Creating Meaningful EdTech Lessons


Jolene Fiarchuk

Jolene T. Fiarchuk (
University of Ontario Institute of Technology


The ICCE (Inquiry Communication Construction Expression) framework for game-based learning builds upon strong pedagogical practices for analyzing tools for learning and their application in the classroom. This chapter explains the intended outcomes of each element of ICCE and their relation to learning theory. This chapter argues that the ICCE framework has value in assessing and utilizing a wide range of educational technology tools beyond digital games. PCaRD (Play Curricular activity Reflection Discussion) is part of a broader framework designed by the creators of ICCE to provide teachers with a step-by-step guide for creating meaningful lessons and augmenting areas where games and technologies do not fit the ICCE framework. Three examples of how the model works with current technologies including virtual reality, robotics and digital games are illustrated at the end of the chapter for their alignment with the ICCE model and potential PCaRD interventions.

Keywords: communication, construction, curriculum, educational technology, expression, ICCE, inquiry, PCaRD, pedagogy


The Inquiry, Communication, Construction, and Expression (ICCE) framework was designed by Foster and Shaw (2015) to guide classroom teachers not only to select digital games for learning but to help them create learning experiences that will promote deep understanding of knowledge, skills, and their application (Foster & Shaw, 2015). While the ICCE framework is conceptualized for the selection and use of digital games for game-based learning (GBL) its pedagogical framework can guide classroom teachers in their use of other digital tools and innovations as well. The goal of ICCE is not to determine whether a game or learning tool is good or bad, but to recognize where there is a rich teaching potential for the digital tool, and where other pedagogical approaches and tools should augment the chosen technology (Foster & Shaw, 2015).

Where ICCE is a useful model to identify, utilize, and design digital tools for learning, the PCaRD (Play, Curricular activity, Reflection, and Discussion) framework is intended explicitly for the creation and structuring of learning experiences. This chapter will focus primarily on ICCE to promote learning, but PCaRD will be introduced and discussed as a tool for building on the strengths and making up for weaknesses of educational technology tools assessed for ICCE standards.

Three examples will later be provided to illustrate how the ICCE model can be utilized in K-12 classrooms to create engaging educational technology lessons plans featuring popular learning technologies including virtual reality (VR), robotics, and digital gaming.

Background Information

The ICCE framework is connected to other technology implementation models including TPACK (Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge) which emphasizes the importance of content knowledge and pedagogical practices when implementing educational technology (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) and PCaRD (Play Curricular activity Reflection Discussion), a model for planning for lessons featuring digital games which include individual play, teacher-lead curricular activities, and socially-constructed reflection (Foster, 2012; Foster & Shah, 2015). The three frameworks, TPACK, ICCE, and PCaRD combine to create a system which Foster and Shaw (2015) refer to as GaNA or Game Network Analysis for analyzing and integrating games for learning (see figure 1). ICCE is designed to connect the analysis of digital games or in the case of this chapter, educational technology in general, with aiding teachers to identify meaningful and specific learning opportunities afforded by technology. The four characteristics of ICCE are designed to promote student motivation, interest, and deep learning (Foster & Shah, 2015). While ICCE is intended for use with digital games specifically, this chapter asserts that its four features are rooted in effective pedagogy and can be applied to other educational technologies as well.

GaNA diagram
Figure 1. The Game Network Analysis Framework (Foster & Shaw, 2015).


Within the ICCE framework, Foster and Shah (2015) state that the advantage of digital tools is the opportunity to create learning activities which are situated, active, and constructed through an interaction between the individual and the virtual learning environment. Through the use of digital technology, learners should be free to explore personal interests, solve questions or problems, adjust to changes, and through reflection, especially if reflections are socially constructed, discover new questions based on their experience (Foster & Shaw, 2015). These qualities are what are referred to as Inquiry within the ICCE model. Foster & Shaw (2015) suggest teachers consider the nature of learners’ exploration of their topic or curricular subject when using a digital tool. For example, whether or not the technology allows for a trial-and-error type of experience based on their given question or problem.

An advantage to the ICCE model for implementing inquiry in learning is that it allows students to participate in free, exploratory learning within one lesson (or frequently within a series of lessons featuring ICCE characteristics). This freedom contrasts with other models of inquiry-based learning where teachers must spend a great deal of time scaffolding and modelling the inquiry process in stages. For example, McKenzie (2016) suggests teachers devote weeks to moving students through four stages of inquiry including structured, controlled, guided, and free, with students experiencing more freedom with each stage. While this approach connects to the concept of partnering (Prensky, 2010; Fullan, 2013) where teachers dedicate time to building relationships to support student independence and scaffolding, it reserves “free inquiry” where students explore their individual questions, problems, and interests for later in a course. In the ICCE framework, students can experience free inquiry in each lesson which makes it time-efficient. The emphasis on inquiry within ICCE echoes works by other educational researchers who state that students should be able to investigate questions that interest them and have a choice in how they solve learning problem and questions, potentially building on previous skills or interests (Tapscot, 2009; Prensky, 2010; Fullan, 2013; Brown, Roediger & McDaniel, 2014).


In video games, communication can be categorized as player-game, as with embedded tutorials or non-player characters (NPCs) and player-player in games that have social features like multi-player chats or embedded social networks like XBox Live (Foster & Shaw, 2015, Xbox Live, 2018). However, many other educational technologies have similar features. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) is an emerging technology which allows software developers to create programs or ‘bots’ to simulate two-way communication with users (Gadanidis, 2017). Another example is app-controlled peripherals like the Sphero robot which provides feedback through physical movement based on the user’s input (Stephens, 2015; Sphero, 2018).

When assessing a digital tool for communication features within the ICCE model, the guiding question should ask what kinds of feedback are provided to learners (Foster & Shaw, 2015). ICCE’s emphasis on communication (feedback) is consistent with pedagogies which emphasize the importance of feedback to identify strengths and challenges, clarify goals, and provide positive reinforcement (Petty, 2009; Brown et al., 2014). Feedback within the communication standard of ICCE should be useful, situated in learning goals, and responsive to students’ zone of proximal development (Foster & Shah, 2015). While ICCE defines communication more as a mode of feedback for students rather than between learners, it also suggests that the potential for learning technologies to provide modelling, coaching, and scaffolding for users contributes to a virtual community of practice, consistent with situated learning theory (David, 2007; Foster & Shah, 2015; Sincero, 2011).


In the ICCE framework, construction is concerned with how digital tools aid learners in the construction of useful knowledge. The gradual building of new knowledge and skill using a digital tool is not enough to satisfy this element of ICCE; it requires learners to demonstrate and utilize their understanding (Foster & Shah, 2015). The guiding question to assess a game or tool for construction to ask to what degree knowledge construction related to the intended topic or subject is possible. The range exists from content-delivery only, where the learners simply ‘receive’ new information, to a delivery system where content and application are integrated, and learners are consistently applying what they learn to new problems and scenarios. Learners should be both ‘learning’ and ‘doing’ (Foster & Shah, 2015).

Construction within ICCE is built upon constructivist pedagogies including engaging prior knowledge and preconceptions, emphasizing higher-order thinking skills, metacognition, and connecting learning to personal experiences (Brown et al., 2014; Donovan, 2011; Foster & Shah, 2015; Prensky, 2010). Foster & Shah (2015) emphasize that digital tools that align with construction in ICCE allow for the application of skills and knowledge both in curricular and interdisciplinary contexts to build connections for students and make learning meaningful.


Expression in ICCE is closely related to the learning environment created by the digital learning tool. While this might seem like the element that is exclusive to gaming and the artificial worlds and environments created within them, the experiences valued for expression within ICCE can be transferred to any learning environment. The guiding question for expression is to consider what opportunities exist for learners to feel personally connected to the content or activity through freedom of expression to learn, perform, and demonstrate their learning (Foster & Shah, 2015). Features of expression include a safe space for sharing thoughts, emotions and values, but also an environment which is critical and responsive to learner choices, providing both positive and negative feedback depending on students’ actions (Foster & Shaw, 2015). Simply, to meet the needs of expression, students should experience flexibility and choice during their learning experiences: a game or learning tool which only follows a linear path uniform to all users would fail to meet the ICCE standard of expression.


The PCaRD (Play, Curricular activity, Reflection, Discussion) model is a step-by-step approach for teachers to design game-based-learning (GBL) lessons (Foster, 2012). Unlike the ICCE model which is used to identify the affordances for learning of digital games and other learning tools for implementation (Foster & Shah, 2015), PCaRD focuses on the design of learning experiences specifically. PCaRD is a useful tool to bridge gaps where learning tools do not fit all elements of the ICCE model and build upon their strengths. The PCaRD model was designed by Aroutis Foster who asserts that all steps in the model should include the four elements of ICCE (Foster, 2012).

In a PCaRD lesson, students begin with play, which could involve playing a game, or free exploration using a different technological tool. Following that, the teacher leads a curricular activity designed to facilitate students in connecting their play and inquiry to curricular goals. Next, students reflect individually or in groups to express what they have learned during play and the curricular activity, recording their ideas in a space that they can access later, like a blog or portfolio. Finally, using data collected from student reflections, the teacher facilitates a discussion to scaffold learning, ask students questions, and support their ideas, with the intention that the discussion will provoke new questions and learning goals for future play (Foster, 2012).

An illustration of the utilization of PCaRD to augment digital tools is demonstrated by Foster & Shah (2015) with a game called Dimension M. Researchers identified several areas where the game did not support all of the ICCE elements and teachers used PCaRD methods to fill in the gaps. For example, Dimension M did not meet expression needs well: users found that available avatars had features that were mostly identified as male and white, which lead to female and minority students to feel disconnected from the game. Teachers added a curricular activity which asked students to design their own avatars on paper to connect to the game more personally. They found once students’ needs for better expression were met, engagement increased (Foster & Shah, 2015).


While the ICCE model is part of an ecological approach, or one that considers the many factors in implementing technology in school (Foster, 2012), to analyze and apply game-based learning, its emphasis on inquiry and good pedagogy make it an appropriate tool for other emerging technologies. Below are three examples. The ICCE elements vary from technology to technology, and where they have gaps, PCaRD activities have been suggested.

Virtual Reality via Google Expeditions

I: Google Expeditions (Google Expeditions, 2018) is a mobile application for exploring and creating virtual reality (VR) environments. While not a game, exploration and creation of new VR spaces requires students to engage in inquiry.

C: Communication varies depending on the activity. In guided tours, students are asked to navigate to different areas within the VR environment to notice key features and an arrow directs them if they move in the wrong direction. If students are creating an environment or tour, feedback occurs in tutorials and through trial-and-error. Teachers may supplement communication with a PCaRD discussion to provide feedback to students.

C: Creating a new environment or tour using Google Expeditions requires students to use prior knowledge and new understanding for construction of their product. Exploring existing environments could be augmented with PCaRD reflection and discussion to connect the activity to learning goals.

E: When creating tours and VR spaces, students have unlimited expressive options. Otherwise, expression could be augmented with curricular activities like asking students to choose their favourite place and express why or inviting students to share their insights with others through discussion.

Robotics via Sphero

I: Sphero robots are controlled by mobile apps that require students to use coding. There is an unlimited potential for inquiry as Sphero robots can be used for anything from creating art by dipping the robots in paint, to navigating student-designed obstacles.

C: Communication is instantaneous because learners can see the results of their coding through the movement of the robot. If they have made a mistake, they will notice that the robot does not do what they intended.

C: Using Sphero robots is a very hands-on and constructive activity: while the controls are on a mobile app, controlling the robot to carry out tasks requires students to apply their learning constantly.

E: Expression using Sphero would likely involve a PCaRD curricular activity where students engage in play (inquiry) collaboratively to solve problems together.

Digital Games via Minecraft

I: Like Sphero, Minecraft (MinecraftEDU, 2018) has endless opportunities for inquiry as the game allows players to create new environments and tackle problems and objectives in those already available from other players and developers.

C: Using the education version of Minecraft, teachers and other students can build in feedback within game environments using different tools. It is important for teachers to use discussion and reflection to emphasize the connection between gameplay in Minecraft and learning goals for students.

C: Users have many controls to apply their learning within the game. The education version of Minecraft also features a camera and portfolio for students to record their gameplay to build and reflect on successes and challenges.

E: Minecraft Education Edition unlocks all potential avatars for students to provide a wide choice in how they express themselves in gameplay. Depending on instructions, students can create anything they wish within the game, including different objectives for environments they create themselves.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

ICCE is designed by Foster and Shah (2015) specifically for game-based learning, and they do not discuss the application of the model for other educational technologies in their work. However, they present the long-standing need that existed for better frameworks to assess and implement games for learning decades after the invention of video games (Foster, 2012; Foster & Shah, 2015; Shah & Foster, 2014). With new emerging technologies like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics combined with accelerating access to technologies in schools including more mobile devices and 1:1 programs, it may not be realistic that educational theories and frameworks can keep pace with innovation if the work around learning games is any indication.

ICCE elements including inquiry, communication, construction, and expression are all rooted in learning theory and pedagogy designed to maximize learning potential in students including concepts like problem-based learning, metacognition, social and situated learning (David, 2007; Petty, 2009; Prensky, 2010; Sincero, 2011; Fullan, 2013). Another strength of using ICCE as an assessment model not just for games but other learning technologies is its connection to the PCaRD method for lesson design, which can guide teachers in how to utilize technologies effectively, and augment their features where necessary for better learning. Until emerging technologies become more widely used to necessitate their own frameworks like ICCE exists for games, implementing this model can help teachers choose and utilize a wide array of innovations into their lessons while rooted in solid pedagogical practices.


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2018 Copyright © 2018 by Jolene Fiarchuk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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