The emerging contribution of
online resources and tools to classroom learning and teaching 



A Report submitted to SchoolNet / Rescol

by TeleLearning Network Inc.



Documentary Review (Full text)


December '98



The present document is an overview of a Documentary Review on the effective uses of online electronic resources and tools in the classroom. The mandate of the Review Team was to gather the pertinent information (written or otherwise) which has blossomed on networked learning (Internet and intranet) during the 1996-1998 period, thus updating the 1996 study, The Contribution of New Technologies to Learning and Teaching in Elementary and Secondary Schools. This review identifies models of use, trends, and research gaps on the contribution of effective uses of online resources and tools in the classroom of the elementary and secondary schools and post secondary institutions.

This review comes at a particularly convenient time since the United States (which constitutes a formidable professional and technical source of online information) has just placed " education " at the top of their investment agenda, a decision clearly supported, in a historical move, by the two principal political parties. Moreover, OECD just released a report on The Global Research Village.

For the purpose of this review, online resources and tools were defined as the information technology applied to teaching and learning for l) the delivery of educational material, 2) the guidance and facilitation of the learning experience of the student, and 3) the support of collaborative learning and communities of learners.

An extensive bibliographic search was conducted for articles, reports, papers, and books which had to meet rigorous selection criteria as a scholarly publication or as a controlled study. Furthermore, not only were we looking for a diversity of results pertaining to the use of online resources and tools in the classroom, but we paid a great amount of attention to the conditions or circumstances surrounding their effective use in order to bring useful information to teachers, educational administrators, and policy makers.

Our overall analysis is based on what are considered the four key elements that constitute the teaching/learning exercise: the teacher, the content, the learner(s), and the context. Each of these elements can be seen as a continuum having the characteristics illustrated in the following figure:





The endpoints of each continuum define two contrasting models of technology use. For example, most current classrooms would lie toward the left ends of each continuum ( TCLC - ): 1) the teacher is a transmitter of knowledge rather than a facilitator of learning, 2) the content is pre-organized by the teacher or 'canned' on a CD-ROM rather than constructed by the learner; 3) the learners have low rather than high access to online resources and tools; and 4) the context offers the teacher and his or her classroom a limited rather than a high level of support for new initiatives and resources.

In contrast, the overwhelming thrust of research initiatives that examine the effects of online technologies are directed towards the opposite ends of each continuum: teacher/facilitator, content/constructed, learners/high access, context/extensive support ( TCLC+ ). Again, the teacher primarily facilitates student learning, the curriculum content is constructed by the learners, the learners have free access to online resources, and the context supports the use and expansion of the resources.

There is evidence that the teacher plays a crucial role in the quality of the technology impact on the learning process, and there is also evidence that materials on the web (or on a CD-ROM) that offer stimulating and well-adapted content are a rare commodity.

Performance that leads to the most promising outcomes in teaching and learning is obtained by teachers whose pedagogies are more advanced and already oriented to search and make effective use of online resources and tools. Those teachers can also count on a champion in the school context which mobilizes resources, thus providing enough external support.

Effective uses of online resources and tools are now part of the renewal process of classroom teaching and learning. The following emerging trends capture the evidence that was gathered with respect to the effective uses of online resources and tools in the elementary and secondary classrooms on the one hand, and in the post-secondary classroom on the other hand.



The use of technology in the classroom has already been demonstrated to have a significant impact on teaching and learning. How the new technology is adopted is related to l) the users' interest in doing what they do well and in a better way, and 2) the users' interest in doing things of a different nature than the ones they are used to do. It is important to emphasize that both uses of technology are relevant to classroom learning.

For instance, in the first case, educators use technology to make their current teaching or classroom management easier, quicker, and more efficient. A significant characteristic of this use is the integration of technology into the curriculum. An example is the mathematics courseware called The Learning Equation Mathematics, the use of which led to superior performance by grade 9 students in mathematical knowledge, skills, number, pattern and shape compared to that of students using traditional textbooks and classroom techniques (Psychometrics Canada Ltd., 1998). Another example can be found in Wenglinsky (1998), whose analysis of a national database of student test scores, classroom computer use, and other information showed that grade 8 students whose teachers used computers mostly for "simulations and applications" - generally associated with higher-order thinking - performed better on National Assessment of Educational Progress evaluations than students whose teachers did not. The findings of both of these examples are significant because they come from large-scale assessment of outcomes and practices involving information technologies that are taking place in regular classrooms. In the second case, educators look at the new technological tools as an opportunity for the renewal of their practice, and to engage in a variety of activities (for instance, guided discovery and collaborative knowledge-building) for a broader vision of education that includes changes in learning needs and opportunities (McGilly, 1994; ASCD, 1998). With respect to the elements of the teaching/learning exercise (see Figure), in both cases, a transfer of responsibility occurs: in the first case, on the content element, and in the second case, on the learner.

The thrust of research on the use of online technologies is to support the development of teaching practices and curricula which give numerous opportunities to the learners to use the resources and tools in autonomous, creative, and collaborative ways. This work is more recent, thus at an earlier stage of development. Initiatives include the work of Bereiter and Scardamalia (1993) and Harasim, Hiltz, Teles, and Turoff (1995). The trends emerging from this work with respect to the K/12-13 sector and relevant other materials are the following:

With respect to the post-secondary classroom, the scholarly works and other relevant materials that were surveyed, made it possible to identify the following trends:


The findings of this review also reveal gaps in our knowledge at both the K/12-13 and the post secondary levels. These gaps are the following:

l. Connectivity and access

2. Professional development interface with online resources and tools

3. Better balance between stable and dynamic content

4. Performance indicators for evaluating the use and impact of online technologies


In view of the above findings, we recommend that policy and research initiatives should be guided by the following approaches:

Specific studies would also be instrumental to reduce research gaps, and enhance educational research in Canada. Here are a few examples of such research topics:


The classroom is a place where order prevails. The infusion of information and communication technologies (ICTs) creates a zone of uncertainty for both teachers and learners, engaging them in a process of risk and exploration for some time to come. Research on one or the other of the four basic elements of each 'extreme' model of use ( TCLC - : teacher/transmitter, content/pre-organized, learners/low access, context/limited support; TCLC + : teacher/facilitator, content/constructed, learners/high access, context/ extensive support) while neglecting the others, is bound to lead to partial and confusing results. The Review Team emphasizes that a focus on one element at the expense of the others tends to raise superficial questions and unproductive debates. The interdependence of the four fundamental elements that this review takes into account (and highly recommends for consideration in all further inquiry) should be progressively documented with respect to the impact of online technologies on teaching and learning in the classroom. More recent conceptual developments occurring in other fields such as the learning organization framework, and the new domain of knowledge management, seem to point in the same direction.

In conclusion, the Review Team expects that those countries that will develop rich conceptions of teaching, learning, content, and context as they provide knowledge building opportunities and shared social experiences to learners in the elementary, secondary, or post-secondary classroom will simultaneously enhance their research capacity. The significance of such a choice may be felt as one's reads the quite evocative recent OECD Report, entitled: The Global Research Village: How Information and Communication Technologies Affect the Science System.




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