Digital Teaching: Is it Time in 2014 to Take a Stand?

Mal Lee

Is it time in 2014 to put a line in the sand and give the schools that desire the right to refuse to accept on any teacher, teacher librarian or school counsellor unable to use the apposite digital technology?

Is there any reason why compulsorily transferred principals or staff in executive positions should not be treated the same?

Earlier articles referred to the higher order attributes evident in the principals and teachers in those schools that have normalised the whole school use of the digital technology.

The sad reality in Australia today is that schools operating at this level can have staff appointed literally unable or unwilling to the use the basic technology.

It may well be school teaching is the only knowledge industry today in the developed world where supposed professionals unable or unwilling to use the digital technology are employed. It is hard to think of any other profession willing to carry such supposed professionals.

Indeed as many of you know there are still teachers who openly proclaim that they don’t know how to use the technology and don’t intend finding out.

Imagine you are teaching in a school where all the staff, teaching and professional support, the children and the parent community have after many years of concerted collaborative effort, endless hours of staff development and considerable expense succeeded in normalising the use of the digital in all the school’s operations, educational and administrative.

The school has reached the Digital Normalisation evolutionary stage and all the teachers have developed the suite of attributes discussed in ‘Teaching in a Digital School’. Moreover the school is very much operating on a digital base, is collaborating closely with its parents and community to provide a holistic 24/7/365 education, and had created an ever evolving ever higher order and evermore tightly integrated school ecology.

The local education authority in its wisdom decides to compulsorily transfer to the school a teacher or principal who has only the most rudimentary computing skills, barely able to start one up and none of the mindset that comes from working in a networked world.

In its normal staff selection the school would never countenance appointing that person. Indeed as indicated in my post of November 20 2013 ( it is becoming increasingly apparent that as schools move along the evolutionary continuum they expect that much more of their staff and look to new staff being able to get up to speed from virtually day one.

In brief the pressure is considerable on even newly appointed teachers highly versed in the use of all manner of digital technology.

The pressure on a teacher or principal without those skills will be immense and unfair to that person, his/her colleagues, the students, the parents and the school as an entity.

It is appreciated there is also pressure on staffing officers to place permanent staff but education authorities and governments have to understand the new reality and that to throw ill-equipped staff into alien cultures will not work and that there is the very real likelihood the transferee will soon be placed on stress leave, costing the system very considerable monies.

Think of how the ill-equipped teacher will feel. Teachers transferred into any school where the use of the digital is the norm in all classes are likely to feel from day one out of their depth, isolated, to panic and to feel alienated from their colleagues. They will be aware they will have no standing with their colleagues or with the students. The children will expect to be taught in a teaching environment where they are trusted, respected, their out of school attainment is recognised, where their personal needs are understood, where they will naturally and predominantly use their own suite of digital technologies as the main tools both in the creation of their work and for assessment purposes.

Their life will be difficult.

Should the transferee manage to last a couple of weeks inevitably the parents of the children affected will be rightly complaining.

Teachers who have toiled for years to enhance their own skill and mindset, and have enhanced their own professionalism to the point where they can contribute to the on-going evolution of the school are not likely to go out of their way to help a transferee who has not made that effort. All will rightly say of the transferee that as a salaried teacher he/she had responsibility for acquiring the apposite digital competencies.

An initial scan of the scene in England, the US, NZ and Australia strongly suggests most governments and education authorities therein have yet to recognise let alone address the situation. There are in all four nations moves in some jurisdictions to stop teachers being employed without the requisite digital competencies but it is very difficult to identify any moves with permanent staff. They may well exist but they are hard to find.

In writing the Australian states and territories with teaching institutes of those that responded while the national teacher standards do include a note about ICT proficiency tellingly in any teachers reaccreditation it is but one of suite of variables to be considered.

Tellingly the national standards for Australian principals don’t even include that requirement. In theory a digitally illiterate principal could be transferred into to lead a school operating at the Networked or Digital Normalisation evolutionary stage.

Pleasingly while ever more teacher training institutions have taken on Mishra and Koehler’s TPACK thinking and the critical importance of the technology in teaching in reality the education authorities don’t appear to have recognised the imperative of having educators able to operate on a digital base.

While governments and educational bureaucrats like the rhetoric of the digital and networked world and 21st century and espouse digital revolutions the reality is that virtually all have seemingly yet to grasp that enhancement will only happen when all the teachers in each school are making apt use of that technology in their everyday teaching.

One might have hoped the teacher unions would have been concerned for the welfare of this kind of member and would counsel them on the path ahead. Perhaps not surprisingly colleagues consulted in the UK, US, NZ and Australia were all of the belief that the unions would instead defend the value of the teacher’s paper based skills.

One hopes that would not be so.

At the outset the suggestion was that the line in the sand in 2014 be set preventing digitally illiterate transferees being placed in schools operating on a digital base where the situation will be very much ‘loose – loose’ for all parties. There are still traditional paper based schools where the use of the digital in teaching is minimal and where the transferees could be placed with the warning to become digitally competent by a set time.

Fortuitously with the move nationally to afford each Australian government school greater say in its staffing it is timely to suggest that the schools that desire set that mark.

Note thus far I’ve not included in this discussion digitally competent teachers who don’t use the technology in their teaching.

The research colleagues and the author have undertaken (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Finger, 2010), (Lee and Ward, 2013) indicates that that shortcoming is primarily the responsibility of the school and in particular the school principal and not the teachers as such. It is the leadership that has to set and support those expectations.

That said there appears to be little likelihood that the authorities will take any action until the profession, the impacted schools with the support of ever more highly digitally empowered parents and parents voice the concern.


On reflection it is little the wonder that so few of the world’s schools in 2014 have normalised the use of the digital in all their operations and while most schools lag so far behind the kind of digital normalisation found with the children, their parents and society in general.

Until schooling’s key resource, its educators are expected by their employers to have and to demonstrate the requisite digital competencies the chances of closing that gap is constrained.


  • Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) (2010) Developing a Networked School Community, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls, Melbourne ACER Press



Schools as Ever Evolving Ecologies


Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

We’ve found it helpful in considering the distinct nature of digital schools to view them as ever evolving, evermore tightly integrated ecologies where all the parts are increasingly linked.

They stand in marked contrast to the traditional paper based schools, and in particular the secondary schools that have long been viewed as largely constant, loosely coupled organisations where silo like units within the school operate largely independently. Indeed Karl Weick’s thinking on schools as loosely coupled organisations, that was penned in 1976 still holds true with most high schools today.

However view the attributes displayed by the pathfinder schools as they moved along the evolutionary continuum and you’ll see, as noted in the earlier posts the traditional loosely coupled school becoming evermore integrated and tightly coupled, with all the operations being increasingly linked to the realisation of the school’s shaping educational vision.

As the natural growth impacted, as the staff and client expectations rose, as new opportunities were identified so the schools evolved with all the parts becoming increasingly intertwined. The schools became increasingly distinct, ever-evolving ecologies addressing the particular needs of their situation by ensuring all facets of their operations, in and outside the school walls were linked and the silos were more closely integrated or dispensed with.

Moreover the digital convergence and the associated integration also saw the schools – often unwittingly – make ever-greater use of the facility the digital operational base provided to have the one facility serve multiple purposes with no extra effort by the staff.

Lee and Ward (2013) cite the example of school blogs where those blogs simultaneously and without any extra effort provided

  • an insight into the school’s daily activities to parents, grandparents, 
the local community and the students, and what they can do to 
complement that work
  • advice to parents on the school’s program, its calendar of events and 
the home study
  • a window into the workings of the school to all interested professionals, 
school or system executives or politicians
  • an important indicator as to where the school is at in its evolution
  • instant, ongoing accountability
  • the facility for instant teacher ‘evaluation’ and an insight into who is 
adding value
  • very powerful marketing of the school
  • an appreciation of how well the school operations are integrated (Lee and Ward, 2013, p89).

Factor in that all the schools were moreover increasingly marrying the teaching of the homes with that of the schools, and creating an increasingly integrated and tightly coupled 24/7/365 school ecology.

The challenge for the school leadership, and in particular the principal in the digital and networked school is to daily ensure not only are all the parts in the evolving ecology appropriately are apposite and can be integrated but that the total school ecology is shaped in a way that will best provide the desired educational benefits.

The challenge for researchers in or outside the school becomes ever greater. Thus far educational research has in the main been silo like looking primarily at linear connections within a part of the school’s operations. In integrated, ever-more complex, ever changing ecologies where the impact might come from synergies that are greater than the sum of the parts, and where much of the change is non-linear the difficulty of ascertaining what impacts student attainment will be challenging to say the least.

That said by recognizing that one is working with evolving, ever higher order ecologies – and not static loosely coupled entities – helps all associated with the school, be they the staff, the clients, community or the authorities, better understand the school’s nature and what is required for its on-going enhancement.

It is most assuredly not ‘one size fits all schools’ silver bullet solutions handed down from high.

The idea of a living, ever evolving complex ecology, which will forever experience significant natural growth and where all the parts will increasingly be intertwined, in and outside the school walls helps the school community, and in particular the school staff better understand their very different teaching and learning environment.


Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the school walls Melbourne ACER Press

Weick, K, (1976) “Educational Organizations as Loosely Coupled Systems” Administrative Science Quarterly 21 1976


Article in ACER’s Teacher on School Evolutionary Stages

Mal has an article in the inaugural edition of ACER’s new online magazine Teacher on the global school evolutionary stages.  Simply go to -

A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages

Roger Broadie and I have posted on under the new Taxonomy section of this site and at a copy of our Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages and the complementary publication Evolution through the Threads.

Both publications are free.

We’d strongly suggest downloading both publications.

The Taxonomy posits, as mentioned in earlier posts that

  • schools globally evolve in a remarkably similar manner, particularly when shifting to a digital operational base
  • all schools currently sit at a point on six stage evolutionary continuum; a continuum that will over time continually expand
  • schools will evolve through a series of key evolutionary stages, demonstrating at each stage remarkably similar attributes
  • the vast majority of schools will need to evolve through each of the stages before moving on to the next
  • it is finally possible with the continuum to provide schools and their communities an international indicative measure, that allows them to readily identify their school’s approximate current evolutionary stage and the likely path ahead
  • it takes considerable time and effort for schools to move along the evolutionary continuum
  • schools in equilibrium are prone to the same risks as other complex organisations that don’t continue to evolve.

The Evolution through the Threads explores in depth the evolution that has occurred in the pathfinder schools that have or nearly normalised the whole school use of the digital technology in some 20 plus key operational areas. Vitally the analysis of the threads underscores the reality that the evolution in a school might well occur at a different pace in different operational areas.

Both works have emerged out of the research we have undertaken with pathfinder schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia.

While as stressed both works are human constructs and indicative in nature we have both in our school consultations found the staff and vitally the parents can swiftly position the school and soon understand the many variables needing to be addressed.

Digital convergence, ever tighter integration and growing organisational complexity


Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In moving to the digital operational base schools are – usually unwittingly – simultaneously moving themselves along the path to the ever-greater convergence of all the school operations, ever-tighter integration and associated ever-greater organizational complexity.

It is path all schools moving to a digital base will likely experience.

Inherent in the ubiquitous use of the digital technology in and outside the school walls is ever-greater digital convergence. Binary software allows the myriad of digital technologies being used within a school community to communicate and interact, in a way simply impossible with paper or analogue technology. That digital convergence not only markedly enhances the relatedness of operations, their synchronisation, efficiency, economies, communication, access to information, the automation of many mundane clerical tasks and the opportunity for synergies impossible with a paper base, but vitally also removes the walls around the myriad of silo like operations that have characterised so many schools and increasingly integrates the school’s operations.

Think back to the old analogue sound and TV systems, where largely separate units had to be patched together by a plethora of wires and compare it with the integrated sound and vision facility in your iPad where all works seamlessly – without a moment’s thought from you – and you’ll begin to appreciate the impact ever-greater, ever-more sophisticated digital convergence has had on the operations of schools that have normalised the use of the digital.

With digital normalisation comes ever more tightly integrated schooling, where all the school’s operations, educational and administrative are interrelated.

Bear in mind that the pathfinder schools are not only evolving at pace and daily seeking ever better educational opportunities, but are increasingly providing a 24/7/365 holistic education, collaborating ever more closely with all the teachers of the young and merging the in and out of school teaching.

All new programs and indeed the natural growth have to be thoughtfully factored into that ever more integrated ecology, the school always shaping the operations to the desired end.

In brief schools are moving away at pace – regardless of most government desires – from the traditional relatively simple, largely constant and continuous operation where separate cells or siloes administered their own patch to ever-evolving, ever-higher order, ever more tightly integrated, and complex organisations.

They are organisations that unwittingly demand of all the staff, teaching and professional support, but in particular the school leadership and the principal, the facility to thrive in ever higher order, often messy and seemingly paradoxical organizations, and to possess a macro understanding of the purpose of the school and how all facets of the school’s operations fit. While all staff will have their designated responsibility/ies they all need to understand the macro workings of the school if they are contribute collectively to its desired evolution.

Homer-Dixon (2000, p211) notes

Yaneer Bar-Yam, the American complexity theorist, …argues that the level of complexity of modern human society has recently overtaken the complexity of any one person belonging to it.. So as modern human society becomes more complex than we are individually, it begins to exceed out adaptive ability. In effect we are too short a repertoire of response to adjust effectively to our changing circumstances.

While the school principal, as the organisation’s CEO and ultimate decision maker must be across the total operations it is increasingly important to develop and invoke the collective capacity of the staff, and indeed increasingly the school’s wider community as the schools organisations shape their desired future.


Homer-Dixon, T (2000) The Ingenuity Gap Toronto Knopf



On-going evolution of schooling


Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

When organisations, be they international corporations, banks, newspapers or schools, move to a digital and networked operational base they like all living systems will forever continue to evolve, to transform their operations and adopt an ever higher order form.

In moving to the digital base that evolution will be rapid and is likely to escalate at a rate roughly comparable with the pace of the technological development, albeit lagging slightly behind.

Importantly the organisations, schools included will moreover experience significant natural growth driven in large by the ever-evolving technology, the ever-rising expectations of the users, the increased understanding of how best to use the emerging technology and by wider societal developments; developments the organisation will have limited control over and which at best they can only hope to shape to their advantage.

The evolution, as is to be found in other complex systems is invariably non-linear.  It is most assuredly not always a case of moving from A to B to C. At times the evolution appears chaotic, messy and virtually every one of the case study schools examined admitted to making major mistakes, of travelling along a path only to realise it was wrong and that another approach was needed.

Paradoxically out of that seeming mess and chaos, with each school doing its own thing, remarkably similar evolutionary paths emerge.  The six evolutionary school stages, with the remarkably common stage attributes were, as indicated elsewhere on this site, evidenced in all the pathfinder schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia.  Bar and his colleagues at Stanford (Bar, et al, 2000) found similar evolutionary patterns within the networked industries in the late 90’s, as did Pascale and his colleagues in their Surfing the Edge of Chaos (2000).

It should be stressed that what we are talking about is evolution and most assuredly not revolution.  While many august bodies, even the likes of the US Department of Education (2010) have called for revolution to redress digital lag between schools and society in general what one is seeing in all the pathfinder schools is reasoned evolution, where the schools and their communities are adjusting their ways to provide the best possible education in an ever-evolving scene. Much of the evolutionary transformation is small, seemingly insignificant, some aspects are major, seemingly antithetical to the ways of old but in sum they are already providing a mode of schooling fundamentally different to that of the traditional paper based school.

Importantly the evolution in the schools, like that with other living systems is creating ever-higher order organisations, increasingly complex, ever more tightly integrated where all the staff and the school’s community expect ever more of the school.  This development has become starkly apparent in the selection of teachers and professional support personnel for the pathfinder schools, with all the schools – often unwittingly – seeking empowered professionals with the macro educational understanding and skills needed to move the school to an ever-higher level. For example all new teachers from day one are expected to be lead teachers, a trait previously expected of a few experienced staff.

One of the distinguishing features of the pathfinder schools is the vast majority of teachers’ ready acceptance of the evolutionary process and their willingness, invariably their excitement in grasping the educational opportunities opened.  When one documents the transformation, small and large that has occurred in every facet of the pathfinder schools operations it is extraordinary how many long established practices have been relegated to history. The staff view the school driven evolution as the exciting norm, and not as that dreaded thing called ‘change’ that was invariably inflicted upon them from on high. That is not to say there haven’t been casualties with some staff opting to retire or move to a more traditional school setting.  There have but they are remarkably few in number and stand in marked contrast to those thriving with new environment.

Bar, F, Kane, N, and Simard, C (2000) Digital networks and Organisational Change. The Evolutionary deployment of Corporate Information Infrastructure Vancouver 2000

Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press

Empowering All


Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Paralleling the pathfinder school’s graduated move to distribute the control of the teaching and learning was their quest to markedly empower all the members of the school’s community and enable them all to have a greater and more effective say in the on-going operation and enhancement of the school.

An important part of that empowerment was the more distributed control of the teaching and learning, however it entailed significantly more, particularly in relation to the empowerment of the salaried officers of the school.

The desire in all the schools – in keeping with other networked organisations – was to take advantage of the technology that made it that much easier for all to better understand the workings of the organisation and contribute to its enhancement.  Lipnack and Stamps (1994) in commenting on the opportunities opened in networked organisations speak of the importance of encouraging leaders at multiple levels and staff having the autonomy, the independence and the encouragement to take risks in enhancing the organisation’s agenda.

That is apparent in all the pathfinder schools and not simply with the staff but also in the parent and student contributions.  While the business literature spoke only of the staff the schools looked to all in the school’s community

Once again that quest was in marked contrast to what was found in traditional highly hierarchically organised schools at the Paper Based evolutionary stage.  In those schools not only are the students and parents disempowered but so too are a very sizeable proportion of the teaching and professional support staff.

The traditional, strongly hierarchical ‘Taylor like’ organisational structure found in many schools, ensures only the few managers at the apex understand the macro workings of the school.  The rest of the teachers are bid concentrate on their part of the assembly line.  Theirs is very much a highly convergent and micro focus that invariably leads to them viewing school enhancement through their particular micro perspective be it as a maths, physics, drama, special needs or early childhood teacher.  Possibly unwittingly, the ‘assembly line workers’ were professionally disempowered.

All of the pathfinder schools commented on the imperative of ensuring the school’s greatest resource, its human capital was used to best advantage.  One thus sees in the evolutionary stage attributes the graduated empowerment of all the teachers, the development of their macro understanding of ever-evolving, ever more networked and integrated schools and the opportunity for all to contribute to the school’s enhancement both holistically and in their specialist area/s.

The same kind of empowerment has been evident with the professional support staff, readying all to play a fuller part in the ever more integrated school operations.   In strong hierarchical school structures the support staff sat at the bottom of the pecking order, to do the bidding of the teachers and focussing only on their specified duties.  Invariably the professional support officers, even when involved in the teaching were not included in ‘staff meetings’ or provided any digital tools.

Jump forward to the Digital Normalisation stage and into the tightly integrated school ecologies where the traditional walls and boundaries have disappeared, operations are interlinked and where every member of the staff needs have at least a macro understanding of the purpose of the school, the desired educational benefits and its workings and you’ll find the professional support staff strongly empowered and assisting all the school’s work.

The children, their homes and the school community had little or no real voice in the shaping, implementation or enhancement of the paper based school (McKenzie, 2009), (Lee and Ward, 2013).  While a few might have a voice on a representative council or school board their views were often not representative or acted upon.

As the 2011 Project Tomorrow study revealed one is talking digitally empowered parents and students wanting to collaborate with their schools, wanting to acquire the technology their children will use in those schools but being denied that opportunity by school principals unwilling to cede their unilateral control.

In moving to the digital operational base that situation begins to change rapidly such by the Digital Normalisation stage all within the school’s community have not only been empowered but folk from all quarters are contributing to and helping enhance the school’s operations.

The normalised, all pervasive use of the technology, and in particular hand held technology makes it simple, swift and inexpensive for the school to communicate with all its community, to keep them informed, to provide the desired support and when desired to quickly secure and analyse its views.

Significantly the digital communication was complemented by extensive face-to -face communication, be it in formal meetings, focus groups, parking lot conversations or chats on the football sideline.

One is struck by the openness of the pathfinder schools’ activities and the all pervasive sense that all within the school community can readily talk to the teachers or the principal, and if needs be express their thoughts.  It might simply be to express a concern about their daughter but they have the power to share that concern.

It is largely antithetical to the schools we knew.

Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls.  Melbourne ACER Press

Lipnack, J & Stamps, J (1994), The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.

Mackenzie, J (2009), Family learning: Engaging with parents, Dunedin Academic Press, Edinburgh.

Project Tomorrow (2011), The new three E’s of education: Enabled, engaged and empowered,

Speak Up 2010, National Findings Project Tomorrow.


Distributed Control of Teaching and Learning


Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

March 2014

You may have noticed in examining the evolution of the pathfinder schools they have all increasingly distributed the control of the teaching and learning.  They have actively sought to recognise, harness and enhance the contribution of all the teachers of the young – the parents, carers, grandparents, the children themselves, interested community members and professional ‘teachers’ in other agencies – in the 24/7/365 teaching of the children.

The development stands in marked contrast to the traditional paper based school where, as the evolutionary stage attributes reveal, the school has unilateral control of the teaching and learning, firmly believes it and only it should shape the children’s schooling. As a consequence there is relatively little or no genuine collaboration between the school and the home, and the parents and children themselves are left by default to educate the children outside the school walls.

The situation begins to change, and change rapidly when schools move to a digital operational base, when all the staff, lead by an astute principal begin to appreciate the educational opportunities opened by the digital technology. One thus sees from the Early Networked stage schools, seemingly overnight beginning to genuinely collaborate with their parents.

The pronounced digital divide between the school and its homes blurs and the teachers begin to appreciate the many potential benefits of recognising and building upon the out of school learning.  Why the pronounced change in thinking we are not sure.  The theory would suggest the collaboration should be possible without the technology but all our case studies reveal it happening successfully only when the school adopts the digital operational base.

Follow the evolutionary continuum and by the Networked Evolutionary Stage – where the term ‘networked’ pertains to the level of social networking evidenced throughout the school community, in and outside the school walls – the schools, regardless of situation or nation, are working collaboratively with the parents and school community in all manner of teaching and learning (Lee and Ward, 2013).  The schools are distributing the control of the teaching and learning and they are ceding some of their power or more aptly using the power of their educational expertise.

In all case studies it was the school, and in particular the school principal that led the way in pursuing a more collaborative, socially networked and inclusive mode of teaching.  Significantly that leadership was achieved through the application of educational expertise, and not consciously by position.

Inherent in that quest was the recognition of the vast, and largely untapped and underdeveloped teaching and learning potential outside the school walls, an understanding that the parents will always be the children’s first teachers, and a willingness to trust the parents and children to play a greater role in the schooling of a digital and networked world.

That trust, that willingness to distribute the control of the 24/7/365 teaching and learning was tested in the pathfinders in the move to allow the children bring to class their choice of kit.

BYOT, as defined by Mal and Martin Levins (2012), is an approach where the school understands the educational importance of trusting and respecting the wishes of the children and parents in the choice of the desired suite of digital technologies and of genuinely collaborating with the homes in marrying its teaching efforts with those of the school.

Indeed we would go so far as to say – based admittedly on an as yet relatively small sample of schools globally – that schools will likely be unable to move to the Digital Normalisation evolutionary stage and beyond until they are willing to distribute the control of the teaching and learning and empower all within the school’s community.

Lee, M and Levins, M (2012) Bring Your Own Technology Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls Melbourne ACER Press

Distributed Control of Teaching and Learning

Impact and Imperative of a Digital Operational Base


Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The more we analyse the operations of the pathfinder schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia the more strongly it appears it is only when schools move to a digital operational base do they begin to fundamentally change their form and embark on a never ending path of on-going change, evolution and transformation.

The rapid organisational transformation that is occurring in the pathfinder schools, and those following close behind in 2014 is the same kind of organisational transformation that occurred in industry 20 plus years ago when all manner of businesses left behind their reliance on paper and moved to a digital operational base.

Schooling globally for the last fifty plus years has invested vast funds, time and expertise trying to innovate and change the traditional, largely Industrial Age mode of schooling.

It failed to make any sustained fundamental structural change. Any dents made in the ways of old were soon rectified as the innovators moved on.

Unwittingly and in an as yet largely unrecognised way the paper technology that those school’s operations was built upon reinforced the constancy and continuity.  There was no inherent quality in paper as a technology that stimulated change. Indeed the technology actually worked to reinforce the status quo.

In stark contrast the ever-evolving, ever more sophisticated, ever-more convergent digital technology, when coupled with its users ever-growing expectations and their increasing awareness of what is possible with that more sophisticated technology constantly works to stimulate the on-going evolution.

A quick look at the following expression of Moore’s Law, prepared for the Washington Post, provides an insight into the kind of evolutionary path along which the digital schools will likely move.


Children today in early childhood classes will likely on their school graduation around 2026 be using 24/7/365 ‘computers’ that may be self- aware and self learning, with all the concomitant opportunities and implications. These computers will be largely invisible, constructed into the built environment and the fabric of clothes as well as prosthetically embedded..

As you know from your own use of the digital technology, and in particular that of your children once one has normalised the everyday, 24/7/365 use of that technology and has incorporated it in every facet of one’s life we very soon have ever greater expectations of that technology and constantly envisage new ways how it can be used.  Where once getting modems to mate or using a search facility like Alta Vista was mind blowing today those developments pale into insignificance.

That is what is happening globally in the schools that have moved to a digital operational base. That said the pronounced transformation is only happening in those schools where virtually all of the school’s main operations, teaching and administrative are digitally based.

Critical to that development is having all the school’s teachers use the digital naturally in their everyday teaching.  The digital technology has been used in school administration for decades. It is only when all the teachers use the digital technology in their everyday teaching, as a group recognise the opportunities possible, envision the type of schooling desired in an ever more digital, socially networked and collaborative world and understand the kind of holistic changes school wide required can schools be said to be operating on a digital base. It is not enough to have 40%, or even 80% of the teachers using the technology in their teaching. It actually matters not if all teachers are digitally competent outside the classroom. All the teachers, permanent and casual have to use the kit in class with the kids expecting the use of the digital technology will be the norm in the teaching.

It is only when the schools leave behind the traditional paper based operation and mindset will the schools, like the business world beforehand and move to a digital operational paradigm and begin their dramatic transformation and on-going evolution.

Organisationally it is only when all the key operations are digital can they talk, converge and become ever more integrated.

While seemingly simple, the websites of the pathfinder schools with their quick and ready access to a tightly integrated digital communications suite, are only possible when the schools are operating on a digital base.

A look at the school evolutionary stages will reveal that transformation does not happen overnight but is graduated and only gathers pace when the culture, the school’s ecology is at ease with the all-pervasive use of the digital.

Sadly, and vitally unappreciated by many educators and politicians, the vast majority of schools in the developed world in 2014 don’t have 100% of their teachers using the digital technology normally in their everyday teaching..

Schooling in general lags well behind the general societal use of digital technology.

The only ways for schools to redress that shortcoming is to move to a digital operational base.

Impact of Digital Operational Base

Distinguishing Attributes of Digital Schools


Mal Lee and Roger Broadie


It is apparent from the research we are undertaking on those schools globally operating on a digital base ( is that all are demonstrating a distinct suite of distinguishing attributes that already sets them apart from the traditional paper based school and are on trend to forever amplify that difference.

Schooling, as we have all known it, has been characterised by its constancy, continuity and its relative sameness.  It hasn’t fundamentally changed its form in the last 50 – 60 years.  While the trappings vary between nations and sometimes regions in essence schools operate on a fixed number of days each year, between agreed hours, within a physical place called school.  The teaching is controlled and conducted wholly by the professional teachers, with solitary teachers normally teaching class groups, invariably behind closed classroom doors.  Paper – used in conjunction with the pen and the teaching board, be they black, green or white – has been the core instructional technology for hundreds of years and largely unseen and unwittingly has profoundly impacted the nature of the schools, their organisation, operations and teaching.

Generation after generation of children have experienced basically the same mode of schooling and teaching, to the extent that all know what is entailed in the schooling of the young.

That is until recent years and only then with those schools that have moved to a digital operational base.

Seemingly overnight those schools where all of the teachers in the school use the digital technology in their everyday teaching begin to abandon the long established ways and practices of the traditional school and transform every facet of their operation.

The fuller details of that transformation that has occurred in the pathfinder schools in their journey to digital normalisation are fleshed out in the six school evolutionary stages elsewhere on the site.

On first glance someone visiting those schools, be they primary or secondary could readily mistake them for a traditional school.  Tellingly the transformation has occurred in the existing buildings, of all shapes and sizes, with invariably no major structural change. However as they delve further they’ll soon recognise that not only is their modus operandi already fundamentally different to the traditional school but they are also operating in a mode where in general terms they will forever continue to change, evolve and transform their nature.

That modus operandi is so different to that experienced in the majority of schools it bears spending some time examining some of the distinguishing changes occurring and reflecting on the implications for later adopter schools.

The plan is to explore key attributes over the next couple of months in a series of weekly posts, with a view to alerting all associated with schools – be they the clients, the providers of the education or the shapers of the national education – of the developments occurring and the likely implications.  We’ll explore the

  • Impact of the digital operational base
  • Distributed control of teaching
  • Empowering the school’s community
  • On-going evolution of schooling
  • Digital convergence, ever-tighter integration and growing organizational complexity
  • Schools as living ecologies
  • Complexity science and school evolution
  • Ever – increasing school variability
  • Impact of school ecology on student attainment
  • Chaos and order – the new working paradox

It should be stressed that these attributes should be viewed in conjunction with the other writings on the site on the evolution of schooling, and that while each is addressed singly all are tightly interrelated and collectively add to the character and distinctiveness of the ever-evolving school ecologies.

In brief schools when schools shift to a digital operational base – go digital – they leave behind the constancy, continuity and sameness of the traditional school and

  • constantly change and evolve, with their operations forever transforming
  • develop ever more strongly a unique school ecology
  • become ever more tightly integrated, increasingly complex, higher order and networked teaching organisations
  • teach increasingly 24/7/365.
  • marry the once separate ‘formal’ teaching of the school with the ‘informal’ teaching of the children’s homes
  • create a mode of schooling in keeping with an ever more digital, networked and collaborative world.