If you are even reading this, the chances are that you believe that ICT has relevance to education and that it is important enough to spend some time reading a specialist TES supplement dedicated to the subject. But why is that exactly?
This is the question that the dICTatEd project is asking - and so far the answer is far from straightforward. As they say on their website (www.med8.infodictated): "The starting point for dICTatEd was to carry out a literature review in order to identify rationales given for the use of ICT in education."
The resulting synthesis came up with 19 commonly used rationales, and they are now collecting data via an online questionnaire to see the extent to which practitioners are driven by these rationales. They are aiming to collect 20,000 responses.
The 19 rationales fall into three categories: ICT is important in schools for its own sake because pupils need to learn to use it; ICT is important as a tool to aid learning, perhaps to change the way we teach, and to reflect the ways the nature of knowledge is changing; and ICT is important for some other reason such as improved productivity or efficiency or to prepare for the world of work.
The questionnaire - which takes about 10 minutes to complete - offers all 19 rationales and asks you to rate each according to how important you think it is, then rank the ones you think are important.
Interestingly, although a significant majority of the respondents so far think that ICT is essential, there are large minorities who do not. These include those interested in the under-fives and in higher education, where as many as 30 per cent of respondents do not see ICT as essential.
I used the questionnaire with a large group of PGCE students as a way of getting them thinking about the potential role(s) for ICT in their teaching. The exercise proved very useful as a precursor to a group discussion, and the results were quite surprising.
Since the students were all scientists, I expected them to focus on the role of ICT within the practice of science, since many of them had recent experience of science as practised within universities and elsewhere.
However, in common with the larger sample who have filled in the questionnaire to date, the three most important reasons for incorporating ICT into their teaching were: as preparation for living in a society that is permeated with technology; in order to provide access to the curriculum for those who might otherwise be excluded from it; in order to learn IT skills.
To extend and enrich the curriculum came fifth behind preparation for work.
This left me somewhat perplexed. These students are all preparing to teach science in secondary schools, where we know that teachers have a strong allegiance to their subject.
If teachers see ICT as something they are primarily using to fulfil some wider social agenda rather than to enhance the teaching of their subject, could this explain some of the rather puzzling results we see in projects like ImpaCT2 where levels of use in subjects is generally low?
Clearly this is not the only factor at work here, and the sample so far in the dICTatEd study may not be representative. But like all good research projects, it got me and the students I was working with thinking.
* To find out more about dICTatEd contact Peter Twining
(P.Twining@open.ac.uk) or visit
Angela McFarlane is professor of education and director of learning technology at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol