Answer is waiting in the wings

The degree to which Integrated Learning Systems (ILS) have been evaluated in + schools in this country is unprecedented. An ILS consists of a body of + curriculum-related software tasks; these are presented to students and their + performance is recorded. The order of task presentation, and the analysis of + scores is mediated by a software management system. The concept is so + seductive: it promises to solve the problems of underachievement in literacy + and numeracy in as little as 30 minutes a day.Computers are used to teach basic+ skills more effectively than the teacher alone.A major evaluation, funded by + the Department for Education and Employment (DFEE), and managed by the National+ Council for Educational Technology (NCET), has already produced substantial + findings and is now in its fifth phase. There have also been countless studies + in other countries, mainly the US and Israel as well as Australia. The latest + study to report in the UK is the Technology Colleges Trust's Integrated + Learning Systems - First Year Report. But no matter how many evaluations are + funded, not one has come up with the incontrovertible evidence that would + justify major government investment in ILS for all. Interestingly, all major + studies have fought shy of doing direct comparisons of different ILS products, + and the TC Trust is no exception. This is a great pity as it is probably the + key piece of information that any school considering the substantial cost an + ILS represents would really like to know. They did look at four products: + SuccessMaker; Global Maths and English; Learning Expedition (all featured in + the NCET report); and the Plato Curriculum.Unlike the NCET-managed study, the + TC Trust did not use independent measures of results, but relied on those + provided by the ILS themselves. As has been pointed out in many reports, this + makes interpretation very difficult. Systems tend to place students rather low + when they do their initial assessment, and unfamiliarity with the assessment + tools and methods of presentation used in the system can aggravate this. The + result is impressive gains at first as the students become more familiar with + the system. Additionally, it is impossible to know if the apparent skill gains + are transferable - will the students' spelling, for example, be better when + they are writing a story on paper?The NCET study, designed and carried out by + Leicester University, used rigorous methodology and independent measures of + learning gains. The results they confirmed, relating to numeracy gains in + students using SuccessMaker, were undeniably real and spectacular. They did + not, however,confirm gains reported by other systems, or by SuccessMaker in + literacy. It is therefore difficult to see what the TC Trust reported gains + really mean. The internal reporting systems in an ILS always show pupil + improvement.The TC Trust report does look at the role of the teacher closely. + It finds that the systems cannot replace the teacher, and that the better + prepared the teacher and the more integrated the use of the ILS with the rest + of the curriculum, the better the result. This mirrors the findings of the + NCET report, and of the considerable work relating to the role of the teacher + published by Roy Clariana.The conclusion to the TC Trust report points out that+ its findings reinforce those of other studies. Implementing some forms of ILS + does have some advantages under some circumstances. Not all products are the + same. They must be implemented fully, with appropriate staff training. This is+ expensive, but cutting corners will lead to failures. There is nothing new to + report from the TC Trust study, but the weight of evidence is important.It is + unfortunate however that this does not include independent assessments of + results.There are still many questions remaining to be answered about the use + of ILS. I will leave the final word to Roy Clariana, writing in the Journal of+ Computers in Mathematics and Science in 1995: "No one instructional method is + appropriate for every learner under every circumstance. An ILS, like any good + instructional method, provides an alternativ e and a supplement to classroom + presentations. An ILS is only a part of the total learning environment but may + change any or every aspect of that environment. ILS research should now focus + on how an ILS can change the total learning environment, with particular + attention to the teacher."Integrated Learning Systems - A TC Trust project - + First Year Report #163;7.50, TC Trust, 9 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DD

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