The emerging contribution of

online resources and tools to K-12 classroom learning and teaching:

An update

Final Report

submitted to

SchoolNet / Rescol

by TeleLearning Network Inc.

A not-for-profit organization

Thérèse Laferrière, Université Laval

Robert Bracewell, McGill University

Alain Breuleux, McGill University

June 21th, 2001

TeleLearning Network Inc.

Contact person: Joanne Curry


Executive Summary


Version française (revue documentaire complète)


Table of Contents


Chapter 1.The organizing framework

1.1 Three underlying perspectives: incremental change, transformative
change, and distributed change

1.2 The main constituents of the organizing framework

Chapter 2.The K-12 networked classroom

2.1 The learner


2.2 The content

2.3 The teacher

2.4 The context


Chapter 3. Shortcomings and research gaps

3.1 Practice shortcomings

3.1.1 The pressure for evidence on a large scale

3.2 Gaps in current knowledge about online use of technology in the K-12


Chapter 4. Synthesis and recommendations

4.1  Synthesis

4.2  Recommendations



Appendix A: Definition of terms

Appendix B: Methodological notes



The goal of this documentary review is twofold: 1) to provide an update [1] of significant research results, and 2) to identify the research gaps on the impact and effective uses of online tools and resources in the K-12 classroom. The present update, covering the 1998-2000 period, aims at informing educational leaders, including teachers working inside their own classrooms, on the effective uses of online technology. Whereas the 1996 document dealt with the contribution of computer technology to learning and teaching as a whole, the 1998 paper focused on the uses of information and communication technologies (ICTs). The locus of use is the classroom, that is, the place where teachers and students meet face to face on a regular basis. However, relevant studies, if any, on virtual schools will be included. 

As its title suggests, this review emphasizes the network capacity of classrooms and schools, and not only the simple fact that resources and tools are online. A comprehensive framework emphasizing extreme circumstances of use is brought forward, followed by propositions that organize results found in scholarly works and other highly relevant studies, pointing to emerging observations in the process.

This update of research results on the use of online resources and tools in the classroom is meant to inform future research orientations. Special attention is given to Canadian research. Policy makers, practitioners, and researchers must acquaint themselves with the multi-faceted opportunities, challenges, and constraints of online resources and tools. The development of the capacity to make use of ICTs in the schools constitutes the rationale behind training learners. They will then be in a position to take advantage of ICTs at the school or university level, and to have access to the wider field of knowledge reached through the new technological means. As pointed by Unesco in its report on World Education (1998),

In the education systems of the advanced industrial countries, computers are currently utilized mainly in three roles: first, the traditional one as a means of ensuring that students acquire a minimum level of computer literacy; second, as a means of supporting and enriching the curriculum; and third, as a medium for interaction between teachers and learners, between learners and between teachers. (p. 84)

The Unesco Report goes on to stress that it is with respect to the third of the three roles, "that the computer and associated communication technology could potentially have the most significant implications for conventional education" (p. 87).  As teachers and learners have an increasing capacity to interact online in asynchronous and synchronous modes, leading-edge research points to the necessity for teachers to master more advanced pedagogies when meeting face-to-face with learners.

The authors suggest that the introduction of computers linked to other computers into schools and classrooms is an event of major importance for the schools throughout Canada.  Referring to John Dewey (1929) on the value of theory this documentary review is meant to inform educational leaders, to enable them to see more relations and possibilities, and to widen their scope and ability to judge.

Chapter 1

The organizing framework

The reviewed literature continues to indicate that in the elementary or high school classroom, the most innovative and promising practices center around authentic problem-solving, inquiry-based learning, and collaborative knowledge-building. Most findings are concerned with context and process rather than content or outcomes. In part because of a growing awareness of the complexity of integrating online resources and tools with instruction in schools, researchers have begun to apply more comprehensive theoretical frameworks in analyzing their results and in making recommendations. These frameworks include communities of practice (Barab & Duffy, 2000), problem solving (Jonassen, 2000b), cultural psychology (Brown & Cole, 2000), and activity systems theory (Jonassen, 2000a). The more encompassing of these frameworks is activity systems theory (Cole & Engeström, 1993; Engeström, 1987), which includes constructs for the technology itself, the students and teachers involved, the content that is being taught, the contextual community of the classroom and school, the various roles that participants play in the school, and the norms of communication and rules that govern interaction among the participants. Application of these frameworks both provides a more adequate description of what is required for effective integration of online resources (and ICTs generally) and also brings this research and its application into the mainstream of educational research and professional practice.

The review team takes an evolutionary perspective on the integration of information and communication technologies into the school curriculum by choosing an organizing framework that reflects a concern for the practical, that is, for choice and action. Schwab (1973), a scholar on curriculum, insisted on the importance of the practical, endorsing the view that decisions about action should result from informed deliberation. As the authors show below, what is to be gained from integrating ICTs to the curriculum cannot be understood properly without close attention to how teachers and students use ICTs in the classroom or the computer lab.

The following lines reflect the best understanding the review team came to at this given point in time as regards models of use for online technology. At first, three perspectives are presented, those of incremental change, transformative change, and distributed change. Secondly, the basic constituents of the educational situation are presented, and combinations are exemplified in an attempt to generate and illustrate alternatives for decision-makers to deliberate upon, including teachers in their classrooms.     

1.1      Three underlying perspectives: incremental change, transformative change, and distributed change 

Let’s begin with a distinction between technology uses that extend or replicate the classroom model, and those that fundamentally change the instructional paradigm. The paradigm change involves reconfigurations of time and place for learning, but most importantly new ways for learners, including the teacher-as-learner, to collaborate and establish relationships with other individuals and knowledge objects. 

"Technology, used appropriately, can help the teacher and student restructure how the [elementary or secondary] classroom is organized, what topics are studied, and how students learn and are assessed", stressed Roehrig Knapp & Glenn (1996, p. 13). “Many of the current leading indicators (…) represent the way we ‘digitize’ existing practices, rather than use technology to do things differently" (p. 4). Four years later, the SITES-Module 1 international study, coordinated in Canada by CMEC in collaboration with Statistics Canada, concluded: 

A first analysis showed that schools with high scores on emerging pedagogical practice conditions tended to have more favorable student:computer ratios than others. This trend did not seem to exist for the traditionally important pedagogical practices. This finding could be taken as a first indication that ICT potentially facilitates the implementation of emerging pedagogical practices. (Pelgrum & Anderson, 1999, p. 220).

This takes us far away from the drill and practice for remediation of structured curriculum and instruction – the 1996 Documentary Review reported on Computer-Assisted-Instruction and Integrated Learning Systems. Here, the computer was seen as a tutor, rather than a tool (see also Kulik, & Kulik, 1991). However, there is still some legitimate concern in the teaching profession that the use of such tutors may engender the de-skilling of teachers. One is well-advised to acknowledge, however, the rather limited view of knowledge that resides behind the perspective of the computer-as-a-tutor [2]. But one must also acknowledge that education systems are built in their entirety on a rather naïve epistemology, and that all the equipment that is being brought into schools (see Moll, in press) is likely to offer a solution to the problem of access. Hollenbeck (1998) warned: "Most of the new promises [being made] remain based upon the computer delivering information to the student" (p. 38). This observation is also made by the RAND Corporation which looked (Glennan, 1998) at the first two years of the New American Schools Initiative by making case studies of 40 schools in seven of the participating districts.  RAND concluded that buying the technology, plugging it into a school, and thinking that things will improve is not enough.  The study stressed that much of the improvement depends on the schools and the districts themselves. However, the teach and learn anything-anytime-anywhere slogan influences cognitive representations of what ICTs can contribute to teaching and learning. Given the increase in demand and rising costs for education in a knowledge society, the idea that access to education, in the end, may be made cheaper is bound to be attractive to policy makers and the public. This is what we refer to as incremental change.

Transforming a professional practice with such a long heritage as teaching is a long-term endeavour.  Hollenbeck (1998) observed that the computer was given a second chance – this time as a tool rather than as a tutor – with the hope that it will help modify the learner’s schooling experience. Maddux, Johnson, and Willis (1997) identified two different kinds of computer use in education: Type I applications, "which make it easier, quicker, or more efficient to teach the same things in the same ways we have always taught them”, and Type II applications, "which make available new and better ways of teaching" (quoted by Harlow & LaMont Johnson, 1998, p.18). In 1998, the review team associated the latter with the perspective of the teacher as a reflective practitioner, the one dominating today’s literature on teachers’ professional development. As the author of The Reflective Practitioner put it (Schön, 1983), the teacher must be "attentive to patterns of phenomena, skilled at describing what [he or she] observes, inclined to put forward bold and sometimes radically simplified models of experience, and ingenious in devising tests of them compatible with the constraints of an action setting" (p.322). This perspective was also the one adopted by the TL*NCE research team (TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence, Canada) on educating the educators, and studying new pedagogies supported by telelearning technologies. Here, the effective use of online resources and tools for teaching and learning purposes is a matter of constant deliberative professional judgment on the part of the teacher. The computer is used as a tool, supporting the teacher in his or her practice of advanced pedagogies. 

The assumption of the review team is that in order to meet the expectations of a knowledge society, the teaching profession has to rely less on teacher-centered methods such as lecturing, and more on learner-centered methods.  Teachers do so when they facilitate students’ access to online resources and tools, provide guidance to inquiry-based learning, and support collaborative knowledge-building.  They also do so when they use highly interactive tutorials to engage learners in individual or cooperative learning tasks in ways that make sense to them. Allowing them to interact more at length with a student or a group of students in order to identify misconceptions or deepen their understanding of some subject matter is also a student-centered approach. Innovative teaching practices, however, must be closely linked to the school curriculum in order to reach any significant number of students (criteria of sustainability and scalability). Here, distributed leadership could lead to distributed change as teachers exercise leadership in their school, with the support and encouragement of the school principal.

The availability of ICTs presents an opportunity for the teaching profession to not only renew its toolkit, but to push the boundaries of what is possible for all school learners when they take the collaborative path. The task of curriculum is commonly thought of as being to “decide what goals or objectives the school should seek to attain and then to devise learning experiences that promise to achieve those goals and objectives” (Reid, 1993, p. 499). Curriculum renewal requires social consensus, and educators’ theoretical and practical knowledge is challenged by Canada’s aspirations as a learning society. They must sort out what to retain from the old technology in place in education systems, and what must be replaced by the new technology. Early results pertaining to new technology adoption point to ways to obtain better productivity. The review team suggests a simple organization framework for deliberation and action, the one which Schwab (1973), a noteworthy curriculum scholar, insisted on when curricular change is sought.

1.2      The main constituents of the organizing framework

The main constituents (commonplaces or dimensions) of the educational situation — "someone teaching something to someone in a given context" — are referred to in order to offer an organizing framework within which to consider the results of the literature search. Compared to 1998, this organizing framework is likely, given the advances in connectivity and integration of ICTs into the curriculum, to be found more useful for deliberation and action. Each of Schwab's four constituents (teacher, content, learner, and context) is elaborated on along a continuum that is relevant for treating the role and effects of online technology in the classroom:

a) The teacher (continuum: from transmission to facilitation). The "someone" teaching may be a teacher in front of the class giving a lecture with the support of a data projector, structuring team work for effective project-based learning, or coordinating computer and learning-center rotations while working with students individually. The "teacher" may also be on line monitoring students’ work or writing in a collaborative learning space such as Knowledge Forum, or an online expert (for instance, a published author) coaching a student who is writing (Writers in Electronic Residence Program,WIER, see Wideman & Owston, 1997). The continuum highlights the role of the teacher, in that at one extreme the teacher may be primarily concerned with delivering content information to the learner, while at the other extreme, he or she may be concerned primarily with facilitating activities of the learner that result in learning. In either case, it is important to consider the quantity and the nature of professional development activities as well as the length of experience of the teacher in using new technology.

b) The content (continuum: from "pre-organized" or "canned" to "constructed").
   The " something " that is being taught may be, at one extreme end of the spectrum, an already existing fact or body of knowledge. It may also be a theme or a project that is actively being built up by the learner. An example at the other extreme is scientific literacy in a Schools for Thought type classroom where grade four students began with a sustained investigation of the Madagascar Giant Hissing Cockroach and progressively moved into an investigation of adaptation, evolution, etc. (Caswell & Lamon, 1998).

c) The learner (continuum: from limited access to online resources to high access to online resources).
For the purposes of this updated review, the learner is clearly in the limelight
with respect to the degree of access he or she is able to achieve to online resources in the classroom or school. Thus, this constituent includes 1) the technology that is at the learner’ disposal, 2) the learner’s competence in using it, and 3) the time he or she has alloted to use it. At one end, the learners might be in an elementary classroom going to the computer once a week to learn keyboarding, and later on, visiting a few sites as part of an electronic fieldtrip – but their general level of access is higher than in 1998 (see the SITES-Module 1 study, Pelgrum & Anderson, 1999). At the other end, the learners might be in a junior high PROTIC classroom where each one has a laptop networked to a server which provides intranet- and Internet-connectivity.  The significance of that focus will be seen below when we integrate possible combinations of the constituent dimensions.

d) The context (continuum: from low external support for online use to extensive external support for online use).
  As in the case of the learner constituent, the context is considered in a very focused way for the purpose of this updated review.  What we are concerned with here is to what extent the situation of online use includes a champion (or educational leader) capable of mobilizing resources, bringing together stakeholders (teachers, administration, parents) who can support classroom activities, and acting as a resource person to the teacher outside the classroom. We are also concerned with policy and administrative practice. In addition, we include support programs that may involve students such as the Information Technology Management Program (Wolfson & Willinsky, 1998; Renaud, 2000) or colleagues working in different schools (online learning communities). 

The four elements or dimensions outlined above serve a number of purposes in this review. First, the dimensions define a space onto which we can map the research literature that we have reviewed (1998, 2000). Second, these dimensions parallel the essential components of the process-product research on teaching which is studying the relationship between teaching processes and learning results (see Gage & Needels, 1989). Thus, our overall analysis is based on what are considered the four key constituents involved in the educational situation: the teacher, the content, the learner(s), and the context. The two extreme combinations for each constituent were retained and used to identify the following extreme models of use:


Most current classrooms would lie toward the left end of each continuum: 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 or a web site, 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. This model of use, called (TCLC - ), which stands for each of the first letters of the four basic constituents, is being given here the notation minus (-) in order to point to low levels of interaction between the teacher and the learners, pre-organized content if any, low access to online resources and tools, and limited support from the external context.  

The TCLC - model of use or any of the three other variations in which one of the four constituents is at a low level is still by far the most frequent situation at this point in time. However, the educational situation differs in 2001 in that learners’ access is less limited, and that the context has offered some technical support and opportunities for professional development to teachers. In contrast, the overwhelming thrust of research initiatives within the socio-cognitive psychological perspective would seem to be directed towards the opposite ends of each continuum: teacher/facilitator, content/constructed, learners/high access, context/extensive support  (TCLC + Model of use). Here, the teacher primarily facilitates student learning, the curriculum content is largely constructed by the learners, the learners have free access to online resources, and the context supports the use and expansion of the resources.

The usefulness of these constituents can be seen when one creates clusters of extreme dimensions in order to highlight the relationship between possible combinations and performance (learning outcomes):

The framework also makes it possible to classify different combinations of online uses which have been reported in research on online technology in the classroom.  Examples of such combinations are the following:

Several combinations within that framework can be seen as setting the conditions for the establishment of new and different classroom practices of teaching and learning. These combinations provide the conditions for use of more authentic learning tasks, and they enable students to move beyond the classroom to engage outside resources in their learning. Thus, points along the continua of the constituents create a synergy that supports major change in classroom teaching and learning practices.

An important point is that this framework simply outlines the range and possibilities of use (including non-use) of online resources in the classroom. It does not indicate which combinations are more desirable or conducive to learning.  This is because learning, and the use of that learning by students, are highly situational. Sometimes the direct transmission of information, as the learning of conventions such as "drive on the right side of the road", is the best way to ensure learning. The value of the framework lies in its coordination of online resources (as seen in learner access), teacher role, content manipulation, and context of online resource support. What we should seek to achieve in the online classroom is the potential for implementing the teacher/content/learner/context combinations most appropriate to particular students. Students would not be well served by being online, constructive, and facilitated all of the time. However, the anticipated goal is the classroom that can realize all the possibilities of these four constituents, as appropriate for the learning needs of the students. [3]

Chapter 2

 The K-12 networked classroom

In the networked classroom (or computer lab), students have the opportunity to engage with a subject matter, either individually or in small groups, in a number of ways. Information may be accessible from a variety of specialized websites. Highly interactive multimedia or hypermedia activities are not yet widely distributed (Laferrière, 2001). Thus, online activities that involve the use of resources and tools put on an intranet, or accessible through the Internet are mainly for information and communication purposes (see Santaro, 1998, for a more complete description of an online classroom). 

K-12 classrooms did not await the arrival of the WWW to engage in online activities. In the fall of 1996, Trentin outlined three teaching contexts in which telelearning activities can effectively help the educational process at various levels:

a)    Plain utilization of the network for communication, that is, as a powerful tool for navigation through distributed information and for interpersonal communication.

b)    Using computer networks in support of educational activities that can be conducted with or without the network (e.g., correspondence) but which in this way gain new educational and cognitive momentum, as well as producing greater motivation and involvement.

c)    Learning activities based on specific approaches which are strictly dependent on the use of [telelearning activities [4] and could not exist without the network. (p. 11)

Looking into the full spectrum of use of the latest educational technology to enter the classroom, online resources and tools on multimedia computers, the 1998 review team built on the demonstration conducted in 1996. The studies that were then reviewed were for the most part conducted in the context of individual classrooms. Therefore, the 1996 Documentary Review came to the conclusion that the teacher’s pedagogy was the key factor in the contribution of ICTs to learning and teaching. In 1998, the broader context, as characterized, for instance, by the presence or not of champion(s), was considered in an attempt to extend the review beyond the individual variable level to reach the policy level. For instance, the results of a RAND study on the New American Schools (Glennan, 1998) were reported. The study stressed that schools differed greatly in a number of important factors: for instance, in their ability to implement reforms. The design teams varied widely in their capacity to help schools, and districts offered varying levels of support. The organizing framework suggested by the review team is meant for teachers as well as educational leaders whose practice lies outside the classroom, whether they are working at the school, the school district or the government level. They espouse particular pedagogical approaches, which have an impact on what is going on in the classroom or in the measurement of student achievement.

 This chapter is divided according to each of the four basic constituents of the educational situation. Given the definition of the learner that was adopted, the constituents appear in a different order than the one that prevailed earlier in the text. So, firstly, research results that relate to the learner and his or her level of access to networked computers are presented. Secondly, research results are distributed among the three other constituents according to their inquiry thrust: the subject matter or content, the teacher, or the context.

2.1      The learner

The SITES-Module 1 Study (Pelgrum & Anderson, 1999) in which 26 countries participated demonstrates that Canadian K‑12 learners are among the best connected to the Information Highway:

As a general trend, upper secondary schools had the highest access to the Internet by the end of 1998. Overall, the percentages were lower at the lower secondary level and still lower at the primary level. Access-percentages of over 80% were observed in Canada, China Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Slovenia. Low percentages existed especially in Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Thailand.  (p. 138)

Learning in a networked classroom, one where learners have an easy access to computers linked to an intranet and the Internet for curricular activities, remains an exceptional reality, however, in the K-12 classrooms of education systems in Canada. Schools may be connected to the Internet, but rare are the classrooms in which learners use online resources and tools on a regular basis for learning purposes. Two SchoolNet programs are helping to build the practice in this respect: the GrassRoots program, and the Network of Innovative Schools program (see Laferrière, 2001).  Most of those having access are still in the process of learning about computers and information and communication technologies, including learning projects which are more teacher-centered than student-centered (see the notion of intentional learning, Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1989), rather than with such tools to generate products and ideas. For instance, a class of students would have one or more computers or go to the school computer lab(s) at specific times for hands-on activities. Or the teacher would borrow a data projector to support a presentation or demonstration. Analyzing the uses made of computers in schools in 1998, Unesco’s conclusion was the following one: "It is clear that computers are now beginning to be used by the schools for more things than just computer literacy" (p. 81). “Access is just one of the minimum conditions that needs to be realized before students and teachers can use the Internet and WWW in a meaningful and effective way as part of the teaching/learning process” stresses the SITES-Module 1 report (Pelgrum & Anderson, p. 221). In the face of more access to networked computers for school learners, the first trend that the research team identified in its 1998 review gained momentum.  Therefore, we formulate the following first observation: 

2.1.1   Observation 1: Higher levels of control by learners are called for as classrooms are getting more online.

Access to hypermedia and hypertext opens the online classroom to broader and enlarged information sources, curricula, methods, and intellectual artifacts. Once online resources are found, further access may be tightly controlled or open-ended. "Whereas traditional approaches to computer-based learning have been rooted in behavioral learning principles, contemporary approaches are more often rooted in cognitive learning theories" (Hannafin, Hannafin, Hooper, Rieber, & Kini, 1996, p. 391). The design strategies which maximize the learning potential of open-ended environments put the locus of control on the learner’s side (“release of agency”), thus enabling the learner to engage much more in the construction of content (Bracewell, Breuleux & LeMaistre, in press; Laferrière, 2000). This in turn makes student learning strategies much more significant in the classroom. Students who not only are made aware of, but who take control of, those technologies must be able to plan, choose, inquire into topics, solve problems, monitor their progression, and evaluate results. Increasingly, research efforts have targeted the investigation and analysis of these student competencies in open-ended environments (Land, 2000; Moss, 2000; Oliver & Hannafin, 2000; Schacter, Chung & Dorr, 1998).  Dillon and Gabbard (1998) concluded that hypermedia, with its embodiment of structure and linked information nodes, “is considered to offer users far more control over access and exploration” (p. 337). This observation comes, however, with a restriction.  In and of itself, a higher level of control by learners “appears insufficient to affect learning outcomes significantly for all but high-ability learners”(p.337).

It is to be understood that, until recently, the 'release of agency' by the teacher to the student was not identified as key by researchers, and not highly valued, in general, by various social and educational actors. Bereiter and Scardamalia (1989) stressed the importance of intentional learning, that is, the participation of the learners in the learning objectives and their progression toward their accomplishment.  In addition, Lehrer (1993) suggested that learning and knowledge derived from the human process of projection, or project design. It took numerous orientation documents, one of the latest being the Delors Report (1996), to articulate a rationale as to the necessity of the learner being more active and collaborative. The argument is that students must master “higher-order cognitive, affective, and social skills not central to mature industrial societies, but vital in a knowledge-based economy” (Drucker, 1994, quoted by Dede, 2000, p. 282).  These include ‘thriving on chaos’ (making rapid decisions based on incomplete information to resolve novel situations); the ability to collaborate with a diverse team – face-to-face or across distance – to accomplish a task; and creating, sharing and mastering knowledge through filtering a sea of quasi-accurate information (Peters, 1997, quoted by Dede, 2000, p. 282). Yet, many parents, journalists, and educators are not aware of that emerging dimension.

Tapscott (1997) has pointed out the difference between the way in which current children and adolescents view Internet technology and the way in which older adults tend to view it. In brief, the younger generation views Internet technology as a means for action, communication, and creativity; whereas the older generation views it as a much more passive and receptive medium analogous to television (see especially pages 25-26). This difference in orientation implies a major divide between younger and older users. Tapscott noted that “for the first time in history, children are more comfortable, knowledgeable, and literate than their parents about an innovation central to society”. (…) Already these kids are learning, playing, communicating, working, and creating communities very differently than their parents.  They are a force of social transformation.” (p. 2). He coined the term NetGeneration to refer to “the generation of children who, in 1999, [were] between the ages of two and twenty-two, not just those who are active on the Internet” (p. 3).  He stressed that “They need better tools, better access, more services, and more freedom to explore, not the opposite.” (p. 7).   

However, the debate over the utility of the information accessible on the Web is likely to remain very much in the limelight until society comes to terms with issues of authority and control. These include autonomous and creative versus obedient students, meaningful versus easy and playful learning, and learning from a complex versus linear information structures (see Shapiro, 1998; Dillon & Gabbard, 1998). When it is understood that the release of agency by the teacher to the student is desirable, the learner’s engagement in learning will remain the primary condition to be fulfilled.

2.1.2   Observation 2: Online resources boost student interest and motivation in the classroom through a greater diversity of learning goals, projects, and outcomes.

One of the most consistent outcomes of placing information technologies in classrooms and ensuring that students have access to them has been that student interest in, and satisfaction with, schooling increase (see US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1995, pp. 65-66). The same outcome is seen in the online classroom, where a more positive reaction to school has been found across diverse groups of learners. For example, in Schofield, Davidson, Stocks and Futoran (1998) almost all of the 28 elementary and secondary teachers participating in the Common Knowledge Internet project reported greater student interest and participation in classroom activities.  In a study of science learning in upper elementary classrooms Mistler-Jackson and Songer (2000) concluded that three factors supported increased motivation and learning among their students: a) telecollaboration among students and with experts in the field, b) dealing with authentic questions and issues in science, and c) allowing sufficient time on projects for students to develop better understanding of issues and phenomena.

This motivational effect may seem to be a 'soft' outcome of placing technology in the classroom, since the major benefit that one would like to see is an increase in learning on the part of students. In the face, however, of drop-out rates of 30-40% at the secondary level, increasing student motivation to stay in school is a major issue.  Moreover, we know something about how this increase in motivation arises: it is not limited to the allure of fashionable technology providing a general motivational boost (although a Hawthorne effect may be present initially), but favors access to information technology in the classroom, including online technology, leading to a greater diversity of experiences and learning goals in the classroom. This in turn makes the classroom a more interesting environment that appeals to a wider range of students (Bulls & Riley, 1997; McDonald & Ingvarson, 1997; Murphy, Drabier, & Epps, 1997).

2.1.3   Observation 3: Learners’ thinking becomes more visible.

Jonassen, Peck, Wilson, & Pfeiffer (1999) considered applications that could engage learners in the creation of meaning as mindtools, assuming that networked computers are used as activity partners in learning environments. As media, each application facilitates the construction of knowledge representations. Therefore, through hypermedia authorship (the construction of web pages and hyperlinks) students reveal their cognitive maps (Luft, 1997; Matta, 2001). The argument is that hypermedia authorship activities are more effective than simple research of information: learners who merely consult someone else’s work miss the opportunity to share in the development process.  In other words, they exert less effort towards meaning making and the elaboration of cognitive maps (Jonassen et al., 1999).

For Dede (2000), “the Model-It tool best illustrates the unique contributions technology can make to learning and the ways a tool can generalize across a wide variety of curricular subjects” (p. 284).  He adds that the benefits of the construction of models by learners (on their thinking and ideas) and the experimentation with those models in an engaging manner are not limited to gifted children: all types of learners may show better achievement results (see Burkam, Lee, & Smerdon, 1997).  Dede points to SimCalc (Kaput & Roschelle, 2000), a tool developed with funding from the National Science Foundation in the US, which is designed to “to provide a substantial mathematical experience for the 90% of students who do not now have access to the mathematics of change and variation, as well as to supply a conceptual foundation for the 10% who will need to learn more formal calculus” (p. 289).

Here in Canada, a general tool developed by Scardamalia and Bereiter (1996) and colleagues, with funding from the National Centres of Excellence (NCE) Program, is Knowledge Forum. This software environment realizes a number of characteristics of online technology that hold promise for facilitating student learning. First, it allows students to create and represent their learning in a linked database, thereby making student knowledge public and accessible for elaboration and revision by authors and other students. Second, scaffolding features of the environment, such as hint menus, linking features, and levels of presentation scaffold students into expressing what they think and into building on one another's contributions. Third, authorship and access features promote the development of a community of learners, whether in the classroom with the LAN version of Knowledge Forum, or in a distributed manner with the web version. Use of Knowledge Forum has been shown to support participants’ progressive discourse on a specific problem (see Oshima, 1998). Classroom talk and computers merge in ways that Wegerif and Scrimshaw (1997) did not observe in the UK when they studied classroom discourse with school teachers in the SLANT Project. The emergence of learning communities that is seen with the use of tools such as Knowledge Forum promises to bridge the gap between students' school-based knowledge--which is often abstract, fragmented and largely inert--and students' "real world" beliefs and knowledge--which guide their performance and learning in both school and non-school settings (Alexander, Murphy, Guan, & Murphy, 1998).

2.2      The content

Content is a dimension likely to come to mind second for many readers inquiring into the availability of relevant online resources and tools.  The SITES-Module 1 Study (Pelgrum & Anderson, 1999) gathered data on different types of software [5] available on one computer or more for teaching and learning.  Here again, Canadian learners were, with peers from Singapore, Norway, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand and The Netherlands, among those having better opportunities to learn about and from those resources and tools.

Content that relates to subject matters is increasingly made available online by publishers, including teachers and students.  In some instances, it is through a local area network, as in the case of The Learning Equation Mathematics (TLE Math, A study conducted in 1998 by Macnab and Fitzsimmons showed higher achievement test scores in mathematics in favor of the TLE group (students who learned with the computer-based courseware). Key findings included a higher percentage of students using TLE Math scored 50% or higher on the final math test (65% vs. 41%) and more TLE students achieved an 80% grade or higher (19% vs. 5%). The TLE Math method also led to improvements in tested content areas, including knowledge, skills, number, pattern and shape. Further, 92% of the teachers thought that students' time on task had increased. This comprehensive, year-long study involving 1,184 students in 14 secondary schools found that students using computer-based courseware achieved higher test scores and higher levels of comprehension than students using traditional textbooks and classroom techniques.  Approximately half of the students (the "test group") used a set of computer-based courseware developed jointly by the governments of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and educational publisher ITP Nelson. The other half (the "control group") used standard math textbooks. Outcomes were measured at the end of the school year by administering the Alberta Education Grade 9 Mathematics Achievement Test (based on the common math curriculum used in the western provinces). This is a good example showing how well-thought out  and well-designed "canned" content may lead to better student achievement. However, the results raised questions as to what other factors, related to the teacher and/or the learner (s), might explain why the differences between TLE and NON-TLE groups were significant in some classrooms and schools (context) and not in others. 

The usefulness of such materials was demonstrated by Kulik, Kulik, and Bangert-Drowns (1985), Kulik and Kulik (1987, 1991), and Kulik (1994) who conducted a number of meta-analysis studies [6]. Their work led to the following claim: “Students usually learn more in less time when they receive computer-based instruction. They gain 3 months of regular classroom learning.” But such statements are misleading many learned critics say. Clark (1985) employed meta-analysis methods, reports Hannafin et al. (1996), “in ways quite different from those of Kulik”, and came to the conclusion that no evidence existed to support the inherent superiority of computer-assisted instruction to alternative approaches” (p. 381).  They are more limited than they appear, noted Fabry & Higgs (1997) because of their focus on drill-and-practice applications, basic versus high-order skills (Clark, 1983; Wellburn, 1996), and the medium as opposed to the medium and methods (Kozma, 1991).  Furthermore, context is neglected, and the reader knows that context is a key factor in contemporary research (situated cognition, cognitive apprenticeship, authentic learning, anchored instruction).

Wenglinsky (1998) analyzed a national database of student test scores, classroom computer use, and other information, for Ed Week’s Technology Counts ’98.  He found that eighth graders whose teachers used computers mostly for "simulations and applications" — generally associated with higher-order thinking — performed better on NAEP than students whose teachers did not. Meanwhile, 8th graders whose teachers used computers primarily for "drill and practice" — generally associated with lower-order thinking — performed rather poorly.  Gains were greater at the middle school level than in elementary school. Among 4th graders, students whose teachers used computers mainly for "math/learning games" scored higher than students whose teachers abstained. The research found no association, positive or negative, between 4th graders' scores and simulations or drill-and-practice applications. Again, these results call for further investigation to determine the pedagogical practices and social and cognitive factors associated with enhanced performance. See

The 1996 and 1998 reviews stressed a number of studies which reported better learning in various subjects and development of various skills and attitudes, including higher order intellectual skills such as reasoning and problem solving ability, learning how to learn, and creativity. These studies came from specialized situations in which researchers based in universities and teachers in the classroom were collaborating on research on the effective use of information technologies in instruction. The following two observations capture what can be best documented as regards to content. 

2.2.1   Observation 4: Internet and learning projects are broadening the curriculum.

A networked classroom may now conduct online activity in most academic areas  (environmental studies, mathematics, science, language arts and social studies), and in subject-matter integration.  An increasing number of educational services are being offered online, and these include drill-and-practice learning activities as well as more open-ended activities such as telecommunication exchange. However, the value of using the Internet is debated in the scientific literature and among professional educators. For White and Purdom (1996), the debate is rooted in “differing and conflicting conceptions of curriculum” (p. 5).

Fabos and Young (1999) analyzed the discourse and many research findings related to telecommunication exchange, and concluded, from a critical-theory point of view, that current research was inconclusive, overly optimistic, and even contradictory (p. 248).  However, they recognize that the Internet and projects such as telecommunication exchanges can offer a great deal in terms of broadening the curriculum and tapping into alternative ideas, voices, and cultures (p. 249).  They stressed that:

We need to locate and highlight those projects which encourage young students to go beyond “seeing the world” as electronic tourists from the safety of their computer screen and a dominant American perspective. We need to celebrate those projects that ask troubling questions about local inequities, and even the economic role and impact of telecommunications on indigenous communities. We need to help students ask questions that consider why the sixth grade girl from the MidWest might never end up net-chatting with the same-age girl in Indonesia who may have sewed her overprice Adidas t-shirt or Nike shoes (p. 249).

Curricular content and activities with less limited scope than what the textbook and related printed materials permit, may be planned by the teacher. He or she may include up-to-date information, a procedure more likely to take into account students’ interests. The Internet makes possible a greater range of learning and teaching activities (see Harris’ list of project-based learning activities, 1998; Dede’s presentation of online virtual communities of practice using advanced tools to solve real-world problems, 2000). Teachers who innovate in the production of desk-top educational materials sometimes involve their students as designers or co-authors of data bases (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996), or as project collaborators (see Ward & Tiessen, 1997; Tiessen & Ward, 1998).  Some publishers and telecom companies market their educational activities.

The emerging evidence from the small number of experimental studies from online classrooms shows enhancements in learning of two types: the first has to do with providing Type I resources for the kinds of learning that already are emphasized in the classroom. For example, there is: the increased learning about weather and climate conditions by middle school students using online resources and communication (Bonk, Hay, & Fischler, 1996), and greater learning about civil rights by elementary students following Internet use as compared to the performance of the control classes (Follansbee, Hughes, Pisha, & Stahl, 1997).  The second learning type has to do with providing Type II resources for new or not presently emphasized types of learning in the classroom. Hypermedia, a generic term that combines hypertext (web pages) and multimedia, “affords the most advantage for users in specific tasks that require rapid searching through lengthy or multiple information resources and where data manipulation and comparison are necessary”, concluded Dillon and Gabbard (1998). A striking example is secondary school students working more independently and taking more responsibility for their learning when using online resources without the help of a teacher in their immediate school (Adnanes & Ronning, 1998).

2.2.2   Observation 5: There is a greater range of construction of content by school learners.

 Learners also use networked computers for producing hypermedia.  Tools that enhance the cognitive and socio-cognitive powers of human beings during thinking, problem solving (Matta, 2001) support learners in their study of more advanced topics and in their demonstration of progressive expertise (Dede, 1998).

The construction of content gives rise to the different types of learning situations in the classroom. Collins (1991) reported decreases in teacher-led activities, and Kerr (1996b) found a decrease in the amount of frontal instruction and a move toward more project activities and independent learning. However, as Dede (2000) points out, “the important issue for the evolution of school curriculum is not the availability and affordability of sophisticated computers and telecommunications, but the ways these devices enable powerful learning situations that aid students in extracting meaning out of complexity” (p. 299).  In other words, it is the teacher with a powerful repertoire of pedagogical strategies that makes the difference.

2.3      The teacher

As access issues with respect to online technology become resolved (learning about technology), new pedagogical possibilities emerge that teachers have to get acquainted with in order to arrive at satisfying results to be effectively measured by student learning outcomes. Trentin (1996) observed that "telematics is not only a resource that adds value but is rather a key factor in the adoption of new methods supporting the teaching/learning process" (p. 11).

The SITES-Module 1 study (Pelgrum & Anderson, 1999) reports that a first analysis showed that schools with high scores on emerging pedagogical practice conditions tended to have more favorable student:computer ratios than others. This observation did not seem to exist for the traditionally important pedagogical practices. This finding could be taken as a first indication that ICTs potentially facilitate the implementation of emerging pedagogical practices.

Flexibility of use, that is, of a variety of combinations ranging from the TCLC - Model of use (teacher/transmitter, content/canned, learners/limited access, context/limited support) to the TCLC+ Model of use (teacher/facilitator, content/constructed, learners/high access, context/extensive support) is unlikely without professional development. A research component may be added in order to document the exploratory process and identify early results. Let’s now turn to studies that capture such experiments.  Some of them call for nothing less than changing roles in education as electronic connectivity progressively becomes a reality (see Berge, 1998).

2.3.1   Observation 6: Learning situations become more realistic and authentic and as classrooms are getting online. 

Both access to online resources and learners' increasing engagement in the construction of content is conducive to better and more authentic learning situations in the classroom. In the area of science education, students are using the types of tools, notations, and representations that are used by professionals and also are gaining access to these professionals (and each other) for guidance and the sharing of knowledge (Gomez, Fishman, & Pea, 1998; Krajcik, Blumenfeld, Marx, & Soloway, 2000; Songer, 1998). In the area of literacy, students in the Writers in Electronic Residence (WIER) program are getting feedback from professional authors about their creative writing. Evaluative studies of the program have shown that students develop enthusiasm for creative writing and write with a sense of audience and maturity far beyond their teachers' expectations (Wideman & Owston, 1997). In the area of humanities, students are interacting with museum curators in a mutual effort that on the one hand advances student knowledge and on the other hand enables the curators to design more effective presentations (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1999).

The GrassRoots Program provides evidence that learning projects may provide learning situations that are realistic and authentic while others call upon the imaginative capacities of school learners (Owston, 2000; Laferrière, 2001).  These projects tend to provide greater opportunity for learners to learn about topics that relate to their daily lives, to engage in online collaboration with other students, members of the community and experts and, in some cases, to engage in authentic problem solving. 

There is of course a wealth of descriptive evidence on the beneficial effects of online collaboration with other students and with experts and other resources beyond the classroom. This evidence began to accumulate in the 1980's when students started to gain access to wide area computer networks.  Additions to that evidence include Cohen (1997), Bruce, Carragher, Damon, Dawson, Eurell, Gregory, Lauterbur, Marjanovic, Mason-Fossum, Morris, Potter, and Thakkar (1997) on science education, Schofield et al. (1998) on second language learning, and Keisler (1997) on a range of educational uses of the Internet. The nature of this descriptive evidence can be seen in a comment by an upper elementary school student participating in the Bruce et al (1997) study:

Instead of just looking, you know, at the page in the textbook; we can look actually on the Internet at the pictures of the actual egg and we get to control it.  And we get to send in our discoveries and have our questions answered like faster, I suppose, and from actual, you know, people like that are specialized in what we are doing. (p. 82)

More is to come with respect to pedagogical use of networked technology. Studies on simulation or visualization technologies, likely to help students to learn complex systems in more concrete ways (Pea, 1992), as well as studies on semantic networks (online concept maps, see Matta, 2001), provide informative glimpses into upcoming possibilities for teaching and learning. REALs (rich environments for active learning) are, according to Grabinger (1996), "much more comprehensive and holistic than individual computer applications" (p. 668). The leading edge NSF program, entitled Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence (Dede, 2000), is pushing in this direction.

 2.3.2  Observation 7: The successful online classroom combines information technology with appropriate pedagogy.

  The effective uses of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the classroom must be accompanied by an appropriate instructional approach. This appears to be the case particularly for more open-ended uses of online technologies such as information searches and electronic interaction among students. For example, studies of students conducting Internet searches have shown that they are more successful when search procedures are structured either through modeling by the teacher or through scaffolding using templates to guide the search (Reed & Wells, 1997; Schacter, Chung & Dorr, 1998. Similarly, studies of students using computer mediated communication to do problem solving and other learning tasks have shown that the use of templates or texts to guide interaction produces more effective communication between participants (Baker & Lund, 1997; Tergan, 1997; Tiberghien & De Vries, 1997). It is not always the case, however, that the appropriate pedagogical approach involves greater external structure.  Adnanes and Ronning (1998) found that their secondary school students worked more independently and took more responsibility for their learning in an online course when they did not have the assistance of a teacher in the immediate classroom.

The importance of a pedagogical approach (Bonk et al., 1997; Mergendoller, 1996; Owston, 1997) that is appropriate, and the large number of possible combinations of approaches with online learning tasks, has led to the call for research on the design of online learning environments for the classroom (Hannafin, Hannafin, Land, & Oliver, 1997; Jonassen, 1997).

There is increasing evidence, however, that teachers who are more engaged in professional aspects of teaching (e.g., through giving workshops, and consulting with other teachers about instructional practices), both structure their teaching differently and use ICTs resources differently than teachers who are less engaged. The more engaged teachers have students do more collaboration and communication, carry out more and longer work on projects, and have students tackle more open-ended problems. These teachers also have students use more types of software and have them use ICTs resources for collaborative, communicative, and presentation purposes (Becker & Riel, 2000). A major concern, however, is that the engaged teachers account for only about 14% of the population of teachers. Over 50% of teachers, labeled as private practice teachers by Becker and Riel, engage in few professionally-oriented activities as outlined above, espouse much more didactic approaches to instruction, and tend to use ICTs for drill and practice. These findings have considerable implications for the spread (scalability) and sustainability of new practices with online technologies.

Learning outcomes, especially in a subject matter such as mathematics or science, are likely to have a convincing effect on teachers. Because the public demand stands for learning improvement, professional educators are interested in the process-related factors that lead to such outcomes. Already in the 1996 Review, the effective use of new technologies in facilitating student learning and performance was linked to the following prerequisite: that participants have the knowledge and skill to use the technology (technological and pedagogical knowledge and skill).  Process-related outcomes were identified at the time as made up of: 1) the student motivation (greater spontaneous interest, time and attention devoted to learning activities), 2) the relationship of students to knowledge (that is, how students approach knowledge and incorporate it into what they already know), and 3) the cooperation among students in the same class and among students or classes in different schools, near or far, for the purpose of making them more aware of other realities, accessing relevant knowledge not strictly defined in advance, and executing projects with a genuine relevance for the students themselves, and possibly for other people. It was found that such students tend to develop a spirit of research, as demonstrated by the search for more extensive information on a subject, a more satisfying solution to a problem, and a greater number of links among various pieces of knowledge or data, leading to better integrated and better assimilated learning achievement (see the seventh observation of the 1996 Review: The potential for simulation, virtual manipulation, rapid merging of a wide variety of data, graphic representation and other functions provided by the new technologies contributes to a linkage of knowledge with various aspects of the person, thereby ensuring more thorough assimilation of the many things learned).

2.3.3   Observation 8: New online practices by educators are adopted through adaptation.

The dissemination and implementation of effective uses of online technologies in classrooms will have to take account of local contexts of instruction. Successful implementation calls for systemic analysis which takes account of context in terms of existing policy and management practices of schools and boards, in terms of the capability to implement and sustain innovations (e.g., professional development resources, technical resources), and in terms of the culture of teachers and schools (e.g., teaching and evaluation philosophies and practices) (Blumenfeld, Fishman, Krajcik, & Marx, 2000). Awareness is increasing that such implementation actually involves "reinvention" by teachers of recommended new practices so that they take account of significant factors in the local context; the issue is how to maintain the fidelity of new practices as this reinvention occurs (Fishman, 2000). One of the conditions that appears necessary for successful yet adaptive implementation is a much better coordination of effort among researchers (including both technology and curriculum developers), student teachers, and teachers in the classroom--a coordination that would result in a true community of practice for implementation purposes (Barab, Squire & Dueber, 2000).

2.4      The context

The governance of the integration of ICTs in education is the fourth dimension to be reviewed. Three contexts are considered, the classroom, the school, and the school district. The first one refers here to classroom organization and management, the second one to school management, and the third one to district-wide issues. Special attention is given to teacher professional development, and to school reform.

2.4.1   Observation 9: Cooperation and collaboration classroom processes are augmented online.  

Cooperative learning is a practical approach which structures classroom activities through specifically assigned roles, tasks, and procedures. The use of computers to support cooperative learning was compared with competitive/individual approaches by Johnson and Johnson (1996). They concluded that computer-assisted cooperative learning promotes (a) higher quantity of daily achievement, (b) higher quality of daily achievement, (c) greater mastery of factual information, (d) greater ability to apply one’s factual knowledge in test questions requiring application of facts, (e) greater ability to use factual information to answer problem-solving questions, and (f) greater success in problem-solving. 

Looking at the effects of social context when learning with computer technology, Lou, Abrami and Muni (1998) conducted a number of meta-analyses on relevant research studies in an attempt to synthesize the literature on the influence of small group versus individual learning with computers. They came to the conclusion that on average small group learning with computer technology has positive effects on group task performance, individual achievement, and attitudes toward collaborative learning.

Collaborative learning moves the classroom beyond cooperative learning, promoting less structured but more active dialogue between participants seeking to understand and apply knowledge (notions, concepts, principles, and techniques).  The process of progressing in the understanding of a question or a theme of inquiry has been called knowledge building (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993; Harasim, 1990).

Hativa and Lesgold (1996) studied competition and collaboration in integrated learning systems (ILS), and found that the social structure of classrooms was remarkably stable and hence an important factor in learning outcomes. Extending their findings to network technologies, they predicted that effects of the technology would be diverse, with some classrooms forming extended learning communities that would support students working towards shared learning goals, while other classrooms would not succeed, to the detriment of student learning and self-image (p. 168). Keeler’s (1996) positive qualitative evaluation of networked computers in the elementary classroom led her to suggest a six-step model for creating a community of learners through the implementation of computers: 1) involve teachers at the beginning, 2) form building-level teams, 3) train everyone involved in the project; 4) have adults model their own learning process to children in order to highlight the importance of lifelong learning, 5) involve parents in the classroom, and 6) provide time for everyone to share their successes and learn from one another.

In connected classrooms (whether this connection is local or remote), new interaction patterns are born. Resources for learning expand beyond the teacher and textbook. Learners acquire broader audiences for their constructions and outputs. The capability of presenting and manipulating outputs facilitates collaboration with other learners. For instance, part of the student to student interaction may be structured around collaborative projects with faculty and students at distant schools. At times, experts and other community members are included. As pointed out by Davis (1995), the timeliness of the communication remains in the attention span of the classroom (p. 591). Over the last ten years, researchers have engaged in collaborative projects with school teachers, and developed online communities of practice mostly in environmental studies, and in the math/science content areas (see Riel, 1994). They contributed to the re-emergence of the project-based learning approach as they structured projects around specific inquiries, scientific expeditions, services, or deliverables (Blumenfeld, Soloway, Marx, Krajcik, Guzdial, & Palincsar, 1991; Marx, Blumenfeld, Krajcik, & Soloway, 1997; see also Grégoire & Laferrière, 1998).

Best results are obtained by learning communities that engage in problem-based learning, and inquiry-based learning. As demonstrated by the Schools for Thought research projects (Brown, 1997; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996, McGilly, 1994; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1993), there are tools that support progressive discourse; learners become designers and experts. Learning community goals can become highly centered on knowledge advancement. Canadian researchers have been designing, field-testing, and implementing networked-based collaborative tools which have shown increasingly positive results on student learning. These initiatives include KNOWLEDGE FORUM, CSILE’s new-generation tool (Computer-Supported Intentional Learning Environment), WebKNOWLEDGE FORUM, and the Knowledge Society Network (Reeve & Lamon, 1998; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996).  In the United States, there are also initiatives, including COVIS (Pea, 1992), the Multimedia Forum Kiosk (Linn, 1996), and the Knowledge Integration Environment (KIE) developed at Berkeley University that activate shared representations among learners.

Furthermore, Dede (2000) reports on the early results of a new multidisciplinary funding program of the National Science Foundation to examine the potential of emerging information technologies for fostering knowledge and distributed intelligence. “Online virtual communities for creating, sharing, and mastering knowledge” have been created, and each “develops a communal memory and wisdom that surpasses the individual contributions of each participant” (p. 283).  There are school learners involved in these virtual communities of practice, and they are getting acquainted with, for instance, new forms of representation (e.g. interactive models that utilize visualization and other means of making abstractions tangible and sensory). As Dede points out: “interpersonal interactions across networks can lead to the formation of virtual communities” (p. 283). With asynchronous cooperation and collaboration being possible both  inside and outside the classroom, teachers are presented with new possibilities but also additional challenges.

2.4.2   Observation 10: The education of educators is broadened to include just-in-time or collaborative learning.

For professional teachers to meet the expectations of a Knowledge Society, access to and use of better technology, that is, multimedia computers linked to other computers, is thought to be of significant help. An historical look at the contribution of technology to education shows that other technologies have made such contributions in the past: the alphabet, the book, the blackboard, the overhead projector, the video projector, the computer.  It is the assumption of the Review Team that teachers, like other professionals, need better technology and they need to make better use of technology in order to accomplish a task of increasing complexity.

Though scientific evidence was even more scarce in 1996 than it is today, the relationship between knowledgeable teachers and improved learning was already discernable (see Review).  Seven years ago, December (1994) pointed to the possibilities of teachers using the Internet for professional development (ProD) activities such as publishing on the Internet.  The very fact of making information available online to other teachers about ones’ own practices as a teacher is reflection on action, that is, a most essential ProD activity.  As reported by Maring, Wiseman and Myers (1997), Anderson-Inman began a Technology Tidbits department in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy in October 1995 "to open a window (...) onto ideas for using technology in ways that support your goals as a teacher (...) so that [teachers will] be better informed about the potential that technology brings to the teaching and learning process (...) [and] will want to try more" (p.197). 

Some educators are keenly aware that students’ accessibility to information through the Internet must be channeled in proper ways (see Collis & Knezek, 1997). After a 4-year period of applied technology-enhanced instruction in the province of British Columbia, Woodrow (1998) stressed the importance for educators, including educators of educators, " to realize that the vast database in all areas requires public school students to have available the technological means of data access as well as the means to understand accessed information" (p. 7). 

 Computer literacy is still, however, a major problem for preservice and inservice teachers (see Larose, Lenoir, Grenon, Lafrance, & Roy 1998; Roberts & Associates/Associés, 1998).  The gap between those that have and those that do not have the basic skills is highly perceptible in the teaching profession, whether at the entry level or later in one’s career.  Yet, much progress has been made over the past years, and the group of early adopters has reached a critical mass, as demonstrated by the number of preservice students having an e-mail address, and access to a networked personal computer. Laferrière (1997) developed the following tentative ProD model for the integration of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the classroom: 1) the awareness of the network phenomenon; 2) the mastery of access to online resources and tools; 3) the exploration of new possibilities for learning and teaching; 4) the establishment of new classroom routines; 5) the involvement of learners in project-based learning; and 6) the pursuit of collaborative knowledge-building. 

 Proper support must be provided in the school environment for teachers to integrate ICTs in their classroom activities (Adelman & Panton Walking-Eagle, 1996; Maddin, 1997): peer coaching, including visits to classrooms using ICTs to assist their learning community activity, walk-in clinics, student assistance, and reflective activities.  The Benton Foundation Report (1997) insisted on the necessity to build a "human infrastructure", along with an electronic one (computers and wiring).

There is now a plethora of interactive websites inviting user feedback, and participation in discussion forums.  Teachers have had the opportunity to join virtual interest groups and learning communities for nearly a decade (Bull, Harris, Llloyd, & Short, 1989; Meadows, 1992, Lévy, 1997). They are initiated by teacher associations or unions (e.g., Ontario Teachers Federation), university professors (e.g., Leach, 1997), units (e.g., Learning and Technology Group, McGill U), and research centers (e.g., Centre de recherche et d'intervention sur la réussite scolaire, CRIRES, Université Laval).

The number of preservice and inservice teachers using the Web for preparing their lesson plans and courses is growing. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) (1997) in the US stresses the importance of "the ability for teachers to obtain and interpret information quickly and accurately" in a section on the Impact of Technology on Teaching.  The NCATE Report goes on saying:

The introduction of computers and other technologies into schools is occurring at the same time that three decades of research in the cognitive sciences, which has deepened our understanding of how people learn, is prompting a reappraisal of teaching practices.  We know from this research that knowledge is not passively received, but actively constructed by learners from a base of prior knowledge, attitudes, and values.  Dependence on a single source of information, typically a textbook, must give way to using a variety of information sources.  As new technologies become more readily available and less expensive, they will likely serve as a catalyst for ensuring that new approaches to teaching gain a firm foothold in schools. (p. 3)

Besides searching for information, teachers are now also using the Web for communication and collaboration purposes. Examples include the Education Network of Ontario; GrassRoots teachers (see the website of SchoolNet Canada); TACT (Technology for Advanced Collaborative Teaching (see Breuleux, Laferrière, & Bracewell, 1998); Project E.L.I.T.E (Gibson & Hart, 1997; De Carlitz & Zinga, 1997; and the PiVIT Project (Marx, Blumenfeld, Krajcik, & Soloway, 1998; Collis, 1996). At the preservice level, efforts are being made to prepare upcoming teachers to work online in a collaborative manner. The Project-Based Learning Support System (PBLSS) was designed and field-tested in an "attempt, through a collaborative design process with teachers and students, to develop tools and structures for doing projects that reduce the teacher’s burden and that make student success more likely" (Laffey, Tupper, Musser, & Wedman, 1998). The TACT website is a virtual community of support and communication for preservice, inservice, and teacher educators that offers a variety of resources and telelearning tools for inquiry into teaching and learning in technology-rich environments. Harrington (1996) has shown the potential of online activities to foster participation and democratic behavior in preservice teachers.  Her findings, which suggest "that conferencing activities enable students of teaching to struggle with the dilemmas of teaching within a community of peers" (p. 16), corroborate those of Harasim (1997), and of Hiltz and Wellman (1997) pertaining to higher education as a whole. 

As pointed out by Soloway (1996), quoting John Richards of BBN in Cambridge, technology is the Trojan Mouse.  It comes into a classroom and there is a flurry of activity surrounding the technology; technology precipitates and enables teacher change (Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow, ACOT, see Haymore Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1997).  This is also one of the key observations of the TeleLearning Professional Development School Project (TL*PDS), of which the authors of this Review are part (see Laferrière, Bracewell, Breuleux, Erickson, Lamon, & Owston, 2001).  In the words of Jacques Viens, professor at the University of Montreal, "ICTs create a meta-effect; it transforms the vision of learning" (Viens, 1998).  Soloway goes on to note: "The technology is the proximal cause; but quite frankly, the real issue is the teacher permitting and then encouraging students to work, to talk, to produce genuine artifacts, and to feel good about themselves and what they are doing in school" (p. 14).

The research team concurs with Soloway that the level of structure in teaching/learning activities is a major issue, and research results linking individual student characteristics with performance of online learning environments are not consistent in this matter. On the one hand, Linn and Davidson-Shivers (1996) pointed to undergraduate students having higher field-dependency as those showing more positive attitudes when using less structured instruction in a computer-based hypertext environment (p. 326). On the other hand, the self-study conditions (independent learning) that provide interactive learning environments may be quite effective as demonstrated by Martens, Valcke and Portier (1997).  As suggested by Hill and Hannafin (1997), helping learners to construct a functional mental model of a particular system, and providing searching tips for wise selection, should increase their chances of success in finding desired information (p. 61). They concluded that "efforts to foster divergent thinking and multiple perspective building, as well as critical thinking and problem solving, are needed to assist learners in adapting to these environments" (p. 62). 

Obstacles to the breakout of new practices beyond field sites that are supported (and protected) by research-based initiatives include the following: a) the tremendous range in teaching philosophies, practices, and uses of information technologies, b) the finding that it is a small minority of teachers who are successfully using online resources to support communicative and collaborative academic work by their students (Becker & Riel, 2000), and c) the weight of traditional attitudes about teaching even among teachers in training who have access to new technologies (Clift, Mullen, Levin & Larson, 2000).

This scalability issue is one of the reasons that researchers are adopting more comprehensive theoretical frameworks for analyzing the integration of ICTs and instruction (see Chapter 1, The organizing framework, above).

Reaching beyond schools and school districts, educational reform networks are becoming increasingly important as alternative forms of teacher and school development  (Lieberman & Grolnick, 1996). That same year and without knowing of the work of these researchers, the SchoolNet Advisory Board (1996) endorsed the Vision Statement that a group of educators from Canada had put forward, that is, the idea of interconnected learning communities.

2.4.3   Observation 11: The on-line classroom challenges the locally-established curriculum.

Collaborative learning is a way to meet the higher expectations of a knowledge society. Cognitive science research results are raising the level of what is now expected of teachers and of all other professional educators.  Knapp (1997), emphasized:

[I]f systemic reforms in mathematics and science are to be realized fully in classrooms, teachers must engage in a long-term process of learning that resembles the kind of constructivist processes that they and reformers hope will characterize students’ classroom experiences.  Individuals at other levels of the system who are in a position to support teachers’ work directly or indirectly – principals, curriculum coordinators, professional development organizers, superintendents, state agency officials, and even board members and parents – face a similar learning challenge.  They too must grasp what mathematical ideas might underlie subtraction and long division or what integrated science might imply about disciplinary boundaries they have long held sacred (pp. 252-253).

Constructed content may challenge the curriculum and conventional measures of achievement, whereas 'canned' content on CD-ROM (and to be offered on the Web) tends to be pre-organized in ways highly consistent with such curriculum and measures of achievement which are often designed, according to Dede (1998), to assess a narrow range of knowledge.

Online teachers are developing learning programs and materials in partnership with educators and others (see Ahola-Sidaway & McKinnon, 1998).  Virtual communities of practice led by researchers are inviting school learners to join in (Dede, 2000).

2.4.4   Observation 12: Educators use online learning as a key enabler of educational reform

Accessibility to education has been achieved in North America applying the assembly-line model to the delivery of information and the management of secondary schools (task fragmentation, time control and other principles of taylorism).  ICTs add flexibility to models of massification (schooling for all), and to the democratization process of education. Recent school reform efforts were undertaken, however, without a clear awareness of the potential of new technology to make a significant difference in the ways schools and classrooms are organized.  Evidence has been building on the mutual dependencies between the use of online tools for learning and school reform or school improvement efforts (see Means, 1994; Fishman, 2000). Powerful and sustainable uses of online tools tend to appear in the context of broader school improvement initiatives that offer direct support for technology and, vice versa, sustainable school reform initiatives tend to benefit from giving technology a serious place in the improvement process. This last observation illustrates these relations and points to sources in the research literature that document the circumstances and consequences of such interdependencies.

In his introduction to state-of-the-art practices for the 1998 ASCD Yearbook on Learning with Technology, Chris Dede remarked: "The Yearbook focuses on exemplary projects with the potential to re-conceptualize schooling" (p. V). He went on stressing four types of improvements in educational outcomes of technology-based pedagogical strategies:  learner motivation, advanced topics mastered, students acting as experts, and better outcomes on standardized tests (1998, pp. 210-211). Educators that subscribe to the Type II Approach mentioned earlier, that is, those seeing online technology as an enabler of new teaching, learning, and governance practices, may only have at this point scarce information with respect to the potential of its use for classroom and school improvement, but they are developing plans, policies, and reallocating resources devoted to the integration of ICTs into education.  For instance, the Executive Summary of the Report of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (1997) stresses:

 While a number of different approaches have been suggested for the improvement  of K-12 education in the United States, one common element of many such plans has been the more extensive and more effective utilization of computer, networking, and other technologies in support of a broad program of systemic and curricular reform. (p. 26)

Piper, Power, and Stevens (1998) observed that the Vista School District Digital Intranet (Newfoundland) challenges the closed model of the school and manages geographic isolation in a new way.

European educators also see the potential of ICTs for transforming education systems.  Plomp, Brummelhuis and Pelgrum (1997) suggest that the infusion of technology undergoes three phases: 1) the substitution phase, where the same practices occur using new technologies, 2) the transition phase, where new practice begins to appear and to start questioning well-established practices, and 3) the transformation phase, where technology enables new practices and some old ones appear as obsolete (p. 463). They go on emphasizing that if educators persist in using ICTs as substitutes for current practices, they may not contribute to solving the educational problems now being encountered.

The successful implementation in the classroom of online technology beyond the basic level takes place in a supportive context.  Kerr (1996b), the editor of the ninety-fifth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, entitled Technology and the future of schooling, conducted studies that led him to observe the following:

[C]ontrary to the expectations of some pro-technology advocates, the process of adopting new devices and the approaches they make possible is neither rapid nor easy, nor does it automatically lead to the sort of revolutionary restructuring of teaching that proponents have predicted (….) teachers, appropriately supported and encouraged, can use technology in ways that allow classroom experience to be reorganized and that provide new ways for teachers to recast their own professional roles.  While this approach [does] not lead to rapid change, it [does] show that technology can alter how classrooms look and feel, and that computers have social implications in schools that go beyond merely making instruction more effective or giving students access to better tools (pp.115-116).

According to Kerr (1996a), the opportunity for teachers to work together on new patterns of instruction is also linked to the need for specific guidance to be provided on how to accomplish those changes.  Teachers’ professional communities as a factor in restructuring schools were examined by Seashore Louis, Marks, and Kruse (1996). They found that  "comprehensive high schools that scored high on professional community exhibited a  ‘common language’ of reform and consensus around a set of goals for themselves and their students" (p. 783). The overall evidence that they gathered made them point to "the need to emphasize the local development of schools as healthy, professionally sustaining environments in which teachers are encouraged to do their best job" (p. 787). The need for both guidance and community is evident specifically in relation to technology implementation, as illustrated in the following case. 

After an intensive professional development program sponsored by the New Zealand Ministry of Education and the Christchurch College of Education, teachers voiced substantial pleas, according to Ham (1997), for greater democracy in decisions about technology.  His survey pointed to "pressing concerns about participating in long-term technology planning and about ongoing support" (p. 67). "Our teachers wanted greater involvement in policy and decision making about technology and a sense of long-term planning rather than 'ad hocery'" (p. 68).  The importance of top-down support and bottom-up change could not be overstated here.  Active support is required, from peers, school administrators, or school districts mostly in the form of guidelines, policies, visions, site-based decision making, and communication channels (Macmillan, Liu & Timmons, 1997).

Knapp (1997) assembled studies and analyses of large-scale systemic reform initiatives aimed at mathematics and science education, especially those undertaken by state governments and the National Science Foundation.  He found a lack of alignment among key elements of the system, stressing that "either elements directly contradict one another (as when tests oriented towards discrete basic skills are retained while a curriculum emphasizes advanced skills) or simply ignore one another (as in textbook choices made without reference to teachers’ preferences, beliefs, or knowledge base)" (p. 230).

Efforts devoted to align elements, especially those  "dealing with what is taught, how it is taught, how learning is assessed, how teachers are prepared and supported, and how they are held to account for student performance" (p. 230), are likely to create issues and debate among professional educators, at local, regional, and provincial sites. 

The infusion of online technology in elementary and secondary classrooms does not diminish the controversies and conflicts that pertain to school improvement efforts. On the contrary, it illuminates existing debates from new positions.  It acts as a debate catalyst, as individuals bring to the debate their own perceptions of what technology can and cannot do, and of what school is about (see the section on critical issues, on the Canadian Teacher Federation website -- Fullan (1993) pointed to considerable controversy that improvement efforts generate. Fullan does not focus on technology per se, and neither does Hatch (1998), in his analysis of the ATLAS Communities Project -- a partnership between the Coalition of Essential Schools, Education Development Center, Harvard Project Zero, and the School Development Program in the U.S.  Hatch points to the differences in the theories of action held by different people and organizations – some of them including technology as part of reform, and others not – which are deep and cannot be ignored.  He observes:

 Even in a case where there was considerable agreement on goals and mission  - when differences in approach were viewed as simply a matter of emphasis and not direct disagreement, where good relationships existed at the highest levels, and when significant funding was provided – different approaches to three of the basic dilemmas of schooling made it extremely difficult to make decisions and to carry out the collaborative work that school improvement required (p. 24). 

The three dilemmas Hatch is referring to are the following: 1) how to establish wide support and foster innovation at the same time; 2) how to balance the needs and interest of students, teachers, and society in the curriculum; and 3) how to balance the need for autonomy with the benefits of support and direction. Recognizing that the different theories of action at play among partners with a long experience in school reform were making success difficult if not impossible to achieve, he recommends "exploring how theories of action grow out of different experiences and perspectives may provide one avenue for understanding and appreciating the rationale and logic behind a number of different approaches to educational reform (p. 27)". 

Other observations made by Westbrook and Kerr (1996), relate to reform and governance:  1) implementation of ICTs in principle brings about changes in funding priorities and patterns, not only in terms of computer equipment and software, but also rewiring and reconfiguring classrooms, maintenance costs for equipment, and professional development and technical support; 2) the actual per-pupil funding for ICTs tends to be small (around 3%) and below estimates of what would be required to achieve the level of technology desired by some educators, policymakers and parents.

A better understanding of the classroom, school, and school district context is emerging as crucial for the wider adoption of practices that effectively integrate online resources and instruction -- see above-mentioned references to Fishman (2000) and Blumenfeld et al. (2000).

Before the Review Team points to research shortcomings and gaps in studying ICTs in K-12 education, one more point must be made. Educational administrators, as well as teachers, are seeing their practices challenged by online technology which enables more horizontal relationships between professionals working towards the same educational goals.  Kerr (1996a) remarked that:

The challenge for administrators, many of whom have spent all their lives in systems that are thoroughly bureaucratic, is no less than that for teachers; the problematic features of bureaucratic systems are less amenable to individual solution (as are many of teachers’ practices) and more often codified in various sorts of district regulation, administrative code, and state law (p. 25). 

Policy makers and educational leaders wondering if they are making the right decisions regarding school and classroom connectivity are encouraged to identify individual beliefs and orientations beneath educational trends. For instance, more horizontal relationships develop in the classroom, thus transforming how control is exercised. Young teachers who are expected to adopt new technology worry about how their means for control in the classroom will be accepted by their peers or superiors (Laferrière, Massicotte, & Jacques, 2000). The current emphasis on achievement is often promoted with an orientation toward the past (the back-to-the-basic trend); changing relationships between schools and their communities is an orientation directed to the present (the awareness of student diversity, and a communal approach to face educational challenges); and educators who are forming partnerships to improve teaching and learning may be demonstrating  an orientation to the future (lifelong learning skills for all).

Chapter 3

Shortcomings and research gaps

Honey, McMillan Culp, and Carrigg (1999) begin their white paper by stating: "This paper offers a perspective that grows out of what we, at EDC's Center for Children and Technology, have learned from nearly three decades of research on educational technology. Rather than providing a detailed account of what we now know about the impact of technology on learning, we discuss where the research field is heading and review what we think of as the most promising directions for technology's role in education (President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, 1997; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999; Coley, Cradler, & Engel, 1997)."  Honey et al.  (1999) add: "Several factors are prompting us to think differently about research. Each one is based on our observations of steady growth and change on other fronts:

For educational leaders that are mobilizing and reallocating resources to provide the conditions (access, connectivity, professional development, and content development) for the use of online resources and tools, better student learning is a must. This chapter identifies practice shortcomings and gaps in research on the integration of ICTs in schools and classrooms, and presents a synthesis and recommendations.

3.1      Practice shortcomings

3.1.1   The pressure for evidence on a large scale

Evidence for the effectiveness of ICTs, including online technologies, is now well documented—for example Kachala and Bialo (2000) provide a comprehensive review of studies published over the past decade that demonstrate enhanced student learning in the classroom, whether skill or problem solving, at elementary and secondary levels. Most of these results, however, come from experimental research studies. On the one hand, such studies have the advantage of being well-designed in that relevant controls are included in the design which increase confidence in the validity of the results. On the other hand, the positive findings are specific to enabling factors, such as recruitment of interested and already knowledgeable teachers and access to enhanced professional development and technical resources, that are inherent to educational initiatives. The question remains as to whether these effective pedagogical practices using online technologies will be taken up in a successful manner by the profession as a whole.

Evidence exists for the effectiveness of online learning at an intermediate scale that is larger than experimental studies. For example, Follansbee, Hughes, Pisha, and Stahl (1997), comparing 500 students in fourth-grade and sixth-grade classes in 7 urban school districts, found that students perform better on measurements of information management, communication, and presentation of ideas (see Also, Wenglinsky (1998), in a National Assessment of Educational Progress report on mathematics achievement of 6000 fourth-grade and 8000 eighth-grade students, found improved attitudes towards learning math, greater ability to self-manage learning, and improved work habits. The findings confirm on a broader scale results already identified in experimental studies.

The next issue that requires investigation is how to achieve these results at a profession-wide scale that a) maintains the fidelity of innovations while at the same time allowing teachers to adapt them given their knowledge and skill about what works to enhance their students' learning (Blumenfeld et al, 2000; Fishman, 2000), and b) also recruits the majority of teachers who are currently closed off from professional development that would lead to using these technologies in their teaching (Becker & Riel, 2000).

3.1.2   A lack of advanced R & D projects

In 1998, the Unesco World Report concluded that there was a dearth of rigorous research findings, demonstrating clear learning gains using ICTs over conventional classroom processes, that is, with the learning that is now becoming more and more useful in active life outside the school (p. 93).  Such findings were also found to be scarce in Ed Week’s Technology Counts Report ( We may know more today, but the demand for research has also increased as more teachers and students use ICTs in the networked classroom.

Issues of ‘design’ are critical with respect to the use of online technology in learning. Shallow research projects create noise rather than bring light on critical questions (see Condliffe Lagemann & Shulman, 1999). Research could be supported by a more direct ‘design experiment’ framework for vigorous discussions of the contexts and processes that ensure the attainment of the conditions of online learning, and higher teacher and student performance. Building on the evidence provided by Brummelhuis (1995) and Janssen Reinen (1996), Plomp, Brummelhuis and Pelgrum (1997) stress how important it is “that decision makers understand that the integration of technology in education depends upon not one factor, but on interconnected elements that will vary according to the level of implementation of technology” (p. 468). Combinations of positive circumstances – learner, content, teacher, and context  – need  to be documented.

3.1.3   A lack of congruent assessment tools

Where they exist, better outcomes (see Dede in the ASCD Yearbook 1998) are often associated with higher scores on conventional measures of achievement designed to assess a narrow range of knowledge. Policy makers and educational leaders need to be aware that the assessment and measurement tools that are currently in place are more aligned with the past than the new theory of learning (Lieberman & Miller, 2000; Schafer, 2000). Nor are evaluation practices revised in a way as to reflect the new social expectations that drive technology integration plans in schools. Thus, learning outcomes, as measured by standardized tests, are bound to vary greatly across studies  of the use of online resources and tools. What needs to be put in place as a regular component of educational assessment are the means for evaluating the kinds of learning and application of knowledge that are supported by online technologies and that are expected by a society increasingly oriented towards knowledge work and building.

Moreover, because of the Hawthorne effect [7], sustainability and portability [8] are important issues to be considered. For lasting effects, the level of support as well as the level of use must be taken into account. In other words, what works under ideal support conditions must be identified to stand as a target for revised assessment methods. The participation of the  entire instructional community (teachers, administrators, and researchers), working as communities of learning and practice, is required in order to realize the design, implementation, and establishment of appropriate assessment practices that respect the complex learning and performance supported by online and network technologies.

3.2      Gaps in current knowledge about online use of technology in the K-12 classroom

The framework adopted for the analysis of online technology use for instructional purposes, and the emerging trends outlined above, indicate a number of gaps in our current knowledge of the impact (both existing and potential) of online technology on teaching and learning.  In summary form, these gaps include the following:

3.2.1   Connectivity and access

Substantial access to online technologies, in terms of both resources and learner competence in making use of them, remains the exception in our classrooms. Given limited connectivity and access, research results reflecting practical uses of online resources and tools in the elementary and secondary school classrooms are scarce. The most recent large-scale information on what up-to-date resources are available comes from the SITES-M1 research results (Pelgrum & Anderson, 1999). The data, however, was gathered in 1999. SITES-M2 (case studies) will soon provide in-depth understanding of exemplary sites as regards the integration of ICTs. This will build on the work of Schofield et al. (1998, p.371) who point to the importance of information on the technology planning process of schools, boards, and faculties of education (ASCD, 1998; NCATE, 1997), and the ability of students to make effective use of online resources (Schacter, Chung, & Dorr, 1998).

For example, building on Pelgrum and Anderson’s (1999) results, research gaps would be reduced, and educational research in Canada enhanced, by investigating:

3.2.2   The characteristics of learners

Education systems in Canada will gain from research that investigates the characteristics of learners in relation to their use of networked computers and their learning outcomes. Individual differences are the single best predictor of performance on most tasks, including human-computer interaction (Dillon & Watson, 1996).  Learners differ according to their level of intelligence or ability, and their learning style. Learning style dimensions are: field dependence/field independence, a frequently-used source of individual differences in cognitive science for representing differences in preference to attend to specific issues or to rely on context; passive/active learners; and deep/shallow processes, which refers to the level of depth of analysis learners manifest in response to new information. Dillon and Gabbard (1998) state that “The interaction of learner style in the use of hypermedia offers perhaps the beginning of an explanation for the generally conflicting results in the literature comparing hypermedia and non-hypermedia environments.” (p. 344). What is known is that “high-ability learners will perform better than low-ability learners, regardless of the medium of instruction, but that hypermedia applications can offer techniques (e.g. explicit cuing) that can help the less able student perform better” (p. 344).

For example, building on Dillon and Gabbard’s (1998) results, research gaps would be reduced and educational research in Canada enhanced, by investigating:

3.2.3   How to scale up professional development in the use of online resources and tools

Effective use of online resources and tools for learning means pairing the resources with an instructional approach that is very different from the traditional one. The shift that is required is so radical and involves such large numbers of teachers (Blumenfeldt, et al., 2000) that more information is needed on numerous topics: a) the nature and extent of teacher's experience with information technologies (Rosen & Weil, 1995), b) how teachers view these resources (Kerr, 1996), c) how they understand their impact on society as a whole (NCATE, 1997), d) how they alter their instructional practices in order to use them effectively (Haymore Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1997; Maring, Wiseman & Myers, 1997), e) what factors impede the spread of now instructional practices (Becker & Riel, 2000),  and f) how to adapt new practices to local contexts while maintaining the fidelity of the practices (Fishman, 2000). Circumstances of use such as time management, including time reallocation inside and outside the classroom, as well as capacity-building circumstances need to be investigated. The information that the SITES-M2 (case studies) will bring could help design large-scale studies on capacity building.  For instance, more information is needed on online professional development activities (nature, process, and results) (see Moonen & Voogt, 1998; Breuleux, Laferrière, & Bracewell, 1998; Doubler, Laferrière, Lamon,  Rose, Jay, Hass, Polin, & Schlager, 2000).

Research gaps would be reduced, and educational research in Canada enhanced, by investigating:

3.2.4   Stable versus dynamic content of curriculum

The content of what will be taught using online resources and tools is becoming more diverse and shifting towards more construction and input by the learner.  More information is required on whether this more dynamic content conflicts with traditional curriculum content and goals (Saye, 1997) or assessment methods, and, where it does, on how to reconcile these conflicts (Hewitt & Scardamalia, 1998).

For example, research gaps would be reduced, and educational research in Canada enhanced, by investigating:

3.2.5   Performance indicators for evaluating the use and impact of online technologies

 As the presence and use of information technologies becomes increasingly widespread, performance indicators to monitor the use and outcomes of the technologies, and to demonstrate accountability to funding sources and the public are becoming a critical issue (Jones & Paolucci, 1998). Indicators are needed not only to monitor changes in what students learn, but also to monitor contextual factors of student learning--such as types of resources available, and access to them, professional development efforts, and changes in teaching and learning practices -- since these factors are known to influence student learning that is supported by online technologies (Becker, 2000; Bordia, 1997; Haertel & Means, 2000; Harrington & Quinn-Leering, 1996; Wenglinsky, 1998; Windschitl, 1998).

There is increasing recognition of the lack of a match between the performance indicators of student learning that are expected to accompany use of online technologies and the indicators that are provided by standardized achievement tests (Haertel &Means, 2000). With use of online technologies, performance indicators should be based on "the patterns, skills, and knowledge structures that characterize developing expertise" (Mislevy, Steinberg, Almond, Haertel & Penuel, 2000, p. 16) rather than recall of facts or application of simple skills. A review by Haertel and Means (2000) calls for learning assessments that tap:

For the time being, standardized achievement tests should continue to be used as performance indicators for basic knowledge and skills to ensure that there is no decrease in performance at this level (Haertel & Means, 2000; Wenglinsky, 1998).

Chapter 4

Synthesis and recommendations

4.1       Synthesis

Access to electronic and online social networks entails new activities in classrooms, schools, and universities as teachers uncover the possibilities of online resources and tools for learning purposes. Moreover, the technologies used presently in some classrooms are often parts of collaborative research projects, and may be partially used to meet the required exigencies of a particular study.  There are experimental results demonstrating the value of effective use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on learning outcomes, but large-scale studies pointing to higher academic achievement under appropriate conditions are just getting underway. We are aware that results could greatly differ depending on the circumstances of use.  The technology and the teacher knowledge and skill can indeed make a strong difference.  But this combination of circumstances is often missing, a factor that research findings often fail to display (see Armstrong & Casement, 1998).  

The two most extreme models of use were found to be of help for the organization of mixed results: TCLC - : teacher/transmitter, content/canned, learners/limited access, context/limited support; TCLC + :  teacher/facilitator, content/constructed, learners/high access, context/extensive support. Viewing the four basic constituents of each model as a whole rather than in isolation, appears to be the best approach. In fact, to put the focus on one constituent at the expense of the others, raises superficial questions and leads to fruitless debates. In our opinion, the fundamental factors we ought to keep in mind constitute a viable model for making sense of all the activities related to the use of online resources and tools, and its impact. In using these models, it is important to note that when one of these four elements varies, it affects the others.

In the early phases of network connectivity, access issues are numerous, the learning is about  technology, and the acquisition of computer literacy is the learning goal. As attention turns to learning with technology, a variety of teaching options are available.  By far, better results are obtained when teachers know how to take advantage of the teaching and learning possibilities (synchronous and asynchronous) in a networked classroom.

Change, however, in education systems is evolutionary more than revolutionary. It took a few decades to develop the factory-school model – based on the assembly-line principle of scientific management suggested by Taylor early in the XXth Century.  As pointed out by Pepi and Scheurman (1996), educators “need reasons why the adoption of the new technologies will help us do a better job educating our students” (p. 231).

The TL*NCE research program (1995-2002) contributes to fulfilling this research agenda, but funding is far from being sufficient to address the above questions and issues with breadth and depth. The Cueno’s team of researchers ( and others  have evaluated a number of innovative practices in recent years. SSHRC has also supported a number of other research projects (see SSHRC's document entitled Information on Education and technology 1992-1997).  Its new initiative on the knowledge economy will hopefully take into consideration the above-mentioned elements.  The Office of Learning Technology (OLT) is also supporting a number of research projects.  In Quebec, the FCAR’s Action concertée geared to ICTs (, supported researchers whose field of inquiry dealt with two areas. The first was computer and multimedia literacy, design and production, which dealt with questions such as the following. How do students proceed when allowed to use on-line tools and resources? What kind of guidance do they need in order to produce meaningful designs and to communicate effectively using hypermedia? (See Bordeleau’s, Deaudelin’s, and others’ projects). The second was the changing relationship between the learner and his or her classroom learning environment (new roles and forms of interaction, including changing patterns of communication and collaboration).  There are also other studies addressing more generic questions such as changing patterns of access and participation, the relationship of the learner to content, and the perceived attitudinal and developmental benefits over use, time, and space, etc. (see Ed Week's 1998 Report ( The impact of technology on learning generates much interest, and the Council of Ministers of Education (Canada) commissioned two papers on this very subject in 1999, and will devote next-year call for papers to Technology and Education.

4.2      Recommendations 

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

4.2.1   A collaborative teaching/learning/research approach 

Online and network technology is evolving rapidly. The traditional knowledge transfer model of research followed by dissemination will neither be a flexible nor fast enough process to respond to societal expectations and needs. A coordinated effort among teachers, administrators, and researchers forming communities of practice and learning is required.

One indicator of the need for this concerted approach is the scope of required changes, which can be seen in the nature of the changes that will take place in all constituents of the educational exercise. With respect to the learner, see Observations 1 and 3 on increased student control and greater visibility of learning, and Research Gap 3.2.2 on characteristics of learners. With respect to the content, see Observations 4 and 5 on broadening the curriculum and learners constructing more content, and Research Gap 3.2.4 on the increasingly dynamic content of the curriculum. With respect to the teacher, see especially Observation 7 on the pairing of appropriate pedagogy with these tools, the Practice Shortcomings in section 3.1, and Research Gap in section 3.2.3 on scaling up professional development with these technologies. With respect to the context, see Observations 9 and 10 on augmentation of cooperative and collaborative learning and on the synergy between these technologies and educational reform.

Another indicator is the complexity of the required changes, which can be seen in the following two characteristics of the area. The first is the increasing recognition that new initiatives are implemented in ongoing educational situations with existing practices and procedures. See Observation 8 on the adaptation (rather than adoption) of new practices, and Observation 11 on the challenge to locally established curriculum. The second is the recognition that not only instructional practices must change, but also assessment methods must be significantly elaborated -- a challenge that faces both educators and researchers. See Practice Shortcoming 3.1.3 on implementing congruent assessment tools in the schools, and Research Gap 3.2.5 on developing and validating appropriate performance indicators.

4.2.2   A reflective approach to teaching (teachers-as-researchers)

The use of online resources and tools by teachers should be informed by reflective practice that takes into account empirical evidence, rather than personal theories-in-use.  The teaching profession must aim in this direction. The significance of this change is that it almost certainly entails a revised approach to teaching which frees the teacher from the drudgery of instruction by transmission and allows for the deployment of a greater range of pedagogical knowledge and practices.

One aspect of this revised approach is that the learner is viewed as an agent responsible for constructing his or her knowledge. See Observations 1 and 5 on greater student control of learning and greater student construction of curriculum content, as well as Observation 9 on the increase in cooperative and collaborative activities in the classroom.

Another aspect is that teachers will have more freedom to develop, share, and make use of pedagogical strategies that support learners in the acquisition of intellectual autonomy. See Observations 7 and 8 on the importance of appropriate pedagogy and the need to adapt innovations to local classroom conditions, and Research Gap 3.2.2 on the need for better  data on the interaction of learner characteristics with these technologies.

4.2.3   Professional development programs that respect the profession of teaching

The changes in student learning, instructional approaches, and assessment practices that online and network tools can bring about call for significant shifts in the conceptualization of professional development in the teaching profession.

One implication is that better coordination must be achieved between those responsible for the initial preparation of teachers and practicing teachers and administrators in order to deal with the shortcomings in practice that are discussed in section 3.1: pressure for evidence on a larger scale, lack of comprehensive research and development projects, and lack of congruent assessment tools.

A second, and more important, implication is that ongoing professional development must become an integral activity of the profession (as it is, for example, in medicine) in order to keep up with the rapid evolution and spread of online and network technologies. See Observations 10 and 12, on education of educators to include just in time and collaborative learning, and on the synergy between online technology and educational reform. See also Research Gap 3.2.3 on the challenges that are emerging with respect  to scaling up professional development.

4.2.4   A design experiment approach 

Issues of 'design' are prevalent today and could be supported by more direct "design experiment" frameworks as discussed in Practice shortcoming 3.1.2 on the need for comprehensive research and development projects. Such projects would lead to vigorous discussions of the contexts, contents, and processes that ensure the attainment of proper conditions for online learning.  For such conditions to be established, it is recommended that the following research procedures be adopted:

Canada could be at the forefront of this emerging domain of study if educational research programs parallel the well-developed electronic infrastructure (CANET 3).  In order for teaching and learning practices to take advantage of the electronic infrastructure being provided in Canada, educational research must be called to action.

The above recommendations will not, however, provide the comparative data that are needed on processes and learning outcomes.  These conditions need to be studied on an ongoing basis for Canadians to keep their confidence in their education systems. It is essential, for instance, that the SITES_studies data be updated.  At this point in time, it is Statistics Canada that is the closest to this knowledge base because Canada has no Pan-Canadian education policy institute.  There needs to be a longterm commitment in documenting how changes in the teaching processes affect student learning.  The Council of Europe (2001) is moving in this direction.  The Canadian Education Statistics Council (CESC) which is implementing the Pan-Canadian Education Research Agenda (PCERA) has retained Technology and Education as its 2001-2002 theme.  Coordination is needed between the different partners on the educational-research scene.


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, that will engage them in a process of risk and exploration for some time to come. This uncertainty may be reduced by a better understanding of the socio-technical framework needed to take adavantage of available ICTs. Research on one or the other of the four basic elements of each ‘extreme’ model of use (TCLC - : teacher/transmitter, content/canned, 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 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. 

[1]   Grégoire Inc., Bracewell, & Laferrière (1996). The Contribution of New Technologies to Learning and Teaching in Elementary and Secondary Schools, and the 1998 review is entitled The emerging contribution of online resources and tools to K-12 classroom learning and teaching. They were both prepared for SchoolNet, and published on TACT Website in 1996 and 1998.

[2]    As stressed by Harlow and LaMont Johnson (1998), who define epistemology as referring to the nature of how the mind processes and forms beliefs about the objects and events in our surroundings,  "the idea that we form our notions of the world directly by letting them seep through our senses and mind is considered to be the position of naïve epistemology". (p. 15) (see Miller's (1983) reference to Popper on this issue; see also Novak & Gowin, 1984)

[3]    The dimensional space could be used to identify models, trends, and gaps. A model – that is, a model use of on-line tools – can correspond to a point (representing the position in the space where the model use is situated) or, most likely, a constellation of points (representing the different modalities and configurations of situations and tools that are known to provide good results). Trends can be represented in at least two ways: a) by trajectories within a configuration of points or, b) as a contrast between two scattergrams at different periods (e.g., the scattergrams of publications in 1996, 1998 and in 2000). Gaps can be identified by contrasting different scattergrams for different types of documentation, for example, to contrast the technological plans of educational organizations (such as school boards or Universities) with the state of implementation in school classrooms or on campus (as revealed by a situation scan).  Gaps also can be identified by contrasting the situations surveyed, designed, or investigated within research initiatives with the situations prevailing in regular classrooms or campuses.

[4]    Trentin used the term telematics, that is, applications which merge together telecommunications and informatics.

[5]    1. Word-processing, desktop publishing
2. Spreadsheet
3. Database
4. Graphics: presentation, no professional drawing
5. CAD (computer-aided design), CAM (computer-aided manufacturing)
6. Statistical/mathematical programs
7. Programming languages
8. Accounting, book-keeping, financial software
9. Drill and practice programs
10. Tutorial programs (for self-learning)
11. Simulations (e.g. real world simulations)
12. Educational games
13. Recreational games/other games
14. For exams/tests/constructing tests/administrating tests
15. Internet browser
16. Email software
17. Encyclopedia on CD-ROM
18. Video/audio/authorware
19. Music composition
20. Presentation software (e.g. PowerPoint)
21. Software supporting microcomputer-based laboratories.

[6]    Meta-analysis is a statistical process whereby the findings of several studies are put together in a way as to arrive at a single finding, using effect size (see Krathwohl, 1993). An effort is made to draw inferences as to the meaning of different findings on a problem or topic.

[7]    The Hawthorne effect is described as follows: any intervention tends to have positive effects merely because of the attention of the experimental team to the subject’s welfare and learning.

[8]    Portability is defined as effects that are outside innovators' control.


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Definition of terms

For the purpose of this review,

online resources and tools are understood to mean the information and communication technologies (ICTs) applied to teaching and learning for the purpose of providing: 1) the flexible delivery of educational material (technology for the instructor), 2) the guidance and facilitation of the experience of the student (technology for the learner), and 3) the support of communities of learners (collaborative learning). "These technologies make it possible to provide access to world-wide resources; facilitate the accumulation and presentation of data; and enable communication, interaction, and collaboration among students and instructors to improve the practice of teaching and the experience of learning." (National Science Foundation (NSF), 1998, p. V);

effective use of online resources and tools is understood to encompass those pedagogies that take advantage of "applications that engage students with the material, illustrate complex systems or relationships, and encourage interaction with other individuals or teams. Ultimately, the technology tools should become transparent as they integrate the user in the process, enabling immersion in the learning level, and that, on an individual or community basis." (NSF, 1998, p. V)

telelearning is understood to mean the use, at school or at home, of multimedia computers networked to other computers for learning purposes (TL*NCE, 1995). Learners using computers networked together may of course communicate from one site to the other, using a variety of information sources. 

computer-mediated communication (CMC) has been defined by Kaye (1991) in the following terms:  "The use of computers and computer networks as communication tools by people who are collaborating with each other to achieve a shared goal, which do not require the physical presence or co-location of participants, and which can provide a forum for continuous communication free of time constraints" (p. 5). 

learning with ICTs emphasizes the socio-cognitive impact of teachers and learners working in partnership with technology.  Research results are understood to be "effects with " rather than "effects of  " the computer.  As pointed out by Salomon, Perkins & Globerson (1991), and re-emphasized by Salomon & Perkins (1996), this approach contrasts with the study of the effects of technology on learning and teaching.  That shift from learning from media to learning with media in emerging technology research, is described by Hannafin, Hannafin, Hooper, Rieber, & Kini (1996) in the following terms: "this research with technology focuses on how human processing changes in distinct, qualitative ways when an individual is engaged in an intellectual activity using the computer as a tool. Taken interactively, an intellectual partnership is formed between the individual and the technology; the resulting changes to cognition cannot be understood when the individual or the technology are considered apart" (p. 392). 

This choice of concepts indicates that this review adopts an approach likely to document the effective uses of online technology, ranging from accessing online information to network-supported collaborative knowledge construction by students.


Methodological notes

For the 1998-2000 period, the online search dealt with the contribution of new information technologies to learning and teaching in elementary and secondary schools. The search was exhaustive and emphasized articles, reports, papers and book chapters meeting the criteria for scholarly publications.   Proceedings were judged to be of an exploratory nature which usually do not present final conclusions and findings, but some papers presented at conferences were included to support specific trends. Finally, a search using Internet search engines such as Alta Vista or Excite was also excluded since the volume of information retrieved would have been too large, many of the articles would not meet scholarly criteria and it would have be difficult to evaluate and authenticate the studies. However, online articles, reports, and papers meeting scholarly criteria were included.  

According to the statement of work, it was decided to limit the search to the impact of networking technologies on education. That is, studies focusing on the impact of the Internet (wide area networks) on schools, teachers, and learning were the main theme of the search. 

The databases available via the McGill Library system searched include: ERIC, MEDLINE, Social Studies Abstracts, ABI Inform, Current Contests, PsycInfo, Sociofile, Humanities Index and Dissertation Abstracts.  Eric was searched because of its focus on education. Medline includes a wealth of articles on medical education and was chosen as well. Social Studies Abstracts and Sociofile were chosen because they may offer a sociological perspective to new information technologies and education. Psycinfo includes many articles examining the cognitive and psychological impact of new technologies on education. Humanities Index includes articles from an anthropological perspective. Naturally, Current Contents offers the most recent articles while Dissertation Abstracts offers graduate thesis and research on the subject.

The terminology chosen had to find all articles and yet exclude those articles deemed not useful. Although the search strategy and terms may have differed somewhat depending on the database searched, the strategy used was:



1  internet.ti,ab,hw

Primary term used. Title and Heading Word delimited the search.


Next, Internet was limited to Subject headings only.

3  1 or 2

The two previous sets were then combined.

4  (world wide web or www).ti,ab,hw.

The WWW was chosen as a term because abstracts on the technology may omit the word Internet, although it is unlikely.

5 (computer mediated communication or cmc).ti,ab,hw.

Many classroom projects are based on email, a term normally described by CMC.

6  3 or 4 or 5

All sets were then combined.

7  (teach or learn or school).ti,ab,hw.

The terms teach, learn and school (all truncated so as all variations with the root word would be retrieved) were searched.

8  6 and 7

The entire set was then limited to include the terms. That is, the abstract had to have the terms rather than either one.

9  limit 8 to yr=1996-1998

Date limits were then included.

10 not library or proceedings

Library and proceedings were then excluded.

The number of retrieved citations was exceptionally large and had to be evaluated by hand. Articles not meeting strictly the above criteria were excluded (popular articles, articles not about schools or universities, etc.). The selection of research documents according to the criteria of a) validity, b) relevance, c) credibility of the source, d) descriptive vs. normative materials, e) emerging research, f) funding (grant agencies, business partners). Concrete experiments (category one) of significance carried out in a school or university classroom or in a group of classrooms, sometimes in collaboration with other organizations, were considered as the primary materials (category 1). Systematic actions conducted by educational leaders and their evaluations, chosen as significant, are other important materials (category 2). All materials reviewed are the result of a methodological approach defined under a pre-established overall plan regardless of the size of the experiments under consideration. Evaluations must have been documented properly. 

 Selection criteria of materials. The bibliography herewith presented outlines a variety of online teaching and learning approaches.  It includes all kinds of methods and means such as: Internet, web sites, teleconferences, videoconferences and telepresence, virtual classes, educative platforms, data bases, online hypermedia and multimedia links, discussion forums on real or deferred time and electronic messages.  All references to prospective articles dealing with theoretical and/or methodological analysis systems, were carefully eliminated.

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