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Fast, frustrating and the future: ICT, new technologies and education

Independent Schools Queensland

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can be used to support learning in many different ways in schools and its use now extends well past the traditional use of students learning to use software on computers to the use of interactive presentations using touch-sensitive whiteboards, specialist devices like data loggers for the collection of data in science lessons, email-based applications to support learning communities and links between schools, and so on.

Despite the increasing pervasiveness of technology, soon to be even further increased by recent federal government initiatives in Australia, there is still some debate about the best way to use technology to transform educational achievement. This article presents research on the effectiveness of technology commonly used in Australian classrooms, and describes some of the new technologies that are likely to transform education forever.

While there is still some debate about the effectiveness of technology in improving student learning, a recent review of studies of the impact of ICT on student attainment, motivation and learning on schools in Europe provides a comprehensive analysis of the benefits of ICT use in schools (Balanskat, Blamire & Kefala 2006).

The review draws evidence from 17 recent impact studies carried out at the national, European and international level and includes analysis of large-scale impact studies, national ICT programs or initiatives, national inspection reports, special national interventions, research reviews, international and European comparisons and European case studies.

It concludes that:

  • The use of ICT impacts positively on educational performance in primary schools, particularly in English, and less so in science and not in mathematics, although there is some evidence that longer use of ICT by young people is linked to improved mathematics scores (Machin et al 2006).
  • Use of ICT improves attainment levels of school children in English, in science and in design and technology between ages 7 and 16, particularly in primary schools (Harrison et al 2002).
  • In OECD countries there is a positive association between the length of time of ICT use and students’ performance in PISA mathematics tests (OECD 2004).
  • Schools with higher levels of e-maturity demonstrate a more rapid increase in performance scores than those with lower levels (Underwood et al 2005.
  • Schools with good ICT resources achieve better results than those that are poorly equipped (Pittard, Bannister & Dunn 2003).
  • ICT investment impacts on educational standards most when there is fertile ground in schools for making efficient use of the technology (Machin 2006).
  • Providing structured approaches to Internet research develops students’ search and research skills, which are transferable across the curriculum (Becta 2006).
  • Broadband access in classrooms results in significant improvements in pupils’ performance in national tests taken at age 16 (Underwood 2005).
  • Introducing interactive whiteboards results in pupils’ performance in national tests in English (particularly for low-achieving pupils and for writing), mathematics and science improving more than that of pupils in schools without interactive whiteboards (Higgins 2005).
  • Issuing teachers with their own laptops increases positive attitudes towards their work (Becta 2003).

The overwhelming majority of studies also showed benefits of ICT on learners and learning in terms of the development of characteristics such as motivation, concentration, cognitive processing, independent learning, critical thinking and teamwork.

The proviso, of course, is that the impact of ICT is highly dependent on how it is used, and the impact of specific applications depends on the capacity of the teacher to effectively use them.

Specific applications

Interactive whiteboards

A number of studies report that teachers, generally, enjoy using interactive whiteboards (IWBs) and find them efficient, flexible and easy to use. They appear well suited to whole class teaching and motivate students (Kennewell 2006; Smith et al 2005). However, there is little research on whether IWBs actually impact on student learning and where there is research it is based on student and teacher opinion rather than hard data. It appears that the technology is used, on the whole, to reinforce current teaching approaches (Higgins 2005) rather than to change pedagogy and structure.

That said, the positive outcomes of the use of IWBs identified by teachers and students and viewed by the researchers are worth noting. These include:

  • Students on task and motivated
  • Kinaesthetic capability – students could interact through touch
  • Quicker lesson pace, due to efficiencies in presentation and interaction
  • Saving in paper and copying
  • Efficiency
  • Ease of saving work
  • Interactivity and participation in lessons
  • General higher engagement of students with special needs
  • Strong acceptance by students who perceived IWB lessons as ‘better than’ other classroom work
  • The multimedia and multi-sensory capacity of IWBs
  • Enhanced lesson planning by teachers
  • Provision of a bridge into the digital world for teachers and students.

In one study, a team of researchers from Keele University (Miller, Glover & Averis nd) investigated the use of IWBs by mathematics teachers. They found that teachers pass through three pedagogic phases as they learn to use IWBs effectively. In the first phase, the supported didactic, teachers use the technology in the same way as an ordinary whiteboard. The second phase, interactive, involves deeper understanding of the technology and results in teachers using it to enhance traditional teaching rather than as ‘the driving force for conceptual understanding and cognitive development’ (ibid).

By contrast, those teachers who used IWBs most effectively were in the enhanced interactivity phase. These teachers used techniques to:

offer the same idea in different ways until … all the group understand, and this requires meticulous planning and the need for continuous assessment so that whether answering at the IAW (IWB) or on their own whiteboards, whether using individual or small group work, and whether working on examples or investigations, pupils are challenged not only to say what but also why (ibid).

Where teachers were working at the enhanced interactivity phase, three underlying principles seemed to be present:

1. The technology was used to support a lesson structure based on an introduction or starter, a developmental phase based on a sequence of learning incidents, and a plenary to review learning and contribute to metacognitive learning of the subject.

2. Most teachers were undertaking lesson planning that had a sequence of discernible cognitive aims and a series of activities to explore, develop, explain and reinforce both developing concepts and subsequent understanding.

3. There was a high level of teacher recognition that pupils learn in different ways and the IAW was used to promote diversity of aesthetic, verbal, numeric and kinaesthetic experiences (ibid).

The researchers concluded that it is only when ‘basic technological fluency and pedagogic understanding has been achieved that teachers can … overcome the novelty factor’ and move towards enhanced interactivity. This involves time, training to develop specific skills, such as developing fluency in recalling previous screens, and the provision of effective and ongoing professional development (ibid). Such professional development needs to be personalised, adapted to individual needs and placed in the workplace environment, and it must begin at the pre-service stage.

Use of the Internet

The ImpaCT2 study into the impact of networked technologies on the school and out-of-school environment (Somekh et al 2002) found that for most students the amount of time spent on ICT at home greatly exceeded its use at school. Furthermore, the researchers found that young people are discriminating in their use of the Internet and are aware of the moral and ethical debates surrounding the use of networked technologies and the perceived security risks. Evidence from the case studies included in the report also suggested that students enjoyed using the Internet and found online research for homework ‘enjoyable’.

The study concluded that:

Since pupils are likely to acquire ICT skills quickly and easily through using them for self-directed tasks, more time should be spent on exploratory learning in curriculum subjects and less time on teaching skills in discrete ICT lessons.

With regard to student outcomes, it was suggested that introducing students to effective search and research strategies was one way for teachers to assist students to be more productive in their use of the Internet. The most successful teachers implemented various processes, including the use of keywords, the identification of likely information sources, the evaluation of resources found, and the adaptation and synthesis of information from various sources (ibid).


While students are regular users of email, little research is available on its use as a teaching tool. Where it is used it is more likely to be informally and student-driven rather than on specific instructions from teachers. When teachers use it, it is usually to create more authentic situations in collaborative projects (Balanskat, Blamire & Kefala 2006). There is some evidence that using email in this way is a means of authentic language teaching (Ramboll Management 2006) provided teachers set conditions beforehand for a ‘safe chat’. However, it should be noted that while teachers are exploring the use of emails in education, students have moved on to mobile technology and are using SMS, iPods, MP3 players, podcasting, blogging, GPS and positional tools and so on to transform their learning.

New technologies

So far most schools are involved in what constitutes the ‘tip of the iceberg’ for e-learning and this has led to a focus in recent research on what the role of the teacher should be in using new technologies in schools. For many teachers even the language of these technologies – Web 2.0, social software, podcasting, wikis, HCI, the ambient web, moblog, vlog, social bookmarking, Writely, Gliffy, Jumpcut, MySpace, Flickr – is a challenge, without thinking about how they might use them in the classroom.

Bryant (2007) suggests teachers should not despair however. He says:

… teachers don’t need to waste even a minute of their limited and precious time learning to use and master any of the new technologies. Why? Because their students can do this – and they want to. What we should do is let them.

He goes on to suggest that the role of the teacher in relation to new technologies is to do ‘those things we can do without looking stupid’ because the fact is today’s students know more – ‘and will always know more’ – than their teachers about technology and how to manipulate it. The role of the teacher is to evaluate students’ use of technology, to teach students the important lessons about these technologies, and to understand and teach where and how new technologies can add value to learning.


Despite the growing body of evidence on the impact of ICT use on learners, the evidence is not yet available about whether it will deliver its potential, particularly with regard to lifting student outcomes. The evidence suggests that, although teachers are increasingly more comfortable with technology and increasingly more willing to use it, it is not to any large extent impacting on teachers’ practice. That is, it is generally used as another tool in the teachers’ arsenal and not as a way to support new approaches to teaching and learning. Adopting new ways of teaching and learning where students have greater control over their learning experience, where students create not consume, and where learning can take place anywhere, anytime, is just one more challenge for the 21st-century teacher.

This article originally appeared in the April 2008 edition of ISQ Briefings.


Balanskat, A, Blamire, R & Kefala, S 2006, The ICT Impact Report: A Review of Studies of ICT Impact on Schools in Europe, European Schoolnet: http://insight.eun.org

Becta 2003, Using ICT to Enhance Home-school Links – an Evaluation of Current Practice in England, Becta, UK. http://partners.becta.org.uk/index.php?section=rh&&catcode =&rid=13639

–– 2006, The Becta Review 2006: Evidence on the Progress of ICT in Education, Becta, UK. http://becta.org.uk/corporate/publications/documents/The_Becta_Review_2006.pdf

–– 2007, What Is a Learning Platform? http://schools.becta.org.uk/index.php?section=re&&catcode =&rid=12887

Bryant, L 2007 in Emerging Technologies for Learning, volume 2, Becta, UK.

Higgins, C 2005, ‘Primary school students’ perceptions of interactive whiteboards’, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 21.

Harrison, C, Comber, C, Fisher, T, Haw, K, Lewin, C, Lunzer, E, McFarlane, A, Mavers, D, Scrimshaw, P, Somekh, B & Watling, R 2002, The Impact of Information and Communication Technologies on Pupil Learning and Attainment, Becta, UK.

Higgins, C, Falzon, C, Hall, I, Moseley, D, Smith, F, Smith H & Wall K 2005, Embedding ICT in the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies: Final Report, University of Newcastle, UK.

Kennewell, S 2006, ‘Reflections on the Interactive Whiteboard phenomenon: Synthesis of research from the UK’, paper presented at the AARE Conference, Adelaide, November 2006.

Machin, S et al 2006, New Technologies in Schools: Is There a Pay Off?, Institute for the Study of Labour, Germany.

Miller, D, Glover, D & Averis, D undated, Developing Pedagogic Skills for the Use of Interactive Whiteboards in Mathematics.

OECD 2004, Are Pupils Ready for a Technology-rich World? What PISA Studies Tell Us, OECD, France.

Pittard, V, Bannister, P & Dunn, J 2003, The Big pICTure: The Impact of ICT on Attainment, Motivation and Learning, DfES Publications, UK. http://www.dfes.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/ThebigpICTure.pdf

Ramboll Management 2006, ELearning Nordic 2006: Impact of ICT on Education, Ramboll Management, Denmark.

Schuck, S & Kearney, M 2007, Exploring Pedagogy with Interactive Whiteboards: A Case Study of Six Schools, Centre for Learning Innovation, NSWDET.

Smith, H, Higgins, S, Wall, K, & Miller, J 2005, ‘Interactive Whiteboards: boon or bandwagon? Critical review of the literature’, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 21.

Somekh, B, Lewin C, Mavers, D, Fisher T, Harrison, C et al 2002, ImpaCT2 Pupils’ and Teachers’ Perceptions of ICT in the Home, School and Community, Becta, UK.

Underwood, J et al 2005, Impact of Broadband in Schools, Nottingham Trent University, Becta, June 2005.

Underwood, J et al 2006, ICT Test Bed Evaluation-Evaluation of the ICT Test Bed Project, Nottingham Trent University, UK. Accessed at: http://www.evaluation.icttestbed.org.uk/about


Subject Headings

Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Computers in society
Computer-based training
Educational planning
Education policy