ICT in Education – change in Human Interactions is the Message
An Introduction to these writings and where real impact lies, with some uncomfortable conclusions:
- The disparity of educational offering between schools is now huge and is going to get worse before it gets better.
- We have two kinds of teacher, those who have become seriously more effective as teachers through use of ICT and those that haven’t.
- Pupils with good home access to ICT and those who attend primary schools where it is used effectively are a time bomb for secondary schools not using ICT well.
- Parents will soon become aware of the disparity in educational offering and there will be anger.

30 years since the start of the first major national initiative to bring the use of ICT into education many people are not yet convinced of its place or its impact. Those who are convinced there is major positive benefit find it difficult to frame the arguments to convince others. They oscillate between statements such as ‘ICT is now embedded in the way society and workplaces operate, so it should be in education’ to debate about the most effective teaching approaches and techniques to generate learning, on which agreement is difficult even without considering the place of ICT.

I am not an expert educator, though I have been a teacher and a teacher-trainer. But I have talked to many who are excellent teachers and senior leaders in education. I am not an ICT expert but again have worked closely with the leading ICT companies. I’m not a psychologist or an expert in social interactions, but practical experience managing people and leading projects teaches you a lot. I think I am best described as a channel for insights – insights obtained from people in one arena that I can pass to people in other arenas to obtain their reflections and their own insights.

And what matters is the way people say things because that gives clues to their dilemmas in understanding what is happening and to their hopes and fears. For example a pretty senior officer in the Department for Education saying in a private meeting “Roger, I’m going round in circles. Where do I start to break out of the conflicting views?”, or a Headteacher saying “It’s really very strange. The children only get about 15 minutes a week each on the computer but almost all the class have increased the amount of hand-writing they are doing by a half to two-thirds.” Or maybe “Introducing the learning platform is going a lot faster than we expected; some things we thought would be difficult have proved no problem at all, but other things we didn’t even imagine we have had to work hard on.” It is clear that the impact of using ICT in education is not easily predictable. And it’s not that easily measurable because the way people react to it cannot be foreseen.

So these writings are going to try to exemplify the changes in human interactions and the ways teachers teach and pupils learn that have resulted from the introduction of ICT. Those involved have found these changes remarkable – or they would not have remarked upon them to me, and certainly not in such an excited and intrigued way. They obviously could see the benefits to learning and the ways they went about their tasks.

The challenge to all of you is this. If these impacts are true why have they not been properly recognised by those in and responsible for the UK’s education system? Why have they not been quantified relative to ‘traditional’ approaches to teaching and learning? And why, if they really do have the positive impact those who reported them to me believed they have, do they not have a central place in what new teachers are taught and in the professional development of all teachers?

A view on where we are:

The UK government technology in education agency Becta regularly surveyed the use of ICT in education. After slow but steady increases during the 1990s in the number of schools successfully embedding the use of ICT across the curriculum, in the early years of the 21st century they found the increasing plateau-ing and stubbornly sticking around 20% of schools. In other words, 80% of schools not embedding use of ICT across the school. Other survey’s confirm this, such as the BESA Learning Platforms Review 2009 that asked what percentage of staff use their school’s learning platform to support work in class, homework, and for admin – the answer being around 10% of schools with 80%-100% of staff doing this (using a learning platform is only one way of embedding use of ICT across a school).

Becta also surveyed attitudes of teachers to ICT and in recent years has found their belief in their ICT skills declining! Perhaps because they can now see more clearly what ICT skills they ought to have and appreciate that they do not. Here also the picture is of only a minority of teachers fully confident with and using ICT.

The ‘ICT in Education Community’ – those committed to and evangelising about ICT – tend to wear rose-tinted spectacles. They can see and believe in huge benefits to education from ICT and focus on the degree to which it is happening rather than the degree to which it is not. But that’s not how to go about ‘crossing the chasm’; you have to focus on the imperatives that will make the 80% want to adopt use of ICT, so I will try to identify some of these.

My belief, from all the various studies and reports, is that the current position in the UK (as I write in July 2010) is as follows. Please challenge this if you can:

- somewhere around 30% of primary schools are making effective use of ICT in various ways. In some of these schools, perhaps 10%, ICT has become essential to the way they operate. In the others it is used because it adds substantial value to the learning and teaching processes but they have not fundamentally transformed learning and teaching such that they would be seriously less effective were the ICT to disappear.

- somewhere around 10% of secondary schools have got to the point where disappearance of the ICT would seriously reduce the effectiveness of the learning and teaching happening, and the way the school operates. This not to say that use of ICT is embedded across the curriculum in these schools, but that they are ‘transformation ready’ with use of the ICT in different subjects growing well.

- In perhaps another 20%-30% of secondary schools there is some effective use of ICT for teaching and learning and some of the teachers would seriously miss it if it disappeared. And in probably the majority of secondary schools the majority of teachers would miss personal use of computers for their work – and for other personal uses such as Facebook and online shopping!

- and the range of pupil use of ICT in secondary schools varies extremely widely, from some schools where all pupils have a laptops or an iTouch, some where all pupils can use a home computer for homework, to others where pupil access is sparse or non-existent.

As someone who believes strongly in the benefits of ICT in education, and having been working to promote it for 30 years, this is a rather difficult picture to confront. But it leads me to some interesting conclusions. Do let me know if you have stories that validate any of these.

i) The disparity of educational offering between schools is now huge, with schools making really effective use of ICT improving faster than those that are not. And with a critical mass of schools now convinced about ICT and changing work processes in ways difficult ton reverse this disparity is going to grow. Watch out for the headlines in the newspapers when parents start to realise the extent of this!

ii) We have two kinds of teacher, those who have become seriously more effective as teachers through use of ICT and those that haven’t. Those using ICT to be more effective will find it impossible to operate at the professional level they desire should they move to a school where they cannot use ICT in the ways they need to. And vice-versa – a teacher moving from a school where ICT use is poor to one where it is embedded will face a steep learning curve and will be disadvantaged in interview.

iii) Pupils with good home access to ICT and those who attend primary schools where it is used effectively have expectations that secondary schools not using ICT effectively will find (are already finding) difficult to handle.

iv) Parental expectations of how schools should be making use of ICT to support their childrens’ learning and to engage parents are now rapidly growing because the use of online environments has exploded in the last few years. Schools, particularly secondary schools, will find this beginning to impact their pupil numbers in areas where parents have a choice.

What I like about these conclusions is that there is lots of lovely tension around, and tension creates change.

What I don’t like is that it is a picture of haves and have-nots. Some children getting much less educational opportunity than others and some teachers getting much better career development.

I hope these two things rapidly become deeper problems for everyone who cares about equity and minimising social division. Because then they might more rapidly lead to the changes that will start to bring back equity and create the education system we need for the 21st century.