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Teachers are wary about using IT in the classroom


Despite the government’s £1bn commitment to increase the use of information technology in schools, few teachers make full use of computers in the classroom, according to ESRC funded research. The findings of the four-year project at the University of Bristol confirm recent reports by Ofsted and OECD, which found the use of ICT in schools was ‘sporadic’ and ‘disappointing’ in the UK and internationally. The ESRC study reveals that many teachers fear that computers would interfere with ‘genuine’ or book-based learning, particularly in the humanities and creative subjects, and use ICT only for administration and routine tasks.

Professor Rosamund Sutherland, who led the research, says that teachers could be helped to make more effective use of computers in a wide range of subject areas. The project centred on partnerships between researchers, research students and teachers from ten institutions, which explored ways in which ICT could be used in English, history, geography, modern languages, science, music and mathematics.

‘Seventy per cent of the teachers who took part in the study were able to incorporate computers into their classroom,’ says Professor Sutherland. ‘After working with researchers they generally had a more positive view of technology and said that it enhanced their role as a teacher and had a beneficial impact on the learning environment.’

The report says that many teachers lack the confidence to take the risk of using technology in their subject areas, although they have reasonable facilities at school and they use computers at home. ‘We need to set up networks whereby teachers and researchers may work together to design and evaluate projects which use ICT as a tool for learning. If these resources are made available, teachers will start to embed ICT into classroom practices, Professor Sutherland says.

The research found a significant gap between policy and practice, with most schools responding to the government’s strategy for embedding information and communications technology in classroom teaching in terms of buying basic hardware and infrastructure. ICT is more likely to be incorporated into classroom teaching in schools where there is a body of skilled knowledge, but much of the training that has been available has been of little of limited use in achieving this goal, the report says.

The researchers found that teachers often underestimate the impact of students’ out-of-school experience of technology on the way they learn in the classroom. Video data revealed the positive impact of contemporary and popular music on composition in schools, the use of search engines on language investigation in English and experience of spreadsheets influencing primary pupils learning of data handling. However the findings also reveal that young people’s experience of playing games (76% at least weekly in 2003) had a negative effect when they approached science simulations like a computer game and did not take them seriously.

The study also highlights the two-way traffic between home and school in which young people passed on skills (such as PowerPoint) to their parents.

Analysis of video data also showed that students could work with ICT for long periods of time, investigating their own questions and experimenting with ideas in an interactive way. This was apparent whether students were investigating language and spelling, finding out about the properties of quadrilateral s or writing emails to a German correspondent.

However, some young people became distracted and used the internet to learn things their teachers hadn’t intended. The report says that effective teaching and learning with ICT involves finding ways of building bridges between ‘idiosyncratic’ and ‘intended’ learning.

Video data showed that teachers often underestimated their role in directing learning, appearing to believe that knowledge was embedded within the software and that ICT would somehow replace the teacher. ‘Teachers are the gateway to larger cultures of knowledge. No amount of ICT will ever replace teachers in this respect,’ says Rosamund Sutherland.

Becky Gammon | alfa
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