Creating digital age learners through school ICT projects

What can the Tech Angels project teach us?

Publication Details

This article surveys recent work on school ICT projects. It looks at the ideas that are informing this work and surveys some of the strategies being used in the drive to turn schools into “ICT-rich learning environments”. In order to illustrate how these ideas play out in “real-world” situations, the article also profiles one New Zealand school-based ICT initiative as a case study-the Tech Angels project at Wellington Girls’ College, focussing in particular on how this school’s experiences can help other schools considering setting up similar programmes.

  • Author(s): Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert, New Zealand Council for Educational Research
  • Date Published: 2006


Over the last few years there has been a lot of talk about bringing New Zealand’s education system into the digital age. Schools have invested significantly in ICT infrastructure and teacher professional development in ICT (from their operational grant and community fundraising), and there has been major new government spending in this area.1 The government funding has supported many large and small school ICT projects and initiatives, including: the ICT professional development (ICT PD) clusters; the Digital Opportunities (DigiOps) initiatives; the Kaupapa ara Whakawhiti Mätauranga (KAWM) project; various online communities and videoconferencing clusters; and the laptops for teachers (TELA) scheme—to name just a few. These investments in school sector ICT are just a small part of an overall cross-sectoral drive to create a “digital future for all New Zealanders, using the power of ICT to enhance all aspects of our lives” (New Zealand Government, 2005, p. 3). The message is clear: New Zealand is moving towards a digital future, and the government expects schools to play a major role in shaping and supporting this future.

This article takes a closer look at the drive to create digital-age/21st-century learning in New Zealand schools. It begins by asking two fundamental questions. First, what are the “big ideas” that have underpinned school ICT investment? In other words, why is this investment necessary, and why is it thought to be a good idea? We outline four of the main arguments that are being used to support this drive, and suggest that these can be located along a continuum from minimal to radical change in current school practice. We then explore the extent to which these arguments are, educationally speaking, good ideas. Second, we look at the question of how schools might go about turning themselves into ICT-rich, “knowledge age” learning environments. We identify the common strategies that have been used overseas and in New Zealand schools, and consider how effective these strategies have been in promoting transformative and sustainable ICT-related changes in school practice.

Finally, as a way of illustrating these ideas, we look at a case study of a New Zealand ICT initiative—the Tech Angels project at Wellington Girls’ College. This project draws on—and exemplifies—many of the ideas explored in this article and raises some interesting questions. We conclude by considering some of the lessons we can learn from the Tech Angels initiative, looking in particular at what needs to be taken into account when developing ICT innovations in schools, and what this and similar projects need to do if they are to continue to develop.