Category Archives: Unintended benefits digital schooling

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.

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

Pathfinder Schools as De Facto Policy Makers

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Unwittingly the pathfinder schools of the world, those that have normalised the use of the digital, have become in many areas of schooling the de facto policy makers and are on course to be increasingly more so.

Developmentally the pathfinder schools are invariably quite literally years ahead of the central office policy makers, obliged daily to decide on the appropriate practises, procedures and policies as they take their schools into unchartered territory.

The schools moving beyond the Digital Normalisation stage are entering into completely unexplored territory. How they evolve none of us know. Scour the literature and you’ll find no hint of what is likely to transpire.

The decisions those pathfinders make, how they deploy the emerging technology, the type of schooling they provide, the practises and policies they adopt will strongly impact the later adopter schools, far more in many areas of schooling than any central office bureaucrat, working party or academic.

It is a new reality that astute policy makers and academics should build upon, rather than as now being seemingly oblivious to the development.

Significantly in a globally networked world where schools as complex adaptive systems are evolving in a remarkably similar manner the pathfinders are unknowingly creating policy for the early and later adopter schools worldwide.

While the policy makers have only a local brief the pathfinders are unwittingly working on a global remit.

Analyse the attributes of the pathfinders (Lee and Broadie, 2016) and you’ll see they have shaped policies on the likes of home-school collaboration, staff empowerment, equity of student access to technology, pooled resourcing, recognition of out of school learning, BYOT and student responsibility for operating their chosen technologies years before the local education authority.

Moreover look at the trend line and you’ll appreciate that while the pace of digital evolution in the pathfinders is accelerating the operations of the local bureaucracy remain unchanged.

While structurally the pathfinders have the agility needed for rapid on-going transformation, organisationally bureaucracies are struggling in the cutting edge policy areas.

The pathfinders, like the digital masters in industry are using the vast body of data generated by their many digital systems to research the way forward on the fly, finding limited value in traditional, invariably dated rearward looking, external research by those who don’t know their situation.

Critically the pathfinders are operating within an ever evolving digital mindset, making decisions in a paradigm largely alien to most of the bureaucrats, committee members and academics who invariably will be working within a paper based paradigm, or as Bhaduri and Fischer (2015) describe, an analogue mindset.

So profound is the difference in mindset many pathfinders struggle to explain their work to colleagues and bureaucrats working in traditional settings.

The authors openly admit that while we have researched the pathfinder schools for over a decade we too struggle to keep up with the pace of digital evolution. All we can do is take snapshots of the schools at moments in time.

It is those in the early adopter schools who are calling the shots, unwittingly making many of the policy decisions and having them taken up globally before the local authority moves.

As Professor Glenn Finger observed in conversation in the traditional paper based schools where constancy and continuity were the norm school policy development invariably took the following form

Educational Research – Policy – Practice

 

Policy development, with its various white and green papers often took years.

Within the pathfinders that slow measured approach has been replaced by

Emerging Technology – Pathfinder Schools – Practice – Research – Policy

The pathfinder schools are in many areas of schooling the educational leaders, the de facto policy makers charting the ways for the later adopter schools, the policy makers and indeed government, rendering much of the traditional policy making and educational research irrelevant.

They are translating the emerging, increasingly sophisticated digital technological developments into classroom, school wide and potentially system wide practice at such a pace that most educational researchers and educational administrators struggle to comprehend the significance of the development let alone shape it.

It is a new reality all policy makers, those in the pathfinder schools, the education authorities and indeed educational researchers need not only to be aware of but which they should build upon .

 

Digital Schools Grow Digital Communities

Mal Lee

It is becoming increasingly apparent that when schools normalise the use of the digital, employ a mature digital ecosystem and become networked school communities the schools not only markedly enhance the learning of the students, but they also develop a synergistic relationship with their community, that assists both it and the school to grow digitally.

We have been aware for some time it takes a digital village to educate the child in a socially networked world.

What is becoming clearer is that digital schools in playing that lead role in providing that education are unwittingly, simultaneously and without any concerted effort assisting grow the school’s digital community and that community in turn is assisting grow the school.

Digital schools are unwittingly and naturally helping to grow the lives and economic capability of their community.

Traditionally schools researchers have focussed on the student learning within the school walls, and the impact of the various variables within the school upon the learners.

In a digital and networked society when schools become networked school communities, whose impact transcends the school walls and where increasingly unintended dividends flow from the evolution of schools as complex adaptive systems it is vital one addresses all the changes being made by the digital, the intended and the unintended, the educational and the far wider.

It is time to look outside the box, to look not simply at the impact on student learning, and to identify and optimise the desired unintended benefits – as is done in industry. As organisations become more integrated, with all the operations interconnected and ever evolving it is critical to examine the evolving totality.

It is also time for school leaders, education authorities and governments, local and national, to recognise that when schools go digital and networked the school will impact on the wider socially networked society and as such that impact needs to be understood and where apt built upon.

In going digital and networked schooling should no longer be regarded as a stand-alone enclave that is the preserve of the professional educators, but rather as integral part of the evolving networked society and economy.

While the prime focus of schools should be the provision of the desired student learning when digital schools can simultaneously and without any extra effort or expense markedly assist the growth of digital communities and their earning capacity that capability should be tapped.

The Digital School and its Community.

In normalising the total school community’s use of the digital largely unwittingly the pathfinder schools have

  • strongly proclaimed and daily demonstrated to their homes – their clients – the critical importance of the digital in the children’s 24/7/365 schooling and growth
  • grown not only the digital competence and creativity of the students but simultaneously that of the parents, siblings, carers, grandparents and family friends
  • forever changed the parents – the clients – view and expectations of schooling and helped them recognise the school’s dynamic, ever evolving nature
  • assisted strengthen the parent’s digital mindset, enhanced their understanding of digital learning ecologies, and on-going transformation and the need in an evolving digital world of shaping the desired future, taking risks and learning on the move
  • assisted open the eyes of those in the homes to the emerging possibilities with the digital in their own lives, work and education
  • enhanced the homes’ appreciation of the critical importance of astutely integrated digital ecosystems
  • in their trust of and close collaboration with their homes daily, without any extra effort or expense on the school’s part accounted for their teaching practises and strongly marketed the school
  • moved the school to the position where the ecology naturally educates current and prospective parents on the evolving nature and expectations of the digital school.

Interestingly most of this has been done as an unintended ‘by product’ of digital normalisation and the move to a 24/7/365 mode of schooling, with minimal effort or expense from the school. Yes all the pathfinder schools have in going digital spent time and effort early on educating their parents to the new ways but as the change took hold with both the students and parents, and the digital ecosystem matured so that need decreased as the natural evolutionary growth impacted.

In being proactive, fostering a culture of change, distributing the control of the teaching and learning, in genuinely collaborating with the parents, in trusting the children to use their own digital kit, in adopting open websites and opening the door to the school’s workings and critically in having the digital underpin all school operations the school is not only better educating the children but is simultaneously unwittingly bidding and supporting all within the homes to lift their digital competence. Those parents, and in particular those grandparents not using current digital technologies feel compelled to get and keep up to speed. All within the home largely unsaid lift their digital capability. Home networks are upgraded. Birthdays and Christmas become important technology upgrade occasions. As the children make use in and out of school of the emerging apps, the various online offerings and facilities like Google’s applications for education so there is a natural desire by all in the family to be able to use those facilities as well.

While there is in the pathfinder schools a spread of digital expertise the parents, from information industry professionals through to the early users, it appears the digital understanding and mindset of the total group is continually being lifted as the technology becomes more sophisticated, knowledge of its possibilities grows, the school continually updates its practises and the expectations rise. While still embryonic it is interesting to observe the number associated with a pathfinder school also desirous of promoting the creation of digital start ups.

While further research is needed talk to any within the parent community of the pathfinder schools and you’ll soon appreciate how strongly and naturally they have embraced the digital and switched on they are to the digital possibilities. This is a clientele, increasingly Millennial, as Westerman et.al (2014) reveal, who no longer differentiate between online and face-to-face experiences, who out the school walls have already normalised the use of the digital.

The school community wide impact of the digital upon the wider school community can be evidenced in two seemingly small examples, the adoption of the school app, and the integrated teaching of coding from the early childhood upwards.

In opting to formally communicate with the children’s homes and the school’s wider community via a school app, and an app intended primarily for mobile technology the school community soon abandoned long established paper based practises and limited expectations and embraced a mode for clients living and working in an ever evolving, time short digital world. The apps readily and inexpensively handled all types of tailored digital communiques, from regular lengthy e-newsletters, reports, quick surveys and emergency notices. They completely replaced all manner of slow and inefficient paper communiques. In observing how the parents of children on a year cohort excursion were notified digitally of a delay because of traffic it struck me:

  • how attuned the school was to its client’s, and their 2015 expectations
  • how poor had schools been in looking after their clients, all too often using the communications challenge to do nothing.

Similarly in observing the ease with which a group of 6-7 year olds had incorporated coding – using Scratch – in their small group creation of an e-book for English it impressed how

  • at ease were the children with the facility and applying its underpinning logic
  • many skills and concepts they were simultaneously addressing and developing in the one integrating task
  • different it was to traditional segmented silo like teaching
  • transferable were the suite of skills and attributes being developed to most other areas of future study, work and life
  • important it was for the parents and the wider school community to understand and build upon the children’s 21st century capabilities.

When one encounters young ones eager to demonstrate their coding skills and hears 7 year olds casually commenting that the image for the e-book is in her Dropbox one can soon appreciate why the parents are daily experiencing a mode of schooling and teaching through their children’s eyes dramatically different to their own but which they can see is appreciably more relevant and meaningful.

In accommodating these new digital practises, in understanding and supporting their children’s digitally based learning, in appreciating its 24/7/365 nature the parent community will continually enhance its digital understanding, capability and connectedness.

As it does, as it strengthens its bond with the school, as it pools its resources and expertise with those of the school and comes to ‘own the school’, as the community members involve themselves in other digital initiatives the parent community like the school staff will continue to lift its understanding of the digital, to better appreciate the kind of opportunities opened by digital evolution and will continually lift its expectations of the school.

It will, usually unwittingly, continually expect that much more of already very good schools but in contrast to the past where they had been shut out will build on the close ties with and macro understanding of the school and assist in all manner of ways the school to grow and continue its digital evolution and transformation.

What is already apparent globally is that as the digital standing of the pathfinder schools grows so too will be the demand to enrol extra students in the school. The corollary is that the demand for places in nearby paper based and late adopter schools will likely fall and put the viability of those schools under serious question.

Conclusion

In making these observations it is appreciated that in 2015 the number of pathfinder schools globally that have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital and grown their digital community is small.

Notwithstanding those schools are the vanguard of what is to come, the attributes they are displaying being a logical extension of the trends evidenced in their evolutionary journey (Lee and Broadie, 2015) and consistent with the wider digital transformation of organisations.

The micro ecosystems these pathfinder schools are impacting are most readily apparent in villages and small regional towns, but the likely reality is that on closer examination they’ll also be found around the pathfinders in the cities.

The hope is that this short note will open eyes and minds to the societal and economic implications of the development and what astute communities and their leaders could do.

  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2015) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages Broulee Australia – Retrieved 20 April 2015 – http://www.digitalevolutionofschooling.net
  • Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press