Category Archives: Evolving school ecologies

The School ‘Chief Digital Officer’

Back view image of young businessman standing against business sketch

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Every digital school needs a senior staff member responsible for daily providing the school community the digital ecosystem that will enable it to realise its shaping educational and digital vision.

It is not a job for a committee.

It is a task for a high level professional educator.

It doesn’t matter what title the position carries – be it deputy head, e-learning coordinator, director of information services, digital technology or CDO – what is important is to have a person with operational responsibility for all facets of the school’s digital operations.

What is critical is that the school has an astute, visionary senior educator with good people skills and a high degree of digital expertise responsible for shaping, operating and growing the school’s digital ecosystem.

Business and many large public sector organisations are appointing high-level, very well paid chief digital officers (CDOs) to shape and coordinate all the digital operations of the organisation and to ensure all are directed to assisting realise the desired vision (Lee, 2016).

Tellingly all the successful pathfinder schools unwittingly have had such a person, albeit under different titles, with all having long abandoned the reliance on the part time ICT committee.

The provision of an apposite, ever evolving, increasingly powerful and productive school digital ecosystem that meets the particular needs of the school is a highly challenging task. It requires a leader and a team willing to actively support the distributed control of teaching, learning and resourcing that can provide the desired digital expertise, direction setting, infrastructure, services and support.

What is critical is having an educator 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.

The position 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 a 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.

It should go without saying schools won’t evolve digitally and be able to govern the astute whole of school community use of the digital with a part time, invariably ‘bolt-on’ ICT committee. It is a job for the professionals with the time needed to fulfil this critical role.

If you still have an ICT committee get rid of it ‘tomorrow’, appoint the requisite professionals and integrate all matters digital into the everyday workings and growth of the school.

The role of ‘CDO’ is – as elaborated upon in The Chief Digital Officer and the Governance of the School Digital Ecosystem (Lee, 2016) – and the now many business management publications – is a demanding job, requiring a special talent and a skill set rarely if ever taught at the postgraduate level in education faculties.

Most in the role have like the digital leaders learnt on the job, invariably supported by astute heads.

It is highly likely at this point in time that you too will need to grow such a person. Look to mentors who can assist that growth.

We’ve gone out on a limb and stressed the school CDO needs first and foremost to be an educator, with a strong understanding of the total workings of the school, very good people skills and a high level understanding of the digital. One can readily grow the digital understanding but not the high level educational.

Our message for all school leaders embarking on the digital evolutionary journey is to find very early in the piece a ‘chief digital officer’ who can translate the vision into reality.

Bibliography

 

Pathfinder Schools Enter the New Frontier

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

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The first of the pathfinder schools are entering a new historic frontier, taking schooling into the world of the unknown.

Importantly they are very well prepared to make that move and thrive with the on-going uncertainty, evolution and organisational transformation.

It is a development that governments and education’s decision makers would do well to recognise and to build upon.

One is talking about those as yet rare schools that have moved beyond the Digital Normalisation stage where they normalised the whole of school community use of the digital and which are building upon that digital platform to provide an as yet embryonic 24/7/365 mode of schooling (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

In so doing they are entering a world where no schools have entered and which from hereon the early adopter schools, as self regulating units, will be obliged to continually shape their desired future.

It is a new reality that the digital masters in business have learned to thrive within but it is something very new – and possibly very scary – for traditionally risk adverse education policy makers. Digitally evolved organisations exchange the certainty of hierarchical control for trusting relationships where improvement is devolved by empowering staff, with apparently more scope for failure but in reality far more success, from the breadth and depth of innovation well outweighing the risks

What lies ahead for those schools, what form the schools, as ever evolving complex adaptive systems, that are interfacing with all manner of other digital ecosystems within an increasingly socially networked world will take no one knows. The futurists can make their guesses but that is all they can do. Yes the schools will be able to benefit from some research on specific teaching initiatives but always the research’s relevance will need to be adjudged in context.

Significantly the pathfinder schools in their shaping of their digitally based socially networked ecosystems have unwittingly readied themselves to thrive in the unknown.

The pathfinder schools have positioned themselves to continually thrive and take advantage of the virtually endless educational options opened by the Digital Revolution by;

  • taking control of their own growth,
  • embracing a culture of change,
  • empowering their communities,
  • identifying and focussing on the desired shaping educational vision,
  • collaborating closely with and listening to their clients,
  • distributing the control of the teaching,
  • learning and resourcing,
  • building a strong underpinning digital base
  • and normalising the whole of school community use of the digital.

The schools are by virtue of their digital normalisation free of most of the constructs of the paper based world and its strong ‘site’ based thinking (Lipnack and Stamps, 1994) and are of a mind to continually attune their operations to the changing environment.

They are finally in the position, as largely autonomous self regulating units, to exercise considerable control in shaping the mode of schooling – the school ecosystem – that they believe will best meet the needs of their students in an increasingly sophisticated digital and socially networked society.

We say ‘considerable control’ advisedly because although the pathfinders are developmentally years ahead of the government decision makers and have in many areas become the de facto policy makers they, like all other schools are obliged to work with a suit of givens. All for example will be constrained by the resourcing, staffing agreements, physical plant, the obligation to care for the students within a specified time and the laws of the land, to name but a few of those givens.

We also say ‘considerable control’ because the schools are very much part of a wider continually evolving digital and socially networked society, impacted by all the forces at play in the society. They are also complex adaptive systems that will experience considerable and likely increasing natural growth and transformation – much of which will be common of schools at this evolutionary stage globally (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

That said the pathfinders have shown their ability to shed the ways of the traditional paper based school and to shape increasingly sophisticated digitally based school ecosystems with the agility to thrive in the seeming chaos of the frontier. They have become the type of self-regulating unit that Helbing (2014) has flagged as being essential to future organisational growth and evolution in the Digital Revolution, where the pace of change and degree of uncertainty renders the traditional centrally controlled bureaucracy archaic.

The key is for all to recognise that the pathfinder schools, like their counterparts in business will from hereon – largely regardless of the dictates of government – work in unchartered territory, taking charge of their own growth and evolution, heavily dependent on the professional staff collaborating closely with an empowered community in identifying the best way forward.

It also important that governments in particular appreciate that these schools are well prepared to continually thrive within the unchartered frontier and that government instead of relying on the traditional ‘expert’ committee that invariably identifies the way forward by looking through the rear vision mirror would do well to learn from and actively support the pathfinders.

What is clearly apparent is that the schools and their communities have through astute leadership been readied to enter the new frontier with their minds open, accepting of on –going change and evolution, with an organisational form and culture that allows them to readily adjust course when required.

They are not aberrant outliers but a vital insight into how all schools can be readied to continually thrive in a rapidly evolving digital and networked society, where no one can tell with certainty what lies ahead.

In many respects the pathfinders in schooling are no different to their counterparts in architecture or engineering in that they provide the later adopter organisations an important understanding of the evolutionary path ahead.

  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages: Evolution within the Threads, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com
  • Lipnack, J & Stamps, J 1994, The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.

 

 

Silo Like to Integrated Schools

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

A significant part of your digital evolutionary journey will be the school’s historic movement from its inefficient silo like organisational structure of Industrial Age origins to an increasingly integrated, efficient and productive one befitting a digital and socially networked society.

You’ll shift from the traditional arrangement where the various cells within the school – the classroom teacher, the faculty, the ICT unit, the library, the front office – operate largely autonomously to a significantly more integrated structure where all operations are interconnected and focussed on realising the school’s shaping vision.

A major – and again largely unwitting – driver of the shift will be the school’s move to a digital operational base and the recognition of the many benefits that flow from convergence and organisational integration. Digital congruence is the key. The physical networking of the school and the ubiquitous use of all manner of digital technologies that can talk to each other make redundant many practises and quickly remove the strict divisions between the operational units.

The vast majority of the world’s schools, and in particular the secondary are still impacted by the factory model with its strong division of labour and the assumption that if each unit on the production line does its job the students would graduate with an appropriate holistic education.

Many over the last fifty years have questioned that assumption and some schools have made major strides in adopting organisational structures that open the way for a more holistic education.

Until relatively recently the major impediment to the running of a more integrated school has been its underlying paper base. Paper as a technology has major limitations, the most important of which is the requirement that the information thereon has to be physically transported to its recipient/s. The high level use of that technology necessitated close physical proximity. The delivery of a paper to another member of staff meant getting up and physically delivering the information.

While philosophically and organisationally the school might have wanted to integrate its efforts while ever it retained its paper operational base its efforts would be frustrated.

Networks and the digital technology change the game. Not only does the digital operational base negate the physical and logistical shortcomings, stimulate operational integration but it also allows full multimedia creation, 24/7/365 communication, interaction and storage – all at pace and with little cost. Few have yet to sit back and analyse the impact alone of the physical networking of schools in that 90’s and early 2000’s.

The experience of the pathfinder schools would suggest the shift from the loosely to more tightly coupled school will be gradual, incremental and will accelerate the more the school matures its ecosystem.

That acceleration will be assisted by the school’s:

  • tightening focus on its shaping educational vision
  • efforts to ensure all school operations are directed to realising that vision
  • rising digital expectations
  • recognition that digital congruence is the crux
  • trust and empowerment of its staff and community, and efforts to ensure all have a better macro understanding of the school’s workings
  • endeavours to shape an increasingly mature and powerful school ecosystem
  • daily efforts to create an evermore productive ecosystem, that marries the in and out of school learning and resourcing

Experience has demonstrated that the integration will in general terms occur much faster in the primary or elementary school than in the high schools. The structural hurdles and cultural mores of the high school are far harder to overcome than those in the primary school.

In the secondary school in addition to the challenge of changing the culture, and shifting the focus away from paper based external exams there is the invariable silo like organizational structure and the fiefdoms and their warlords keen to retain their power base.

In brief if you are leading a secondary school on its evolutionary journey be prepared for a long and at times painful graduated shift.

 

Winning over the clients

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The bottom line in a market driven economy is that every school – state and independent – has to attract and retain sufficient clients to remain viable.

The new and added challenge for schools – that business is already grappling with – is how to win the continued patronage of the client’s year after year, student cohort after cohort in a world of rapid change and evolution? As Nokia, Blackberry and Yahoo can attest client support in the digital world can be momentary. What are perceived as exemplar schools today within years could suffer the same fate as Nokia if they don’t continue to attract the clients.

Both are realities that many schools don’t appear to recognise or to factor into their planning. You should in readying your digital evolutionary journey.

Compounding the challenge many of the same principals and teachers appear loath to view the students and their parents as clients, seeing them simply as ‘conscripts’ obliged by law to attend the school, fortunate to have access to their professional expertise.

That belief is particularly apparent in schools at the lower school evolutionary stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016). At that stage the leadership and indeed most of the teachers are firmly of the belief that the educational experts should unilaterally control all aspects of the schooling. The students and parents should be acquiescent and accept the control given by government to the experts.

The expectation of those schools is that the students and the parents accept the established ways and will, without question attend the local school.

That might have been acceptable to students and parents in the past. It might even be acceptable in some situations today where there is no alternative to the traditional mode of schooling but it is increasingly less tenable where there are good digital schools ‘competing’ for the student custom.

The stark reality in a market driven democracy is that if parents want to get their children into the desired state school – and they are willing to play the political game – they will invariably succeed.

In 2016 the clients, the customers expect the market – and not the government – to govern their choice. Moreover they expect organisations will not only meet, but hopefully will exceed their needs and wants. As soon as another organisation is perceived to do that better they will likely take their custom to the superior provider.

The same is on trend to become increasingly a feature of schooling, with the marketplace determining the winners (Lee and Broadie, 2016…).

Forrester’s in its research on digital transformation of organisations concluded:

  • The customer experience is at the heart of digital transformation. With customers in the driver’s seat of their interactions with brands, businesses must create positive and relevant customer experiences across channels and touch points. As a result, digital development and customer experience improvement are two key priorities for businesses (Forrester, 2015, p1)

The same holds true for schools.

We would urge all embarking on the digital evolutionary journey to treat your current and prospective students and parents very much as your clients. View them as clients who could take their custom elsewhere if they perceive their needs are not being meet. Follow the lead of the digital schools and indeed the digital masters in business and the public sector and focus first and foremost on the clients and recognise the increasingly tenuous hold you have on their patronage.

Putting their needs to the fore, listening to them, communicating with them through multiple channels, striving to continually improve the schooling, positioning the learner at the centre of the teaching and doing the utmost to ensure each child continually receives the appropriate schooling 24/7/365 in a rapidly world will go a long way to towards changing the focus and nature of the schooling and ensuring the school’s continued viability.

While many have advocated since the 80’s that schools should better meet their client’s needs most have not done so until they moved to a digital operational base, began lowering the school walls and recognised the considerable value of genuine collaboration with their current and prospective clients.

The challenge of identifying your client’s needs in the midst of the Digital Revolution is considerable. But the case study digital school experience strongly suggests that if the school trusts, respects and empowers its clients and works collaboratively them in their identification they will be satisfied and will work with the school in helping identify and meet the rising expectations.

That said as an educational leader within a rapidly evolving world you, like the leaders in industry will be expected to identify the client’s needs well before the clients recognise that need. The genius of a Steve Jobs was his ability to read as yet unarticulated customer needs. That will increasingly be desired of school leaders as they seek to identify the kind of attributes desired of the young twenty, thirty years hence.

That critical task is made that much easier if the school is focussed its clients and winning them for the long haul.

Forrester (2015). Digital Transformation in the Age of the Customer. Forrester for Accenture. October 2015 – https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/Accenture/Conversion-Assets/DotCom/Documents/Global/PDF/Digital_1/Accenture-Digital-Transformation-B2B-spotlight.pdf

 

 

 

Think Digital, Not Analogue

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In undertaking your digital journey your mindset – and that of your school community – will gradually change and evolve, slowly but surely moving away from the traditional paper based, strongly analogue way of thinking, shifting to a far more digital and socially networked mindset.

The change – based on the experiences of the pathfinder schools – will likely be gradual and for a period one will default to the traditional ways but over time the digital mindset will become so natural as for you not to think about it, until you encounter those still operating in the analogue mode!

Examine the attributes at each of the key evolutionary stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016)) and you’ll note the pronounced change in thinking that occurs as the schools evolve and how by the Networked stage the school, the teachers and indeed the parents have adopted a very different mindset – a very different outlook and set of expectations to those at the Paper Based and Early Digital stages.

The digital mindset is in many respects antithetical to the analogue.

Bhaduri and Fischer in a 2015 Forbes business magazine asked ‘Are You a Digital or Analogue Leader? While directed at business leaders the two-page comparison of the distinguishing features of each type of leader remarkably parallels the change in thinking identified by the authors in the leaders in the pathfinder schools.

Download the comparison from – http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfischer/2015/03/19/are-you-an-analog-or-digital-leader/ – discuss it with your colleagues and position yourself.

By virtue of brevity the comparison verges on the black and white but critically it makes the point that it is the mindset of the CEO/the principal which strongly impacts the nature of the organisation and its culture.

Principals operating within a digital and networked mindset will run a very different kind of school to those ensconced within an insular analogue mindset.

Interestingly many of the pathfinder principals commented on their difficulty in explaining to traditional principals and teachers the nature of the schooling they were providing – so different were the two modes. Even in 2016 many school leaders can’t envision schools changing. They genuinely believe they know everything there is to know about schooling. In contrast the digital leaders are highly ambivalent about the form their schools will take in future years, even five years hence. While the former’s is a world of constancy and certainty the latter’s is world of rapid uncertain change and evolution where one forever on will be leading the school into uncharted waters.

What can you do to expedite the change in mindset in your school? We are not really sure.

Those associated with the pathfinder schools – and that includes the staff and the wider school community – have made the shift as part of the school’s evolution, it invariably taking years.

Logic would suggest the later adopter schools should learn from the early adopters and be able to hasten the change in thinking but the authors’ strong suspicion is that the deep-seated change in mindset will only come from the everyday association with evolving school ecosystems and cultures.

You’ll lose little by discussing the shift with your staff, by publicly noting significant shifts in thinking but bear mind historically you are talking about changing a mindset that has shaped schooling for hundreds of years. Moreover on your evolutionary journey you will need to change the thinking of all your staff, the students, the current and prospective families and indeed the wider school community while simultaneously addressing the plethora of other key variables.

That said the school will be operating integrally within an increasingly socially networked society, where most in the school’s community will have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital technology, will have rising expectations of the digital and where many of the parents will in their work be employing a digital and networked mindset

There is much to be said for being conscious of shifting the mindset but letting the continued evolution of the school and the societal pressures naturally do the job.

Bibliography

 

The Educational Power of Digital Ecosystems

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

What we are about to suggest will for many be contentious.

It is a suggestion that Mal has elaborated upon at http://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2014/07/15/digital-technology-and-student-learning-the-impact-of-the-ecology.

It is to our minds a logical extension of all the previous writings on the growing power and impact of increasingly focussed, more tightly integrated digitally based school ecosystems and a rejection of the current naïve assertion that the digital instructional technology will somehow of its own volition enhance student learning in particular subjects. The technology alone never has and never will (Higgins, et.al, 2012). It is the way that digital tools and the connected word make much better practice possible that has the impact on learning

That said ask any parent or indeed anyone in the street and they will tell you the normalised use of the digital has markedly impacted the lives of all but in particular the world’s young. Globally they have embraced it outside the classroom from a very early age, have become very confident and proficient in its use and daily use it in a remarkably universal manner, consciously and unwittingly to enhance their learning.

Our belief is that is that the power of the digital is far more deep-seated than currently envisaged by most. The power is not to be found in simple linear, A then B relationships, but rather in the interplay of the myriad of variables within highly complex adaptive ecosystems. Led astutely, these act to increase engagement with learning and time on task, levels of concentration and the help in learning students get from their peers as well as their teachers

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 all-pervasive role within an ever evolving digitally based school ecosystem enabling all to work and interact much more efficiently and effectively
  • highly capable leaders and teachers able to make the best educational use of that digital ecosystem and to operate at a significantly higher professional level.

It is the educational power of tightly integrated, focussed digitally based, socially networked school ecosystems which allow teachers of all types to simultaneously address 24/7/365 all the variables – in and outside the school walls – that enhance student learning. This far exceeds what is possible within a loosely coupled, largely insular paper based school where the teaching occupies less than 20% of the child’s learning time each year.

Critically while the power of the underpinning digital technology will grow at pace and the digital ecosystem will evolve, mature and move to an ever higher order, the capability of the paper based school has long been maximised and as such will basically stay as now.

No one in 2016 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 and staffed, highly focussed, tightly integrated, ever evolving digitally based ecosystems.

And yet in 2016 teachers, principals, governments, some 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. The randomised controlled trials on which this research is based cannot adjudge the individual attitude changes that occur in pupils’ and teachers’ brains, which foster the willingness to commit greater time and concentration, and that enable the higher order interactions and better learning

However until schools develop an apposite digital school ecosystem, adopt a culture therein that empowers the teachers, students and parents, and actively support all to 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.

It is time to appreciate the traditional, simplistic way of looking at the impact of digital technology on student learning has to fundamentally change.

Bibliography

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: http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/The_Impact_of_Digital_Technologies_on_Learning_FULL_REPORT_(2012).pdf

Lee, M (2014) ‘Digital Technology and Student Learning’, Educational Technology Solutions – July 15, 2014 – http://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2014/07/15/digital-technology-and-student-learning-the-impact-of-the-ecology/

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

Trust and School Evolution

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Trust is critical to the digital evolution of the school and achieving digital normalisation.

The principal needs to trust and empower all staff, the students, the parents and the supporting community. That trust will be repaid in numerous, very positive ways.

Trust fundamentally changes the nature of the schooling and opens the way for a more collaborative 24/7/365 mode of schooling and resourcing.

The traditional hierarchically structured school is based on distrust. It is deemed imperative that a small executive team exercises unilateral control over all school operations. Neither the classroom teachers, the support staff, the students, the parents or the community can be trusted, and their roles must be carefully managed from on high. The ethos is at root one of teachers and pupils doing what they are required to do on pain of sanctions, rather than an ethos of mutual expectation that what is required will be done because that is the job that the whole community is collaboratively engaged in.

The history of the use of instructional technology in schools (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) over the last century has been characterised by its distrust of teachers to use the technology wisely. That history sees teachers being obliged to secure licenses to use the gear, instructional technologies being ‘teacher proofed’ and ironically from around 1984 the ‘ICT experts’ controlling every facet of the digital technology. That distrust extends through to current times, as witnessed by the California iPad debacle.

That distrust might well be evident throughout your school operations today.

The distrust stymies the school’s facility to make best use of its greatest resource, its people – its salaried staff, students, families and community. All feel disempowered and unrecognised, most unwilling to put in the extra yards to assist the school’s growth.

The experience of the pathfinder schools, extensively documented in the authors’ Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages (2016) is that when schools move to a digital operational mode they begin to use the technology to reach out beyond the school walls, to genuinely collaborate with their parent community and to recognise and respect the contribution the teachers, support staff, students, families and wider community can make to the holistic teaching of each child. If this process is not led by the Principal it is very likely to start happening surreptitiously, particularly amongst the pupils but with aware teachers also starting to use online systems and social networks

These schools begin to appreciate the benefits of more fully trusting all, empowering them and distributing the control of the teaching and learning.

That said it invariably takes time – likely years – before the leadership, and indeed the teachers, are willing to cede some of their power and distribute the control of the teaching, learning and significantly the digital technology resourcing.

In many school settings, as the work by Lee and Levins (2016) will attest, some of the most reluctant to cede that control and trust others are the ‘ICT experts’. Yes – for many the ICT ‘empire’ has been their power base, but if schools are to normalise the whole of school community use of the digital the control has to be distributed and all within the school’s community trusted.

The principal’s willingness to trust will be crucially tested when faced with the decision of letting the children use in class the suit of digital technologies they already use 24/7/365. Is the head prepared to trust the children and parents and go with BYOT or declare his/her continued distrust by going the BYOD route where the school specifies the personal technology? Is the principal willing to trust the students and parents, accepting what to him/her might not appear be a perfect solution but which in time with genuine collaboration will not only work well but yield many other dividends?

It is a critical decision in the school’s digital evolution.

Until the principal is willing to trust and respect each student’s and parent’s choice of technologies, and to genuinely collaborate with them in the teaching, learning and technology resourcing the school’s digital evolution will be stalled and digital normalisation unachievable. While there are schools with ‘successful’ (though expensive) approaches that provide all pupils with the same device, at the root of this is the school wishing to dictate the use of certain software or device. This puts the focus on the technology rather than on the task to be achieved and denies innovation as the devices and software inevitably age. Far better to decide what human and interaction functionality is necessary for all pupils to use their devices.

Reflect for a moment on your children’s normalised out of school use of the digital and you’ll appreciate it is dependent on your trust in them to use and maintain the technology wisely. Your children will invariably respect and build upon that trust such that in a relatively short time their use of the technology becomes so normal as to be largely invisible.

That is what is wanted within the school walls, but it is only achievable when the school has created a whole of school culture – ecology – that trusts, respects and empowers the students and their parents, and values the contribution they can make to the workings, safety, resourcing and growth of the school.

  • 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. 2nd Edition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/

 

 

 

Operating Your School in the Digital Mode

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Schools need all, or near all, of their teachers using the digital technology in their everyday teaching before they can move to a digital operational mode and build the base that will enable the school to evolve digitally.

It is most assuredly not enough for all teachers to have the kit – they actually have to use the technology integrally in their teaching.

While that might seem blindingly obvious, the reality is that in 2016 many school leaders, educational administrators, governments and indeed media commentators don’t appear to have grasped that necessity.

As the logic and experience affirms until the school’s main operation, its teaching actually makes use of the digital the school will not move to a digital mode. It will remain operating in its traditional paper based base and mindset.

Commentators incorrectly assume that all teachers are using the latest technology, and using the technology astutely.

The rhetoric far exceeds the reality. A survey of 35 Australian state schools by Mal Lee in mid 2015 (unpublished) revealed on average that around 65 % of the teachers were using the digital technology naturally in their everyday teaching. Roger Broadie found that matched his UK experience. The actual figures could be lower or higher.

Before a school can make any significant progress in its digital evolution it has to have 95%-100% using the digital in class. Having 60% – 70% – 80% is not enough. We’re aware of schools still at the 30% level.

What is the figure in your school?

Recognise that while achieving that 95% -100% figures is critical, it is but a step in the evolutionary journey. It will literally take years and much astute and concerted effort to build upon that whole of teacher usage and create the school digital ecosystem and culture that will allow the total school community to normalise the use of the digital. It takes years of operating on the fly to grow the total staff, the student group and community and replace the paper based practises with the digital.

The digital base is essential. You’ll require an ever evolving, evermore sophisticated digital ecosystem that allows all within the school’s community to naturally use the growing power of the digital in every school operation – in its 24/7/365 teaching, assessment, administration, finances, communication, social networking, marketing, accountability and growth.

What you are looking at in the total teacher usage is a crucial step in getting the teachers, the school and its community to think digitally (Bhaduri and Fischer, 2015).

While only an early step, it is, as the number of schools globally that have yet to reach this point attest a difficult move to make.

Indeed it is important to openly acknowledge that difficulty and recognise the challenge of getting the school to the starting line.

The major challenge will be human but the school will require the finance, technology and network infrastructure to make the desired human change possible.

Critically all the teachers – virtually all of whom will have normalised the use of the digital outside the classroom – need perceive the importance of using the digital in their teaching and every other school operation, often in environments where paper based external exams are deemed life changing and the facility to write a three hour exam paper remains vital.

Teachers need appreciate that in time the digital has to underpin every school operation if the school is to shape an increasingly integrated, powerful and productive ecosystem. They need to see the big picture and not simply consider the digital in relation to in class performance. It is the totality that matters.

The expectations set– and given teeth – by the principal in relation to the use of the digital technology are vital to instilling the desired importance. The astute principals moved quickly to ensure the core administration – the marking of rolls, staff communiques, recording of student performance and the like – was all done digitally. When the staff selection criteria address digital teaching capability, the daily operations of the school oblige its use and the fulfilment of contract obligations specify the astute application of the digital the importance of the digital is readily understood. When the principal sets no such expectations the status quo will prevail.

The apt, highly reliable digital technology has to be available for all to use.

Every teacher, every member of the professional support team must have the apt suite of current digital technologies. The traditional approach has been for the employer to provide that technology but increasingly schools are recognising the value of financially supporting a BYOT approach.

The total school campus requires apt Wi Fi network coverage, and every teaching room an appropriate digital presentation facility and the digital tools for the students to use when opportune.

The movement of the school to that vital digital operational should be a priority – if your school has not already reached that position. Experience reveals it will take time, likely years, and that each school will likely need a strategy that fits its situation but regardless of how it is done you need make that crucial step.

  • Bhaduri, A and Fischer, B (2015) ‘Are You an Analogue or Digital Leader?’ Forbes 19/2/2015 – http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfischer/2015/03/19/are-you-an-analog-or-digital-leader/

 

 

Shaping the Desired Ecosystem

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The ultimate challenge as the leader of a digital school is to shape, week after week a school ecosystem that simultaneously, and effectively addresses all the variables that impact each child’s learning in and increasingly outside the school walls.

Where in business the focus is on shaping highly productive digitally based ecosystems that improve the financial bottom line in schooling it is the shaping of an ecosystem that will allow the school to realise its shaping vision and provide each child the apt education.

The focus in both is the desired totality, and not as stressed the discrete parts therein.

In both the schools and business one is looking at shaping continually evolving, increasingly complex and hopefully more productive ecosystems where daily the leader needs to successfully marry the known with the unknown.

Critically one is looking at an evolving organisation that will need to be continually attuned to the changing environment for the rest of its existence.

Gone are the days of seeking to create the ideal school, where the head can sit back and ‘know’ year after year it will deliver the perfect education.

Rather one is talking about organisations, about schools where the effectiveness of the ecosystem can vary over time, where it can be highly productive for a period, and then struggle before once again being even more successful. Success could well be transitory, strongly impacted by changes in the leadership, staff and the context.

The authors have in these monographs identified some sixty plus key variables that need to be successfully and largely simultaneously addressed in shaping the desired digitally based ecosystem. To that number one has to add the plethora of other variables required to make a good school.

All have to be addressed in shaping the desired ecosystem.

One is looking at an environment where

  • all the operations of the school, the educational, financial and administrative are increasingly interconnected and where the complex adaptive system is naturally generating all manner of synergies, and intended and unintended benefits
  • one poor decision amongst thousands can have considerable ramifications
  • even when the leadership address all the known variables there is no guarantee that the ecosystem will function as desired
  • the rapidly evolving but sometimes fragile ecosystem needs to work appropriately week after week, year after year, with student cohort after cohort even when contending with the unknown
  • it is vital to always have a school leader – be it the principal or deputy – shaping the daily workings and growth of the ecosystem, with the wherewithal to immediately address any malfunction. The having of that able deputy in a smaller school can be an issue that will impact the robustness of the school’s ecosystem.

It is a very different to the world of constancy, continuity and risk aversion that schooling has thus known, where every move was carefully planned and shaped by past best practise.

The authors have used the term ‘shaping’ very advisably. Traditionally terms like ‘building’ and ‘creating’ are used with school development, both implying the designers had full control of all the factors impacting the school’s growth.

The reality is that amorphous entities like digitally based school ecosystems operating with a socially networked society, amidst the Digital Revolution will be impacted by many major forces that can only ever be shaped. And indeed shaped bearing in mind the forces at play at a particular time, which change. Yes the early adopter schools have had their vision, plans, implementation strategies and on-going measurement but they also have had the agility and culture to take advantage of the unexpected.

While governments and indeed many educational decision makers like to perpetuate the myth that they have full control over the evolution of complex adaptive systems they don’t.

Reflect on the impact of the iPhone alone since 2007 on every digital ecosystem, and indeed school community and its expectations, and you’ll begin to appreciate how powerful are the forces impacting on schools, and why even the best of principals can only ever shape those many forces to best educational advantage.

The shaping of continually evolving school ecosystems calls for very capable principals.

Of note is that none of the very successful principals in the case study schools had that wherewithal before they embarked on the digital evolutionary journey. All have learnt and grown on the journey.

You can do the same – however with the benefits of the insights provided by the pathfinders and their affirmation of the necessity of daily shaping the desired totality.

 

Optimising the Intended and Unintended Benefits

This is an extension of the earlier observation about linear and non-linear growth, and how schools should ready themselves.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In going digital and creating an increasingly mature digitally based school ecosystem factor into your school’s growth and enhancement the very real likelihood of reaping an increasing number of unplanned, unintended benefits.

Be on the lookout for their emergence and be prepared to optimise those that will advance the school.

Watch also for potential disbenefits, the unintended undesirable developments.

Address the digital evolution of your school with what Bhaduri and Fischer (2015) refer to as a digital mindset – and which others refer to as a networked mindset – that recognises in the midst of Digital Revolution it is impossible to identify with 100% certainty all the benefits that will flow from the introduction of new approaches and programs.

It is appreciated that is contrary to the long held belief of the educational administrators that school leaders have some divine ability to identify every benefit and measure the realisation of each over X number of years.

The reality, stressed in the earlier writings on the evolution of complex adaptive systems and natural non-linear growth, is that in most areas of schooling it is only ever possible at the outset of an initiative to identify a portion of the program benefits.

The business management literature has long understood this reality and advocated organisations employ appropriate benefits realisation processes.

Thorp writing as far back as 1998 observed:

Benefits rarely happen according to plan. A forecast of benefits to support the business case for an investment is just an early estimate. It is unlikely to turn out as expected, much like corporate earnings are forecast (Thorp, 1998, p38).

That observation was made in the relative stability of the 90’s well before the Digital Revolution took hold, the social networking of society and the digital transformation of all organisations had begun to impact in a significant way. One is talking pre Google, pre Facebook, pre smartphones and pre iPads, long before society in general had normalised the use of the digital and social networking.

The message coming very strongly from the pathfinder to the later adopter schools is that:

  • seek as usual to identify the desired benefits of each initiative

 

  • monitor and measure the realisation of each of the benefits, but at the same time
  • observe the emergence of any unintended benefits – and indeed disbenefits

 

  • work to optimise the desired unintended benefits and remove the undesirable effects

 

  • don’t automatically regard an initiative as a failure – as is now often done by administrators – simply because it doesn’t yield all the projected benefits. Understand the initial aspirations are but educated guesstimates and that it is crucial to factor in to any judgement the unintended benefits

 

  • the number of unintended benefits is likely to grow as the school’s digitally based ecosystem matures, becomes more tightly integrated, sophisticated and complex and interfaces with other ecosystems.

Be conscious that many of the unintended benefits singly appear small but when combined with many other seemingly small changes can significantly vary the school’s practises and enhance the productivity. For example the adoption of a seemingly simple school app can significantly impact the school’s communication and its relationship with its community.

In brief – in marked contrast to now – identify and measure the total impact of the program, looking always at both the intended and unintended benefits.

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