Was that hyper text or just hype?
Considering the huge investment in ICT and the acres of rhetoric about its importance [to which I have contributed quite a bit], we still have little ‘hard’ evidence of its ‘impact’ on pupils’ learning, both in a general sense and, more specifically, in relation to English. At the level of English teacher attitudes, there is clear evidence that there has been a steady shift over the last 20 years from quite a degree of negativity and even hostility, to a broadly positive and accommodating approach [Goodwyn, 2000]. One simple shift, but worth noting, is that student teachers no longer expect to receive skills training in ICT during their teacher education courses; this does free up space to explore applications within the subject. However, there is also plenty of evidence from the Ofsted evaluation of the post NOF era, that English departments [and therefore student teachers] still have real problems with access to ICT on any consistent basis. There are notable exceptions in certain schools but they do tend to prove the rule. But Ofsted, quoted by BECTa , suggest that only 19% of English teachers see ICT as central to their practice. Another significant factor, in my view, is that the model of Literacy adopted in the Strategy was essentially a print model – what were all those little laminated whiteboards if not the slates of the nineteenth century?
What I am suggesting is that there is a very lively tradition in English which finds the potential of ICTs to be profoundly exciting but that the reality has yet to live up to these expectations. Tony Adams pioneering work in the 1970s, followed up in the 80s and 1990s by Phil Moore and the late Sally Tweddle, generated a real enthusiasm for the use of ICT in English. The collaborative text English for Tomorrow, [Tweddle et al. 1997] still offers exciting models of practice that are untried by the great majority of teachers. One side effect of the NOF training’s failure was that many English departments took it upon themselves to improve their ICT skills and basic competence no longer seems an issue. However, motivation, is an issue especially when the whole thrust of the English curriculum has been towards a model of practice full of ‘pacey’ lessons and immediate objectives [I am consciously over-simplifying]. Using ICT with pupils [and student teachers] requires much more time and, typically, access to machines for several hours at a stretch. Interactive whiteboards are livening up whole class teaching and giving pupils a chance to participate more within that context but research does show that many pupils just cannot wait to get home and do the work on a decent machine. An issue here for student teachers is how they gauge ICT access and skills amongst their pupils as the class teacher may have little idea. The student teacher can make simplistic assumptions about all pupils being able, for example, to word process work as homework.
BECTa – an agency worth knowing
BECTa is rare amongst governmental agencies in having produced a visible difference in teachers’ competence. It generates some research of its own and is careful to pay close attention to any significant work which it then tries to disseminate. Its web site is therefore a place that any teacher educator should monitor. Its big investigations Impact 1 and 2 [BECTa, 2003] were relatively inconclusive and, I think, largely irrelevant. Its attempt to produce causal links between high exposure to ICT and exam results just seem to be looking at the wrong relationships. In confirmation of this, Richard Andrews’ EPPI [see below re EPPI] team produced a thorough review of the research examining links between literacy and ICT and found very little ‘hard’ evidence of ‘impact’. They also, very usefully, discuss whether terms like ‘impact’ are the right ones. For a detailed account see Andrews et al.2004. I feel very confident they are not. Perhaps a curren, ESRC project, project ‘The Teaching and Learning Research Programme’, which has an English strand, may generate more sophisticated and more grounded findings. BECTa’s 2003 pamphlet is still very useful and appropriately modest in its claims, it is a good prompt for student teachers, especially in helping them review the practice in their host schools. ICT is not an ‘under researched’ area, it has had massive attention but almost all the work undertaken has not been oriented towards more subtle understandings that would be of value to English teachers. I think my own, edited volume [Goodwyn, 2000] and the Australian edited book [Durrant and Beavis 2001]are good overviews. They both contain research informed and practice informed perspectives that offer ideas and challenges to student teachers and experienced practitioners.
Andrews et al.(eds) (2004) The Impact of ICT on Literacy Education, RoutledgeFalmer, London.
BECTa, (2003) What the research says about using ICT in English, BECTa, Coventry.
BECTa (2003) ImpaCT 2, BECTa, Coventry.
Durrant, C. and Beavis, C. (eds) ( 2001) P(ICT)ures of English: Teachers, Learners and Pedagogy, AATE/Wakefield Press, Kent Town.
Goodwyn, A ( (ed) (2000) English in the Digital Age, Continuum, London.
Tweddle et al. (1997) English for Tomorrow, Open University press, Milton Keynes.