Sunday, 17 January 2010

ICT in Education – from cutting edge to impoverishment

My first exposure to ICT was at my senior school in 1976. During the 1980’s schools were at the forefront of providing pupils with exposure to leading edge ICT technologies. However, despite massive investment both in the UK and North America (Cuban,2001, Burns and Ungerleider, 2002), contemporary schools provision of ICT falls short of what is provided in many homes, libraries and campsites:

“The embarrassing truth is that in a few short decades, schools have gone from providing many students with their first experiences with computers and the internet to what have become islands of impoverishment.”

March, 2007

School is no longer the place to experience cutting edge ICT technologies – some might say quite the reverse. I am old enough to have experienced both ends of this timeline – to be a beneficiary (as a pupil) of the introduction of ICT to schools in the late 70’s and the dubious honour of propagating a questionable pedagogy (as a teacher) on the pupils of the 21st century.

Looking at HEIs’, there has been a similar level of investment in the infrastructure and the technologies, but less investment at the grass roots to address pedagogy and staff training. The effects of the latter are beginning to emerge in both the literature (Woo et al 2008) and anecdotal data (Doe, 2010). Both sources suggest that the gap between expectations of technology by students and by academics is widening: the former having increasingly higher expectations of ICT and competence with it, and the latter falling behind as their workloads increase and thus dilute the attention they can give to using ICT for teaching and learning.


Doe, J (2010)
Amalgamation of informal discussions with HE lecturers from the North West of England, 2008, 2009 & 2010

Burns, T. C. & Ungerleider, C. S. (2002)
Information and communication technologies in elementary and secondary education, International Journal of Educational Policy, Research and Practice, 3 (4), pp. 27–54.
Cuban, L. (2001)
Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

March, T. (2007)
Revisiting WebQuests in a Web 2 World. How developments in technology and pedagogy combine to scaffold personal learning. Interactive Educational Multimedia. Euroa, Mittagong, New South Wales, Australia;

Woo, K., Gosper, M., McNeill, M., Preston, G., Green, D. & Phillips, R. (2008)
Web-based lecture technologies: blurring the boundaries between face-to-face and distance learning. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 16(2), 81-93.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Conversations with the “Digitally Other”

I’m on the last lap of writing my dissertation, reflecting on the journey that I have undertaken. As I have said, my research has been conducted with the “Digitally Happy”, and it is this that I reflect mostly upon. I feel that I should maybe have been more determined to include the voice and experience of other groups, and in particular those with fears and concerns about using ICT in their teaching and learning, those that may feel oppressed by our digital society, and may be seen by many commentators as a group to drive to extinction: the “Digitally Alienated”.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

An ICT teacher’s perspective

Here I offer the reader my opinions and beliefs around the issues of a lack of efficacy of ICT for teaching and learning, perhaps to include: time, skills, encouragement, requirements, support, training from a teacher’s (person, first person) perspective, i.e., “Ethnographically speaking”. Adopting a similar approach to “Informal Chats" I had with teaching staff about their experiences of using ICT in their practice, I answer the general question " Tell us about your experiences using New Media in teaching and learning”. The driver behind such a reflective question was to illustrate to the readers of my work my observations of mainstream secondary school (classroom ICT teacher 2002 -> 2007) and academic support at university. Such experiences undoubtedly inform this blog, so perhaps to make them explicit might help the reader and shed more light on discussions in postings.

After 20 or so years in the ICT industry I trained to be an ICT teacher in 2002 and spent the following five years in 11 -> 18 education at an all boys catholic comprehensive school in Liverpool. I worked full time, 40 weeks of the year, and was contracted for 1288 hours per year.

As soon as I joined the school in June 2003 I was dismayed at the lack of technologies for teaching and learning. I experienced this acutely in my subject area, ICT, where relatively low tech solutions such as using small web sites to host documentation like as “How To” guides and previous exam papers was “Pie in the sky” – the school had only just begun to use the shared network drives for that purpose. Thus basic affordances which eliminated both the need for photocopying and the risks of obsolescence, all well within the technical abilities of the technical staff, were not in place.

The schools ICT situation contrasted with the massive investment in ICT infrastructure (ref laptop for teachers et al), the provision of a wide ranging ICT skills training program for existing teachers (NOF training), and contemporary online initiatives from the Open University (refs).

It is interesting to note that the first two initiatives have been widely slated by commentators, both the investment in ICT infrastructure (Cuban 2001) and the NOF (ref) - whereas the OU initiative has been widely praised both by students and academic journals (ref). It is beyond the realms of a blog post to explore these.

Moving on to my experiences as a Learning Technologist at university, I was first involved in a CPD team developing a new approach to teaching and learning, one which adopted an approach of blending within each session – that is, the tutor was required to construct an online learning environment to deliver a similar learning experience to that which they would experience face to face, and then the tutor was further required to deliver the face to face session as well. The central tenet of the “Mode Neutral” (ref) approach was that the student decided whether to attend the face to face session, do that session on-line, or just not bother with that week at all (perhaps because they are experts in that week’s content).

The CPD team had excellent support from a team of learning technologists, in fact an order of magnitude better resourced than for similarly sized faculties – therefore the quality, consistency, academic rigour and alignment (Biggs) were perhaps a similar magnitude better than those in other faculties’ courses. This extended to the discussion boards that the CPD team read, contributed to and policed in a very methodical fashion following the models for on-line moderating first described by Salmon (2001).

Re-visiting my thoughts on hearing about “Mode Neutral”, my colleague who introduced me to the term did say “It’s like doing it twice” – and note that this is supported by one of my interviewees.

Further, following directorate level meetings evaluating on-line provision, I was intrigued by a lack of awkward questions I had anticipated, and then sat (rather smugly) as those questions were aired by the academic team as they left the room. Perhaps these questions were known by all, as it might have also been “Known By All” that it had been unwritten somewhere that they were not to be asked?

What are my current “informal” thoughts? I again go back to time, skills, support, status, reliability and awkward tools.

Observation and Sampling for educational research.

Random scribblings about two educational reserach methods:

Observation: In the teaching profession a methodology often used for research is observation. As an experienced classroom teacher I have been on both ends of this methodology many times. Advantages include the possibility of immediate feedback to those being observed (if this is the intention), and given an equitable power relationship it can be a very effective method for getting at "the truth" (ref Silverman 1992). However, those conscious of being observed may demonstrate the Hawthorne effect: "a short-term improvement caused by observing worker performance" (Landsberger, 1955). Others have found that sometimes there is an opposite effect. A typical example is a reduction in productivity due to being part of a time and motion study. There are also ethical concerns with observing tutors practice, and even more so when observing students.

Sampling course content, i.e., looking online to see what teaching staff have done: I don't consider this method as particularly useful. Although it may produce highly accurate data (such as how often someone logged on), it would yield far less of value than an interview. It was also fraught with ethical concerns (such as viewing student information when no consent for research had been given).

Monday, 11 January 2010

What evidence is there suggesting ICT improves student performance?

Political rhetoric, government (or NGO) reports and academic papers have suggested a few benefits that ICT may offer to education. In this post I explore the evidence that supports such promises – what reports and studies have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the technologies to improve student performance?

First, looking for something positive, I can’t find anything. Nothing.

Stretching the remit to include the opinions of students, perhaps one comment might be:
“Asserting the benefits of cross-cultural working and using new technology have become major themes in business school marketing, and are seen as enticements to students.”
(Smith 1997 in Salmon 1999)

On the negative side though there is quite a lot in the literature – and one frequently cited in this study is Cuban’s “Oversold and Underused” (2001). Whilst working as the Professor of Education at Stamford, Cuban identified a plethora of projects in Silicon Valley designed to deliver improved student learning but consistently fail to deliver their promise – and he looked at every age range, from pre-school and kindergartens to higher education. What I especially like about Cuban’s book is that he referenced most, possibly all of his points. Given that Cuban echoed much of my thoughts about ICT and education, once I had read his book and saw that much of what I felt aligned with what Cuban had written, I felt able to use Cuban’s references to back up my opinions. Note that around one quarter of Cuban’s book is references.

Fuchs and Woessmann (2004) looked at the effect of the availability of ICT equipment at home and in the classroom, and concluded that:
“ … once family background and school characteristics are extensively controlled for, the mere availability of computers at home is negatively related to student performance in math and reading, and the availability of computers at school is
unrelated to student performance.”
Salmon (1999, pp36) reports:
“In the early years (1988 on) the problems were lack of integration into course objectives and processes, tutor workload, technical difficulties and limitations, inappropriate messages, inability of participants to post messages in appropriate conferences, and passive views of learning from students”

Also, Salmon (ibid) comments on the use of CMC prior to 1995 in the OU, saying there were “… very mixed views from stakeholders about its value for learning ….”.

Burns and Ungerleider (2002) looked at the efficacy of ICTs for “ … achievement, motivation, and metacognitive learning” – given that 97% of Canadian secondary school pupils had access to the internet for educational purposes, it was thought a study would inform policy makers. However, in 2006, Sclater et al said of Ungerleider and Burns (2002) work:
“ … (there was) little methodologically rigorous evidence of the effectiveness of computer technology in promoting achievement, motivation, and metacognitive learning and on instruction in content areas in elementary and secondary schools.”
There are many other examples demonstrating the lack of efficacy of ICT against it’s desired objectives; perhaps the sharpest was from the Alliance for Childhood (2000):

"For a relatively small number of children with certain disabilities, technology offers benefits. But for the majority, computers pose health hazards and potentially serious developmental problems."

The (North American) National Science Board, Science & Engineering Indicators (1998) state quite clearly that:
“… cost effectiveness (of ICT methods) compared to other forms of instruction – for example, smaller class sizes, self-paced learning, peer teaching, small group learning, innovative curricula, and in-class tutors has never been proven.”
(North American) National Science Board (1998:8-19)
The UK e-University is widely seen as another spectacular failure. Morrison et al (2006) documents some of the history behind the UKeU teasing out lessons to be learned from the project. They (ibid) also gives counter points that suggest some mitigating factors for the failure – such as a focus on wholly on online provision and impatience of government. On the last point, other commentators such as Driscoll (in MacLeod 2004) states that "It hasn't been given long enough”. It should be noted that similarly sized online businesses (such as many middle tier retailers and medium to larger start ups) are given many times more than the two years the UKeU had to prove their viability.

So after searching through many reports and studies there appears to be no conclusive evidence that ICT (read VLE’s/multi media) has improved student performance. A balanced view, taking perspectives from the champions (Laurillard, Siemens) and critiques (Cuban, 2001;, Fuchs) into account, is that there is no conclusive evidence that ICT (read VLE’s / MultiMedia) improves student performance. In fact, there is a growing literature on the failure of a wide range of technology supported educational initiatives to deliver measurable improvements to students learning.


ICT in Education - 1970 - 2010; events and drivers.

Here I discuss the drivers for TEL, a brief history of progress and failures over the past two decades, and then focus in on some literature around the experience of tutors with TEL, VLE’s and multi media.

The anticipated benefits of computers in education have their origins in previous technologies (radio / television). Schools and universities from the mid 1970’s invested in equipment and software that was generally seen as innovative and engaging (Reynolds et al, 2003). However, explicit drivers for these are a little difficult to identify. Cuban (2001, pp13) suggests a possible driver for the mass investment in ICT of the 1990’s:

“… the economic prosperity of the 1990’s, unrivalled in the 20th century, has now convinced most doubters that information technologies have accelerated American workers productivity. As a consequence, introducing electronic tools into schools has become a priority of corporate leaders and public officials.”

Around the same time in Europe, officials were coming to realise the affordances of the networked computer – and the perceived dangers of not investing in these technologies, as the Bangerman (1994) report highlights:

“… our suppliers of technologies and services will lack the commercial muscle to win a share of the enormous global opportunities which lie ahead. Our companies will migrate to more attractive locations to do business. Our export markets will evaporate.”

Bangermann emphasises the growing nature of the “Knowledge Economies” and fuelled fears that a lack of investment in an ICT infrastructure will compromise Europe’s ability to do business, identifying that “… Education, training and promotion will necessarily play a central role.” (Bangemann, 1994, p4) This mindset was a major driver for massive investment in Information and Communication Technologies from the mid 1990’s.

However, a mindset it remains, with few leaders willing to commit themselves to comment explicitly on the anticipated benefits – thus identifying drivers for ICT in education that I am trying to expose. A list of drivers for ICT in education is elusive – perhaps the words of Clegg, Hudson and Steel (2003) offer some comfort to my inability to find some neat espousal of governments desire for ICT in education:

"The role of ICTs in these movements is so embedded in that it is mentioned as a fait accompli."

Whichever politician is talking about ICT in education, whether it be Michael Heseltine in 1995, Tony Blair in 1997 or David Blunkett in 2001, specifics about how they expect ICT to enhance education are absent (all quoted in Watson 2001). Perhaps one reason there is a lack of espoused drivers from our politicians is that ICT is a field which moves so fast that specifics can become obsolete embarrassingly quickly.

And the politicians are not alone. Academics such as Salmon identified various initiatives in the OU to use ICT in education, but doesn’t offer any drivers or rationale for using the technology.

Reverting to (or falling back on) governmental papers and NGO reports, I have found one example that suggests some drivers – the UK’s Futurelab report: “Literature Review in Science Education and the Role of ICT: Promise, Problems and Future Directions” (Osborne and Hennessy, 2003). Here are some drivers I extracted from the text *(p4):

  • ICT’s ability to automate some processes
  • freeing up time for learning activities
  • create a more engaging curriculum by providing access to experiences not otherwise feasible, and
  • “fostering self-regulated and collaborative learning”.

There is also the ubiquitous assumption that ICT will improve motivation and engagement.

Returning to academia, I found a more complete list of affordances, and therefore possible drivers in a paper by Conole and Dyke (2004) that attempts to create a taxonomy for the affordances of ICT in education. I suggest these are more comprehensive that something we might get from government rhetoric or reports. The first six are easy to find positive, “Politician” style “Amplifications” (Kanuka & Rourke, 2008) for – paraphrasing:

  • Accessibilty - to information, in "MultiMedia" formats.
  • Speed of change - being able to get information "as it happens"
  • Diversity - enabling learners to gain access to a variety of contexts
  • Communication and collaboration - from email to "Communities of Practice"
  • Reflection - such as time to think during an asynchronous discussion
  • Multimodal and non-linear - allowing the learner to find their own route - alluding to a constructivist pedagogy.

The final four tend towards the reduction rather than amplification model:

  • Risk, fragility and uncertainty
  • Immediacy
  • Monopolizatione
  • Surveillance

Further, Abrami et al (2006), referencing seven papers that suggest that “… computers possess the potential to … improve the quality of the learning that results. Possible means include”:

  • “increasing access to information (Bransford et al. 2000)
  • “providing access to a richer learning environment (Bagui, 1998; Brown, 2000; Caplan, 2005; Craig, 2001)
  • “making learning more situated (Bransford et al. 2000)
  • “increasing opportunities for active learning and inter-connectivity (Laurillard, 2002; Shuell & Farber, 2001; Yazon, Mayer-Smith & Redfield, 2002)
  • “enhancing student motivation to learn (Abrami, 2001)
  • “increasing opportunities for feedback (Jonassen et al. 2003; Laurillard, 2002).
    Abrami et al, 2006, pp1


Abrami et al (2006)

Bangerman (1994)

Bransford et al. 2000

Clegg, Hudson and Steel (2003)

Conole and Dyke (2004)

Cuban (2001)

Kanuka & Rourke (2008)

Osborne and Hennessy, 2003

Reynolds et al, 2003Watson (2001)

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The "Microversity"

Can I stake a claim on the term "Microversity" please?

Not the word, but the term, concept, or notion.

"Microversity" is about using technology to free students to seek education that suits them rather than suits institutions. I think Bill Gates once said that technology facilitates a zero friction situation in the job market - I want to explore that in the educational context, from teenagers (13+) to doctoral students. I am also interested in exploring the slicing of education, particularly higher education, both vertically and horizontally - in terms of curriculum, delivery and assessment. I think I need a literature review first though. Can anyone give me some pointers?

More later ... perhaps once I've handed my dissertation in (don't ask!).

Kindest regards to all my readers - wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.