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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Classrooms of the 21st century: how teachers change and adapt in an increasingly computerised world

Joanne Orlando
Lecturer, School of Education, University of Western Sydney

For an expanded academic presentation of the study design used in this research see the author's article in
 Technology, Pedagogy and Education Volume 18, Issue 1 March 2009.

The introduction of information and communication technologies (ICTs) into primary and secondary schools has not been accompanied by a wholesale introduction of new styles of teaching and learning, as sometimes expected. New technologies are influencing school life, but their take-up has been mediated by factors such as the way that the curriculum is organised at school level, teachers’ beliefs about the role of ICT, teachers’ levels of expertise, and teachers’ opportunities for professional development.

To shed more light on these issues, the author undertook a longitudinal qualitative study of the impact of ICT on teaching practices. Her study examined the use of computer technologies by five teachers from government primary and secondary schools in western Sydney, over five years.

The study drew on existing data from the E.ffects Project conducted over 2001–2003, which involved 40 teachers at three primary and four secondary government-sector schools in regional and metropolitan areas of New South Wales. Data for the E.ffects Project had been obtained from interviews with the teachers and classroom observations. The researchers had also conducted interviews with principals, members of school executives and school staff involved in some way with ICT; formal and informal discussion with students; and an analysis of relevant school documents.

For the more recent study, five teachers who took part in the E.ffects Project were re-interviewed and observed in their teaching with ICT. These participants were selected in part for the comprehensiveness of their original data sets as well as the availability of their data over time in order that paths of change could be identified effectively. At the start of the study four of the five participants were in their mid-forties or early fifties and had been teaching for between 15 and 26 years. Their schools were all located in the outer suburban areas of Sydney and were of varying sizes and socio-economic statuses. In all cases, the school executive promoted and encouraged the take-up of ICT and the schools were well-regarded by the State Department of Education in terms of their commitment to the introduction of ICT.

How do teachers adapt to new technologies?

All of the participating teachers showed changes in the ways in which they used ICTs in their teaching over the five years. One change was in the type of content they taught using technologies. At the commencement of the study, teachers used ICTs mainly to teach ICT skills. However, by the end of the study, teachers were using technology principally as a way to teach subject content.

Changes were also evident in the frequency with which the teachers used ICTs in their teaching: they were making increasing use of technology at work and at home, for both professional and personal purposes. They also expanded the range of programs that they used.

Their more frequent ICT usage enabled them to develop a wide range of skills. At the same time they began to take note of the diversity and complexity of the skills incorporated within ICT, and increasingly acknowledged to themselves that it would be impossible for them to obtain proficiency in all of these skills. They were aware too that students were demonstrating highly developed skills across a wide range of ICT areas.

These experiences deepened their understanding of the nature of ICT and its implications for students’ learning and for their own interactions with students. Rather than seeing students’ ICT skills as something to restrict or regulate, some teachers began to allow the students’ knowledge and expertise to have a real influence in the classroom. For example, students were allowed to incorporate sound files or electronic images in what had previously been simply a text-based research report, or to present to the class using PowerPoint rather than sheet cardboard. Teachers also began to use students themselves as a resource, drawing on their ICT knowledge and skills in order to assist in the education of their peers. Assessment procedures took into consideration not only the subject content, but also the suitability of the methods students had chosen to research and present their information.

The teachers were also becoming aware of the real and potential impact of ICTs for students’ academic work and learning processes outside of school. As many students could access the Internet at home, ICT-based learning could continue beyond the classroom. The teachers had begun to place a stronger emphasis on the kind of learning that students could achieve at home and were assigning higher level homework tasks that required ICT-based research.

Putting ICTs in schools was initially quite confronting for the teachers. Over the five years of the study their perceptions changed as they became more personally familiar with the use of new technologies, and as they saw the growing importance of ICT in society, including the workforce students would be going into. Over time, the teachers came to view the application of ICTs as part of their role as teachers in preparing students for the future workforce and today’s world.


Subject Headings

Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Computers in society
Teaching and learning
Teaching profession
Technological literacy
Teacher-student relationships