Laptops for teachers: An evaluation of the TELA scheme in Otago schools

Publication Details

The purpose of this evaluation was to investigate the impacts of the Laptops for Teachers Scheme (TELA) on primary schools within the Otago region.

Author(s): Keryn Pratt, Kwok-Wing Lai & Ann Trewern with Fiona Concannon & Harriet Sutton. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: May 2010

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Section 4: School factors affecting laptop use

This next two sections of the report will explore the factors that impact on the level and type of effect the scheme has had. In doing this, they will follow the diagrammatic representation of the research questions and issues that arose from the research (as previously shown in Figure 2). This section will explore the school-level factors that have affected the impact of the TELA scheme, and the following section will look at the personal factors. Changes over time will be identified.

From the literature and the analysis of comments made by participants, it was apparent that the school-level factors that impacted on the TELA scheme could be placed in one of two categories: ICT infrastructure, and work culture. Each of these will be considered in turn.

ICT infrastructure

Without the physical infrastructure in place, such as broadband, adequate computing facilities for teachers and students, and a reliable network, it will be difficult for the cultural climate of the school to be receptive towards ICT. These schools had varying levels of ICT infrastructure at the onset of this research, with these differences largely continuing throughout the project. Table 4 illustrates some of the major differences with respect to several key aspects of the technological resources available within the school, and compares their levels of resources at the beginning of the project (2006) to at the end (late 2008).

Even at the start of the research project, School A had advanced levels of ICT available. Each room had at least two computers, while the school also had a pod and a computer laboratory available for use. All the computers were networked, and a wireless connection could be used with the TELA laptops. Data projectors were available for use within the school, and teachers were able to share resources via a school server and intranet. At the end of the project, School A continued to have advanced levels of ICT. They still chose not to have interactive whiteboards, although this was something they were considering, and had now made the full functionality of the school intranet available offsite. The school used Apple computers exclusively throughout the entire period of the research project.

There had been considerable underinvestment in ICT in School B in the years prior to the research project, so that while all classrooms contained a computer, several of the teachers reported that they did not use it, owing to the poor standard of the equipment. The hardware was, however, in the process of being upgraded. Throughout the project, classroom access to computers remained limited, with generally only one computer per room. This was augmented, though, by access to a central laboratory.

Table 4: Comparison of the level of attainment of physical resources and network infrastructure

Key:    ■ = Level attained;     □= Level not attained;

Notes:

  1. I1 = Initial.
  2. E2 = End.
Level Category School A School B School C School D School E
I1 E2 I1 E2 I1 E2 I1 E2 I1 E2
Location of Computers
Initial All classrooms contain a computer.
Intermediate Two or more computers are located in each classroom.
Advanced At least one pod of mobile computers is available.
Advanced School has a central computer laboratory.
Networking
Initial Some computers are networked.
Intermediate All computers are networked and have Internet access.
Advanced TELA laptops are networked and have Internet access.
Internet Connection
Initial Internet connection to at least some computers.
Intermediate Internet connections to all computers via broadband cable.
Advanced School has a wireless network.
Peripherals
Initial Desktop computers and printers are available.
Intermediate Digital camera(s) are used for project and website work.
Advanced More than one data projector is in use.
Advanced More than one interactive whiteboard(s) is in use.
Information Transfer
Initial School allows teacher to share documents via a central sever.
Intermediate School has a website and intranet, maintained by principal.
Advanced School intranet is maintained by teachers and/or students.
Advanced School intranet can be accessed offsite.


Initially all computers, including the TELA laptops, had access to the Internet via broadband cable. A wireless network was put in place during the period of the research project. There were problems with the signal strength of this network initially; however, the problems were being addressed and had been largely alleviated by the end. Teachers shared work by means of a central server, with no intranet available at any time during the project. By the final round of interviews, this school had also invested in four interactive whiteboards, with a view to purchasing more.

School C was the only school to have interactive whiteboards at the start of the project, and they continued to add to these over the course of the project. Throughout the project these were augmented in each classroom by at least two computers. All computers, and the TELA laptops, had access to the Internet via broadband cable or wireless connections over the course of the project. Initially, teachers shared resources via a central server; however, by the end of the project the principal had implemented a school website and intranet which made collaboration simpler.

At the start of this research project, School D had only a dial-up connection to the Internet. By the end of the project, this had been upgraded and all computers and laptops had broadband access to the Internet via cable or wireless. Access to computers in classrooms decreased in this school over the course of the project; however, this was owing to the decision to focus on providing pods of computers rather than computers in each room. This decision was partly owing to a lack of space in classrooms to add additional desktops. This school had made the deliberate decision to go cross-platform, having pods of PC and Apple computers available. The school had only one data projector, which could be borrowed, although it was looking into purchasing more, as well as purchasing interactive whiteboards. The school had also developed an intranet over the course of the project and was using this to enhance collaboration.

During the initial interviews, several teachers at School E reported that the school had "gone backwards" with respect to ICT owing to changes in how decisions were made with regard to purchasing equipment, and the network infrastructure itself. They did have at least two computers in each classroom, but while these had broadband Internet access, the laptops had no access to the Internet, or to the school network. Teachers could use their classroom computers to share work via a central server, however. The school did have digital cameras and data projectors available for staff to use, but as these were housed centrally, staff reported that they did not make much use of them, as their use had to be planned. By the end of the project, the main change was that teachers were in the process of being able to connect to the Internet using their laptops, although this was not available wirelessly. This was owing to resistance from the Board, who had received technical advice against it. Teachers were now able to connect to the central server for administration; however, there was no school intranet. The school continued to have problems with the reliability and maintenance of their network. The number of computers in classrooms had actually decreased, as older computers were removed when the network was upgraded.

Overall, it can be seen that initially School A was well ahead of the other schools in terms of the ICT hardware and infrastructure available. School A continued to lead the others, however, the other schools all improved over the course of the project. Networking and wireless access were the most common areas of improvement, although the variation in changes seen showed how the schools chose to focus on different areas.

Work culture

The school culture is an important determinant of how successfully the school can develop ICT that is used to enhance learning in the school's own context, and how changes will be adopted. This culture is shaped by its history, context and the people in it (Stoll, 1998). Each school has a different reality or mindset of school life, often captured in the simple phrase "the way we do things around here". Therefore, their solutions to particular problems will be situationally specific, and no solution will work in every school because of the variety and contextual differences that exist between schools.

However, in general terms for a school to use ICT effectively, the school must broadly possess a culture that incorporates a strong belief that using ICT can help students to learn, increase the efficiency of day-to-day activities within the school and generally improve the school's performance. Without this receptive culture, efforts by individual teachers will be piecemeal, unrecognised and unlikely to become widespread throughout the school.

Most teachers commented that the work culture was generally good, with it being described in terms such as professional (Teacher, School A), strong (Teacher, School A), dedicated (Teacher, School B), fantastic (Teacher, School C), excellent (Teacher, School C) and tight-knit (Teacher, School E).

Participants from Schools A-D used similar words to describe the general work culture of their school, identifying it is as being "supportive" and "collaborative". In contrast, it was difficult to gain an understanding of the work culture in School E, as no coherent picture was presented. Although the work culture was described as being supportive by two staff members, three other staff members said it was not at all supportive. Historically, the school functioned as separate syndicates, which was something the principal wished to overcome, although staff did not feel that this had yet occurred.

The leadership, from management or from teachers, the vision, information sharing, planning and processes illustrate the types of culture that exist within these schools. In this section, we will explore the work culture of the five schools, looking firstly at their collaborative practices, followed by their leadership style and vision, then at the school's policies, and the provision of professional development and technical support.

Collaboration

A key aspect of work culture of interest in this research was that of collaboration. We were interested in the degree and kinds of collaboration: how these impacted on the implementation of the TELA scheme and how in turn the TELA scheme impacted on collaboration (see further Section 6.2). This included how and to what degree they communicated with one another, the level of sharing of resources and planning, and whether or not team teaching occurred. As described previously, most teachers reported that their schools were collaborative, with this manifesting itself in informal ways, such as through teachers supporting each other, asking and answering questions, and sharing resources. Planning together was less common, and no teachers reported team teaching.

School A

From their first interviews (round 2), School A teachers reported that collaboration was a key part of the school culture. This collaboration included the sharing of resources, using technology. Teamwork was common, and there seemed to be an acceptance of each person as having different strengths and experiences, and a focus on making best use of these.

School B

Like teachers in School A, those in School B felt the work culture in their school was supportive and collaborative throughout the research project. They felt that using ICT encouraged collaboration, as "with ICT, the best model is if someone actually does it in their classroom and then talks about it".

School C

Collaboration and open communication was also a characteristic of School C, with it seen as having a positive atmosphere. Teachers supported each other in their use of ICT, and in round one commented on how students at the school also provided informal support for the teachers.

School D

School D, again, had a positive and collaborative work culture, with this perceived to have improved over the first year of the research, and several years prior to this. At the beginning of this research, School D's collaboration occurred primarily in a face-to-face setting, although they were developing an intranet to enhance collaboration and communication. In the first round of interviews, the principal noted that teachers were only beginning to engage with technology as a vehicle for working collectively.

School E

In contrast to Schools A-D, the work culture in School E was difficult to determine. As mentioned previously, the staff interviewed for the research had different views of the work culture. One of the issues appeared to be that the school tended to function at a syndicate rather than school level, something the principal was working to change. There did appear to be collaboration occurring within syndicates; however, there were different views on the level of collaboration and of people's willingness to support each other. In addition, the principal explained that the school had a history of "some dysfunctionality amongst the principal [himself] and the staff", something that was also apparent from teachers' comments. However differences apparent in the early rounds appeared to be lessening in the final round.

The use of the TELA laptops and ICT in general for collaboration and communication was problematic. Teachers were unable to connect their laptops to the Internet at school, instead using classroom computers for this purpose. Perhaps as a result, emails were largely principal-teachers, with teachers not emailing each other.

There was a clear difference between Schools A-D and School E in terms of the level and kind of collaboration that occurred. While some teachers at all schools believed there was a high level of collaboration, this was not unanimous at School E.

Leadership: Style, vision & planning

The literature consistently talks about the importance of leadership in terms of the integration of ICT in teaching and learning (Becta, 2002; Lai, 1999). Leadership is needed to provide a vision and develop a work culture around using ICT (Lai, Trewern, & Pratt, 2002). The five schools in this research project had very different models of leadership.

School A

School A had a very strong leader, who was very interested in ICT and promoted it within his school. He did not lead alone, however, with an ICT coordinator and key people in each syndicate also playing a leading role. He nurtured leadership in other teachers, empowering them to bring about change, rather than them always relying on him. As one teacher commented, "we see leadership as not always residing in the people with the leadership badges, but leadership from anyone who's got a strength in any area". There was agreement amongst staff with his view of his leadership, and the role it played in terms of ICT use in the school. The leadership model in this school, and the views of teachers of this leadership, remained unchanged over the course of the project, with all staff seeing it as "excellent".

The principal provided hands-on support for technology, through just-in-time technical support and professional development, as well as demonstrating skills, identifying and sharing resources, and discussing how ICT could be used in teaching and learning. He came into the school when it had very little technology, and his belief that it could make a difference in teaching and learning has driven the change. While he held this belief, he also felt it was important to be reflecting on the direction the school was going, and looking forward and back while considering an endpoint, to ensure that the right decisions were being made.

Both the principal and the teachers in this school saw the leadership role played by the principal as very important. He and his staff agreed that having the principal involved helped create the expectation that ICT would be used. The principal not only expected his teachers to use ICT, but modelled its use, while the just-in-time technical support and professional development he provided was seen by teachers as very important to their use of technology.

All participants from School A saw their school as having a work culture that involved ICT. There was an expectation that ICT would be used in everyday life, for teaching, learning and administration. This was apparent throughout the research project. The culture of this school reflected ICT being a part of children's reality, and it being their "responsibility that we harness that for the best learning that we can offer and the best engagement levels that we can offer".

School B

The leadership at this school changed as the project began. When the first round of interviews were done in late 2005 there was an acting principal, with a new principal due to start in 2006. Some problems arose during this interim period but by late 2006 the new principal was dealing with these. The leadership style of this principal was quite consultative and democratic, although there were several changes to how things had been done during the early stages of the project. As she started, the previous ICT coordinator left, so she implemented two new roles: teachers in charge of ICT for each of Years 1-4 and Years 5-8. Teacher perceptions of the new leadership at the school were positive. By 2007, the leadership group at this school had changed slightly, to incorporate an ICT coordinator from one syndicate and a lead teacher from the other, rather than two lead teachers as previously. The principal's role was one of "generally overseeing" while the ICT coordinator was responsible for developing the ICT plan for the school, and, along with the lead teacher, was responsible for most of the professional development. Initially, staff seemed to feel this was an effective leadership strategy, although in the later stages of the project there were comments that more leadership was needed.

School B was working towards having ICT as an integral part of their school culture. While its use was expected, the level of use was still varied, something they are continuing to work on. In earlier rounds, School B had a number of staff who were resistant towards ICT, and it had taken time to overcome this resistance and make ICT an integral part of every aspect of the school. Initially, the principal created expectations for using ICT for administrative purposes within the school. Each year she continued to create expectations for using ICT, through mandating its use to work towards a coherent work culture. By the final round of interviews, the principal felt she had been able to shift in her role from "getting everyone up to speed" to be more visionary, about where and how she would like ICT to be used in all aspects of the school. She felt there was still a way to go in terms of the teachers' skills, but recognised they had "come a long way".

Staff interviewed generally agreed with the approach taken by the principal, commenting that the expectations set by management were important to provide direction for the laptops to be used successfully within the school. In the later rounds, though, one teacher noted that although the principal encouraged ICT use she did not check it was being used as was expected. Staff felt that the principal herself, although computer literate in terms of her everyday work, was relatively new to the use of ICT. The principal also acknowledged this, saying she had set herself the task of learning a new software application each year (for example, PowerPoint, Publisher, Excel).

School C

School C also took a group approach to leadership. The principal explained that strong leadership is needed, but that "shared expertise was good". She was driving it and "ensuring we've got the money and resources, and trying to keep up with it", supported by the ICT coordinator, the ICTPD cluster lead teacher and other members of the senior management team. She felt her leadership was "important [as] obviously if I didn't care about it, or didn't think it had any value, it wouldn't happen". Staff at this school generally agreed with the principal and ICT coordinator's description of their roles, and felt that the leadership they provided was "good", although one teacher felt no leadership had been provided with regard to the TELA scheme. Their participation in an ICTPD contract also meant that this was also perceived as providing leadership, with teachers varying in whether or not they felt the principal and school-based support or the ICTPD contract provided more leadership.

The principal of School C provided a small amount of on the spot technical support, but saw her role more in terms of driving its availability and use. She frequently sent emails to staff sharing resources, and was seen as supportive in terms of providing necessary resources and professional development. She modelled the use of ICT, using an interactive whiteboard during staff meetings and a computer when working with staff. Her role was described as supporting and encouraging, rather than enforcing.

ICT was perceived as being part of work culture in School C, and seen as "an essential tool" by the principal and the board, something that was recognised by teachers, as a School C teacher explained: "It's the school. It's what we do here . . . There's no choice, it's what you do". While ICT was part of the school culture, the principal recognised that staff were at different levels and progressing at different rates. As long as they were progressing, however, she was happy.

School D

Like School B, School D had a recent change of principal at the start of the project. He saw his role as having two aspects: "helping to keep things going, but also, being one of the pushers to promote the use of ICT in the classrooms as well". By 2007, the school was participating in an ICTPD cluster. This cluster provided much of the leadership in terms of ICT, with the ICT coordinator working within the school to liaise and coordinate between the school and the cluster. The principal and deputy principal, however, still played a leadership role in promoting ICT throughout the school. Teachers were generally happy with the leadership in School D, although some felt more could have been done. The principal felt his leadership role was critical, as you need "to have someone pushing [ICT use] along".

At the time the principal started, the school was only in the early stages of ICT adoption, and his approach was to take slow and steady steps, and to begin to place an expectation on staff to communicate and plan digitally. Over time this expectation has increased, so that it is now expected that ICT will "be used for the various things like planning and now assessment recording and so on". As part of his leadership role, the principal was able to solve many of the more common technical problems that occurred, and was proactive in the provision of professional development. This included sharing, and encouraging others to share, resources in staff meetings, and running skills-based sessions, as well as arranging for these to be run. By 2008, ICT was perceived as being an expected part of the work culture in School D, with it commonly used in all aspects of school life. Teachers felt this was owing to the leadership from the principal, as well as that gained from the lead teacher in the ICTPD cluster.

School E

The leadership style of the School E principal was in contrast to those of other principals. Perhaps as a result of a history of "some dysfunctionality amongst the principal and the staff", this principal was comparatively more controlling. He noted that the school was not run as "a democracy. It's not run on consensus, it's not run by majority rule. It's run on what is the right thing to do".

The principal and management team (which included a representative from each syndicate) along with the lead teacher/ICT coordinator provided ICT leadership, although by the last round of interviews there was no longer an ICT coordinator in the school. When asked about his role in terms of ICT in the school, the principal indicated he was the "keeper of the keys", with the role he would like to have being a strategic one. He felt he had not "been a leader in the TELA project", which is in line with comments from most teachers at the school. His feeling was that the scheme was "an important initiative probably in terms of raising their professionalism around organisation and administration" rather than being about student achievement. This fits with comments from the teachers who generally felt that the ICT leadership was generally limited to administrative use, with little support for the use of ICT in the classroom.

The ICT coordinator at School E felt that she had not been entirely successful in her role as an ICT leader, largely owing to what she saw as a lack of support from the principal and other members of the management team, and she stepped down from her role before the final round of interviews. Other teachers in the school, however, were more positive about the leadership provided by the ICT coordinator, feeling she had "shown good leadership", and that they would like to see a continuation of her role. The principal was cautious about the leadership efforts of the ICT coordinator. He commented that she had "been a qualified success", and the people had not responded to her telling "people they should do this and they must do that".

In line with the principal's thoughts regarding the scheme, teachers felt that School E had an ICT culture in terms of administration; however, this was not the case for the uses of ICT in teaching and learning. Teachers at this school were expected to use ICT for administration, but the use of it in their classrooms was a personal or syndicate-driven choice. In the junior syndicate, where the ICT coordinator was based, there was this expectation, and an ICT culture was seen. The lack of school-wide effect is not surprising considering that teachers commented that it needed to be "driven from the top", something which was not happening. By 2007, however, one teacher felt that the principal has "come along in great strides and can see the strength of ICT. And he can see that it's very important for, for teaching today, and he can see the huge impact that it's made on the teaching". This was not unanimous, however, and even in the later interviews teachers varied in their views of how their principal perceived classroom use of ICT. In this school, the ICT culture has been driven from the staff rather than the principal. The teacher who felt the principal's support had increased over the course of the research felt this was because "all of the staff were very much a part of it".

Table 5 summarises the leadership approach that was seen in each of the case-study schools. The principals of Schools A-D believed their schools had a collaborative approach to leadership, while that of School E took a more dominant role. This principal also seemed to have the smallest role in terms of driving ICT use within the school, with the principals of Schools A, C and D reporting they were driving it, and School B's principal overseeing it. The principals of School A, C and D all provided some form of technical support and professional development for staff, and in all schools there was some expectation of ICT use. In School E this was limited to administrative purposes, in contrast to that in School A, where the expectation was that ICT would be used as part of teaching and learning. In Schools B, C and D the expectation moved from gaining initial ICT skills, through using ICT for administration to its use for teaching and learning.

Table 5: Leadership approach seen in case-study schools
School A School B School C School D School E

New to school
New to school
Collaborative approach to leadership Collaborative approach to leadership Collaborative approach to leadership Collaborative approach to leadership; much ICT leadership provided through ICTPD contract School not run as a 'democracy' although was a leadership team
Driving ICT use Overseeing and promoting ICT use Driving ICT use Driving ICT use Staff driving ICT use
Providing professional development
Some provision of professional development Some provision of professional development
Providing technical support
Some provision of technical support Providing technical support
Expectation of ICT use in teaching and learning Moved from promoting ICT skills through administrative use to more visionary role Expectation of ICT use in teaching and learning; recognition of different levels of staff Expectation of ICT use developed over time; initially expectation was for administrative use Expectation of ICT use for administrative purposes

Policies

The Ministry of Education advised schools to develop a clear policy setting out their approach to teachers' participation in the scheme. A list of recommended issues to be considered by school personnel in developing their policies is listed here as presented in the TELA: Laptops for teachers scheme: Information pack.

  • What approach does the school intend to take and what ICT development goals will participation in this scheme advance?
  • What level of financial support, if any, will the school offer teachers who wish to participate in this scheme?
  • What laptop model(s) will the school agree to acquire and support?
  • What agreements will the school require staff to sign?
  • What cybersafety issues are covered in the above agreements? Please refer to updated sample policy on www.netsafe.org.nz
  • What monitoring or checking of the laptop may the school want the right to perform?
  • What professional development opportunities will the school offer?
  • Who will pay the excess on accidental damage or loss claims or the costs associated with loss or damage of the laptop caused by negligence? The first time? Subsequently?
  • What will happen to the laptop when the teacher is on leave with pay? Leave without pay?
  • What support may the school offer teachers who are not eligible to participate in the scheme? (Ministry of Education, May 2004, p. 24).

Also noteworthy is that the Ministry states that 'the laptops are for the sole use of approved teachers'. This constraint was thought to be a major stumbling-block by the majority of the teachers and principals (although not all). Many ignored this stipulation and used it within their classrooms when needed. Some teachers permitted children to use it on a daily basis. This was always done under supervision, and those teachers who engaged in the practice could not see any reason why they should not do so.

Some teachers did not allow their students to access the TELA laptops. Despite their adherence to the Ministry policy on this matter, they noted their frustration. Most felt it underutilised the potential of the laptop, as it lay idle during classroom teaching hours when they were engaged in other activities with children. For this reason, most of this group felt it to be a waste of resources. A minority of teachers disagreed with the sentiments above and believed that the laptop should be solely for the teachers' use. They put this belief into practice within their classrooms, by not allowing the children to access their TELA laptop under any circumstance.

The schools seemed to vary in their implementation of policies regarding laptop use, as well as ICT use by teachers in general. There also seemed to be variation within schools, with teachers from the same school sometimes having different perceptions as to the policy. Each school's approach to the issues of policies, and teachers' views on this, is reported below.

School A had appropriate use policies for computers in general, with teacher laptops covered in this rather than dealt with separately. The focus of their policy was about not using computers for inappropriate purposes, such as downloading inappropriate material, and for using them sensibly, such as not using all the school's bandwidth. While understanding that the Ministry's policy was that teacher laptops were not for personal use, this principal's view was that "this is a tool, if you have a use for it, if it can make life easier in some way, and my agenda behind that is to maximise their use of the thing". Teachers were generally aware of the policy and felt it was about "professional judgment and [being] trusted as a professional to use it appropriately". Most of the teachers at this school did not allow students to use their laptops, reportedly because of the inconvenience of being without them if they got damaged. This school had good computer access for students, which is likely to have also influenced the decision not to let students use the TELA laptops.

There was a laptop agreement in place in School B, with this seeming to be more encompassing and enforced than that at School A. School B's policy covered teachers' responsibilities regarding using and looking after the laptop. While they had discussed issues around accessing sites such as TradeMe and Hotmail, this was not covered in the policy. All the teachers reported signing contracts regarding laptop use, with one commenting that "a lot of it's common sense". One teacher noted that the contract was "pretty detailed, I couldn't tell you what was in it. I remember reading it and signing it and that's it". The current policy was enforced, with the principal conducting audits on teacher laptops. She commented that she explained to staff that her laptop went home but it was only used for educational and school-related purposes, and that although they were surprised she had the right to audit them, they understood the reasons for the policies. This school was looking at expanding their policy, so that the use of email and ICT would be included in a staff code of conduct.

School C also had a computer agreement, which covered "expectations around how it's used", with additional discussion happening about what some of this entails. Staff were told that where they have been searching could be tracked but there was no report of it happening. Teachers seemed happy with the policy, reporting that it was about sensible use. While acknowledging that the laptop user agreement stated that they were only for teacher use, they were used by students, as "they're too precious a resource for goodness sake, to be sitting there doing nothing". Most of the teachers at this school reported using the laptops with their students, under supervision, at times. Those who did not report doing so usually explained that their laptop was used with the data projector, making it unavailable for student use.

In line with the other schools, School D had a policy that covered Internet safety. This policy was seen as being "pretty sensible". It also covered student use; however, a number of teachers commented that they sometimes used it with their students, when another computer was needed. The policy was on the school intranet so teachers could access it. While Internet search histories could be checked, this had not been done.

In contrast to Schools A-D, School E did not seem to have a policy or agreement covering teacher use of computers or laptops, with this left up to teachers' "professionalism". They had, however, discussed this, covering issues such as the need for being sensible in Internet use, and only having appropriate photos on the laptop. One teacher commented that although there was a cybersafety agreement for children, they had not signed anything but they felt that the expectations of them would be similar. As was the case in the other schools, the principal of School E felt that although officially the laptops were for school use, he did not mind what they used them for, as long as they were sensible. One teacher, however, commented that when she first arrived "there was a policy that said the children weren't to use it", so this is what she has done.

The level of detail in policies covering laptop use, and ICT use in general, and the level of enforcement of these, varied between the schools. There was also some variation within schools, in terms of teachers' understanding of the policies. The policies can be placed on a continuum of their level of detail and enforcement, as shown in the following table.: Continuum showing the level of detail and enforcement in ICT policies

Table 6: Continuum showing the level of detail and enforcement in ICT policies
Most Informal


Most formal
School E School A School D School C School B
No policy; reliance on teachers' professionalism Appropriate use policy; largely reliance on professional judgement Policy agreement plus discussion; auditing possible but not done Signed policy agreement plus discussion; auditing possible but not done Signed contract, no personal use of laptops, laptops audited

Professional development

The improvement and broadening of knowledge and skills, and the development of personal qualities necessary for professional duties throughout teachers' working lives has long been identified as playing a key role in ensuring they are able to incorporate reform activities into their teaching (Pratt, Lai & Munro, 2001). Comments from all teachers and principals involved in the interviews indicated that professional development was critical to their effective use of laptops, and subsequent ICT use in classrooms. The areas in which professional development was desired can be classified into three types:

  • troubleshooting and basic technical problem solving
  • skills-based training in the use of the laptop and specific programmes
  • pedagogical support, in terms of how the laptop and ICT in general could be used to enhance learning.

One of the requirements of schools participating in the TELA scheme was for them to provide teachers with professional development (Ministry of Education, 2005). It was recommended that teachers be provided with initial skills training on how to use the laptop, augmented with an ongoing professional development programme highlighting effective use of ICT in teaching and learning. In many cases, though, this did not seem to happen. Few teachers reported receiving support upon their receipt of the laptop. Teachers had mixed feelings with regard to the lack of provision of initial skills training. Some felt that giving teachers laptops without support "was a poor choice", while others felt that it was their responsibility to explore the laptop in their own time.

All teachers reported undergoing some form of professional development related to laptop and/or ICT use over the course of this research, but this did generally not take the form of an organised and planned programme. There was variation in terms of the professional development provided both between schools and also within schools. Generally, it included the following activities:

  • formal ICTPD sessions, sometimes as part of an ICTPD cluster
  • attending conferences
  • doing community training courses or tertiary courses
  • bus tours
  • support from colleagues, principals or technicians
  • informal visits to other schools
  • participation in online forums.

Four of the five schools had participated (School B) or were participating (Schools C, D, and E) in an ICTPD cluster during the period of the research. Several schools also participated in other clusters, such as literacy, numeracy or inquiry learning clusters, which often had an ICT element to them. Not all teachers in these schools, however, participated in the clusters, while most of the teachers at School B who had participated in the ICTPD cluster had since left. Teachers participating in these clusters were not always happy with the professional development they were receiving, identifying factors such as the focus of the professional development not being what they needed at that time, and the time needed to both attend professional development sessions and to then practise and implement what they had learned. Many teachers also commented on the importance of informal professional development, through having access to just-in-time support or informal conversations with colleagues about what they were doing.

The following table summarises the types of ICT professional development that was reported to have occurred in the schools over the course of the research, and comments on the effectiveness of this professional development. It shows the variation in the range and type of professional development offered within each school, and in its impact.

Table 7: Type and impact of professional development commonly offered
Types of Professional Support Impact and Comments
School A
  • Huge focus on professional development in school
  • Informal support by colleagues
  • Largely skill based but including classroom-based activities
  • Principal promoted just-in-time support
  • ICT coordinator provided support
  • Move to focus on pedagogical rather than skills/technical support
  • Visit other schools
  • Improved skills
  • Principal and ICT coordinator felt this was owing to teachers' access to and increasing use of the laptops, through modelling of use, and sharing of how tasks could be done
  • Expectation that if people attend conferences etc. they will share what they learn with their colleagues
School B
  • Informal support by colleagues
  • Largely skill based but including classroom-based activities
  • Syndicate-based peer buddy system in place
  • ICT coordinator and lead teacher provide syndicate level support, and with the teacher provided school level support
  • Technician provided individual support
  • Conferences – skills and thinking about pedagogy
  • Improved skills, but many basic skills still need work
  • Some of professional development, particularly by technician was too fast implementing skills in classroom
School C
  • ICTPD contract
  • nformal support by colleagues
  • Largely skill based but including classroom-based activities
  • Interactive whiteboard professional development
  • Several staff attended conference
  • Subscribe to 'online help system'
  • Courses
  • Improved skills noticed by ICT coordinator, principal and several teachers
School D
  • ICTPD contract
  • Inquiry learning cluster
  • Informal support by colleagues
  • Scheduled sessions/staff meetings
  • Largely skill based but including classroom-based activities
  • Improved skills
  • Effect on teaching and learning (largely owing to inquiry learning cluster)
  • Found just-in-time tend to work better than scheduled sessions
School E
  • ICTPD contract
  • Sessions for teachers to share what they did, although uptake was low
  • ICT coordinator offered support
  • Limited other professional development
  • Principal commented that teachers don't have time to do professional development, and that ICTPD is "baseline . . trouble-shooting sort of stuff"


There was some change in the focus of professional development over time, from a skills-based focus to a more pedagogically-based one; however, external forces seemed to have the most effect on focus. Large amounts of the formal, organised professional development was delivered through ICTPD clusters, meaning school and teacher progression through these programmes has had the most impact, as well as participation in other professional development programmes, such as inquiry learning. Other than these formal programmes, the most common form of professional development seemed to be that of a just-in-time model, which meant that the professional development varied more on an individual basis than on a school basis. The exception to this was when schools had a particular focus, such as literacy or the implementation of a school management system. Overall, the professional development teachers identified as being of most use was that of a just-in-time nature.

Despite its participation in an ICTPD contract, teachers in School E seemed to have the least amount of professional development, and to report the lowest levels of effect. The professional development in Schools B and C seemed largely to have affected teachers' skill levels, while that in Schools A and D was also reported as having an effect on classroom practice. In School D, much of this effect was at least in part owing to the participation in an inquiry learning cluster.

Technical support

In order for ICT, including laptops, to be used, it must not only be available but also working (Means & Olson, 1995; Ringstaff, Yocum & Marsh, 1995). The five schools involved in the research varied in the support they used for technical problems, and in the effectiveness of this support. As the following table shows, all but School A employed a technician to help with solving problems and all schools had technical help available within the school. The effectiveness of the technical support varied. One of the key determinants of effectiveness appeared to be the time it took for problems to be solved. Where technicians, particularly in rural areas, needed to be called in, problems usually took longer to solve, which teachers found frustrating. Teachers were least happy with the provision of technical support at School E, despite the multiple avenues available for help. This appeared to be owing to confusion over which form of support should be used when, and to delays in getting help from the on-call technician.

Table 8: Technical support provisions and their effectiveness
School Technical Support Details Effectiveness
A Principal, ICT coordinator or one of three designated teachers Very good
B Technician visiting weekly; provides support for a number of schools
ICT coordinator provides basic support
Varied from good to erratic; can take time to get problems fixed
C Principal, ICT coordinator or colleagues
Technician who solves problems remotely and visits 1-2/term
Good or excellent
Time delay if a problem requires a site visit by technician can be frustrating
D Principal
Technician as needed
Very good
E ICT coordinator, teacher in charge of ICT, principal, on-call technician and an 0800 number Varied; none better than average


The amount and type of technical support did not appear to have varied over time, although the number of people who were mentioned as being asked for help did increase. Colleagues were mentioned as being able to help with trouble-shooting at the end of the project who had not been mentioned at the start. The three schools where teachers mentioned problems or frustrations related to gaining technical support were rural and provincial schools, meaning that technical support is likely to be less readily available. Having said this, the principals of the two urban schools also had a role in solving many of the technical problems in their schools, so the rural/urban distinction is not clear cut.

Summary of school factors

The five schools involved in this research share similarities and differences. In considering the infrastructure and work culture of these schools we have identified factors that we feel may impact on the effect of the TELA scheme. These aspects are summarised in the table below. It seems clear that at a school level, School A provided a high level of support for the use of ICT by its teachers, and that School E provided a much lower level. Numerous factors seemed to impact on this; however, one factor that appeared to impact on the others appeared to be the principal's feelings regarding the scheme, and the use of ICT for teaching and learning in general. Those principals who believed that ICT could be of use in teaching and learning provided, in general, the necessary infrastructure and support for its use, and an expectation of use. Other factors that seemed to affect an overall school approach to ICT included the stage schools and teachers were at when the scheme began, and the location of the school (which impacted on available technical support and professional development). There also seemed to be similarities between the schools, particularly in terms of the stages through which schools' expectations for the use of ICT progressed (from skills to administration to use in classrooms to pedagogically-based use).

Table 9: Summary of the school-level factors

School A School B School C School D School E
Infrastructure 17 13 14 12 11
Collaboration Collaborative Collaborative Collaborative Collaborative; improved from previous Mixed
Leadership role in terms of ICT use Driven Overseeing Driving Driving Little role
Expectation of ICT use In teaching and learning in pedagogically appropriate ways Developed over time, moving to use in teaching and learning In teaching and learning; to different levels depending on staff skill levels Developed over time, now expected to use in teaching and learning For administrative purposes
Policy Informal Signed contract Computer agreement Policy Very informal
Professional Development Affected practice Improved skills Improved skills Affected practice Little effect
Technical support Very good Mixed, could take time Good Mostly good Average at best

Footnotes

  1. Total number of levels attained by end of research (see Table 4)