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This project explores and evaluates arguments concerning the effectiveness of computer technologies in British schools since 1990. It proceeds to discuss this by first outlining the general aims of education and the roles in which teachers play in the development of pupils. Some of the initial technologies that were implemented in the 80s will be discussed along with some predictions on how teachings methods and technologies in schools will develop. Discussion on the effectiveness of computer technology in schools may appear unwarranted given that so many schools throughout the UK have now heavily implemented computer technology as aids to teaching. However, as a result of this heavy investment, it is important to review the resulting effects and evaluate overall performance to ensure this investment is worthwhile.
This project will discuss how technologies are being used in classrooms and the cost of these technologies. Government education spending trends will be analysed to evaluate the merits of increased investment. Some examples of computerisation of schools will be discussed to add specificity to some of the theories supporting and disputing the idea that 'more computers equate to better pupil performance'. The project then proceeds to examine plans by government and education officials for future spending in computer technology in education and how this could possibly be more precisely targeted. Predicted grade trends for the future will be analysed along with the evidence for these. The project will draw conclusions as to how future decisions on education spending on computers in schools should be made based on the research and evidence considered. Firstly, it is necessary to define key terms and then expand on the intended and actual use of computer technology in education.
Section 1: Computer technology in education in 1990
In order to discuss how useful computers have been in teaching since 1990, it is necessary to briefly outline the role of teachers and the aim of education. 'The teacher has the responsibility of presenting information and ideas to pupils in ways which help them to learn' (Entwistle, 1987.p.1). There are a number of different psychological theories developed for teaching. Behaviourist theories stress a high degree of teacher control (Entwistle, 1987.p.5). Conversely, experiential theories stress 'freedom in learning', with students having more control under guidance of the teacher (Entwistle, 1987.p.6).
Entwistle (1987.p.10) provides a useful description of the aim of education as 'the acquisition of knowledge and skills which can be used reflectively and applied effectively in subsequent education and later life'. Education 'should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think. Rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.' (Beattie; cited in Louis Klopsch, 2005 p.57).
Having defined key terms, the intended and actual effects of computerisation on education in 1990 will be discussed.
Potential use of computer technology in education in 1990
The implementation of computer technology in schools was an inevitable risk. As John & Wheeler explain, three classes of uncertainty emerge when considering the use of new technologies in classrooms: 'Teaching is known while technology is uncertain; Technology is known but its application is uncertain; and all the signals of change are uncertainâ€¦' (John and Wheeler, 2008,p.2).
Early computer-based learning was based primarily on programmed learning (Entwistle, 1987.p.77). Programmed learning is a method of learning proposed by behaviourists that has three main points: its pace is determined by the user, it delivers information in small bites and it provides immediate feedback be it positive or negative. A computer program would be designed to deliver instructional content using a predefined layout with high levels of interactivity (unlike watching television programmes). Using regular teaching methods or books had, in theory, the disadvantage of being much slower overall, as teachers would have to slow down the pace to that of the slowest learner.
Around the late 1980s, psychologists were using computers to do tests about the ways in which humans process information. From these tests, computer programs were written to mimic the human thought process and problem solving. This area of research, now known as artificial intelligence, is 'the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages' (Oxford Dictionaries.2011). It was being discovered that computers could be used to do more than simply present information statically; they could be used to respond 'intelligently' to queries by the user.
The technological development in computers was initially seen by some proponents as having great potential to transform classroom education. As summarised by Underwood & Underwood, 'Patrick Suppes predicted in 1966 that developments in educational technology, and specifically in computer usage, would change the face of education in a very short time. He saw it as a tool that could be used interactivelyâ€¦with the flexibility to adapt to different learning and teaching styles' (Underwood and Underwood, 1990.p.9). Furthermore, Seymour Papert in 1981 also expressed 'ambitious aims for classroom computers, suggesting that we can abandon the worksheet curriculum and confidently allow children's minds to develop through the exploration of computer-simulated micro worlds' (Underwood and Underwood, 1990.p.8). Papert was of the view that more sophisticated developments in computer programming would provide environments for 'high potential for personal involvement, intellectual adventure and cognitive enhancement' (Papert, 1980). In 1990, Underwood & Underwood saw a central role for computers in teaching: 'the computer is not a passive addition to the classroomâ€¦.it is versatile, and because of its ability to support many educational philosophies it forces us to reflect actively upon which form of education we want for our children' (Underwood and Underwood, 1990.p.5).
[However, the initial, more sophisticated, programs were difficult to implement and present and although still present never played a major part in schools (Entwistle, 1987.p.77).
In 1990, computers could potentially be used in classrooms as databases on which pupils could search for relevant things like project work. Computers were viewed as being able to provide both sophisticated visual aids for teachers and a potentially versatile medium for pupil exploration by using video discs to store various file types, including text, sound, video and images. Computers could be used to calculate complex calculations quickly and there was a potential for pupils to use computers to carry out experiments (Entwistle, 1987.p.78). Pupils with severe communication difficulties as a result of physical handicaps had the potential to gain from the use of computers in education (Odor, 1984), as well as pupils that showed little or no interest in school, due to educational games that could provide patience when it comes to slower learners in terms of repetition (Entwistle, 1987.p.79).
Actual use of computers in schools in 1990
In 1990, Underwood & Underwood noted that there was 'considerable use of word processing and computer-based learning packages'. The acquisition of computer hardware had 'gained momentum with the help of both national and local government funding'. Computers were being used in classrooms as databases which pupils could search relevant information (Entwistle, 1987,p.78). However, this varied significantly from school to school. Furthermore, Bleach reported a lack of investment in peripheral computer hardware, e.g. in 1986 only 25% of primary schools had a printer (Bleach, 1986). In 1990, Underwood & Underwood were of the view that the full potential for computers in teaching had 'yet to be reached' and there was a 'risk that classroom computers may become very familiar instruments by which only our old goals are achieved, perhaps with greater efficiency' (Underwood and Underwood, 1990.p.9). Despite the money invested in computers, 'the impact of the technology appeared to be minimal. Education appeared to have changed very little' (Underwood and Underwood, 1990.p.10).
Underwood & Underwood spoke of 'an inherent conservatism in the teaching profession' (Underwood and Underwood, 1990.p.11) and considered that teachers simply did not know how to incorporate computer-based learning into the teaching curriculum (Underwood and Underwood, 1990.p.16). Even when computers were used as aids in classrooms, unfortunately 'in many cases, the tool user [was] the teacher rather than the student' (Underwood and Underwood, 1990.p.24). A lack of computers in schools meant that 'more often than notâ€¦a single computer in a classroom gives either inequitable use for individual children or requires massive reorganisation of class activities' (Underwood and Underwood, 1990.p.27). Entwistle acknowledged that without substantial research into the effects of working with computers, 'it is very difficult to be sure which techniques will provide teachers with important new ways of facilitating the types of learning they want to encourage' (Entwistle, 1987.p.79). Entwistle was of the view in 1987 that computers had not had a greater impact because this would require 'massive investment in software development and extensive in-service training programmes' (Entwistle, 1987, p.80).
The increased use of computer technology in schools in 1990 was taking place against the backdrop of 35% of students attaining 5 O level/ GCSEs. Up until that point grades had risen at a slow incline for decades. The percentage of pupil attaining no O Level/GCSEs had been sharply decreasing for decades until around 1990 where it started to even out at around 8% of pupils (Bolton, 2007 p.13). In 1990 the teacher to pupil ratio in terms of class sizes started to increase after falling for decades. It was at this point that the average class size in secondary education was at its lowest for over 100 years at less than 16 pupils per class (Bolton, 2007 p.8). Government spending in terms of education doubled from 1980 at £12 billion to £24 billion in 1990.
How much has changed since 1990? Has further investment in computer technology been worthwhile and have the initial prediction of proponents such as Papert, Suppes and Underwood been realised? Section 2 will discuss various advances in computer technology since 1990 and the uses to which both pupils and teachers are putting these new technologies. Section 3 will discuss various studies that have attempted to measure the effectiveness of computer technology in schools.
Section 2: Computer technology in education since 1990
Access to technology has been one of the highest priorities in public education, especially since Labour entered government in 1997, with Tony Blair's view that 'the future lies in the marriage of education and technology' (John and Wheeler, 2008. p.7). In 1997, Tony Blair pledged to connect every school to the Internet within five years (DfEE 1997). Internet access was available to 35% of the schools in 1994, while today 99%, or virtually every school, has internet access (Parsad & Jones, 2005). In the UK, most classrooms now have access to at least one working computer and politicians of all parties call for more to be invested in computer technologies in schools as if the presence of these extra computers alone will solve all of the educational difficulties in the country (DFE, 1995). In 2002, a total of £657 million was made available for ICT infrastructure and for the generic training of teachers, as well as a further £710 million between 2002 and 2004 (John and Wheeler, 2008, p.8).
Digitisation has made many powerful tasks easily and readily available on computers. Such tasks include downloading video clips, music and images from the internet and being able to easily transfer and share them with others, using file storage devices. This digital system of storing information and even the way in which teachers and pupils process the information compared to analogue has massively changed since 1990. Coupled with the internet, digital technologies potentially provide unprecedented new opportunities for both teachers and pupils in terms of exploration and creativity (John and Wheeler, 2008.p.3). In addition to the acquisition of computer technology, teachers (especially new teachers) have needed training to use computers as tools for teaching. [Through many of the earlier years of the implementation of computers into classrooms, teacher training was not near the top of priorities on a schools budget as much as computers. This showed]
Computers in education fall under 4 main headings: Computer skills training (CST), which teaches students how to use computers; Computer-aided instruction (CAI), which uses computers to teach things that may or may not be related to actual technology (President's Committee of advisors on Science and Technology, 1997); Computer-managed instruction (CMI), which uses programs that evaluate students' progress and guide them to the next step; and Computer-enhanced instruction (CEI), which uses more open-ended opportunities that merely support a lesson plan.
CST focuses on factors such as keyboarding skills, word-processing, database management, spreadsheets and other software tools. CST has widespread support as it is deemed necessary in an age where computers are now often central to personal and working life. For CEI, teachers are essential as CEI is merely a supplement to the teaching process. Both CAI and CMI take the focus away from the teacher in participation in student learning (Kirkpatrick and Cuban, 1998.). Although there is an apparent consensus that there is value in at least some level of computer literacy, the role of CAI remains controversial. As recognised by Angrist and Lavy, CAI's effectiveness is of more than academic interest since CAI is expensive and could take resources from other educational areas (2002.p.736). John & Wheeler argue that, 'given the ever-increasing presence of technology in our lives, ignoring and rejecting it are not viable options'. They accept, however, that 'there is a need to maintain a historical and critical analysis of it' (John and Wheeler, 2008.pg.2).
One recent example of CEI and CAI in schools is the widespread installation of smart boards. Smart boards are simply interactive white boards with touch screen systems that are used as computers and projectors. Teachers are able to left click, right click and even scroll using a series of digital pens onto the surface of the smart board to simulate mouse presses on the computer. The projector displays the workspace on the smart board for the class to see. The technology itself is a resistive film placed over the whiteboard. When the pen tool glides over the surface, it touches the whiteboard and sends an analogue signal to the computer which then recognises it and processes the movement in the same exact way that many personal digital assistants (PDAs) do today (Whatley, 2011).
The central question in determining the success of CAI ventures is whether they are cost effect and actually directly improve results. For example, are smart boards, at over £2000 each, cost effective and do they have a direct impact on the effectiveness of teaching and pupil performance? This is an important question when you consider that a computer and projector can cost from just £200 (Projected, 2011). The UK will spend £84 billion on education in 2011, much of which will go into new technologies (Chantrill, 2011), including CAI. After many years of investment in computer technology, are we seeing a return in terms of pupil performance? Section 3 explores the outcome of research on the effectiveness of computer technology in education.
Section 3: The effectiveness of computer technology in schools
Many schools use very expensive CAI computer technology, however, there is little evidence to support the proposition that this investment increasing results. The evidence to show the effectiveness of CAI is mixed and limited and many investigations have been either qualitative, or quantitative without an actual comparison group (Angrist and Lavy, 2002.p.736). One of the main opponents to CAI methods is Stoll (1995.p.147), who compared CAI to Sesame Street, "Both give you the sensation that merely by watching a screen, you can acquire information without work and discipline".
Kirkpatrick and Cuban (1998) carried out a study that reviewed the results of CAI-trained pupils and non CAI-trained pupils. The results were completely inconclusive showing that the CAI-trained pupils had little to no advantage whatsoever in terms of improved results. Furthermore, in 1994 the Israeli State Lottery sponsored the installation of computers in primary and secondary schools. This provided an opportunity for Angrist and Lavy to estimate the impact of computerisation both for schools' operation and on pupil achievement. The results of the survey showed that the influx of computers increased the use of CAI. Although some of the results are imprecise, they showed no evidence to support the theory that CAI improves test scores and it actually seemed to decrease maths results in many classes (Angrist and Lavy, 2002.p.735).
In 2004, Thomas Fuchs and Ludger Woessmann carried out a study on the impact of computer interaction on pupils. The study involved tens of thousands of students from 31 different countries including the UK. When the results were published they came with a warning that there were possible limitations of its findings as not every student from each class would have been involved in the study. The initial result reported that pupils that had more interaction with computers had received better results. The results from studies similar to this one have most likely fuelled the huge investment by governments, school and even parents into computers for learning. The study revealed that the more computers in a student's house the better their results, but when the fact that more computers equated to a more affluent and better educated family was taken into consideration the results quickly began to change. They seemed to then show that the more computers in a household the worse the maths performance. The initial results showed that schools with fewer computers had, on average, worse performance but when general resources were taken into account the exact same pattern emerged. When asked about his study Fuchs replied "The initial positive pattern on computer availability at school simply reflects that schools with better computer availability also feature other positive school characteristics." When pupils used computers at home for things like e-mail and educational software more regularly performance showed to increase, but in schools the effect was very different. Pupils that use computers several times a week in school hours performed sizeably and statistically significantly worse than the pupils that used them less often (Fuchs and Woessmann, 2004).
A report carried out by Andrew Miller looks into schools using open source software (OSS) more frequently to save money. OSS is freely available software that can cover almost all of the areas of the national curriculum. It is community-driven software that can be changed or modified to suit the needs of the client. For example instead of purchasing Microsoft office for the entire school, using Open Office is totally free and is a very similar application. A project was started in a school in Twickenham that changed their system of standalone computers on a network to issuing students with a small notebook that used a Linux operating system which is free instead of Microsoft Windows. These notebooks were able to access the Wi-Fi in the school and cost much less to power to run on a day to day basis. In terms of power saving, the entire project will be able to pay for itself in less than 3 years. Many schools seem to be ignorant to the financial benefits of OSS and are unable to make informed decisions on the software they obtain for their teachers and pupils. Another reason that some schools do not use OSS is the 'free' nature of it. Announcing that you have solved a problem by spending lots of money can sometimes sound more appealing than you have solved it by using something that if free. There is an unfortunate myth that if something does not cost anything then it is not worth anything (Miller, 2009).
According to Dale at al. (2004), Headteachers had doubts as to the effectiveness of the Labour government's strategy on investment in ICT and some had 'difficulties in reconciling the high levels of investment with perceived gains in teaching and learning' (John and Wheeler, 2008, p.8).
Some officials from software giants such as Microsoft have said that schools adopting OSS as opposed to software that we are used to run the risk of incurring hidden costs elsewhere such as re-training staff to use the new software (Miller, 2009).
The attitude of some of the people during the late 80s and early 90s that more computers automatically equated to better results in schools seems to now be changing. Even Prince Charles even has commented that "I simply do not believe that passion for subject or skill, combined with inspiring teaching, can be replaced by computer-driven modules, which seem to occupy a disproportionate amount of current practice." (2004)
How technology affects learning has been the centre of many recent debates since the 80s (Angrist and Lavy, 2002.p.735).
Computer hardware and software is became much cheaper for school over the 90s and 00s so any investment into the education system intended for computers would have began to stretch further.
John & Wheeler note that there are four types of teacher attitudes to the use of technology in teaching: 1) enthusiasts, who openly embrace new technologies, 2) pragmatists, who support the use of ICT but are mildly critical of some of its excesses but see its potential, 3) traditionalists, who prefer to resist the advance of new technologies in schools to preserve the order of learning based on human interaction and, 4) the 'New Luddies' who are 'so critical of new technology that they seek to undermine its potential and use at every turn by seeking to undermine the profession's dependence on it' (John and Wheeler, 2008.p.2).
Section 4: Future prospects and conclusions
Today almost all classrooms have been retrofitted to include internet access of some sort. One of the latest developments in classroom technology is wireless. Pupils are now able to sit at their desks with laptops without wires and even print to the class printer wirelessly (Kelly, 2011).
According to (Kelly, 2011) the vastness of the internet has a colossal impact on the way pupils carry out research in schools. New developments on the internet are also affecting schools, such as developments in online assessments that can not only offer online testing but also instant grading of exams.
Many politicians attitude towards technology in school begs the question: Are we more interested in the ways in which our children are taught, or creating a more computer literate workforce for the UK? Evidence from current and past governments shows that creating a more computer literate workforce may be more important.
Government spending on computer technology in secondary schools between 1998 and 2002 was almost doubled from £40,000 to over £75,000 on average. This trend has continued through the years 2004 and 2006. In primary schools spending on computer technology trebled from £3,600 in 1998 to £12,900 in the year 2002.
Some have said that the theoretical case for CAI is not well developed, and there are good reasons to believe that computers can actually be a diversion.
It is clearly evident that there needs to be an increase in government-funded research into the effectiveness of CEI, CAI and CMI in order to justify the increased spending planned for computer technology in schools. It is apparent that spending on new computer technology needs to be more specifically targeted to maximise its potential for increasing results and student performance.
From the number of studies on this area it is clear that a definitive to answer to my question is unlikely. It could be argues that this, and past, governments have acted prematurely on their spending choices as not enough research has been done. My recommendation would be that the government should spend more money on researching where to target CAI in education so that it may be implemented alongside teachers to improve the entire education process as opposed to investing so heavily on untested methods.