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A systematic review of the impact of ICT on literature-related literacies in English, 5-16. Policy-maker perspective


  • A wider definition of 'literary texts' is needed.
  • Teachers matter more than technology.
  • Commercial software packages tend to be out of step with current teaching practices.
  • Electronic and interactive story books motivate students, but over-exposure can be detrimental.
  • Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can foster collaborative meaning making around texts.

Research question

What is the impact of ICT on literature-related literacies in English 5-16?


Literary study enjoys a prominent role in schools in Britain. English literature is well established in secondary schools and children's literature is widely used to meet the text-level objectives of the National Literacy Strategy taught in English primary schools. The new technologies, however, are making teachers and their trainers re-assess exactly what constitutes a 'literature text' and the kinds of reading and analysis skills that they need to develop in their students.

Governments are investing heavily in ICT in schools, both through training teachers and in provision of hardware. Most English schools now have computer labs, some interactive whiteboards and multimedia equipment. The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) monitors the use of ICT as a teaching and learning tool across the curriculum. Yet there is a growing concern that such investment does not always lead to identifiable gains in attainment. Despite the widespread belief that it is beneficial to literacy learning, there exists a dearth of research studies that demonstrate such a causative link. This review explores the question of impact by examining all relevant recent research.


The researchers mapped all the research on the impact of ICT on literacy learning in English between 1990 and 2002. They applied inclusion and exclusion criteria to both electronically sourced and handsearched studies and used keywords to characterise the research. The database was then further searched for studies that were keyworded as literature-related.

Four criteria were used for weighting the quality of the research evidence:

  • The methodological quality of each study
  • The appropriateness of the research design for answering the review question
  • The relevance of the particular focus for addressing the review question
  • The overall weight of evidence in the light of response to the first three criteria

Twelve of the research studies passed this test initially, but these were further whittled down to seven. Four were deemed not to focus sufficiently on literature-related aspects of literacy and one was insufficiently focused on evaluation. The remaining seven studies, split between Australia and the USA, formed the basis of the in-depth review.


The research studies focused on the following areas:

Author, date Educational setting ICT focus Literary focus
Chu, 1995 Primary Electronic books Reading
Love, 1998 Secondary Word-processing, multi-modal presentational software, WWW Reading
Critical literacy
Meskill and Swan, 1996 Primary/Secondary Multimedia software Reading
Meskill and Swan, 1998 Primary Multimedia software Reading
Morgan, 1995 Secondary CD Rom Reading
Critical literacy
Nettelbeck, 2000 Secondary Online discussion Reading
Wild, 1995 Primary Electronic books Reading

The main findings were as follows:

  • The impact of ICT on literature-based literacy learning depends on the teacher. The teacher's ideology, values and practices affect the discourses set up with their pupils. These mediate the impact of the ICT. Hence this review concludes that teachers matter more than technology.
  • Electronic and interactive storybooks can motivate young children to read, and also motivate reluctant readers and ESL children. For some children, however, these materials may have an adverse effect on motivation after a period of time.
  • Although commercial multimedia literature-based software packages tend to be out of step with current response-based theories of literature teaching, it would be possible to design packages that encourage literary reading and writing.
  • Online discussions about literary texts are valuable in enabling students to develop and share their thinking with a wider audience. ICT can help to foster collaborative meaning making.
  • Although the World Wide Web can be a valuable tool for researching the background of literary texts, it raises issues of e-credibility.
  • Using computers for writing differs from paper-based writing, and may have particular cognitive and social benefits.
  • Multimedia software packages offer new possibilities for producing literary texts and for creating impact on readers.

Implications for local education authorities (LEAs)

'Literature' and 'literary study' are problematic terms. ICT is altering perceptions of the character of literary texts and leading to the production of new multi-modal forms. Curriculum planners need to acknowledge this and encourage teachers to discuss the implications both with their pupils and colleagues. Such discussion could form part of in-service training (INSET) provision.

The research also indicates that teachers matter more than technology - they mediate its impact on their pupils. At present, much INSET provision takes the form of one-off courses at a central venue. LEAs need to follow the training through into the classroom in order to discover the impact it is having on pupils' learning. They could try to discover what the successful teachers are doing and build that knowledge into future courses.

There is insufficient research evidence available to draw widespread conclusions about the impact of particular ICT use in classrooms. This is especially the case regarding writing. LEAs are in a good position to encourage such classroom-based research in their schools, co-ordinating practice and disseminating results through training courses. Objectives would need to be couched in terms of problem solving or expressive outcomes, rather than behavioural ones, if they are to be easily measurable.


Chu M (1995) Reader response to interactive computer books: examining literary responses in a non-traditional reading setting. Reading Research and Instruction 34: 352-366.

Love K (1998) Old cyborgs, young cyborgs (and those in between). English in Australia 121: 63-75.

Meskill C, Swan K (1996) Roles for multimedia in the response-based literature classroom. Journal of Educational Computing Research 15: 217-239.

Meskill C, Swan K (1998) Response-based multimedia and the culture of the classroom: a pilot study of Kid's Space in four elementary classrooms. Journal of Educational Computing Research 18: 339-367.

Morgan W (1995) Safe harbours or open seas: English classrooms in an age of electronic text. English in Australia 111: 9-16.

Nettelbeck D (2000) Using information technology to enrich the learning experiences of secondary English students. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years 8: 40-49.

Wild M (1995) Using CD-Rom storybooks to encourage reading development. Item 5 of set: Research Information for Teachers, 2. Canberra, Australia: ACER.

The writer works for Kingston-upon-Hull LEA as a Primary National Strategy consultant, with a particular responsibility for literacy, is a member of the Advisory Group for the Review, and is writing in a personal capacity.

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