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A systematic review of the impact of ICT on literacy learning in English of learners between 5 and 16, for whom English is a second or additional language. Policy-maker perspective

Summary of results

The systematic review of post-1990 research studies on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and literacy learning in English amongst learners for whom English is a second or additional language found insufficient evidence to support policy decisions around the increased use of ICT in language education.

Research question

What is the evidence for the impact of ICT on literacy learning in English amongst learners with English as an additional language?

Background

In 2002, the EPPI-Centre English Review Group completed a systematic review of the impact of ICT on literacy learning in English. This produced a descriptive 'map' of all included research in the field. The present review is one of several in-depth sub-reviews addressing aspects of the overarching research question 'what is the impact of ICT on literacy learning in English?'- in this case, looking at the impact on one particular group of learners.

It is important that the needs of groups for whom English is a second or additional language are explored and better understood, given that government educational policy tends to be framed primarily in terms of learners who have reasonable mastery over the language(s) of instruction.

In general, the acquisition of knowledge and skills increasingly involves the use of computers, and this technology may come to play a crucial role in supporting/supplying language training for a range of different age groups. However, existing pedagogies for language learning may not translate directly into a computer medium. Since the process of developing Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) resources is expensive, it is important to identify principles or methods from published studies which can usefully inform practice in this area.

Methods

The earlier systematic review mapped research on the impact of ICT on literacy learning in English for the years 1990-2001. The researchers updated searches for the period 2001-2002 and screened potentially relevant studies for inclusion, and also re-keyworded all studies in the original map.

A total of 2,319 reports were considered for the review. Inclusion/exclusion criteria were then applied. Reports excluded were those which did not involve ICT or literacy; or did not involve children aged 5-16; or were not about the impact of ICT on literacy learning; or did not involve primary research; or where the main medium of instruction was a language other than English. In total, eight studies were included in the in-depth review. These were divided equally between primary and secondary school levels. Six of the studies were North American, one was from the UK and one from New Zealand. Of the eight studies, three were deemed to have a 'medium' weight of evidence, the remainder being 'low'.

Results

Drawing primarily on the medium-weight studies, the researchers agree with the findings of one study that effective CALL teaching/learning depends on sufficient availability of computers; software that is adaptable and fits current approaches to language teaching; teaching staff being trained appropriately; learners receiving adequate access time; and CALL teaching being integrated into the regular programme of learning.

The review did not find a clear pattern of impact on student learning. Some learners composed their writing more efficiently using a computer, while others worked better with pen and paper. In general, teachers and learners had a positive attitude towards ICT-based work, with some teachers reporting that use of the technology meant that they had taken on more of a facilitating role. There were some suggestions in the studies that learning and motivation were maximised where there is a user-friendly environment in which learners work collaboratively towards shared concrete objectives, but the evidence on this was not conclusive.

Implications

The review was conducted in a systematic and rigorous way by researchers who were able to use an applied linguistic conceptual framework in their analysis of published evidence. The process of identifying studies for inclusion in the in-depth review is well documented and transparent.

As the authors acknowledge, the review is limited by the small number of studies included (eight) and the fact that the majority of these date from the early 1990s. As such, they do not reflect the types of hardware and software currently used in classrooms, or current approaches to the use of CALL resources in curriculum delivery. The review does not provide very much detail on the nature of the ICT interventions involved in the studies (which appears to be due to a lack of detail in the studies themselves).

The authors conclude that there is insufficient evidence from the research studies examined to support policy decisions about increasing the role of computers in language education. It is agreed that the policy-making process would be enhanced by the availability of more and better quality evidence, which in turn requires research studies to document more thoroughly the specific contexts in which the ICT interventions take place (e.g. the bilingualism of the learners and the teaching). Further reviews could usefully consider the broader context for promoting ICT use within the curriculum. Improved subject knowledge and attainment represent an important aspect of this, but ICT is deployed for other reasons, notably the development of learner ICT skills (the latter being more pronounced when learners engage with ICT in a range of curriculum contexts), and the enabling of access to learning which may not otherwise be available. In addition, non-attainment student outcomes, like motivation and engagement, are important.

The writer is involved with central government policy making and has no connection with the Review Group. This perspective is written in a personal capacity.

  
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