Don Passey, senior research fellow at the Department of Psychology at Lancaster University, has done a lot of research work in educational ICT, covering a wide range of subjects from using communications technologies to support learning, to using laptops, and whole-school development of ICT. He has undertaken studies and evaluations for many organisations including the QCA, BECTA, RM, Microsoft and BT.
Yet despite all this work, Passey is ambivalent about the amount of research out there which supports ICT and learning: "We do have some evidence but it's often not contextualised. We need more research that comes from the practice in the classroom." He also worries that ICT research can quickly go out of date, pointing out that a word processor of 10 years ago is very different from one today: "If packages are being modified every 18 months, if hardware is being replaced every five years or so in schools, does that mean that research needs to be carried out in a cyclical pattern?
"Look at a multimedia package like (the presentation software) PowerPoint. It would not have been possible to use it on old 386 PCs. What we have are pieces of a jigsaw, but we need to work out what the pieces do." Passey says the problem researchers have is that they have to work in advance of developments that are happening within the school classroom today: "We need to look at those schools that take risks and opportunities." He also feels that too little of the research findings get back to eachers: "Academic journals generally publish a description of the whole research picture rather than picking out the outcomes, so it doesn't get to the essence of the research. Its purpose is to explain the research rather than providing a summary or precis."
However, Passey praises the IT Works publications from BECTA, which aim to provide teachers with information on some aspects of ICT research work.
Another problem is the time taken for research to be published, he adds, and an academic paper may not be published for over a year after it has been submitted to a journal: "We need just-in-time research outcomes." Cumbria and Lancashire LEAs are attempting to set up such a system using email and possibly the Internet.
ICT is often seen as a panacea and research groups often look at too broad a canvas, adds Passey: "Many schools only use ICT for perhaps five per cent of the time, and yet we're being asked to look at the total effect on literacy or numeracy. Why should five per cent usage lead to 100 per cent of the outcomes? Research is not helping to pin this down accurately."
There are a number of gaps in educational ICT research he adds, such as looking at what learning happens outside school, for example, via homework clubs, libraries, field trips, and at home where children may also have access to ICT. Little has also been done on ICT's impact on oral work or building pupil self-confidence or esteem. There is clearly much more work to be done.