Integration or Transformation?
A cross-national study
of Information and Communication Technology in School Education
by Andrew E. Fluck
PhD thesis accepted 20th December 2003
The advent of relatively cheap micro-computers in the 1980s has led to major investment in information and communication technology (ICT) for schools. The technology has been developed continually, creating a situation where practice and policy can have significant differences. The literature relating to innovation diffusion and the rationale for ICT in school education has concentrated upon effectiveness and teacher professional development. Existing models of development in the area are limited in scope or make ill-founded assumptions. Little work has been done on the question of alignment between policy and practice.
This study used a grounded theory approach to examine the relationship between policy, implementation and underlying models of development. This was done through a process of policy comparison, consultation with experts in the field and case study observations. The methodology used a comparative case study approach at national, school and classroom levels and examined issues such as the nature and development processes for policy in the area, implementation and practice in the use of computers in classrooms, teacher professional development and stages of development as perceived by practitioners. Data were gathered from the United States of America, England, Estonia and Australia in November 1999 to September 2002.
The study found ICT curriculum approaches for students were strongly aligned with a stage of development which emphasised the integration of ICT into existing curricula and current classroom practice. There was poor alignment between overlapping policies for teacher training and student learning outcomes and also between policy and classroom practice. It was confirmed that students generally have better access to computers outside school than within it, a situation largely ignored by policy. It was also found that experts in the field perceived increasing reliance upon generic office software as an outmoded ‘tool’ approach, and saw ICT as a ‘driver’ for transformative change in school education. School and classroom observations confirmed that local practice included transformative uses of ICT.
From these findings a possible general model of stages of development was derived. The model consisted of an introductory phase 1, where students in school first use computers and information technology becomes a subject choice; an integrative phase 2, where information and communication technologies are used to enhance learning opportunities in all traditional curriculum subject areas; and a transformative phase 3, where the curriculum clearly includes topics of study that would not exist without information and communication technologies and schooling for most students no longer fits the traditional group-instruction model.
The model has implications for alignment in policy development based upon a national cross-curriculum framework. It raises the importance for teacher professional development to include training in virtual teaching and the evaluation of digital materials. In particular there is a need to examine the alignment between conventional learning outcomes, policy and practice when ICT is much more available to students outside school than within.