What is the impact of networked technologies/ICT on literacy learning in English for 5-16 year olds?
Summary of results
In general, most studies assume ICT has a positive impact, primarily in terms of increased pupil motivation, confidence and empowerment. Overall, results are suggestive, not conclusive. A narrow, pre-digital conception of reading and writing means many studies focus on the effect of new technologies upon traditional practices.
This review is set against a background of significant public interest in the function of ICT with regard to the teaching and learning of young people. Teachers must know about the impact of ICT on literacy standards in order to target resources to raise standards, while policy-makers need to plan the future of ICT in the curriculum. The government has invested heavily in providing computers for schools and many young people use them at home to research, word process, compose and present work. Questions remain, however, about the impact of ICT on schooling and especially literacy learning. In terms of this report, ICT is taken to include stand-alone, networked and multi-modal personal computers, phones and other allied technologies. Literacy is broadly defined as the ability to produce graphical and/or pictorial representations as well as written language, and its social and cultural aspects are taken to be as relevant as the psychological aspects. Impact is defined as the result on children of 5-16 of an intervention involving ICT which was aimed at improving the teaching or learning of literacy (or non-intervention which might affect literacy).
A protocol/plan established the parameters of the systematic literature review with regard to the main research aims, questions, methods, and criteria of each study. A thorough electronic and manual mapping search of relevant post-1990 literature identified 1871 studies of possible relevance. These studies were then screened with reference to their abstracts and other references, and a core of 188 studies was identified as being of potential interest. These studies were then indexed and filed on an electronic database (available on REEL). Sixteen studies provided the basis for detailed review and of these, eight were outcome evaluations (of the results of an experiment/innovation), seven were process evaluations (how an intervention was delivered, rather than whether it worked or not) and one was a needs assessment. A wide range of study types made synthesis difficult, and hence the overview is narrative in nature.
The papers deal mainly with the primary/elementary phase (especially ages 7-11) but some focus on the secondary/high school stage. About two-thirds see literacy as an individual psychological function while the rest take a more sociological view, focusing on the development of literacy within academic learning communities. Around half focus on writing, graphical or pictorial production and half on reading.
Activities both within and out of school are featured, the principal areas being reading and writing. The effects of applying new technologies to a traditional, rather limited model of these twin literacies means that the symbiosis between new technologies and new forms of literacy is not fully investigated. Two studies give theoretical and practical insights into widening conceptions of literacy; five suggest pupils feel more motivated and/or confident using ICT, and one sees pupil empowerment and ownership as a key factor in the context of a progressively more digital age.
The review is clear, broad and systematic. It does not argue for or against a qualitative or quantitative approach to study and attempts to analyse the impact of a major social and educational trend accurately. Unfortunately despite the identification of many potentially useful studies during the mapping phase, relatively few were concerned with networked ICT and those that were tended to be of low quality. More and better research on the impact of ICT on literacy needs to be done.
In practice, more attention needs to be given to how ICT is used both within the classroom and at home and to see it as one tool of many which can support literacy learning. The review recommends that further in-depth work is done in areas such as email, conferencing and the internet; writing and composing multimedia; on-screen reading and hybridity of the verbal and visual in multimedia. A range of research methods and types of study will be needed in order to create a clearer and more detailed picture of the ICT/literacy interface and ways in which results can be usefully collated and unified will need to be established.
The writer is an experienced teacher of English Language and Literature at secondary level and a part-time PGCE tutor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of York. She is also a senior examiner, moderator and coursework adviser for the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance examination board. The writer is not a member of the Review Group nor an adviser for the Review, and is writing in a personal capacity.