Integration or Transformation?
A cross-national study of information and communication technology in school education
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 there may be significant differences between policy and practice. 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 relationships 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 of 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 from 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 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 demonstrates 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.
The study provides guidance for future policies concerning teacher ICT professional development and argues for their alignment with national cross-curriculum frameworks for ICT in school education. It will also be useful for educators training pre-service teachers to use and prepare online digital learning materials. Further, the study also informs school communities about the need to use ICT as a way of linking their institution with student homes and to extend learning opportunities.
I would like to thank my supervisor Professor John Williamson, for his useful feedback on all the work we have shared together. This process has been an interactive and condensed one, and his help invaluable.
My thanks also go to the numerous individuals and organisations that gave time and thought to the questions I posed. Without their contributions this thesis would never have been possible. That also goes for my supportive family, who may now enjoy more of their dad and spouse’s company than they hitherto believed possible.
Finally, I would like to thank the Faculty of Education at the University of Tasmania for its financial support of my doctoral research.
This thesis contains no material which has been accepted for a degree or diploma by the University or any other institution, except by way of background information and duly acknowledged in the thesis, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, it contains no material previously published or written by another person except where due acknowledgment is made in the text.
This thesis may be made available for loan and limited copying in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968.
Andrew E. Fluck