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“Storm” … or just blustery conditions? October 29, 2014

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, research.
blustery condtions

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by ell brown: http://flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown/5946492853

My sense is that ICT, and the ICT community of which we are all a part, is at a crucial time in its evolution, as is the role of ICT in the education system

I was minded of the above when reading Nick‘s recent post on Learn eNabling in which he draws attention to the rising ‘tide of opinion and commentary’ asserting that technologies in schools have failed to make a positive impact on student learning or achievement. But those people are right. The evidence that technology has a significant impact on achievement or learning is notable by its absence. Or perhaps more accurately, by its lack of consensus.

Here’s why I think that might be. As Nick also suggested

…it is often difficult to establish hard evidence of improved pupil attainment as a result of using ICT. Isolating the impact of ICT from all other factors that can affect achievement can be problematic.

Balanskat et al, 2006

So the research is actually quite hard, or in some cases, even flawed.

The question of whether or not ICT has made significant impacts on a wide variety of student learning outcomes is still in doubt because of the variety of assumptions made in many research studies and the limited reliability of some research methods.

Cox and Marshall, 2007

For example

The connection between the use of ICT and the achievement of students is only valid when the means of measurement is congruent with the means of teaching and learning. In some studies there is a mismatch between the methods used to assess the effects of ICT on student achievement and on how ICT is actually used in the classroom.

Trucano, 2005

And how many studies go this far?

In order to understand the impact of ICT on learning, a holistic approach is needed that takes into account the socio-economic context, the learning environment, and teacher training

Punie et al, 2006

and I’d also add to that institutional strategies, goals and norms; external assessment regimes linked with school and teacher accountability;  and of course ongoing political agendas.

If we take a step back for a moment, are we really saying that the increased levels of technology in schools have resulted in “no significant difference?” If so then the massive levels of investment have indeed been for naught. (Here I should point out that there is no question that substantial sums of money have been and are being spent unwisely by faculties, schools, local authorities and central government, for a whole host of reasons … but that’s another post) However I think that technologies have indeed made a difference by ‘adding value’ to the learning experience and they have done so by smoothing communications and improving the connections our students can make; they have provided easy access to vast repositories of data and information; they have provided channels through which students can ‘publish’ evidence of their learning to an authentic audience; and have given learners the tools to take control of their learning. They have made what would previously have been impossible or very difficult, achievable, manageable and (relatively) easy. I readily accept that not all students, teachers or schools are doing all of the aforementioned, but many are well on the way, so perhaps this is where the impact should be sought? If seeking a difference in students attainment isn’t a realistic endeavour, then maybe we should be looking for where learning technologies can actually make a difference?

The naysayers and righteous sceptics may indeed have a point … or perhaps they’re missing it?

Ironically, it may be that the poorly resourced, inadequately trained, poorly conceptualised and inadequately operationalised forms of ICT usage so far on offer have sapped teachers’ interests, yet it is because the ICT has not been utilised as an integral part of a transformed classroom learning experience that it has failed.

Perhaps as eNOOBs, we really do have our work cut-out? Or perhaps these are the challenges to which we need to rise?

I’ll close by providing attribution for the quotes which bookended this post – Professor David Reynolds – Building an ICT Research Network Conference2001!

Cox, M.J., Marshall, G., 2007. Effects of ICT: Do we know what we should know? Education and Information Technologies 12, 59–70.
Balanskat, A., Blamire, R., Kefala, S., 2006. The ICT Impact Report: A Review of Studies of ICT Impact on Schools in Europe. European SchoolNet.
Punie, Y., Zinnbauer, D., Cabrera, M., 2006. A review of the impact of ICT on learning. Working paper prepared for DG EAC. Seville: JRC-IPTS (Joint Research Centre–Institute for Prospective Technological Studies).
Trucano, M., 2005. Knowledge Maps: Impact of ICTs on Learning & Achievement.


1. John Johnston - October 31, 2014

Great succinct list of the added value Ian in the middle of this post.

I wonder if we have actually got to the point where we can judge the effectiveness of ICT. Could it be that ICT has arrived but is not distributed across learning widly enough for it to be measured. Pockets of well established practice surrounded by swaths of the sort of picture that your last quote describes. I am not sure how we get the futures distribution moved on, maybe it will just happen as technology becomes more and more embedded in life, the costs fade when the last blocker to BYOD retires and no one can remember why you would not use technology.

2. ianinsheffield - October 31, 2014

Thanks John. I’m sure you’re right and we need to take a longer-term view; it’s not going to go away and shows no sign of decline. I think our role though has, for the most part, moved beyond helping people (colleagues and students) to *use* learning technologies, to helping them to use LTs *better.* This is a much tougher ask, but as more people become more adept, I think we’re increasingly likely to see the kind of gains the research is struggling to find.

3. Release Notes - November 3, 2014

[…] way it’s not a bad thing that the community is starting to ask questions. Nick Jackson and Ian Guest have blogs on the topic you should […]

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