Transforming teaching and learning: embedding ICT into everyday classroom practices

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  • Transforming teaching and learning: embeddingICT into everyday classroom practicesR. Sutherland, V. Armstrong, S. Barnes, R. Brawn, N. Breeze, M. Gall, S. Matthewman,F. Olivero, A. Taylor, P. Triggs, J. Wishart & P. JohnwGraduate School of Education, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

    wFaculty of Education, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK

    Abstract Drawing on socio-cultural theory, this paper describes how teams of teachers and researchers

    have developed ways of embedding information and communications technology (ICT) into

    everyday classroom practices to enhance learning. The focus is on teaching and learning

    across a range of subjects: English, history, geography, mathematics, modern foreign lan-

    guages, music and science. The influence of young peoples out-of-school uses of ICT on in-

    school learning is discussed. The creative tension between idiosyncratic and institutional

    knowledge construction is emphasised and we argue that this is exacerbated by the use of

    ICT in the classroom.

    Keywords: culture, ICT, learning, subject knowledge, teaching


    This paper focuses on teaching and learning with in-

    formation and communications technology (ICT)

    across a range of subjects, drawing on the research of

    the InterActive Education Project.1 Teachers and re-

    searchers have worked together within the project to

    develop and evaluate learning initiatives that focus on

    particular areas of the curriculum that students might

    normally find difficult and where a particular use of

    ICT could enhance learning. The idea is to use ICT

    that is readily available in schools and yet under-uti-

    lised. The project was predicated on the view that ICT

    alone does not enhance learning. How ICT is in-

    corporated into learning activities is what is important.

    In our original research proposal we stated that:

    Despite three decades of government initiatives andacademic research, the use of information and com-munications technology (ICT) in teaching and learningremains only partially understood by educationalists

    and inconsistently practised in schools (Goldstein1997). Alongside the governments current d1billioncommitment to increasing educational use of ICT(DfEE 1997) has come stringent criticism that there isnot enough rigorous research evidence to support thecurrent massive investment in new technologies inschools (Lynch 1999) and, that practitioners are notdrawing on research evidence when it does exist. It isthese two fundamental concerns of educational ICT thatthe InterActive Education Project has aimed to address.(Sutherland et al. 1999).

    We also argued that although there is an extensive

    research base on teaching and learning without ICT

    which could inform teaching and learning with ICT,

    (for example Greeno et al. 1996; Bransford et al.

    1999), such research has not systematically been

    drawn upon by policy makers when developing cur-

    ricula and guidelines for teachers on how to use ICT in

    the classroom. There is a tendency to think that ICT is

    so new that its use will be accompanied by new

    pedagogies that will somehow transform teaching and

    learning. This utopian vision often leads policy makers

    and practitioners to ignore general theoretical per-

    spectives about teaching and learning, which in

    our view are central to all learning, with or without


    Correspondence: R. Sutherland, Graduate School of Education,

    University of Bristol, 35 Berkeley Square, Bristol BS8 1JA, UK.


    Accepted: 10 August 20041

    & Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004 Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20, pp413425 413


  • The project has five strands that as we weave them

    together are making a complex picture of ICT in

    education. Each strand looks at ICT in relation to a

    specific aspect: teaching and learning, policy and

    management, subject cultures, professional develop-

    ment and learners out-of-school uses of ICT. This

    paper reports on the teaching and learning strand of

    the project with other papers in this volume reporting

    on policy and management (Dale et al. 2004), pro-

    fessional development and learners (Triggs & John

    2004) out-of-school uses of ICT (Kent & Facer 2004).

    We conjectured from the outset that subject

    knowledge was likely to be an inextricable part of the

    situated and mediated aspect of learning, and for this

    reason organised the project around the following

    subject areas: English, modern foreign languages,

    music, science, mathematics, history and geography.

    This has enabled us to compare the embedding of ICT

    across a range of school subjects. For each subject,

    teams of researchers and teachers worked together to

    design learning initiatives,2 with the English, music

    and mathematics teams working across the primary and

    secondary sectors, and the other teams working within

    the secondary sector only. The subject design teams

    (referred to as SDTs) worked together as whole groups

    at the University and in smaller teacherresearcher

    pairings (usually within a teachers school). Teachers

    were funded for 15 days over a period of 2 years to

    work within the project. Additionally, six of the 54

    teachers were successful in obtaining teacherre-

    searcher scholarships that enabled them to devote more

    than the allocated 15 days to working within the project.

    Each teacher, working within their subject design

    team, developed a subject design initiative (referred to

    as SDIs) that focused on embedding ICT into a small

    area of the curriculum. Design was informed by the-

    ory, research-based evidence, teachers craft knowl-

    edge and feedback from members of the subject

    design team. A key aspect of this work involved an

    iterative process of design and re-design. Feedback on

    student learning was provided by digital video re-

    cordings of classroom interactions, together with stu-

    dents work and interviews with students. This data

    allowed us to tease out the ways in which the parti-

    cular ICT environments used by the teacher and stu-

    dents enhanced or detracted from the intended

    learning.3 Teachers were involved in the process of

    viewing the video data and in some cases teachers also

    became involved in the analysis and writing up of the

    research. This process of working together has been

    documented more fully in Triggs and John (2004).

    We begin with a brief discussion of the socio-cul-

    tural theory that framed the work of the teaching and

    learning strand of the project. We then expand this

    framework by focusing in more detail on classroom

    cultures and out-of-school informal learning with ICT.

    We highlight how effective teaching and learning with

    ICT involves finding ways of building bridges be-

    tween individual and idiosyncratic and institutional

    knowledge, following this with examples drawn from

    the project data. Finally, we conclude by discussing

    the relative roles of digital and non-digital tools in

    teaching and learning.

    Theoretical framework

    The work of the InterActive Education Project is si-

    tuated within a theoretical perspective on teaching and

    learning that draws mainly from socio-cultural the-

    ories of learning (Vygotsky 1978; Wertsch 1991;

    Wertsch et al. 2003). An important aspect of socio-

    cultural theory is the claim that all human action is

    mediated by tools. We interpret the idea of tool to

    incorporate a wide range of artefacts (for example pen,

    paper, book, computer), semiotic systems (for ex-

    ample language, graphs, diagrams), social interaction

    (for example group work) and institutional structures

    2The following table presents an overview of the number of teachers and

    researchers working within each subject design team:

    No. of


    No. of


    English 3 6 (primary) 8 (secondary)

    Mathematics 3 3 (primary) 9 (secondary)

    Modern Foreign Languages 1 9 (secondary)

    History 2 5 (secondary)

    Music 2 2 (primary) 4 (secondary)

    Science 3 8 (secondary)

    3Authors of this paper have been responsible for detailed analysis of

    video and interview data from specific design initiatives that were car-

    ried out with partner teachers. This has involved viewing and analysing

    video data from multiple perspectives that relate to the overall aims and

    theoretical orientation of the project. The paper was written as a colla-

    borative online process with electronic drafts of the paper being circu-

    lated to all authors and critical feedback being incorporated into the

    paper in an ongoing process.

    414 R. Sutherland et al.

    & Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004 Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20, pp413425

  • (for example national educational policy). Within this

    context, the master tool is natural language that is

    central to all human activity (Cole & Engestrom

    1993). Within this framework, the idea of person-

    acting-with-mediational-means (Wertsch 1991) both

    expands the view of what a person can do and also

    suggests that a person might be constrained by their

    situated and mediated action.

    Socio-cultural theory (as the name suggests) fore-

    grounds the cultural aspects of human action. There

    are several aspects of culture that are important to take

    into account. Firstly, the teacher and students work

    within a local classroom culture that is influenced by

    both national and global factors (Dale et al. 2004).

    Within this context, students bring to the classroom a

    history of learning experiences that relate to their

    previous cultures of learning both inside and outside

    schools. This is particularly important when ICT is

    being used in the classroom because there is increas-

    ing evidence that the ways in which young people (and

    teachers) use ICT at school are influenced by out-of-

    school cultures of use (Facer et al. 2003; Kent & Facer

    2004). Secondly, any technological tool has been de-

    veloped within a particular socio-cultural setting and

    carries with it the provenance of this culture. PowerPoint,

    for instance, was developed primarily for use within a

    business context and the preset templates can push wri-

    ters towards business genres of presentation. However,

    ICT tools are not static and continue to be re-designed as

    their use within different communities evolves.

    Socio-cultural theory also emphasises the fact that

    students actively construct knowledge drawing on

    what they already know and believe (Vygotsky 1978).

    From this point of view students (and teachers) bring

    implicit theories and perspectives to any new learning

    situation and these influence what they pay attention to

    and thus the knowledge they construct. Within this

    context, the teacher has an important role in that

    appropriately arranged contrasts can help people no-

    tice new features that previously escaped their atten-

    tion and learn which features are relevant or irrelevant

    to a new concept (Bransford et al. 1999, p. 48).

    Classroom cultures

    Within the project, we recognised from the outset that

    learning events in school are situated within a set of

    overlapping cultures, which relate to both top-down

    and bottom-up influences. Top-down influences tend

    to be formalised and normative and include the school

    culture, subject culture, the National Curriculum and

    the national assessment structure that in turn are being

    influenced by more global factors such as the OECD4

    (Dale et al. 2004). Bottom-up influences are more

    informal and include young people outside school

    cultures (Facer et al. 2003; Kent & Facer 2004), their

    personal histories of learning and the teachers own

    personal history of learning (Triggs & John 2004). For

    example, from our ongoing analysis of data it is clear

    that the National Numeracy and Literacy Strategies in

    England and Wales5 had a significant influence on the

    thinking and practice of the mathematics and English

    teachers. Observation and analysis of data indicate

    that these teachers worked within the strategy frame-

    work that consisted broadly of opening plenary, in-

    dividual/group work and final plenary (see for

    example Mills 2004). This structured episodic ap-

    proach was adopted in the face of the dominant

    espoused ethos of individualised and small group work

    patterns that were prevalent in English and mathe-

    matics classrooms prior to the introduction of the

    National Strategies. The move to more template-style

    lessons also brought with it an emphasis on the

    teaching of basic mathematical skills, while in English

    lessons there was a similar shift in emphasis away

    from the development of individual writing processes

    to a stronger emphasis on teaching the rules of

    grammar and the understanding of genres.

    Our theoretical perspective has given us the capa-

    city to re-conceptualise these National Strategies as

    mediating tools that can constrain or enhance (or both)

    a teachers way of working. For example, some

    teachers worked very creatively with the National

    Strategy (person-acting-with-mediational-means) to

    develop SDIs that incorporated the use of ICT in ways

    that enhanced students learning. These teachers ten-

    ded to adapt the particular strategy so as to follow a

    rhythm of whole-class and individual work which

    fitted their own tacit understandings of student learn-

    ing; this process enabled them to integrate ICT into

    4Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (http://

    5For information on the National Numeracy Strategy see http://, for information on the National

    Literacy Strategy see

    Transforming teaching and learning 415

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  • their pedagogical practice so that it supported learn-

    ing. Other teachers, however, were more constrained

    by the strategies and were more compliant. As a result,

    whole-class and individual work became more for-

    mulaic and many teachers were not able to respond

    contingently to student learning opportunities.

    Whereas within any particular school similar local,

    national and international cultures may be influencing

    what happens in the classroom, we have increasingly

    become aware that different subject cultures impact

    differently on how ICT is used in the classroom

    (Goodson & Mangen 1995; John & La Velle in press).

    For instance, many of the science teachers in the

    project appeared to be working in a particular cultural

    context that militated against the integration of ICT

    into the teaching and learning of science. It is im-

    portant to understand these phenomena within the

    overall context of school science in England (no at-

    tempt to generalise to school science in other countries

    is made). Science lessons in England have for many

    years been structured around core activities that are

    often practical in nature. This relates both to the idea

    that an experimental approach promotes discovery

    learning and that developing an experimental ap-

    proach is at the core of what it means to do science.

    These approaches were built from the curricular re-

    form movements of the 1970s that blended con-

    structivism and particular scientific epistemologies.

    From the late 1980s onwards, however, this commit-

    ment to practical discovery was increasingly being

    bound to a new curriculum content as the National

    Curriculum and its assessment structures began to take

    shape. Finally the ingrained focus on student safety in

    science also appeared to inhibit the creative use of

    ICT, which requires a flexible approach for success.

    The melding of these issues has led to a series of

    questions that surround the teaching of science and its

    relationship to ICT. Most notably, should the science

    teacher bring experimental equipment into the com-

    puter room or move computers into the lab? How

    might science teachers monitor both the use of ICT

    and experimental equipment with a typical class of 30

    students? Some have argued that such problems may

    ease with the increased uses of mobile, wireless

    computers or hand-held computers. However, we be-

    lieve there is a real tension between integrating ICT

    into the teaching and learning of science when the

    only technology available is the desktop computer,

    particularly when these are organised in a computer

    suite that is shared with other subjects.

    In contrast, the majority of project mathematics

    teachers were able to incorporate ICT more smoothly

    into the teaching and learning of mathematics (for

    example, Godwin & Sutherland 2004; Mills 2004;

    Sutherland et al. 2004) with many of them choosing to

    use hand-held or otherwise portable technologies ra-

    ther than make use of a computer suite. Software for

    learning mathematics has been developed over a re-

    latively long period in contrast to other subjects and

    there is a wealth of research and development on the

    use of ICT for learning mathematics.6 So although it is

    still the case that the vast majority of mathematics

    teachers in the UK are not integrating ICT into their

    teaching (Somekh et al. 2002), the project mathe-

    matics teachers were supported by a legacy of use that

    enabled them to be more confident in their design

    experiments. In other subjects, these technological

    legacies varied from the more techno-phobic histor-

    ians to the more techno-positive musicians. However,

    across the project there was a diversity of activity.

    Many of the English teachers (Triggs & Scott-Cook

    2002; Matthewman et al. 2004; Sutch 2004), music

    teachers (Gall & Breeze 2003) and modern foreign

    language teachers (Taylor & Cole 2002) all developed

    productive ways of integrating ICT into their subject

    teaching. While the work in history and geography

    was more patchy (Morgan & Tidmarsh 2004).

    The results of the project also highlighted a number

    of similarities and differences in the culture of teach-

    ing and learning between primary and secondary

    schools. The majority of project primary teachers were

    able to create communities of inquiry where students

    and teachers used a range of ICT tools to co-construct

    knowledge. This might be due in part to the view that

    primary teachers do not see themselves as experts in a

    particular subject domain and so are more likely to

    favour a co-construction of knowledge approach.

    However, as we discuss later in the paper, the im-

    portance of subject-knowledge expertise should not be

    underestimated, particularly in the ways in which

    teachers are able to use their knowledge to lead stu-

    dents into increasingly sophisticated knowledge do-

    6See for example the journal Micromath (

    Micromath/) that is written for teachers, and The International Journal of

    Computers for Mathematical Learning (

    416 R. Sutherland et al.

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  • mains, for example, data handling and statistics (Mills

    2004), and spelling and language (Sutch 2004).

    Whereas some secondary teachers (Weeden 2002)

    also worked in this way, there were other instances

    where secondary teachers appeared to feel the pressure

    of being knowledge providers as opposed to being a

    knowledgeable resource within a broader community

    of learners. We conjecture that this may be linked to

    the curricular content and coverage demand being

    made on secondary teachers combined with traditional

    subject sub-cultural attitudes.

    In one history SDI, for instance, the teacher despite

    being technologically able had problems breaking

    from a particular conception of the subject. At the

    outset he asserted that he was good at talking to kids

    and telling a story. This appeared to be somewhat at

    odds with his extensive work with computers, a con-

    text that tends to reduce the levels of teacher talk. He

    reconciled these two views by spending time at the

    beginning of each of his lessons with computers ad-

    dressing the whole class, away from the machines. He

    was, however, concerned about the use of ICT in

    teaching history, identifying it as the the tail wagging

    the teaching dog. He questioned whether or not

    learning, which he defined as involving the brain,

    might be inhibited by ICT which he thought might

    encourage a by-passing of the brain. In the lessons

    observed, the teacher therefore tended to expose the

    students to instructions and content, but gave little or

    no help in how to manage the collaborative and his-

    tory-related aspect of the work. It may have been that

    an assumption was made that the computer would act

    as the third voice, the ersatz teacher, and that some-

    how when working with computers, students would

    either know what to do, or would be motivated to find

    out. This SDI revealed that for some subject areas and

    for some teachers, ICT was a Trojan Horse, secretly

    bringing in new approaches to learning that conflicted

    with the deep grammar of the subject.

    In the vignettes above, we have tried to highlight the

    complexity of the cultural influences that impact on

    teaching and learning with ICT in the classroom. We

    suggest that these dynamic influences have to be un-

    derstood in order to begin to develop adequate policy

    for integrating ICT into subject teaching. In the next

    section we introduce another factor that impacts on

    learning with ICT in the classroom, namely out-of-

    school informal learning with ICT.

    Out-of-school informal learning with ICT

    An important aspect of any dynamic classroom culture

    is the multi-cultural influences that each individual

    student and teacher brings to the classroom. This has

    been particularly evident in English classrooms where

    young people are increasingly influenced by their out-

    of-school production of multi-media texts. For ex-

    ample, when students were producing websites at John

    Cabot City Technology College (Matthewman et al.

    2004), they drew on both the ideas being presented by

    their teachers and their out-of-school experiences. One

    group produced a website about their favourite band,

    working on this out-of-lessons and out-of-school and

    then presenting their website to the teacher in class time.

    Another group benefited from a particular students

    prior experience in website design that enabled them to

    manage and select the images and information they had

    researched independently. Importantly, all the students

    were familiar with managing files, downloading images,

    using e-mail and word processing; however, it was not

    just the experience of producing multi-media texts that

    was significant. It became apparent that outside school,

    students are immersed in a visual culture (Goodwyn

    2000; Kress 2000) and interviews with students taking

    part in this particular design initiative indicate that their

    extensive experience of browsing the Web was brought

    to bear on their in-class Web designs.

    In music also, students frequently come to the

    classroom with a wealth of knowledge and awareness

    of styles of music; in many cases exceeding their

    teachers knowledge in particular areas. Some music

    software packages (for example, Fruity Loops, Acids

    Xpress and Dance eJayt) enabled students to com-

    pose within various contemporary styles of music that

    are clearly important in young peoples social and

    cultural lives. The results of the music design in-

    itiatives indicate that this can lead to increased moti-

    vation and engagement in school. Some teachers

    recognised the benefits of this exploratory style of

    learning in music and viewed these classroom situa-

    tions as opportunities for them to learn from the stu-

    dents rather than vice versa. Others, however, were

    more fearful believing that their own lack of knowl-

    edge might become apparent to the students leading to

    situations where they could not give adequate support.

    In mathematics there was also evidence that out-of-

    school uses of ICT were impacting on learning in the

    Transforming teaching and learning 417

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  • classroom. For example, when Simon Mills Year 4

    (age 89) class were investigating the distribution of

    colours in packets of smarties, using Excel to represent

    the data in both tabular and graphical form (Mills

    2004), it soon became apparent that some of the stu-

    dents in the class knew how to manipulate Excel,

    although this had never been taught at school. Sub-

    sequent interviews with students also revealed out-of-

    school experience of using Excel.

    Int: Do either of you use Excel at home (Alan shakeshead)?

    Ray: Sometimes. My Dad uses it for his paper work.Int: And when you use it what do you use it for?Ray: Umm, he uses it, cos when hes got paper cal-

    culations and some are hard like for him, he putsit in Excel and then he puts, he circles it and thenpresses the equal button and it tells him what thesums are.

    Int: What do you use it for?Ray: Maths homework.Alan:Cheat

    Results of the teacher questionnaire administered to all

    teachers in the project schools and interviews with

    partner teachers indicate that the majority of teachers

    are not aware of the nature and extent of students

    expertise that relates to their out-of-school uses of

    ICT. For example in the 2003 questionnaire adminis-

    tered to teachers in the project schools 79% of teachers

    (n5 229) underestimated the computer ownership of

    91% revealed by the student questionnaire. Teachers

    also tend to be unaware of the knowledge students

    have of curriculum areas and by default, the sorts of

    input they might have in lessons. This is actually not a

    new phenomenon but is arguably exacerbated by ICT.

    We suggest that if teachers can find ways of draw-

    ing upon the distributed expertise of all the students in

    a class, then the learning of the whole class can be

    enhanced. If, on the other hand, the use of ICT in the

    classroom is accompanied by a focus on in-

    dividualised learning, as advocated by many policy

    makers, then this potential to turn a class into a

    learning community where the whole is greater than

    the sum of the parts could be lost.

    Creative tensions: individual and common knowledge

    Accompanying the introduction of computers into

    schools there has always been an implicit assumption

    that this investment in hardware will somehow be

    accompanied by a reduction in expenditure on tea-

    chers. This relates to the idea of individualised

    learning alluded to above, in which each student will

    learn almost effortlessly through interaction with a

    computer. Sutherland (2003) has argued that in the

    case of mathematics education in the UK, computers

    were often viewed as an extension of individualised

    textbook learning schemes, by-passing the teacher

    who was considered to be the cause rather than the

    cure of students misconceptions in mathematics. This

    view still prevails in many policy documents where

    the rhetoric of individualised learning is still domi-

    nant. There is strong evidence in the field of mathe-

    matics education, at least, that such a vision leads to

    the learning of individual and idiosyncratic knowledge

    that cannot be used or communicated in more general

    social situations. For example, within the InterActive

    Education Project when 1011 year-old primary stu-

    dents were learning about the properties of quad-

    rilaterals through interacting with a dynamic geometry

    environment, all of the students initially wrote in-

    formal properties on the screen as the following ex-

    ample illustrates: it has four sides, they are like a train

    track, they are parallel, they are equal, it does not have

    any right angles, it is the colour turquoise, and it

    cannot be a diamond. This could have been predicted

    in advance from our theoretical perspective and relates

    to students previous experiences and lives. We also

    know that this is likely to be the case in science

    learning (Leach & Scott 2003) with or without ICT. It

    is all the more remarkable therefore that developments

    in simulation software in science do not appear to be

    taking into account this perspective on learning. As

    Jewitt (2003) has convincingly shown there are many

    ways of reading computer-based simulations of sci-

    ence experiments and a lack of understanding of the

    informal readings that students are likely to bring

    from their out-of-school uses of game software will

    lead to poorly designed science software that could

    provoke students to develop alternative frameworks

    from those intended by a science teacher. As we

    continue to analyse the video data from the project

    we are investigating the nature and extent of the gap

    between students initial informal perspectives devel-

    oped through interaction with an ICT environment and

    what a teacher considers to be an appropriate perspec-

    tive from a subject knowledge point of view. Con-

    structivist theories of learning emphasise the importance

    418 R. Sutherland et al.

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  • of drawing on this informal knowledge, but suggest that

    the shift from informal to more formal ways of knowing

    will happen almost spontaneously. Socio-cultural the-

    ories of learning also emphasise the importance of

    drawing on this informal knowing but point to the role

    of more-knowledgeable-others in this respect.

    There is a paradox here, because it is individual

    engagement with ICT that energises students. But it is

    also this individual engagement that is likely to lead to

    idiosyncratic knowledge construction. Interestingly,

    this seems to be the case whether the software is more

    open-ended and exploratory or more closed and con-

    tent-driven and this relates to humans as constructors

    (and not receivers) of knowledge. For example, in a

    science classroom when the teachers and students

    were working with rather content-focused simulation

    software, created principally as a teaching, rather than

    a learning tool, students engaged by moving between

    different simulations and topics, as opposed to focusing

    on one simulation. We suggest that this exploratory

    practice is likely to have drawn on young peoples out-

    of-school practices of using ICT and in particular their

    use of games software. We also suggest that this ex-

    ploratory practice is an important aspect of learning but

    one that is at odds with the expectation of this particular

    simulation software, where students were expected to

    work in a more linear fashion.

    Developing a balance of whole-class and in-

    dividual/group work seems to be a key aspect of

    productive integration of ICT into school subjects.

    This was evident across all subjects. For example, at

    Colstons Primary School, students used a simple se-

    quencing package to produce a composition to fit a

    given brief. While much of the time was spent work-

    ing in pairs at separate computers, the students were

    encouraged to talk to nearby classmates and allowed

    to move to view others as they worked. This not only

    enabled students to learn new composition ideas but

    also to get help with technical issues. Furthermore,

    many opportunities were provided for sharing work in

    progress: at various points in the lesson the teacher

    included plenary sessions in which students regrouped

    near a specific computer to listen to work and offer

    ideas for further development.

    What seems to be emerging is the importance of

    finding mechanisms for students to present their work

    for critical feedback from others as a way of shifting

    emphasis from individual knowledge to collective and

    shared knowledge. Some subjects, music for example,

    have more of a tradition of such a practice. In music,

    students are often offered opportunities to share their

    work, in process and as final performances, to the

    whole class, at the end of a project. All the music

    teachers in the project SDIs continued this practice

    within their work, even when they were using com-

    puters for the first time. Many of the English teachers

    also incorporated an element of critical feedback from

    students into their SDIs (Matthewman et al. 2004;

    Sutch 2004). Some of the mathematics teachers within

    the project also worked in this way.7 For example,

    when Marnie Weeden worked with 1314-year-old

    students on learning about proof and geometry she

    explicitly built a process of sharing ongoing work into

    her SDI (Weeden 2002; Sutherland et al. 2004). This

    impacted on learning as these mathematics students

    explained when they were interviewed:

    If I was just doing it, I probably wouldnt have gotanywhere, but knowing that we had to present made medo it.

    The fact that we were sharing, put in a competitionelement into the investigation plus we were able tocompare what we had found out. It was a group effortso when a group found out about something anothergroup could continue from there.

    It kinda made you work more because you knew youhad to show something at the end of it. If you donthave to show it, whats the point of working hard at it?

    This collective work brings to the forefront for critical

    discussion by the whole-class key subject area ques-

    tions: what constitutes adequate mathematics, ade-

    quate science and adequate history? We argue that

    collective and critical discussion supports students to

    enter the inner world of a school subject. It is clear in

    the case of mathematical proof, for instance, that

    students are unlikely to discover spontaneously what

    constitutes this very particular practice through their

    own informal investigations. Rather, they have to be

    inducted into this practice. Within each subject there

    7Some of the project mathematics teachers have been influenced by the

    work of Hungarian mathematics teachers, For example teachers at John

    Cabot City Technology College use MEP mathematics (http:// Marnie Weedon was trained on the University

    of Bristol PGCE course (

    pgce/course/maths) and each year PGCE students exchange visits with

    Hungarian mathematics teachers.

    Transforming teaching and learning 419

    & Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004 Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20, pp413425

  • will also be different and possibly competing views

    about what constitutes the subject. All teachers bring

    to the classroom a view about this views that are

    often tacit, historical and experiential. These implicit

    theories of their subject may be influenced, in part, by

    what is specified in the National Curriculum but are

    more likely to be affected by each teachers personal

    curriculum (Gudmunsdotir 2000).

    The interactive whiteboard has a potential role to

    play in conjoining the teachers personal curriculum

    to the knowledge of students in classroom settings.

    This piece of technology was exploited successfully

    by several teachers in the InterActive Project. Non-

    digital whiteboards likewise have considerable po-

    tential in this area (Godwin & Sutherland 2004).

    Another way of constructing a common knowledge

    community is highlighted by the work of Simon Mills

    at Teyfant School. He is experimenting with digital

    photography and ways of incorporating such resources

    into PowerPoint so that collective and whole-class

    work can be better exhibited (Mills 2004).

    Despite this reservoir of common knowledge made

    up as it is of teacher and student ideas and expertise,

    students still perceive the teacher as the knowledge

    provider because of the inherited traditions of school-

    ing. However, within this pool of knowledge there are

    likely to be some students who are actually more

    knowledgeable about using software than the teacher.

    The example of music sequencing software is a case in

    point. In such instances, the creative teacher will always

    find ways of drawing upon this pool of expertise.

    How then can we conceptualise the role of the

    teacher when integrating ICT into their subject

    teaching? Much has been written about the use of ICT

    in changing the role of the teacher from teller to

    facilitator. We are particularly concerned about this

    rather over-simplified polarisation of the teachers

    role. We view the teachers role as involving a com-

    plex shifting of perspectives from the more-knowl-

    edgeable-other, to the co-constructor of knowledge,

    to the vicarious participant. In this sense a teacher is

    analogous to the first violin8 in an orchestra some-

    times leading, sometimes playing-with and sometimes

    being silent. As discussed already, a socio-cultural

    perspective recognises the fact that each student brings

    their own personal history of learning to any new

    learning situation. This diversity of student experience

    might appear to be an almost impossible challenge for

    the teacher, but as our research shows, creative tea-

    chers are experienced at bringing together these dif-

    ferences to orchestrate a whole one that is far greater

    than the sum of its parts.

    Integrating ICT into subject cultures

    How then can teachers integrate ICT tools into their

    everyday teaching to transform learning? We would

    argue that it is important to understand and unpack the

    inter-related cultural influences that both enhance and

    constrain what is possible. We have started to explore

    these issues in the previous sections of this paper and

    can begin to see how important it is to consider both

    the subject culture, the culture of the school sector and

    to understand this within national educational cultures.

    We also suggest that it is important to understand the

    ways in which ICT can be productively integrated into

    subject learning and will begin to tease out the char-

    acteristics of constructive uses of ICT within the fol-

    lowing section of the paper.

    When ICT was effectively embedded within a

    subject, project teachers embraced learning for them-

    selves and used ICT tools to transform their own

    knowledge of their subject areas and develop, expand

    and adjust their teaching repertoire. This is illustrated

    by the way in which Paul Taylor (from Cotham Sec-

    ondary School) used Cubase VST 5.1 to enable a

    mixed ability Year 9 class to explore the relationship

    between film and music. He designed a template for

    students to use, which contained prepared musical

    cliches, that had to be synchronised with a film that

    was placed on each computer so that it could be

    8The metaphor of playing a violin could be extended to think about what

    it means to be a person-acting-with-mediational-means Take a string

    instrument. You could analyse it by saying, my pinkie, when on the bow,

    has this kind of pressure, and at the same time my thumb is doing this

    and then each finger is kind of moving in an independent choreography,

    etc. At some point when youre learning the violin, you do isolate each

    finger and the arm, but the reason the violin is so wonderful is it takes

    these many, many different motions and weights and activities that can

    all be integrated, are all coordinated. I mean, youre moving this arm like

    this. At the point that you play the violin, the last thing you want to do is

    think about the arm separately. You learn little by little the way it feels to

    have all of these actions coordinated, and in some magical way well

    its not so magical, its the way we do everything in the world you

    think about everything together. You dont think about the angle of your

    wrist and the pressure here and the speed there as being separate. You

    cant think of them separately. (Ted Machover, http://newmusicbox.


    420 R. Sutherland et al.

    & Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004 Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20, pp413425

  • viewed at the same time as the musical template. In

    pairs students were asked not only to simply arrange

    the fragments of music but also to cut, copy and paste

    them appropriately. In addition, they were required to

    compose their own sections to fit the film. In this in-

    itiative, the ICT offered new possibilities for students

    to compose within a new genre and with a wider range

    of sounds than are normally available within a music

    classroom. Another example of teachers engaging

    with new genres and transforming their own knowl-

    edge came from English. Chris Davies and Adrian

    Blight (John Cabot City Technology College) ex-

    perimented with hypertext as a way of enhancing

    students literary understanding. Year 10 students

    constructed a revision website about their examination

    text Of Mice and Men. They were able to synthesise

    class teaching, individual research and a variety of

    textual resources through group collaboration. Stu-

    dents reported enhanced understanding of the

    text as well as satisfaction with the process of teaching

    and learning. In a similar way Year 13 students pro-

    duced a website about First World War literature.

    This activity was designed to encourage students to

    make links between contexts and texts and to

    connect ideas and themes across texts. Analysis of

    students essays after the SDI showed increased

    instances of linking out to context and linking between


    Within the successful cases, teachers used the re-

    sources of the researcher and teacher-members of their

    subject design team to generate ideas for embedding

    ICT into teaching and learning and to scaffold their

    classroom work. The following quote begins to ex-

    plain why Ellie Coombs, a mathematics teacher from

    John Cabot City Technology College, valued this way

    of working with the University team.

    I really enjoyed having the meeting with you two [re-searchers at the University], it gave me so many ideas.

    [. . .] What did I enjoy? . . . not having the attention onme, but having the attention on my lesson and myplanning was just really nice.

    And that was really nice to just be able to bounce ideasoff somebody else. Because I think you are quite iso-lated when you are a teacher, you are in the classroomon your own and you do your own things in a way, notthat in-depth because people dont have time in school.And I really enjoyed that aspect of it. And just that youwere coming up with lots of new things thatI hadnt thought of. And as well I really felt that yougave me a lot of confidence in trying out differentthings and you were just like Yeah go ahead andjust do it.

    Successful cases capitalised on the potential of ICT to

    provide rapid feedback that supports the construction

    of knowledge. This is illustrated by the way in which

    Ellie used a dynamic software package in mathematics

    to support students to see the effects of a negative

    scale factor, a property that students would normally

    find very difficult.

    Sam and Nabil construct Fig. 1a in Cabri and startchanging the scale factor.

    Nabil: Ehi Sam look at this! Sam, it turns around! (Fig. 1b)

    Because its going minus isnt it so it goes the other

    way .. so it . . . if say .. if we . . . wow!

    Sam: Move that one.

    Nabil: This one?

    Nabil changes the scale factor instead. The trans-

    formed figure disappears from the screen.

    Nabil: Its running away Sam! Its running away!

    (Fig. 1c)

    Ellie: Oh, its running away! That was an interesting thing.

    What happens when you do a negative?

    Nabil: It goes the opposite way.

    Ellie: It goes the opposite way. Cool. Yes, when its ne-

    gative. Do a negative again so that we can see it a bit

    better. It turns upside down, doesnt it?

    So you can really comment on that. Thats what I

    meant by orientation, because it does not stay the

    same way around. Well done boys!

    Fig. 1 (ac) Feedback from a mathematics software package concerning negative scaling.

    Transforming teaching and learning 421

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  • Successful cases also supported students to engage for

    sustained periods of time in activities that related to

    what the teacher intended to teach. This is illustrated

    by the way in which Elizabeth Lazarus and Ruth Cole

    (Sir Bernard Lovell School) used ICT in German

    lessons to transform students writing and to heighten

    their awareness of grammar. These teachers used

    drop-down menus in Word to construct writing

    frames9 that enabled students to write within a pre-

    designed template that both structured their writing

    and allowed for creative writing within the free-space

    textboxes (Taylor & Cole 2002). Another example of

    the way in which students used word processors came

    from history, where ICT slowly became incorporated

    into the accepted subject culture. This was all the more

    pertinent given the long-standing scepticism towards

    technology that exists within the humanities. As Bar-

    nett (1994) points out too often school curriculum

    structures and traditions confirm technology as a

    ghetto for ingenious, specialist tinkerers, and the Hu-

    manities as the natural home for anti-technologists.

    Within this SDI Alan Reid was slowly inducted into

    the use of word processing techniques so that his Year

    10 GCSE class might improve the quality of their

    writing and analysis. Although the approach was what

    Counsell (2003) terms a low convergence activity it

    did provide us with enough leverage to see whether

    changes in Alans perception about the environ-

    mental conditions in the computer classroom, com-

    bined with perceived improvements in his own levels

    of confidence and competence with ICT, might shift

    his practice. The results were encouraging and in-

    dicated that the quality of writing produced by his

    students improved markedly from that of earlier at-

    tempts with more conventional forms of expression.

    The ability to save and re-draft in an iterative way

    allowed Alan to provide greater input into his stu-

    dents substantive thinking about the topic under study

    Prohibition in the 1920s in the USA. Alan was also

    astounded by the levels of interaction that were taking

    place when his students were working with the on-

    screen documents and the integrated websites. For the

    lower ability students, the writing frames also proved to

    be helpful, allowing them to construct their answers

    within a more structured framework. He commented: I

    couldnt believe the change in them, in class they take

    ages to get started but to my surprise they really got into

    it and brought in so many new sources that I couldnt

    get access to. Their writing seems to be better too. Ive

    marked their earlier stuff and this was much better

    mainly I think because they were able to draft and edit

    and that gave them confidence. In terms of his own

    perception of the use of ICT Alan had also changed his

    mind. He was suspicious of ICT early on, particularly

    its ability to enhance learning within set examination

    and institutional targets. He saw it as something extra

    we have to do rather than being integral to his work. At

    the end of the SDI, however, he was more supportive

    and thoughtful about its use and deployment. He

    opined: You know I wasnt really into ICT and I had

    some real doubts about it, with the sort of exams and

    the pressure we have here, but Ive really changed. It

    wasnt so disruptive and once I got more confident I

    realised that history is still the same. In fact the kids

    were excellent and their writing was so much better.

    In many of the less successful cases of embedding

    ICT into subject cultures, the teachers did not or-

    chestrate a knowledge community, seemingly believ-

    ing that somehow knowledge was embedded within

    the software, that the technology would do the teach-

    ing. We should not be surprised by this finding, be-

    cause many teachers may have been persuaded by the

    hype that is attached to the use of ICT in school that

    ICT itself causes learning. But as one of the project

    teachers said Its just another tool and its what you

    can do with it that counts and not the tool itself.

    Other factors emerging as significant in less suc-

    cessful cases were related to technical difficulties.

    Sometimes it was literally just too difficult to get the

    technology to work. For example in the case of music

    in one school, the music teacher decided to modify a

    current Year 8 scheme of work on composing Spanish

    music to incorporate the use of composition software.

    The four music computers had only been installed in

    the classroom the week before, and therefore this was

    the first time that students had used them. A number of

    issues arose from this teachers work. With only four

    music computers for work with a class of over 25, the

    teacher had to support instrumental composition at

    the same time as work on the computers; this is often

    the case for music teachers, and is not easy because

    students composing in groups with instruments need

    different support to those composing at the computer.

    9A writing frame is a template that structures writing by creating gaps

    in text that students have to fill in for themselves.

    422 R. Sutherland et al.

    & Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004 Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20, pp413425

  • It was only after teaching the initiative that the teacher

    realised the necessity to completely reconsider the

    structure of the scheme of work in order to incorporate

    the use of ICT: it could not merely be bolted on.

    When redesigning the initiative, after the project, she

    developed computer musical templates (similar to

    writing frames) to enable students to focus on specific

    areas of work and this provided them with the support

    they needed to become more successful in their out-

    comes. She also had technological difficulties that the

    general school technician could not support; students

    lost so much time when the computers would not work

    at all that the high attainers working on the computers

    produced work of a much lower standard than usual

    and were de-motivated.

    Getting the technology to work adequately was also

    a problem for one English teacher. Her design in-

    volved students in making digital narratives. She

    began by attempting to integrate the structure of the

    national literacy strategy into her teaching within

    the ICT suite. However, the mixture of whole-class

    and individual work caused tensions as students

    worked individually at different rates. Other pressures

    included the lack of flexibility in booking the ICT

    suite; the lack of a data projector to support whole-

    class work and the teachers lack of confidence with

    the ICT equipment and software. This combination of

    factors meant that the focus was on management of the

    class and class output rather than student learning.

    Sometimes the support of the SDT scaffolded teachers

    working within less than adequate technical support

    systems to transcend local constraints. For example, in

    one primary school the university researchers spent

    considerable time making sure the software was loa-

    ded onto the network before the SDI and arrived in

    good time before each lesson to double-check that the

    technical issues had been sorted.

    As discussed already some secondary subject tea-

    chers found it too constraining to take students to a

    computer room at a fixed time, which did not fit with the

    flow and rhythm of subject teaching. This was particu-

    larly the case with science and history teachers.

    Mathematics teachers who also expressed concern about

    such constraints were able to use portable graphics

    calculators within their own mathematics classroom.

    What all these less successful cases suggest from

    the perspective of person-acting-with-mediational

    means is that the starting point for productive in-

    tegration of ICT into subject teaching is that a teacher

    has to be able to adequately act with the particular

    chosen ICT tool. The vast majority of project teachers

    had not integrated ICT into their subject teaching be-

    fore becoming members of the project. This suggests

    that it is important to understand the nature and extent

    of the support provided by the SDI as discussed by Pat

    Triggs and Peter John in this issue. Can this model of

    professional development be scaled up? We con-

    jecture that it will be possible once we have developed

    our understanding of the complex factors that enhance

    and constrain the ways in which a teacher can innovate

    with ICT in the classroom.

    Some concluding remarks

    The results of the InterActive Education Project have

    led us to ask questions about the relative roles of digital

    and non-digital tools in teaching and learning. We

    suggest that within a particular knowledge domain it

    may be important for young people to be able to work

    with both digital and non-digital tools. For example, is

    it important to be able to compose with a digital com-

    position package and with a musical instrument, using

    traditional notation? Is it important to write with paper

    as well as with a word processor? Is it important to do

    geometry on paper as well as with a dynamic geometry

    package? Is it important to carry out science experi-

    ments in the lab, as well as within a digital simulation?

    How a teacher answers these questions will relate to

    their own philosophical perspective on their subject.

    For example, in music traditionalists believe that it is

    vital to gain instrumental and theoretical skills and

    harmonic awareness, including notation skills, to

    compose and that music ICT is an easy and less mu-

    sical option. Others also believe in the superiority of

    traditional skills but recognise that sequencing software

    broadens possibilities for composition. Others (and this

    includes the authors of this paper Nick Beeze and

    Marina Gall) believe that different skills are used with

    digital approaches to composition.

    We suggest that it is important for teachers

    and policy makers to engage with these types of

    discussions and not treat ICT tools as unproblematic

    innovations that will somehow lead to enhanced

    learning and that necessarily replace older technol-

    ogies. These discussions need to move beyond what is

    needed for assessment (e.g. students need to write with

    pen and paper alone and under pressure because that is

    Transforming teaching and learning 423

    & Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004 Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20, pp413425

  • the dominant mode of assessment). In fact modes of

    assessment should reflect what is important for the

    world beyond school. We would argue that if policy

    makers developing national assessment and teachers

    developing formative assessment could take into ac-

    count the idea of person-acting-with-mediational-

    means, then we might begin to see different types of

    assessment being produced.

    More importantly students should also be engaging

    in discussions about the relative merits of different

    tools, so that they can become resourceful learners.

    Here, as discussed in the beginning of this paper we

    interpret the idea of tool broadly and so person-acting-

    with-mediational-means could be person-acting-with-

    another-person, person-acting-with-ICT, or person-

    acting-with-particular knowledge. In this sense young

    people could become aware, for example, of the re-

    lative affordances of paper and pencil, a word pro-

    cessor, PowerPoint, or discussion with a peer, when

    communicating ideas.

    Humans are expert at creating tools to transform

    practices and knowledge. ICTs are part of this creative

    production. Knowing how to use these tools to trans-

    form learning in schools is not so straightforward. This

    is because new ICT tools often challenge an existing

    practice of teaching and threaten a well-established

    knowledge domain. We have seen through the work of

    the InterActive Education Project that teachers can

    begin to develop ways of embedding ICT into their

    subject teaching and that a good starting point is to

    creatively exploit readily available software for

    teaching and learning.


    This paper is based on the work of the project Inter-

    Active Education: Teaching and Learning in the In-

    formation Age. This is a 4-year research and

    development project funded from December 2000

    until August 2004 by the UK Economic and Social

    Research Council (ref; L139251060) as part of Phase

    II of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme

    (see The project is directed by

    Rosamund Sutherland (University of Bristol) and co-

    directed by Susan Robertson (University of Bristol)

    and Peter John (University of Plymouth). Other

    members of the team are: Dele Aboudrin, David Ba-

    dlan, Rebecca Ball, Sally Barnes, Richard Brawn,

    Bryan Berry, Rob Beswetherick, Andrew Biggs, Chas

    Blacker, Adrian Blight, Jan Bovill, Helena Brazier,

    Nick Breeze, Linda Bridgeman, Natalie Butterworth,

    Chris Carter, Ruth Cole, Ellie Coombs, Roger Dale,

    Chris Davies, Tim Davies, Richard Eon, Keri Facer,

    Fern Faux, Marina Gall, Alan George, Marie Gibbs,

    Steve Godwin, Andrew Harman, Jo Heppinstall, Su-

    zanne Houghton, Ben Houghton, Sally Jenkins, Judi

    Johnston Hubbold, Peter John, Pam Kelly, Naomi

    Kent, Linda Baggott LaVelle, Elisabeth Lazarus,

    Kerry Manley, Ross Martland, Sasha Matthewman,

    Angela McFarlane, Sam Mills, Simon Mills, Heidi

    Moulder, Federica Olivero, Pat Peel, Richard Rees,

    Sven Rees, Catherine Robertson, Susan Robertson,

    Andrew Rome, Emma Scott-Cook, Joe Sharp, Tim

    Shortis, Paul Stephens-Woods, Daniel Sutch, Rosa-

    mund Sutherland, Alison Taylor, Paul Taylor, Ian

    Thompson, Maria Thompson, Celia Tidmarsh, Neil

    Todman, Pat Triggs, Toby Tyas, Nigel Varley, Marnie

    Weeden, Paul Wilson, Rachel Yates and Rachel Zewde.


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