‘NEVER LET THE FACTS GET IN THE WAY OF A GOOD STORY’: EXPLORING PREVALENT DISCOURSES IN THE REPORTING OF THE OECD STUDENTS, COMPUTERS AND LEARNING STUDY IN THE NATIONAL MEDIA IN IRELAND
1 University of Limerick (IRELAND)
2 Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin (IRELAND)
About this paper:
Conference name: 10th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 7-9 March, 2016
Location: Valencia, Spain
Abstract:Global discourses surrounding the benefits of new technologies in education are naturalised to such an extent that they have become invisible. Making this opacity visible is critical in moving beyond the innovation rhetoric evident in today’s educational discourse surrounding the potential role of educational technology/ICT. Research studies that call into question the prevailing positivity can provide a good opportunity to question these assumptions. This paper explores the reporting of a study by the OECD on Students, Computers and Learning (OECD, 2015) in the Irish media. Amongst the key findings of this study were: ‘no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education’ (p. 3). In the context of a prevailing positive discourse around ICT, what happens when research evidence which challenges this is produced? The findings of such large-scale studies can be seen as creating a ‘cruces tension point’ (Fairclough, 1995). Such tension points provide opportunities to deconstruct the naturalised practices that are difficult to notice (Woodside-Jiron, 2011). Being at odds with the global discourse surrounding ICT, and in a country with a significant ICT profile internationally, this paper seeks to address how such a study is interpreted and subsequently reported in the national media.
The corpus of text was collected from online versions of news articles related to the OECD study (2015) in the national media in the Republic of Ireland. A total of 8 articles were identified through our selection criteria. In analysing the data a discourse analysis was conducted, drawing on the work of Gee (2011) and Fairclough’s (1995) framework for exploring representations in media discourse.
The analysis found that different findings of the OECD study were presented across the reports to highlight the significance of particular positions. Some reports for example, emphasised the below average levels of ICT use amongst Irish students and gave little attention to the more significant findings which indicated that high levels of ICT use appeared to have limited impact on student outcomes. Almost all articles appeared to use the opportunity to further advance the ICT agenda by connecting the reporting of the study with the need to invest further in technologies in schools – thus maintaining and advancing the current investment agenda despite evidence that questions this policy.
From this perspective it could be argued that, while the OECD study’s findings are not explicitly criticised, the downplaying of significant findings and the distortion of its implications plays an important function in maintaining the positive discourse around ICT. In addition, while the news articles acknowledged the negative findings of the study, the adverse findings are presented as failures of implementation rather than limitations of the technology. Such positions may be seen as providing ‘safe spaces’ to defend ICT, regardless of the research evidence presented, and skilfully maintains a focus on future possibilities rather than current realities.