From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 15|No 4|April|2006
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Creating to Learn:
Has technology fulfilled its promise in your classroom?

by Jacqueline Keane

About the author

“Anyone? … Anyone?”

I'm sure all of us have experienced something like that scene with Ferris Bueller's teacher-staring out at a collage of blank faces, hoping for a student to show some interest, some spark of understanding, or (should we dare even think it?) some insight. As Ferris's teacher used old-fashioned “talk and chalk” at the front of his classroom, his students drifted farther and farther away. No wonder Ferris wanted to take a day off.

We all laugh at this scene, but we need to ask ourselves: What are we doing so differently now?

It seems that our “technologically advanced” classrooms aren't much different from Ferris's boring economics class. We have “integrated” technology into our classrooms-by simply tacking it on. We now have students take online quizzes, assign them slide presentations rather than paper-based reports. We use PowerPoint slides to present our lectures, instead of chalk and blackboards. So how does that make us much different than Ferris's teacher?

We unthinkingly automated our tasks, and our students followed our lead. When assigned a research project, they quickly find Web pages on the Internet, cut and paste information onto their slides, and then spend the remainder of class time playing with colors and animations. They are no more engaged with the curricular topic than they were before the computers arrived, perhaps even less so.

So what do we do? We need to start asking ourselves more challenging questions when it comes to the implementation of instructional technology-not just “So how do I use this?”

Is technology the end or the means?

We should be exploring questions like these:

  • Why, even though I am using computers in my classroom, am I still failing to get the results that are expected by my administration?
  • Why do I have to re-teach material that students were supposed to learn while working on their “computer projects”?
  • What does a curriculum design that utilizes instructional technology in a meaningful way look like?

By addressing these essential questions, we can avoid the fate of Ferris' teacher-always waiting for our students to show some sign of life as we drone forward in our curriculum.

Used thoughtfully, instructional technology is a powerful active-learning tool that enables us to efficiently discover, analyze, and share information. We now have access to new and tantalizing ways to cover the curriculum. We can have our students demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of forms, like databases, spreadsheets, original graphics, web pages, publications, podcasts, and blogs. Even more importantly, we can do all this while encouraging our students to think for themselves and develop skills that are lasting and practical.

To do this, however, we need a new method-a road map that will show us how to use technology in a way that teach students universal skills and the curriculum. And now such a method exists.

Creating to Learn

Creating to Learn is designed to help our students gain a deeper understanding of the curriculum by having them actively participate with the subject matter. (No more students nodding off in the back of the room.) It inspires them to really think about the subject matter, enabling them to respond to both standardized and open-ended critical-thinking questions with genuine knowledge and insight. With this method, the technology component isn't a side project; it is an integral tool that adds horsepower to the process, it simply enables students to be more efficient and produce higher quality work. It emphasizes the curricular concepts rather than the technology tools-recognizing that technology is a means, not an end-learning becomes more meaningful and lasting.

This is a long way from Ferris Bueller's classroom. With Creating to Learn, each student is working toward a specific goal-not a multiple-choice test to be filled in haphazardly, but a knowledge product, an original project that demonstrates the student's personal experience and growth, and an authentic reflection of the students' earned knowledge.

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

The act of creating is what reinforces the curricular concepts for our students. The process can be explained in terms of CIDE, an acronym for the four phases: Concept, Investigation, Design, and Execution.

(Keane, 2006)

In this framework, students are not asked to cut and paste, regurgitate facts, or “learn by osmosis.” To create a knowledge product, they must think, cultivate their understanding, constantly reevaluate the material, and build a foundation of knowledge substantial enough for them to impart that knowledge to others. Simply put, to effectively communicate a topic to someone else requires an authentic understanding of the topic. Combine this learning with sound technological practices, plenty of room for individual creativity and you've got it … a recipe for enduring learning. Guessing between A, B, C, and D just doesn't cut it anymore.

The Creating to Learn method and the CIDE process are presented in the book Internet-Based Student Research: Creating to Learn with a Step-By-Step Approach (Linworth, 2006). With its user-friendly illustrated text, we can learn how to bring our best teaching practices to life with the effective use of instructional technology.

And maybe, just maybe, our students will stop wanting to take a day off.


Keane, Jacqueline. Internet Based Student Research: Creating to Learn with a Step-By-Step Approach, Grades 5-12. Worthington: Linworth, 2006.

© 2006 Jacqueline Keane, all rights reserved.

You can buy Jackie's new book, Internet Based Student Research: Creating to Learn with a Step-By-Step Approach at