The truth is out there
There is constant griping about there being a real lack of research-based evidence to support the positive effects of information and communications technology (ICT). Our experience has been very different. We are currently nearly a year into a three-year research project funded by RM to explore the positive uses of ICT in classrooms and to make recommendations about the development, and the choosing and using, of educational software by different types of teachers.
Our project started by reviewing and making a critique of the existing research evidence on children's learning and teachers' use of ICT, and on the learning potential of educational software. Well over 200 research studies have been looked at and the following evidence has been found.
From the first of the two reviews we have found that:
* Using the Internet has far-reaching effects. As well as facilitating communication, it develops skills of searching, interpreting and organising information often defined as "network literacy". Communication through email improves students, writing skills as they take more care in grammar, spelling, punctuation and conveying meaning to an audience which isn't their teacher * The integration of ICT into subject teaching reveals a number of benefits.
Access - ICT enables pupils with reading difficulties to find different ways in to the curriculum, and raises the status of visual and aural literacies to the level of literacy acquisition through text.
Visualisation - makes the invisible visible, and shows reactions not possible in the school laboratory. Dynamic images and animation aid understanding of abstract concepts and enables visualisation of processes either too small or too fast.
Differentiation - gives enrichment and extension for able pupils, provides support and motivation for weaker pupils, allows independent learning at an individual pace, allows easy repetition and more teacherpupil interaction, and better "pupil contact".
Motivation and varity - generates enthusiasm, interest and involvement, keeps attention and enjoyment, and is a new way to present difficult ideas.
* Thinking skills and problem solving strategies are enhanced when using ICT - pupils' sense of competence is enhanced by challenging tasks and a responsive environment.
The role of the teacher is important in the process. For example, it has been shown that children working together at a computer, when given coaching in exploratory talk, will ask each other task-focused questions; give reasons for statements and challenges, consider more than one possible position, draw opinions from all in the group and reach agreement before acting. It also affects teachers' views of the learning process, with the technology playing a vital role in opening the minds of teachers to new ideas about children, learning and their own role in education. The teacher's role is changed from whole class to small group instruction; a didactic approach to coaching with individuals or pairs; from working with and questioning the most able to working with all abilities and understanding their difficulties.
We are now starting to think about what is missing in the research to date, and about how to move forward and ensure teachers and learners use all aspects of ICT effectively and with certain and evident learning gains. Our current research is into the views of learners about the use of computers in school and elsewhere (home, libraries etc) in two LEAs in the West Midlands, with plans to take a closer look at how teachers choose and use educational software. In particular, our major interest will be in in how ICT situations affect classroom dynamics, the pace and flow of lessons and also how it affects a teacher's preferred teaching style.
The big hope is that the results of our research will be to match software to teachers and to learners and inform software developers about their next products.
Michelle Selinger is director and Shazia Mumtaz is RM research fellow at the Centre for New Technologies Research in Education (CeNTRE), Institute of Education, University of Warwick. Jim Wynn is head of school research for RM