Laptops for teachers: An evaluation of the TELA scheme in schools (Years 4 to 6)
The purpose of this evaluation was to investigate the impacts of the Laptops for Teachers Scheme (referred to from here as the TELA scheme) on Years 4 to 6 teachers’ work over a period of three years (2004-2006) and to record emerging changes in laptop use. The investigation focused on the Ministry of Education expectation (Ministry of Education, 2004) that teacher access to a laptop for their individual professional use would lead to gains in confidence and expertise in the use of ICTs, to efficiencies in administration, would contribute to teacher collaboration and support the preparation of high quality lesson resources. It was also anticipated that teacher would use their laptop in the classroom for teaching and learning.
Author(s): Bronwen Cowie, Alister Jones and Ann Harlow with Mike Forret, Clive McGee and Thelma Miller, University of Waikato. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.
Date Published: May 2010
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The purpose of this evaluation was to investigate the impacts of the Laptops for Teachers Scheme (referred to from here as the TELA scheme) on Years 4 to 6 teachers' work over a period of three years (2004-2006) and to record emerging changes in laptop use. The investigation focused on the Ministry of Education expectation (Ministry of Education, 2004) that teacher access to a laptop for their individual professional use would lead to gains in confidence and expertise in the use of ICTs, to efficiencies in administration, would contribute to teacher collaboration and support the preparation of high quality lesson resources. It was also anticipated that teacher would use their laptop in the classroom for teaching and learning.
This evaluation report presents findings from three annual cycles of national questionnaires and focus groups with Years 4 to 6 teachers in New Zealand primary schools. An annual questionnaire asked teachers about various aspects of their laptops experience, including school support for laptops, professional development, their use of laptops at home and in school, and their goals for future use. Each year, two focus groups were held – one in an urban area and one in a rural area. The focus groups allowed teachers to talk about their experiences and changes in their use of the laptop over the three years. In this final report, questionnaire results are presented together with the results from focus groups held over three years.
As a direct result of the TELA policy to provide teachers with laptops rather than desktop computers, teachers reported that they now had flexibility of time and place for working and had experienced efficiencies arising from the ability of the laptop to act as the sole repository of work-related documents. Teachers commented on the improved access to resources afforded by TELA laptop ownership, and how the laptop had helped them to become more confident in the use of ICT. For some the laptop had been a stimulus to their exploring the use of ICTs. Nearly a quarter of the 2007 respondents reported the most exciting outcome of their having a TELA laptop derived from its value as a motivational tool in the teaching and learning process.
The evidence in this report demonstrates that the implementation of the Laptops for Teachers scheme has resulted in progress towards the achievement of the goals for this initiative. It indicates:
- increasing confidence and expertise with ICT in many teachers
- increasing use of laptops to strengthen collegial relationships
- efficiencies gained in lesson planning, preparation, administration and reporting
- growing use of laptops for classroom practice and student learning activities.
It needs to be pointed out, however, that while a random sample of schools were surveyed, the conclusions are based on self-report data from a group of volunteer respondent teachers. Furthermore, there was considerable variation between individual teachers – first, in terms of where they began in 2005, second, their degree of progress, and third, their self-reported competence and confidence at the end of 2007. In spite of these factors, a number of broad conclusions can be made.
1. Confidence with ICT
Since the distribution of laptops to Years 4 to 6 teachers in 2005, there has been an improved confidence and expertise with ICT, with an increasing proportion of teachers reporting that they were comfortable using their laptops for a range of tasks.
Over the three years, the proportion of those teachers rating themselves as experts rose from 18% to 32%. There was a trend towards teachers becoming more comfortable over time with a wider range of tasks. Throughout the study, those who rated themselves as beginners tended to be more likely to be comfortable using their laptops for word processing, emailing and searching the Internet than for other tasks.
2. More effective communication and collaboration
By 2007, four fifths of teachers were using the laptop to email colleagues, both in their own school and in other schools, and half of the teachers used email to contact parents. The provision of a permanent record of communication was seen to be an advantage of email, particularly since the laptop provided easy access when required. Laptop-based collaborative work was becoming more prevalent, and over the three-year period there had been increased use of laptops for the three listed collaborative tasks – participation in online discussions (2005–25%: 2007–33%), to access the Internet for professional readings, teacher association news, etc. (2005–78%: 2007–86%), and for the collaborative development of units and lesson materials (2005–76%: 2007–86%).
The laptops had enabled effective communication with colleagues and parents, and ease of collaboration among teachers, strengthening collegial ways of working. The laptop provided for increased connectivity and a forum for feedback and discussion between teachers and students for curricular and extra-curricular activities.
3. Efficiencies gained
Exclusive access to a portable laptop computer gave teachers the flexibility of time and space to carry out their professional work; the laptop serving as the sole repository for all work-related documents amplified this benefit.
Over the three-year period, there was an increase in the routine use of the laptops for all listed administrative tasks. In particular, the majority of teachers were routinely using the laptop to write reports (2007–86%), and three-quarters of teachers used the laptop routinely to record student grades and monitor progress. Use for administration was a commonly noted school expectation and linked with other initiatives such as school use of electronic student databases.
When schools had well set up administration systems, many teachers found that using the laptop for administration saved time and was more efficient.
The most prevalent 'routine' use of laptops made by teachers across the three years, for lesson planning and preparation, continued to be to prepare customised student handouts and worksheets that were likely to be linked to curriculum documents, with four-fifths of teachers using the laptop 'routinely' for this task by 2007, and nearly all teachers making some use of laptops for this purpose. By 2007, nearly all teachers made some use of their laptops to access the Internet to get information to help plan or prepare lessons and to get assessment-related documents. Laptops have allowed teachers to keep all lesson materials in one place that is easily accessible as well lesson materials in an electronic format are easy to adapt and share, which may be factors influencing the growing use of laptops for planning tasks.
Improved access to resources afforded by TELA laptop ownership meant that planning and preparing lessons was more efficient with the widespread use of planning templates, shared folders and resources, suggesting standardisation and sharing across schools in planning.
4. Use of laptops for classroom practice
At the end of three years, over three-quarters of teachers made use of the laptop for classroom practice. In 2007, around 78% of the 353 Years 4 to 6 teachers spoke about using their laptops with individual students, small groups of students, or with the whole class. Information from both questionnaire and focus groups responses indicated that Years 4 to 6 teachers used their laptops in a range of curriculum areas and in varied ways. By 2007, around three-quarters of teachers made some (either 'routine' or 'occasional') use of the laptop as a stand-alone tool in the classroom to view work produced by students or the teacher, to access the Internet during lessons and to provide extra assistance to individual students. Teachers were also using the laptop plus data projector in all phases of lessons to present visual material, to build the Internet into a lesson and to present student work. Teachers used their laptops to provide students with opportunities to reinforce their learning by completing tasks that were often interactive. The laptop was used by teachers to facilitate shared learning, to show students how to carry out certain tasks by providing structured assistance, and allowed teachers to make learning outcomes transparent to students.
There was increased laptop access to the Internet in classrooms and teachers were using this to enable students to enter and explore new learning environments, overcoming the barriers of distance and time, by allowing students to go on virtual field trips, to bring real-world examples into the classroom and to communicate with students in another country. In this way, one of the impacts of teachers' laptop use on student learning has been to help students to make connections across learning areas as well as connections to the wider world.
There was increased easy access to a data projector, allowing three-quarters of teachers to use their laptops with a data projector in the classroom for whole-class use. The most prevalent uses of the laptop and peripherals were to show CD ROMs or DVDs, to present student work and to introduce a topic.
There were opportunities for students to encounter learning in a variety of ways and through different tasks by using the laptop with a range of tools or peripherals and with software that enhanced the relevance of new learning. In classes where students were allowed to use the teacher's laptop (up to two-thirds of teachers allowed student use with supervision), students were able to use a range of tools such as digital cameras, and recorders with specialised software, and the Internet that allowed them to take their learning in English, mathematics, science and social studies further. When the laptop was used in a classroom where there was access to the Internet, easy access to digital resources, software and peripherals, teachers had the opportunity to provide multi-modal resources.
5. Influences on teacher laptop use
A system of contextual and teacher personal factors interact to frame and shape teacher integration of laptops into their professional lives. The findings indicate leadership, professional learning opportunities and the school technological infrastructure, influence teacher laptop use. There was anecdotal evidence of the laptop supporting teacher engagement with other initiatives and also of other initiatives promoting laptop use.
Leadership support from the principal, syndicate leader and/or the ICT lead teacher was considered to be 'very important' by over half of the 2007 questionnaire respondents in influencing their use of the laptop in the classroom. Overall, a higher proportion of teachers felt that school leaders were 'very supportive' in schools with expectations for laptop use. There had been a substantial increase in the proportion of teachers reporting the support of an ICT lead teacher or computer committee – up to 75% in 2007, and a full-time or part-time technician – up to 55% in 2007.
Just under three-quarters (72%) of teacher in 2007 rated their own confidence and understanding as a very important influence in their use of their laptop. Linked with this, two-thirds rated time to experiment with their laptop as very important. Just under half rated access to professional development as a very important influence on their use of the laptop. There was a growing participation and presumably provision of formal professional development opportunities in the use of the laptop for teaching – for support or ideas for classroom use, use of specific software programs and developing resources. Nearly three-quarters of Years 4 to 6 teachers (243–70%) had received formal laptop-based professional development in 2007 (2005–42%: 2006–71%). Sharing ideas with other staff members was mentioned positively as a source of professional development with over two-thirds of teachers reporting that other teachers in the school were very supportive. Just under half rated a collaborative culture for laptop use as a very important influence on their use of the laptop.
Teachers appreciated the increased access to the school network, the Internet and additional equipment over the three-year period. In 2007, over three-quarters (77%) of teachers selected school networking and school connections and over two-thirds (68%) selected prompt technical assistance as being 'very important' influences on their use of laptops for teaching and learning. There was increased laptop access to the Internet in classrooms (2005–73%: 2006–87%: 2007–92%) and teachers' easy access to a data projector had increased over the three-year period (2005–55%: 2006–69%: 2007–74%). Easy access to an interactive whiteboard remained low at 12% in 2006 and 14% in 2007. There was also an increase in the proportion of teachers reporting technical support over the three-year period with the support of colleagues remaining the most frequent form of technical support for laptop use.
At least half of the 2007 respondents indicated each of the preceding factors was a very important influence on their laptop use, which suggests the need to consider these factors as a system. The variation in expertise of those who rated these different factors as the most important influence on their laptop use indicates that all of the factors need to be considered in an ongoing way, albeit with a different priority and in a different form for teachers at different stages of personal professional development in laptop/ICT use.
Teacher anecdotal commentary indicated that the laptop had enhanced their involvement in ICT PD cluster activities, supported their use of school-wide student data management systems and facilitated their work in numeracy and literacy, and vice versa.
6. Teachers' main goal for their laptop use
Over the period of three years, 'learning about the potential of ICT to support teaching' rose from 48% to 59% overall, as teachers' main goal for future development. In 2007, expert users (70%), intermediate users (58%) and beginners (27%) reported that this was the main area they needed development in. For beginners, a greater need was 'to improve skills' (58%).
Implications from the findings
Implications from these findings have relevance for the parameters of the TELA policy, for school leaders and for teachers.
The evaluation indicated that school and teacher use of the TELA laptops is shaped and framed by an intersection between school and individual teacher vision for, and expertise in, the use of ICT, school technological infrastructure, school leadership and systems for ICT use and teacher opportunities for professional learning. Each of these aspects is important at any time but they are important in different ways for different schools, teachers and tasks suggesting a nested systems approach is required to encourage and sustain the integration of the laptops into teachers' work.
- We recommend that policymakers adopt a systems approach to the development of policy and practices to initiate, extend and sustain the integration of the laptops/ICT into school and teacher work, particularly in relation to teaching and learning.
- We recommend school leaders be encouraged and supported to adopt a systems approach to the development of policy and practices to initiate, extend and sustain the integration of the laptops/ICT into school and teacher work, particularly in relation to teaching and learning.
School leader support for and understanding of the potential of the laptops/ICT was influential with regard to the development of a school technological infrastructure for laptop use, and school organisational support for, expectations of, and culture for ICT use. Principal active use and leadership was said to be desirable not essential, as long as the principal provided for an overall supportive environment for ICT use.
- We recommend school leaders, particularly the principal, and including board of trustees members, are supported to learn about and lend their active support for the use of laptops/ICT within their schools.
The percentage of active use reported by Years 4 to 6 teachers was greater than that for Year 7 and 8 teachers. It may be that this is a consequence of greater awareness and use of ICT in society overall. It may also be that this has occurred because teachers in Year1-8 schools have been able to build on the experiences of Year 7 and 8 colleagues.
- We recommend that school leaders encourage and support all teachers to participate in the TELA scheme as a means to promote whole-school development in the use of ICT.
The indication from this evaluation was that irrespective of teacher self-reported confidence, teachers saw a need for further professional development on, and time to explore, how to extend their laptop use for teaching and learning, including the use of the laptop with other equipment. There was general support for the value of peer mentoring in this. Peer mentoring was considered to provide teachers with help and support that was specific to their needs and peers were usually on hand for ongoing help. Indications were that teachers were making considerable use of their laptops in teaching English.
- We recommend that schools be encouraged and supported to make provision for teachers to work together to develop and share ideas and activities for teaching and learning, particularly in areas other than English, so as to increase laptop/ICT use across the curriculum.
- We recommend schools be supported and encouraged to provide opportunities for on-site 'experts' to continue to extend their expertise including their expertise in mentoring and working with colleagues.
- We recommend ongoing support for schools to collaborate to share knowledge and expertise in ICT use, particularly for teaching and learning.
Laptops provided flexibility of time and place for working but teachers being able to utilise this flexibility is dependent on school policies for ICT use and teacher access to a robust and reliable school technological infrastructure (networking and technical assistance). The development of school technological infrastructure has expertise and resource implications.
- We recommend that a mechanism is put in place to ensure that schools have access to advice and guidance about infrastructure development, including the resources and systems needed to operationalise their vision for ICT use within their school.
- We recommend a mechanism be put in place to ensure that schools have quality access to technical support.
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