A Theoretical


Empirical Justification


To think is to learn.

To create is to think.

A simple version of the material that follows.


Anyone advocating applications of technology should be able justify his or her suggestions. This section is our effort to make what case we can for spending valuable time involved in online participatory experiences. It is fair to say that in our writing about the educational benefits of technology it has always been much easier to offer theoretical than empirical justifications. We take some solace in the position that this is a very common situation in education. Applied fields that allow the parties involved a great deal of personal freedom in how proposed innovations are implemented and utilized are likely prone to messy and inconsistent data. Teachers and students are neither chemicals interacting in a beaker nor rats responding in a cage.

Here is our working framework.

Learning What Schools Have Traditionally Taught

We would prefer that we could summarize research exploring the content-area benefits of participatory web tools and methods. Unfortunately, such research is very scarce. What we can do is explore more long-standing research topics with similarities to the methods encouraged by participatory web tools and tasks.

The theoretical perspective most commonly mentioned as a rationale for the collection of activities we describe here is ''generative learning'' (Wittrock, 1974, 1990). Closely related perspectives include ''constructivism'' (e.g., Paris & Byrnes, 1989) or ''meaningful learning'' (Ausubel, 1963). These theories propose that learner activities (teaching, writing, self-questioning) require or at least strongly encourage cognitive activities resulting in understanding and learning and also improve learner awareness of areas of misunderstanding or incomplete knowledge. While learners may generate such productive cognitive and metacognitive activities on their own, the external tasks offer instructors an opportunity to shape desirable student behaviors.

One distinction that emerges in several of the generative approaches contrasts ''knowledge-building'' and ''knowledge telling'' (e.g., Roscoe and Chi, 2007). Knowledge telling is regarded as the weak form involving a restatement of what is known with limited activation of other existing knowledge (e.g., attempts to generate examples from personal experience) and less extensive monitoring of understanding. In knowledge-building, the strong form, the learner adds to core ideas from existing personal knowledge and in doing to reflects on the core ideas in greater depth resulting in more effective comprehension monitoring. Often, instructors intervene to encourage knowledge-building by offering templates that serve to shape the generative task. For example, instructors may specify a recommended practice student tutors might employ (e.g., Offer a personal example of .......) as a way to encourage knowledge-building reflection among peer tutors.

Writing to Learn

Teaching to Learn

Interacting to Learn

Learning Skills Demanded in a Changing World

Changing Preferences for How We Learn

Changing skill and knowledge requirements - ISTE standards

Taking Advantage of the Knowledge Present in Groups

Is there wisdom in the crowd?



Ausubel, D. (1963). The psychology of meaningful learning. New York: Grune & Stratton.

Paris, S.G. & Byrnes, J.P. (1989). The constructivist approach to self-regulation and learning in the classroom. In B.J. Zimmerman and D.H. Schunk (eds) Self-regulated learning and academic achievement. (pp 169-200). New York: Springer Verlag.

Roscoe, R. D. & Chi, M.T. (2007). Understanding tutor learning: Knowledge-building and knowledge-telling in peer tutors' explanations and questions. Review of Educational Research, 77, 534-574.

Wittrock, M.C. (1974). Learning as a generative process. Educational Psychologist, 11, 87-95.

Wittrock, M.C. (1990). Generative processes of comprehension. Educational Psychologist, 24, 345-376.