Laptops for Teachers: An evaluation of the TELA scheme in schools (Years 1 to 3)

Publication Details

The purpose of this evaluation was to investigate the impacts of the Laptops for Teachers Scheme (TELA) on Years 1 to 3 teachers’ work in the Waikato region.

Author(s): Bronwen Cowie, Alister Jones and Ann Harlow, with Mike Forret, University of Waikato.

Date Published: July 2010

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Section 6: Sustaining changes in teacher laptop use

The area of immediate concern identified in this evaluation is the same as that of the Year 4 to 6 teachers' evaluation in 2007 – the need for professional learning opportunities with a focus on the pedagogies that would enable the best use of laptops and ICT at the junior levels.

Potential for laptop use

Teachers were asked to identify the 'main' area that they wanted to develop for their use of the laptop in their teaching role from a list of four goals. Table 12 shows the proportions of teachers choosing each of four development goals in 2008, and compares these with figures from 2006 and 2007. There was an increasing emphasis on learning about the potential of ICT to support teaching and learning with nearly three-fifths identifying this as a main goal in 2008.

Table 12: Teachers' goals for using their laptops in their teaching role (2006-2008)
Goals 2006
(n=232)
%
2007
(n=329)
%
2008
(n=293)
%
Learn more about the  potential of ICT to support teaching and learning 47 52 59
Learn to use/improve  ICT skills 27 18 18
Learn how to  create/develop teaching and learning resources 14 20 14
Learn about  accessing teaching, learning and assessment resources 12 10 9


The goals in teacher focus groups each year were also mainly related to use in the classroom as a tool for teaching and learning, although discussion also highlighted the support needed to achieve this main goal. By 2008, although most teachers had access to a data projector in their school, teachers felt that if they had a data projector or an interactive whiteboard in their own classroom they would progress to using the laptop more effectively. Further professional development following involvement in the ICT PD contracts was seen as a goal – teachers wanted personalised professional learning opportunities to help them to use their laptop as a teaching tool in the classroom. At the same time, focus group teachers wanted opportunities to share and learn from others.

Supporting sustained laptop use

Teachers have shown that in the junior classrooms, laptops have made an important contribution to changing ways of teaching and learning. The laptops alone have not effected this change – they are a part of a system of factors that afford teachers possibilities for change and then help to sustain these changes. The questionnaire identified a number of factors that may have influenced teachers in their use of laptops in the classroom. These covered approaches to leadership support, knowledge sharing and training, school technological infrastructure and time allowances for teachers to grow in confidence. Teachers were asked to note the importance of each factor to their own use of the laptop in the classroom at the time of responding. They were then asked to identify the factor they found most important. The goal was to develop an understanding of how the factors operated as a system of influences. Table 13 shows the factors that teachers felt were 'very important' to their use of laptops in the classroom.

Table 13: Very important influences on teachers' laptop use in the classroom (2006-2008)
Very important  influences on teachers'
laptop use in the classroom
2006
(n=271) %
2007
(n=340) %
2008
(n=317) %
School networking 69 72 71
Prompt technical  assistance 63 72 68
Confidence/understanding - 70 64
Time to experiment 65 68 62
Easy access to  equipment 35 44 55
Leadership support 49 54 51
PD/support 54 58 50
Collaborative  culture 41 47 41


Teachers were asked to rate each factor independently and so were able to select more than one factor as being very important. In many cases, they selected a combination of factors. School networking and prompt technical assistance were considered to be 'very important' by between two-thirds and three-quarters of teachers. Confidence and time to experiment were considered to be 'very important' by around two-thirds of teachers. Half of teachers considered leadership and PD support to be 'very important' to their use of the laptop in the classroom. Easy access to equipment meant a lot to an increasing proportion of teachers, a factor that had an increasing influence over the three years (2006–35%: 2007–44%: 2008–55%).

The relative importance of these factors was different for users with different levels of self-reported confidence and ability. Table 14 shows how teachers at each level of ability selected the most important factor.

Table 14: Most important influence on teachers' laptop use in the classroom (2008)
Most Important Influence Total
(n=317) %
Expert
Users
(n=76) %
Intermediate
Users
(n=214) %
Beginners
(n=27) %
Time to Experiment 16 16 17 11
School Networking 15 17 15 7
PD/Support 15 8 15 26
Confidence /Understanding 13 7 15 11
Collaborative Culture 14 5 5 11
Easy access to Equipment 12 12 13 0
Prompt Rechnical Assistance 11 16 10 7
Leadership Support 4 4 3 7
School-wide focus on  ICT 4 7 3 7
School Culture for Change 4 7 3 0
No Response 3 3 2 11


Looking across the system of factors in 2008, those who rated themselves as expert users identified 'school networking' (17%–15% overall) and 'prompt technical assistance' (16%–11% overall) as the most important influence in a greater proportion than the norm and either beginners or intermediate users. Nearly half of expert users identified technological infrastructure issues (school networking, prompt technical assistance and easy access to equipment) as the most important influence on their laptop use. Interestingly, a higher proportion of expert users had a perception of the need for a 'school culture for change' (7%–4% overall).

Teachers who identified themselves as intermediate-level users selected 'time to experiment' (17%–16% overall) and 'confidence and understanding' (15%–13% overall) as the most important influence in a greater proportion than the norm and either expert users or beginners. Nearly half of intermediate users identified personal growth needs (time to experiment, professional development, and confidence and understanding) as being most important, suggesting that they were aware of their own knowledge and expertise as a limit on their laptop use. A higher proportion of intermediate users were also aware of the need for 'easy access to equipment' (13%–12% overall).

Those who rated themselves as beginners identified 'professional development and support' (26% - overall 15%) as the most important influence in a greater proportion than the norm and either expert users or intermediate users. Nearly half of beginning users identified personal growth needs (time to experiment, professional development, and confidence and understanding) as being most important.

Teachers are now focused on maximising the use of the laptop in the classroom. Focus group teachers reiterated this goal of learning more about laptop use for teaching.

A model for sustainability

On the basis of their work with 'accomplished' teachers, Shulman and Shulman (2004) stipulated that an accomplished teacher is a member of a professional community who is ready, willing, and able to teach and to learn from his or her teaching experiences. In their terms, being ready is to do with possessing vision; being willing is about having motivation and being able involves both knowing and being able 'to do'. An accomplished teacher is also reflective (learning from experience) and communal in that they act as a member of a professional community. They argue that these aspects need to be replicated at the institutional and policy levels.

Shulman and Shulman show that teachers have different dispositions to change, learning and innovation, but can learn and gain confidence through the social function of sharing expertise with others in similar situations, consolidated through practice and reflection on new knowledge and skills.

The findings of this evaluation show that individual teachers have different dispositions to change (as exemplified by willingness to use ICT), learning (as illustrated by their participation in online discussion, for example) and innovation (demonstrated by their examples of how they used the laptop for teaching in the curriculum areas) but can learn and do gain confidence through collaboration with and peer mentoring from colleagues. This is consolidated through practice and reflection over time on new knowledge and skills as has been illustrated in the findings. Increasing confidence in and enthusiasm for using ICT along with reflective practice would contribute to sustainability and generalisability to further contexts.

The findings of the study also support consideration of the second and thirds levels of Shulman and Shulman's model leading to a 'nested' framework for teacher development in the use of the laptops as shown in Figure 1. The findings indicate that individual teachers are at the centre of a communication, collaboration and practice network that is grounded in the context of their school culte, technology and leadership/vision. Where schools collaborate, as in rural areas, other schools are part of this dynamic framing context. This whole is embedded within the education policy context that provides direction, resources and support (professional development programmes) for what teachers do and how they work.

Figure 1: Levels of analysis: individual and school(s) (Adapted from Shulman & Shulman, 2004, p. 268)

Figure 1: Levels of analysis: individual and school(s) (Adapted from Shulman & Shulman, 2004, p. 268)

In this model, the teacher is supported by other teachers within the immediate (syndicate) and school context to develop a shared vision of how the laptop may be used in teaching and learning, and is able to reflect on his or her use of the laptop in the light of feedback and collaboration with others within the community of practice. Hennessey, Ruthven and Brindley (2005) define this as a social framework within which the planning, support, and evaluation of student learning takes place. An evolving pedagogic change as a result of this shared knowledge and understanding is possible as practice, feedback and reflection continues.

Years 1 to 3 teachers in this evaluation considered the laptop to be a valuable tool in the teaching and learning process and many were able to give examples of activities that exemplified effective use of e-Learning as defined by the e-Learning Action Plan (Ministry of Education, 2006, p.10), indicating that for these teachers their role in the classroom might be changing. However, even in schools where an ICT culture had been nurtured, there were individuals, mostly classifying themselves as beginning users who struggled to make sense of new ways of thinking about pedagogy – very few beginners gave examples of laptop use in curriculum areas and those who commented on the impact of their laptop use on children's learning were yet to be fully convinced about such an impact. It appears that given the provision of a sound technological infrastructure and active leadership in the use of ICT, a collaborative culture in a school and in the local community of schools could be the most efficient way of effecting sustainable pedagogic change at the junior level.


Discussion

These findings resemble those of Years 4 to 6 teachers in the final year of their evaluation: with expert users, already confident and proficient in the use of ICT, focusing on the internal supporting factors in their schools; and others striving to come to grips with the wide spectrum of ICT developments and how these might be applied to their professional work and teaching. It would seem that at the beginning, the goal should be to increase the confidence and understanding of teachers within a collaborative school culture to the point at which they feel comfortable with all ICT tasks. While this is being attended to, school systems need to be introduced along with expectations for laptop use and appropriate professional learning opportunities, along with support in terms of technical expertise and access to peripheral equipment.

The evaluation data suggest that when leadership in the school values ICT use, provides a reliable school technological infrastructure, and supports and encourages a collaborative culture within a school, teachers feel able and are supported by an expectation to share with others, they benefit from wider opportunities to learn new ways of doing things. In this way, the teacher uses the laptop and gains confidence and enthusiasm for using ICT, and can then reflect on pedagogic beliefs and extend the use of the laptop for tasks that are part of the professional life of a teacher.

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