TELA: Laptops for teachers evaluation: Final report years 7 & 8

Publication Details

The purpose of this evaluation was to investigate the impacts of the Laptops for Teachers Scheme: TELA (referred to from here as the TELA scheme) on teachers’ work over a period of three years (2004-2006) and to record emerging changes in laptop use.

This evaluation report presents findings from three annual cycles of national focus groups and questionnaires with Year 7 and 8 teachers in New Zealand primary and intermediate schools.

Author(s): Bronwen Cowie, Alister Jones and Ann Harlow with Mike Forret, Clive McGee and Thelma Miller. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: June 2008

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Executive Summary

In this evaluation, two methods of data collection were used: first, two focus groups of teachers in face-to-face meetings and second, a questionnaire sent to teachers in a range of schools. The focus groups allowed teachers to talk about their experiences and changes in their use of the laptop over the three years. Each year, one focus group was held for Year 7 and 8 teachers in full primary schools and the other held for Year 7 and 8 teachers in intermediate schools. The annual questionnaire asked teachers about various aspects of their laptops’ experience, including school support for laptops, professional development, their use of laptops at home and in school, and their goals for future use. In this final report, questionnaire results are presented together with the results from focus groups held over three years.

Main findings

As a direct result of the TELA policy to provide teachers with laptops rather than desktop computers, teachers reported that they now had flexibility of time and place for working. Teachers commented on the improved access to resources afforded by TELA laptop ownership, and how the laptop had helped them to become more confident in the use of ICT. The evidence in this report demonstrates that the implementation of the Laptops for Teachers scheme has resulted in progress towards the achievement of the goals for this initiative. It indicates:

  • Increasing confidence and expertise with ICT in many teachers;
  • Increasing use of laptops to strengthen collegial relationships;
  • Efficiencies gained in lesson planning, preparation, administration and reporting; and
  • Growing use of laptops for classroom practice and student learning activities.

It needs to be pointed out, however, that there was considerable variation between individual teachers – first, in terms of where they began in 2004, second, their degree of progress, and third, their competence and confidence at the end of 2006. Despite differences in progress, a number of broad conclusions can be made.

1. Confidence with ICT

Over the three-year period, teachers reported improved confidence and expertise with ICT. Nearly all teachers reported they were comfortable with word processing and most were comfortable using email and searching the Internet. By 2006, using graphics, locating information in a database, downloading digital photos, and using presentation software were tasks that between half and three quarters of teachers felt comfortable with.

Since the distribution of laptops to Year 7 and 8 teachers in 2004, there has been an improved confidence and expertise with ICT, with an increasing proportion of teachers reporting that they were comfortable using their laptops for a range of tasks.

2. More effective communication and collaboration

The laptops had enabled teachers to engage in more effective communication with colleague teachers, and to more easily collaborate with them. By 2006, around three quarters of teachers used their laptops for email communication with colleagues. There was a substantial increase in teacher use of laptops for accessing the Internet for professional readings over the course of the three years (2004-69%: 2005-80%: 2006-91%), and for collaboration in developing units and lesson materials (2004-58%: 2005-70%: 2006-82%).

The laptops had enabled communication with a wider range of people, and ease of collaboration among teachers, strengthening collegial relationships.

3. Efficiencies gained

The laptop portability and capacity to serve as a sole repository of teacher working documents afforded teachers flexibility of time and place of work, with the result that many administrative tasks had effectively become less onerous. Over the three-year period, the most prevalent uses for administrative tasks made of laptops by teachers were to write achievement and other reports (up to 90% from 69% in 2004), and to record student grades (up to 62% from 47% in 2004). Two thirds of teachers used their laptops for taking notes at meetings in 2006. There was an overall increased use of laptops for administrative tasks.

With increased connectivity (there was increased laptop access to the school network from the classroom: 2004-66%; 2005-70%; 2006-79%), and up-to-date specifications, teachers found using the laptop allowed them to develop materials that included real-world and up-to-date examples and visuals. By 2006, there was increased ‘routine’ use of laptops in a range of categories of use for lesson planning and the use of planning templates and shared folders and resources was widespread. The laptops were providing flexibility in time and place for planning and preparation for teaching.

When schools had well set-up and connected administration systems, many teachers found that using the laptop for administration saved time and was more efficient. Laptops provided flexibility in time and place for administrative tasks, and for planning and preparation for teaching.

Improved access to resources afforded by TELA laptop ownership had impacted on lesson preparation, with the widespread use of planning templates, shared folders, and visual and multi-modal resources.

4. Use of laptops for classroom practice

At the end of three years, almost two thirds of teachers made use of the laptop for classroom practice. In 2006, [a new question in 2006] around 60% of teachers reported use of the laptop with students - either with individual students, small groups of students, or the whole class - most of this use was ‘occasional’ use. By 2006, over half (57%) of the teachers used their laptops with a data projector, and 5% had used an interactive whiteboard in the classroom. There was increased laptop access to the Internet in classrooms (2004-66%: 2005-70%: 2006-83%), allowing more teachers to include images and up-to-date data in their lessons. With the increased easy access to a data projector (2004-49%: 2005-65%: 2006-70%), the most prevalent use (91%) of the laptop and peripherals was to present visual material, both static and dynamic, as part of instruction to the class.

There were indications from the focus groups and written questionnaire comments that the laptop had increased teacher and classroom student access to information and people leading to changes in the way learning resources were structured. When the laptop was used in a classroom where there was access to the Internet, easy access to digital resources, software and peripherals, teachers had the opportunity to provide multi-modal resources that included static and dynamic images, audio, and real-world data, and to customise learning materials for their students. There were opportunities for students to encounter learning in a variety of ways via the use of the laptop with peripherals such as a digital camera and a data projector, and with software that enhanced the relevance of new learning. Teachers reported instances of their being responsive to students’ needs, making links to students’ prior experiences and knowledge, and facilitating shared learning. Students were supported to take charge of their own learning, for example, by allowing them to use the laptop to produce PowerPoint presentations of their learning. The use of the Internet enabled students to enter and explore new and different learning environments, overcoming the barriers of distance and time.

At the end of three years almost two thirds of teachers made use of the laptop for classroom practice.

There was increased laptop access to the Internet in classrooms, which enabled teachers and students to enter and explore new learning environments, overcoming the barriers of distance and time. When the laptop was used in a classroom where there was access to the Internet, easy access to digital resources, software and peripherals, teachers had the opportunity to provide multi-modal resources.

There was increased easy access to a data projector, allowing nearly three fifths of teachers to use their laptops with a data projector in the classroom. The most prevalent use of the laptop and peripherals was to present visual material, both static and dynamic images, as part of instruction to the class.

There were opportunities for students to encounter learning in a variety of ways and through different tasks by using the laptop with a range of tools or peripherals and with software that enhanced the relevance of new learning.

Teachers reported instances of their being responsive to students’ needs, making links to students’ prior experiences and knowledge, and facilitating shared learning. Laptops allowed teachers to customise and individualise learning materials for their students. Students were supported to take charge of their own learning.

5. Influences on teacher laptop use

School technological infrastructure (networking and prompt technical assistance and easy access to equipment) along with time to experiment and access to professional development, and leadership support were rated as very important by over two fifths of questionnaire respondents. Time to experiment was rated the most important factor affecting teachers’ effective use of the laptop by over a quarter (27%) of teachers with a further 17% rating professional development and support as the most important influence. Combined, access to equipment, prompt technical assistance, and school networking, were rated most important by just under a half (46%) of respondent teachers.

6. Teachers’ main goal for their laptop use

Teachers’ main perennial goal for laptop use was to learn about ICT as a tool in teaching, irrespective of their level of self-rated expertise in using the laptop.

Implications from the findings
Implications from these findings have relevance for the parameters of the TELA policy, for school leaders and for teachers.

The evaluation indicated that school and teacher use of the TELA laptops is shaped and framed by the intersection of school and individual teacher vision for and expertise in the use of ICT, school technological infrastructure, school leadership and systems for ICT use, and teacher opportunities for professional learning. Each of these aspects is important at any time but they are important in different ways for different schools, teachers and tasks suggesting a ‘nested systems’ approach is required to encourage and sustain the integration of the laptops into teachers’ work.

  • We recommend policymakers adopt a ‘systems approach’ to the development of policy and practices to initiate, extend and sustain the integration of the laptops/ICT into school and teacher work, particularly in relation to teaching and learning.
  • We recommend school leaders be encouraged and supported to adopt a ‘systems approach’ to the development of policy and practices to initiate, extend and sustain the integration of the laptops/ICT into school and teacher work, particularly in relation to teaching and learning.

School leader support for and understanding of the potential of the laptops/ICT were influential with regard to the development of a school technological infrastructure for laptops’ use along with school organisational support for, and expectations of, a culture for ICT use. Principal personal active use was said to be desirable, but not essential, as long as the principal provided for an overall supportive environment for ICT use.

  • We recommend that school leaders, particularly the principal, and including Board of Trustee members, be supported to learn about and lend their active support for the use of laptops/ICT within their schools.

The indication from this evaluation was that irrespective of teacher self-reported confidence, teachers saw a need for further professional development; that is, professional development that incorporated time to explore and opportunities to extend their use of the laptop for teaching and learning including the use of the laptop with other equipment. There was general support for the value of peer mentoring in this. Peer mentoring was considered to provide teachers with help and support that was specific to their needs and peers were usually on hand for ongoing help.

  • We recommend that schools be encouraged and supported to make provision for teachers to work together to develop and share ideas and activities for teaching and learning.
  • We recommend that schools be supported and encouraged to provide opportunities for on-site ‘experts’ to continue to extend their expertise including their expertise in mentoring and working with colleagues.
  • We recommend ongoing support for schools to collaborate to share knowledge and expertise in ICT use, particularly use for teaching and learning.

A critical mass of laptop teachers was seen to be an important factor in ICT use within a school.

  • We recommend that school leaders encourage all their teachers to participate in the TELA scheme as a means to promote whole school focus on and development of ICT use.

Laptops provided flexibility of time and place for working; however, use of this flexibility by teachers was dependent upon school policies for ICT use and their access to a robust and reliable school technological infrastructure (networking and technical assistance). The development of school technological infrastructure has expertise and resource implications.

  • We recommend that a mechanism be put in place to ensure that schools have access to advice and guidance about infrastructure development, including the resources and systems needed to operationalise their vision.
  • We recommend a mechanism be put in place to ensure that schools have quality access to technical support.