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A systematic review of the impact of networked ICT on 5-16 year olds' literacy in English. Parent governor perspective

Governments worldwide are investing heavily in providing computers in schools and in training teachers to use them to assist teaching and learning. Increasingly, children use home computers for study and for homework. We live in a digital/information age. Thus the impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) on teaching and learning in schools is a topical and important issue for policy-makers, governors, teachers, parents and children.

Researchers led by Professor Richard Andrews at the University of York, have begun a systematic review of research into the impact of ICT on reading and writing. Systematic reviewing involves a rigorous methodology for identifying, analysing and summarising research studies so as to provide a state-of-the-art, unbiased overview of current knowledge on a particular topic. Governments all over the world have watched with interest as UK health service researchers have undertaken systematic reviews of research to inform NHS clinical practice and guidance for the prescription of drugs. Funded by the EPPI Centre, the Review Group is undertaking similar, innovative, work.

The team has conducted a worldwide review of research to find out whether ICT impacts on literacy for primary and secondary school children aged 5 - 16. They found a staggering number of studies involving ICT and literacy - just under two thousand in all. Of these, 188 were selected as being relevant to their clearly defined research question: What is the impact of ICT on learning in English, for children aged 5 - 16?

Sixteen studies were of particular interest, as they focused on the impact of networked ICT on reading and writing. The most common applications of networked ICT include the Internet, local intranets, texting and email. The researchers thus commenced with an in-depth review of these studies of networked ICT, before moving on to look at the impact of ICT on literacy more generally. Using rigorous systematic review methods to analyse and report on these studies, the researchers have now published their results.

The answer to their clearly defined research question is at present inconclusive and patchy - mainly because there is insufficient research of high quality. Most of the studies found by the research team focused on primary school children only, and many showed how an impact can be made, rather than whether it is made. The research tends to show how ICT can help in terms of 'exchange of information' rather than in affecting the quality of writing or comprehension or some other aspect of literacy.

The sixteen studies were of variable quality - in fact eleven of the studies provided no firm basis for accepting their findings. Of the remainder, the main finding was that studies suggest increased motivation and/or confidence in regard to children's literacy development.

The report makes recommendations for future research, using a range of studies and with clear methods and study design. Given the massive investment of time and resources in ICT in schools, and the need for evidence-based education, we await the results of the next stage of their research, with interest.

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