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ELPC Teaching Roles – ICT and learning improvement March 8, 2010

Posted by teachandreflect in Uncategorized.
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Jan Underwood (2009) cited Nancy Protheroe’s 2005 survey of research on Technology and Student Achievement as one of a number of recent works to have noted methodological difficulties in such studies. Surveying the past 25 years of research on the question “Is there evidence that using technology leads to higher levels of student learning?”, Protheroe ultimately answers in the affirmative, but not before outlining methodological flaws in the research and adding some caveats to her conclusions.

Research Flaws

Protheroe reports that research on this question has been plagued by the following methodological challenges:

  • School confusion as to the learning outcomes they wish to achieve (i.e. is their aim to increase test scores, or to prepare their students for jobs or produce critical thinkers and so on)
  • The fact that most surveys have really been assessments of instruction supported by ICT, rather than of the effectiveness of new technologies in isolation. ((a good thing I should think, but nonetheless an important distinction to note with respect to teacher roles and expectations))
  • Problems in the scope of achievement tests themselves, namely that most ‘do not reliably measure the wide range of outcomes sought’.
  • ‘The dynamic nature of technology itself’. With new technologies rapidly superseding old ones and rendering them obsolete, it is difficult to make meaningful evaluation of the technologies surveyed.

The benefits of ICT-supported learning

Several studies over the past two decades have nonetheless found positive correlations between ICT supported instruction and student results, according to Protheroe. Positive effects in the studies cited by Protheroe ranged from ‘moderate’ to ‘significant’ across most domains, including but not limited to: basic skill consolidation, student behaviour and attitudes towards learning, teacher-student interaction and social learning.

The centrality of the teacher

It is important to note throughout these findings the use of language such as ‘when properly implemented’, ‘when used appropriately’ and ‘effective use of technology fostered…’ This aspect of the discourse should not be understated – it draws attention to the centrality of the teacher as effective interpreter and implementor of ICT in successful ICT-supported classrooms.

Protheroe is at pains to point this out herself via: Waddoups (2004), who noted the key role played by (ICT-trained) ‘teachers, not technology’, in ‘unlocking student potential’; Johnston and Cooley (2001), who call for consideration of how technology might support emerging models of teaching and learning; and Byrom, who reportedly has once asserted that “over time, technology use changes the way teachers teach”.

Further questions: The silent, ICT-using teacher?

Although it is heartening that Protheroe and the researchers she cites leave the teacher at the centre of the ICT-supported learning discourse, I felt there may have been a hidden message in the language used and assertions made. That is, that new technologies, when improperly implemented, or inappropriately or ineffectually used, may in fact not foster or produce all of the cited benefits of ICT-supported learning. In the search for quantitative results supporting these benefits, there is little attention paid, in this article at least, to the effects on teachers themselves – did teachers embrace the introduction of ICT to their classroom or resist it? How were teacher stress levels or self-efficacy beliefs affected by the changes imposed on their interpretation of the curriculum, their lesson-planning, or their classroom instruction method. Also, did the classrooms surveyed in these studies belong to willing volunteers ready to embrace ICT in their teaching? Without whole-of-school approaches, results could be skewed and those who chose not to participate conceivably relegated to the marginalised ranks of the ‘old-fashioned’ teacher.    



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