Digitalisation in schools
Ifous’ R&D Programme on Digitalisation in schools started in 2014 and came to an end in January 2017. The municipalities (i.e. the local education authorities in public sector schools) that participated in the programme were Angered (a suburb of Gothenburg), Bjuv, Helsingborg, Huddinge, Olofström, Skellefteå, Vellinge and Östersund. The aim of the programme was to develop the digital competence of teachers, head teachers and local authority representatives, as well as find new ways of working in the organisation to support knowledge sharing and create a platform for further development.
In order to ensure that the R&D programme was firmly embedded in scientific practice, the programme management team was supported by an Advisory Board consisting of researchers and experts.
At the start of the programme, a questionnaire was sent to teachers and head teachers in the participating municipalities. It revealed a wide disparity in terms of access to, and use of, digital tools among the schools participating in the programme. Teachers were positive about using digital tools, and as part of the programme they wanted the opportunity to test and try out new ways of working with digital tools; to gain inspiration; to get support for developing their own work; and to be able to exchange experiences with others participating in the programme.
The programme consisted of a series of so-called ’learning loops’. A learning loop is a task designed by the programme management team to be undertaken by the teachers, head teachers and local authority representatives participating in the programme. Six loops were set up and in total twelve different tasks were designed. The teachers and head teachers were asked to reflect upon their work within the loops in blog posts.
The VIS (Science in School) Research Network analysed the teachers’ blogs and also provided feedback to those teachers who requested it. VIS identified variations in the engagement of the head teachers, the support of colleagues and the equipment in schools, which influenced the extent to which teachers were able to develop their digital teaching. The teachers highlighted collaborative learning as a prerequisite for digitalisation to succeed. Creating a knowledge sharing culture is a natural way for both pupils and teachers to plan, organise and conduct lessons. The learning loops that were perceived as relevant and important all resulted in increased reflection and discussion within the group. When the teachers are encouraged to reflect and question their own conclusions, which is a key part of the scientific method, it becomes a metacognitive approach. The teachers report that they have a stronger focus on the process than on the outcome.
Emerga, an evaluation consulting firm, which followed the entire programme and whose role was partly to help the steering group and project management team achieve their objectives, also analysed the head teachers’ blogs. Although commitment amongst the head teachers to write blogs was relatively low, the evaluators found that the head teachers observe a clear increase in their teachers’ knowledge about how digital tools can be used and incorporated into their teaching. They also identify an increased use of digital tools and greater collaboration between peers. They believe that the programme has resulted in greater clarity about the aims and objectives of digitalisation. At the same time, they point out that it is difficult to share these insights and learnings with teachers that did not participate in the programme.
Although the R&D programme was mostly carried out locally and online, four seminars attended by a total of around 240 participants were also held.
Although it is difficult to determine the direct impact of an R&D programme of this kind, the evaluators still believe that impacts can be seen at both an individual and structural level, i.e. within teams and in schools. There is increased awareness and knowledge among many head teachers about how educators can utilise digital tools in their daily teaching. On the other hand, it is more difficult to assess whether the programme has led to increased knowledge among teachers about the use of digital tools in the teaching (of subjects) or to an increased knowledge about teaching methods.
The evaluators conclude that overall the programme progressed successfully. The focus of the learning loops was changed slightly so that they had a clearer connection to ongoing educational activities. When the evaluators visited the municipalities, participants were given the opportunity to meet each other and discuss. In addition, the seminars provided a welcome opportunity to meet colleagues and discuss common issues.
Emerga believes that collaborative working on digitalisation has been strengthened and developed as a result of participation in the programme. In conclusion, local education authorities that plan to participate in similar programmes are advised to be clear about why they want to participate in the programme and how the R&D programme can be linked to their core activities and existing work. Other requirements are a robust organisation at a local level and a local steering group to monitor progress.