Enthusiasm among teachers and principals for potential of ICT to benefit teaching and learning

Schools report a number of barriers to integrating ICT and online resources across classrooms

A new report published by the ESRI today investigated the potential of high-speed broadband provision to transform teaching and learning in second-level classrooms. The research examined how students, teachers and principals have responded to the opportunity for increased use of ICT resources in schools and assessed how such changes impacted on the experiences of both students and teachers across second-level schools in Ireland.

The research was conducted in response to the rollout of high-speed broadband to second-level schools as part of Ireland’s National Digital Strategy undertaken by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in collaboration with the Department of Education and Skills, focusing on the role of technology in schools shortly before and after schools received connectivity. The study used data from large-scale surveys of principals and teachers in over 400 schools and an in-depth case study of ten schools. The study is unique in that it placed importance on the views of students, which are largely absent from studies of ICT adoption.

The report found that broadband provision made a noticeable impact on the quality and use of the internet in schools and that staff had a very positive reaction to the development, with many reporting that broadband provision had a significant impact on teaching and learning. However, participants reported a number of persistent challenges that are likely to hinder further progress, largely centred on requirements for investment in infrastructure, enhanced technical support and accessible professional development for teachers.

School leadership

  • While there is widespread use of ICT resources in school administration, classroom usage varies considerably across schools and is heavily influenced by the support offered by school leadership in implementing the level of change required. Only some schools have adopted a whole-school approach to integrating ICT in classrooms or implemented formal policies.
  • Schools reported a requirement for increased support and guidelines at a national level and reported that current guidelines were not aligned with the latest developments in technology. The newly established Centre for School Leadership is likely to play a role in addressing this issue.

Infrastructural investment and technical support

  • ICT coordinators expressed interest in playing a greater role in leading pedagogical change, by coordinating ICT integration and promoting efficient use of technology throughout their schools.
  • Schools reported the considerable amount of work involved in maintenance and upkeep of the technology. ICT coordinators reported that their time and resources allowed for daily maintenance of computing facilities only.
  • While high-speed broadband has resolved the issue of an unreliable internet connection, other infrastructural issues remain in the form of internal school network reliability, ICT equipment quality and the availability of online resources.

Experiences of  using ICT for teaching and learning

  • Teachers and principals expressed a willingness and enthusiasm towards maximising the benefits of ICT resources in classrooms and were positive about the potential for ICT to promote collaboration among students, develop higher order thinking skills, meet diverse student needs and support tailored approaches to teaching.
  • While teacher’s engagement in ICT training and professional development varied across schools, many teachers reported needing support not just in learning how to use the technologies but also to help them make judgements about the most appropriate technologies to use.
  • Most students were positive about the changes brought about by ICT in the classroom and reported enjoying the use of e-learning platforms, PowerPoint and multimedia software. Students also reported receiving adequate information relating to online responsibility at school.
  • Students reported a lighter school bag and easy access to information for project work among the benefits of using personal devices for school work. However they voiced dissatisfaction with the quality of some educational apps, in addition to the high cost of purchasing and maintaining such devices.

Seán Lyons, Associate Research Professor and an author of the report, commented “The report finds broadly positive attitudes to increased usage of ICT in the classroom and evidence of a growing place for technology in schools. Developing leadership at both national and school levels to support staff in responding to the changes involved, in addition to providing the required infrastructural supports, is critical to cultivating successful use of ICT in classrooms”.

Responding to the publication of the report, Mr Denis Naughten, TD, Minister for Communications, Climate Action, and Environment, commented “The classroom needs to reflect the reality of the world outside and a key priority for me as Minister for Communications is to build on the State’s investment in broadband connectivity to every second level school in Ireland by continuing to actively support the transition to digital technology in teaching and learning.  Under the Programme for Partnership Government commitments, a coding course for the Junior Cycle and ICT/Computer Science as a Leaving Certificate subject will be introduced. This will see technology further embedded in our education system which not alone enriches the educational experience, but importantly, will equip our young people with the skillset required to meet the demands of an increasingly connected workplace and society. I welcome the commitment of teachers and principals, and the appetite of students for more technological learning at school which is evident in today’s ESRI’s research report, which my Department funded.”

Commenting on the research findings, Mr Richard Bruton, TD, Minister for Education and Skills said “This report highlights how ICT usage can further our aims in the Irish education system and highlights the numerous benefits of online resources in the classroom, from allowing teachers flexibility to respond to diverse students needs to developing transverse skills among students. As a whole, the report contains useful insights for ICT in education in Ireland that is aligned with international progress in this space, and reflected in the policy objectives my Department will be implementing in the area, contained in the Digital Strategy for Schools. I have asked the NCCA to consider how coding can be introduced into the primary school curriculum. Coding is already a short course at junior cycle and the NCCA is considering the introduction of computer science as a full leaving certificate subject.”