1 Introduction

The use of new media technologies for the production, authoring, digitization, and dissemination of cultural heritage content for educational purposes has been stressed as a priority for many international organizations and cultural foundations (UNESCO, ICOMOS, Global Heritage Fund, World Historic Cities, World Monument Fund, etc.). During the last years, a range of digital tools and Web applications (Ho & Lin, 2015), social networks, mobile applications, digital games (Malegiannaki & Daradoumis, 2017), interactive online platforms and augmented reality creation tools (Melero et al., 2015; Guazzaroni, 2013) made very substantial contributions to the preservation and promotion of local, national and international cultural heritage (Madirov & Absalyamova, 2015). In addition, a significant number of repositories with cultural artefacts and online participatory platforms to be used in education and learning - as well as tools offering virtual tours for museums and galleries - have been developed (Psomadaki et al., 2019; Vavoula et al., 2009; Tallon & Walker, 2008).

Moving beyond the audio-visual or World Wide Web cultural content presentations, these interactive virtual environments provide multiple opportunities to facilitate both formal and informal social and cultural activities (Anderson-Holland, 2019; Scott, 2015). With the increased activity in the digital transformation of education, each school community faces the constant challenge of operating, building and showcasing cultural heritage content deriving from the local historical and cultural environment. Empirical evidence indicates that interactive digital media can be used to facilitate active learning activities such as exploration, information search, collaboration, and working with real-world experiences that provide a context for learning (Marzano et al., 2016; Mills et al., 2014).

Much of the research on the pedagogical use of cultural heritage digital collections, digital-born artworks, and cultural content recognizes the outcomes of the acquisition of knowledge, especially when digital cultural heritage content can be used to create school-to-culture links (Rodríguez et al., 2020; Gruen, 2013; Ott & Pozzi, 2011). A growing body of research suggests that participatory platforms constitute ideal learning environments, in which teachers and students participate more actively, engaging more deeply with culture than they do with the contents of their textbooks (Champion & Rahaman, 2019; Machidon et al., 2018).

Many researchers have argued that understanding the pedagogical values of teachers’ activities supported by interactive online platforms bears great importance, as teachers’ perceptions can influence the effectiveness of students’ in-depth learning (Moreira-Fontán et al., 2019; Walji et al., 2016). While teachers’ perceptions and beliefs have long been studied in the field of technological applications in schools, researchers have agreed that both pre-service and in-service teachers’ personal views towards interactive online environments should be investigated to support activities that create links between school knowledge and cultural heritage experiences (Blundell et al., 2020; Admiraal et al., 2017; Hung, 2016; Prestridge, 2012).

The current study focuses on the educational use of a participatory cultural heritage platform (http://www.culture-gate.com), which has been designed to create and manage a variety of cultural content. The platform combines aspects of previous applications, such as aCME (Malandrino et al., 2015) and COLLAGE (Chryssafidou et al., 2010), and enhances them through its participatory nature and the services it provides (Koukopoulos & Koukopoulos, 2019; Koukopoulos et al., 2017). However, it should be taken into account that the creation of quality digital cultural content on a user-participatory cultural heritage platform by teachers is a complex process, which requires ICT skills, a very good knowledge of the cultural content that will be uploaded, and a (direct or indirect) connection to of the syllabus.

Considering that the integration of participatory platforms in education has become an important component for removing physical barriers to learning educational experts and policymakers suggest teachers need professional development opportunities to combine their ICT skills with pedagogical knowledge and innovative practices (Tondeur et al., 2016). The implementation of interactive participatory platforms for educational purposes supports the hypothesis that effective use of technology is not necessarily determined by the level of access to digital tools, but instead, “by what students and teachers do with the technology available” (Olszewski & Crompton, 2020, p.7). Accordingly, professional development courses should gradually guide teachers to provide students with the opportunity of a broader use of digital tools and, thus, encourage meaningful learning experiences where students use technology to access, modify, create and share hybrid and digital content in real-world or authentic contexts (Guðmundsdóttir et al., 2020). Based on recommendations from the relevant field, this study discusses the incorporation of a participatory cultural heritage platform in teachers’ professional development courses, where teachers gain professional development experiences through digital content creation, production, and evaluation.

The main goal of this paper is the investigation of teachers’ perceptions and patterns of their actions in a participatory cultural heritage platform. This study attempts to give answers to the following research questions:

  • What were the participants’ perceptions of developing digital cultural content on a user-participatory cultural heritage platform?

  • What kind of activities do teachers perform on a participatory platform during the process of digital content creation and sharing?

2 The culture gate platform

Culture Gate is a user-participatory cultural heritage platform that has been designed for both teachers and students, as well as for experts in the areas of culture and art, to support searching, design, uploading, sharing and discussion of various types of multimedia (e.g., video, text, images, hyperlinks) that touch on issues of cultural heritage (Koukopoulos et al., 2017). This platform enables participants who are registered as users to upload their posts to a landmark using the application Google maps as infrastructure. In particular, users can link their posts to specific layers of metadata that allow for the creation of comprehensive scenarios/narratives in what is essentially an unstructured environment. In each scenario/narrative, various posts by different users may appear, which nonetheless support the topic that each user is searching for (Fig. 1).

In this manner, composite collaborative projects can be created to provide both registered and non-registered users with a comprehensive experience. The platform includes a plethora of tools that, through utilization of the related metadata for each post, lead to the presentation of composite scenarios/narratives (Fig. 2). It should be noted that the platform organizes the contents internally by relying on learning objects (Koukopoulos & Koukopoulos, 2019), which results in the reuse of these posts. Although Culture Gate promotes composability and collaboration, it also provides for the retention of each creator’s individuality, while at the same time promoting the protection of their rights for each post.

Fig. 1
figure 1

The Culture Gate platform Interface

On the Culture Gate platform, both registered and non-registered users are also able to comment on the contents of another users’ post, suggest changes, provide evaluative feedback, and if its author deems it necessary, she/he can then proceed with the appropriate edits. Furthermore, to ensure enhanced content validity, users can request their posts to be evaluated by an expert, whose name is stored on the platform. The expert is chosen randomly from a list of experts specializing in areas of cultural heritage and digital technology, and remains anonymous and.

After the evaluation and implementation of any changes, the post is characterized as having been “evaluated by an expert”. Moreover, the platform provides services for searching and navigation using a cultural map until content appears on the list that is related to specific themes or a specific geographical area (e.g., theatre, Brecht, Berlin). Each post’s content is sent to the platform and uploaded onto the cultural map after being reviewed by administrators. In this manner, teachers and students can serve as researchers, documenting content and experiences in areas of cultural interest (e.g., museums, archaeological sites). Thus, opportunities are provided to promote online learning, utilize experiences, and develop activities at cultural heritage sites that focus on the characteristics of situated learning.

3 Theoretical framework

The burgeoning development of new media interactive technologies such as blogs, wikis, social networking applications, and online platforms, accompanied by the explosion of digitally mediated learning resources, has brought about substantial change in educational approaches for both formal and informal learning (Sachi et al., 2019; Dron & Anderson, 2014).

Much theoretical and empirical research has shown that digital media and interactive online platforms offer learners a wide spectrum of unique and powerful information sharing, collaboration features, and productions that promote the development of social learning connections (Jonassen et al., 1999). This connectivity facilitates environments in which learning is based on the availability of information, co-construction of knowledge, and human connectivity, in and across global distributed networks (DePietro, 2013; McLoughlin & Lee, 2007).

Several studies have been carried out concerning the implementation of different types of new media technologies to promote effective learning in different disciplines (Freeman et al., 2019). Even though many studies have primarily focused on the effects of the technical aspects of technological applications and devices on learning, much have been written about the pedagogies required (Biasutti, 2017; Karasavvidis, 2010). These pedagogies are mainly based on socio-constructivist approaches to learning, which emphasize the importance of social interaction for the construction of shared knowledge (Vygotsky, 1978). Following the concept of constructivism, ICT tools and Internet applications can be pedagogically utilized, particularly in terms of dissemination of information, connectivity, and peer-to-peer collaboration. In the constructivist theory, collaborative and cooperative methods have been introduced in online learning environments with the aim of facilitating peer interaction, supporting group work, and sharing expertise within a community of learners (Boling et al., 2012).

A concrete example of online collaborative technology is wikis, which allow individuals and groups to collaboratively edit, annotate, and revise texts as part of the learning process (Sura, 2015). The application of wikis in education has been well documented in the literature, as wikis have been the easiest and, possibly, one of the fastest ways to discover new principles for virtual collaboration and learning (Leal et al., 2019). A considerable amount of research has thoroughly examined aspects such as wikis’ functionality, effectiveness, usability, and sociability, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses (Alghasab et al., 2019; Ioannou et al., 2015). The applied research methods include qualitative and quantitative instruments such as questionnaires, interviews, and content analyses (Biasutti, 2017). The indicators used for the assessment comprise aspects such as teacher’s and students’ perceptions about wikis’ functionality, peer-to-peer interactivity in a wiki-based environment, the classroom climate cultivated through wikis’ features, and other attributes of the learning process including teamwork, professional development, cognitive and ethical aspects (Kwon et al., 2014). In the formal education setting, research evidence has shown that wiki-based learning has a positive impact on students as it enhances collaboration on problem-based activities and promotes peer interaction in group projects (Donnelly & Boniface, 2013). Wikis have been found to improve student engagement and motivation, and promote higher-order thinking skills (Lin & Tsai, 2016; Roussinos & Jimoyiannis, 2013).

An increasing number of studies are focusing on how wikis can provide not only useful supplements to classroom learning, but also greater opportunities for lifelong learning (Ng, 2016). Wiki-based collaborative repositories have also grown exponentially in popularity and use, making it possible for learners to participate in the process of collecting resources, communicating ideas, evaluating concrete products, and gaining a sense of their own knowledge in relation to others (Leal et al., 2019).

Prior research has emphasized that the affordances of wikis and how users perceive these affordances influence the design of the learning environment. Several empirical studies determine how teachers’ perceptions could be used to shed light on the potential for using wikis to support learners’ case-based learning and suggest how the perceptions might provide valuable insights into the design requirements of a technology-supported case-based learning environment (Welser et al., 2020; Mina, 2019). In the case of teachers’ perceptions of wikis’ affordances in higher education, for example, Quek & Wang (2014) explored three potential affordances of wikis: social, technical, and pedagogical. Their research findings suggest that teachers’ perceptions provide valuable feedback for the evaluation and subsequent improvement of wiki-based learning environments.

With the trend of bringing new media technologies into lifelong learning, many researchers have been motivated to use online platforms to manage, disseminate and utilize intangible cultural heritage content (Decker, 2015). Assuming that the advances in new media technologies have altered the environment in which learners have access to information, the primary impetus behind the use of online platforms still lies in the growing need to promote cultural participation and learning through digitization and dissemination of cultural heritage content (Arnone et al., 2011). Rather than dealing with digital learning materials in isolation, nowadays learners are increasingly becoming co-creators, co-authors, and co-producers of digital content, initiating the shift from interactive technologies toward a participatory culture (Jenkins et al., 2009). Current research highlights the benefits of these forms of online participatory platforms, including opportunities for active engagement, digitally mediated interactivity, peer-to-peer collaboration, and diversification of cultural expression (Capriotti et al., 2016; Scott et al., 2015).

Given that one of the challenges that teachers face is dealing with online cultural participation, their perceptions and online activities in participatory platforms can be used to shed light on the potential for using these tools to support the sharing of cultural heritage information and to provide valuable insights into the design requirements of cultural-based learning activities.

4 Methodology

A qualitative case study research was adopted to investigate a contemporary bounded system (a case) through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information (Creswell, 2013). According to Stake (2005), the object of study in a case study research is a specific, unique, bounded system such as a child, a classroom, or an event. Focusing on studies of teachers’ beliefs utilizing qualitative methodologies, Olafson et al., (2014) claim “that approximately 80% of the case studies had between 2 and 10 participants” (p.131). In this study, a case was defined as a set of postgraduate-level education teachers’ perceptions and activities related to digital cultural content creation and sharing through a participatory platform. The research was explanatory (Yin, 2014) since it seeks to explain the “why” and “how” of teachers’ perceptions and activities in a participatory platform.

4.1 Participants and study context

In the first semester of the academic year 2020-21, eight out of 15 (12 female, 3 male) in-service teachers enrolled in a 2-year master’s program for teachers at the Department of Education of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece took part voluntarily in the use of the participatory platform “Culture Gate” as a supplement to the program’s coursework units, and were provided with opportunities to design, develop and evaluate digital educational material. All of the eight teachers were female (henceforth referred to as T1, T2, … T8). This is representative of the teachers’ population in Greek primary and secondary schools where the share of women among teaching staff in Greek primary education is more than 75% (see Athanassoula-Reppa & Koutouzis 2002; EuroGender, 2018; OECD, 2021). The teachers were between 28 and 49 years old, with the average age at almost 38. Additionally, all of them had worked at primary education public schools in Athens, Greece and the mean number of years they had been teaching was 10.4 years. These teachers teach all subjects, except subjects such as physical education, ICT and music which are taught by specialized teachers.

For teachers to feel more comfortable in expressing their thoughts and opinions throughout the study, they were informed that the study would have no impact on their academic performance. Two of the authors served as expert evaluators of the Culture Gate platform. The first author for this paper, who has a PhD in ICT in Education, served as the instructor in the course, while the second author, who has a PhD in Informatics and long experience in Cultural Technology and the third, who has a PhD in Cultural Informatics, served as ICT experts in designing participatory platforms. The fourth author, who has a PhD in Educational Technology, served as an independent researcher of the study. The authors could not influence the teachers’ decisions with regard to their development of digital content on the participatory platform. The participation of the authors in the study was active only during the fourth phase (Evaluation), when teachers had completed their digital content. The authors’ comments and participation were limited to technical and usability problems of the digital content. In addition, it is worth mentioning that no course credits were given to the teachers in this study.

This study was completed in five phases, the duration of which was 8 weeks. In the first phase (Choice of the cultural topic and uploading of contents), teachers were informed about the use of the participatory platform Culture Gate and the study procedure. Additionally, all teachers were registered on the platform. Afterward, the eight teachers were divided into four dyads based on the location of the school in which they worked. During this phase, the members of each dyad mutually agreed on a cultural topic of interest that they would develop on the platform. Initially, one member of each dyad created on the participatory platform a draft of digital content covering the topic they had decided (e.g., uploading of the text, choice, and posting of images, videos, posting location on the map), while the other member contributed to content improvement or editing (Duration: 2 weeks). In the second phase (Collaboration between different dyads), each dyad was required to submit an evaluation report of other dyads’ posts offering feedback in the form of comments and proposals for improvement (e.g., content organization and presentation on the platform) (Duration: 2 weeks). In the third phase (Improvement of the contents), each dyad revised or improved its works, taking into consideration the feedback offered by the other dyads (Duration: 1 week).

In the fourth phase (Evaluation), the two experts evaluated the content developed by the teachers, providing them with formative evaluation feedback. The underlying principle of this approach is based on the notion of connoisseurship and criticism, and relied on the subjective professional judgment of two experts as evaluators (Attwell, 2006). The result of this activity was an evaluation report describing the problems detected, guided by the principles of ‘user-system interaction’ which greatly influences users’ experience in e-learning environments (Chen et al., 2019; Al-Alwani, 2014; del Blanco, 2013) (Duration: 2 weeks). In the fifth phase (Completion), each dyad finalized the content of their work (Duration: 1 week).

Fig. 2
figure 2

Teachers’ posts on the cultural map of Culture Gate platform

4.2 Data collection

Data were collected throughout the study using interviews with all the teachers who participated, a focus group discussion, and the analysis of teachers’ action patterns on the Culture Gate platform. The interview consisted of questions asking teachers about their perspectives with respect to their experiences of using the Culture Gate platform for developing and sharing cultural heritage content. The questions were developed based on Hazari et al., (2009) survey instrument, which included key formative factors that can be used to measure the educational value of participatory platforms. An interview guide was developed and included questions to assess teachers’ perceptions about learning/pedagogy, motivation, group interaction, and technology. Teachers were also inquired about their demographics, background, and teaching experience.

4.2.1 Focus group discussion

To better understand teachers’ perceptions about the adoption of the Culture Gate participatory platform for developing and sharing cultural heritage content, a focus group discussion with two randomly selected teachers, the instructor, and the ICT experts was conducted by the authors of this study. The focus group discussion was held after the completion of the teachers’ posts on the platform. The discussion was based on a series of questions to ask teachers about their evaluation of the user-participatory cultural heritage platform as an educational environment, and their opinions on further adoption of Culture Gate for culture heritage educational projects in schools. In addition, two questions were designed to explore how the instructor and the ICT experts viewed Culture Gate as an educational environment. This discussion lasted approximately 70–80 min and was conducted in a computer lab of the university. All discussions were recorded. The data from the interviews and focus group discussion were analysed thematically, organized, and interpreted through the lens of the aforementioned axes and taxonomies used by Chu et al., (2017).

4.3 Actions patterns on the culture gate platform

The activities that were completed on the platform by the teachers were recorded, analysed, and studied based on a classification of the comments, as proposed by Chu et al., (2017), according to (a) content modification, and (b) commenting. Content modification included the number of editions, posting, moving, and deleting content on Culture Gate pages. To examine the content action patterns on the participatory platform, the different types of activities were also analyzed. In particular, the content modification activities were classified using Chu et al., (2012) taxonomy which included: (a) modifications made in sentences consisting of editing, posting, moving, and deleting text, and? (b) improvements made within sentences consisting of editing and formatting words, images, video, or hyperlinks and editing grammar. Commenting indicated text comments posted on Culture Gate pages by teachers and ICT experts. The comments were classified into six non-exclusive categories adapted from Chu et al., (2012) taxonomy which included: (a) Content: a comment on the selection, organization, and presentation of ideas. (b) Form: a comment on the mechanical aspects of writing, such as grammar, spelling, and format. (c) Work: a comment on the communication and coordination of group work. (d) Individual: a comment addressed to individual group members. (e) Group: a comment addressed to the whole group of ICT experts. (f) Reply: a comment written in response to another comment.

5 Results

The results of the study are assessed on two main themes: teachers’ perceptions, and action patterns on the platform. The first part of the results focuses on the teachers’ perceptions of developing digital cultural heritage content. The second one focuses on the analysis of the activities teachers perform in the participatory platform during the process of digital content creation and sharing.

5.1 Participants’ perceptions of the user-participatory cultural heritage platform

Table 1 summarizes the key themes and the major subthemes that emerged from the coding analysis of the interviews with all eight teachers. Four main themes arose from interview data: pedagogy, motivation, interaction, and technology. Each main theme included a list of subthemes based on the analysis of the interviews’ data.

Table 1 Theme Analysis and Coding of the Interview

Regarding teachers’ perceptions of the pedagogy in the Culture Gate platform, five subthemes emerged from interview data. These subthemes are categorized as follows, in order of significance:

  1. (1)

    Teachers’ satisfaction: All eight (8) teachers identified that the Culture Gate platform provides them with opportunities to engage in designing, sharing and disseminating cultural heritage content, which leads to high levels of satisfaction. This common view is well captured in the following statements by two teachers: “I felt satisfied as the platform provided us with the opportunity to directly add cultural heritage content on the Web”, (extract from the interview with teacher T1) and “It has been an interesting experience that offers the satisfaction of contributing to culture. I have gained knowledge in and a positive attitude towards cultural heritage” (extract from the interview with teacher T8).

  2. (2)

    Content Structure: As for the digital content developed on the platform, most teachers (6) mentioned that the cultural heritage content consist of text and images enhanced with multimedia such as video and audio, which were clear and well-structured. The importance of the structure of the cultural content on the platform was explained by one teacher as follows: “The structure of the text and visual content in the platform contributes in parts to the success of the digital content creation and facilitates meaningful cultural heritage knowledge” (extract from the interview with teacher T1).

  3. (3)

    Intention to participate: Five (5) out of eight teachers reported that the Culture Gate environment promotes their intention to participate in developing and sharing cultural heritage content. As one teacher stated: “It is important the platform drives teachers’ intention to beautifully promote many cultural and historical sites of our country” (extract from the interview with teacher T2). On the other hand, one teacher noted “I enjoyed taking part in Culture Gate environment, but I felt that more collaborative tools would encourage my intention to participate through purposeful and engaging interactions in online learning activities” (extract from the interview with teacher T8).

  4. (4)

    Information retaining: The value of learning retention was clarified as an important feature of the pedagogy in the Culture Gate environment by four (4) teachers. In particular, one teacher reported that “The platform offers ways to get each teacher to think about the information, how to deliver and why to deliver it” (extract from the interview with teacher T6). One teacher noted that “The learning activities should offer further opportunities for reflection by encouraging teachers to think up action points that they can work on after they have returned to their classrooms” (extract from the interview with teacher T1).

  5. (5)

    Commitment to tasks: Regarding commitment to tasks, one teacher explained that “The need of sharing content on the Web pushes us to always develop our cognitive abilities and finish the task in an effective manner” (extract from the interview with teacher T4). Another teacher describes the commitment to tasks as follows: “Sometimes I found cultural information which at first didn’t seem to be very important or easy to use, but in Cultural Gate platform I found myself being overly enthusiastic once I got involved with the cultural content” (extract from the interview with teacher T7).

Teachers highlighted the role of the Culture Gate platform in promoting their motivation to engage in content creation activities. These involved the following four subthemes:

  1. (1)

    Time and effort requirements: All eight (8) teachers evaluated the Culture Gate platform as a tool that can save time in accessing cultural heritage information and support cooperative work. On this point, one teacher commented in the following way: “Digital content creation on the platform is a process not restricted to a particular time or date, even for an inexperienced user, enabling teachers to stay motivated to do their work” (extract from teachers T3 interview).

  2. (2)

    Sense of control: Six (6) out of eight teachers reported that the learning activities in the Culture Gate platform allowed them to have choices and control over the process of designing and sharing digital content, which may motivate them to do more during the study. For example, one teacher (T2) claimed that “The activities in the platform helped us to improve our abilities in critically accessing cultural heritage resources, giving us a sense of control during the study”. Another teacher commented on the importance of promoting teachers’ self-control in the following ways: “The platform provided us with the opportunity to take control of the selection and the presentation of cultural content according to our experiences and preferences” (extract from the interview with teacher T8).

  3. (3)

    Value appraisals: Half of the teachers highlighted the relationship between motivation and teachers’ responsibility to take turns leading activities. Teacher T8, for instance, commented that “The platform allows us to implement privilege activities, enabling us to meet our expectations and achievements” (extract from the interview with teacher T3).

  4. (4)

    Active learning: Three (3) out of the eight teachers reported that the Culture Gate platform provides ways for teachers to engage in active learning. Even though this number may be small, it is still important that at least these teachers understood the value of active learning and group work in the following ways: “One way of engaging learners to participatory platforms is to design them with pedagogical concerns that promote active learning” (extract from the interview with teacher T1). “The participatory platform offered an environment where dyads could work on designing and disseminating digital content and motivated teachers to determine their own strengths and weaknesses” (extract from the interview with teacher T5).

The analysis of interviews data revealed four main types of interactions in which teachers engaged in the participatory platform. These types of interactions were:

  1. (1)

    Learner-learner interaction. All eight (8) teachers who participated in the study reported that the interactions that occurred between the fellows through the available tools in the participatory platform helped them to promote cultural content construction and build strong socio-emotional bonds while working in dyads. As one teacher explained, “Communication tools enabled us to work harmoniously in dyads not only to exchange information important for the process of cultural content construction but also to gain psychological and social support” (extract from teacher Τ6 interview). Another teacher added, “The platform tools should support multiple ways of communication in order to motivate learners to participate in the process of digital content creation in a cohesive and positive environment” (extract from teacher Τ8 interview).

  2. (2)

    Learner–interface interaction: All eight (8) teachers reported focusing on aspects related to the ease (or lack of ease) with which they interacted with the platform’s user interface (e.g., pages, content, and tools that were easy to find, use, and navigate). Teachers demonstrated that pages with cultural content were readily available, and they could use them for their learning purpose without delay. On this point, two teachers commented in the following ways: “The platform interface was easy for the teacher to become familiar with and competent in using the available tools on the first contact with the platform” (extract from teacher Τ6 interview) and “The platform’s interface allows us to recognize how to operate different interface elements quicker and to achieve our objectives” (extract from teacher Τ4 interview). Three teachers placed an emphasis on the need to receive support on the user guide and the rendering of the menu into Greek. For instance, one teacher emphasized that “Given the technical difficulties we were faced with, perhaps there should be a manual to instruct the user on how to solve related problems” (extract from teacher Τ5 interview).

  3. (3)

    Learner-content interaction: This type of interaction was reported as an important feature of pedagogy by six (6) interviewees as a one-way process of searching, elaborating on, organizing, and applying cultural heritage knowledge at any time and from any place. For example, one teacher explained that “searching for cultural heritage content through the platform reinforced active learning and learning processes in which each member of dyads assimilates and rather passively absorbs cultural heritage information” (extract from teacher Τ6 interview).

  4. (4)

    Learner-instructor interaction: Within teachers-instructor interaction, five (5) teachers recognized the appropriateness of obtaining timely online feedback from the instructor during the study. For example, one teacher remarked “I appreciated the opportunity for the instructors’ timely response to my email inquiries” (extract from teacher Τ1 interview), while another teacher argued that “positive online feedback stimulated us to be more motivated, engaged, and actively involved in the digital content creation process” (extract from teacher Τ3 interview).

The results of this study provide evidence-based information on technological features that have effects on teachers’ perceptions of the Culture Gate participatory platform. The technological characteristics that influenced teachers’ evaluations of the participatory platform were:

  1. (1)

    Content development tools: All eight (8) teachers in the current study understood the value of the available digital tools to develop cultural content in the following ways: “I think that the platform provided tools and features that allowed teachers themselves to search the Internet for heritage resources and develop ideas for producing digital cultural content” (extract from teacher Τ2 interview). «I’d say that the platforms’ tools allowed us to work on online text editing, photo uploading, and video processing” (extract from teacher Τ7 interview).I’ve found that the use of Google maps within Culture Gate created real-world and real-time cultural heritage experiences” (extract from teacher Τ5 interview).

  2. (2)

    Communication tools: Six (6) interviewees reported that the platform provides communication tools and comments/feedback features that enable teachers who are at a distance or, in some cases, right on campus, to participate actively in an online community focused on cultural heritage. On this point of view, one interview elaborated: “The platform included communication tools like e-mail and forum that offer us immediate connection and the ability to collaborate with the instructor and other teachers, thus developing a sense of community during the course” (extract from teacher Τ2 interview). Interviewees also reported that the platforms’ interface should incorporate social media communication features to enhance the interaction with other users and instructors as explained by teacher T8: “The learning environment should be enriched with tools like Facebook in order to bring forth the best use of interactivity and collaboration, engage participants and improve learning outcomes” (extract from teacher Τ8 interview).

  3. (3)

    Formatting elements: Half of the teachers in the interviews were aware of content design elements that can be used to format the digital content, and commented: “The platform’s tools enable us to mark up headlines, paragraphs, bold, italic, and underlined text” (extract from teacher Τ1 interview), “I personally enjoyed opportunities to choose among different fonts family and type the text clearly and in readable size” (extract from teacher Τ3 interview). “I found photos and illustrations to be of good quality and well-arranged with text and one additional element in the platform’s page” (extract from teacher Τ5 interview). Teachers, also, highlighted the inability of adding design principles to contribute to digital content creation. As one teacher explained: “Additional tools for improving colours, formatting text with graphics, enabling multiple preview options, and supporting direct creation of hyperlinks without coding will improve the effectiveness of the Culture Gate platform” (extract from teacher Τ8 interview).

  4. (4)

    Media integration: Half of the teachers in the study reported that they often struggled to deal with integrating video files and activating hyperlinks on the platform’s pages: “The platform provides many options for different types of information, but I have noticed that the video embedding arrays could confuse teaches with limited ICT knowledge” (extract from teacher Τ1 interview). “I found it difficult to perform certain formatting commands and, particularly, to create hyperlinks that lead directly to the website” (extract from teacher Τ2 interview).

In the focus group, two of the teachers, the instructor, and the ICT experts reported their experiences and provided in-depth descriptions of their perceptions of using the Culture Gate platform as an educational environment.

The teachers who participated in the focus group viewed the participatory platform as an effective tool for facilitating knowledge, exploring, capturing, creation, sharing, and dissemination of cultural heritage content. The following excerpts from the focus group discussion support these findings: “The process of designing and disseminating cultural content on the platform was an interesting and creative experience that can promote the understanding of the meaning of cultural heritage” (Focus group, teacher 1). “The main thing I recognize in the procedure is the ability to directly post content about culture and the ability to improve it as a result of direct feedback and cooperation” (Focus group, teacher 2).

On the other hand, teachers’ abilities in critical evaluation of cultural heritage information were discussed by the instructor and an ICT expert in relation to participatory platform utilization, as well as digital content creation requirements. The instructor in this study commented on the teacher’s ability as necessary for critical content evaluation in a participatory cultural heritage platform in the following ways: “To effectively post on the platform, it is necessary that the trainee be capable of critically searching for the appropriate content” and “choosing the appropriate digital content is a very time-consuming procedure and requires learning processes which take place before the posting of the final product on the platform” (Focus group, instructor). The ICT expert argued that the relationship between the platform’s technology and pedagogical principles should be further explored, recognizing Culture Gate users’ experiences: “The facilities offered by the platform will continue to improve, on the one hand, through their dissemination among the educational community and the feedback of its members and, on the other hand, through the implementation of well-designed activities. In any case, every opinion should matter and be considered. So, the participation of a large number of teachers and students is necessary” (Focus group, ICT expert 1).

Within these overarching themes, focus group participants highlighted several issues they believed could promote Culture Gate utilization in school education within different curricular areas. One teacher contended that “In the Culture Gate platform, students can quickly and easily learn about a site that interests them, but also contribute to the uploading of contents that they themselves will search to find” (Focus group, teacher 1). The other teacher argues that “through Culture Gate, students are able to gather information about a cultural or archaeological site. But the most important thing is that, with the guidance of their teacher, they could choose a site they find interesting and promote it through this platform. This way, they themselves can create knowledge” (Focus group, teacher 2).

The fact that students from different grades could be able to take on an active role in shaping cultural content was also highlighted, by one teacher who stressed the dynamic created by multimedia: “students could be able to form a more well-rounded picture regarding various cultural sites through videos, images, texts, and hyperlinks, and can directly search, collect, organize, and extend their knowledge regarding a wide variety of sites of cultural interest” (Focus group, teacher 1). However, in a typical school setting, it is possible that students’ lack of learning control and self-discipline can affect the pedagogy in a participatory platform. In particular, the other teacher mentioned that “the platform offered us control over our learning experience and this was incredible, but there is always a risk for a student just going through the content without paying any meaningful attention to it” (Focus group, teacher 2). Teacher 2 noted in the group discussion that “in a usual educational setting, not all students have the ability to control and monitor their own learning, and it is unlikely that all students will be motivated to keep themselves focused on tasks”.

The constructive nature of possible student involvement with the platform was also pointed out by the course instructor as follows: “Students, under the guidance of their teacher, can choose a site that interests them and showcase it through this platform. In this manner, they can construct knowledge on their own”. Regarding this issue, ICT expert 1 noted that the platform’s potential in school level education should be discussed in relation to pedagogy as “building an online participatory environment that provides the basis for cultural heritage content to be created does not mean that learners will, in fact, create quality content”. He added that “On a technological level, the platform could contain additional tools that would help users in content development”. ICT expert 2 noted that “on a pedagogical level, utilization of the platform would have added value if, apart from the posting of the content and the access on it, an additional unit was included in each post regarding the design and organization of related activities”.

6 Activities teachers perform in the participatory platform

After examining teachers’ activity patterns on the platform, a total of 152 activities were recorded (Table 2). Of these, 60 (39.47%) involved the uploading of images, 24 (15.79%) the writing of text, 17 (11.18%) the addition of hyperlinks, 14 (9.21%) the editing of hyperlinks, 12 (7.89%) changes to the text, 8 (5.26%) incorporation of video, 6 (3.95%) the formulation of the map, 6 (3.95%) editing images, and 5 (3.29%) editing videos.

Following the actions of other teachers and the two “experts”, 110 comments in total were adopted (see Table 3). Of these, 21 (19.09%) involved editing the text, 20 (18.18%) were evaluative comments, 13 (11.82%) involved image clarity, 11 (10%) involved the addition of images, 9 (8.18%) the addition of video, 9 (8.18%) the enrichment of the multimedia, 6 (5.45%) the quality of the video, and 4 (3.64%) the functionality/addition of hyperlinks. The role of the two “expert evaluators” appeared to be important. In their 17 (15.45%) comments, aside from recognizing teacher efforts, they proposed specific actions for the enrichment of the content of the posts, its organization into units, the correction of existing hyperlinks, the addition of new ones, and the enrichment of the multimedia by increasing the number and validity of the sources.

Table 2 Frequency of activities on the Culture Gate platform
Table 3 Comments regarding the activities carried out on the Culture Gate platform

7 Conclusion

The objective of the study was to explore teachers’ perceptions based on the development, sharing, and dissemination of digital educational cultural content on a participatory culture platform. Using a qualitative research approach, teachers’ perceptions and activity patterns on a participatory platform were determined.

According to this study’s results, the teachers reported being very satisfied with the process of designing, rendering, sharing, and disseminating cultural heritage content on the Culture Gate platform. From teachers’ point of view, the structure of the content in the Culture Gate platform (combining text and audio-visual options) provides meaningful learning opportunities and enhances their intention to participate in effective learning activities. Teachers in the current study understood the value of pedagogy in a participatory platform with regard to their competence to retain cultural heritage information, their ability to develop self-regulated skills, and their capabilities to apply new knowledge in their classrooms with their students. Extensive research has long been conducted to measure the learners’ levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with online learning, identifying various factors that can potentially affect their perceptions of different pedagogical advances provided by the participatory platforms (Muñoz-Carril et al., 2021; Artino, 2008; Womble, 2008).

In accordance with previous studies focusing on online learning pedagogy (Liao et al., 2019), this study provides evidence-based information on issues that enhance the ways learners reflect and elaborate on the new knowledge obtained as part of the cultural heritage content. The results from this study also indicate that teachers perceived learning activities as effortless and controllable, contributing to motivation in the Culture Gate environment. Teachers felt certain that they can master the creation and sharing cultural heritage content on the platform. Additionally, a sense of control occurred from interviews data concerning the degree to which teachers influenced the development and presentation of the final form of the digital content and perceived learning activities as effective. The Culture Gate environment also challenges teachers to make the best use of active learning strategies to remain actively engaged in the learning process. As relative studies have revealed, there is a link between learners’ motivation and the value of success are expected to enjoy themselves in online learning environments (Parker et al., 2021; Bawa, 2016; Chen & Jang, 2010). Even though it is, at any rate, important to emphasize that the Culture Gate platform provides ways for teachers to engage in active learning, it was not reported by all participants. Active learning is an important motivational factor for success in participatory learning environments and in constructivist learning. Although further investigation of this result had not been among the aims of this study, this result may be due to the teachers’ lack of time to interact with the platform and fully comprehend its affordances in active learning.

The results of this study showed that interaction is revealed to be a key predictor of teachers’ perceptions of the Culture Gate environment. Learner-learner interaction, learner-content interaction, and learner-instructor interactions are found to be especially relevant. These results are coherent with previous studies that showed that the effective use of technological tools with proper pedagogy promotes required interactions among learner to learner, learner to instructors, and learner to content in online learning environments (Kuo et al., 2014). This study’s results also reveal that the Culture Gate technological features have the most consistent positive effects on teachers’ perceptions. Available content development tools and communication tools engaged participants in the cultural heritage content creation process and increased participation in the learning process. The results also revealed that teachers shared the perception that the platform’s usability can be increased by adding authoring tools and social media features in the platform’s interface, which is in line with previous studies that emphasize the need to improve interface design and communication attributes of participatory platforms (Abuhlfaia & Quincey, 2018; Davids et al., 2015).

The results of this study reveal the contribution of the Culture Gate platform to promoting teachers’ constructive learning through research, synthesis, and co-design of information and enhancing their abilities in critical evaluation of cultural heritage information. This result supports relevant research findings revealing that during educational cultural heritage activities “not only do the students learn something about heritage, maybe most importantly they are able to do something with this knowledge, eventually going on to develop other abilities” (Gesche-Koning, 2018, p.17).

It is also established that collaborative cultural content creations were effective and put into perspective. In comments they posted to the platform, teachers exchanged positive reviews before submitting proposals for improving the content, most of which were centred on improving the text and enriching it with more multimedia. Similarly, comments by the expert evaluators focused not only on the improvement of the format and functionality of the data but also on its enrichment using online sources and individual applications (e.g., Web 2.0, games, etc.).

Such experiences involve actively applying new techniques of collaboration, participation, and content production to the existing range of activities in the established school curriculum. Given the establishment of new media modes and forms including wikis, blogs, social networks, and online platforms, the challenge that has been raised is to help teachers to extend their classrooms to connect with open communities that create, revise and share digital content (Rytivaara et al., 2019).

As McLoughlin & Lee (2007, p. 27) have stated, personalization, participation, and productivity “will result in a learning landscape and a diverse range of educational experiences that are socially contextualized, engaging, and generative”. Unarguably, the issue of participation and collaboration must be studied further due to the fact that the common point of reference shared by the teachers participating in this study (i.e., postgraduate students in the same course) and the face-to-face contact shared by some (because of the proximity of their schools) might have favourably influenced the circumstances under which the content was developed.

This study also established that the Culture Gate participatory platform was considered user-friendly, because it allowed for the simple and direct uploading of multimedia content. Teachers reported that they did not encounter any difficulties in uploading the content, while, as confirmed by the monitoring of their posts, most of their actions involved the uploading of images and then text. What concerned them, as evidenced by their focus group discussions, questionnaires, and the thematic analysis of the comments they posted on the platform, was the need to enrich content with more videos and functional hyperlinks. This indicates the effort undertaken for the best possible utilization of the capabilities provided by the multimedia so that the content might be more interesting to teachers and students. Furthermore, proposals were submitted for the enrichment of content with digital creations by the teachers themselves, as well as the utilization of the pedagogical capabilities of additional Web 2.0 applications with the aim of better supporting content. These proposals were accompanied by recommendations for the improvement of the technical features of the platform (e.g., more user-friendly tools for adding videos, automatic entry of hyperlinks, etc.) and support for teachers (e.g., a more analytical user guide). In the literature, researchers agreed that both technology and pedagogy should be considered to incorporate and adapt new digital and social technologies for the simulation, presentation, and visualization of digital content (e.g., Nikolić et al., 2019).

As shown by this study, the creation of cultural content not only involves the uploading of multimedia onto the user-participatory cultural heritage platform, but also requires the systematic and methodical selection of cultural content – a process that can also be carried out by students aided by specific pedagogical collaborative teaching practices under the guidance of teachers. With the emergence of social networking tools, learners would regain control of their learning process by being able to choose and mix from several alternatives for capturing, storing, classifying, analysing, creating, sharing, disseminating, and processing information, thus creating knowledge (Kompen et al., 2019).

To the best of our knowledge, this study is one of the first to examine the experiences and activities of the teachers involved in the process of developing educational content on a user-participatory cultural heritage platform. The investigation of these perceptions would help us not only to better understand the design process of digital educational cultural content but also to provide useful information about how to support the uptake of ICT in schools.

As with any other study, this research has limitations, one of which is the use of a convenience sample. In addition, this study has consisted of experienced ICT users. Therefore, the ability to generalize the findings to other samples of teachers (e.g., non-ICT users) is limited. The second limitation of this study is that the sample did not have enough time to interact with the participatory platform. Different results might have been obtained if this study examined experiences among teachers who would be using the participatory platform over a long period of time.

As far as the collaborative learning process is concerned, this paper endeavoured to discuss how teachers’ learning is achieved/accomplished in conjunction with online collaboration and to identify factors connected with teachers’ professional development within a pedagogic framework. Further research is required to identify methodological formats for the promotion of formal and informal learning through communication and collaboration. Further implications for learning methodologies in accordance with quality standards of digital materials and good practices for the co-creation and the reuse and remix of cultural heritage content for the benefit of all learners are necessary. Additionally, frameworks for measuring and evaluating the outcomes of the learning process with cultural platforms would reveal challenges and opportunities that can impact future developments on situated learning features.