This is one of four 'systematic in-depth reviews' carried out for the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI Centre) by members of the English Review Group, each looking at a different aspect of how Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has affected literacy learning. It suggests that ICT can have a positive impact on some aspects of literature-related literacies, but that this impact is still dependent on effective teaching.
The research question was 'What is the impact of ICT on literature-related literacies in English, 5-16?' This, in turn, is helping to answer an overarching research question: 'What is the impact of ICT on literacy learning in English, 5-16?'
There is wide belief, in governments and schools, that ICT is beneficial to learning, including the development of literacy. This belief has fuelled the investment in 'new technologies' in schools.
However, there is a growing concern that this investment is not yet making a clear impact on levels of literacy. It is this concern that has given rise to this research.
Of course, the question is complicated by the fact that 'literacy' cannot be measured in isolation from these 'new technologies'. There is now a political, social and educational acceptance that to be 'literate' is - in part - to understand and control these technologies.
A search of databases found 12 pieces of research which were relevant, from between 1990 and 2002 - all from the USA, Australia or Canada. Each of these was then rigorously screened, using the following criteria:
- Was the methodological quality of each study high enough?
- Was the design of the research appropriate?
- Was the focus of the research relevant?
Only seven were considered of sufficient 'weight', according to these criteria, for inclusion in the detailed review.
A number of themes emerged from the studies:
- Teachers matter more than technology. The impact of any ICT on learning is determined by the attitudes and practice of the teacher setting up the activity.
- There is a mismatch between available multimedia literature software packages and teaching centred on students' responses. However, two studies do indicate the possibility of multimedia literature-based software packages that encourage both literary reading and writing.
- There is evidence that using ICT can have a positive impact on motivation in literature courses. There is, however, a suggestion that this effect reduces with time; there may also be a connection between demotivation and the way readers engage with digital texts structured in certain ways.
- A number of the studies suggested positive ways in which ICT can foster collaborative meaning making around texts.
These results will encourage teachers who are building new ways of working with ICT in the classroom: there, the agency of the teacher is crucial; learning and meaning making can be collaborative; and students' responses can be central to the learning process.
There are clear opportunities for further classroom practice and research, including an emphasis on literary writing, in contrast to literary reading. There is also little research on the cognitive effects of transforming texts digitally - on how 'ways' of reading and responding to texts might change when literature is put into an electronic form.
The review does point to important, general issues which are current for all English teachers: the changing nature of all text and of textual practices, including 'literary' ones, as technologies develop; and the problematic nature of narrowly conceived learning outcomes.
The writer is an Advanced Skills Teacher at a community college in Cambridge and a member of the Advisory Group for the Review. This perspective is written in a personal capacity.