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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. Student perspective

Summary of results

The review was largely inconclusive because the research found was insufficiently rigorous to provide reliable evidence. However, there was some evidence to suggest that computer-assisted language learning (CALL) benefited English as a second language (ESL) students, but the manner in which Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is integrated into the curriculum and the quality and enthusiasm of the teaching are both central to the success of any CALL programme.

Research question

The researchers set out to find the impact of ICT on literacy amongst ESL and English as an additional language (EAL) students between the ages of 5 and 16.

Background

ICT has had noticeable publicity as a medium for learning over the past ten years. The number of national programmes and guidelines developed to support the use of ICT in learning environments, coupled with the huge investment in ICT hardware to enhance learning, both support this view. Research into the impact of this investment is therefore of great importance. Also, whilst educational policy considers use of CALL for English as foreign language (EFL) students, it does not cater for those with an already reasonable mastery of English.

Methods

The screening process used for this review ensured that only research conducted within the age range 5 to 16 years amongst ESL students was selected for the in-depth review. The official language of the nation and the language of immersion both had to be English, as did the language of instruction. Research was selected only if it used written skills as a basis for assessment of literacy.

Results

Eight studies were selected for the in-depth review, of which four related to primary school students under 11 and four related to secondary school students over 11. Although these studies had passed successfully through the screening process, the weight of evidence that each could account for was not particularly high. This was due in part to research regarding ESL students being amalgamated with that of other students, and so it was difficult to assess the impact of ICT on any specific set of learners. Some studies either failed to establish control groups with whom the ESL students could be compared, or selected a group of students so small that it may have been unrepresentative of the category as a whole.

Even though the review was unable to draw any strong conclusions, there were still some interesting results:

  • One study suggested that a student's attitude towards his or her writing changes significantly when using ICT. Students were more likely to explore personal and psychological issues or develop a "voice" when writing with the use of a computer.
  • One study noticed a significant increase in writing skills when students word-processed their work, but another found that those students using pen and paper wrote better narratives.
  • The latter study also found that monolingual students made more surface-level changes when writing with a computer, whereas bilinguals made more phrase-level revisions, thus supporting the theory that CALL is advantageous to both monolingual and ESL students.
  • One study found that students' attitudes towards ICT were positive, suggesting that the use of ICT amongst ESL students might well create more motivated learners and therefore greater improvements in terms of literacy.
  • The majority of the studies emphasised the importance of both access to ICT and the manner in which CALL is integrated into the curriculum. One study pointed out that the students subjected to the most enthusiastic teaching were also those who made the biggest gains, demonstrating the importance of the instructor.
  • The possibility for discourse-level revision was shown by one study that focused on higher-level skills and demonstrated that CALL users scored significantly higher than those without CALL. This suggests that ICT can impact on higher-level skills as well as improving mechanical learning.

Implications

It would be difficult to predict the exact implications of this review, as the research on which it is based does not carry enough weight in evidence. There are, however, a number of issues that have been raised by the review, not least that investment in ICT hardware should not be assumed to be beneficial unless the equipment has a defined role in the ESL learner's education.

The writer is a sixth-form student known to the Review Group Co-ordinator. This perspective is written in a personal capacity.

  
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