Integration or Transformation?

A cross-national study of information and communication technology in school education

 

Abstract

 

Glossary and acronyms

4: Results

1: Introduction and the research problem

5: Discussion

2: Literature review

References

3: Research design and methodology

Appendices

 

  

Chapter 1                       Introduction and the research problem

1.1         Introduction

This thesis emerged from the author’s involvement in change management and technology initiatives over a period of some twenty years. Related activities included working as an apprentice in a high technology avionics firm and a teaching career that started by restoring electric light to teachers’ houses in Nigeria shortly after the Biafran conflict in 1977. Innovations were diffused into that local community when students were taught to use slide rules mass-produced on the spirit duplicator; and by a class trip which took students to see the nearest computer at the University 90km away. Observations during this period affirmed the potential of technology to transform lives, and the importance of appropriate technology. When a Nigerian colleague teacher was asked why their culture had been overrun by Western values in scarcely less than a century (Achebe, 1958), the reply was this: “When we saw the first white man on a bicycle, we knew we were defeated.”

 

This speaker expressed the opinion passed through an oral tradition dating back to the Berlin conference of 1885, when Africa was partitioned and missionaries started to arrive (Collins, 1997). The level of technology required to produce a bicycle was perceived as so advanced, there was no point in offering resistance to the ideas it represented. Subsequent post-colonial education was conducted in English under the auspices of a British accreditation scheme. Despite this appropriation, much local culture, language and social mores had survived alongside the elements introduced from Europe. This example of technology-based cultural transfer gives rise to a useful thought experiment. If a member of a group not previously contacted by any technologically advanced culture was to see an airliner fly overhead, what possible basis for decision-making would he or she have in determining whether to adopt ideas or resources from its makers? What would be the ethics of such a situation, both from the developers’ and the potential adopters’ points of view? Taking another example, how could one choose to adopt a new source of energy and its associated distribution system such as electricity[1], and consciously balance its power to communicate, do physical work and entertain against the probability that members of societies using it tend to have less extended family members nearby, to suffer diseases like obesity and so on? To put it in a nutshell, there is a real problem associated with choosing future paths of technology adoption even when many of the consequences are known.  Answers to these important questions have hitherto fallen into two main categories: that the technology itself determines its trajectory (Bijker and Law, 1992, p. 17), and that innovations are adopted through a process of social assimilation networking (Rogers, 1995, p. xvii).

 

A similar challenging choice faces teachers in relation to the introduction and systemic adoption of information and communication technology (ICT) in schools. It is their professional task to understand, anticipate, assimilate and grapple with the enormous changes in their working lives that ICT implies. Yet the consequences for themselves, their students, and the mutual relationship between both groups have yet to be fully understood. Some pioneer teachers see ICT as a tool which can help them respond to accountability requirements for individualising learning in the continuing context of a mass-instruction, classroom-based education system. Other teachers can be described as ‘laggards’, who resist it for a number of reasons, such as unreliability, lack of training, or inappropriateness for the subject or sector. The pioneers as agents of change are generally associated with the societal transformations which are the consequences of new technology. Although they may not have personally invented this technology, they are often regarded as being responsible for the innovation they champion. Once a change, such as the transition from text-based to multi-media scholarship has been implemented, it can become institutionalised, reversed or, occasionally, built upon. The process of change can also be a time of tension, for both the change-agent and the society affected.

 

Hence questions that prompted this study included: what are the factors that influence such changes? Can we forecast the implications, consequences and directions of innovation adoption, even in a restricted context such as ICT in education? What are the parameters which determine the current direction of information technology in education, and can any predictions be made about probable outcomes for the next decade?

 

 

1.2         Background

Computers represent an innovation for school education. Hence general theories of innovation diffusion are helpful in understanding the critical elements determining how these can succeed or fail to be adopted. Since school education is a largely government-run or legislated activity, the role of bureaucracy in determining policy objectives for school education is a potentially significant factor. A distinction can be drawn between those countries which enforce a central policy framework on schools and those that allow greater diversity and more local determination of school policies. This is particularly significant in the area of innovation diffusion, where larger centralised systems can mandate rapid sweeping change or sustain greater inertia. The extent to which an organisational culture or governance system will promote an innovation relates to the nature and effectiveness of the innovation itself. Therefore a review of pre-conditions for information and communication technology to be effective and its potential for radical transformation was undertaken.

 

1.2.1      Innovation diffusion

Change is a normal part of life, and as much a feature of the educational landscape as any other area of society (Haddad & Draxler, 2002, p. 202). The response of individuals to change depends upon many factors, some of the most important being the perceived effect of the change, their degree of control over the change and attitudes formed concerning its nature. Extensive research literature and practical evidence is available describing the innovation diffusion process in a wide range of fields (Clarke, 2001), and this can be referenced to identify likely critical factors and general trends. In addition there is ample experience of change processes within school education. Examples include the transition from Piagetian to Vogotskian theories of pedagogy (Dunne, 1997; Masquod, 2001), the rise of generic competency frameworks (Mayer, 1992; Sanguinetti, 2003) and current trends to re-organise school education from discipline-based structures to new essential learnings (Luke, 1999). ICT is not the first technological innovation to be applied to school education: blackboards, biros and television have all been new introductions in the past (Kessell, 2001). Applying  the lessons of these previous experiences to the specific instance of ICT in school education is slightly more problematic, since there is a diversity of experiences and contexts to consider. It will be important to consider the values and expectations of policy makers involved, as well as the implementation phases and communication channels used to communicate policy to practitioners. Particular special features of ICT into school education are the swift rate of change of the underlying technologies and the social context into which the innovation is being applied.

 

1.2.2      Centralisation or devolution of responsibility for education

Generally, national governments devolve certain powers and responsibilities to more local area control.  The degree of devolution generally depends upon historical precedent, the policy area concerned and other local factors.  For example, the USA and Australia both operate as a federation of highly autonomous states and education is constitutionally a state responsibility in these countries.  However, in France, education is taken as a national responsibility and is organised on that basis (Kontogiannopoulou-Polydorides, 1996, p. 64).

 

Most countries are responding to the implications of information technology in education, but the nature of these responses is shaped by the relative degrees of centralisation and devolution, cultural mores, relative affluence and other factors. It has been suggested that a centralised education system has curriculum policy determined on a national basis by a politico-administrative elite (Lwin, 1997). Decisions are taken centrally, and disseminated to schools. Sometimes there is an enforcement mechanism, which may involve a national inspectorate, or may link achievement of specified outcomes to some degree of funding. With high centralisation, it is possible to generalise with some confidence about the nature of the education system (Guijarro, 1999, p. 63).

 

Decentralised systems have policies that emanate from more local, state, regional or community control of schools. Examples of decentralised systems include the USA, Canada, Germany, Australia and India. Schools can have funding and associated policy pressures from a mixture of legislative levels within the country, and these can change proportionately over time. Some regions have centralised curriculum control, but decentralised financial support. For example, the region of Bavaria in Germany centrally approves curriculum guidelines for all subjects in schools, in contrast to the rest of the country where teachers have greater autonomy. England had a cooperative partnership between national and local authorities until the Education Reform Act of 1988 when the central national government nearly eliminated the influence of regionally based administrations.

 

The context of this study therefore included the complexities of political control over schools, responses to technological innovation and the interaction between these two areas.

 

 

1.2.3      The potential of information technology for radical transformation of school education

Through studying history, one may better understand the present; understanding the present may help us to determine the future (Furay & Salevouris, 2000). The professional evolution of doctors and teachers over the past hundred years has often been compared (Papert, 1993, p. 1). A century ago, the teacher typically worked with a large class of students, with anything from 30 to 100 children, and used a display device such as a blackboard to communicate visually with them.  Modern teachers operate in very similar conditions with a class of 20 to 30 students, perhaps a whiteboard rather than a blackboard, but in the main using similar techniques to his or her predecessor.  Student-based learning and collaborative groups emerging from constructivist approaches might be the most significant recent change in teaching. The doctor on the other hand, is more likely to be a member of a multi-disciplinary team which can utilise equipment costing millions of dollars. On the surface there appear to be significant differences in the evolution of the two professions, with medical specialisation and scientifically developed equipment playing a major role in the field of health care. There may be some merit in examining educational contexts where more technology has been used and greater staff heterogeneity is evident to see if there have been associated improvements in learning and/or greater individualisation.

 

There are some signs of a trend to multi-disciplinary teams and more extensive use of technology in education. Technology has the potential to change the way professionals carry out their responsibilities in any field.  In the case of teaching, and learning, either the level of technological penetration has not yet reached a critical depth, or we have not yet found effective ways to improve the process with the tools at hand.  It is possible the learning process may be improved by the injection of a considerable capital equipment investment, but it has not yet been demonstrated this can be as effective as in the healthcare industry.  There are some signs that the education business is becoming more disparate, and workers in the field are not necessarily homogeneously qualified in identical disciplines, as the following examples suggest.  Where children with special needs are integrated into the mainstream classroom, it is quite common for individual children to be supported by an aide to meet their learning needs by working alongside the teacher.  This growth in teacher aides, along with the differentiation of additional skills in the school, is on the increase (Vinson, 2002, 43:Chap. 9).  Teacher librarians are in some ways teachers with a particular disciplinary skill. Some schools are recognising that they need to employ specialists in information technology support and management.

 

For instance, a prominent independent school in Hobart, Tasmania advertised a ‘Network and Computer Resources Manager’ position (Farrall, 2000). The responsibilities of the senior position included year-round 24 hour maintenance of the ICT infrastructure and curriculum implementation of learning programs within flexible working hours. This was in the context of a school where each of the 1,159 students carried a personal laptop computer supported by a team of six IT professionals. This growth in combined technical and educational staff had occurred relatively quickly, over a period of 10 years.

 

This growth in information technology management in many schools mirrors changes that have been taking place in industry over the previous decade.  As firms participate in the information revolution, their boards are realising that the Chief Executive Officer requires a Chief Information Officer.  Where computers have become embedded in a business, shareholders and executives have understood that efficient operation of IT is vital to business profitability and sustainability.  Also, there has been a realisation that information technology gives an opportunity to radically transform business processes, and this is particularly evident in the current growth of e-commerce and dot.com companies.  These non-traditional companies have operations that differ very greatly from those of their traditional competitors.  A traditional appliance vending company might require a distribution network of retailing outlets in local high streets with highly presentable premises. However, a single room of computer servers and a very large remote warehouse is all that an Internet company may require to achieve the same volume of sales.  With marginal costs, and very few staff, the latter company can be highly competitive.

 

Business processes re-engineering has been a catch-cry for information professionals working in the business, commercial and government sectors for the past decade.  This realisation that the way in which business is done can be radically transformed by the appropriate application of information technology has led to the transformation of many adaptable traditional institutions.  Many stock exchanges no longer have a trading floor, because telecommunications and computer based trading have replaced the problematic and stressful human inter-changes that have traditionally been the main way of doing their business.

 

In educational circles, perhaps the nearest equivalent to business process re-engineering has been the swing from determinism and Piagetian stages of development, to Vygotskyean constructivist learning approaches (Lock, 1996). Many proponents of information and communication technologies in education espouse the linkage between ICT and a constructivist learning approach. They detail the ability of the machines to individualise education, and to validate existing constructs before scaffolding the emergence of new ones. Therefore the development and control of ICT in some schools has become more than a service function, moving into a central position of power within the administrative hierarchy of schools. This has happened in a relatively short period of time, considering the constraints on educational systems and that only 20 years have elapsed since the first personal computers were manufactured.

 

One of the issues addressed in this thesis is the potential for radical change in the education sector following the current technology diffusion period.  There appear to be significant differences in the responses of business and education to the same innovation – ICT. Many businesses have been made more efficient and even transformed though the adoption of IT. However, school education has not adopted ICT to anything like the same extent, and there are few surface signs of improved efficiency or transformation. This is only one of the problems to be examined. Its investigation requires an historical understanding of appropriate technologies, of technology transfer and of cultural appropriation.

 

 

1.3         Context

As global communications and transport have improved over the last century, issues that affect one country soon begin to affect others. Disease, knowledge and trade flow continuously around the world, and there is a sense of a global market and a global community. ‘Megatrends’ are bottom-up forces that propel changes in society (Fong & Naisbitt, 2000). These megatrends include globalisation - the idea that we live in one world both ecologically and economically. Global competition is a stimulant for the process of continuous change and is particularly important in the areas of education and research. Education at all levels has been affected by these megatrends because more knowledgeable workers can carry out more efficient production (Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, 1999, p.36). Also, the creation of new knowledge becomes more important because new ways of doing things can be more efficient. Innovation propelled by competition and technological advancement has therefore become an important part of modern life, with lifelong learning one of the consequences in everyday living. Recent expansions of market sizes and the speed of modern communication/transport systems have vastly increased the pace of change.

 

Moseley (1995) wrote of the influence of megatrends on higher education, and included less money, more accountability and increased use of new technology as significant trends of which planners needed to be aware. Computers, like teaching machines before them, have been expected to change education radically but until now such change has mostly been restricted to tertiary education. Only recently have personal computers been developed with the capacity to handle video, sound and other media to the extent necessary to engage learners. Simultaneously, global connectivity through the Internet has become widely available, and this appears to facilitate crucial links between teachers and learners (Mwagiru, 2001).

 

These developments have increased interest in the role of ICT in school education. This interest has focused upon preparing students for employment in a globally competitive environment predicated upon the widespread use of information technology, and on the general use of ICT to improve educational outcomes. There has been debate about which of these focus areas should be more important.

 

During this study, the first of these focus areas was the subject of an Australian Federal Government limited request to tender for the development of:

key performance measures to monitor progress in the information technology knowledge and skills of Australian schools students to be used for the reporting of nationally comparable outcomes of schools within the context of the ‘National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century’                                                                          (DETYA, 1999b).

The terms of reference for the tender restricted the investigation to IT career oriented skills and training. Members of the appointed research team agreed the focus ought to have been on the cross-curriculum use of computers to enhance learning (Stokes, 2000).

 

This restriction appeared to derive from the wording of the Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century, the second such national declaration (MCEETYA, 1999, 1.6). While this reaffirmed the eight main areas of the curriculum established by its predecessor, information technology was referred to separately as a goal:

In particular, when students leave school, they should:  ...

1.6 be confident, creative and productive users of new technologies, particularly information and communication technologies, and understand the impact of those technologies on society.

After the letting of this tender, a subsequent project opened up the field to consider the broader implications of computers in education. The statement of requirement specified a project to “undertake a detailed examination of existing models of teacher pre-service education and in-service professional development to facilitate the integration of new technologies into classroom practice” (DETYA, 2000). This significant activity in educational administration circles gave further impetus to the study.

 

 

1.4         Problems of language

An initial step in studying specific matters concerning the use of ICT in school education is addressing the issue of terminology and language. When using terms in an international context, it became apparent that similar terminology is used with different intent and meaning from country to country, even those sharing a common language. These differences were largely due to historical precedence and relative political power of different lobbies within the various educational systems. In order to make meaningful comparisons between such systems, the issue of terminology is now discussed.

 

1.4.1      The meaning of ‘technology’

The term ‘information technology’ (IT) is sometimes used to describe the use of personal microcomputers in the hands of school students. This term is rapidly being superseded by the term ‘information and communications technology’ (ICT), reflecting the common understanding that a computer’s potential is significantly enhanced by connection to a local network, and even more so by connection to the Internet. This new descriptive phrase also recognises the convergence of information and communication technologies, where appliances for computation and those for communication contain similar components and are increasingly capable of providing both sorts of facility to people using them. The term ‘ICT’ is generally used in this study, except in the case of direct citations.

 

While ICT is often used in the United Kingdom and other countries, the term ‘informatics’ has been widely used in the European context for some time (Plomp et al., 1996, p. 7). This relates very much to an area of study, with an emphasis on information science or general information processing. It has given rise to a new term, ‘telematics’, to describe the combination of informatics and telecommunications. Such subject-specific terms are used in a more restricted sense than the present study  is intended to cover.

 

The word ‘technology’ brings to mind different associations for different people. Following the Hobart Declaration on Schooling (Australian Education Council, 1989) Technology became one of the eight areas of the nationally developed curriculum in Australia. Since information technology as a topic had been largely omitted from the development and mapping phases of the various Australian states’ curriculum documents, this author and others suggested it be incorporated into the Technology area. The technology area is based around knowledge and process strands, which include ‘Design, Make, Appraise’ and ‘Materials’. By analogy with traditional technologies, information technology has been incorporated into this pattern by extending the conventional list of materials (such as wood, metal, plastic, flour, eggs, wool) to include data. Thus the process strand of ‘Design, Make, Appraise’ can apply to data-as-a-material to include systems analysis, programming and software evaluation.

 

Similarly, IT was initially incorporated within the ‘Design and Technology’ area of the United Kingdom national curriculum. The two terms IT and ‘technology’ have therefore been somewhat confused in educational circles. In an initial phase of this research a request for pupil standards documents in information technology was circulated to primary school principals in Tasmania. This generated as many competency lists for ‘technology’ as for IT. To resolve such misconceptions, in 1999 the Australian Council for Computers in Education produced a report on the development of Teacher Learning Technology Competencies (Williams & Price, 2000). This new phrase ‘Learning Technology’ was intended to stand for the use of computers and similar equipment in the teaching-learning relationship. At the time of writing, it was yet to be seen if this phraseology will be accepted more widely.

 

As a further complicating factor, the common terminology in the USA for describing computer use in schools is ‘educational technology’, while the hardware equipment involved is referred to as ‘the technology’. This is particularly evident when looking at publications from peak organisations such as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) which is examined later in this study, under the analysis for the USA. A parallel group in the USA produced Standards for technological literacy, which relates particularly to skills in engineering, agriculture, manufacturing and construction (International Technology Education Association [ITEA], 2000). While ISTE concentrates on the use of computers to enhance education, ITEA’s work is concerned with a completely different sphere. This confusion has been carried into the terms ‘technological literacy’ (ITEA), and ‘technology literate students’ (ISTE). 

 

The interpretation of the general terminology describing the field is now followed by an examination of some more specific terms within the area.

 

1.4.2      The meaning of ‘Computer Studies’, ‘Computer Literacy’ and ‘Computing across the Curriculum

Computer Literacy is a relatively new term encompassing a broad range of student understandings and skills which some commentators argue children should have (Weber, 1997). Definitions of Computer Literacy go further than the mere acquisition of operational skills and include conceptual understandings of media as message (McLuhan, 1964) and validating information sources. By looking at the same information on a topic through a variety of media, including computer and Internet-based systems, students can determine its reliability and relevance (Quesada & Summers, 1998).  Such a view of computer literacy aims to give it long-term validity by distancing it from the operational specifics and creating a meta-cognition level for its teaching in schools.

 

Computer Studies are generally accepted as study about computers, their operation, the implementation of computer systems to solve problems and the social consequences. Students in computer studies courses usually have an interest in the field which may lead to employment in related areas. Vocational courses in web-site design, personal computer repair, and the operation of particular software applications would all come under this heading. Pre-tertiary courses in computer science or information systems would also fall into this category.

 

Computing across the Curriculum is a term which covers the more general use of computers by school students to assist learning in all subject areas. ICT can be used as a writing tool (through word processing) or as a visualisation tool when simulations are used to replicate dangerous or conceptually complex situations such as preferential electoral systems. This more general use of computers in education was the focus of this study, which was taken to encompass the other terms.

 

Each of these areas is reasonably distinct, but they share a common use of computers, albeit for different purposes. Within each area students will need to acquire specific operational skills, but these are generally subsidiary to the main learning purposes of the area. Among the challenges to providing these operational skills are the capital costs and rapid obsolescence of the necessary equipment.

 

Despite the confusion of terminologies, even within the same country, this study examined the use of computers for learning and teaching by students of school age, in all areas of the curriculum, and in all subjects taught to them. Since the methodology selected compares material from several countries where usage of these terms is very different, this thesis uses the acronym ‘ICT’ in the text generally, with direct quotes from source documents unchanged.

 

 

1.5         Research questions

Whether the key phrase used is computer literacy, technology literacy or computing across the curriculum, the objective of many national ICT programs is the integration of new technologies into education. It has been pointed out that this does not mean the intention was to teach the new technologies in all subject areas, but rather they are expected to facilitate teaching and learning in all those areas (Cornu, 1995). This facilitation can take place at the classroom level, with direct use of ICT by students, and also at the systemic level. Examples of systemic approaches include the integration of evaluation into instruction, and management of transition difficulties such as those encountered when a student moves from class to class, teacher to teacher, school to school. At an inter-system level, technology raises the prospect of an integrated global education system, where academic links and entitlements could be compared, shared and discussed. Thus computers in education are used in a variety of ways and for a range of purposes.

 

Countries have formulated different responses to ICT in education as a result of their varied organisation of educational systems, and their cultural, social and economic contexts. This study concentrates on the way in which ICT is utilised by teachers to improve and support learning in all curriculum areas, and therefore when the expression ‘ICT’ is used without qualification, this is the intended meaning.

 

In summary this study aims to:

·      Explore the innovation pathways that several countries have taken in respect of the use of information and communication technology across the curriculum in schools.

·      Identify the factors that facilitate or hinder innovation adoption for ICT in education.

·      Predict some of the probable directions of the ICT innovation for similar countries in the next five to ten years.

·      Through a comparison process, provide advice for Australia on the field of ICT in education.

 

 

As other researchers have found, the specific research questions resulted from a progressive focusing process during the study (Stake, 1995, p. 9). The research questions needed to be broad enough for the study to encompass all the relevant variables within the time and resource constraints applicable. Any framework would need to be sufficiently comprehensive to include a broad range of ICT activities in schools. This indicated a cross-national approach which compared outcomes.

 

A common approach for the investigation of ICT in education is to separate the equipment, digital content, personnel, policy and legislative elements (Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, 2000, pp. 4-5). In this study the approach chosen was a cross-national study where legislation was already in place and where the sources of data would range from expert decision-makers to students in classrooms. This meant that the legislative element would be reflected in discussion about policy which was particular to each country. Also, the equipment and digital content areas were aspects of classroom practice which could be studied together under the wider topic of implementation and practice. Therefore the elements selected were those of policy, implementation and practice, professional development and models of developmental stages.   These elements were framed as specific research questions to ensure they were precise enough to be answered, yet sufficiently general to comprehensively cover the field (see Figure 1).

                        

Figure 1: The Research Questions

RQ1a: What has been the general nature of policies in the USA, England and Estonia for ICT in school education?

 

RQ1b: What were the development and implementation processes of these policies?

 

RQ2: How have government inputs such as ICT frameworks, targeted funding and accreditation requirements influenced the use of computers in schools?

 

RQ3: What teacher professional development policies and procedures were evident in the countries studied?

 

RQ4: In the light of the preceding research questions, is it possible to describe the use of ICT in schools within a particular framework which indicates future directions?

 

The first of these questions was concerned with ICT as an example of innovation in school education. ICT can be seen as a ‘driver’ (Bijker & Law, 1992) or ‘catalyst’ (Venezky & Davis, 2002, p. 11) in the sense that the technology itself determines the way in which it is used. This view was expressed in the form: “technologies have trajectories”. An alternative view is that ICT is an ‘enabling tool’ or ‘lever’ (Venezky & Davis, 2002, p. 13) and is therefore socially bound. This view suggests “the impacts of ICT are socially shaped” (Kling, 2000, p. 9) and IT was elevated in general terms as “an enabler of development” for emerging economies (Digital Opportunity Initiative, 2001).

 

This aspect of ICT in education was examined through research into the policies of the different countries in the study. This was done by examining aspects of policy such as the processes and consultations contributing to such outcomes as policy formation; the nature of any standards frameworks for teachers and students; the funding implications for infrastructure, content and training. Each of these aspects was investigated for linkage to the proposed three-phase model. The results show where each organisation using the policy situated itself in respect of the model, and whether it saw itself moving between the phases. The first research question was therefore split into two parts in order to separate the actual policies from the processes by which they were formed.

 

The second research question investigated implementation and practice. Policy expresses intent, but it is only one of the factors affecting classroom practice. Following an examination of policy (or intent), it seemed logical to investigate implementation and practice. This aspect of the study looked at the degree to which the intent of policy-makers was translated into practical activity in the field. It also disclosed some activities which had arisen ‘de novo’ without a policy initiative. It has been argued that “the thicker the plan the less it affects classroom practice” (Davies, 2001). Therefore this second research question also examined the relationship between government inputs (in the form of ICT frameworks, targeted funding and accreditation requirements) and what was observed happening in schools.  This allowed evaluation of the inter-relationship between governmental structures and implementation.

 

The third research question focused on teacher professional development. The school classroom is led by the teacher, and the role of this person is critical to the adoption of any innovation in the field of education. The way in which teachers have been trained is very likely to be crucial in determining not only the way in which ICT policy has been implemented, but also the nature of its use in the classroom context. This has been recognised as an important issue in Australia (Downes et al., 2002).

 

The fourth research question aimed to find what models of development were available. Knowledge of such models, combined with grounded theory derived from the literature and data gathered from the field could then be used to propose new models.

 

These four research questions were used to organise the study.

 

1.6         Significance of the study

The research reported in this thesis is important for the following reasons:

 

First, the study took an international perspective which went beyond reporting each national scene. The policies within each country have received attention locally, but there have been few comparative policy studies. Some international studies have been based upon generic surveys and these have had difficulty comparing data obtained using non-specific frameworks (Collis, 1993; Knezek, Miyashita & Sakamoto, 1994; Plomp, Anderson & Kontogiannopoulou-Polyidorides (Eds.), 1996; Mullis et al., 1997; Eurydice, 2001; OECD, 2001). This study gathered data directly from schools using ICT, giving it a firm foundation.

 

Second, the study adds to the literature on the diffusion of technological innovations where the consequence of the innovation in school-based education is the prime focus. Little material was initially found relating to this area, and therefore the study makes a valuable contribution. Since a critical element in the thinking of teachers about using computers for education appeared to be the consequences for the children in their charge, this seemed a very important avenue to pursue.

 

Third, new knowledge was generated about the consequences of common ICT trends in school education. These consequences involve some radical changes to the pattern of education, and by comparing different countries it was possible to gather evidence about them, thus predicting with some certainty future pathways.

 

Fourth, the study examined the trend for bigger proportions of education budgets to be expended on the acquisition of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment and services. Understanding and accounting for these expenditures is important for treasuries and school leaders.

 

Fifth, ICT was shown in some cases to promote higher standards at earlier educational stages, and these had implications for pathways and articulation. School curricula were also being changed in various ways by the potential of ICT. For example, the availability of satellite photographs and weather maps in real time offered unprecedented opportunities for teachers to link the sky patterns visible from the classroom to the view from orbit and the rain coming from beyond the horizon. In Art and Graphic Design the new technology offered students with relatively poor motor skills and co-ordination the chance to produce highly accurate work and to revise this as it progressed.

 

Sixth, the study is important for decision-makers concerned with the economic justification for students to study ICT. In a context of global competition ICT is seen as an essential ingredient for efficiency and sustainability for national economies. While business uses ICT to become more productive, it is important that school leavers have both generic skills to operate this kind of equipment, and the ability to adapt to future developments. A smaller proportion of students require advanced skills in the fields of ICT, to be able to innovate and develop new systems for commercial purposes. This includes e-commerce, or electronic commerce, where trading transactions are mediated and executed electronically. Pressure from business was present in many curriculum developments associated with the use of ICT in schools, and needed to be appreciated in the context of the other political and educational issues surrounding them.

 

Finally, this analysis can assist future policy in Australia, particularly with regard to the integration of ICT into the curriculum. During the progress of the study, some projects were initiated at the federal level in Australia that gave impetus to the research, and further substantiated its significance. These included a project to determine the generic ICT skills needed by teachers through an ICT competency framework (UWS, ACSA, ACCE & TEFA, 2002).

 

1.7         Chapter summary

This chapter described the reasons for undertaking the research, and its overall importance to the field of education. The theme of ICT adoption in school education was drawn from the field of innovation diffusion and its potential for radical transformation was examined in the context of globalisation. Since the study was to consider matters from a range of countries and language backgrounds, some important matters of terminology were clarified. The main aims of the study were explained and the research questions to investigate them identified.

 

1.8         Thesis overview

This thesis has five chapters in which the context for the research, the rationale for its undertaking, the methodology used, the findings are presented and the data are analysed and discussed. Chapter 2 reviews the literature and examines many of the current policy documents and theoretical analyses for details of the processes that may be at work in the deployment of computers into school classrooms. Gaps in the literature are identified and the contribution to be made by this study is outlined. Chapter 3 describes details of the approach taken, the implementation strategy for the study, and the evolution of the theoretical framework as it proceeded. Chapter 4 presents the data gathered from the three types of sources selected: from experts in the field, case studies derived from direct observations of practice in schools, and from the policy documentation available in each country. Chapter 5 shows how the data were used to answer the research questions in the context of the literature. It also develops a proposed model and demonstrates its application in the context of Australia, and gives recommendations for applying the findings and for further research.

 

At best, this thesis represents a snapshot in time. The whole area of ICT in education is moving so quickly that not all of this rapid change can be included.


 



[1] See an excellent example of the consequences of electrification in Akrich (1997, p. 216). Village property in the Ivory Coast used to be collectively owned, with the elders allocating tracts of land over periods to individuals on the basis of need. Electrification implied more permanent allocations of land than theretofore, and brought about a distinction between public and private property. In so doing, it brought about a new system by which the State and individuals related, and even universalised taxation in a region where only a small minority earned income.