From users to creators — getting students to create learning content

The increased shift to online teaching has led to an increase in teacher burnout and a reduction in student engagement. Teachers have reportedly been finding online teaching tedious due to a lack of awareness of digital tools and strategies (Cross & Pollk, 2018). This has become a more widespread issue with COVID-19 and the sudden transition of classroom-based teaching programs to online setups, leading to increased input from teachers in an effort to meet education demands. This has also reduced students to passive learners, especially in classes run via video-conference, thus leading to decreased engagement of students with the lessons (Sacks, Bayles, Taggart & Noble, 2020).

It has been noted that online learning has the potential to enhance student performance, and with the right tools, can also allow for increased differentiation to cater to students with learning difficulties or social anxiety (Sacks, Bayles, Taggart & Noble, 2020). It is important to keep these benefits of online learning in mind while assessing the system, as it helps us identify that the real barrier to engagement is not a lack of learning, but rather the avenues or approaches to learn. While issues of access, isolation and digital awareness cannot be ignored, increasing avenues for students to contribute and be active participants in class can help increase engagement. This can also free up time for teachers that would otherwise be spent on material preparation.

I have chosen to focus on the issue of reduced student engagement and agency in online classrooms, and have identified four resources that can be used to increase student involvement in content creation. My focus is English as an Additional Language (EAL), and the resources have been presented using specific language areas as examples, with input on how to adapt them to cater to different levels of language proficiency and age groups.

Kearsley and Shneiderman (1998) state that students engage more meaningfully with classroom tasks through active participation and creation. They emphasise that creative activities that require students to build their own projects gives them a sense of control over their learning, and this can be done through technology-driven projects. They also talk about the value students feel in creating material that can be used by others. These principles inform the constructivist approach recommended here.

Rationale for user-created content

Piaget describes knowledge as invention or construction of concepts and ideas (Bergin et al., 2018). His approach of constructivist teaching promotes teachers to encourage experimentation and provide creative experiences to students to promote learning (Bergin et al., 2018).

In the videos below, I have described how Kahoot (an online quiz tool), Skribbl (an online Pictionary site), Goosechase (an app to organise scavenger hunts) and Flipgrid (a short video recorder and collator) can be used by students to create quizzes, tasks and videos for their peers to engage with. Kahoot and Goosechase are predominantly used by teachers to set quizzes and tasks for students, but by making students the creators, they are pushed to ask questions and engage more critically with the teaching material (Fleer & Beverley, 2011). As noted by Yang and Chang (2013), when students design their own games in learning, they “demonstrate significant improvements in critical thinking skills, and academic achievement, with increased retention of both course content and critical thinking skills.”

It was also observed that “participants’ perception that their contribution both matters to and is valued by other community members” drives class participation (McWilliams, Hickey, Hines, Conner & Bishop, 2011, p. 242). By using the approaches described in the video, students will not only create the content which will be used in class, but will also witness their peers engaging with and responding to that content, leading to a sense of contribution.

In the language space, creating problems and thinking of the solutions also pushes students to think about the rationale behind the language features taught in class, and gets them to actively engage with the language. It also provides more scope to create safe spaces for students to use their existing plurilingual skills and knowledge, and values their existing knowledge, thus building their confidence (State Government of Victoria, 2019).

Another benefit of involving students in creating material using digital tools is improving digital literacy. In spite of the assumption that school students are “digital natives”, students can demonstrate varying levels of digital comfort and awareness (Fraillon, 2020). The need to develop digital literacies is even more challenging and important in the EAL classroom (Tour, 2020). As stated by Lovejoy, Mow, Di Palma, Prain and Edwards (2015), “quality English teaching and learning should enable students to develop culturally-valued knowledge, skills, and dispositions around constructing and interpreting a range of texts, including multi-modal collaborative ones.” The Australian and Victorian curriculum also highlight the need to develop digital skills in students (VCAA, 2020). By creating tasks for students to create material using online tools with sufficient exemplars and guidance, this aspect of the curriculum is also catered for.

Getting students in the driver’s seat

These videos explain how four online applications can be used in the classroom to review content taught in class, for error correction, and for collecting samples of work from students. It is based on an EAL classroom with focus on teaching language structures and digital literacy, specifically adjectives, passive forms, prepositions, basic structures for questions and instructions, speaking and pronunciation and language around manufacturing processes. The range of topics allows the tool to be adapted to all age groups and language levels, from beginner to advanced, with adaptations and differentiation strategies that have been explained in the video.

While these tools can be used with the recommended methods in a face-to-face classroom too, the focus of here is online teaching.

These four resources can be used by students to create interactive classroom activities and quizzes. The accompanying videos explain how they can be adapted to become more student-led.

Kahoot: An online quiz application that allows creators to build their own quizzes in different formats and run it with a select group of people. This has been designed for teaching purposes.

Skribbl: An online Pictionary site that allows participants to create their own word lists to play within a set group. This is an authentic tool.

Flipgrid: A video recording application that allows contributors to upload short videos of themselves presenting or speaking on a topic and commenting on contributions. It also allows teachers to leave feedback on contributor videos. This has been designed for teaching purposes.

Goosechase: A scavenger hunt application that allows creators to set missions for teams or individuals to complete. This is an authentic tool.

Differentiation techniques to cater to access and language limitations

While it may seem challenging and risky to give students control of content creation, responsible use of digital spaces and tools is an extremely relevant and essential skill that should be taught in class (La Trobe University, 2020). With the right support and moderation of activities, students can be guided in building the necessary skills to engage with online spaces.

The aim is to build participatory culture in the classroom, by encouraging students to use digital tools as a form of expression and develop the skills and knowledge needed to be a part of the contemporary classroom and society at large, which is increasingly adopting a user-led content creation approach in the digital space (Jenkins, 2006; Bruns, 2007).

Note: These videos do not go into the details of how to use these tools on Zoom. They assume that teachers already have an understanding of and/or are using shared documents on OneDrive and Google Docs or forums and are comfortable with the basic functionalities of Zoom.


The show and tell activity combined with the Kahoot, and the student contributions with Skribbl are ideas run by Rod Begbie, a teacher at Melbourne Polytechnic.

Flipgrid was recommended and used by Melissa Brown, another teacher at Melbourne Polytechnic.


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Yang, Y. C., Chang, C. (2013). Empowering students through digital game authorship: Enhancing concentration, critical thinking, and academic achievement. Computers & Education, 68(1), 334–344. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2013.05.023

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