Category Archives: Digital ecosystems and student learning

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

Distributed Control of the Teaching and Learning

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

If schools are to normalise the whole of school community use of the digital and to create a 24/7/365 mode of schooling they’ll need to trust and respect the contribution all within its community and distribute the control of the teaching and learning.

The total school community, all the professional staff – the executive, the classroom teachers and professional support staff, the students, the families and the wider school community need to be empowered, to understand the school’s shaping mission, to appreciate its macro workings and to play a significant part in the teachings, operations and growth of the school.

They need to ‘own’ their school.

In a socially networked society where learning and teaching can, and does take place anywhere, anytime it makes sense to actively involve – in an appropriate way – all the teachers of the young, and not as now focus simply on what the professionals are doing within the school walls.

Within that socially networked school community the principal and the teachers will need to continue to play the lead role – they having both the expertise and the time to so – but that role should also entail empowering the other ‘teachers’, giving them the desired direction and support.

Probably more than ever the principal must continue to play the lead role but not in an autocratic sense but rather as the school’s chief conductor, orchestrating the school’s daily operations and deriving the utmost from all the players in the workings, continued growth and evolution of the school.

In playing this role the principal, like all good conductors and CEOs, has to be the final arbiter. He/she listens, collaborates, delegates and takes on board the decisions made by others but in the end the principal has to make the final decision, even if the decision is simply to endorse work done or not to do anything.

More than ever the shaping of an increasingly complex, more tightly integrated school ecosystems requires principals and professional teachers who can provide the desired instructional leadership while also having a strong working knowledge of all the other major variables, human, educational, political, financial and technological that will grow the school’s ecosystem.

It requires astute, sensitive principals happy to empower others but knowing when and where to intervene to ensure an operation assists realise the school’s shaping vision. It moreover necessitates having an empowered, highly professional staff – teaching and support – with the macro educational understanding, confidence and the people skills to genuinely collaborate with and enhance the ‘teaching’ contribution of the non-professional teachers.

Traditionally within the strongly hierarchically school the principal and the others atop the apex unilaterally controlled the total operations of the school, often running the school in a highly autocratic manner. In so doing they disempowered most of the teachers, ensured the support staff played a subservient role and the students, their families and the local community had no real say.

When schools move to a digital operational base, begin socially networking in a significant way and recognising the value of genuinely collaborating with all involved in the teaching of the young, in and outside the school walls one sees notes in the pathfinder schools a significant letting go of the control from up high and concerted efforts to empower all within the school’s community.

The growing collaboration with the student’s homes and the school’s community has been discussed.

There has been in the pathfinder schools, particularly when they move to the Early Networked evolutionary stage a recognition of the importance of getting the most from the professional staff and listening much better to the students.

At the Digital evolutionary stage, while the teachers are using the digital technology most remain relatively disempowered and underused as professionals. The strongly hierarchical organisation model promotes in most staff a micro focus, a focus on playing just their part in the production line. Most have a limited understanding of the macro workings of the school, so essential in growing an integrated school ecosystem.

One needs to markedly enhance that macro capability of staff as soon as is feasible, but it will take time and needs to be done on the fly.   What hit home in the pathfinder schools was how accepting were the staff of the empowerment, the efforts made by most to lift their professionalism, their relatively rapid embrace of change and willingness to take professional risk and their preparedness to genuinely collaborate with their students, the parents and the school’s wider community.

How long it will take in your situation we don’t know. There are so many variables at play.

What we do know is that until the control of the teaching and learning is genuinely distributed digital evolution will be stalled, the successful whole school uptake of BYOT impossible and digital normalisation but a dream.

 

 

Home – School – Community Collaboration

Collaborative Teaching 2Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In moving to a digital operational base the school begins collaborating evermore closely and genuinely with its homes and community, in time marrying the in school teaching, learning and resourcing with the out of school.

It is a marked contrast to most traditional schools where most of the collaboration with the homes is tokenistic (Lee and Ward, 2013) and often one way, with the school informing the parents what they need to do for the school (Grant, 2012). While the literature, government policies and the research (Hattie, 2009) have long advocated genuine home-school collaboration it has rarely been achieved in a significant way until recently (McKenzie, 2010) with most parents reluctant to enter the school gates.

All that invariably begins to change, and to change rapidly and markedly when the school goes digital, and the principal and the teachers begin using the technology to reach out beyond the school walls and ‘socially network’ – using the latter term in its wider sense of ‘a network of social interactions and personal relationships’ (OED).

What one sees is a natural, largely unprompted change with the school becoming increasingly aware of the nature of the teaching, learning and digital resourcing outside the school walls, and the educational – and indeed social, economic, administrative and promotional – benefit of the school and its homes collaborating more closely in the holistic teaching of the young (Project Tomorrow, 2011).

Invariably the initial moves will be diffident, by the homes, community and the school, with it often being two steps forward and one back but in time with the school showing by deed its genuine desire to collaborate and the wider school community recognising the old barriers have been removed and the school gate opened the collaboration becomes normal and begins providing all manner of benefits.

With the collaboration comes:

  • a greater respect for the part the families play in the teaching of their children from birth onwards
  • a recognition of the extent and value of the student learning occurring outside the school walls, unharnessed by the school
  • a greater appreciation of the children’s 24/7/365 use of and proficiency with their personal digital technologies (Project Tomorrow, 2014)
  • an insight into how a collaborative, digitally based 24/7/365 mode of schooling where the young can be taught in context anywhere anytime can markedly improve each child’s learning
  • an awareness of why the school should empower its homes and the local community and enhance their ‘teaching’ contribution
  • the realisation the school should in a socially networked society distribute the control of the teaching and learning and over time to marry the in and out of school teaching
  • an appreciation of the wisdom in a socially networked school community of pooling the expertise and resources of the home, the community and the school in the 24/7/365 schooling of the young
  • a plethora of both intended and unintended benefits – with the latter likely growing as the level of collaboration and social networking grows
  • the recognition that schooling in the networked world should transcend the physical walls of the classroom.

The collaboration will, from the experiences of the pathfinder schools place an extra load on the school and the principal in particular. However over time the astute all- pervasive use of the digital technology will help lessen that load.

Almost inevitably there will be teething problems, dealings with over enthusiastic parents that will likely incline the principal at times to say ‘forget it’, but that downside is more than offset by the immense contribution the homes and the local community will bring to the school’s teaching, operations, its resourcing and its continued growth, and the continued evolution of an increasingly powerful and productive school ecosystem.

When schools open their doors, involve the parents in the school and genuinely collaborate with them in the 24/7/365 teaching of their children the nature of the schooling will be irrevocably transformed, with the parents forever onwards expecting to be involved in all the school’s work – and not shut out and disempowered as in the past.

  • Grant, L (2010) Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies A Futurelab Handbook February 2010
  • Hattie, J (2009), Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement, Routledge, Abingdon
  • Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Mackenzie, J (2010) Family Learning: Engagements with Parents Edinburgh Dunedin Press
  • 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
  • Project Tomorrow (2014) The New digital Learning Playbook: Understanding the Spectrum of Students’ Activities and Aspirations Project Tomorrow 2014. Retrieved 24 June 2014 at – http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/SU13DigitalLearningPlaybook_StudentReport.html

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

Address the Totality, Not the Parts

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

One of the more challenging tasks in shaping a digitally based school ecosystem is to focus on the desired totality, not the parts. School leaders need to shed their traditional school development thinking and its preoccupation with the parts, and put to the fore the shaping of the new ever evolving total entity.

Unwittingly, and here we include ourselves, we have a generation of school leaders, and indeed politicians who have been weaned on a factory model of organisational development, strongly impacted by Frederick Taylor’s work (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Winslow_Taylor), that has had us believe that by enhancing parts of the production line the overall organisation would be more effective and competitive.

That thinking might have been appropriate in the Industrial Age, but is not within a Digital Revolution, where the successful organisations are those tightly integrated school ecosystems evolving at pace.

Globally one continues to observe governments and all manner of educational leaders contending that if schools improve a segment of the school’s operations their overall performance and relevance will be enhanced. We thus see calls to improve the likes of the curriculum, the quality of teacher selection, pedagogy, professional development, resourcing and the digital technology but surprisingly few calls to create schools that can continually deliver in a rapidly evolving world.

Seemingly unaware of the Digital Revolution, the digital transformation that has fundamentally reshaped all manner of businesses and public sector organisations and the critical importance of increasingly productive digitally based ecosystems, globally in 2016 one finds scant call by educators to create schools appropriate for a digital and socially networked society.

It is simply assumed the old factory organisational model can play that role if parts are updated.

There appears to be little appreciation in education that digitally based organisations are fundamentally different to their old paper based counterparts.

The pathfinder schools understand the very considerable difference and are daily transforming their nature and form on the fly to better educate the young for today’s world.

Their focus is on shaping the desired evermore tightly integrated, mature, higher order and productive ecology – where the culture and all operations are directed towards realising the school’s shaping vision.

In that transformation they appreciate the kind of resourcing, teaching, professional development, digital ecosystem and program evaluation required in a digitally based, strongly socially networked 24/7/365 mode of schooling, that marries the in and out of school teaching and learning will be appreciably different to that off the traditional stand alone paper based school.

Simply focus on the parts, and moreover do so but within the school walls, and one will fail to understand the workings and requirements of socially networked school communities.

Harnessing the Social Networking

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In alerting those on the digital evolutionary journey of the potential positives of digitally based school ecosystems we neglected to address the likely negatives and the potential considerable pitfalls of unbridled social networking, and the importance of schools more consciously ‘controlling’ and harnessing the power of social networking.

Social networking, as many an individual and organisation can attest has, can be damaging.

Schools are not immune, and yet globally many are schools naively entering into the world of digitally based social networking, hoping for a positive experience, but being ill equipped to control its power.

In shaping of the desired school ecosystem look factor into your thinking the desired controls, the avoidance of undue risk and ways to use the power to the school’s advantage.

Understand the instant schools opt to communicate digitally they immediately – and usually unwittingly – markedly up their involvement with the unbridled world and power of digitally based social networking. While hoping for benefits the school immediately also exposes itself to many potential negatives. In using the expression ‘communicate digitally’ we are referring to the many forms of digital communication and social networking used by the schools – the class blogs, online forums, websites, e-newsletters, email, school apps, online surveys and not simply the mainstream social media facilities.

Indeed it bears noting that many of the pathfinder schools have consciously opted not to use the latter social media in their digital communications suite, rightly believing they had no control over them.

In seeking to control the social networking the authors suggest viewing the facility in its traditional, wider sense of ‘a network of social interactions and personal relationships’ (OED). By adopting that perspective and appreciating the digital element is but part of the organisations effort to enhance all manner of human networking and collaboration one can more readily appreciate that part to be played in shaping the school’s ecosystem.

Intriguingly human networking has always rightly been viewed positively and the home-school collaboration it engenders has been shown to enhance student performance (Hattie, 2009) but the instant the digital is added the thinking changes. Emotions invariably rise, folk become paranoid and the positives that flow from humans networking and collaboration are often forgotten.

That said the pathfinders, like the authors recognise that by adding the digital to the social networking the schools enter into a vast, rapidly growing, largely ungoverned world that can hurt the school and its students. Within seconds of digitally distributing information the school’s message, often with an accompanying comment is redistributed throughout the social networks of the immediate and wider school community. The hope is that the accompanying comments will be positive and supportive but there is no surety.

The message coming through very strongly is that the schools that have successfully normalised the use of the digital will be appreciably better placed to control the social networks and manage the risk than other schools. The years of concerted and astute effort the schools have invested will invariably see them viewed positively by ‘their’ social networks. If per chance there were an untoward comment the school’s digital community would likely take ‘control’. Digital normalisation is only possible when the school has been willing to distribute the control of teaching and learning, and create a culture where the total school community is trusted, respected, empowered, and through genuine collaboration is made aware of all the school’s purpose and shaping educational vision (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

The related reality is that when schools – like all other organisations – attract a significant number of friends the algorithms underpinning the social media garner supporters and the social dynamics of the online make if that much harder for people to criticize the school.

Those without that ecosystem, that culture and years of concerted and astute homework and detailed understanding of the digital and networked world are far more vulnerable. They are highly susceptible to negative social networking, unable to call upon the kind of controls, the ecosystem support or the digital and networking acumen found in the digital leaders.

The message for all schools, at all points along the digital evolutionary continuum is be wary of the power of digitally based social networking, opt for digital communications facilities over which the school has reasonable control, avoid using high risk services and move as fast as possible out of the danger zone and into a digital environment where the school can exercise greater control over the message.

 

 

Ecosystems within Ecosystems

Digital Schools Growing Their Community

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In contemplating the digital evolution of your school and the creation of the desired school ecosystem appreciate that as your school’s digital ecosystem (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_ecosystem) grows so too will it increasingly interact with other ecosystems, local, regional and national unwittingly assisting those respective communities grow, while simultaneously furthering the school’s growth.

In making this observation the author is conscious it likely takes the reader into an as yet unexplored aspect of schooling.

The suggestion is you recognise:

  • the digital evolution of schools is occurring within an increasingly socially networked society
  • schools as social institutions are, and should be an integral part of that networked society, not as many would have us believe stand alone entities divorced from that world
  • social networking, while increasingly all pervasive and a potentially powerful educational facility is also an unbridled development, impacting – intentionally and unintentionally – all parts of the networked world, playing a significant part in the growth of all complex adaptive organisations
  • any consideration of the impact of the digital on schooling in a socially networked society needs to address the intended and the very considerable unintended impact, both within the school – as is normally done – but also upon the school’s community. With digital normalisation consideration should be given to the key ecosystems that interface with the schools, particularly the local and regional.

What is increasingly apparent is that as schools grow their digital ecosystem, the school’s growth will simultaneously and unwittingly grow the digital capability of the school and its community (Lee, 2015). In communicating the educational importance of the digital, in using it astutely and naturally in the everyday teaching and all the school’s operations, in assisting the children to use their own suit of digital technologies in and outside the school walls the pathfinder schools are also unintentionally saying to their communities, and in particular to the parents, carers, grandparents and each of those folk’s social networks the digital is important.

At the same time the school – particularly through the students – is assisting enhance the digital proficiency of all within its immediate community. The use of a school app for communication and interaction, the encouragement of the children to use of apt technologies and the children’s exploration of the emerging technologies all impact on the extended family’s 24/7/365 use of and thinking about the digital. The unwitting pressure for all in the extended family to use the current technology sees those loath to use the digital technology normalise its everyday usage.

Quite unintentionally – at least at this stage in history – the school is assisting grow the digital prowess of its community.

That is particularly apparent in those regional communities with pathfinder schools, where the digital prowess and application is appreciably greater than nearby towns where the school is not providing the digital enhancement.

Significantly as the school’s community enhances its digital proficiency so its expectations of and support for the digital in the school will rise.

The parents, the relatives of the children within that ‘digital community’ will invariably wear numerous hats, as town planners, business owners, software developers and work within other regional digital ecosystems. They will see the benefits for their children and the wider community in the various ecosystems interacting and collectively working to develop an environment that grows the total region.

That is what the author, along with Morris and Lowe found in the far south coast of Australia (Lee, Morris and Lowe, 2015).

The trend is very much suggesting, like it is with the digital masters in industry that the digital pathfinders in growing their school ecosystem will also grow their community, its life, culture, its digital proficiency and in time its industry.

If that is so it takes the role of schooling, and in particular digital schools into a new, different and very powerful position.

The author appreciates the above is cutting edge and needs far more research but as you address your school’s digital evolution it is suggested you look carefully at the interaction with other digital and networked ecosystems, the impact and the implications.

Bibliography

  • Lee, M (2015) ‘Digital Schools Grow Digital Communities’. Digital Evolution of Schooling. October 2015 – at www.digitalevolutionofschooling.net
  • Lee, M, Morris, P, and Lowe, S (2016) ‘Hub and Spoke Networking Model: On Reflection.’ Digital Evolution of Schooling February 2016 – at www.digitalevolutionofschooling.net

Where to Now, Education

Ricoh is running a series of blogs on its new educational services site.

I was given the challenge of identifying – in 1400 words – where to now.

The thoughts can be read at – http://comms.ricoh.com.au/educate-blogs-Where-to-Now-Education.html

Mal Lee