Validity of ICT assessment at 16: student perceptions

Bradshaw, Pete (2008). Validity of ICT assessment at 16: student perceptions. In: IT in Teacher Education Research Seminar, 28-29 Nov 2008, Cambridge, UK.


A presentation of progress towards a PhD. Abstract PhD proposal:

Context. A variety of contexts for learning may be identified - formal, informal and non-formal (Eraut, 2000, EC, 2001). There is a proliferation of access to ICT in non-formal home and community settings (Lewin, 2004, BESA, 2005). It would seem self-evident therefore that an individual with high ICT capability may have learnt this through formal school programmes, through use of ICT to support other formal study or in non-formal, ‘leisure’ activities. Colley et al define of the structure of any learning activity (2002), its setting and purposes can be analysed in relation to its process, including assessment, and content. McFarlane (2001) identifies the tension between the use of ICT and its assessment.

For most school students, formal external assessment of ICT and other subjects in secondary schools is carried out at three points – the end of Key Stage 3 at age 14, GCSE or equivalent at age 16, and GCE A level at age 18 (with partial, AS assessment at age 17) (DfES, 2005a).

This is a fast changing landscape (McCormick, 2004). Since 2002, students have had the opportunity to follow ‘vocational’ programmes in ICT, known as Applied ICT at GCSE and GCE level. The first examinations for these programmes took place in 2004 alongside the ‘standard’, or ‘non-applied’, programmes, simply labelled as ICT. At almost the same time, the Tomlinson Review of 14-19 Education (DfES, 2004) was published with some of its recommendations leading to a subsequent White Paper (DfES, 2005b), echoing earlier attempts to bring parity between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ routes (Yeoman, 1996).

The aims of the 14-19 White Paper included making the curriculum more relevant and personalised to the needs of students. A widening of the choice of validated qualifications resulted (QCA, 2006). The 14-19 qualification system now includes a range of awards that have been given a level on the National Qualifications Framework (QCA, 2004) and, concomitantly, a ‘equivalence’ to GCSEs or GCEs.

Most significant of these awards is the Diploma in Digital Applications (DiDA). This programme has, at its heart, the use of ICT for communication and creative purposes (Edexcel, 2004). It is significant because many schools in the Nottingham Trent University initial teacher education (ITE) partnership are abandoning GCSEs in ICT and Applied ICT in its favour (Williamson, 2006).

A strand of initial teacher education (ITE) in Applied ICT has been introduced following the Tomlinson Review of 14-19 Education (DfES, 2004a) and subsequent White Paper (DfES, 2005), In response to these, the Teaching and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) has made funds available for the training of teachers in vocational subjects, including Applied ICT (TDA, 2003). Thus ‘Applied ICT’ has entered the vocabulary of qualifications and curricula, although it means two things – the qualification and the PGCE route of training. It is this route that I am strand leader for at NTU.

Alongside the changes to the assessment system there has some research, the majority funded by the Government, into the impact of ICT (Becta, 2002, Passey and Rogers, 2004) and students’ perceptions of ICT (Somekh and Mavers, 2003, Jarvis et al, 2005). Allied to this is the growing importance of personalisation of curriculum to meet individual needs and abilities (DfES, 2004b, OECD 2006).

Rationale. This thesis will critically analyse the relationship between the levels of students’ ICT capability reported by formal external assessment processes and the levels reported on and observed outside of those processes. Anecdotal evidence and informal observations in many schools and home situations leads the author to question whether there is some mismatch between the two.

The new ‘vocational’ curricula, including those for ICT, are designed to put learning into a real context (DfES, 2005) resulting in learning that is situated in those contexts. This situated learning (Bruner, 1977, cited in Macleod and Golby, 2003) poses challenges for teachers as they have to ensure that learning is meaningful because it is “fully related to the context in which it is produced” (Macleod and Golby, 2003:354).

A question remains as to the extent of the relevance to learners of the ‘real contexts’ (DfES, 2005b) embedded in the school curricula. ICT is reported to have a positive impact on motivation (Becta, 2003a) and general levels of secondary school attainment (Becta, 2003b). Are these real contexts the same as those in which students demonstrate their highest levels of capability remains a moot point and a focus for this research.

Methodological approach and methods. The research paradigm is qualitative using the criteria of Robson (2002) The personal situation of the author provides for ready access to a number of schools and students in those schools. The research will be carried out in a natural setting of the schools and informal learning settings; it will use the ‘human instrument’ of students, teachers and others, explore tacit knowledge and perceptions through qualitative methods, and adopt purposive sampling through selection of students on Applied ICT and other programmes. Thus it will have a naturalistic (Robson, 2002) and interpretative (Denzin and Lincoln, 2000) approach. For similar reasons, and following Reeves (1993), a wholly quantitative approach to this investigation would yield deficient results.

This tradition of research is variously described as ‘interpretative’ ‘qualitative’ (Patton, 1990) or ‘anti positivist’ (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2000). There will be elements of case study (Stake in Denzin and Lincoln, 2000) and illuminative evaluation (Parlett and Hamilton, 1972; Patton, 1990).

My role in the research will be both as a practitioner and a researcher. The results of my research will also impact on my practice. Thus there are elements of action research (McNiff and Whitehead, 2002) although the nature of the data collection from others lends it a more empirical approach.
The data collection on the perceptions of students will come from the students themselves, their teachers and others involved with learning. It will also be based on an examination of the work produced in their learning on ICT programmes. This data collection will come from numerous sources and following Punch (1998) this again leads to a situating of the enquiry in a naturalistic, interpretative frame. The students’ own perceptions, opinions and interpretations of their ICT capability and those of their teachers will be analysed against the reported levels of attainment in formal external secondary school assessments.

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