Where’s the evidence?

I’ve found myself thinking a lot this weekend of someone who was a mentor, advisor, colleague and friend for many years. Dr Vince Ham would have turned 70 on Friday of last week had he not succumbed to the cancer that sadly took him from us seven years ago.

While saddened by a sense of loss and missing having him around, the reminder of his birthday brought back a lot of memories of the incredible contribution he has made to our understanding of the value and impact of digital technologies in education, and the privilege it was to work alongside him on much of this.

Vince was a pioneer in the field of research into the contribution of digital technologies in education. As a young teacher he was a history teacher at Nelson College for Girls who introduced computers into his history classes. In those days there wasn’t much in the way of interactive software around, so he taught himself to code enough to create a piece of interactive software based around the exploration of an archaeological dig – and not just any dig, but one based in the context of Aotearoa, with a great deal of Māori historical and cultural knowledge built into it.

He progressed from there to lecture at the Christchurch College of Education which is where I had the privilege of working alongside him, before he joined Nick Billowes and myself to set up what was known as Ultralab South, now CORE Education.

An accomplished academic with a particular interest in research methodology (his post-doctoral Master’s degree focused on the development of a methodology to assist in the research of experiences in using digital technologies in teaching and learning), Vince undertook some significant pieces of research into the use of ICT/digital technologies in education which continue to inform our practice today. In any forum where the impact of ICTs on teaching and learning was being discussed you could always hear Vince asking; “but where’s the evidence?”

Vince was a total advocate for empowering teachers to understand and ‘be in control’ of what they were doing with ICT. A favourite saying of his was “any teacher who can be replaced by a computer should be!” This wasn’t suggesting at all that computers will replace teachers. His passion was in motivating and empowering educators to use technology wisely to exploit new ways of making learning engaging and meaningful. And a key part of that for Vince was working with evidence – finding the things that worked and understanding ‘why’ through observation, gathering of data, and developing deeper insights and understandings about our practice as a result.

One of the projects I had the privilege of working with Vince on was an evaluation of the impact of the ICT-PD programme on the first 23 clusters of schools involved in that programme between 1999 and 2001 -following the release of the first ICT Strategy for Schools. The report is titled What makes for effective teacher professional development in ICT? and is available on the EducationCounts website.

This was perhaps one of the most comprehensive research activities undertaken on behalf of the Ministry of Education, three years of repeated visits to the participating schools, involving many thousands of hours of observing teachers and students in classrooms, thousands more interviews with students, teachers, facilitators and school leaders, and then hundreds of hours of meticulously processing the data to find the patterns and insights leading to the development of some frameworks and models to support principals, teachers and facilitators in the design and implementation of their approach to PLD, and to help guide the Ministry’s future investment in ICT.

This evaluation of the initial clusters between 1999 and 2001 focused on:

  • assessing the ingredients for successful cluster models of ICT teacher professional development;
  • the effects of the professional development on classroom teaching and student learning;
  • wider school effects of the professional development such as planning and administration.

The key questions that guided that research were:

  • What is effective integration of ICT?
  • How can we ensure that what we’re doing with ICTs has educational worth?
  • What is educational value?

Based on the compelling sets of evidence gathered through this research the team concluded that the effective integration of ICT is most likely to occur when…

  • There is a consistency between teaching practices and teaching orientation (Philosophy and beliefs)
  • ICTs are used frequently across a range of topics/curriculum areas/year levels (Coverage)
  • ICTs are used to promote greater levels of higher order thinking and creativity (Challenge)
  • School level and other infrastructure enables greater access and use of ICTs for learning (Accessibility)
  • Regular use of ICTs occurs as a natural part of learning, not ‘leading’ what happens in the classroom (Prominence)
  • Learning that involves the use of ICTs is connected to other learning in the classroom (Connectedness)
  • ICTs are assimilated into the natural flow of learning (Transparency)

As I’ve been pursuing these thoughts I found the clip below in my archive. In it, Vince summarises the key findings from that research:

What prompted this reflection was a number of forums and discussions I’ve participated in recent years where the same questions are being asked – from working with teachers in classrooms, principals in schools and educational policy makers. Most (in fact pretty much all) of those I speak to have no knowledge of this research ever having been undertaken, nor of the findings that could so profoundly inform what we are doing – even today!

It seems that as a profession we fall constantly into the trap of what writer and philosopher George Santayana warned when he said…

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Thus I thought it timely to surface some of this thinking, and dig out some of the models and frameworks that were developed as a result, in the hope that educators of today may find it helpful to have access to this sort of evidence-based, research-informed information as they face the decisions before them about how best to integrate technology into daily teaching and learning activity.

I plan to follow up with a couple of future posts to explain the frameworks that were developed out of this research – they’re still very relevant and useful in today’s context.

5 thoughts on “Where’s the evidence?

  1. Oh wow, I was involved in this research as a second year teacher in 2000 at Papatoetoe HS! We had a facilitator come work with a group of us in the school. Fate maybe!

  2. A fantastic mentor who challenged our thinking as the first cohort of efellows. Remembering Vince and his contribution to Education.

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