Laptops for Teachers: An evaluation of the TELA scheme in Auckland 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 Greater Auckland area.

Author(s): Associate Professor Judy Parr and Dr. Lorrae Auckland UniServices Limited. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: June 2010

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Executive Summary

The purpose of this report is twofold. Firstly, it provides a summary of data reported earlier in this longitudinal evaluation of the TELA (Teacher laptops) initiative in primary schools within the Greater Auckland area. These data have already been reported to the Ministry of Education in three interim reports and, as such, they are not reported in full again in this final report. Secondly, it describes and considers new data gathered in 2008 at the conclusion of the evaluation. Shifts in practice and use between 2005 and 2008 are considered where appropriate.

The results of the evaluation demonstrate clearly the value of such a programme for participating teachers. The high levels of functionality and the portability of the laptops were key factors in their use. The teachers in receipt of them reported increased levels of confidence and skill in using an increasing range of functions on their laptop computer. The laptops became, for many teachers, an extension of their professional being; if they were temporarily unavailable, the teachers felt bereft!

The case study work, in particular, showed how the laptop was central, became a hub, in terms of teaching and learning in the classroom. While the initiative aims were to provide an efficient professional management tool and to increase confidence and competence so that technology was more widely used in teaching and learning, the centrality of the laptop in actual classroom practices was a somewhat unexpected, but very positive, outcome.

The first chapter of this report briefly introduces the TELA initiative and places it within the policy context in which it was implemented. It also introduces the evaluation. In chapter two the methodologies used across this evaluation are described in depth. Findings from the evaluation are reported over six chapters as outlined below.

In the first of these, chapter three, findings from a baseline survey completed early in 2005 are summarised. These findings concerned the reported beliefs, practices and computer usage of the participant teachers PRIOR to the TELA initiative being introduced. They showed, amongst other things, that most teachers were reasonably confident in their ability to use computers for a range of professional purposes. They reported, on average, having a fair range of skills and a good level of skill across that range. They believed that the laptops were a valuable tool for teachers and that all teachers should have access to one. They also believed that doing so would impact on most areas of their professional lives. They did not see the laptops having as great an impact on classroom practices or student academic outcomes as they did in other areas, such as preparation and planning.

Chapter four summarises data gathered during the latter part of 2005. These data provided an understanding of the early impact of the initiative and considered the extent to which policy goals were being met in these early stages. At this stage of the initiative the laptops had become the most commonly used type of computer, as reported by these participants, in all areas except pedagogical use (use in the classroom with students). However, teachers did report that the laptops facilitated the use of other computers. There was also reported a marked increase in pedagogical use of computers overall, suggesting the introduction of the laptops was having an effect on student learning experiences. The most commonly reported use of the laptops was for the planning and preparation of lessons. This was also, reportedly, one of the areas of high impact. Overall, teachers reported gains in both their level and range of skills. They also reported gains in their levels of confidence in using computers over the previous six months, the time most had had their laptops for.

Focus group data gathered during 2006 are discussed in chapter five. Two sets of focus groups were undertaken. The first considered participant usage of laptops during the year and the second the perceived barriers to laptops use. In nearly all instances, teachers reported an increased dependency on their laptops in all areas of their professional lives. They valued their portability and the flexibility to work ‘anywhere, anytime’. For many, the key barriers to use seem to have been related to a cost-benefit analysis. For low users at two schools it seems the effort to learn how to use and integrate their laptops was too great for the perceived benefits. Being an expert teacher seems to have had a negative impact on laptop use as such teachers already had extensive resources and knowledge to draw upon. At one school there were no identified barriers, although all teachers interviewed spoke of their desire for more sophisticated technology in the school. The existing technology no longer seemed to be sufficient to meet their needs.

Data gathered in 2008, including case study visits to schools, are then considered in chapters six and seven. The purpose of these chapters is to paint a picture of the impact of the TELA initiative four years into its implementation. Some comparisons with the picture drawn through the 2005 data are also made in chapter six. The survey data gathered in 2008 showed that the laptops had become an important tool in terms of classroom use. Nearly a third (29%) of the surveyed teachers reported their laptops were essential tools in their classroom practices. For most, their use of laptops had changed significantly from what it had been three years earlier. There was, however, considerable variation in the levels of computer use for all computer types across all areas of use. Professional development remained the least commonly reported use, with the exception of personal use. There were, again, increases in both the level and range of skills reported, although the latter was not significant. It seems that in 2008 teachers were deepening their skills in fewer areas.

The case studies confirmed the centrality of the laptops in teachers’ professional practices. In the three schools visited the use of technology was linked to a clearly articulated vision and perceived student need. Laptops were a key feature of this integration. In all schools common features included this clearly articulated vision, strong leadership and teacher champions as well as a professional learning culture.

The final findings chapter (chapter eight) discusses responses to both the 2005 survey and the 2008 survey. Only data gathered from those participants who completed both surveys are used in this discussion. Across the group, as in the preceding chapters, it was found that laptop use had increased significantly. This group of teachers had remained on a learning curve in 2008, building further on their increases in skill and confidence, as reported in the 2005 survey data.

Finally, in chapter nine, the findings from the previous chapters are drawn together. This chapter considers the overall impact of the laptops on teacher practice, the conditions required for the successful integration of the laptops into classroom teaching and learning and their future potential as a tool.