The ‘Chief Digital Officer’ and Governance of the School Digital Ecosystem


Mal Lee

All of the schools studied that have normalised the whole school use of the digital and which are developing increasingly higher order, digitally based school ecosystems have all had an astute principal to lead the way and the services of what is in essence a ‘chief digital officer’ (CDO).

The same is to be found in the transformation of the digital masters of the business world (Westerman et al, 2014).

In all, the organisation’s digital transformation has been skilfully shaped by a CEO working closely with a chief digital officer’ charged with converting the leader’s digital vision into a working reality.

Indeed a 2014 McKinsey Consulting study observed

Leadership is the most decisive factor for a digital program’s success or failure. Increasing C-level involvement is a positive sign, and the creation of a CDO role seems to be a leading indicator for increasing the speed of advancement (McKinsey, 2014).

Little is the wonder that businesses, and indeed major cities worldwide are clamouring to secure the services of CDO’s capable of supporting the CEO in orchestrating the desired on-going digital transformation.

Few associated with schools have yet to grasp the same imperative exists for all schools.

If schools are to undergo the desired digital evolution and shape an ever more productive digitally based school ecosystem they too will need that role to be played.

In the pathfinder schools the ‘CDO’ role has been played by all manner of positions, by deputy principals, e-Learning coordinators, Technology Coordinators, CIO’s and indeed in several instances by several staff working closely together. The actual title doesn’t matter.

What is critical is having a senior staff member who shares the principal’s digital vision and macro understanding of the workings of the school, with a strong awareness of the digital, able to work collaboratively with an empowered staff in providing the apposite tightly integrated digital platform.

It requires an appreciation of the school’s shaping educational vision, the kind of digitally based ecosystem and school culture that will best realise that vision and the facility to provide the total digitally empowered school community the apposite ever evolving seamlessly integrated digital ecosystem.

It most assuredly does not require an ‘ICT expert’ who unilaterally decides what technology all in the school will use.

Critically it needs a visionary educator able to collaborate with digitally empowered staff, students and parents, ensuring all are provided with the opportunity to fly with the digital, who can simultaneously govern the school’s use of the digital and ensure multiple systems and offerings are appropriately integrated and refreshed.

Behind the working website discussed in the previous article is an extensive, ever evolving tightly integrated digital ecosystem that provides the platform upon which the school operates and grows, and which needs to be thoughtfully designed, shaped, maintained and refined.

Without it the digital school cannot operate let alone grow.

The shaping of that increasingly sophisticated and powerful digital ecosystem entails a skilful balancing act, accommodating the seeming paradox of fostering a school wide culture of change, where teachers are empowered to take risks and where there will inevitably be uncertainty, mess and at times seeming chaos while simultaneously shaping an integrated, highly efficient and effective digital ecosystem able to continually deliver the desired schooling.

The Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

The concept of the CDO, even within the business world is a relatively recent one but is already viewed globally as being critical to the digital transformation of all manner of organisations ( (Solis, et al, 2014) (McKinsey, 2014).

Westerman, McAfee and Bonnet in their seminal study of the corporate digital masters concluded

The CDOs job is to turn cacophony into a symphony. He or she creates a unifying digital vision, energises the company around digital possibilities, coordinates digital activities, and some times provides critical tools or resources (Westerman, et al, 2014, p144).

Chan Suh, a CDO writing in Wired observed

Almost by definition, the CDO must be a bit of a free thinker, willing to experiment, fail and move on. They embrace data-based experimentation, adapt quickly and make iterative decisions. …CDOs need to be able to move nimbly in all parts of the corporation, in terms of both departments and functions: Digital integration impacts employees, customers and the whole portfolio of products. That means they need to speak multiple business languages and simplify what can seem like insanely complicated technology. But above all, the job requires being persuasive, adaptable and visionary (

The CDO is a very well recompensed, high-level executive position with ultimate responsibility for every facet of the organisation’s digital ecosystem.

While the demands within the school will not be as great as in a multinational the nature and standing of the role to be played remains basically the same.

Relationship with Principal, the CEO

In all the aforementioned literature and within the pathfinder schools studied one notes the vital close working relationship between the head of the organisation and the CDO. It stands to reason. The ‘chief digital officer’, whatever title they actually carry has the responsibility for implementing the CEO’s digital vision for the organisation.

Whether it is a school or business both people need to work closely as they shape the organisation’s on-going digital transformation and take the organisation into unchartered waters. A recent interview with a deputy head in a 2,500 student English sixth form college, who was very much that school’s ‘chief digital officer’, underscored the importance of working closely with the head in identifying the solutions that will bring about the desired digital and organisational evolution; in a situation where there were no other UK experiences to draw upon.

Governance of the school’s digital ecosystem

As school’s move to a digital operational base, normalise the whole school community use of the digital, develop mature, higher order, more integrated ecosystems and seemingly daily contemplate the use of new more sophisticated technology so it becomes increasingly important for each to ‘govern’, to shape in an apposite manner the growth of the school’s digital ecosystem.

The shaping in the apposite manner, the maintaining and strengthening of an ecology that fosters on-going school evolution and enhancement, that allows the school as Pascale and his colleagues call it to operate on the ‘edge of chaos’ (Pascale, et al, 2000) is evermore important.

This is very much an individual school responsibility, not that of external ICT experts who have no understanding of each school’s unique culture.

Each school needs to determine its own mode of digital governance.

The strong impression – and it is only that – is that many of the pathfinders, contending as they are with rapid and accelerating organisational transformation, making increasing use of the students’ technologies and a plethora of cloud based services are fast approaching the point productivity wise of having to corral some of the digital services employed in the school and to seriously question if a laissez faire model of technology use is apt. This is particularly apparent in larger secondary schools where on the one hand the school is seeking to integrate its workings while at the same time encouraging teachers to make best use of the emerging digital technology.

Do you need to rethink your digital governance?

What role of the technology committee?

Traditionally in schools, business and the wider public sector the technology or ICT committee was charged with that ‘governance’, but all too often operated as a stand alone group implementing its own agenda.

What is now clear (Westerman, et al, 2014) if you want digital transformation you don’t give the job to a committee. All thereon have full time jobs.

Committees can make decisions, but they cannot drive change. Leaders do that (Westerman, et al, 2014, p143).

Seriously question the need for a technology committee.

Interestingly none were used in any of the successful pathfinder schools.

In all the digital transformation was orchestrated by the principal and the ‘CDO’ and the work was undertaken by the ‘CDO’ and all manner of staff and increasingly others within the school’s community.

Finding a school ‘CDO’.

The finding of a staff member or even several staff to play the role of the school CDO is likely to be difficult. The kind of skill set described above is rare, even in the corporate world. One is looking in schools at experienced educators with a macro vision for schooling, with the desire to lead, to take risks and to embrace on-going organisational evolution, with very strong digital acumen and with the people skills needed to take empowered professionals along on the evolutionary journey.

The pathfinder schools have in some respects been fortunate to have such personnel, but as one digs one finds most of these schools have over time ‘grown’ or recruited these people, consciously continually enhancing their skill set.

In many respects it should not come as a surprise that many of the school ‘CDOs’ are deputy or assistant principals, demonstrating many of the attributes identified in ‘Leading a Digital School’ (Lee, 2014) needed to be the principal of a digital school.

None that I’m aware of have been trained for the role by either their education authority or a tertiary education, but that said there are pathfinder education authorities globally which are now assisting the development of such personnel.

In 2015 you will likely have to grow your own ‘CDO’, or recruit and then grow the potential ‘CDO’. As indicated in schools small and large it is a role that can be performed by a like-minded, driven pair of staff able to work closely. Indeed such a pair could possibly include a non educator provided she/he had strong digital expertise, and was able to address the organisation’s shaping vision.


One could strongly argue that the current situation in the pathfinder schools where the ‘CDO’ role is normalised and untitled is the desired one.

The key is that the role is performed successfully and naturally shapes the desired evolution and strengthening of the school’s digital ecosystem.

In so saying it might well be opportune in certain school situations, like in business to use the appointment of a CDO to proclaim the school’s intention to use the digital to transform its operations.

That is a call each school needs to make.

What however is that much clearer is that schools in moving to a digital operational base and becoming increasingly reliant on a more sophisticated, powerful, integrated and productive digital ecosystem will need apt processes to govern its operation and growth, processes that are appreciably more sophisticated and effective way than the traditional ‘ICT’ committee.

While the digital transformation business literature ( and the articles on CDOs will assist, schools do have a very different shaping purpose to corporations and need their own solution.

As schools commence their digital evolution journey they should be addressing how the ‘CDO’ role will be performed and identifying an apt mode of governing the growth of an apposite school digital ecosystem.


  • Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press




The School Digital Ecosystem and Enhanced Student Learning

Mal Lee

The signs are increasingly suggesting that the greatest impact the digital technology will have upon student learning in the school will come from the technology’s underpinning role within a digitally based school ecosystem; an ecosystem that is tightly integrated, strongly focussed and which simultaneously addresses all the variables that enhance student learning. When children are able to tackle a group project employing the digital technologies they use 24/7/365 the teachers can astutely build upon each child’s digital and social competencies, address the shortcomings, all the while teaching the desired material in a more individualised manner.

The signs are also indicating that the sophisticated digital base that already provides schools numerous additional opportunities to enhance the student learning will increasingly do so in the years ahead.

However until schools develop an apposite digital school ecosystem, adopt a culture therein that empowers the teachers, students and parents, and actively supports all take a lead role in the astute use of the digital in the 24/7/365 teaching of the young and which positions the school to grow schools won’t be able to take advantage of those opportunities and continually enhance their productivity.

No one in 2015 would suggest that a carmaker would enhance its productivity by simply installing a robot or that Apple’s success is solely dependent on a single piece of technology like an iPad. The enhanced productivity of the digital masters in the corporate world (Westerman, et al, 2014) comes from skilfully shaped, expertly led, highly focussed, tightly integrated, ever evolving digitally based ecosystems.

And yet in 2015 teachers, principals, governments and technology companies and journals globally perpetuate the myth that one has simply to acquire the latest digital kit and as if by osmosis school learning will be enhanced.

Decades of research (Higgins et al, 2012) affirm there is no significant linear connection between the use of digital technologies and enhanced student attainment.

It is time to appreciate the traditional, simplistic way of looking at the impact of digital technology on student learning has to fundamentally change. The impact of the digital on student learning can be profound if an apposite school ecosystem is created. However as indicated (, its creation is challenging and entails the simultaneous addressing over time of a plethora of critical variables, human and technological (Lee and Broadie, 2015).

We all need to recognise that the impact of the digital technology on student learning is complex, far more deep seated than previously thought, is largely non-linear in nature, and appears to flow in the main from the astutely shaped, thoughtfully orchestrated, ever evolving, increasingly higher order, highly attractive, 24/7/365 digitally based school ecosystems that increasingly marry the in and out school learning.

That profound impact is evidenced in those pathfinder – early adopter – schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia operating on a digital base where the total school community is able to capitalise upon, in a genuinely collaborative manner, the normalised the use of the digital in the teaching and learning.

Of note is that all of the schools studied were performing above their socio-economic status and adding value to the student learning. That said all were moreover astutely led and managed, highly efficient, with an empowered staff that had embraced a culture of change, of a mind to take risks and work to make best educational use of the openings afforded by all within the school’s community having the digital in their hands. They were all good schools.

The Implications.

The implications flowing from the emergence of these digitally based school ecosystems are many, profound, often unexpected and are only now becoming apparent, and then only in that as yet rare cadre of schools with a mature digital ecosystem.

That said, there are two areas of flow on that warrant close immediate consideration.

  • Research on the impact of the digital technology

Surely the time has come for those in schools, education authorities and tertiary institutions to cease looking for a linear connection between the technology and enhanced learning, and to address the impact of the digital school ecosystem – and all its associated and closely interrelated elements – upon each child’s learning and how that impact might be enhanced.

Higgins and his colleagues at Durham in their meta-analysis of the impact of the digital on learning concluded

Taken together, the correlational and experimental evidence does not offer a convincing case for the general impact of digital technology on learning outcome (Higgins et al, 2012, p3).

In researching and writing The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) and examining the claims made of and research undertaken on each of the major instructional technologies of the 20th century the author found the Durham conclusion consistent with the findings on the impact of all the earlier technologies.

The challenge of analysing and researching unique, tightly integrated, rapidly evolving, ever transforming school ecologies experiencing considerable natural organisational growth is likely to be immense, and will require some fundamental rethinking and different methodologies. This is a very different mode of schooling to the traditional insular, loosely coupled, silo like, paper based school characterised by its constancy and continuity. Where in the latter one could readily conduct a two or year longitudinal study in a digital ecosystem a plethora of key variables, not least of which will be the software, are likely to change significantly within months.

  • Potential opportunities to enhance student learning

A digitally based school ecosystem, where all within the school’s community have in their hands a suite of evermore sophisticated digital technologies they can use anywhere, anytime 24/7/365, provides – as evidenced in the operations of the pathfinders – a platform from which to harness all manner of opportunities to enhance the learning of each child.

Those opportunities are explored in depth in ‘Digital Technology and Student Learning’ (

Suffice it to say that the pathfinder schools have already taken advantage of the digital to cultivate opportunities simply impossible or impracticable without the digital platform to

  • markedly strengthen the degree of home-school collaboration
  • adopt an increasingly 24/7/365 mode of networked schooling
  • use the personal technology to better individualise the teaching
  • make the teaching more relevant and attractive to appreciably more students
  • adopt an increasingly higher order mode of teaching
  • enhance teacher efficiency
  • achieve previously impossible synergies.

Importantly the schools, like business (Thorpe, 1998) have also recognised that even with the most prescient of benefits identification in this rapidly evolving environment unintended benefits will emerge, benefits that need to be immediately optimised.


The digital transformation of schooling and the emergence of unique, evolving digital school ecosystems that transcend the school walls fundamentally alters the way educators need to address schooling, teaching and learning and enhancing each child’s learning.


Higgins, S., Xiao, Z., & Katsipataki, M. (2012). The Impact of Digital Technology on Learning: A Summary for the Education Endowment Foundation London: EEF. Available at:

Lee, M (2014) ‘Digital Technology and Student Learning’, Educational Technology Solutions – July 15, 2014 –

Lee, M and Broadie, R (2015) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages Broulee Australia –

Thorpe, J (1998) The Information Paradox Toronto McGraw-Hill

Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

24/7/365 Schooling: The Implications

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

While Roger and I have made mention in our writings on the digital evolution of schooling of the shift to an increasingly 24/7/365 mode of schooling until now we’ve not paused and specifically addressed its form, nor vitally the many and profound implications for schools, education authorities, teacher educators, governments and indeed society in general.

The attached article does both.

Unwittingly most associated with schooling work on the assumption it is a constant, that organisationally it will continue as it has for the last 50 to 60 years and for some reason will not be impacted by the digital revolution.

In 2015 one still sees globally few politicians, academics or school leaders commenting on the many and profound implications that flow the evolution occurring in schooling.

All see it in industry and discuss the profound implications, but not at yet in schooling.

The national teaching standards, such as those used across Australia in teacher appraisal, recruitment and increasingly in the payment of teachers, are for example based on a paper based mode of schooling that is constant in form, which is assumed will be in place for years and which is highly risk adverse, insular and strongly hierarchical.

Many of the attributes promoted are antithetical to those valued and deemed as essential in a 24/7/365 mode of schooling.

That said the standards are but one of the myriad of current school related practises that will be markedly impacted by the emergence of the 24/7/365 mode of schooling attached.

24-7-365 Schooling

Schools Have to Go Digital to Remain Viable

Mal Lee

The cover article in this month’s Educational Technology Solutions is one by me that contends all schools have to go digital to remain viable.

A copy of that article is attached or can be got from the Educational Technology Solutions website.

Interestingly in presenting to three groups of school leaders in the past two weeks no one has questioned the suggestion.

Rather the immediate focus has been what does our school have to do.

Why Schools Have to Go Digital

Invitation to Join Digital Evolution of Schooling Google Group

Roger Broadie, Martin Levins and Mal Lee have created a new a new forum – using Google groups – for those globally interested in advancing, researching and analysing the digital evolution and transformation of schooling.

We are looking at

  • those leading the way in the pathfinder schools
  • those monitoring and researching their moves
  • the education decision and policy makers shaping future schooling and
  • leaders at all levels within later adopter schools wanting to create the desired ever evolving digital school ecosystem.

It is appreciated there are many excellent forums that examine the use of digital technologies in schooling. There is no desire to replicate them.

The focus of most is however the micro usage of the digital technology within existing school structures and operational parameters.

Few, if any, address the digital evolution or transformation of schooling or its parallels with the evolution and transformation of other digital organisations.

Indeed there is in 2015 remarkably few forums supporting individual schools and their leaders undergo the desired digital evolution and transformation.

This new group will focus on the macro impact of the digital on the changing nature of schooling, on schools as complex adaptive systems, ever evolving, ever transforming, creating increasingly integrated and networked digital ecosystems that address the 24/7/365 holistic education of each child.

The desire is to use the collective wisdom of the forum get a better appreciation of the on-going impact of the digital revolution on schooling.

The desire is also to use a global platform like Google groups that allows for the in-depth discussion of an increasing complex scenario where our understanding of the new is limited.

The group is open to all interested, anywhere in the networked world that are playing a lead role – at any level – in the digital evolution and transformation of school ecosystems.

If you or a colleague would like to receive an invitation to join email Mal Lee – or Martin Levins – or Roger Broadie –

Alternatively you can post to this group, send email to




Strategy not Technology Drives Digital Transformation

The MIT Sloan Management Review in – its 2015 research report – on ‘Strategy not Technology Drives Digital Transformation’ is well worth downloading and analysing.

Go to –

While drawing on the developments within industry it is highly applicable to the digital evolution and transformation of schools.

Response to suggested ban on smartphones

Following the release of UK research by several economists contending that banning handhelds would enhance the learning of lower quartile secondary students Roger Broadie (UK) and I were asked by ACER’s Teacher magazine to pen a reply

That response is now available in the Teacher – at


Facilitating System Change

with a

Hub and Spoke Networking Model

Paul Morris, Mal Lee and Sue Lowe

The movement of schools globally to a digital operational base has, largely unseen, fundamentally changed the way those schools, and schooling in general needs to be developed.

Like all other digitally based organisations, be they banks, newspapers or retailers schools in going digital very much need to take charge of their own evolution, drawing where they can on the apt support of the pathfinder schools and their education authority.

What is now evident globally, both within industry (Westerman, et al 2014) and schooling (Lee, 2014 b) is that the digital masters who have taken control of their growth are evolving at an accelerating rate, daily becoming increasingly different to their more traditional confreres.

The digital pathfinders in all areas are fundamentally transforming their ‘industry’ at pace and obliging the later adopters to employ growth strategies apposite for a rapidly evolving digital world  and to forego the ways of the paper based world.

That is happening worldwide, again largely unseen with schools. The pathfinder schools have taken charge of their evolution, have attuned their ways for the digital, have already transformed the mode of schooling they are providing and are on trend to accelerate their difference with the traditional paper based school.

….what can safely be said it is now clear is that the new norm with schooling globally will be the accelerating differences between schools, and the mode of schooling each provides (Lee, 2015).

The digital transformation literature (Solis, et al, 2014) talks of ‘Digital Darwinism’ where those organisations that capitalise upon the ever evolving technology thrive, and those which stay in the past struggle. Projections are made of the number of Fortune 500 companies that will fall out that group in the next five years unless they become digital masters.

Atop the transformative impact of the digital technology have been the global moves to give schools and their principals a greater voice in and increased responsibility for the running and growth of each school. In New South Wales (Australia) that devolution is expressed in the Government’s ‘Local Schools, Local Decisions’ policy.

The immense – and only slowly realised – challenge facing education systems globally is how do they best facilitate whole of system change in a digital environment, where the differences between the schools is accelerating. How do they contend with in the one system astutely led digital masters where the students want to go and slow mover schools clients see as irrelevant? The traditional ‘one size fits all’ model cannot accommodate the vast and growing differences.

The Far South Network of the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities (NSW DEC) has opted to employ an educational variant of the hub and spoke network model to address that challenge, and to facilitate whole of Network change.

It is a significant step in the search for a solution apposite for school systems seeking to lead and provide schools the appropriate support in an ever evolving digital world, where schools will increasingly be ‘surfing at the edge of chaos’ (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000), needing to thrive and deliver while living with on-going rapid, often uncertain non linear change, evolution and transformation.

To read and download the full article click here – Facilitating System Change Final

Pathfinder School Works as a Hub in System Change Model

 Mal Lee

Broulee Public School (Australia), one of those as yet rare cadre of pathfinder schools that have normalised the whole school use of the digital and created a 24/7/365 digital school ecosystem, is playing a central role in a new model of system wide school development that is being implemented by New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and Communities.

The Department in conjunction with Broulee Public School is implementing a ‘hub and spoke networking model’ to foster the movement of the state schools in the Far South Coast Network of NSW to a digital operational base.

Supported by funding through the Department’s Rural and Remote Blueprint the model recognises the very different position of schools on the digital evolutionary continuum, the importance of each school, primary and secondary, taking charge of its own growth and the amount schools can learn in a very practical way from the experiences of their colleagues in  pathfinder schools.

In the same way that teachers network with and learn from their colleagues globally so the idea is that the Network’s schools can learn from the school at the centre of the hub and like the spokes of the bike the ideas will radiate out to others.  While the initial moves are being made in the Far South Coast Network the thinking is very much that the model could be used elsewhere in the State, and in particular within the regional areas.

The impetus is being provided by the hub school, Broulee PS conducting an initial conference for departmental schools on Building Digital Schools on August 13/14 2015. The aim is to have the school, its leadership, teachers and community share with their colleagues, primary and secondary, the factors that they have addressed in the school’s digital evolution and what they are now able to do within an ever evolving, constantly transforming digital ecosystem.

The hub school is not saying it has any magic solution, but rather it will share the many lessons learned in the school’s 15 years plus digital evolution journey.

If you are NSW Department of Education and Communities school and would like to attend I’d suggest getting in early as there is only limited places.

Significantly this school – system initiative has emerged out of the NSW Minister of Education’s policy of ‘Local Schools, Local Decisions’ that gives NSW public schools – like others globally – the facility take control of their own future.  It is a very good example of how the policy enables school initiatives to be coupled those of the education authority to create greater synergy.

One of the things largely absent from the digital evolution of schooling literature is how best to get all the other schools in an education authority to normalise the use of the digital in the educative process.  The traditional top down, one size fits all has no place in a world where schools have the autonomy and indeed responsibility to shape their own growth and where the differences between schools on the digital evolution continuum is widening daily.

The hub and spoke networking model appears to tick all the right boxes and thus it will be interesting to watch how this New South Wales’ approach impacts.

The Educational Importance of BYOT

Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) is critical in the digital evolution of schools, when normalising whole school use of the digital, and when shaping digitally-based school ecosystems.

Ideally, young people should be trusted in the classroom to use the digital technologies they are already using in the ‘real world’ to enhance their learning.

While the young, parents and, invariably teachers have normalised the use of the digital outside the school walls and have expectations of the digital, few schools globally have normalised its use and are yet to reap the myriad opportunities and benefits.

The reason is simple: it is very hard to do so. It requires each school to move from its traditional paper based operational mode, culture and mindset to a mode that is digitally based, where the mindset is digital and the school culture actively supports change, risk taking and on-going organisational evolution and transformation.

The move to BYOT is fundamental to creating the ecosystem that enables that to happen.

It is reality few as yet appreciate.

To read the full article go to –