Do school-level factors influence the educational benefits of digital technology? A critical analysis of teachers' perceptions


  • Carlo Perrotta is a research officer in the London Knowledge Lab at the Institute of Education. His main research interests are innovation processes in education, educational futures and ubiquitous learning.

Dr Carlo Perrotta, London Knowledge Lab, 23–29 Emerald Street, London WC1N 3QS, UK. Email:



The supposed benefits of teachers' use of information and communications technology (digital technology) are well reported throughout the academic literature—most often involving issues of enhanced learning outcomes, increased pupil engagement and more efficient management and organisation of learning. This paper uses survey data from 683 teachers in 24 secondary schools across the UK to analyse the factors influencing how these benefits are being experienced. In particular, the paper explores the complex relationships between teachers' perceptions of technology-related benefits and a range of individual, classroom, school and system-level issues. A number of mediating issues and influences are identified and discussed throughout these analyses. In particular, it is suggested that teachers' perceptions of the benefits of using technology are influenced more by institutional rather than individual characteristics. A number of possible reasons are discussed, highlighting the importance of social and cultural contexts of digital technology use in education.

Practitioner Notes

What is already known about this topic

  • • So far, research on teachers' perceptions of the benefits of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has shown that while some teachers effortlessly “assimilate” and incorporate digital technologies into their teaching, and are more inclined to see the benefits of technology use in their classrooms, many others are often “blamed” for failing to see the “obvious” benefits of ICTs in the classroom.
  • • Descriptions and analyses currently available therefore position particular groups and “types” of teachers as having rather uneasy relationships with technology, while at the same time representing technology use as the most rational and obvious choice for all teachers, irrespective of social and cultural differences.

What this paper adds

  • • The paper argues that there is a need for more attention to be paid to how digital technologies are being used between different schools and, more problematically, to explore the relationship between teachers' perceptions and a range of individual and institutional factors.
  • • The paper attempts to move beyond the “discourses of deficiency” that characterise some schoolteachers as lacking individual attributes, capabilities and the required rational mindset to appreciate the “compelling potential” of ICTs.
  • • In particular, this paper explores in more detail the complex relationships between the benefits of technology use as perceived by schoolteachers and the various individual, classroom, school and system-level issues that may underlie these perceptions. The findings suggest that broader contextual and cultural dimensions may mediate and significantly alter individual perceptions.

Implications for practice and/or policy

  • • This paper points to the need to develop a more rounded picture of the relationship(s) between the social contexts that surround schools, teachers and technology use. Indeed, there is arguably a need to move beyond “blaming” certain groups of teachers for not making best use of technology (ie, those who are older, female and so on).
  • • As such, the data presented in this paper support the emerging argument to move beyond placing “dangerous moral imperatives” onto individual teachers to change their practices and processes in line with the assumed “affordances” of digital technology.
  • • Individual teachers or whole schools could draw on the social shaping perspective and the findings presented in this paper to articulate a more critically minded set of responses in relation to digital technologies in their contexts, resisting individualising and blaming discourses that unfairly position them as the weak link in an otherwise linear, robust and unproblematic chain of deterministic assumptions.