and informal learning contexts, with a special focus on game based learning and serious games. Her research projects aims to empower age, gender and cultural diversity in the workplace and educational centers through the creative use of technology. Her research on educational technologies and organizational learning has been awarded by the Special Award ICVL 2012 and the Barry Armandi Award of the Academy of Management in 2013.

Thérèse Laferrière is a full professor of pedagogy at L'Université Laval. She is conducting a number of design research projects, including ones related to the Networked Remote School initiative, network-enabled communities of practice, and knowledge building communities. She is the lead researcher of a large network on school attendance and academic achievement named "PERISCOPE," and funded by the Quebec main research funding agency (FRQ_SC). She was the leader of the research theme "Educating the Educators" within the TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE Canada). Her research activities focus on networked learning environments and especially teacher-student(s) interactions and peer interactions as electronically linked classrooms become reality in elementary and secondary schools as well as in faculties of education and post-secondary education in general. She is an associate researcher at the Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology (IKIT) at the University of Toronto, and an associate researcher with the Centre Francophone D'informatisation des Organisations (CEFRIO), a knowledge transfer organization dedicated to the use of digital tools in organizations. She is currently the director of CRIRES, a multiuniversity research center on successful schooling.

Michael Power is a full professor of education and technology at the Faculty of Education, Laval University, in Quebec City, Canada. He is an international expert in online learning with IFADEM and a reviewer for numerous scientific journals, most recently being appointed a member of the Editorial Board of a Springer journal, the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education. His research program deals with Blended Online Learning Design (BOLD), the role of instructional designers in dual-mode universities and interactive technology-enhanced learning environments. He is the author of A Designer's Log published by Athabasca University Press and co-editor (with Dr. Peg Ertmer) and author of a special 2015 issue of the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology entitled "Online Learning from the Instructional Designer's Perspective: Canadian and European French-language Case Studies" (Vol. 41, No. 4).

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