Category Archives: networked schools and society

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