Category Archives: Evolving school ecologies

Schools as Digital Constructs

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In moving schooling from a paper to digital construct the way is opened to shift to an increasingly sophisticated, powerful, flexible and naturally evolving operational base, and allow schools to continually provide an apt, ever richer, contemporary 24/7/365 education.

Critically the shift in thinking enables schools and systems to better accommodate the world of accelerating, seemingly chaotic, often uncertain digital and societal evolution they are operating within, and importantly to evolve and grow in harmony with the rest of society.

Theoretically, as indicated in the last post (Lee and Broadie, 2019), the possibilities for teaching and learning opened by a digital construct are virtually unlimited, with possibilities being added daily as the thinking develops and the technology evolves. 

While that might hold in many fields of endeavour, schools as formal government controlled institutions with defined obligations, having to contend with societal expectations will always be more constrained than most other organisations. 

That said the success of the schools that have gone digital, and adopted a socially networked mode have demonstrated schools can move some distance along the digital evolutionary continuum, and with apt leadership and support can evolve ad infinitum.

The facility to do so will differ markedly with the type of school, likely the size and type of education authority, and the government of the day. Independent, and largely autonomous schools will invariably have greater scope to move, as will smaller government systems. 

While individual schools can make a significant shift ultimately the government of the day must play a lead role if the schools/system is to move from Industrial Age staff selection criteria, working conditions and remuneration or to remove the blockages imposed by the likes of statutory examinations boards, basic skills tests and inspectorates. 

Tellingly, mostly unnoticed, many nations now have in their distance education schools/system ground breaking digital constructs, that have long abandoned their correspondence schools, which astutely couple the evolving technologies, social networking and face to face teaching, and provide an important insight into what is possible. Significantly many of those schools already have working conditions and remuneration arrangements markedly different to the mainstream schools.

The key variable in any construct shift will be human, with the decision makers opting to move to a digital construct or choosing to reject or minimise the opportunities opened and stay with the lower order variant.  

Thus far, near all the world’s education authorities and schools have chosen, consciously or not, to stay with the latter, to fend off digital disruption and natural evolution, and to largely deny the opportunities opened by a digital construct.

While most schools and systems have chosen to retain, and laud the paper construct, outside their walls the world continues to evolve at an accelerating rate, daily distancing the young’s in from the out of school use of and learning with the digital (Friedman, 2016). The digitally connected young outside the school naturally, and unconsciously employing a digital mindset, embracing networked learning, taking charge of their 24/7/365 learning with the technology, and daily growing their version of being digital (Lee, Twining and Broadie, 2018).

The paper construct, with its focus on learning within the physical site and virtual disregard for any learning outside the school has likely inclined most to disregard the reality that formal schooling occupies less than 20% of the young’s annual learning time. They seem conveniently to forget today’s schools are operating within a rapidly evolving, chaotic, increasingly connected world where most global change happens naturally, unplanned, with myriads of consequences and unintended benefits and disbenefits. Disruption, seeming chaos will invariably result in order, and a new normal.

Among the many challenges in shifting to a digital construct is to obviate the inefficiencies of natural evolution (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). There is need to marry the natural with planned change, to continually take advantage of the pertinent global megatrends in creating and shaping the desired learning environment and culture.

The early adopter schools have demonstrated how that can be done.

But ultimately governments must lead the way for school construct change to happen and be sustained widely.

While visionary, often maverick heads and governments have orchestrated pronounced construct change, history reveals all too often that change is ‘rectified’ and the dents removed with the change of head, or government. Invariably the dents are removed by the application of stultifying carry overs of the paper construct. The great dampener, is the use of principal selection criteria that favour those wanting to maintain the status quo, and which accords no importance to the new head being able to grow the construct shift underway.

Governments must be responsible for the human construct it employs within its schools. If it opts to stay with the traditional then it should bear the political, educational and economic consequences. If it chooses to shift it needs to ensure the total construct, the total digitally based ecosystem is attuned to realising the shaping educational vision.

The Opportunities 

Even at this still relatively early phase of the Digital Revolution the opportunities opened for schools moving to a digital operational construct are immense, and largely limited by the human imagination. 

Many of the possibilities the authors have examined in earlier writings, all of which can be read on the Digital Evolution of Schooling website.

There are a few that merit special mention.

The move provides the opportunity to:

  • Return to first principles and clarify the desired shaping educational vision. It bids all associated with the school to question, and to continually question the aptness of all paper construct practises in a digital context.
  • Have all associated with the school/s, but particularly the leadership approach contemporary schooling, and the wider education of the young, with a digital, and networked mindset – not as now with an analogue.
  • Ensure the educational vision, the clear sense of purpose guides the creation and daily shaping of a school ecosystem and culture that facilitates the desired learning and resourcing. 
  • Identify those facets of schooling to be retained within the digital construct – which are likely to be many.
  • Evolve the school/s, largely in step with society’s ever rising expectations – rather than as now daily falling further behind.
  • Have schools play a more integral and productive part within a networked society and economy, moving them out of their current insular situation, making them more efficient, effective, economic and productive, contributing more fully to the growth of not only the young but also the local and national economy. 
  • Transform paper constructs into digitally mature organisations, built in large upon a tightly integrated, ever evolving, increasingly sophisticated, synergistic digital ecosystem, able to readily interface with and contribute to the networked world.
  • Realise John Dewey’s (1916) century old desire of more consciously cultivating both the informal, out of school learning with the formal, in school in the holistic education of each child.
  • Better individualise every child’s education, and build upon the young, from around the age of three taking charge of their use of and learning with the digital, learning to learn and naturally growing their being digital.
  • Have the schools genuinely collaborate with their digitally connected families in the education of each child, with both parties aware of where they should focus their efforts in growing the child’s holistic education. 
  • Accommodate both planned, and unintended change, and to optimise the benefits that flow naturally from chaotic evolution.
  • Grow a set of operational parameters for a continually evolving digitally based ecosystem and culture, where the young are trusted and empowered – rather than, as now trying to accommodate the young being digital within an aged paper construct where they are distrusted.
  • Have the digital underpin all school operations, normalising its ubiquitous use in and outside the classroom, using it to complement the other media, and accrue the efficiencies, economies, synergies and enhancement that can be achieved, intended and unintended.
  • Have the schools, as formal institutions recognise that while they can never lead the way in the young’s use of and learning with the digital they can better recognise, build upon and provide direction to the 24/7/365 use and learning.
  • Rethink the current Industrial Age structures, processes, working conditions and remuneration and gradually move to those befitting a digital construct. 
  • Complement the site based with networked teaching, learning and assessment, that can occur 24/7/365, anywhere, anytime.  In the upper secondary years, strong arguments can be mounted for much of the learning to happen off site, in jobs, apprenticeships, internships or intensive workshops.
  • Employ a more networked mode of school resourcing, where the school and the families pool their resources and expertise, and where schools can draw upon the resources of a networked society, and lessen its near total reliance on government/parent funds.

The educational vision

As we detailed in the last post, the paper construct has led to approaches to schooling, teaching and learning that we continue to accept as ‘normal and correct’ without thinking. Having pursued those ‘normals’ for aeons we understand the type of learning they produce. But we have yet to identify the learning possible within a digital construct.

These now need to become the subject of acute observation and research. 

The most obvious of these new affordances are:

  • Time learning. If students accept and enjoy the learning challenges that schools lead them into, they can radically extend the time they spend learning. This makes student engagement vital, so that learning is driven more by their internal desire to learn rather than external pressures.
  • Just in time access to information. ‘Road-bumps’ in learning, caused by lack of knowledge or understanding can be rapidly overcome, so that they don’t inhibit and damage the flow of learning.
  • Individual learners taking charge of their learning 24/7/365, lifelong. The implications of the learner, and not so much the ‘authority’, taking charge of their use of and learning with the digital, from around the age of three through to death are profound.
  • Connection to people. Ideas can be discussed online, and forums allow learners to follow the discussions of others. This can bring a multiplicity of people into students’ learning networks and raise the importance of students verbalising and discussing their current understanding.
  • The importance of learning to learn, relative to learning a formal curriculum. A key feature of the digital world is the extremely rapid growth of knowledge, which necessitates life-long learning for all. This also implies that state derived curricula and assessments need to focus on competence in a field, and to change as the societal perceptions to be competent evolve.

The Way Forward

The move to a digital operational construct necessitates schools having school principals willing and able to orchestrate the shift, and its continued evolution.

This has been strikingly apparent in the schools that have made the shift(Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Broadie, 2018),and indeed in the digital evolution and transformation of all private and public sector organisations.

Without an astute chief executive officer, with digital acumen, able to set the expectations, communicate the vision and daily orchestrate the daily workings and growth of a digitally based school ecosystem there is little chance the shift will occur, let alone be sustained.  Great deputy heads, highly committed staff and supportive communities can all assist, but the head must lead.

The head must moreover understand that the construct shift is first and foremost a human challenge, where the school community shapes – on the fly – an organisation it believes can best deliver the desired education.

It is not, contrary to the current approach, a technological challenge, best left to the ‘ICT experts’. 

For well over a quarter of a century the universal propensity has been for teachers, ICT coordinators, principals, administrators and particularly governments to focus on the technology, and often only the technology (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Broadie, 2018). Invariably the first step has been to purchase the latest gear, and to laud its purchase. Few appear to understand they have simply been trying to shoehorn a limited use of the digital technology into a paper construct, constrained by Industrial Age structures, processes and mindset.

Not surprisingly the billions spent on digital technology for schools hasn’t magically occasioned construct change, nor will it.

The challenge is for school leaders to identify and gradually shape an organisational structure, a learning environment and culture that takes advantage of the evolving digital technology to provide the desired contemporary education.

The schools and education authorities that have moved to a digital construct have recognised the imperative of putting the educational agenda to the fore and then addressing the many human and technological variables that assist further the agenda.

They have also appreciated they can hasten the shift from the paper to digital construct by tackling those variables largely unconstrained within the existing construct. The shift from an analogue to digital mindset, distributing the control of the teaching and learning, trusting and empowering all, enhancing the family-school collaboration, ensuring all students have the technology, recognising out of school learning with the digital, pooling the home and school resources and expertise, the establishment of an integrated school ecosystem, social networking, and the adoption of a culture of change can all for example be fostered within the existing operational parameters, with few involving an overt clash with the established ways.

History suggests the evolution in schools will be gradual, the schools moving along an increasingly higher order evolutionary continuum, shedding the ways of the paper construct, overcoming the impediments to change, working increasingly within a digital construct.

The authors’ research with the early adopter schools (Lee and Broadie, 2016), points strongly to;

  • The schools, while each shaping their own course, in a seemingly chaotic world will move through remarkably similar evolutionary stages as they shift from the paper to increasingly digital construct
  • Each displaying, regardless of type or context, common attributes at each stage
  • Most schools in their evolution and shift to a higher order of operation needing to move through each of the evolutionary stages
  • The evolutionary continuum continually lengthening as the thinking, expectations and technology becomes more sophisticated
  • Primary/elementary schools moving faster along the continuum than the secondary.
  • The schools lessening their dependence on the physical site for much learning, taking increasing advantage of networked learning and teaching. 

Movement along the continuum will rarely be constant, more often it will be the case of two steps forward, and one step back, often with a change of head the school regressing to the world of paper (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

The unplanned commonality evidenced globally in the young’s use of the Net (Tapscott, 1998), and more recently in the children’s use of and learning with the digital (Lee, Twining and Broadie, 2018) is seemingly mirrored globally in schools shift to digital construct. 

Conclusion.

While still early days, with appreciably more research to be undertaken the strong suggestion for any school, or education authority seeking to move to a digital construct is to note the key traits evidenced in the evolution of all digitally mature organisations. 

  • Dewey, J (1916), Democracy and education, New York Macmillan.
  • Friedman, T (2016) Thank you for Being LateNew York Farrer, Straus Giroux
  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2ndEdition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Lee, M. Broadie, R and Twining, P (2018) Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families. Armidale. Australia Douglas and Brown http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2019) ‘Moving Schooling from a Paper to Digital Construct’. Linkedin -19 August 2019 – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/moving-schooling-from-paper-based-digital-construct-mal-lee/
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press
  • Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York

Is Core System Wide School Change Possible, and Sustainable?

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The short answer is yes, on both counts.

But it is extremely rare, far rarer than most governments, politicians, the media and educational leaders would have you believe.

Historically one will struggle to find an education authority, local, provincial or national, anywhere in the world that has achieved core system wide school change, and then sustained that change for more than a few decades.

Virtually all the system wide innovation made globally in the 60s and 70’s has largely disappeared, with the schools returning, some might say regressing, to the traditional mode.

One will moreover struggle to find a major change that has not only been sustained, but built upon in a significant way.

And yet daily academics, the media, politicians and educational administrators glibly envision markedly different schools of the future. 

Most schools in 2040 will, on current trends likely be the same as today, the same as they were fifty years ago, the same as they were a century ago, only they will be more dated relative to the rest of society.

The current indicators strongly suggest many could be more regressive than the schools of the 1970s.

Most will likely still be paper based constructs, site based, linear, hierarchical Industrial Age organisations, using Industrial Age processes, micro-managed by governments and bureaucrats to the nth degree.

New technologies in Industrial Age classrooms doesn’t change the nature of schooling. They never have, and never will.

There will be notable exceptions globally led by governments that recognise the imperative of providing an apt contemporary education for all, that understand the immensity of the constraints to be overcome and what is required for successful sustained digital evolution and transformation, conscious of the time and effort needed to make the paradigm shift, but they will be few. 

The rarity of sustained system change has not been for any want of desire, effort of investment.  The last century plus has seen all manner of thoughtfully conceived, well-funded initiatives, the likes of model schools, the Dewey based progressive school’s movement, the many ‘schools of the future’ and lighthouse schools, open plan schooling, vast national initiatives like the UK’s ‘Harnessing the Technology’ and more recently the various national ‘digital revolutions’. Some of those initiatives made a difference, at least for a time, but importantly few got anywhere near 100% school uptake, and have been sustained over time. 

We’d like to table for discussion the seemingly outrageous proposition that core system-wide school change might in most situations be impossible, particularly over a sustained period.

We’re most assuredly not making this observation as cynical old pessimists, but rather in the quest to assist principals, education authorities and politicians, wanting to move from a paper to digitally based construct to understand the magnitude of the task ahead, and the reality they’ll have to address. 

History says that while change has been possible at the individual school level sustained core change across a total system, be it parochial, provincial or national level, has been much rarer.

That rarity should set off the warning bells.

Political challenges.

Sustained, core system change is only possible if both the political and logistical elements are successfully addressed from the outset, and then on an-going basis.  While for convenience we’ve separated the political from the logistical challenges the two are invariably intertwined.

Within the democracies of the world using the Westminster system of government, or a variant thereof core system change in government schools can only happen when led and supported by the leader of the government and his/her minister/superintendent. It is a given, without which there is no chance of sustained success. 

History reveals much, likely most system wide innovation did not pay due regard to the politics of the change. Invariably the focus has been on the mechanics of the change with scant thought was given to the reality of political churn, the continual change of governments, the seemingly endless cycle of progressive and conservative governments and electoral acceptance. History is festooned with educational innovation that died with the change of government, and even change of minister. Invariably new governments, new ministers of education, school superintendents like to quickly display their credentials, happy to throw out millions of dollars of achievement to demonstrate their way is best. 

Core system change is very unlikely to be sustained unless it is accepted, and in time normalised by the electorate. Experience suggests all too often well-intentioned educators have mapped out major change without giving a thought to the political context, implications or long term community acceptance. One will struggle find mention in the educational change literature the imperative of factoring into the change implementation the electorates likely acceptance of the innovation.

Logistical

Logistically the many challenges facing change at the individual school level, that we identified in ‘The Challenge of Creating a Digital School’ are amplified many fold at the system level, and to those many considerable constraints are added those at the system level. 

These are but some of the hurdles to be overcome.

The challenge of simply running an education system in a time of accelerating change is immense.

Running that system while also implementing core system wide change takes the challenge to another, for many possibly unattainable, level. In analysing the history of one of those rarities that has sustained the system change forty plus years ago while the challenge of making the change in the 1970s was immense the system was, in relative terms working with largely known constants. Paper as the technology core to the construct was largely unchanging. That was a world where it was accepted that one had around a week to respond to an important letter, a ‘leisurely’ turnaround that continued until the early 1990’s.

Fifty plus years after the identification of Moore’s Law (Wikipedia, 2019) the rate of digital evolution continues to accelerate largely as projected, with few organisations, let alone school systems, able to stay abreast of the rate of technological change (Friedman, 2016), (Deloitte, 2017). To the already considerable challenge of conducting a complex human organisation is added the pace of continual social, political, economic, environmental and technological change, including uncertainty, disruption, digital convergence, evolutionary chaos, and continual unintended and unplanned global change. 

An allied challenge, all education authorities will eventually have to a face, is that they are operating – whether desired or not –in a world of chaotic change (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). They’ll need to grasp that within that world their long-held belief that development can only occur when rationally, logically planned and implemented must be tempered by the reality that increasingly much development will occur as a natural flow on of digital evolution; unplanned, unintended and remarkably similar worldwide.

Governments, education authorities and schools have ultimately to accommodate both planned and unplanned change, and be aware of, and be ready to optimise the unintended benefits, and the new normal that emerges out of the seeming chaos. Near all the major global changes in the learning and education of the world’s young in the last twenty-five years have flown naturally and unplanned from the Digital Revolution. No planned national or international educational change comes close to having anything near the global impact of unintended, unplanned change (Lee and Broadie, 2018). 

Business from the mid 1990’s recognised in their planning they had to accommodate the intended and the unintended change (Thorpe, 1998).

The digital masters in schooling also appreciated this new imperative (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

The history of schooling since the world went online in 1993 with Mosaic reveals most schools, and education authorities didn’t (Lee and Broadie, 2018), but recent conversations suggest some are, and in so doing are aware they will need to bring the teachers and community with them in that realisation.

Natural evolutionary change is invariably inefficient (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). It needs to be shaped to advantage by astute leaders aware of the world megatrends.

Core system change must thus still be planned astutely, with due regard given the many interconnected parts but that planning and the outcomes desired should be more open and flexible, able to accommodate the naturally emerging unintended benefits, and to address the undesired disbenefits.

A telling feature of the successful system change analysed was the integrated totality of the change design and implementation (Lee, in press). It was built on core, timeless educational principles that underpinned every facet of the change. Forty plus years on that was still apparent.

All too often efforts at core school change are piecemeal, delivered by discrete cells within the central office, without regard to the desired totality or electoral acceptance, that soon wither with the change in government, and funding priorities.

The immensity and complexity of the challenges to sustained core system change demand leaders in Government, the central administration and every school capable and astute enough to normalise the desired change.  It necessitates systems continually having educational leaders able to sit in the helicopter and understand the evolving macro scene, the interrelatedness of the many parts, able to ensure evolving, increasingly integrated and complex digitally based school ecosystems sustain and grow the desired change.

The challenge of growing and appointing school leaders able to play that role, and to do so over the decades might be a step too far for most education systems, struggling as most are to find principals simply able to manage the status quo.

To normalise, sustain, and in time grow the core change over the decades the system requires leadership identification, growth and appointment processes that will go a long way to providing the desired personnel.

Most systems, where the focus is very much on appointing heads to manage the status quo, are years away from the desired, with the question having to be asked if the desired can ever be achieved.

A related ‘leadership’ challenge facing near all systems is that the implementation of the change is invariably entrusted to a mature, invariably highly segmented bureaucracy. They use staff, structures and processes employed to maintain the status – quo. That group likely not only lacks the understanding, mindset, drive to implement significant organisational change but also the structural agility to do so. 

It is a recipe for failure, that can be obviated, but from the track record is rarely done. 

Successful sustained core system requires the designers to accept school change must be done from within the school, and increasingly the school community, and done eventually by every school in the system.

The designers can’t wave a magic wand, or simply issue a media release and assume the change will happen.  It won’t.

Allied is the imperative of recognising that every school is unique, with each requiring its own change strategy.

It is appreciated this runs counter to the prevailing views of many bureaucrats and likely governments, but every school has a unique context, history, community, culture, mix of staff, challenges, and sits at different points along the school evolutionary continuum.  Moreover, each has a head with his/her own desires, capabilities, leadership style and facility to orchestrate major organisational change.

While Government and the system leadership must provide direction and support history affirms that leadership must be willing to trust and empower its professionals and communities if it wishes them to normalise, sustain and in time grow the core change.

The willingness to distribute that power is something historically few systems have been prepared to contemplate, but until they do, and cease micro managing and distrusting their professionals the chance of sustained core change will remain remote. 

A telling but largely unacknowledged factor in achieving core system change, that stood out in the analysis of the successful change, (Lee, in press) is the timing of the change.  Achieving the initial momentum and acceptance is the hard part. Normalising and sustaining the change is that much easier if the ball is rolling. It was likely somewhat easier to innovate in the socially progressive world of the late 60s and 70’s than immediately post 9/11. Similarly, it is often easier to introduce major change after a resounding electoral success than at the end of a tired government.

It bids Governments and system administrators to think carefully about context and the timing of a change they want sustained for decades to come. 

Conclusion

Yes, core system change is possible, and sustainable, but it is easy to see why the track record globally is so poor, and likely to remain so.

If, and it is a big ‘if’, governments want to provide an apt contemporary education for all its students and to make changes that will be sustained governments, policy makers, educational administrators, and indeed teachers, the media and society in general must appreciate the immense difficulty of the move, and the real chance of failure.

They need also understand in a world of ever accelerating technological and social change the challenge is growing daily.

It is time to cease being glib about core school change, to appreciate the magnitude of the constraints, to approach the change with the eyes wide open to both the political and logistical challenges and to laud those systems that have made and sustained core change over the decades.

Bibliography

  • Friedman, T (2016) Thank you for Being LateNew York Farrer, Straus Giroux
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Lee, M (in press).Creating, Sustaining and Revitalising the ACT Secondary College Model.
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of ChaosNY Three Rivers Press
  • Wikipedia (2019) ‘Moore’s Law’, 2 July 2019 at – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law

The Importance of Students Using Their Own Digital Kit.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

This seemingly mundane management issue, that most educators view as just that, challenges the very nature of schooling.

Are schools in democracies places where the state compels a compliant youth to learn what and how government believes is appropriate, or are they organisations that assist an increasingly digitally empowered young ready themselves for life, work and learning in a rapidly evolving, often uncertain, digitally based, connected and socially networked world?

Are they physical institutions that must unilaterally control every aspect of learning of an appropriately compliant, subservient youth within the school walls, or are they learning organisations that work with all the ‘teachers’ of the young in assisting provide an apt, balanced, holistic and largely individualised education?

The litmus test to these questions is whether the school believes it must unilaterally control the choice and use of the personal technology within the school walls, or whether it is willing to trust and empower its students, and give them the freedom and responsibility to use their own suite of digital technologies astutely in all facets of their learning, including that within the school.

Educators as a group don’t appear to have grasped how important it is for the world’s young to be digitally empowered, and to learn from naturally using that capability. It is akin to owning one’s first car, but much more. It is not simply having one’s own highly sophisticated, immensely powerful technologies. It is having the agency to use those technologies largely as one desires, and taking control of one’s use and learning with those technologies. And being able to do so very early in life, before they can read and write, and to do so 24/7/365 lifelong.

It is an agency enjoyed by near 70% of the world’s young (ITU, 2017), (UNICEFF, 2017) – albeit outside the school walls, with the trend line moving at pace to near universal digital connectivity.

UNICEF’s 2017 study rightly observed:

Digital technology has already changed the world – and as more and more children go online around the world,
it is increasingly changing childhood (UNICEF, 2017, p1).

Until schools and their governments appreciate that digitally empowered young are the new normal, and are willing to adjust their ways, to relax their control, to trust and empower those young people to use their ‘own’ kit astutely and creatively in class schools will never normalise the use of the digital, nor play any meaningful role in assisting the nation’s young grow being digital.

Schools will remain doing the digitalwithout ever being digital.

It is appreciated that won’t unduly worry many teachers and governments.

But it does means most schools developmentally will move into a state of evolutionary equilibrium, unable to evolve as digitally mature organisations which can continually transform their operations and accommodate the accelerating digital evolution. Daily they will lag ever further behind the young’s everyday learning with the digital outside the school; their teaching becoming increasingly dated and irrelevant.

The national implications are considerable, particularly when the research (Lee and Broadie, 2018) suggests 70% – 80% of the nation’s schools show no inclination to forgo their control. Most will thus do little or nothing to enhance the capability of the vast human resource digital economies have in their digitally connected young.

The moment schools decide they – and not the students – must choose the personal technology the young will use in the classroom they forgo any hope of assisting grow the nation’s young being digital, having the digital invisibly underpin all school learning, of moving the school from an analogue to digital operational mode, and having it join and assist grow a networked society.

The decision relegates the school to the digital backwater.

In announcing its unilateral control of the technology, the school is proclaiming that it intends to maintain its traditional ‘control over’ ways, and that any use of the digital must fit within those ways. It is saying to the students and their families that not only do we know best, but we distrust you, are not willing to empower you, and we don’t value or recognise the lead role you have played – and are playing – in learning with the digital.

It is saying being digital is unimportant, and that a digitally empowered young – working with their teachers – are incapable of using the digital astutely and creatively in enhancing their learning in all areas of the curriculum, at all stages of learning.

Schools and governments worldwide seemingly don’t appreciate the very powerful messages they send when they make seemingly innocuous management decisions about the control of the digital technology.

It is imperative as a school leader you understand, and are aware of the wider educational and national ramifications of the decision.

The critical conditions.

Five conditions are critical to the sustained natural growth in learning with the digital (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018).

  1. Ready access to the personal, preferably mobile technology
  2. Digital connectivity
  3. Support, empowerment and trust
  4. Largely unfettered use
  5. Self-directed learning, able to collaborate when desired (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018).

Those five, closely related conditions go a long way to explaining why over two billion young (ITU, 2017), (UNICEF, 2017) are digitally connected, digitally empowered and have normalised their everyday use of the digital, and why so few schools have yet to do so.

If – and we appreciate it is a huge ‘if’ that pertains to the nature of schooling you wish to provide – your school wants to normalise the use of the technology, assist grow the students being digital, and vitally use the digital to enhance all their school learning it needs to understand why the digitally connected families – and the exceptional schools – have succeeded, and why most schools have failed.

Own’ kit and connectivity

Critical is that digitally empowered students can use their ‘own’ suite of digital technologies largely unfettered within the school walls, and have ready connectivity.

That carries with it the school’s and teacher’s appreciation of how best to build upon that ownership to grow the learners and their learning.  It entails a willingness to trust students to use in their everyday school learning the technologies they already use 24/7/365, the need to empower them, recognise, to value and build upon the students being digital, while understanding how they can take advantage of that capability in their teaching.

It obliges the school to understand this is a digitally empowered generation, with a digital mindset, ever rising expectations, who have long taken charge of their learning with the digital, who will do so lifelong, who have grown being digital by naturally using the apt technologies in near every facet of their lives and knowing how best to take advantage of that digital skillset.

The schools can, if they desire complement and add value to the students being digital, but only if they are prepared to support already empowered students use of their own kit in the ways they are accustomed.

Understand it is not about the technology per se.

It about how each of us in a digitally connected world, from around the age of three through to death, can control the use of, and learning with that suite of continually evolving technologies.

It is about being able to do largely what we want, when and how we want.

None who are digitally empowered tolerate ‘big brother’ telling them what they can and can’t do with their personal technology. That intolerance is amplified with a young that have only ever known a digital world, who have long taken charge of its everyday use everywhere except within the school, that have successfully individualised its application and which are likely to be more digitally proficient with the current technologies than most of their teachers.

While it might come as a surprise to many, educators need understand the world’s digitally connected young will only use the teacher directed, structured, linear approach to learning with the digital used by schools when compelled.

It is antithetical to the all-pervasive, highly integrated laissez faire approach they use every day.

  • Control over’ schools

History affirms (Lee and Broadie, 2018) that when the schools insist on tightly controlling the student’s choice and every use of the digital it will do little or nothing to enhance their being digital, their learning how to learn with the technology or crucially their learning in all areas of the curriculum.

All it does is reinforce the traditional analogue mode of schooling, its hierarchical operations, its unilateral control of teaching and largely closes the door for digitally empowered young to use their very considerable, digital capabilities and digital tool kit in their school learning.

Under the ‘control over’ model the ‘experts’ invariably decide on an ‘appropriate’ device, the operating system, software, apps, set up, storage, maintenance arrangements, upgrades and replacements. Their focus is the group, on all students using the same set up, with scant if any regard given to personalising the set up or individualised learning. It is the technology that matters not the learner. The ‘experts’ decide on the school’s ‘acceptable use policy’ (AUP). And how the technology will be deployed, used and monitored. Significantly they also decide – for the students and teachers – which digital technology will not be allowed; from the mid 1990’s banning most of the personal digital technologies and online services the students used 24/7/365 outside the school (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

In most schools, particularly at the secondary level, the technology will likely only be used within specific ‘computing’ or ‘ICT’ classes.

Net connectivity is tightly controlled and censored. Teacher permission is needed, and usually only allowed when the teacher thinks it is appropriate.

The focus is insular, on that happening within the school walls, within its operating hours, less than 20% of the young’s annual learning time.

Digitally empowered students and parents have no say in the technology used, the curriculum, the teaching or the assessment, they simply complying with the experts and teachers dictates.

  • Student choice schools

In letting the students use their own suite of digital technologies the school – perhaps unwittingly – takes a significant step towards adopting a more inclusive, networked mode of schooling, that seeks to genuinely collaborate with its students, families and community in providing an apt education for an ever evolving digitally connected world.

By distributing its control of the resourcing and teaching, and sharing it with the individual learners and their families the school is readying the move from an analogue to digital mode of schooling.

It positions the school and its teachers – at no cost – to continually work in class with students using the cutting-edge or near cutting-edge technology, and to largely overcome the growing technology lag evident in the ‘control over’ schools.

It allows the students to continue to direct much of their learning with the digital, to use the tools they know and use 24/7/365, that they have tailored for their learning style and to use those parts of their kit they – and not the experts – believe will best do the job at hand.

It provides teachers the freedom to work closely with their students, to take on their ideas, to be flexible and when is all is working well to step to the side and let the learners direct their learning.

In working with the student’s technologies, the teachers quickly recognise the individual learner’s interests and capabilities, able to tailor their teaching accordingly. Importantly it also provides the school with a bridge to the families, providing an insight into the capabilities and resources of each, making it that much easier to support and add value to the efforts of the families.

In exploring the work of those exceptional schools (Lee and Levins, 2016) that for some time have encouraged their students to use their own technologies the authors were struck by their willingness to genuinely collaborate with their families, to value and build on the out of school learning, to remove from the curriculum material already learned and to integrate the use of the digital in all areas of learning, and all school operations.

Everything appeared so natural. No one thought twice about ceasing to teach digital proficiency and simply building upon the student’s learning.

That said while the use of the digital was central to all operations, and Net access was appreciably greater than the ‘control over’ schools, connectivity was primarily through the school’s network, and as such appreciably more constrained than outside the school.

It was also evident – a reality confirmed by the case study follow up – all the schools studied were aware that at this point in the history their efforts to vary the mode of schooling were dependent on the current head, and that a change in the principalship or government could see the school revert to its traditional form, with years of effort wasted.

Conclusion

Within the developed nations of the world virtually all the young are digitally connected, and empowered, having only ever known a digital and socially networked society.

Their upbringing has been – and continues to be – within digitally connected families, with ready access to all manner of highly sophisticated personal digital technologies, and increasingly powerful, tightly integrated digital ecosystems.

From very early in life they have been provided their ‘own’ kit, connectivity and trusted, empowered and supported to use that technology largely unfettered.

By three most children born into digitally connected families will be digitally empowered, and have begun the lifelong journey of taking charge of their use and learning with the digital, understanding how to learn with it, and naturally and confidently growing their being digital.

They are never going to relinquish that power.

While ever schools refuse to attune their ways to the new reality the young, with the support of their digitally connected families, will continue grow their being digital outside the school walls, continually evolving their capability, and daily widening the gap between the in and out of school use of the technology.

Digitally empowered young are never going to going to embrace a highly structured ‘control over’ approach to learning with the digital where they are disempowered, devalued and subservient.

Rather as a vast, growing and evermore powerful cohort they will likely increasingly expect society and its schools to accommodate the changing world, and to attune their ways and adopt a mode of schooling where digitally empowered young normalise the use of their personal technologies.

As a school leader contemplating the way forward appreciate you are deciding on the desired nature of the schooling, and not simply a minor management issue.

Bibliography

 

 

  • ITU (2017) Measuring the Information Society Report 2017 Volume 1 Geneva International Telecommunications Union – https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/publications/mis2017.aspx
  • Johansen, S.L, Larsen, M.C and Ernst, M.J (2016) Young Children and Digital Technology– Aarhus University, Aalborg University, Danish Media Council for Children and Young People, February, 2016 – http://www.aau.dk/digitalAssets/201/201213_national-report_2015_denmark_proofread-2-.pdf
  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M, Broadie, R, and Twining, P (2018). Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families.Armidale Australia
  • Meeker. M (2018) Internet Trends 2018Kleiner Perkins May 30, 2018 – http://www.kpcb.com/internet-trends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Integrated Client Support

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

 An effective and highly efficient digital communications suite is critical if the digital school is to provide the kind of integrated client support expected in a digital and socially networked society.

What is now apparent (Westerman, et.al, 2014) – particularly with business but increasingly in the public sector – is that clients no longer differentiate between a face to face and an online experience; it is but an experience.

The term – and indeed the concept of – integrated client support is rarely as yet experienced in schools. A Google search will unearth few references specifically pertaining to schooling.  It is more commonly used in the corporate sector and areas like family law, health and psychological support (Queensland Council of Social Services (2013). However, the provision of well orchestrated, quality support for all students and their families is something every good school has for generations believed is essential.

It is partly that schools haven’t seen the need to label that student support and pastoral care, but it also that most schools still don’t regard their parents and students as clients. We recommended in an earlier post that to thrive and remain viable digital schools would benefit from focussing on meeting and indeed exceeding their client’s needs and expectations.  This is an area where one can use the smarts of the digital to that.

All schools could benefit from having an integrated increasingly sophisticated client support arrangement, even if they choose not to label it as such. The aim should be to provide all teachers and counsellors ready access to the latest information and data on each child and family, packaged in a way that can provide the best possible support.  Most schools tare likely still working with a variant of the old teacher mark book, without ready access to the plethora of other information on the child’s development, in and outside the school. In a socially networked environment there should also the ready digital facility to share appropriate information with other agencies supporting the client.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is now also clear that most school’s paper operational base, and the associated inward looking, physical site fixated mindset has markedly impaired school’s ability to provide the requisite individualised high quality client support.

That shortcoming will continue while ever schools continue to operate within an analogue paradigm. While many schools have begun to tinker with the digital, employing the likes of online bookings for parent teacher interviews the reality is that they require a mature digitally based ecosystem before they can readily provide the apt, integrated, individualised, efficient and effective client support.

The system needs to be integrated within the wider school ecosystem and consonant with the ways and expectations of an evolving digital and socially networked society, where teaching and learning is happening 24/7/365 and geared to time poor parents highly reliant on their mobile technology.

Long gone are the days where the support can be only site based, reliant on the physical attendance at the place called school.  It is the client that needs to be to the fore, not those supporting the clients.

It needs to be a system that sits – and evolves readily – within the school’s wider ecosystem and where the supporting information and data is readied in the main as a normal part of the school’s everyday operations.

It will be a system where the relevant staff play a lead role but where their contribution – whether face to face or online – will be supported by a suite of pertinent information and data.

Ideally the clients should be able to access much of the desired information and the current data when convenient online at either at the school or the complementary agencies websites.  If the client wants additional support they should be able to do so initially digitally and only when truly needed face to face.

The key is to envision the desired digitally based ‘integrated client support’ arrangement from the outset, to identify the likely information and data required, to liaise with the pertinent complementary agencies and services in its creation and to build the model as one shapes the school ecosystem, gathers and makes available the data and creates the digital communications suite.

Done astutely and in conjunction with the shaping of the school’s digital communications suite and refinement of its student data and management system schools shouldn’t need for the expensive integrated client support systems being pitched at the health and social service markets.

  • Queensland Council of Social Service (2013) A Guide to Integrated Delivery to Clients 2013 -http://communitydoor.org.au/sites/default/files/A_GUIDE_TO_INTEGRATED_SERVICE_DELIVERY_TO_CLIENTS.pdf
  • Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

 

Technology Agnostic

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Recognise that in the school’s evolutionary journey and the quest to normalise the use of the digital you’ll be working towards a situation where the school is technology agnostic: where it doesn’t matter what personal technologies or operating systems those within the school community choose to use.

So long as the chosen technologies can readily access the Net as far as the school is concerned it doesn’t matter which folk choose.  While it is likely wise for schools to provide continually updated advice, part of the trusting and empowering of the school community is letting each member make the choice of the desired personal technologies.

Let the user, the learner, the client decide.

We appreciate for many raised and trained during the Microsoft hegemony, who experienced the Apple – Windows ‘conflict’ and who believed that all in the school had not only to use the one operating system but also the same model of computer this will call might sound sacrilegious.

The technical imperative for the school to use the one operating system disappeared at least 5-6 years ago with the emergence of digital ecosystems able to readily accommodate the many different mobile operating systems.  One has only to note the ease of providing all manner of smartphones, phablets and tablets instant access to the Net to appreciate why all schools to be technology agnostic as soon as feasible.

The assumption that all students and teachers must use the same hardware and software in the teaching and learning more to do with the

  • desire by the school – and its ‘ICT experts’ – to retain unilateral control of all aspects of the teaching, learning and technology resourcing
  • focus on the technology and its maintenance rather than on the desired learning
  • belief the young learn best how to use the technology when taught in a highly linear lock step manner, with the teacher in control, with all using the same technology, often with the school being able to monitor every key stroke
  • school’s distrust of and lack of respect for its students, parents and indeed most of its teachers
  • school’s insular mindset that focuses on that happening within the school walls, to the virtual exclusion of any student usage of the digital in the real world.

As schools mature digitally, genuinely collaborate with their homes, socially network, come increasingly to respect, trust and empower all within the school’s community and create a culture and adopt a mindset where the use of the digital is normalised the control over thinking disappears.

All come to appreciate that what matters is the facility of the technology – or more likely the student’s suite of digital technologies – to perform the desired functions.  In authoring an e-book it matters not whether the student uses an Apple, Android, Windows, Tizen or Firefox based system, or a mix thereof to create the final product.  While the ‘ICT experts’ will have their preference so too will each client.

That said, one can mount a case for a graduated shift and schools with limited technology staff opting to stay for a time with a common operating system.  However even those that have started this way soon open the doors for the students to use the kit they desire.

In embarking on your digital journey your school evolve at pace but so too will the technology and the practises one employs to derive the most from the current technology.

Work as fast as is feasible to shift from the traditional prescribed personal technology model to one that is technology agnostic.

BYOT and Digital Normalisation

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Having all students use in class the suite of digital technologies they use 24/7/365 so naturally as to be near invisible is critical to the on-going digital evolution of the school.

As Lee and Levin elaborate in their freely available (http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling until schools are willing to distribute their control of teaching, learning and personal technology, to trust, respect and empower their students there is little likelihood of the school normalising the use of the digital and furthering the school’s digital evolution.

Rather the school, even if spending thousands on digital technologies, will remain operating within a paper based, control over operational paradigm unable replicate its client’s normalised use of the digital outside the school walls, and to meet both the client’s and society’s rising digital expectations.

Schools have ultimately to trust and empower all their students.

That is critical if they are to normalise the whole of school community use of the technology, and position the school culturally and technologically to continue its digital evolution.

The point that Lee and Levins make in their book is that BYOT- which is where the school encourages the children to use in class the digital technologies they are already using 24/7/365 – is but a phase, albeit a critical phase, in the digital evolution of the school.

BYOT – contrary to the views expressed by many – is not primarily about the technology but rather is a vital educational development where the school declares its willingness to cede its unilateral control of teaching, learning and technology and to genuinely collaborate with its digitally connected families and to work with them in providing a mode schooling befitting a digital and networked society.

It is a major step in creating a 24/7/364 mode of schooling that actively involves all the ‘teachers’ of the young – not simply the professionals in the school.

When all the students use their own personal technologies naturally in the classroom a new norm is achieved, a norm where the technology recedes into the background and the learner and the desired education takes precedence. With normalisation BYOT as a label very soon disappears from the school’s vernacular.

That said it bears reiterating that in 2017 relatively few schools globally have achieved digital normalisation – for the simple reason that it is very hard to do.

As Lee and Levins (2016) address in depth, and this series of blogs affirms the readying of the school for BYOT and in turn digital normalisation requires astute leaders who over time are willing and able to address the plethora of variables needed to significantly change the culture and thinking of the school, and create an integrated digitally based ecosystem able to continually make best use of the digital.

BYOT and Digital Normalisation

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Having all students use in class the suite of digital technologies they use 24/7/365 so naturally as to be near invisible is critical to the on-going digital evolution of the school.

As Lee and Levin elaborate in their freely available (http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling until schools are willing to distribute their control of teaching, learning and personal technology, to trust, respect and empower their students there is little likelihood of the school normalising the use of the digital and furthering the school’s digital evolution.

Rather the school, even if spending thousands on digital technologies, will remain operating within a paper based, control over operational paradigm unable replicate its client’s normalised use of the digital outside the school walls, and to meet both the client’s and society’s rising digital expectations.

Schools have ultimately to trust and empower all their students.

That is critical if they are to normalise the whole of school community use of the technology, and position the school culturally and technologically to continue its digital evolution.

The point that Lee and Levins make in their book is that BYOT- which is where the school encourages the children to use in class the digital technologies they are already using 24/7/365 – is but a phase, albeit a critical phase, in the digital evolution of the school.

BYOT – contrary to the views expressed by many – is not primarily about the technology but rather is a vital educational development where the school declares its willingness to cede its unilateral control of teaching, learning and technology and to genuinely collaborate with its digitally connected families and to work with them in providing a mode schooling befitting a digital and networked society.

It is a major step in creating a 24/7/364 mode of schooling that actively involves all the ‘teachers’ of the young – not simply the professionals in the school.

When all the students use their own personal technologies naturally in the classroom a new norm is achieved, a norm where the technology recedes into the background and the learner and the desired education takes precedence. With normalisation BYOT as a label very soon disappears from the school’s vernacular.

That said it bears reiterating that in 2017 relatively few schools globally have achieved digital normalisation – for the simple reason that it is very hard to do.

As Lee and Levins (2016) address in depth, and this series of blogs affirms the readying of the school for BYOT and in turn digital normalisation requires astute leaders who over time are willing and able to address the plethora of variables needed to significantly change the culture and thinking of the school, and create an integrated digitally based ecosystem able to continually make best use of the digital.

  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/

Collaboration in Learning. Transcending the School Walls

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Mal Lee and Lorrae Ward published their research on the growing school – home nexus in 2013 in their ACER Press publication Collaboration in Learning: Transcending the School Walls. That work not only examined the nature of the collaboration in case study schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia and its many benefits, but also the importance of developing a mode of schooling and teaching apposite for an ever evolving digital and increasingly socially networked world.

Lee elaborated upon that work in ‘Digital Technology and Student Learning’ (2014) and fleshed out how schools in their genuine collaboration with their homes could markedly improve the student learning. By

  • improving the home – school collaboration
  • empowering the parents and students and furthering their understanding of what is being learnt outside the classroom
  • making learning more relevant and attractive
  • lifting time in learning
  • adopting more individualised teaching
  • making greater use of peer supported learning
  • teaching more in context and
  • making apt use of increasingly sophisticated technology

the belief was schools should be able to markedly improve each child’s education.

The intention here is not to elaborate upon that work nor is it to repeat the points made in ‘Home – School – Community Collaboration’ (Lee and Broadie, 2016), but rather to comment on the developments that have occurred since writing the earlier works, and to place the developments in context.

What is increasingly apparent is that genuine home – school collaboration and teaching and learning that transcends the classroom walls is primarily a feature of a higher order mode of schooling. It is likely to be found only in those schools that have a digital operational base, recognise the learning happening outside the school walls and which are of a mind and have a culture accepting of genuine collaboration. While as indicated (Lee and Broadie, 2016) educational leaders and governments have for decades extolled the benefits of home – school collaboration and spent vast monies and efforts in the quest, genuine collaboration – except in some niche school settings – doesn’t take hold until schools have gone digital, begun to socially network and are of a mind to nurture the desired collaboration.

What is also clearer is that genuine collaboration between the school, its homes and community is critical to the on-going digital evolution of schools, the shaping of school ecosystems that merge the expertise and resources of all the teacher’s of the young and in time the development of a curriculum for the 24/7/365 mode of schooling. Until schools are ready to collaborate, to listen to their homes and the young, to value the contribution all parties can make to the 24/7/365 teaching of the young and have in place a culture and digital infrastructure that will facilitate the collaboration they have little chance of creating and resourcing the desired ever evolving school ecosystem or of providing an instructional program for a socially networked community, that successfully involves all the teachers of the young. Rather the schools will continue as insular, site fixated teacher controlled organisations, increasingly divorced from the real world.

Genuine collaboration is thus one of the critical steps in the school’s digital evolution.

With the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to examine the operations of schools that have moved beyond the Digital Normalisation stage it is also clearer that in genuinely collaborating with the student’s homes and the community in improving the education provided the schools will – without any significant extra effort or expense – also simultaneously enhance the school’s

  • social networking
  • ecosystem
  • resourcing
  • administration and communication
  • marketing and promotion, and
  • growth and viability.

Genuine collaboration with the school’s clients in the school’s prime business – the holistic education of its young – will in a digitally based, socially networked school largely naturally fuel the growth of the total school ecosystem.

While the silo like nature of traditional schooling inclines one to consider the teaching and learning – the educational element – in isolation, the situation within increasingly integrated evolving complex adaptive systems obliges all associated with the school, but in particular its leaders to always look at the integrated totality, and how the enhancement of a critical facet of the ecosystem will likely impact all the other parts.

Within an integrated school ecosystem the old division of operational responsibilities largely disappears. The focus is on the desired learning, with the school looking to use whatever it deems appropriate to enhance that learning. It matters not if it makes use of a community organisation, a communications tool, a student team, an online resource or a combination of ‘resources’. What matters, is the desired learning.

Achieve genuine collaboration in the learning and the school will be well positioned to continually grow its total ecosystem and productivity.

  • Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M (2014) ‘Digital Technology and Student Learning’, Educational Technology Solutions – July 15 2014

 

A Curriculum for a Socially Networked Society

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

 This hopefully will challenge the conventional thinking – that is still largely schooling children for the 1950s.

All schools should in their teaching today be guided by a curriculum for digital and socially networked society, where the young are in essence being schooled 24/7/365.

All ideally need a curriculum that is current, appropriate to the school’s situation, which readily accommodates continual rapid, uncertain change and school differences, apposite for socially networked learning, that increasingly integrates the in and out of school teaching and which readies each child to thrive in a seemingly chaotic, ever evolving digital and socially networked world. That said the curriculum should also continue to address the core learning, of the type fleshed by Pellegrino and Hilton in their Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century (2012) and the values and human rights of contemporary society.

Crucially they’ll want a curriculum where the teaching and learning can happen anywhere, anytime, in context in the socially networked world, and not as now that is fixated on learning within a physical site, within a restricted time frame and which disregards the learning and teaching occurring outside the school walls. Why shouldn’t all manner of upper secondary students build upon their out of school learning and be able to receive part of their teaching outside the classroom, in context, collaborating with the likes of start-ups, international aid agencies, tertiary faculties, theatre companies, digital marketers, hospitality, fashion houses or automotive electricians?

Allied is the necessity of providing guidance for all the teachers of the young, as they work evermore collaboratively in the 24/7/365 development of the children’s cognitive, inter and intrapersonal competencies (Pellegrino and Hilton, 2012). While the focus of the curriculum should rightly be on the professional teacher and the critical intensive teaching that occurs within the school walls the curriculum should also guide all assisting educate the young, be they the children themselves, the parents, carers, grandparents or the community mentors, or local businesses and service groups. The teaching and the curriculum should be intertwined, with the student’s needs guiding all. As the schools distribute the control of the teaching and learning, and work to enhance the contribution of the volunteers so the latter teachers will need instructional guidance. Some might argue to leave to the ‘out of school’ teaching completely laissez faire, but the authors’ suggest the vast majority of parents would benefit from schools providing somewhat more curriculum direction and support than now.

In looking to provide that curriculum it is vital schools and government understand that schools will need to:

  1. be genuinely committed to collaboration with their homes and communities, with other schools, and professional associations to be a successful networked school community
  2. develop and enact a digital, networked mindset
  3. have a supportive digital ecosystem and culture
  4. have the agency and agility to design, implement and assess curriculum that is relevant and meaningful for their context, by responding to and shaping societal and technological changes
  5. recognise that in an evolving socially networked society where the young learn more than ever 24/7/365 much of that learning – and teaching – will be seemingly chaotic, non-linear, synergistic, naturally yielding often unintended benefits
  6. address equity issues regarding access to, participation, and outcomes of its students in relation to technologies and learning.

All are vital preconditions.

In brief the schools need to be ready to successfully teach to a curriculum for a socially networked society.

Critically that curriculum should be delivered by a school that is digitally based, socially networked and which has an ecosystem and culture that naturally promotes and supports in everything it does a 24/7/365 mode of schooling. It is near impossible to teach to a curriculum that seeks to empower the young, promote risk taking, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, reflection, agility, social networking, team work and collaboration in a school that is risk adverse, site fixated, micro managed, tightly controlled and where the curriculum is dated and the students are disempowered. Even the greatest of teachers will struggle to provide a 24/7/365 education in the latter environment.

Michio Kaku rightly observed at the 2016 ISTE conference that most schools, by their very nature are still geared to educating the young for the 1950s (Nagel, 2016).

It is impossible – despite the government and bureaucratic spin – for the traditional, centrally developed national and provincial curricula to provide schools a current and appropriate curriculum for a rapidly evolving, socially networked world. Their development invariably takes years of committee work, and as such they are dated well before implementation and antiquated by their next revision. They are a product of a world of constancy, continuity and government desire for control.

They are designed on the dated belief that all schools are the same, and will remain so for years to come. Schools at significantly different evolutionary stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 12), offering appreciably different modes of schooling, are expected to gain guidance and direction from the one document. Schools that have normalised the whole school use of the digital and which are building upon the digital competencies their students bring to every classroom are expected to follow the same Technology curriculum as those paper based schools where the children are obliged to ‘learn’ how to use computers in the lab.

Globally education authorities continue to ready the curriculum for their particular bailiwick, their own patch of the world, very often strongly swayed by the government of the day. Little or no thought is given to the reality of the socially networked world or ever evolving complex adaptive systems that geographic boundaries matter little as both the schools and their instructional programs naturally evolve in a remarkably common manner globally. The young are learning and being taught, whether the authorities like it or not, in a boundary less socially networked world over which governments have limited control.

Little is the wonder that the early adopter digital schools globally have chosen to largely disregard the ‘official’ curriculum and work with like-minded schools worldwide in the design their own.

At first glance it could be argued that the various education authorities could in time, particularly if they adopted a digital mindset, produce a curriculum for 24/7/365 schooling. Leaving aside the inherent inability of bureaucracies to accommodate rapid change there is also the telling reality that schools can’t hope to successfully use a 24/7/365 curriculum until the school has readied a supportive higher order digitally based ecosystem and culture, where all within the school’s community are ready to collaborate in advancing that mode of teaching.

All can see the folly of governments trying to impose a 24/7/365 socially networked curriculum on insular inward looking schools unwilling to genuinely collaborate with their communities, to distribute the control of the teaching and learning, to network and which are lacking the digital infrastructure and processes critical for ready collaboration.

In brief a sizeable proportion of the schools would be unwilling or unable to work with such a curriculum.

The key is to recognise that schools, even within the one authority, are at different evolutionary stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 43), to understand that those differences are on trend to grow at pace and to endorse the lead of the pathfinder schools and formally support school based curriculum design.

By all means provide if desired system and national guides for the various areas of learning, and matrices suggesting which of the teachers of the young might best teach what attributes, but understand in the curriculum design that schools will never be the same again, each is unique and should shape its own curriculum. Of note is that globally many professional associations already provide these guides.

While some might recoil at the mere idea of school based curriculum and student assessment remember that there are globally education authorities that have been successfully using school based curriculum, and indeed school based student assessment, for generations. The empowering of the professionals and expecting them to provide instructional leadership is not new.

Helbing in discussing the impact of the Digital Revolution (Helbing, 2014) made the telling observation that the accelerating pace of organisational evolution and transformation, and the inability of bureaucracies to handle that change obliges the societal adoption of self-regulating units that have the agility to thrive with the on-going change, seeming chaos and uncertainty.

The pathfinder schools have adapted to that reality.

Conclusion

In writing this piece we don’t expect most education authorities or governments to relinquish their control over the curriculum at any time in the near future. We most assuredly don’t expect most to cede their control of student assessment and adopt procedures consonant with a school-based curriculum.

What they could do is to revisit the warning John Dewey, one of the world’s great educators, who a century ago offered in Democracy and Education:

As formal teaching and training grow in extent, there is the danger of creating an undesirable split between the experience gained in more direct associations and what is acquired in school, This danger was never greater than at the present time, on account of the rapid growth in the last few centuries of knowledge and technical modes of skill (Dewey, 1966. p11).

One hundred years on his concerns about society disregarding the ‘more direct associations’; the informal learning; the 80% plus of learning time available to the young outside the school walls are that much more critical.

Largely unwittingly schooling has in its formalising of the curriculum in the twentieth century created highly insular, dated learning institutions, largely removed from the real world.

It is time to heed Dewey’s advice, to re-establish the connection and to create schools and provide a curriculum appropriate for a rapidly evolving, socially networked society.

Acknowledgements.

The authors would like to acknowledge the support and advice given by Professor Glenn Finger (Griffith University) and Greg Whitby (Executive Director Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta) in the preparation of this piece.

  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016, 12) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2nd Edition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/ =
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016, 43) ‘School Difference as the New Norm’, Digital Evolution of Schooling at www.digitalevolutionofschooling .net
  • Nagel, D (2016) ‘Education in the ‘Fourth Wave’ of Science driven Economic Advancement’. T.H.E. Journal June 2016
  • Pellegrino, J.W and Hilton, M.L., (eds) (2012) Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century, Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills; Center for Education; Division on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; National Research Council

 

Empowering the Professionals

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

empowering

While the empowerment of the total school community is very important what is critical is the empowering of all one’s paid staff – the teachers and the professional support – and having them use their full professional capability to continually grow the school.

For too long schooling has failed to get the most from its professionals.

It is not the fault of the staff but rather poor and dated organisational practises, and in many situations the authorities lack of trust in the professionals and belief they have to be micro-managed.

Rapidly evolving tightly interconnected, increasingly complex higher order school ecosystems cannot afford that waste, inefficiency and distrust.

It is easy to forget in all the talk about the digital and the social networking that the school’s greatest resource is its professional staff. 85% plus of the school’s recurrent funding is spent on staff salaries and on costs. 3%- 4% of the funding if lucky is spent on the digital technology.

The scarcest resources in any organization are performing people (Drucker, 2000, p121).

Within the traditional strongly hierarchical silo like school the vast majority of the teachers and the professional support staff have for generations been disempowered and their professional capability markedly underused.

Within that ‘factory’ model only a few atop the apex – the management – have a macro appreciation of the workings of the school, with the teachers – the production line workers – expected to follow orders and focus on the micro applying their expertise to their part of the production line. We have thus maths, chemistry, history and English teachers whose very title communicates their limited role, micro focus and contribution.

Examine the likes of the national standards for Australia’s teachers (http://www.aitsl.edu.au/australian-professional-standards-for-teachers/standards/list) and you’ll see classroom teachers are still expected to focus on their area of expertise and not have any significant understanding of the macro workings of the school until they reach what is termed the ‘Lead’ level and even then the involvement is limited.

The same micro focus is true of the professional support staff with most expected to look after a narrow area of operation, often being explicitly denied any wider involvement. How many schools today actively involve the professional support staff in their ‘staff’ meetings? It is likely most traditional schools wouldn’t contemplate involving the professional support, believing such meetings should be restricted to those who know, the ‘academic’ staff.

The dated – factory derived – assumption is that a strong division of labour, controlled by a small management team will provide the most efficient holistic education for each child in an increasingly inclusive digital and socially networked society.

That is somewhat questionable.

Little is the wonder that few of the teachers or the support staff in the traditional settings have come close to realising their full professional capability, and acquiring and being able apply the kind understanding and expertise needed to assist operate and grow a tightly integrated school ecosystem. There is no expectation they should do so, most accepting their lower order standing until they retire.

For too long schools have made limited use of highly educated, well-paid staff, providing neither the expectations, support or in many respects the rewards deserved of professionals. The treatment of the professional support staff, many of who have degrees, has been particularly wasteful, with their talents invariably underused.

Of note is that all the pathfinders began their evolutionary journey with this staffing scenario, with the normal mix of staff, the good and indifferent.

The creation and growth of a tightly integrated digitally based school ecosystem where every facet of the school’s operations is directed towards continually realising the shaping vision in an ever evolving complex adaptive system requires all paid staff – teaching and support – contribute to the macro workings of the school as well as their area of expertise. Every professional should rightly be expected to assist grow the school and their own expertise, and to do so as the school moves to an ever higher plane (Lee, 2015).

Within a tightly interconnected, naturally evolving ecosystem any initiative is likely to have as indicated both its intended and significant unintended benefits that could be manifested any part of the of the school’s operations, its teaching, administration, communication, resourcing or marketing. Any of the staff, teaching or support, could be impacted and thus all need to play their part in optimising the unintended. The introduction a new school app, a seemingly simple initiative, will for example likely impact many parts of the school, educational and administrative, yielding both the planned and very likely unintended benefits..

In going digital and increasingly integrated, with the operations transcending the school walls, the old divisions of labour – the old internal and external walls – soon disappear and the school needs professionals able to flourish in that interconnected environment, understand the links, thrive on the seeming chaos and uncertainty and to go the extra mile when needed.

Tellingly newly appointed staff within the mature digital organisations are expected to make that professional contribution from day one – contrary to the view expressed in the teaching standards. While it is recognised it takes time for even the most capable of professionals new to the organisation to get up to speed there is nonetheless the expectation that as a professional they lead within their speciality and organisationally.

The case studies have revealed that likely the only way to create this type of higher order staff is to empower all and assist each person grow his/her professionalism and understanding of the macro workings of the school in situ, and by ensuring all are provided the apt digital kit and support.

It will take time and be closely aligned to the evolution of the school, the change in its culture and mindset and the movement to a higher order mode of schooling.

The authors have considered ways of accelerating the staff empowerment and cultivating the higher order skill and mind set out of context but we strongly suspect – at this stage at least – the professional enhancement is best done primarily in house, in context, with the aid of mentors and apt professional learning networks.

  • Drucker, P (2001) Management Challenges for the 21st Century, NY Harper Business