The 2020 COVID – 19 pandemic obliged schools and their communities like never before to address the facility to move to a more digitally based schooling.
Notwithstanding we expect most schools, education authorities, teacher education institutions and governments to return as soon as possible to the standard model of schooling, still shaped by an analogue mindset, having no desire to go digital.
But we are also aware of notable exceptions worldwide that used the digital astutely, who grew as school communities during the pandemic and which will continue to grow as digitally mature organisations.
Our desire is to use this site to monitor and reflect upon the digital evolution of schooling.
Serendipitously over the last year Roger Broadie and I have been focussed on readying a new publication on the digital for ACER Press Australia.
The challenge given by the Publisher was to address the reality that a quarter of a century on from the world going online the use of the digital in most schools worldwide remained peripheral.
While the digitally connected young and their families globally had normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital most schools had not.
Could we write a book that addressed that challenge, and assisted teachers and trainee teachers normalise the use of the digital in their teaching?
We’ve written a book entitled Digital Teachers. Digital Mindsets.
It will be released early 2021.
The book takes as its premise that every teacher, K-12 should in 2020 to be a digital teacher, shaping their teaching with a digital mindset.
It reasoned that most every teacher in 2020 shapes their personal lives with a digital mindset.
Teachers, like all of us expect to use our digital devices the moment desired, to connect instantly anywhere, anytime, at speed, 24/7/365, to use the personal devices they want, configured how they like, with the agency to use and learn with the digital as they desire.
The moment most of those teachers walk through the school gate they revert to using an aged analogue mindset. They assume learning with the digital must be tightly controlled, taught by specialist ICT teachers, with the students distrusted and disempowered, and needing to do and learn what the ‘experts’ believe best. The focus is the technology, and the ‘right’ technology at that, with all students mastering the same skills.
The aim of the new book is to assist every teacher, at every level, in every area of learning normalise the use of the apt tools of the contemporary world in their teaching, shaping the use with a digital mindset.
The argument is the thinking, an apt contemporary mindset not the technology per se must shape the teaching and learning.
Mid way through the writing COVID-19 struck, affirming the necessity of every teacher, in every school being able to operate from a digital base.
Tellingly the pandemic stress tested every facet of schooling, and in particular its ability to work digitally, remotely and with an apt shaping mindset.
While there were important notable exceptions most teachers, schools, education authorities and governments were ill-prepared.
The continued dominance of an analogue mindset, dependence on a century old ‘grammar of schooling’, focus on the basics and expectation that the digital would be used only within the existing organisational structures did little to ready teachers or schools to go digital.
As governments, education authorities, schools and education unions and professional associations review their performance during the pandemic and ‘stress testing’ we believe it important to make that thinking readily available and to critique the findings.
In the coming months – and likely years – we intend doing just that and monitoring the evolution of schooling, at the same time as we elaborate on the thinking within Digital Teachers, Digital Mindsets.
Below are links to two important pieces of research, both of which relate to equity of access to the digital.
Should education authorties persist with their school smartphone bans at a time when nations are rolling out their corona virus contact tracing apps?
Why shouldn’t medical authorities be able to trace potential corona virus contacts among the young in schools, by using the smarts of the technology?
As governments globally promote the benefits of students learning from home, come to better understand the many benefits of using the student’s digital devices and debate how best to minimise the risks associated with reopening schools is it not time to revisit the bans many governments placed on smartphones in schools?
Virtually overnight the pandemic has obliged educational decision to markedly rethink the contribution the digital can make to the education and well-being of the nation’s young.
Part of that rethink should be the critical part the young’s personal devices play in their 24/7/365 development, learning and well-being in a digital and socially networked society.
A related aspect is the imperative of school decision makers recognising in 2020 schools are part of an increasingly interconnected and networked world, where smartphones are the device no one, and most assuredly the young can do without.
It is surely time for all to understand that the highly sophisticated smartphones in the student’s hands are devices of enormous power and potential – that require smart minds to realise that potential.
The corona virus tracing app is but one example of how the devices can be used for the good.
There are endless other possibilities.
But none will be realised while ever the Luddite stance is maintained and teachers’ ability to explore those possibilities is denied.
The art of sustaining, and in time revitalising core organisational change in schools, and school systems is unique; markedly different to that in other organisations.
It is an emerging reality all interested in school development should consider.
While there are many similarities to all other organisations in the sustaining of the change it is critical to understand what sets schools apart, and not perpetuate the mistake many have made trying to apply in toto the tenets or models of organisational change in business, and indeed the public service, to schools.
Schools, and school systems are unique organisational forms, requiring apt sustaining and revitalisation strategies.
The school organisational change literature not only doesn’t recognise the marked difference between making the initial organisational change and its sustaining (Lee and Broadie, 2019) but also doesn’t acknowledge schools organisationally differ in at least six fundamental aspects to all other organisations, private and public sector.
Their remit, the societal dependence on them, the time spent developing the nation’s young, school’s perpetual existence, government’s political control, and invariably ownership, and their need to balance ‘normalisation’ with evolution combine to set them apart.
No school can be independent of the education system they are part of, be it local, parochial, provincial, national or international. All must work within the established parameters, address the set targets and meet an array of obligations.
The same combination of factors, plus the many others that impact organisational change make core school, and system change, and the sustaining of that change very challenging, with history revealing the odds strongly favour the retention of, and invariably the return to, the traditional organisational form.
Businesses exist to make money, schools to educate, and to care for the nation’s young, within a physical place called school.
The young, their parents, the wider community, and vitally the electorate expect those schools to play those roles day after day, year after year.
While accepting schools will be efficiently and effectively managed, and make good use of the funding provided schools are not perceived to be profit making enterprises.
Rather they exist to serve their society, they been given the prime responsibility for educating the nation’s young, and caring for and nurturing them while the parents work.
They are moreover expected to play that role in the contemporary world in a consistent manner, on a specified number of days each year, within given hours, and break for holidays on approximately the same dates year after year – advertising the school term dates several years in advance.
Globally modern societies, and indeed economies build their lives and workings around those school operating times and term dates, with there been virtually no likelihood of ever varying the term dates. Life in the northern hemisphere is for example still profoundly impacted hundreds of years on by a pattern of school holidays that emerged out of the agrarian year.
Societies’ dependence is invariably strengthened by governments’ mandating that all the nation’s young attend school for X years of their lives.
150 plus years on society has also come to expect – rightly or wrongly – schools to ready compliant citizens, ensure the ‘right’ material is taught, sort and sift the students, and certificate the student’s ability.
Time spent developing the young
Schools must factor into any strategy that seeks to sustain change, and particularly to revitalise that change the responsibility they have for educating each age cohort of students over a long, invariably twelve plus year period, and doing so in a lockstep, linear manner.
While most organisations, private and public sector have only a brief interaction with the clients, schools work with them every day, for years, each year taking in a new cohort of students, while exiting another. To create a significant change in the learning behaviour of say nine year olds, it may be necessary to start that change with the children when they are only five.
Approximately 20% of the nation’s young’s learning time annually will be spent at school.
Core organisational change invariably has thus to be phased in, and the change continued with until the last student cohort departs the school.
Schools can’t like most other organisations make, and even markedly refine a core change the moment it thinks apt. They have work with the givens.
Schools as organisations will continue their operations while ever there is a community for which to cater; an electorate to satisfy. While non-government schools might come, and go governments must ensure communities have a school
Schools have literally existed for hundreds of years, and are on track do so for many more.
In marked contrast to business that must operate at the cutting-edge to remain viable, the viability of most schools is seldom under threat.
While it is highly desirable schools provide a quality apt contemporary education in many respects it matters not how poorly run or how dated and irrelevant is the teaching. The government schools will continue while ever there are students wanting to attend.
The demand on their ‘child care’ role, particularly at a point in history where both parents work, will see most average, and even poor schools continue to operate.
It is difficult to imagine any democratic government, wanting to stay in office opting to take up Perelman’s (1992) suggestion of closing the schools, and teaching solely online.
The perpetuity of the organisation, its longevity means staff appointed to schools will, likely unwittingly, play a custodial role in preserving and growing the history of the school, for what invariably will only be a relatively short time in the organisation’s operations. They will play their role and leave it to others to continue and hopefully grow their work. It is not unusual for there to be a 20% plus turnover of staff annually, and only rarely will the teachers stay in a K-12 school the same length as the students.
The same holds at the system level, probably even more so, particularly in those organisations that staff the central office with limited term contracts.
Interestingly, aside from staff in schools with a long history, the authors’ strong impression is that most teachers, administrators and even politicians don’t see schools operating in perpetuity, or the staff being custodians of but a period in the organisation’s history. While greater research is needed, the authors combined 80 year plus association with schools and systems points to a focus on the now, and the immediate future, that combined with a lack of corporate memory and documented history likely sees few staff regarding themselves as custodians of a heritage. The contrast with role played by staff in a museum, or even the police or fire services is likely marked, with the shortcoming needing to be factored into any change sustaining or revitalisation strategy.
Schools linked to religious organisations are also invariably limited in the degree of change they can implement by the usually conservative tenets of their governing bodies.
Government control, ownership and politics
Another great difference between sustaining, and particularly revitalising organisational change in business and in schools is that schooling is controlled by government, in most instances the schools are owned by the government, and any core change will always depend on its electoral, political and government acceptance.
Globally governments, be they local, provincial or national control the operations of the nation’s schools – even if not directly owning them. While the nature and degree of sway varies the control of such variables as the overarching legislation, working conditions, pay rates, the funding, the curriculum authority, the examination’s board/s, teacher registration, school accreditation and teacher training ensures the government of the day will always have a powerful voice.
The power is amplified many fold when they own the schools.
With government control/ownership there will always be the continuing, often very quick turnover of the senior decision makers. Governments only have limited tenure, the ministers of education even shorter and system chief executive will on experience rarely stay more than six years.
The limited tenure, the electoral imperative to impress in the short time and the constant jockeying for power strongly inclines governments, ministers of education and their bureaucrats to favour shorter term initiatives, and to shy away from change likely to alienate the electorate.
School systems in contrast to business, invariably have senior decision makers who aren’t versed in the business at hand. Contemporary educational administration is highly likely to have a minister, political advisers and heads of the administration with no training in or experience in high level educational change. Most moreover will have little or no corporate memory.
Their expertise is politics and providing the electorate what it finds acceptable.
Sustained change must be electorally acceptable, preferably owned by the community to the extent that successive governments will be wary of intervening other than to enrich the change.
Any major revitalisation of the original core organisational change, such as shifting from a paper to digitally based operational construct will need to be electorally attractive, be embraced by the teachers and school leadership and vitally provide wins for most of the senior decision makers, the political advisers, the minister, the system executive, and in many situations also the union/s.
While accepting small ‘p’ politics is important in all sustained organisational change with schools the facility to play the small and capital ‘P’ political game is paramount.
Accommodating ‘normalisation’ and evolution
Schooling has the immense, and growing challenge of ‘normalising’ the everyday school experience while simultaneously evolving its form to ensure the schools continue to provide an apt contemporary education, and meet their society’s rising expectations.
Much of the business literature regards normalisation as an anathema to sustained organisational change, Lewin as far back as 1947 commented on the necessity of ‘unfreezing’ the organisation. Normalisation is considered by the many of the change theorists to be a sign of failure, an indicator that the organisation had ossified and moved to a state of evolutionary equilibrium.
Those theorists reveal they don’t understand the unique nature of sustaining organisational change in schools.
Swift acceptance and ‘normalisation’ of the change by the students, staff, parents and the wider community is imperative in schooling if the core change is to succeed and be sustained over the decades. In keeping with the above mentioned factors the change needs to be perceived to be successful, and accepted by the electorate for it to have any hope of being sustained as governments and senior executive come and go.
That normalisation needs to be astutely engineered, with the electorate, as well as the staff, students and particularly the parents being educated on the merits of the core change.
But in so doing the community needs also to understand that in a time of accelerating digital evolution and organisational transformation ‘normalisation’ should be viewed as a continually evolving – not static – concept, a phenomenon where the ‘old normal’ is regularly replaced by the ‘new normal’. This is particularly apparent in the daily use of rapidly evolving digital technologies where the old ways are continually being superseded by the new, without a moment’s thought. It is however apparent in near every facet of life, work and learning where what was normal ten years ago has been supplanted.
This iterative normalisation is particularly important to the evolution of schooling, where a host of often seemingly small enhancements can combine to ensure apt adjustments are made for the evolving context; refinements readily accepted by the students, staff, electorate and government.
We’ve identified six attributes that set schooling apart for other sustained organisational change. There might well be others.
The point remains schools are unique organisations.
That uniqueness needs to be better recognised in shaping the strategies to sustain core school and system wide organisational change, and when appropriate to build upon and revitalise the core change.
While schooling should draw upon the general thinking and research on general organisational change it is imperative the decision makers contextualise their thinking and appreciate schooling is unique.
An alert for those wanting to lead a digital school.
Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
The historic, universal, unwritten assumptions are that fundamental school change is not only possible, but is desired by those in authority and can be readily sustained.
Underpinning virtually every education plan and staff development program in the last century has likely been the desire to change and enhance schooling. Myriads of books have been published, studies conducted, reports written and likely millions of conferences conducted globally detailing how.
Daily politicians continue to espouse the changes they are initiating, giving the impression that the governments of the world actively want significant educational innovation and change.
We’d suggest the time has come to seriously question all three assumptions.
We accept that merely questioning the assumptions is akin to killing Bambi, but if schooling is to educate the young for a rapidly evolving world the validity of these first order premises should be examined, and the reality addressed.
COSN recently released an excellent study on the hurdles constraining Driving K-12 Innovation (COSN, 2019). The problem was that barriers identified were second order and assumed governments and schools wanted to innovate, could do so, and could sustain the changes made.
It is suggested that
For most it might be impossible to fundamentally change the traditional mode of schooling in a sustained way. It can in exceptional circumstances happen with individual schools, at least for a time, but as we explore in later posts historically it has been near impossible to sustain across a total system.
it is extremely unlikely most schools will evolve as digitally mature organisations (Kane, et al, 2016) being digital (Negroponte, 1995) in the foreseeable future.
most governments and educators have no real desire to significantly change the nature of schooling. They want constancy, continuity, sameness and control, free of electoral risk.
School leaders should better understand what is possible to change and is sustainable, be aware of the myriad of constraints to significant school change, and appreciate where transformation is possible, and likely impossible.
History reveals that sustaining the change is likely as difficult as making the initial change. It also suggests this key facet of organisational change hasn’t been given the attention due.
It is time to mix vision with pragmatism, to adopt a more reasoned approach to change, to accept there are givens, and to stop tilting at windmills in areas when there is little or no likelihood of marked variation of the current practises.
In talking about core school change one is addressing fundamental variations in the traditional mode of schooling. New buildings, technologies, curriculum or assessment procedures don’t in themselves mean core change, particularly when they are simply a variant of the old. One is looking at the likes of schools without walls, open plan schools and the move to a 24/7/365 mode of schooling that integrates the networked with the site based learning.
Heads must recognise from their appointment they will lead the school transformation process for a finite time, with very real likelihood that any significant changes they make to the traditional ways being reversed on their departure. Despite the best efforts of likely millions of very capable heads globally history is festooned with examples, particularly within systems, of the laudable efforts being dismantled or abandoned by less able replacements.
For centuries school planners have worked on the assumption they can, with calm rationale thought shape whatever kind of schools they want. They can’t. There are immense, likely growing constraints and barriers inhibiting core change.
It is time for all educational decision makers, but particularly principals to better understand, and work with that reality. We now know what can and likely can’t be changed, that which is immutable and that where enhancement is possible. For example, after two hundred plus years of governments in the northern hemisphere basing their school term dates on the agrarian year, and those dates impacting near every facet of life, the economy, and learning there is no way to markedly change the term times. There are like givens those wanting change must work with.
School leaders should also appreciate that most governments and education decision don’t want any significant change. Most educational administrations are about control and being risk adverse, committed to ‘protecting and promoting the minister’, concerned not to alienate the electorate or media. While politicians and their educational administrators speak of change the difference between the rhetoric and the reality can be vast. Granted some governments have genuinely wanted enhancement, but history reveals most only want controlled change. Twenty-five years on from the world going digital, and the Digital Revolution transforming all manner of organisations worldwide most of the world’s schools have avoided or been sand bagged against any significant digital disruption (Lee and Broadie, 2018a). Most schools use of the digital the same way as they did a quarter of a century ago, albeit with access to the online.
In the coming weeks, we’ll explore through a series of short blogs the realities facing all school leaders, but particularly those wanting to lead a digital school.
If you would like to comment further do write Mal Lee at – firstname.lastname@example.org
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/–
Negroponte, N (1995) Being DigitalSydney Hodder and Stoughton
A national policy question for a group highly versed in the impact of the digital.
Developed nations have for the first time in human history a near universally digitally connected young – with considerable agency over their 24/7/365 use of the digital – who, with the support of their digitally connected families have naturally grown being digital. A similar uptake in connectivity is happening at pace in the underdeveloped and undeveloped worlds (ITU, 2017).
Governments and schools have played no real part in that burgeoning connectivity or the growing of being digital.
Developed nations seeking to grow their digital economies unwittingly have in their youth being digital a vast, largely untapped human resource – on trend to naturally evolve and grow.
If successfully built upon nationally it could go a long way to ensuring the nation stays or moves increasingly to the fore.
The resource has grown naturally and largely unseen over the last twenty plus years outside the school walls – totally unplanned, a natural outcome of the Digital Revolution.
The question for you – can nations accommodate the development and consciously build upon it in an astute national education strategy?
Can highly competitive economies afford not too?
Can governments that want to control and micro manage every facet of schooling accommodate the natural unplanned seemingly chaotic evolution – where the young have embraced a mode of learning with the digital antithetical to the school approach?
We know exceptional schools, with maverick heads can
But can every school, every head, every school administrator, every tertiary educator accommodate planned, structured and unplanned laissez faire learning?
Can highly inflexible, insular linear hierarchical Industrial Age schools provide a learning culture that accommodates the digitally empowered young? Are the legacy systems of the developed societies too hard to change?
Would most governments, schools and tertiary educators even want to change?
Do nations adopt a way forward – shock horror – that like now by-passes formal schooling?
Do we have to wait for the parents get angry before real change occurs?
Be interested in the thoughts of the wise – even those enjoying summer
The article posted yesterday on the young’s out of school learning with the digital raises all manner of questions, and potentially has many profound implications for the education and schooling of the young.
It addresses a series of global developments that have thus far rarely been discussed or even considered by educators.
In this brief post, I’d like to flag but a few, and bid folk think about the implications.
Probably the most significant is thenatural sustained and informal nature of the learning with the digital. – albeit outside the schools
What the history of the last twenty plus year’s reveals is that a billion plus digitally connected young worldwide have of their own volition, in a completely laissez faire environment, naturally learned a suite of common capabilities. All emerged unplanned, unintended from the seeming chaos of the Digital Revolution.
Most schools, teachers and governments have played no part in that learning, and the digital connectivity of near on 60% of the world’s young.
Of note is that by as early as 1998 the Tapscott research had noted the natural informal learning at play in the emergence of the universal mores the young of the world had adopted in their use of the Net.
In 2004, a very good Futurelab study by Sefton-Green succinctly flagged the growing importance of the informal out of school learning with the digital – at a point before the full impact of the mobile and particularly the smartphone technology had kicked in.
In readying the Digitally Connected Families Roger Broadie and I identified as mentioned 28 common capabilities.
Depending how on how one does the clarification there could be 26 – there could be 30.
What was clear was that out of the seeming chaos had come order.
That challenged the concept that all learning had to be planned, structured and sequential – and taught by school teachers.
Focus on learning how to learn. Of note in yesterday’s paper is that only about a quarter of the common capabilities had to do with the digital proficiency.
The rest had to do with how an empowered young, directing their own learning with the digital learned how to learn – to take charge of all their learning with the technology, and to position themselves to do so lifelong.
And critically to do so in any area of learning they wish.
The great educational thinkers have long urged the development of this key capability but it is rarely tackled in schools.
The implications of this development alone are profound – particularly as the technology becomes more sophisticated.
The third point relates to the sustained naturally evolving nature of the learningwith the digital.
In contrast to the schools there was in the learning no sense of a beginning or an ending, rather the sense that learning with the digital would be on-going, lifelong, naturally evolving and changing as the technology evolved.
Outside the school one is looking at a dynamic model – while that in the school is constant. Within the school seemingly there must always be a specified period for the learning – specified outcomes to be achieved and specified pass grade, after which one can say the learning has been done.
Telling with the out of school the only assessment is personal.
There is moreover an acceptance of the imperative of continually staying current lifelong.
The fourth issue is the ability of schools to genuinely assist the learning with the digital.
The time has come to seriously ask can schools assist enhance the out of school learning with the digital – or might most hold it back?
Aside from the exceptional, most schools, even if they wanted to assist, would be unwilling to accept the five conditions critical to achieving digital normalization.
Schools that are of a mind to ban the kids gear will not be of a mind to assist the parents
And sadly, most schools as linear hierarchical Industrial Age organisations, tightly constrained by government lack the agility/the flexibility to remain abreast of the accelerating technological change – and to support kids operating at the cutting edge – even they were of a mind to do so!
As we move at pace to a totally digitally connected planet, with near every child from around age three normalizing the 24/7/365 use of the digital it is time to start discussing the likely implications – rather than opting to ban and totally abrogate the responsibility.
(This is an update of the earlier version, that will appear in the Educational Technology Solutions).
The digitally connected families of the world over the last two decades have played a remarkably successful, yet largely unseen, role in the digital education of the world’s young.
In researching the impact of personal mobile technologies on the 24/7/365 digital education of the world’s young since the advent of the World Wide Web the lead role of the family became increasingly apparent. It was the young with their families support that primarily provided the requisite digital tools and education – not the schools.
In 2016 3.4 billion plus people (ITU, 2016) (Meeker, 2017), near half the world’s population, accessed the networked world.
Well over a billion were young people (Futuresource, 2017).
Few learned to use that current, mainly mobile, digital technology in schools. Rather their understanding was acquired in the developed, developing and underdeveloped worlds with the monies and support of their families.
It is time the world – and particularly the parents, the young themselves, educators, policy makers and governments – recognises, and builds upon that remarkable achievement.
Critically it is also time to understand that those families employed – unwittingly but naturally – a laissez faire model of digital education. It was – and remains today – fundamentally different to the highly controlled, structured and linear approach used by most schools. Importantly they used an approach appropriate for a rapidly evolving digital and socially networked world. Schools in comparison still mostly used a teaching model from the Industrial Age, that struggled to accommodate rapid digital evolution.
The education in using the digital and particularly the personal mobile devices from the outset occurred primarily outside the school walls. For the parents this happened in a completely market driven, naturally evolving environment where government had no voice and provided no support. For the young it enabled learning from incidental opportunistic moments to in some cases very focused and intense self-driven learning. It was the young with the monies and support of their families who took control of the learning. Critically it was the parents who believed in the educational importance of the digital for their children who funded the technology, and empowered and supported their children’s largely unfettered use.
It was – as most are aware – an informal education, largely self-directed, highly individualised where the learning was invariably non-linear, seemingly chaotic, dynamic, undertaken in context and just in time. It was an approach the young found highly appealing, exciting, relevant and intrinsically motivating. From the advent of the WWW the learning started to take place 24/7/365, and by the early 2000s the evolving technology allowed it to happen anywhere, anytime.
Ironically from the outset the role of the young and the family was bolstered by the schools’ insularity, their worldwide retreat to behind their cyber walls and their purported desire to protect the children from the dangers of the Net. The young and their families were left by default to fend for themselves in that 80% of learning time available annually outside the school walls.
Disturbingly today many, if not most schools still work behind those walls not recognising, supporting or building upon the out of school digital learning and education. The schools that are notable exceptions to this are engaging with families and supporting the children’s independent learning because of their own drive to do so, often battling education authority regulations and systems.
Free of the controls of formal schooling and government, the young and their families took charge of the digital education, continually growing their capability as the technology grew in power and sophistication. Internet uptake figures globally reveal the families of the young led the way (Allen and Raine, 2002), (Lee and Winzenried, 2009). In 1999, a comprehensive study of the use of computers in Australian schools concluded:
The majority of the students who have the basic skills developed them at home (Meredyth, et.al, 1999, pxvii).
That was happening naturally and largely unseen globally.
As the young evolved their digital capability and facility to readily use of all manner of current technologies so too did their parents, as evermore used the technology in their work and came to rely on the increasingly sophisticated mobile technology.
In 2008 Pew Internet released a study entitled ‘The Networked Family’ (Wellman, et.al, 2008) which noted the US had reached the evolutionary stage where the new norm was for all within the family, the parents and the children to base their lives around the everyday use of the digital. They were working within a digital and socially networked mindset, normalising the use of all manner of digital technologies in every facet of their lives.
….this survey finds that couples use their phones to connect and coordinate their lives, especially if they have children at home. American spouses often go their separate ways during the day, but remain connected by cell phones and to some extent by internet communications. When they return home, they often have shared moments of exploration and entertainment on the internet (Wellman, et.al, 2008).
The Pew findings, coming as they did around the time of the release of the iPhone in 2007, correspond with our own which saw in the period 2007 – 2009 those families becoming the norm across the developed and increasingly the developing world.
The authors and the 50 plus eminent observers interviewed in our research, had concerns about the term ‘networked family’, conscious of the ambiguity that comes with the physical networking of organisations and homes.
The strong preference was for the term ‘digitally connected families’, aware that it was the all-pervasive connectedness provided by the digital that allowed both the nuclear and extended family to employ the technologies in all facets of their lives.
Digitally connected families are those where the parents and children use the evolving suite of digital technologies naturally in every desired facet of their lives, that employ a digital mindset and which have – or nearly have- normalised the use of the digital.
They created a home environment where the new norm was for all the family – the children, parents or increasingly the grandparents – to naturally, almost unwittingly contribute to the on-going digital learning of all members. How often does one hear – dad, you can do it easier this way?
In the decade after the release of the iPhone and the touchscreen technology the educational capability and leadership of the digitally connected families grew at pace. As the parents normalised the use of the digital, became more digitally empowered and embraced the mobile and app revolutions and the families of the developing and underdeveloped world employed the technology in ways unbounded by Western educational traditions so the gap between the digital education provided in and out of the schools grew ever wider – with most schools lagging ever further behind the societal norm.
The capability and lead role of the digitally connected families of the world was evidenced in the last 3-4 years of the period under study when pre-primary children from as young as two and three embraced the mobile touch screen technology. As the 2015, European Commission study (Chaubron, 2015) of eleven European nations attests the families of the young very successfully guided their children’s learning with the technology. They, like the other digitally connected families of the world led the teaching, well before most schools and decision makers understood that the pre-primary children of the developed and increasingly the developing world would enter formal schooling having normalised the use of the digital.
We are not suggesting for a moment that everything was or is perfect with the digital education provided by the digitally connected families of the world. There is a substantial gap between families in their ability support their children’s astute application of the digital. As Ito and her colleagues (2013) attest in a laissez faire environment the advantaged continue to be advantaged and the disadvantaged possibly further disadvantaged, unless there is astute intervention.
The way forward, as we address in a forthcoming publication on the Digitally Connected Family, entails some major rethinking.
But for that to occur governments and educators must recognise that for twenty plus years – at no expense to government – the digitally connected families of the world have played the lead role on the digital education of the world’s young, and are on trend to so – regardless of what governments or schools might desire.
In 1993, the schools were given a monopoly of digital education. Since then billions have been spent by governments supporting a monopoly where the digital education provided by the schools in 2016 markedly lagged that of the families and the societal norm.
While the digitally connected families of the world have been able to successfully normalise the use of the digital with a billion plus young people few schools in 2016 had succeeded in normalising its use.
It is a reality governments and educators need better understand.
Ito, Mizuko, Kris Gutiérrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, S. Craig Watkins. (2013). Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.
From the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1993 the young of the world have experienced two models of digital education, that outside the school walls and that within.
Outside the young and the digitally connected families of the world employed – unseen – the naturally evolving laissez faire model. Within the school the young worked within the traditional, highly structured model.
It is time the difference is understood, the global success and benefits of the laissez faire recognised and lauded, and the serious shortcomings of the highly structured understood and addressed.
For much of the period the two models ran in parallel, with most schools showing little or no interest in the out of school digital education.
Around 2010 – 2012 the scene began to change when a handful of digitally mature schools began genuinely collaborating with their families in the 24/7/365 digital education of the children. Those schools had reached the evolutionary stage where their teaching model and culture closely mirrored that of the families. They revealed what was possible with collaboration.
That said it took time for that collaboration to take hold more widely and for the most part the parallel models continue in operation today, with the difference between the in and out of school teaching growing at pace.
It is surely time for schools and government to question the retention of the parallel modes and to ask if taxpayers are getting value for the millions upon millions spent solely on schools when the digitally connected families receive no support.
Might it be time to employ a more collaborative approach where the schools complement and add value to the contribution of the families?
Without going into detail, it bears reflecting on the distinguishing features of the learning environment and digital education model, of both the digitally connected family and the school, and asking what is the best way forward,
The learning environments.
Digitally connected families
That of the families we know well. It has been built around the home’s warmth and support, and the priority the parents attached to their children having a digital education that would improve their education and life chances. The focus has always been on the child – the individual learner – with the children from the outset being provided the current technology by their family and empowered to use that technology largely unfettered.
Importantly the family as a small regulating unit, with direct responsibility for a small number of children could readily trust each, and monitor, guide and value their learning from birth onwards, assisting ensure each child had use of the current technology and that the use was wise and balanced.
The learning occurred within a freewheeling, dynamic, market driven, naturally evolving environment, anywhere, anytime, just in time and invariably in context. Those interested could operate at the cutting edge and the depth desired.
Very early on the young’s use of the digital was normalised, with the learning occurring as a natural part of life, totally integrated, with no regard for boundaries
The time available to the digitally connected family was – and continues to be – at least four/five times greater than that in the school.
It was to many seemingly chaotic, but also naturally evolving.
Very quickly the family learning environment became collaborative, socially networked, global in its outlook, highly enjoyable and creative where the young believed anything was possible.
By the latter 2000’s most families had created – largely unwittingly – their own increasingly integrated and sophisticated digital ecosystem, operating in the main on the personal mobile devices that connected all in the family to all manner of other ecosystems globally.
Digital learning in the school.
The general feature of the school digital learning environment has been invariably one of unilateral control, where the ICT experts controlled every facet of the technology and its teaching.
They chose, configured and controlled the use of both the hardware and software, invariably opting for one device, one operating system and a standard suite of applications.
The students were taught within class groups, using highly structured, sequential, teacher directed, regularly assessed instructional programs.
The school knew best. The clients – the parents and students – were expected to acquiesce. There was little or no recognition of the out of school learning or technology or desire to collaborate with the digitally connected families.
The teaching was insular, inward looking, highly site fixated.
In reflecting on school’s teaching with the digital between 1993 and 2016 there was an all-pervasive sense of constancy, continuity, with no real rush to change. There was little sense that the schools were readying the total student body to thrive within in a rapidly evolving digitally based world.
Significantly by 2016 only a relatively small proportion of schools globally were operating as mature digital organisations, growing increasingly integrated, powerful higher order digitally based ecosystems.
The reality was that while the learning environment of the digitally connected families evolved naturally at pace that of most schools changed only little, with most schools struggling to accommodate rapid digital evolution and transformation.
The teaching models
With the advantage of hindsight, it is quite remarkable how hidden the laissez faire model has remained for twenty plus years, bearing in mind it has been employed globally since the advent of the WWW.
For years, it was seen simply as a different, largely chaotic approach used by the kids – with the focus being on the technological breakthroughs and the changing practices rather than on the underlying model of learning that was being employed.
It wasn’t until the authors identified and documented the lead role of the digitally connected families of the world did we appreciate all were using basically the same learning approach. The pre-primary developments of the last few years affirmed the global application of the model.
We saw at play a natural model that was embraced by the diverse families of the world.
All were using the same model – a naturally evolving model where the parents were ‘letting things take their own course ‘(OED).
The learning was highly individualized, with no controls other than the occasional parent nudge. That said the learning was simultaneously highly collegial, with the young calling upon and collaborating with their siblings, family members, peers and social networks when desired.
Interestingly from early on the young found themselves often knowing more about the technology in some areas than their elders – experiencing what Tapscott (1998) termed an ‘inverted authority’ – being able to assist them use the technology.
Each child was free to learn how to use, and apply those aspects of the desired technologies they wanted, and to draw upon any resources or people if needed.
In the process the children worldwide – from as young as two – directed their own learning, opting usually for a discovery based approach, where the learning occurred anytime, anywhere 24/7/365. Most of the learning was just in time, done in context and was current, relevant, highly appealing and intrinsically motivating. Invariably it was highly integrated, with no thought given to old boundaries – like was it educational, entertainment, communication, social science or history.
In contrast the school digital teaching model has always been highly structured and focused on what the school or education authority ‘experts’ believed to be appropriate.
Throughout the period the teaching has been unilaterally controlled, directed by the classroom teacher, with the students disempowered, distrusted and obliged to do as told.
The teaching built upon linear, sequential instructional programs where the digital education was invariably treated like all other subjects, shoehorned into an already crowded curriculum and continually assessed. Some authorities made the ‘subject’ compulsory, others made it optional.
The focus – in keeping with the other ‘subjects’ in the curriculum – was academic. There was little interest in providing the young the digital understanding for everyday life.
The teaching took place within a cyber walled community, at the time determined by the teaching program.
Increasingly the course taught and assessed became dated and irrelevant.
In considering why the young and the digitally connected families of the world have embraced the laissez faire model of digital education aside from the young’s innate curiosity and desire to learn we might do well to examine the model of digital learning we have used over the last twenty plus years and reflect on how closely it approximates that adopted by the young.
Might they be following that ancient practice of modelling the behaviour of their parents?
The way forward.
Near a quarter of a century on since the introduction of the WWW and an era of profound technological and social change it is surely time for governments and educators globally to
publicly recognise the remarkable success of the digitally connected families and the laissez faire teaching model in the 24/7/365 digital education of both the children and the wider family
understand the digitally connected families are on trend to play an even greater lead role
identify how best to support the family’s efforts without damaging the very successful teaching model employed
consider how best to enhance the educational contribution of all the digitally connected families in the nation, including the educationally disadvantaged
rethink the existing, somewhat questionable contribution of most schools and the concept of schools as the sole provider of digital education for the young
examine where scarce taxpayer monies can best be used to improve the digital education in the networked world.
Let us all finally recognise the core qualities and the remarkable global success of the laissez faire digital education model and build upon its achievements.
Lee, M (1996), ‘The educated home’, The Practising Administrator, vol. 18, no. 3 1996.
Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls, Melbourne ACER Press
Meredyth, D, Russell, N, Blackwood, L, Thomas, J & Wise, P (1998), Real time: Computers, change and schooling, Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Canberra
Project Tomorrow (2011) The New Three E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged and Empowered Speak Up 2010 National Findings Project Tomorrow 2011. Retrieved 24 June 2014 at – http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/pdfs/SU10_3EofEducation_Educators.pd
Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York
In addition to taking prime responsibility for the 24/7/365 digital education of the world’s young the digitally connected families over the last two decades unwittingly took an increasingly greater lead role in the provision of that education.
Critically – and largely unseen- they took that lead worldwide. What we have witnessed over the last twenty plus years – and see today worldwide – is a naturally evolving phenomenon, over which governments and education authorities had held no sway.
In examining the past 20 plus years it soon became obvious that the digitally connected families had – and continue to have – significant advantages over formal schooling in providing the desired rapidly evolving 24/7/365 digital education.
Since the advent of the WWW an empowered young, with the support of their families, have played a lead role in the out of school digital education. Over time they have naturally accommodated the accelerating digital evolution and transformation, while the schools struggled. The young, with time to explore and a strong desire to share, are often ahead of their parents in the use of digital connectivity. And considerably ahead of their teachers.
With the advantage of hindsight, it is easy to see why, and why even the most visionary and well led of schools took so many years to achieve digital normalisation. The reasons lie in the organisational arrangements, the educational model used and the attitude adopted.
Organisationally the established schools of the world continued to use the tightly controlled, inflexible linear and hierarchical structures that emerged in the Industrial Age, while the digitally connected families employed a highly agile model, able to evolve naturally at pace.
Helbing in commenting on the Digital Revolution reiterated the inability of all manner of bureaucracies to accommodate rapid, uncertain change and the importance of moving to the use of highly agile self-regulating units.
In a rapidly changing world, which is hard to predict and plan, we must create feedback loops that enable systems to flexibly adapt in real time to local conditions and needs (Helbing, 2014).
The shift globally to greater school autonomy was a step in that direction but in examining the plethora of controls imposed by governments and their bureaucrats – controls over the likes of working conditions, the allocation and use of funds, school times, purchasing, imposed digital systems, reconciliation of accounts, treatment of students, the curriculum and the mode and time of assessment it was apparent that ‘autonomy’ was limited.
In contrast the digitally connected homes of the world, operating as small self-regulating units, within a laissez faire environment with their own resources, and responsible for their own children had no such constraints. They could instantly acquire the technologies they wanted and use them as they wished. Quietly over time they have taken advantage of the dynamic highly fluid nature of their situation to quietly create increasingly integrated and powerful digital ecosystems.
The teaching model employed by schools was – and continues to be – highly structured and controlled. It was throughout the period insular in nature, inward looking and fixated on the physical place called school. Education in the use of digital devices was invariably taught within class groups as a discrete subject. The schools followed a set, linear curriculum where the class teacher directed the teaching and student assessment, accommodating all manner of external controls and management checks.
In contrast the digital education model outside the school was completely laissez faire, freewheeling, seemingly chaotic, invariably non-linear, done ‘just in time’, undertaken anytime, anywhere, invariably in context. It was wholly individualised, directed by the learner’s desires, with she/her deciding where to turn if support was needed. That said the nature of the teaching and learning adopted was remarkably similar worldwide. It very soon became the new universal normal for the young.
Importantly the self-directed learning with the digital was highly appealing to the young, exciting, intrinsically motivating, with no need for any assessment other than by oneself and through recognition by their peers.
Significantly throughout the period – even though in hindsight they did very well – many parents continually looked for support and direction, and to collaborate with the schools. In the first half of the period this reflected the lack of digital understanding and in the second when the increasingly sophisticated converging technology took the learning to a continually higher plane.
Parents struggled to find that support.
In 2002 Pew Internet studied the digital disconnect between the schools and the homes, noting
Students are frustrated and increasingly dissatisfied by the digital disconnect they are experiencing at school (Pew Internet, 2002).
The genuine collaboration didn’t begin until the late 2000s when the first schools moved to a digital operational mode and recognised its educational sense. As Lee and Ward (2013) observe, it would appear the home – school collaboration will not occur until schools have gone digital and are ready attitudinally.
The work of the digitally mature schools globally from around 2010 – 2012 demonstrated that schools could with the right principal and mindset play a lead role in the 24/7/365 education of the young – if they are of a mind to recognise and build upon the out of school learning, and genuinely collaborate with their digitally connected families. They had the educational expertise desired by most families, and the ability in a 24/7/365 setting to take the young’s working knowledge of the digital to a significantly higher level.
But it all came down to attitude.
The young and the parents of the world have shown from the advent of the Web – like the visionary school leaders – the importance they attach to their children’s digital learning.
Most governments and school don’t.
Despite the fine sounding rhetoric about the digital the priorities of developed nations are expressed in their basic skills tests. The priorities expected of principals invariably relate to the perceived basics like PISA score performance and most assuredly not an appropriate holistic education for an evolving digital and socially networked world.
While there are ‘maverick’ digitally mature schools globally pursuing the latter in 2017 they are still rare.
Disturbingly not only are most schools unable to accommodate exponential digital evolution and change, but most – along with their governments – are not interested in so doing. Even when schools have developed approaches to the use of digital that empower young people and which listen to how they learn best in the digital world, these approaches can atrophy and disappear when leadership changes. This suggests that the ways most teachers perceive their accountability are so strongly linked to traditional industry-age schooling that this can rapidly outweigh the benefits they see of digitally empowering the young, as soon as the school leaders cease to make this a priority.
A telling reality is that a quarter of a century after the advent of the WWW and decades of societal digital transformation globally, digital education performance in schools is still being assessed by paper based exams.
Little is the wonder that the digitally connected homes of the world are taking an increasing lead the 24/7/365 digital education of the young. Tellingly the 2011 Project Tomorrow report (Project Tomorrow, 2011) noted that while the digitally empowered parents wanted to collaborate with the schools if the schools chose not to the parents would take the lead,
That is what is happening globally, largely unseen. As the strength of the young’s capability to use digital grows, and as industry-age schooling continues to produce only meagre advances in the learning of the young, the stage is being set for a breakdown in parents’ belief in how well their children’s schools are preparing them for life.
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