Summary of results
From this review, the English Review Group found out that there is little evidence to show the effectiveness of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in improving literacy learning, and certainly not enough to justify the amount of money that the government spends on ICT in schools.
What did they want to find out?
The English Review Group asked the question: how effective is the use of ICT in literacy in schools for students aged 5 - 16? That is, do computers improve our learning in English?
The Group decided that this review was needed because they felt that previous reviews had not answered this specific question fairly or in enough detail. They knew that the Government has spent a lot of money on ICT in literacy learning in schools recently, and they felt that it was important to find out whether it has improved our learning.
Instead of setting up experiments and collecting data themselves, the English Review Group found information by studying existing evidence from other reviews and then organising and analysing it to answer their own question - to find out about the effectiveness of ICT in improving literacy learning. They also used their own review from two years ago, which found out about the impact of ICT on literacy learning.
This review focuses especially on one certain way of measuring effectiveness: an experiment called a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT).
To make it a fair test, a group of students is randomly divided into two smaller groups. Then one group is left alone, and taught conventionally without any special treatment. This is the control group. The other group is the experimental group, and is taught with new methods, e.g. using ICT. Then the groups are compared and the results show whether the new methods (e.g. using ICT) are effective.
What did they do?
The English Review Group's main research source was the review they did in 2002, which had organised many studies on ICT and literacy. This time they reorganised them to make it relevant to this research question. They especially needed to look for studies which referred to RCTs, and which therefore assessed effectiveness. They had to be careful that the research done by others was fair - for example, that compared groups of students were divided randomly and therefore were equal in standard. The studies analysed had to provide data stating the effectiveness of the new teaching methods introduced.
As well as using studies from the 2002 review, they also sorted and organised new studies published after 2002, and found RCTs from those new studies.
When selecting the studies that would be included for this current review, the English Review Group needed to check their decisions, so at least two people made selections on their own and then compared what they decided and agreed any differences.
Each RCT was analysed according to how well it was carried out and how relevant the findings were to this research question. This process got rid of most of the RCTs, which weren't suitable for this review. The English Review Group had to take into consideration what was done differently to the experimental group in each RCT. They also had to accept that many studies that showed that ICT had a negative effect on learning might not have been published, so therefore the representation of studies on this subject might be biased.
What did they find out?
Eventually, the English Review Group narrowed their research down to 12 relevant RCTs, showing the effects of various different ways of using ICT on reading, writing and spelling.
They found that there isn't much evidence to show the effectiveness of ICT on literacy learning. What they did find out, though, was that in spelling and reading there is no evidence of benefit or harm - that is, the results weren't negative or positive, and in writing there was a weak positive result. The English Review Group also felt that from this review it is important that teachers realise that ICT methods of teaching are no better than non-ICT methods.
So what does this mean?
The upshot of these results is that there is not enough evidence to justify the enormous amounts of money that the Government spends on ICT in literacy learning in schools. This shows that more trials are urgently needed to make sure that this spending is worth it.
The writer is a sixth-form student known to the Review Group Co-ordinator. This perspective is written in a personal capacity.