|Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
2007, 23(3), 390-407.
This paper presents a case study of a primary school which was seen as using ICT effectively to support teaching and learning. Research was carried out over two years (2003-2005) and included observation of lessons, document analysis, interviews, and questionnaires with staff at the school. It was found that 'fitting ICT in', rather than 'effective use of ICT', provided a more accurate description of the complex decisions and actions that were made regarding ICT use in the school. Using a grounded theory framework the paper describes the causal conditions; the contextual conditions; the intervening conditions and the consequences for staff and pupils associated with 'fitting ICT in'. The study argues for an approach to research which seeks to develop collaboration and understanding between researchers and practitioners.
A wide range of UK and international literature has noted the role of school factors such as location of computers (Abbot, 2001; Harrison et al, 2002; Watson, 1990); resources and technical support (Becta, 2001; Harrison et al, 2002; Hoffman, 1996; Moseley et al,1999); the role of senior staff and that of the ICT coordinator (Becta, 2001; Harrison et al, 2002; Hoffman, 1996; Lawson & Comber, 1999; Lim, Khine, Hew, Wong, Shanti & Lim, 2003); the school ethos and ICT policies (Becta, 2001; Lawson & Comber, 1999; Tearle, 2002); planning and training (Becta, 2001; Cox et al, 1999; Lawson & Comber, 1999) including lack of pedagogical leadership (Baskin & Williams, 2006). Research has also considered teachers as individuals, their levels of confidence in using IT (Becta, 2001; Broadfield, 2001; Cox et al, 1999; Harrison et al, 2002; Lawson & Comber, 1999; Moseley et al, 1999); their general teaching approach (Becker, 2000; Veen, 1993) and lack of belief that ICT can make a difference (Jamieson-Proctor, Burnett, Finger & Watson, 2006). Pupil factors have, in addition, been discussed in some studies, particularly pupil ICT skills (Becta, 2001; Moseley et al, 1999).
Finally, some of the literature has taken a wider view on the use of ICT such as conflicting pressures upon the school timetable (Harrison et al, 2002; Lawson & Comber, 1999); the nature of curriculum subjects (Cuban 1993; Goodson & Mangan, 1995; Harrison et al, 2002; Leach & Moon, 2000); curriculum objectives (Kennewell et al, 2000; Moseley et al, 1999); LEA support (Hoffman, 1996) and policy confusion (Selwyn 1999).
In understanding the use of ICT there is value in looking at schools which have succeeded in developing their use of ICT. In the UK, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) supported ICT Test Bed project (Somekh et al, 2006) does this by providing an account of special circumstances, i.e. schools with high access and high support. However, what about more everyday settings? This paper considers one school which has managed to develop its use of ICT and traces this development in some detail: what does the use of ICT in this school look like, how has ICT use been developed and what are the consequences? This study began with a search for a primary school which could be said to be using ICT 'effectively'. A panel of local advisors and academics looked at the notion of 'effective ICT use' and was asked to identify a school to exemplify such use. Both tasks proved unexpectedly difficult but eventually 'effective ICT use' became seen as using computers across the curriculum to support subject objectives (this suggests an association with the idea of integration of ICT, for more on this see Bowes, D'Onofrio and Marker (2006) and Baskin and Williams, (2006)). Six local schools were seen as using ICT particularly effectively. After visiting these schools a single main study school was selected as best meeting the definition of effective use.
Pre-arranged, semi-structured informal interviews which lasted between twenty and sixty minutes were held with teachers, support staff, a governor and the technician. One of the authors (VC) observed lessons and the general life of the school and contributed where appropriate to teaching and support. General observational notes included layout of the school, the resources (ICT and non-ICT), and wall displays (those that included and those that did not include the use of ICT). Lesson notes covered the nature of the lesson, duration, resources used, teacher's talk and actions, and pupils' talk and actions. Pupils would be asked to explain what they were doing or what they were learning as they went about their work. Conversations were held with the teacher and the teaching assistant during and after the lesson about their use of ICT and the benefits or constraints that ICT use produced. Further conversations with staff members took place at lunch time or after the children had gone home. Documents such as school ICT policies and teacher's plans were collected. A 'timeline' (a large sheet of paper divided up into columns by year and rows labelled with headings such as 'hardware', 'software', 'members of staff at the school', 'training received') was left pinned to the wall in the ICT suite so that teaching staff could record their memories. A questionnaire was sent to research participants towards the end of the research, in order to further elicit their views. Validation was sought through checking observations with staff and two formal feedback sessions.
A grounded theory approach was taken in the research. Grounded theory was first developed by Glasser and Strauss (1967) who argued for a more inductive, iterative, and ultimately flexible approach, contrasting with the prevailing logical deductive methods of the time. Strauss and Corbin later developed guidelines for carrying out grounded theory which offered systemic procedures for coding and analysing text, making it possible to 'relate structure with process' (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). They suggested that while many different categories are identified during the course of open coding of data, attention should also be given to axial coding to draw out linkages between these categories. This enables a grounded theory study to lead, as here, to a model presenting the causal conditions, contextual conditions and intervening conditions that give rise to a phenomenon and the consequences of that phenomenon. Grounded theory has of course limitations, and became the subject of deep dispute between its first proponents. However it was found to be fit for purpose for this study, concerned as it was to take a 'bottom up' approach to exploring the use of ICT and to offer a substantive theory on what was happening in one particular school. Of course this is an account of a single case but one that throws light on the combination of factors which influence ICT use.
Again official guidance for ICT was followed (QCA, 2003). Much of this was covered within curriculum subjects, especially literacy and numeracy. A designated ICT lesson was timetabled once per week for each class in an afternoon, and this was referred to (within planning documentation and in conversation) as the 'ICT skills lesson'. Each class had three timetabled 'slots' per week in the ICT suite: one literacy lesson, one numeracy lesson, and one ICT skills lesson. Support staff played a large role in helping with activities that involved ICT. For instance, they would often supervise groups of pupils using hardware (e.g. class PC or programmable floor robot) inside the classroom or in the ICT suite.
Over the course of the visits to school, fifty five examples of ICT use were recorded, including the use of interactive practice software to develop number work; content free children's programs such as TextEase, Clicker and Splosh; a Smartboard (a type of electronic whiteboard), used by pupils and teachers in whole class settings; digital cameras and digital microscopes. This suggested frequent use of ICT. This use was observed most often within literacy and numeracy lessons (53% of recorded examples), followed by science (14%), history (14%), art (8%), design and technology (5%), geography (3%), and PSHE (personal, social and health education) (3%). ICT use was not observed in music or physical education and lessons focused on ICT skills were not observed. The Internet was not used by pupils very often in class though teachers did download teaching resources regularly and one teacher developed a project using email exchanges between schools. During observations the focus was upon whether ICT was being used to support the objectives of curriculum subjects or topics. Assessing use was not easy, as decisions were based upon interpretation of a range of information about teacher intent, teacher behaviour, and pupil response. Therefore, rather than using a classification based upon discrete categories, a continuum was introduced where, at one end, ICT was being used to support the objectives of curriculum subjects or topics, whilst at the opposite end ICT was being used as an 'add on'. Hardly any (approximately 5%) of the observed uses of ICT lay towards the 'add on' end of the continuum.
Figure 1: Theoretical model ('FIT' model) for the evolution
and ensuing consequences of ICT use at the school
Five types of causal conditions, "sets of events or happenings that influence phenomena" (Strauss & Corbin 1998:131), emerged which impacted on teachers' ICT use. These were official requirements to use ICT; ICT infrastructure within school; supportive school environment; training; and technical support.
I don't do it if I don't need it and it's not going to enrich the lesson. (Linda, Key Stage 1 teacher)However, in practice this was not always the case. In some classroom activities the focus on computer skills, such as using the keyboard or learning how to copy and paste, meant that there was little focus on curriculum objectives. This was recognised by teachers when considering their rationale for using ICT, as reflected in Table 1, taken from the questionnaire answered by teachers and teaching assistants. In addition, some teachers undoubtedly saw the requirement to use ICT as an imposition and accepted that they used it because 'they had to'. The external sources for these feelings of imposition were the National Curriculum, OFSTED, and Government initiatives.
|IT skills||Curriculum learning||Motivation||Access to curriculum||Preparation|
The Senior Management Team in the school had consciously acted to promote the use of ICT within lessons by producing a timetable for the ICT suite whereby each class (apart from nursery) was allocated use of the suite for one literacy lesson, one numeracy lesson, and one ICT skills lesson per week. The nature of this action lay somewhere between persuasion and encouragement, as the head teacher, Tara, explained:
Teachers don't have to use the slots. If they can give a good enough reason for not using computers in the particular lesson which they're to do, then that's fine, but invariably most teachers do take advantage of the opportunity to use them for numeracy and literacy. We don't want teachers to use ICT if they can do the same with other resources.This could be described as 'trusting in the professional judgement of staff', and was implicit within the way the ICT coordinator had allowed ICT to develop in the school. The coordinator expected all teachers to take responsibility for planning and delivering lessons which included ICT.
Knowledge about how to use ICT was shared around the school and involved all members of staff. This was done informally by visiting each other's classrooms and the ICT coordinator was released one afternoon a week for support of other teachers. Many of the support staff were competent at using the software and hardware both because of the training they had received and because they had watched teachers use ICT with their pupils. For example, one teaching assistant mentioned how, with the knowledge she had gained from watching a fairly competent teacher use the Smartboard, she had often been able to help a particular teacher who was not so competent. Many support staff were able to supervise groups of children when they were involved in ICT activities and pass on ideas they had seen in different classes.
Overall, teachers were making decisions about the use of ICT with their classes on a 'best fit' basis. The head teacher (Tara) summed this up:
You have to adapt new initiatives to fit with what works for the teachers, the pupils and the school as a whole. You adapt them because there are things you do like and don't like - things that work in your school and also things that don't.The label 'fitting ICT in', rather than 'effective use of ICT', was developed to describe the complex decisions and actions that teachers made both collaboratively and individually regarding ICT use. These decisions were made with regard to their own needs, their pupils' needs, and the needs of 'others' (such as parents, the government, or society). This was a 'best fit', it may not have satisfied everyone in every respect but it was more or less adequate for most of the parties involved. In this sense, the core category or central phenomenon varied. For instance, what was meant by 'fit ICT in' varied in nature according to whom (teachers, pupils, the whole school, other stakeholders); what (teachers' preferred ways of working, availability of technology, the curriculum, practical constraints); why (to learn ICT skills or to support subject objectives or other purposes for ICT use); and how (separate ICT skills lessons or use within other subjects). In other words, each teacher was operating and making decisions within her own particular set of conditions (causal, contextual and intervening) and, in doing so, showed different levels of involvement in ICT activities.
Technical support would need to be addressed if the caretaker were to leave. As far as infrastructure was concerned, the head and the ICT coordinator recalled their shock at being told, after an upbeat and optimistic presentation by the LEA on government funding plans, that the school would have to find most of the money to sustain its use of ICT from its own budget. Given that the school was relatively small and in a socio-economically deprived area this was a huge difficulty. They also recognised that budget circumstances restricted their opportunities for ongoing professional development in the use of ICT, especially in terms of paying for release time to observe others' practice, to attend courses, or to pay for advisors to come in and work with their classes.
'Attitude' or 'perceived usefulness' describes how a teacher might feel about the outcome of using ICT with their class and the value such a teacher places upon those outcomes. 'Attitude/ perceived usefulness' seemed to be closely linked with rationales for ICT use, in that particular rationales were sometimes inherent within teachers' descriptions and justifications for use. For instance, the societal rationale was inherent when teachers spoke about children needing ICT because they were growing up in a society in which it was widely used. The pedagogic rationale was inherent when teachers talked about children feeling empowered by using ICT or teachers using programs to appeal to different learning styles. Most of the teachers who took an active involvement said that their principal rationale for ICT use was to support learning across the curriculum. Teachers who took less involvement, and all of the teaching assistants, gave other principal rationales. A further finding was that nearly all teachers believed that when they used ICT the learning process was different, but learning outcomes stayed the same. However, two teachers disagreed and felt that there were outcomes that could not be achieved without ICT. These two teachers had particularly strong positive attitudes to ICT.
'Subjective norms' describe how a teacher might perceive the 'social acceptability' of using ICT and their motivation to want to comply with this. Teachers who took less of an active involvement tended to suggest that their use of ICT was something brought about through pressure rather than choice. This confirms speculation by Tearle (2002) that in many contexts attitude may outweigh the importance of social norms but with respect to ICT, this imbalance may be less marked.
'Control beliefs' or 'ease of use' describe how much control individual teachers feel they have over their actions. Control beliefs were reflected within all of the decisions and judgements that individual teachers made regarding the use (or non-use) of ICT with their classes. For example, Wendy, a nursery teacher, often talked about the various strategies she had developed for making ICT use with her class 'easier'. Her strategies had been informed by past experiences of using ICT with her class and were often put in place to pre-empt potential problems that she might have foreseen. Teachers who took less of an active involvement in ICT were, not surprisingly, less comfortable using ICT than those who were more actively involved.
Figure 2: Individual teacher adaptation strategies for using ICT with their classes
As for individual teachers, those who became actively involved in ICT became more adept at planning and teaching for lessons which involved ICT, whereas those teachers who took less of an involvement found that planning and teaching for lessons which involved ICT was demanding. As teacher involvement varied, so too did teachers' knowledge about the ICT capabilities of their pupils and so did their competence and confidence at being able to plan and teach to include ICT. Teachers who took an active involvement became more knowledgeable about software and hardware, more able to match ICT activities to pupil abilities, to use ICT to support a particular lesson, to foresee where problems might arise, and to develop strategies to overcome these problems.
Other consequences were that teachers, particularly those who showed little involvement in ICT activities, sometimes felt a sense of guilt or confusion. These feelings were rarely explicitly referred to but became apparent during observations and informal conversations. For instance, some teachers apologised during observations, saying that they 'wouldn't be doing much ICT today', or that they would 'only be doing this', as if this would be judged to be 'not good enough'. At other times, there seemed to be some confusion as to whether the ICT activities they had planned were really 'enhancing what went on' or whether the ICT was being used 'for the sake of it'.
First, within the presentation of the conditions, two findings are of particular note. One is that government guidance was seen as both a causal condition for ICT and an imposition, and this had implications for professional practice. Some teachers felt under pressure to use ICT, but this sometimes brought about a situation whereby they felt they had to use ICT even against their 'better' professional judgement. The other noteworthy finding concerns the favourable way in which NOF training was perceived, confirming the importance of: prolonged and sustained support from an expert to model curriculum practice; talk and deliberation; the sharing of ideas and observation of others' practice within a conducive atmosphere (e.g. Bennet, 1994; Harland & Kinder, 1997). This was unusual in the context of the NOF training program itself which has often been criticised for excessive focus on IT skills, lack of collaborative training, and failing to differentiate between learners (Galanouli, Murphy & Gardner, 2004; OFSTED, 2004).
Second, this study has highlighted that the general literature on using ICT in school is relevant to an infant school setting, albeit this study also indicates some of the distinctive features of using ICT with this age group.
Third, a picture emerged of teachers and other members of the school who seemed to be acting individually and collaboratively to 'fit ICT in' as best they could to suit variables such as their own practice, the needs of the children and the expectations of various 'stakeholders'. This was a balancing act based upon (often pragmatic) decisions regarding the pros and cons of ICT use. Seen from this perspective, even those teachers who expressed little involvement with ICT could not be perceived as 'reluctant', 'technophobic' or 'Luddite' (a view of teachers portrayed in some of the literature, see Miller and Olson (1994), Selwyn (1999) or Watson (2001) for more on this). Rather these teachers were holding on to tried and tested practices that they had taken a long time to establish. From their viewpoint, using ICT may potentially take a lot of extra work to master and may not be so effective in their classroom.
Fourth, the study offers a re-visioning of what we can expect from ICT in schools. There may well be other schools which show more 'successful' use of ICT, and certainly more favourable pupil to computer ratios and more advanced equipment, to which the terms 'good' or 'effective' may more naturally be applied. However, our sense is that 'fitting ICT in' is as 'good as it gets' bearing in mind the conflicting set of pressures schools have to work within. Assuming similar conditions exist in other schools, then the notion that all schools are somewhere along a path of ICT adoption that will ultimately lead to a transformation in teaching and learning is unrealistic. Rather, the trajectory will always be one of using ICT on a 'best fit' basis and this may have much less of an impact on what is taught or how it is taught (this is arguably confirmed in the Test Bed work cited earlier in which the use of electronic whiteboards, a technology which could be seen as easily supporting existing teaching styles, featured strongly). Of course it is possible for conditions to change, for example through a shift in official curriculum guidance and assessment; through developments in the extent and quality of training and support; and through greater access to ICT, but this is a more complex and long term enterprise than many realise.
Research on the use of ICT in education often slips into a 'promotional view' of ICT use that denigrates current educational practices and claims that ICT can change the nature of education and raise the quality of teaching and learning in simplistic and non-problematic ways. Indeed, some studies, while lacking evidence to suggest that ICT use in schools is beneficial, end with suggestions for 'the infusion of technology into schools' (e.g. Van Braak, 2001; Zhao & Cziko, 2001). The results of this study suggest a more realistic, and more teacher centred, approach is needed which, rather than acting to promote the use of ICT in schools, focuses upon deliberation, questioning, reflection, collaboration and understanding between researchers and practitioners. As Olson (1981: 272) pointed out, "the innovator has to adopt a more humble role. Granted, the innovator may possess valid images of educational practice, but these images are nothing if they cannot be translated into the working language of practice".
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|Authors: Victoria Cartwright and Michael Hammond|
Centre for New Technologies Research in Education,
University of Warwick Institute of Education
Coventry, England, CV4 7AL UK. Email: M.Hammond@warwick.ac.uk
Please cite as: Cartwright, V. & Hammond, M. (2007). 'Fitting it in': A study exploring ICT use in a UK primary school. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 23(3), 390-407. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet23/cartwright.html