PublicationsSystematic reviewsAssessment and ICTAssessment and ICT - primary adviser
A systematic review of the impact on students and teachers of the use of ICT for assessment of creative and critical thinking skills. User perspective: a primary school adviser


This review has been undertaken on behalf of the Assessment and Learning Research Synthesis Group by Professor Wynne Harlen and Dr Ruth Deakin Crick, both of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol. It has been written in response to both the perceived failure of assessment procedures in schools to take account of pupils' creative and critical thinking skills and the changes in educational provision that new technologies are bringing about. Evidence from this review and a previous relevant review (Black and Wiliam, 1998) indicates strongly that although what is summatively assessed is valued in the curriculum, it is formative assessment that leads to improved learning.

In primary education generally it is possible to determine a climate of change, a slow and subtle shift from the direct teaching and prioritising of all that is measurable in a summative form engendered by league tables and accountability, to a broader focus. This focus varies between schools and is taken into account as part of planning for teaching and learning, individual learning styles, the development of thinking skills and the involvement of pupils as participants of some kind, depending on the amount their opinions are valued, in their own learning. In some Nottinghamshire schools these approaches are starting to have a considerable impact on pupils' ability to discuss problems and find solutions in all curricular areas, and attention to higher order skills is leading to improved levels of engagement with learning of pupils of all abilities.

The systematic review focuses on the assessment of creative and critical thinking as elements of higher level thinking through the use of information and communication technologies (ICT). The definitions were adopted as follows:

Critical thinking:
involving the evaluation of arguments or propositions in relation to evidence, reasoning and drawing conclusions

Creative thinking:
involving relating together principles, ideas, information and entities in new and original ways to generate new ideas

There is no National Curriculum underpinning these developments and no overarching recommendation for their inclusion as part of teaching; there is however, recognition that we should respond to the needs of the individual learner more specifically if education is to be adequate in preparing pupils to become lifelong, committed learners rather than regurgitators of teaching designed to enable pupils to pass tests rather than to develop skills which will enhance their learning. Some schools are supported by their local education authorities (LEAs) in determining new and developing priorities and some are working independently, planning their own paths to improvement through something more than the narrow curricular demands of National Tests. This includes a move more towards the development of 'creative and critical thinking' as an essential part of learning, which is a central theme in this review.

Recently, the Times Educational Supplement has become a vociferous supporter of the quest for creativity in learning, and even the new Primary Strategy 'Excellence and Enjoyment' (DfES, 2003), recognises that assessment for learning enables knowledge about individual children to be used to inform the way they learn and therefore, the way they are taught. In relation to creativity, the strategy suggests that it can improve pupils' self esteem, motivation and achievement, develop skills for adult life and encourage pupils to be more curious to discover things for themselves and be open to new ideas. Whilst the latter may refer to creativity in term of curricular subject teaching rather than the development of creative thinking, the development of skills for adult life is a common theme and is a focus of the review.

A range of research was considered for the review and through very rigorous procedures 12 studies were finally selected for in-depth analysis. Two of these were deemed to provide evidence of 'high weight', of significant importance in relation to the review question. The review rightly suggests that the lack of research focusing on the question is significant in itself.

Implications of the findings were considered and extended through a short consultation conference held with researchers, practitioners and students of ICT in education in the UK. Outcomes of the discussion are included in the implications of the review for policy and practice outlined below.

Implications for policy

  • The term ICT covers a range of diverse programs, applications, hardware and software, which offer various approaches to assessment and learning. It is important to recognise this and not to treat ICT as if it were a single entity.
  • The use of any form of ICT in education should start from the consideration of how it can effectively be integrated into learning, teaching and assessment.
  • Priority needs to be given to understanding that higher level thinking is an essential part of learning and to being able to assess creative and critical thinking. Knowing how to use ICT appropriately in school should go hand in hand with understanding how to bring about higher level thinking.
  • There is a need for the professional development of teachers, teacher educators and advisers in the role that ICT in its various forms can take in learning, teaching and assessing higher order thinking.
  • The route to effective use of ICT for learning, teaching and assessment in the classroom is through the teachers who are responsible for delivering these. It is, therefore, important for teachers to recognise what ICT can offer in support of their work at first hand. Familiarity with using forms of ICT in their work and professional development to create and develop their own knowledge and understanding will lead to greater understanding of the effective use of ICT in the classroom.
  • Teachers should be provided with ways of evaluating software for its potential in developing and assessing critical and creative thinking and opening up aspects of subjects not available elsewhere.

Implications for practice

  • Creative and critical thinking need to be made explicit when learning objectives are set for lessons; this would enable pupils to use the feedback provided by ICT for formative self-assessment.
  • Teachers should recognise their own role in exploiting the potential of ICT to provide intrinsic motivation for learning through allowing learners more control of their learning. The teacher's role can then be focused on aspects of learning that cannot be realised through the use of ICT.
  • The role that ICT can play in supporting pupils in reflecting on learning processes and their own skills should be made explicit to learners.
  • Teachers need to be able to review software critically in relation to its potential for providing information for formative and summative assessment of higher level thinking.
  • Teachers need to be clear about the relationship/distinction between the roles that ICT can take in learning and assessment.

It seems therefore that ICT can be a useful tool in evaluating and developing aspects of the higher order thinking skills many primary schools are seeking to develop with their pupils. Critically, policy to support this should be ensuring that ICT is seen as an integral part of developing and assessing creative and critical thinking and that professional development recognises the educational requirements of this for teachers.

In relation to primary practice, a natural development of the work being undertaken in many schools will be to develop learning objectives to include the critical and creative thinking focus. The role of ICT in developing and assessing this approach means that teachers can be freed to follow up the work of the computer in specifically targeting the higher level learning needs of individual pupils.

The current educational climate and the new Primary Strategy support the development of a wider, more comprehensive picture of learning than that brought about by summative assessment and league tables. Teachers and schools are keen to provide pupils with an education that will allow flexibility of response to the changing requirements of modern life. ICT is featuring in teaching more and more and provides additional input and stimulus in a variety of ways. In this context, it can clearly enhance the more complex learning opportunities offered to pupils, and as such is worth further consideration and development in the primary sector, particularly in relation to the role it can play in supporting formative assessment of higher order thinking skills.


Black P, Wiliam D (1998) Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education 5: 7-74.

DfES (2003) Excellence and Enjoyment: A strategy for primary schools. London: DfES.

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