Rethinking what we want from ICT in schools

Rethinking what we want from ICT in schools


Dr Michael Hammond, Warwick University

Dr. Michael Hammond is leader of the ‘Centre for New Technologies Research in Education’ at Monash’s UK partner institution, Warwick University.

Binary_punch_card_croppedIn England we are undergoing turmoil and challenge in regard to education policy and practice some of which has included the use of ICT.  Becta, our government agency to support the use of ICT, has been closed down and ICT as a curriculum subject has been destabilised. This is unsettling but it does at least provide an opportunity to take stock as to what we expect from ICT and the direction in which we want the use of ICT to take us.

The first point to make regarding ICT is to recognise its political attraction. ICT is voter friendly; where once politicians might have kissed babies, they now visit schools and peer admiringly at computer screens [] In office, policy makers champion the use of ICT and are disposed to see an association between ICT and ‘learning outcomes’. ICT seems to carry a vocational relevance, too. It offers to make the existing curriculum more ‘up to date’ and facilitate the introduction of a new more vocationally oriented qualification framework. For some policy makers and for many ‘teacher educators’ it does more than this (Hammond, 2011); it offers to support a shift towards a more ‘social constructivist’ idea of leaning. It is striking that even those we see as ICT sceptic and traditionalist in their view of teaching, such as Michael Gove our present Secretary of State for Education, put forward the idea that young people have a strong disposition to learn about and to use technology and is willing to argue for new attitudes to teaching and learning (Gove, 2012).

michael_hammond_smallThe use, or at least policy regarding the use, of ICT is not, however, without its critics (e.g. Buckingham, 2007) who detect an ‘inevitabilist’ and highly romanticised discourse about technology. These critics argue that evidence regarding the impact of ICT is lacking and is in any case methodologically implausible; curriculum reform via ICT is illusionary;  and the vocational agenda distracts attention from the fact that there is a great deal of unimaginative and routine activity at machines.

I personally veer between these two points of view; faced with a technoenthusiast I quickly become a sceptic, but when faced with what I feel is unreasonable resistance to ICT I refind my enthusiasm.  I conclude that there is something missing in the debate that holds me back from taking sides. I have tried to reflect on this indecision when working with teachers and trainee teachers. Through this work it seems clear to me that teaching has become very strategic and this is not going to be unsettled by the use of ICT. A strategic orientation is, of course, the result of external pressures: high stakes testing, inspection regimes and top down strategies. However  teachers most of the time have been able to live comfortably with what the curriculum requires; they have not been looking for wholesale curriculum reform and if their use of ICT is about ‘fitting it in’ this is not meant as a criticism (Cartwright et al, 2007). Nonetheless some use of ICT continues to have a distinctive appeal and Steve Kennewell captures something of this when he writes, ‘when you observe pupils using ICT, rather than traditional methods, you usually notice a higher level of motivation, a more intense engagement with the activity (Kennewell, 2004:23). ‘Usually’ is a tad over optimistic but there is an association with engagement that lies at the heart of the decision to use ICT. Engagement may have desirable learning outcomes but for many teachers engagement is also an end in itself, for the moral purpose of schooling is to allow children to learn to exercise self control and develop a sense of self-efficacy. Too often discussion of ICT is utilitarian or about ‘future proofing the curriculum’ (Drenoyianni, 2006), I would like to bring the discussion back , to the classrooms in which we teach and to remember, in the face of the turmoil we are facing in our educational systems, the reasons why we got into teaching in the first place. Rather than a discourse about ICT that is based on hype and disappointment can we have one that is cautiously optimistic, critical and which pays attention to teachers’ classroom concerns?



Buckingham, D. (2007). Beyond Technology: Children’s learning in the age of digital culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Cartwright, V., & Hammond, M. (2007). ‘Fitting it in’: a study exploring ICT use in a UK primary school. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 23(2), 390-407.
Drenoyianni, H. (2006). Reconsidering change and ICT: Perspectives of a human and democratic education. Education and Information Technologies, 11(3), 401-413.
Gove, M. (2012). Michael Gove speech at the BETT Show 2012. London:
Hammond, M. (2011). Beliefs and ICT: what can we learn from experienced educators? Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 20(3), 289-300.
Kennewell, S. (2004). Meeting the Standards in Using ICT for Secondary Teaching: A Guide to the ITT NC. London: Routledge.