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 5: Personal factors affecting laptop use

While it is apparent that there is variation at a school level in terms of the work culture that may impact on the effectiveness of the TELA scheme, there is also the potential for individual differences to play a part. Teachers' motivation and expectations of laptop use, as well as their beliefs about the value of ICT for teaching and learning, may play a part in determining how the laptops are used and the influence they have. This section explores the influence of personal factors on the implementation of the TELA scheme.

Motivation and expectation

One of the main objectives of this evaluation was to identify teachers' goals and objectives in using the TELA laptop for various professional tasks and their subsequent patterns of behaviour. This section investigates to what extent having a set of goals and objectives for laptop use may affect how and when teachers use the laptop computers. Each round, teachers were questioned about their goals and objectives of laptop use with respect to the following nine areas:

  1. Towards developing students' ICT skills
  2. Towards lesson planning
  3. Towards integrating ICT in the school curriculum
  4. Towards administration
  5. Towards teachers' own professional development and professional learning
  6. Towards the research and development of teaching materials and resources
  7. Towards ways of working with teaching colleagues in the school
  8. Towards ways of working with teaching colleagues in other schools and the wider community
  9. Towards communicating with others

Goals and expectations of laptop use

At the start of the scheme, some teachers found it difficult to state their goals across the nine areas listed above. Few teachers could articulate goals in all areas. One teacher commented, "Deep down I really haven't a clue". Nevertheless, all teachers were able to identify several general goals – including continuing to use their laptop as they were currently. Many teachers indicated they simply wanted to increase the frequency with which they used their laptops; either to continue using it, or to "use it more and better", to generally upskill or use their laptops more efficiently.

Over time, goals continued to be imprecisely stated, especially when teachers needed to consider a wider range of possible areas of use. Most teachers could articulate precise goals for developing personal skills and confidence. Goals were made explicit by some teachers: for lesson planning and for locating and developing teaching materials. Some teachers were also able to state school expectations for administrative use but most struggled with expectations for teacher professional development, integrating ICT into teaching or working with colleagues in their own or other schools or the wider community.

The types of goals and objectives identified by the teachers involved and their progression over time are illustrated in Tables 10 and 11. These tables describe the extent to which three teachers at two schools expressed their goals over the three years of data gathering and how their goals and expectations developed. These teachers have been chosen because the information on them is the most complete, and because they represent the kinds of goals identified.

With each year of the research, data in Table 10 shows an increasing level of confidence for the School A teacher, who can be seen to have moved from strength to strength. The scope of her use by the third year of data gathering had expanded greatly. There is evidence that this teacher had focused on goals that were closely attuned to her school setting, and to external expectations, and was resetting those goals within the same constraints and pressures.

Table 10: The goals and objectives for a School A teacher's laptop use over time
Goals and Expectations
2006 2007 2008
Personal skills and confidence
My whole knowledge of a whole lot of things has grown in that time. My goals would be use IT more and in the actual learning students are involved in. It has become a much needed, essential part of what we do. My laptop hard drive died. My life was a misery for about a month. It's almost like its your right arm. I use the laptop for everything! What don't I do with it?
Students' ICT skills
I can help them be more systematic and organised with the way they gather their data by maybe giving them skills, so that they can actually make the choice of which particular software application might be the most appropriate for the particular task. I've probably not done that very well. One of the next goals is to try and get the students to be a little more critical and critique the information they're finding there. But we do a lot. We're finding the website and narrowing it and not getting them to do wild searches. Getting into that, looking at your search criteria and looking at how you frame the search and because we've had a big focus on key words and note-taking skills.
Lesson Planning
We visit . . . English online and NZMaths online. Increasingly all the resources we have to use are online. - I use the laptop for everything! . . . admin documents, planning documents, making up work for children to do.
Integrating ICT in the school curriculum
We're involved in a project to improve children's thinking skills using an integrated curriculum inquiry model. ICT skills will play a part in developing those skills.

We need to say to students "We're using this [application] for another purpose not just to learn our way around the programme."

We're nowhere near the end of what you could be doing. What I need to do is learn how to integrate the use of video, photos sound, use podcasts, blogging wiki, get more home-school flow going. Podcasting and blogs? Well that's next year's goal isn't it?
Administration
We have investigated the school management system which we are going to adopt. We've got that [the management package] running but we haven't really set up anything definite. We have put some things in there but it's not really in the general psyche yet. It will come. We're just learning how to master . . . our student management system and trying to do our reports for the first time on that.
Teachers' own professional development and learning

Principal and ICT leader work in tandem. They share tips with us and examples of children's work. We have little workshops from time to time when there is a need. I can ask the principal for help with anything and he will show me.
Research and development of teaching materials and resources
Probably search wider for ideas.

Use the internet to create webquests.

We often do this with our team. One teacher is really active in that regard. She searches out a lot of great stuff. . . . the Ministry relies on us being able to get information from their website or download curriculum items . . . it's just a given that you just use the web and that's it. [Having a laptop] is not really a choice anymore.
Ways of working with colleagues in the school
Instead of taking notes on paper somebody might sit with Kidspiration open and actually record all our thoughts and ideas. It's a record of our discussion and where we want to go.
Our small senior team of five teachers. Working together and sharing and saying, "well here's a site" or, "here's what you can do with this". Or here's how we could actually get that very useful video that's on You Tube but because it's blocked and you can't show it to the children.
Ways of working with colleagues in other schools and the wider community
We're beginning to develop email trees to get information quickly to parents who have access to email. We keep our website current. Maybe improving on that home/‌school connection with email, Internet methods might be the next goals as well.

I should ask my parents "Can I have your email address?" And I can get notices or things to them far more reliably than if I shove a bit of paper in their bags.

Communication between home and school and community is sort of the big push from the Ministry. I'd like to sort of investigate what role does [the Wiki we have set up] play versus what role that a blog page plays and how do you manage those. So I'd like to get more into that aspect.
Communicating with others
We're thinking about the whole podcasting idea and the blogging idea maybe to blur boundaries between home and school. We haven't managed the blogs. We are going to another school to look at that and get some advice on how to set it up and get it going. It was an ideal but we haven't got there yet.


Table 11 shows detailed goals and expectations for two teachers at School C. Both expressed quite explicit goals for developing personal skills and confidence in learning about the functionality of their laptops, specific software applications and the use of peripherals but many other goals were less well articulated. Their changing goals and expectations show some progress over time.

Table 11: The goals and objectives for two School C teachers' laptop use over time
Goals and Expectations
2006 2007 2008
Personal Skills and Confidence
I want to be able to upskill in the active board and more children's programmes. I've definitely upskilled. Not as much as I would like to. We've had a gentleman come and work with us, and we were at a conference last week where they showed us a couple of things. So I've definitely upskilled. I'd like PD on how to find my way around a computer easily, you know the settings and all that.
I think to work more with movie-maker and just to get to know my way around the computer a bit more. That will come with our ICT contact we are on. Very little. Not as much as I would like to. I've been working quite a lot with PowerPoint. The kids have been producing them, and we shared them at assembly last term which was really cool but movie maker, no. I'd like more PD… I feel like I've had quite a bit this year, so I don't know if I need any more but I'd like it to continue.
Students' ICT Skills
 - - -
Yes [it is an objective for the next three terms.] It is a school wide [objective] but also a personal one
They've been emailing each other, not so much the schools, but other kids. Well we've set up a blog place.
Lesson Planning
No - I use the laptop to support my planning and assessment. Plans are done on the laptop and are then projected on the whiteboard.
Yeah I do. That's all I do my planning on – the laptop. Just to continue that yeah. - The principal's all for planning on the computer and doing all that. Just up until part way through this year I still did my weekly plans on paper.
Integrating ICT in the School Curriculum
Yes. Yeah. -
I am beginning to use the laptop more with my class than I did at the beginning of the year. Definitely. I have an active board. I got it last year. I am beginning to use it more.
Administration
Yup.

No not at this stage.

Teachers' own professional Development and Professional Learning
Yes. Yeah. I've done that but I still want more. But I get plenty of professional development. Technical support, I'd like PD on how to find my way around a computer easily, you know the settings and all that.
Just my own professional development. Just so I can use it personally more than I do just know my way around it more.
A lot of Interactive whiteboard stuff, which has been great and we've been doing ICT because we've been doing the contract.
Research and Development of Teaching Materials and Resources
Yup, developing. I haven't made any specific goals yet - no. Yeah I've done that. I look for resources. It would be good to login to the Internet from wherever you are. We use it for prayers, literacy, numeracy, topic, everything really.
I really just make work sheets on it but I'm sure I could use that a bit further. It's been pretty basic resources I've made. I haven't made anything fancy with them.
Ways of Working with the Colleagues in the School 
Yeah, probably just to email more rather than going and seeing them.

I'd like to get to the stage where we have staff meetings where we share things we've learned. We have done that – haven't done it for a while but we have done it – definitely. We have school masses and the principal and I work on those things together. . . We share resources.
Ways of working with colleagues in other schools and the wider community
Yeah just the same. Using emails more. I'm doing my own school thing not [with] other schools.

I'm just forwarding stuff about someone offering to come in. They get saved up for staff meetings and you just flip on to everyone.


The examples of goals and objectives from these three teachers, from two schools, illustrate the variation in the types, scope and depth of teacher goals. While there are clearly some goals that are driven by the school's focus and culture, there are also individual differences, something that was true of the goals and objectives generally.

Over time, meeting goals and expectations proved to be a much slower process than many individual teachers expected. While the School A's teacher's goal to improve students' Internet searching techniques was refined and better articulated by the third year, it essentially remained the same goal throughout the three years. Her plan to introduce blogging to the students also needed to be delayed. The two teachers from School C mentioned the need for developing personal skills and confidence across all three years. Both these teachers reported that they had made considerable progress, but continued to identify goals for increasing personal upskilling with applications and hardware such as the interactive whiteboards.

Impacts of goals and expectations

Seldom did teachers see the difference between learning about technology and learning with technology. While goals for learning about the technology, often on a completely personal level, were well articulated, few teachers expressed goals related to learning with the technology. While goal setting and expectations can be curbed by factors at a school level, they can equally be hampered by a lack of individual or school-wide awareness of what is possible.

The effect school and individual awareness of possibilities can have on teachers' goals can be seen in teachers' attitudes towards professional development. Explicit goals for professional development, stated by these teachers, were to learn about the laptop, its functionality, software applications and peripherals. One of the School C teachers wanted to learn, "Just [for] my own professional development, so I can use it personally more than I do, just know my way around it more". The School A teacher stated that senior management in her school, "share tips with us and examples of children's work. We have little workshops from time to time when there is a need". None of these teachers appeared to realise, in any way at all, the potential of their laptops to support or enhance their own professional learning. Many teachers also did not realise the potential of their computers for various forms of communication apart from email. Teachers' initial goals remained little changed over the period of data gathering.

Attitudes/beliefs and values on use of ICT for teaching and learning in the classroom

It seems likely that the attitudes, beliefs and values of the individual teachers towards ICT, and the role of ICT in teaching and learning, will have an effect on the use and impact of the TELA laptops. Teachers spoke about their beliefs about the potential of ICT (a) to impact on children's cognition, and (b) to serve as a motivating influence. They expressed their opinions about (c) how competent children were with ICT and (d) its role in addressing gender differences in education. Teachers also (e) expressed their thoughts on the role of ICT in the development of positive academic outcomes for children. Each of these themes will be discussed in greater detail along with the clarifying discourse of the teachers, with an overview of the themes presented in Table 12. Generally, the beliefs of teachers regarding the potential impact of ICT did not change to any great degree, although some differences were seen. One teacher commented that, "I think I, for a long time ignored that they existed, computers, then I thought, 'I can't ignore this, I've just got to go and find out a bit more'".

Table 12: Teachers' comments pertaining to the importance of ICT for student outcomes
ICT Theme Description
Cognitive effects ICT as supporting logical thinking; critical thinking; visual and independent learning; self-directed learning.
Motivating effects Increasing motivation and confidence of children; communicating with parents.
Children's Competency Children's current skills with computers.
Gende Impact of ICT on boys' academic outcomes.
Societal impact Teaching skills relevant for the workforce and society; home use.
Role of ICT in cognition The changing role of the teachers and the importance of ICT in children's academic achievements.

Cognitive effects of ICT on children

Several teachers spoke about how they envisaged ICT had the potential to bring about a positive change in children's cognition. In particular, one principal commented on how computer applications can provide a source of interaction for children on various tasks such as making music or telling stories. Another principal noted the relevance of computers for the development of skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving.

Several teachers also noted the potential of ICT to promote a change to a more self-directed style of learning. ICT was seen as a tool to allow for student-driven inquiry. In addition, the visual dimension of the computer was also seen as having the capability to assist in the visualisation of concepts that may otherwise be misconstrued.

Motivating effects of ICT on children

Teachers also observed an effect of ICT as a motivating influence on children's desire to learn. In contrast, one teacher cautioned that not all students find using ICT motivating, commenting that several of the children in his class "hate using it . . .[so] they're not all interested in computers". The role of ICT in facilitating the curiosity of children and their desire to seek out solutions was also noted. One teacher cautioned that "It does engage them more, but I still don't think it can fully replace the pen and pencil".

Children's ICT competency

Some interesting comments were noted about teachers' perceptions of the competence of children with regard to ICT. Several teachers noted gaps in the ICT skills of children, indicating that assumptions that children are 'computer savvy' are misplaced with regard to several areas. Frequently, the popular perception is that children are 'digital natives' and teachers are 'digital immigrants' (Prensky, 2001). However, several teachers noted that children are not innately competent with regard to certain aspects of ICT. In particular, digital literacy skills such as typing or file management on computers were found to be lacking. Both a Years 1-2 teacher and a Years 7-8 teacher noted these deficiencies, indicating that they are being observed across the educational spectrum of ages.

The indication from these comments is that children, even at higher levels within primary schools, are not skilled in a variety of ICT practices – notably those that involve tasks such as file management and touch-typing. Thus, a continuing need for opportunities to develop computer skills in basic ICT is required, despite the availability and pervasiveness of technology in society and in children's homes.

Gender and ICT

In the initial two rounds of interviews, three teachers and one principal commented on their observations on the impact of ICT in readdressing gender difference in achievement, with particular reference to writing skills. Teachers of Years 3-4, 4-5, and 7-8 noted that female children outperform males with respect to handwritten tasks. However, two teachers noted an improvement in boys' performance with respect to computer-based writing tasks. As one teacher commented:

"I think it [ICT] is engaging our boys more.… as an incentive, and something that is probably more user-friendly to [the boys, was that] one of their writing tasks was one week on a computer. And the writing that came out of that was great."

Societal impact of teaching ICT

A common theme that emerged during the semi-structured interviews was the importance of teaching ICT skills to children to enable them to participate in the workplace of the future. This was seen as an important rationale for the introduction of ICT into the primary school curriculum, and as was previously noted, the ICT skills of these children were lacking. In this instance, the teaching of computer skills in itself was the main focus, as opposed to using computers to teach a particular theoretical concept or skill, such as numeracy or spelling:

"They are learning different skills. I mean they are skills they need for the world we live in. Say like, keyboard skills and mouse, programme and Internet skills, you know."

As part of this increased emphasis on ICT being used at primary school level in classrooms, there was an awareness that children were already using ICT at home. As one teacher explained, using ICT was important because "you're actually more at their level, because [it's] what they love, it used to be that your teacher was way behind the eight ball".

The role of ICT in the academic performance of children

Several comments by teachers relating to their beliefs of the potential impact of ICT on children's cognitive and social learning mentioned that it was how technology was employed that was important for academic outcomes. The use of technology was seen as a neutral tool by some, but others noted that it was how it was employed that was of significance. As one teacher commented, "In itself it's not going to lift achievement, in itself it's not going to do all the marvellous sort of things we want to do".

Summary of personal factors

All teachers who participated in this research believed that ICT could have a positive impact on teaching and learning, although they differed in the type and level of effect it could have. Teachers' beliefs generally appeared stable over time, although there was some shift regarding its potential effect on students' achievement. Insufficient information regarding teachers' beliefs and goals was able to be gathered from the interviews to draw a firm conclusion regarding this relationship. It did seem, however, that those teachers whose beliefs regarding the potential impact of ICT were rooted in pedagogical change were more likely to identify specific goals relating to the use of ICT in teaching and learning. This is something that needs further exploration.

One of the issues that arose during this research was that few teachers were able to fully articulate goals in all areas. Several teachers made comments about lacking sufficient knowledge to identify goals, along the lines of 'not knowing what they didn't know'. The very general goals that were often identified seems to support this. Others commented on the relationship between their individual goals and that of the wider school. For teachers, individual goals were driven both by the school's focus and culture, and also their individual focus, beliefs and skill level.

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