TELA: Laptops for Teachers Evaluation: Final Report Years 9-13

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 four years (2003-2006) and to record emerging changes in laptop use.

This evaluation report presents findings from three annual cycles of national focus groups, questionnaires and case studies with Year 9 to 13 teachers in New Zealand secondary schools.

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

Date Published: June 2008

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Executive Summary 

In this evaluation, three methods of data collection were used: first, six focus groups of teachers in face-to-face meetings, second, a questionnaire sent to teachers in a range of schools, and third, case studies of eight schools participating in the TELA scheme. The focus groups allowed teachers to talk about their experiences and changes in their use of the laptop over the three years. Each year, teachers from twenty focus group secondary schools met in five regions. 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 and case study data from three years of case studies.

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 also 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 if ICT.

The evidence in this report demonstrates that the implementation of the Laptops for Teachers scheme (TELA) has resulted in progress towards the achievement of the goals for this initiative. It reveals:

  • Modest increases in confidence and expertise with ICT in many teachers, particularly for 'beginner' users of laptops;
  • 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 2003, second, their degree of progress, and third, their competence and confidence at the end of 2005. In spite of differences in progress, a number of broad conclusions can be made.

1. Confidence with ICT

Over the three-year period, there was improved confidence and expertise with ICT, a greater proportion of teachers becoming comfortable using their laptops for a range of tasks. Nearly all teachers reported they were comfortable with word processing and most were comfortable using email, and searching the Internet. By 2005, using graphics, locating online information, using spreadsheets and charts, and using presentation software were tasks that around half of teachers felt comfortable with. Case study teachers were very appreciative of the opportunity to access a TELA laptop. For most teachers, the laptop was now integral to their professional lives. Teachers who had appeared somewhat diffident in 2004 spoke with confidence about what they could and intended to do. Informal peer mentoring was seen as the most efficacious form of professional development and assistance because teachers accessed help in the context they would use it and they had models of effective practice that worked with their systems and students.

Since the distribution of laptops to Year 9 to 13 teachers in 2003, there has been an improved confidence, particularly for those new to laptop use, and expertise with ICT, with a growing proportion of teachers becoming 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 more easily collaborate with them. By 2005, over four fifths of teachers used their laptops for email communication with colleagues. Teachers had found that using the laptop for communication gave time and date verification of communications. By 2005 there had been an increase in use of laptops for working collaboratively, and there were fewer teachers who had 'never' used the laptop in collaboration with colleagues. The laptop, being portable, could be taken to meetings for collaboration purposes. When colleagues also had laptops, teachers had found that resources were easier to share and adapt for individual class/student needs.

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

3. Efficiencies gained

Laptops had afforded teachers flexibility of time and place of work, with the result that administrative tasks had effectively become less onerous. Over the three years, there had been an overall increase in use of laptops for administration. There had been increased 'routine use' for: writing reports; checking student lists and records; checking departmental schemes and units; checking school timetable; checking school or staff notices; recording student grades and monitoring student progress; and for recording attendance. The only area where there had been no change was the use of laptops to schedule appointments. When schools had well-set-up administration systems, teachers found that using the laptop for administration saved time and was more efficient. Teachers felt that the laptops were invaluable in helping them to cope with an increased range of administrative tasks. The laptops enhanced efficiency through more up-to-date programs and were faster than school computers. Teachers in the focus groups said that laptops had accelerated school infrastructure development.

With increased connectivity and up to date specifications teachers found using the laptop to plan and prepare lessons was efficient and effective. The laptops were providing flexibility in time and place for planning and preparation for teaching. There had been a steady increase over three years in laptop use for lesson preparation and in the use of online resources for this purpose. Teachers considered that the laptops were invaluable for lesson preparation in that they were portable, compact in size and provided a sole repository for teaching, learning and assessment materials and resources. Laptops had assisted access to multimedia materials that were easy to incorporate into lessons. There were indications from the focus groups, case studies, and written questionnaire comments that increased access to a wide range of information and people had changed the way learning resources were defined: The laptops afforded the preparation and use of multimodal materials that included images, diagrams, audio, video and web-links. They also supported access and use of real time data, simulations, animations and other interactives. An added benefit was that electronic materials could easily be searched, shared, customised and even modified during use.

When schools had well set-up 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.

The increased access to a wide range of information, resources and people had changed the way learning resources were defined.

4. Use of laptops for classroom practice

There was a modest increase in the use of laptops during lessons over the three years, the greatest increase in 'routine use' being for classroom presentations. Teachers had found that having a laptop with multimedia capability allowed them to make more use of visual materials. The laptop connected to the Internet allowed teachers to respond quickly and in-depth to student questions. Students in case study schools reported gains in understanding and interest consequent upon teacher use of multi-modal lesson materials. Some case study teachers noted that the patterns of interaction in their classrooms had changed with them taking a more facilitative role. There was ongoing evidence that focus group and case study teachers in different subjects were using their laptops/ICT in qualitatively different ways in the classroom for teaching and learning. Science, art and social science teachers were generally enthusiastic about the potential of greater access to images (static and dynamic), animations and simulations, and real-world data.

At the end of three years one third of teachers made use of the laptop for classroom practice.

Fewer than half of teachers had access to the Internet in every classroom they taught in. When the laptop was used in a classroom where there was Internet access, easy access to digital resources, software and peripherals, teachers had the opportunity to provide multi-modal and multi-sensory 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 – static or dynamic images, as part of instruction to the class.

Teachers' main goal for laptop use was to learn about ICT as a tool in teaching.

5. Influences on teacher laptop use

School leadership, exercised by the principal, and a small group that included senior management representation and/or expert individuals, was important for guiding and supporting school ICT/laptop developments and, consequently, individual utilisation of laptops/ICT. A high proportion of users in a school, combined with an effective infrastructure, enabled greater laptop use. The most important factors affecting teachers' effective use of the laptop, including laptop use in teaching were: time to experiment, professional development and support, a data projector in the classroom, home access to the school network, and prompt technical assistance. By the third year, teachers' main goal for laptop use was to learn about ICT as a tool in teaching.

In conclusion:

Overall, it may be said that teachers' perception of the benefits that use of a TELA laptop afforded were as follows:

  • Laptops allowed flexibility in time and place of work;
  • Use of laptops has led to increased knowledge and use of IT professionally and personally;
  • Use of laptops had contributed to teachers being better organised, saved time through reduction in duplication and paper work leading to greater efficiency of work;
  • Laptops supported the development of greater teacher production and sharing of lesson materials that were easy to customise and adapt; and
  • Teachers who used their laptops during lessons had found that the opportunity to introduce multi-modal materials that were well presented motivated students to engage creatively and critically in their learning.

Implications from the findings

Implications from these findings have relevance for TELA policy, schools and teachers. The evolution in practice across the three years has highlighted the complexity of the interaction of school leadership and organisation, school technological infrastructure, professional development and teacher individual knowledge and expertise, and the ways these factors intersect to shape teacher use of the laptop for the range of tasks envisaged within the TELA scheme, suggesting that a 'nested systems' approach is required to encourage and sustain the integration of the laptops into teachers' work.

Recommendations for policymakers:

  • 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.
  • Support schools in improving their ICT infrastructure, schools with less developed infrastructures may also benefit from advice and guidance about the possibilities for infrastructure development.
  • Information be provided to Boards of Trustees and principals about international, national and local best practice in the use of laptops/ICT in teaching and learning.
  • Consider mechanisms to provide for more opportunities and time for teachers to share best practice. Teachers benefit from opportunities to share ideas and approaches with colleagues across and within the same school. Clusters of schools provide one means for this to happen.
  • Teacher education providers be encouraged to include a focus on teacher professional use of ICT in their teaching programmes, particularly ICT use for teaching and learning.

Recommendations for school leaders:

  • We recommend school leaders 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.
  • Develop a vision and expectation for ICT use in the school.
  • Model the active use of ICT and if this is not possible, provide suitable support for ICT use.
  • Foster a collaborative culture around ICT use and innovation within departments and across the school (learning community).
  • Provide opportunities and time for professional learning, particularly in the areas of teaching and learning with ICT.
  • Ensure that the school infrastructure is robust, reliable and accessible, this to include ICT technical support, workroom and classroom access, home access to school network, shared drives, and a user-friendly and reliable administration system.

Recommendations for teachers:

  • Peers were shown to be the most accessible source of professional development and when teachers who were proficient laptop users pooled and shared their expertise, other teachers benefited. Teachers would be advised to seek help from and share ideas and resources with colleagues, particularly those in the same subject areas.