Category Archives: Digital ecosystems and student learning

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

 

BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling

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

It is now available free as an e-book.

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

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

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

The School Digital Ecosystem and Enhanced Student Learning

Mal Lee

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 role within a digitally based school ecosystem; an ecosystem that is tightly integrated, strongly focussed and which simultaneously addresses all the variables that enhance student learning. When children are able to tackle a group project employing the digital technologies they use 24/7/365 the teachers can astutely build upon each child’s digital and social competencies, address the shortcomings, all the while teaching the desired material in a more individualised manner.

The signs are also indicating that the sophisticated digital base that already provides schools numerous additional opportunities to enhance the student learning will increasingly do so in the years ahead.

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

No one in 2015 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, highly focussed, tightly integrated, ever evolving digitally based ecosystems.

And yet in 2015 teachers, principals, governments and 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.

It is time to appreciate the traditional, simplistic way of looking at the impact of digital technology on student learning has to fundamentally change. The impact of the digital on student learning can be profound if an apposite school ecosystem is created. However as indicated (http://teacher.acer.edu.au/article/digital-schools-an-evolving-ecosystem, http://teacher.acer.edu.au/article/the-importance-of-byot) its creation is challenging and entails the simultaneous addressing over time of a plethora of critical variables, human and technological (Lee and Broadie, 2015).

We all need to recognise that the impact of the digital technology on student learning is complex, far more deep seated than previously thought, is largely non-linear in nature, and appears to flow in the main from the astutely shaped, thoughtfully orchestrated, ever evolving, increasingly higher order, highly attractive, 24/7/365 digitally based school ecosystems that increasingly marry the in and out school learning.

That profound impact is evidenced in those pathfinder – early adopter – schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia operating on a digital base where the total school community is able to capitalise upon, in a genuinely collaborative manner, the normalised the use of the digital in the teaching and learning.

Of note is that all of the schools studied were performing above their socio-economic status and adding value to the student learning. That said all were moreover astutely led and managed, highly efficient, with an empowered staff that had embraced a culture of change, of a mind to take risks and work to make best educational use of the openings afforded by all within the school’s community having the digital in their hands. They were all good schools.

The Implications.

The implications flowing from the emergence of these digitally based school ecosystems are many, profound, often unexpected and are only now becoming apparent, and then only in that as yet rare cadre of schools with a mature digital ecosystem.

That said, there are two areas of flow on that warrant close immediate consideration.

  • Research on the impact of the digital technology

Surely the time has come for those in schools, education authorities and tertiary institutions to cease looking for a linear connection between the technology and enhanced learning, and to address the impact of the digital school ecosystem – and all its associated and closely interrelated elements – upon each child’s learning and how that impact might be enhanced.

Higgins and his colleagues at Durham in their meta-analysis of the impact of the digital on learning concluded

Taken together, the correlational and experimental evidence does not offer a convincing case for the general impact of digital technology on learning outcome (Higgins et al, 2012, p3).

In researching and writing The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) and examining the claims made of and research undertaken on each of the major instructional technologies of the 20th century the author found the Durham conclusion consistent with the findings on the impact of all the earlier technologies.

The challenge of analysing and researching unique, tightly integrated, rapidly evolving, ever transforming school ecologies experiencing considerable natural organisational growth is likely to be immense, and will require some fundamental rethinking and different methodologies. This is a very different mode of schooling to the traditional insular, loosely coupled, silo like, paper based school characterised by its constancy and continuity. Where in the latter one could readily conduct a two or year longitudinal study in a digital ecosystem a plethora of key variables, not least of which will be the software, are likely to change significantly within months.

  • Potential opportunities to enhance student learning

A digitally based school ecosystem, where all within the school’s community have in their hands a suite of evermore sophisticated digital technologies they can use anywhere, anytime 24/7/365, provides – as evidenced in the operations of the pathfinders – a platform from which to harness all manner of opportunities to enhance the learning of each child.

Those opportunities are explored in depth in ‘Digital Technology and Student Learning’ (http://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2014/07/15/digital-technology-and-student-learning-the-impact-of-the-ecology/).

Suffice it to say that the pathfinder schools have already taken advantage of the digital to cultivate opportunities simply impossible or impracticable without the digital platform to

  • markedly strengthen the degree of home-school collaboration
  • adopt an increasingly 24/7/365 mode of networked schooling
  • use the personal technology to better individualise the teaching
  • make the teaching more relevant and attractive to appreciably more students
  • adopt an increasingly higher order mode of teaching
  • enhance teacher efficiency
  • achieve previously impossible synergies.

Importantly the schools, like business (Thorpe, 1998) have also recognised that even with the most prescient of benefits identification in this rapidly evolving environment unintended benefits will emerge, benefits that need to be immediately optimised.

Conclusion

The digital transformation of schooling and the emergence of unique, evolving digital school ecosystems that transcend the school walls fundamentally alters the way educators need to address schooling, teaching and learning and enhancing each child’s learning.

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/

Lee, M and Broadie, R (2015) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages Broulee Australia – www.digitalevolutionofschooling.net

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