Category Archives: School ecologies and complexity theory

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

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.

 

Accommodating Linear and Non Linear Growth

In posting this piece we appreciate we are – once again – addressing a development that has likely never been considered in school growth, but it is a reality found in the digital evolution of all organisations.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The shaping of the desired school ecosystem entails, likely increasingly, the school leadership being able to simultaneously accommodate both planned linear and unintended non-linear growth.

School leaders globally have been schooled on the belief that schools will only grow, and grow in the desired fashion if the development is fully planned and its implementation carried out in an appropriately linear manner. The desired growth is achieved by doing A then B and finally C. So strong is that belief it is rarely questioned. It is taken as a given.

Globally governments and educational administrators reinforce that assumption by obliging schools to submit all manner of finely calibrated linear plans. In addition to the seemingly universal long-term school plans – that assume schools can divine the scene years ahead – there are also all manner of plans schools are obliged to submit to secure and retain grant monies.

The assumption is that only meticulous planning, that minimises risk can yield the desired school growth.

That thinking accords no recognition to the now substantial body of research on digital evolution and transformation (Pascale, et al, 2000) (Westerman et al, 2014) (Lee and Levins, 2016) that reveals when organisations move to a digital and networked operational base they will as complex adaptive systems experience considerable natural, seemingly chaotic non linear growth in addition to that planned.

As the power and sophistication of the organisation’s digital base grows, as that growth disturbs the existing practises, as the staff’s understanding of what can be done with the digital technology increases and the client’s expectations of the digital rise so all will work to further the growth of the organisation.

What is becoming apparent is that as the school’s ecosystem matures it will increasingly socially network and interface with all manner of other digital ecosystems and in so doing will not only realise the desired benefits but will increasingly provide the school and its community with many unintended – most assuredly unplanned – benefits.

In creating tightly integrated, closely interconnected, increasingly sophisticated ecosystems that simultaneously address all the variables that enhance student learning in and outside the school walls the schools are simultaneously creating a highly complex, ever evolving environment that will generate all manner of synergies and unintended benefits.

The ripples generated by that ecosystem will transcend the school walls and impact the school’s total socially networked community.

The digital masters have learned the art of accommodating planned and unintended growth (Thorpe, 1998). They understand that in the midst of a Digital Revolution even the most prescient and capable of planners can only ever ‘guesstimate’ the benefits of a new program and that the organisation needs processes to optimise the unintended benefits – and disbenefits – that will inevitably emerge.

That is what the authors saw transpired with the pathfinder schools when they moved to a digital operational base. Seemingly overnight the schools experienced considerable ‘natural’ growth. The astute principals soon appreciated the importance of giving the developments the space and time to grow (Lee and Levins, 2016).

The further schools moved along the digital evolutionary continuum, the more tightly they integrated the school’s ecosystem, the more they embraced a culture of change, trusted and empowered their staff and community, promoted risk taking and thrived in uncertainty, mess and seeming chaos the more became the natural non-linear growth and the greater the unintended benefits.

Unwittingly the leaders of those schools, like the CEOs of the digital masters in business, learned to accommodate both the planned and unintended.

The challenge for all embarking on the digital evolutionary journey is how best to do that.

It is highly likely the pragmatics of your situation will oblige you to simultaneously play the old and new planning games, and to do both well. There is the strong possibility you will be obliged to experience the pain and waste of time inflicted by bureaucrats set in their ways, desirous of maintaining their ‘control’, who don’t understand the digital evolutionary process. It is probable that like the pathfinder school heads you’ll need pay token attention to the ‘official plans’ while adopting a big picture development strategy able to accommodate both the linear and non-linear growth.

In saying that it must be stressed up front is that the successful schools, like their industry and public sector counterparts have to plan their desired journey and will in many areas need to employ apt linear plans – albeit being in the lookout for the unintended.

All this affirms the aforementioned mention of the shaping school vision and an organisational culture and agility to vary that planning when the need arises.

  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling, Armidale, Douglas and Brown – at  http://edfutures.net/Lee_and_Levins_2016
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press
  • Thorpe, J (1998) The Information Paradox Toronto McGraw-Hill
  • Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

 

Schools as Complex Adaptive Systems

[ Another in the series of blogs intended to support those participating in our 10 week Leading Your School’s Digital Evolution program.

The next of the 10 week program begins on April 26, and is open to any who are interested.]

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

It is vital in addressing the digital evolution of your school you view the school as an ever evolving, complex adaptive system, exhibiting in its evolution the traits found in all other evolving organisations, it becoming an increasingly higher order, more sophisticated, integrated and productive ecosystem.

While you don’t as a school leader have to be expert in complexity science and the evolution of systems it is important to appreciate digital schools like all other digitally based organisations will continually evolve and transform their nature in a remarkably common manner. Moreover they will do so at an accelerating pace, often in a seemingly messy and chaotic fashion, and will in their evolution demonstrate the attributes found in other complex adaptive systems.

Ready yourself to lead a school where constant, often uncertain change will be the norm.

You need to cease, if you haven’t already done so, seeing your school as a distinct one-off entity, and believing schools are immutable, constant in form and will forever stay the same as we have known them for the past century plus.

While each school is unique each will in its evolution display the attributes of like complex adaptive systems.

The reality is that schools globally, like all other organisations, are evolving at pace – albeit at very different rates – displaying in their evolutionary journey a suit of remarkably common attributes, the major features of which have long been identified in the research.

In 2000, 16 years ago, Pascale and his colleagues astutely observed:

‘The science of complexity has yielded four bedrock principles relevant to the new strategic work:

  1. Complex adaptive systems are at risk when in equilibrium. Equilibrium is a precursor to death.4

  2. Complex adaptive systems exhibit the capacity of self-organization and emergent complexity.5 Self-organization arises from intelligence in the remote clusters (or “nodes”) within a network. Emergent complexity is generated by the propensity of simple structures to generate novel patterns, infinite variety, and often, a sum that is greater than the parts. (Again, the escalating complexity of life on earth is an example.)

  3. Complex adaptive systems tend to move toward the edge of chaos when provoked by a complex task.6 Bounded instability is more conducive to evolution than either stable equilibrium or explosive instability. (For example, fire has been found to be a critical factor in regenerating healthy forests and prairies.) One important corollary to this principle is that a complex adaptive system, once having reached a temporary “peak” in its fitness landscape (e.g., a company during a golden era), must then “go down to go up” (i.e., moving from one peak to a still higher peak requires it to traverse the valleys of the fitness landscape). In cybernetic terms, the organism must be pulled by competitive pressures far enough out of its usual arrangements before it can create substantially different forms and arrive at a more evolved basin of attraction.

  4. One cannot direct a living system, only disturb it.7 Complex adaptive systems are characterized by weak cause-and-effect linkages. Phase transitions occur in the realm where one relatively small and isolated variation can produce huge effects. Alternatively, large changes may have little effect. (This phenomenon is common in the information industry. Massive efforts to promote a superior operating system may come to naught, whereas a series of serendipitous events may establish an inferior operating system —such as MS-DOS — as the industry standard.) (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000, p6).’

All four of these principles have been evidenced in all the authors’ research on the digital evolution of schooling over the last decade, but it is a message that doesn’t appear to have been grasped by most governments, educational bureaucrats or indeed school leaders.

In looking to lead the digital evolution of your school do draw upon to the lessons of complex adaptive systems and appreciate the guidance they can provide your journey.

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

 

BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling

Martin Levins and I have just released our 2016 edition of BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling.

It is now available free as an e-book.

While building on our earlier 2012 publication for ACER Press on Bring Your Own Technology the new work addresses the rapid developments in the last four years and positions the move to BYOT within the wider digital evolution and transformation of schooling.

The authors’ have decided to make the work freely available to all interested globally wanting advice and direction on the key development.

It can be downloaded from the Professor Peter Twining’s EdFutures site in the UK at –  http://edfutures.net/Lee_and_Levins_2016.

24/7/365 Schooling: The Implications

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

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

The attached article does both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

24-7-365 Schooling

Schools Have to Go Digital to Remain Viable

Mal Lee

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

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

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

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

Why Schools Have to Go Digital

Invitation to Join Digital Evolution of Schooling Google Group

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

We are looking at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you or a colleague would like to receive an invitation to join email Mal Lee – mallee@icloud.com or Martin Levins – mlevins@as.edu.au or Roger Broadie – roger@broadieassociates.co.uk.

Alternatively you can post to this group, send email to digital-evolution-of-schooling@googlegroups.com

 

 

 

Strategy not Technology Drives Digital Transformation

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

Go to – http://sloanreview.mit.edu/projects/strategy-drives-digital-transformation/

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

ACER Teacher Digital Evolution Series

Mal Lee has written for ACER’s online Teacher magazine in a series of brief research papers on the digital evolution of schooling. They include: