Critical reflections on the benefits of ICT in education
Volume 38 Number 1, February 2012; Pages 9–24
The article examines issues surrounding the adoption of ICT in schools, and the potential of technology to enhance students' learning. Few independent evaluations have compared educational settings with and without an ICT intervention; those that have done so 'are equivocal in their conclusions'. A large scale US meta-analysis of online learning did not find a significantly positive impact for K–12 students. A 2004 analysis of PISA results, controlling for family background and school characteristics, found that school computers had an insignificant effect on student achievement, although a separate 2006 analysis of PISA results in the OECD found benefits from broadband access and the use of IWBs. Establishing the benefits of ICT in schools has been held back by the diversity of the technologies involved, and the diverse educational practices associated with them. These technologies may be stand-alone or networked, and peer-to-peer or one-to-many. Some are school-specific while others, such as edugames, have broader relevance. Where benefits have been confirmed, they tend to be uneven. A 2009 Ofsted report found primary students better able to use ICT for communication than to manipulate data, and secondary students better at using it for presentational purposes than other uses such as programming. Researchers have found that the value of ICT in allowing self-paced learning varies widely, 'suggesting that social and economic dimensions of classroom practice moderate educational benefits'. Teachers tended to focus on aspects of ICT with which they felt most comfortable, or emphasised particular software applications rather than broad transferable skills. Seiter 2008 found that deep development of digital skills requires more hours of trial-and-error practice than teachers can generally afford. As measures to deal with these problems, LeBaron and McDonough 2009 propose continuing leadership training for school managers, integration of ICT training throughout teacher education, establishing communities of practice, coordination across all levels of education administration, and additional resourcing. A futher issue is the competing demands to improve basic skills on one hand and 'soft' 21st century skills on the other. Evidence of the benefits of ICT is patchy for both forms of learning. Resolving these issues required 'analytic critique', rigorously scrutinising all claims made for ICT and distinguishing the impact of newly introduced ICT from concurrent changes, eg in student attitudes and in teacher training. It requires 'explanatory critique' of the competing concepts of ICT as learning tools or agents of social transformation. It also requires 'ideological critique' that examines the influence of commercial and state power on the development and use of technology.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
The 'digital native' in context: tensions associated with importing Web 2.0 practices into the school setting
Volume 38 Number 1, February 2012; Pages 63–80
Web 2.0 technologies have strongly influenced processes of information inquiry, collaboration, and publication, and they have added new dimension to the concept of literacy. They therefore seem well aligned with current thinking about teaching and learning, particularly inquiry-based learning. However, there is little evidence that Web 2.0 is reconfiguring learning, and employers frequently observe that students are not emerging with work-adapted intellectual and creative skills. The failure of Web 2.0 to transform education is sometimes attributed either to the conservatism of schools and teachers, or to the limited learning skills that are actually being acquired by 'digital natives'. A study in Britain has examined these issues. It involved 53 focus group interviews with students aged 13 to 15 'in both representative and innovating' secondary schools. The findings point to tensions between Web 2.0 and the school context. Web 2.0 collaboration tends to be relaxed, exploratory, and conversational, in contrast to important aspects of students' school experience, such as deadlines for coursework, narrowly focused school tasks, and the 'implicit competitiveness' associated with 'assessment regimes'. Students expressed concern that their creative contributions online would expose them to criticism or ridicule from peers, the school being 'a tightly circumscribed community in which a relatively small group of people meet intimately over a long period of time'. While Web 2.0 might be seen to encourage the use of video for learning, both students and teachers tend to accept a dichotomy in which video is used for humour and recreation, and traditional texts for rigorous study. This dichotomy is reinforced if access to the technology is used as a reward for completing other work. The blocking of some internet sites 'can sour relationships at all levels of the system – technical staff, librarians, teachers, managers' and even regional education authorities. Blocks sometimes hinder access to suitable resources. Students tend to become scornful when teachers' prohibitions are easily avoided, and resentful when they are effective. Students noted that they will tend to use school-defined accounts for email and chat only to the minimal extent required. They also pointed out that if they used personal accounts for school purposes they risked social embarrassment and were open to social distractions. One positive finding was the use of Web 2.0 to allow students to reach an authentic external audience for their work, generating confidence and a sense of achievement, and highlighting to students the potential of ICT for their own learning.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Knowing about the English language: A Wrinkle in Time
Volume 17 Number 1, February 2012
The Australian Curriculum: English 'uses standard grammatical terminology within a contextual framework'. The standard terminology refers to traditional grammar, while the references to context apply the functional grammar refined by Michael Halliday. The article describes how a year 5 teacher applies the metalanguage used in the Australian Curriculum: English to help her students understand noun and adjective groups. They are taught with reference to the novel, A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle. The teacher's school is on the outskirts of Brisbane, catering to a culturally and linguistically diverse range of students. These students are usually reluctant readers and 'hesitate with new genres', but respond well when the teacher reads aloud from books in the school's wide-ranging library collection. In a class activity students are shown two versions of a paragraph from the novel: one version with descriptive detail removed, the other as it originally appeared. The students explored the revised and then the original versions of the passages on literal, inferential and evaluative levels, through the use of guided discussion, drawings and comprehension activities. The students 'came to appreciate the function of descriptive language for creating the physical and emotional context' in a literary text. The teacher also led students through a detailed examination of noun groups in the original version of the passage, noting how they were used to create particular effects. It was later contrasted to a different passage, more spare in style but once again illustrating how the choice of noun groups serves stylistic purposes.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Video games in the classroom: developing digital literacies
The Australian Curriculum: English calls for students to be competent in the use of a range of types of texts, including multimodal texts, 'across a range of contexts with accuracy, fluency and purpose'. One promising way to pursue this goal is the use of video or computer games within the literacy curriculum. Currently such games provide many children with 'their most satisfying and engaging experiences of narrative'. To succeed, players are required to develop significant knowledge about stories and games. For example, they may need to remember backstory details and be able to anticipate scenarios. Games require players to make sense of, and integrate, information across a range of sign systems, such as images, word, action, symbol and colour. They may also have to manage information provided in different places at once, eg from split screens. Alone or with peers, players are involved in varied literacy practices simultaneously, reading, discussing, and reflecting. Players may be called on to identify values and assumptions in texts. The curriculum calls for students to create meaning, including imaginative settings and characters. Software for creating games or animations can help students to develop these capacities. The author also notes related research, conducted with a range of colleagues, exploring 'questions and possibilities in relation to literacy and computer games'.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsVideo recordings in education
English language teaching
Grammar Games: a practical guide to teaching grammar in context
Grammar Games is a professional learning workshop available to schools in Western Australia. It combines functional and traditional approaches to grammar, and offers ways to teach them in primary classrooms. Traditional grammar provides students with a metalanguage to describe language itself. It provides a basis for functional grammar, which focuses on the meaning of words in specific contexts. The content descriptors in the Australian Curriculum: English illustrate the link between traditional and functional grammar: it refers to functional language at sentence and clause level and the metalanguage of traditional grammar at word level. The article discusses clause-level grammar using the three concepts of 'processes', 'participants' and 'circumstances'. They are illustrated through sample activities which refer to year 1 content descriptors in the Australian Curriculum: English, and include an example of an activity designed to develop a noun group. Many teachers are concerned at having to teach grammar that they had not been taught during their own schooling. However, through active participation in workshops teachers are often able to bring out and systematise the implicit knowledge that they already possess.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Collective dreaming: a school-university interface
Volume 48 Number 1, May 2011; Pages 1–22
At present, secondary maths teachers and university maths educators in New Zealand 'rarely talk to each other'. They hold separate conferences with only marginal and intermittent attendance from educators at the other level. A project has examined ways to strengthen links between mathematics educators working at senior secondary and tertiary levels, and to improve the education of students across the two levels of learning. The paper reports on the first two phases of the project, taking place 2009–2010. It was part of a worldwide project commissioned by the International Mathematics Union, Project Pipeline, concerned with the supply and demand for mathematics students in educational institutions and the workplace. The New Zealand researchers collected data on the number of students who had studied mathematics over the last 60 years; the mathematical qualifications of secondary teachers; and the relationship between school qualifications and university results. The New Zealand data was broadly similar to the pattern identified in Australia and Britain, with a rise in the absolute number of students in the mathematical sciences at all levels. In New Zealand the number of students learning maths as part of a Bachelor course remained constant. The number of students enrolled in continuing mathematics has almost doubled between 1981 and 2007, while the population of 15- to 19-year-olds has risen only five per cent. However, 'there is also a perception that the mathematical quality of students is declining'. In this context 'the data on teachers does give cause for pause'. A 2004 survey found that maths in the top 10 per cent of schools, measured by SES, was almost always taken by teachers who had studied maths at tertiary level. In the lowest 10 per cent of schools, only 50 per cent of teachers had studied mathematics at tertiary level. Teachers surveyed for the current research noted the declining number of students taking maths courses, which they generally attributed to limited careers information and also to the difficulty of maths, with being gained more easily from alternative subjects. The teachers thought students were insufficiently prepared for senior secondary maths by the lack of basic maths skills and by a lack of impetus to practice mathematical skills outside the classroom. The researchers also interviewed tertiary maths lecturers throughout New Zealand, who expressed the belief that secondary maths’s units were too small, allowing students to avoid some essential topics. The article also discusses a conference held in 2010, for educators in secondary and tertiary maths, and describes a range of reasons for its success. A previously published version of the article is available free of charge online.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsNew Zealand
Transitions in schooling
Concerned about their learning: what matters to mathematics students seeking to study despite absence from school owing to chronic illness
2011; Pages 786–794
The paper reports on research into the experiences and needs of mathematics students absent from school for prolonged periods due to chronic illness. The research involved 22 participants: 11 students and their teachers. Evidence was obtained from observations during hospital and school visits, informal conversations, emails and text messages. After the students had returned to school, individual interviews were undertaken in which both teachers and the students themselves could reflect on the issues which had confronted the students during their absences from school. Students expressed a number of concerns. All raised the fact that they had been unable to ask questions of the teacher. Students were also concerned that they missed teachers' explanations in class and taking notes. There was no correlation between students' perceived ability in mathematics and their level of concern about this issue. A futher issue, shared by most students, was the struggle to stay motivated. By contrast, most students discounted physical difficulties as barriers to their study. They were also worried by the lack of opportunity to work with peers on maths problems. Teachers shared many of the students' concerns, particularly the concern that the students missed out on explanations given during classes. Teachers were less worried than the students about students' motivation to persevere with studies. The author suggests a number of ways to assist mathematics students absent due to chronic illness. Students should have the chance to specify the types of academic support they most desire. Students should be encouraged to tell teachers that they wish to interact with them. When teachers interact with students they should be encouraged to focus on the students' learning needs rather than their illness. These strategies could be promoted via videos or online brochures provided by education authorities. The research, part of the Link 'n Learn project, was a collaboration between the Royal Children's Hospital and the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.
Learning experiences of Singapore’s low attainers in primary mathematics
2011; Pages 414–420
A study in Singapore has investigated the learning experiences of 346 low-achieving mathematics students. The students were nominated by educators based in the nine primary schools involved in the study. The main source of evidence was from group interviews with the students. The students were asked a range of questions about their learning preferences. The questioning was supported by pictures designed to illustrate different approaches to teaching and learning. Classroom observations also were undertaken of 10 classes, conducted by teachers of the participating students and who volunteered to be involved. Almost all the students indicated that they were taught using teacher-led whole-class instruction. By contrast, only 28% of students preferred this form of instruction. The learning approach most popular with students, endorsed by 40% of the participants, was small group work involving manipulatives; 22% preferred small group work without manipulatives and 10% individual work with manipulatives. The paper also presents an analysis of three of the observed lessons, deemed typical of approach used across all the observed classes. In each case the instruction was teacher-centred. While they varied in some respects, tasks set by teachers were ‘routine and repetitive’ and were not tailored to individual students. All of the teacher outlined the goals of the lesson at the outset, however only one of them started with a review of the previous lesson.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Teaching and learning
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