Interactive education: teaching and learning in the information age

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  • Interactive education: teaching and learningin the information ageR. Sutherland, S. Robertson & P. JohnwGraduate School of Education, University of Bristol, UK

    wFaculty of Education, University of Plymouth, UK

    Introduction and background

    In 1999, the Economic and Social Research Council

    (ESRC) in the UK launched the Teaching and

    Learning Research Programme, in response to con-

    cerns about the impact of educational research on

    educational practice.1 This is a major programme of

    research with the objective of supporting the teaching

    and learning community to improve the achievement

    of learners across a wide range of contexts, by provid-

    ing evidence from high-quality research and ensuring

    its impact on practice. The programme recognises the

    complexities of teaching and learning and intends to

    build on the achievements of both the teaching and the

    research communities. Collaboration between re-

    searchers and practitioners is central to the programme

    together with a commitment to transform research

    findings into practical action that has a wide impact.

    This special section derives from the work of one of

    the ESRC Teaching and Learning Programme pro-

    jects, InterActive Education: Teaching and Learning

    in the Information Age (http://www.interactiveeducation., whose overall aim is to investigate the ways in

    which new technologies can be used in educational

    settings to enhance learning. The project was pre-

    dicated on two assumptions: first that teachers are

    central to learning in schools and that much of pre-

    vious research on the use of information and com-

    munications technology (ICT) for learning has

    underemphasised this crucial role (Sutherland & Ba-

    lacheff, 1999); second that ICT should be incorporated

    into a designed learning situation as appropriate, with

    attention being paid to the whole classroom context

    including classroom talk, work on paper and other

    technologies that are usually available to a teacher.

    The project centred around the design and evalua-

    tion of teaching and learning initiatives within the

    areas of English, geography, history, mathematics,

    modern foreign languages, music and science. This

    work was organised around subject design teams

    (SDTs) that consisted of partnerships between tea-

    chers, teacher educators and researchers, who devel-

    oped subject design initiatives (SDIs) that addressed

    key learning areas within their subject domain. These

    design initiatives were informed in an iterative way by

    theory, research-based evidence, teachers craft

    knowledge and the research teams expertise. Also,

    the research was structured around five interwoven

    strands: teaching and learning; management and pol-

    icy; subject cultures; professional development; and

    learners out-of-school uses of new technologies.

    The research was framed by a socio-cultural theory

    of learning, which suggests that the mental functioning

    of an individual has its origins in social life (Wertsch

    1991). This position stresses the crucial role that

    communication through language and other semiotic

    systems plays in learning and points to the importance

    of creating classroom environments that support the

    communication and exchange of ideas. From the

    outset of the project, we were aware that a socio-cul-

    tural perspective might not be adequate to theorise the

    ways in which explicit and implicit policy initiatives

    shape the possibilities for using ICT in the classroom.

    As a result, we drew on a series of frameworks within

    the policy-making and policy-shaping domain.

    Methodological approach

    Our view is that methodology should be viewed as a

    process of human construction of generalisations as

    opposed to a toolbox of ready-made methods.

    It entails mutually linked components of general as-sumptions about the world at large (axioms), specificconstructed theories of the given target area, under-

    Correspondence: R. Sutherland, Graduate School of Education,

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


    1For more information on this programme, see

    410 r Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004 Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20, pp410412

    SPECIAL SECTIONGuest Editorial

  • standing of pertinent phenomena, and finally, ways ofconstructing specific methods to transform some as-pects of the phenomena into purposefully derived data.Data are always constructed or better derived fromphenomena on the basis of the investigators reasoning(Valsiner 2000, p. 63).

    This implies that members of the research team have

    to interrogate their own assumptions and constructed

    theories, and considerable attention was given to the

    relationship between analytical categories and data

    collection. Within this context, the specific research

    methods being used are multi-layered operating at a

    macro-, meso- and micro-level within schools. In

    particular, the research teams are developing expertise

    in digital video as a research tool and integrating the

    use of both qualitative and quantitative data into the

    research process. In order to capture the dynamic in-

    teraction between teacher and students, a video cam-

    era is placed in the corner of the classroom and left to

    record without interference. The video data are then

    viewed in real time and passages identified for more

    detailed analysis using categories, that are developed

    from both theory and data. In order to explore the

    learning dimension of what students have been doing,

    we develop conjectures from our analysis and play

    back critical episodes of video data. The video- and

    computer- based textual record is therefore both a

    source of data and a stimulus for reflective discussion

    with teachers.

    From personalised to participative learning

    A key result of the project is that high levels of student

    engagement are normally associated with the use of

    ICT, whether in school or at home. Students can work

    for extended periods of time investigating their own

    questions and experimenting with ideas in an inter-

    active and iterative way. We have seen this whether

    students are investigating language and spelling, in-

    vestigating the properties of quadrilaterals, developing

    their own compositions in music or writing e-mails to

    a German correspondent. This relates to the power and

    potential of ICT for learning. However, there is a

    creative tension inherent in this capability of ICT. We

    have found that extended individual engagement can

    lead to the construction of idiosyncratic knowledge

    that is at odds with the intended learning. For example,

    when a group of primary students were investigating

    the properties of a parallelogram through interacting

    with geometry software, they recorded the following:

    It has four sides, they are like train tracks, they areparallel, it doesnt have any right angles, its the colourturquoise, it can be a diamond.

    All of these statements are correct, but some of them

    are not appropriate within the context of school


    Using digital video, we were able to capture class-

    room processes of knowledge construction and are

    beginning to understand the ways in which effective

    teaching and learning with ICT involves finding ways

    of building bridges between individual and idiosyn-

    cratic and institutional knowledge. Making visible

    the individual work of students through group work

    and whole class work becomes even more important

    when ICT is used in the classroom. This can involve

    students presenting their work to a critical audience

    with the teacher commenting and directing. Here, the

    interactive whiteboard or a projected computer image

    can be a powerful new tool. 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 the

    classroom activity. This impacted on learning and

    knowledge building as these students explained:

    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?

    Constructivist views of learning have tended to as-

    sume that it is possible to move seamlessly from in-

    formal knowledge worlds into the more formal worlds

    of school knowledge. We challenge this perspective.

    We contend that students are unlikely to develop ideas

    about mathematical proof from ideas of everyday

    reasoning without the support of a teacher. We further

    argue that students are unlikely to develop ideas about

    the Italian Renaissance from their ideas about popular

    culture without the support of a teacher. They are also

    unlikely to develop ideas about the etymology of the

    Teaching and learning in the information age 411

    & Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004 Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20, pp410412

  • English language from their everyday experiences of

    speaking and writing English, without the support of a

    teacher. What this suggests is that the teacher is cru-

    cial in organising the social and cultural milieu of the

    classroom so that students can begin to use the lan-

    guage; practices and tools that are a central part of a

    particular knowledge world. ICT alone cannot do this

    and it is unlikely that students will be able to organise

    for themselves the social networks that relate to learn-

    ing about mathematical proof, the Italian Renaissance

    and the etymology of the English language. And it is

    even less likely that the more socially disadvantaged

    students will be able to do this for themselves.

    The papers in this section are illustrative of the

    theoretical and methodological assumptions outlined

    above. They also represent four out of the five research

    strands that guide the research process. The profes-

    sional development process is described and analysed

    in the paper: From Transaction to Transformation:

    ICT, professional development and the formation of

    communities of practice. Drawing on a range of data,

    the authors illustrate how interconnected micro-,

    meso- and macro-communities evolved within the

    project to create the settings for improved professional

    growth. The paper Transforming Teaching and

    Learning: Embedding ICT into Everyday Classroom

    Practices focuses on teaching and learning in the

    classroom, highlighting the creative tensions inherent

    in embedding ICT in subject-based learning. This

    paper also emphasises the influence of young peoples

    out-of-school uses of ICT on in-school learning, which

    is discussed in more detail in the paper Different

    Worlds? A comparison of young peoples home and

    school use of ICT. Finally, drawing on three dimen-

    sions of policy (mandate, capacity, governance) the

    paper You cant not go with the technological flow,

    can you? Constructing ICT and teaching and learning

    argues that recognising the nature of the effects of

    policy and management on teaching and learning is

    crucial to understanding the potential of ICT for en-

    hancing learning.

    The findings from the collection suggest that if

    personalised learning becomes synonymous with in-

    dividualised learning, then it is likely to limit the

    knowledge creation of future generations of citizens.

    On the other hand, if personalised learning becomes

    linked to participation in communities of learning and

    partnerships between teachers, parents and young

    people, then we will be building a solid basis for

    educating young people for the 21st century.


    Sutherland R. & Balacheff N. (1999) Didactical complexity

    of computational environments for the learning of

    Mathematics. International Journal of Computers for

    Mathematical Learning 4, 126.

    Valsiner J. (2000) Culture and Human Development. Sage,


    Wertsch J. (1991) Voices of the Mind. A Sociocultural Ap-

    proach to Mediated Action. Harvester, London.

    412 R. Sutherland et al.

    & Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004 Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20, pp410412