Category Archives: The Digital and Empowerment

Digitally Connected Families

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

(This is the first of four short blogs on the work we are currently undertaking on the impact of the digitally connected families of the world on the 24/7/365 digital education of the young, in the period 1993 – 2016.  For years the focus has been on the schools. We are strongly suggesting the world needs to better understand the lead, and highly laudatory roles of the young and their families, and their 20 plus years use of a highly successful laissez faire learning model.)

The digitally connected families of the world over the last two decades have played a remarkably successful, yet largely unseen, role in enabling their children to secure an ever evolving 24/7/365 digital education.

In researching a forthcoming publication on the impact of personal mobile technologies on the digital education of the world’s young, since the advent of the WWW the role of the family rapidly became clear. It is the young with their families outside the school walls that have primarily provided the requisite digital tools and education – not the schools.

In 2016 3.4 billion plus people (ITU, 2016) – half the world’s population – accessed the networked world.

Well over a billion were likely young people.

Few had learned to use that current, mainly mobile, digital technology in schools. Rather that understanding had been acquired in the developed, developing and underdeveloped worlds with the monies and support of the children’s families.

It is time the world – and particularly the parents, the young themselves, educators, policy makers and governments – recognised, and built upon that remarkable achievement.

Critically it is also time to understand that those families employed – unwittingly but naturally – a laisse faire model of learning and teaching fundamentally different to the traditional highly controlled, structured and sequential school approach. Vitally they have used an approach appropriate for a rapidly evolving digital and socially networked world. Schools in comparison are still very largely using an educational model from the Industrial Age.

The education in using digital devices from the outset occurred outside the school walls. For the parents this happened in a completely laisse faire, market driven, naturally evolving environment where government had no voice and provided no support. For the young it enabled learning from incidental opportunistic moments to in some cases very focused and intense self-driven learning. It was the young with the monies and support of their families who took control of the learning. Critically it was parents who believed in the educational importance of the digital for their children who funded the technology, and empowered and supported their children’s largely unfettered use.

It is – as most are aware – an informal education, largely self – directed, highly individualised where the learning is invariably non-linear, seemingly chaotic, dynamic, undertaken in context and just in time. It is an approach the young found highly appealing, exciting, relevant and intrinsically motivating. From 1993, the advent of the WWW the learning started to take place 24/7/365, and by the early 2000s the evolving technology allowed it to happen anywhere, anytime.

Ironically from the outset the role of the young and the family was bolstered by the schools’ insularity, their worldwide retreat to behind their cyber walls and their purported desire to protect the children from the dangers of the Net.  The young and their families were left by default to fend for themselves in that 80% of learning time available annually outside the school walls.

Disturbingly today many, if not most schools still work behind those walls not recognising, supporting or building upon the out of school digital learning and education. The schools that are notable exceptions to this are engaging with families and supporting the children’s independent learning because of their own drive to do so, often battling education authority regulations and systems.

Free of the constraints of formal schooling and government, the young and their families took charge of the digital education, continually growing their capability as the technology grew in power and sophistication.  Internet uptake figures globally reveal the families of the young led the way (Lee and Winzenried, 2009). In 1999 a comprehensive study of the use of computers in Australian schools concluded:

The majority of the students who have the basic skills developed them at home (Meredyth, et.al, 1999, pxvii).

That was happening naturally and largely unseen globally.

As the young evolved their digital capability and facility to readily use of all manner of current technologies so too did their parents, as evermore used the technology in their work and came to rely on the increasingly sophisticated mobile technology.

In 2008 Pew Internet released a study entitled ‘The Networked Family’ (Pew Internet, 2008) which noted the US had reached the evolutionary stage where the new norm was for all within the family, the parents and the children to base their lives around the everyday use of the digital. They were working within a digital and socially networked mindset, normalising the use of all manner of digital technologies in every facet of their lives.

….this survey finds that couples use their phones to connect and coordinate their lives, especially if they have children at home. American spouses often go their separate ways during the day, but remain connected by cell phones and to some extent by internet communications. When they return home, they often have shared moments of exploration and entertainment on the internet (Pew Internet, 2008).

The Pew findings, coming as they did around the time of the release of the iPhone in 2007, correspond with our own which saw in the period 2007 – 2009 those families becoming the norm across the developed and increasingly the developing world.

The authors and the 50 plus eminent observers interviewed in our research, have concerns about the title ‘networked family’ conscious of the ambiguity that comes with the physical networking of organisations and homes.

The strong preference is for the term ‘digitally connected families’, aware that it is the all-pervasive connectedness provided by the digital that has allowed both the nuclear and extended family to employ the technology in all facets of their lives.

Digitally connected families are those where the parents and children use the evolving suite of digital technologies naturally in every desired facet of their lives, that employ a digital mindset and which have – or nearly have-  normalised the use of the digital.

A key facet of the digital mindset (Bhaduri and Fischer,2015) is its acceptance of the rapidly evolving nature of the technology, and the transformation it has and will continue to occasion. This is widening the gap between the young’s experience of learning in and out of school

They created a home environment where the new norm was for all the family – the children, parents or increasingly the grandparents – to naturally, almost unwittingly contribute to the on-going digital learning. How often does one hear – dad, you can do it easier this way?

In the decade after the release of the iPhone and the touchscreen technology the educational capability and leadership of the digitally connected families grew at pace. As the parents normalised the use of the digital, became more digitally empowered and embraced the mobile and app revolutions, the Net Generation parents’ children entered school and the families of the developing and underdeveloped world employed the technology in ways unbounded by Western educational traditions so the gap between the digital education provided in and out of the schools grew ever wider – with most schools lagging ever further behind the societal norm.

The capability of the digitally connected families of the world has been exemplified in the last 3-4 years as the pre-primary children from two to three years of age have embraced the mobile touch screen technology. As the 2015 European Commission study (Chaubron, 2015) of eleven European nations attests the families of the young have very successfully guided their children’s learning with the technology.  They have, like the other digitally connected families of the world led the teaching, well before most schools and decision makers understood that the pre-primary children of the developed and increasingly the developing world would enter formal schooling having normalised the use of the digital.

We are not suggesting for a moment that everything is perfect with the 24/7/365 education provided by the digitally connected families of the world.  There is a substantial gap between families in their ability support their children’s astute application of the digital.  As Ito and her colleagues (2013) attest in a laissez faire environment, like that of many schools, the educationally advantaged continue to be advantaged and the disadvantaged possibly further disadvantaged.

Rather the desire in this short post it is to

  • highlight the importance of recognising their immense achievement of digitally connected families
  • flag their use of a dynamic, freewheeling learning and teaching model which has successfully educated the world’s young in the use of the current technology, at no cost to governments
  • highlight the ease with which the model has accommodated rapid digital evolution and transformation – at a time when most schools struggled and remain in a state of evolutionary equilibrium
  • begin the thinking on the implications of this historically important development.

In the next post, we’ll address more fully the digital leadership of the digitally connected families and the opportunities that flow.

Bibliography

Technology Agnostic

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Recognise that in the school’s evolutionary journey and the quest to normalise the use of the digital you’ll be working towards a situation where the school is technology agnostic: where it doesn’t matter what personal technologies or operating systems those within the school community choose to use.

So long as the chosen technologies can readily access the Net as far as the school is concerned it doesn’t matter which folk choose.  While it is likely wise for schools to provide continually updated advice, part of the trusting and empowering of the school community is letting each member make the choice of the desired personal technologies.

Let the user, the learner, the client decide.

We appreciate for many raised and trained during the Microsoft hegemony, who experienced the Apple – Windows ‘conflict’ and who believed that all in the school had not only to use the one operating system but also the same model of computer this will call might sound sacrilegious.

The technical imperative for the school to use the one operating system disappeared at least 5-6 years ago with the emergence of digital ecosystems able to readily accommodate the many different mobile operating systems.  One has only to note the ease of providing all manner of smartphones, phablets and tablets instant access to the Net to appreciate why all schools to be technology agnostic as soon as feasible.

The assumption that all students and teachers must use the same hardware and software in the teaching and learning more to do with the

  • desire by the school – and its ‘ICT experts’ – to retain unilateral control of all aspects of the teaching, learning and technology resourcing
  • focus on the technology and its maintenance rather than on the desired learning
  • belief the young learn best how to use the technology when taught in a highly linear lock step manner, with the teacher in control, with all using the same technology, often with the school being able to monitor every key stroke
  • school’s distrust of and lack of respect for its students, parents and indeed most of its teachers
  • school’s insular mindset that focuses on that happening within the school walls, to the virtual exclusion of any student usage of the digital in the real world.

As schools mature digitally, genuinely collaborate with their homes, socially network, come increasingly to respect, trust and empower all within the school’s community and create a culture and adopt a mindset where the use of the digital is normalised the control over thinking disappears.

All come to appreciate that what matters is the facility of the technology – or more likely the student’s suite of digital technologies – to perform the desired functions.  In authoring an e-book it matters not whether the student uses an Apple, Android, Windows, Tizen or Firefox based system, or a mix thereof to create the final product.  While the ‘ICT experts’ will have their preference so too will each client.

That said, one can mount a case for a graduated shift and schools with limited technology staff opting to stay for a time with a common operating system.  However even those that have started this way soon open the doors for the students to use the kit they desire.

In embarking on your digital journey your school evolve at pace but so too will the technology and the practises one employs to derive the most from the current technology.

Work as fast as is feasible to shift from the traditional prescribed personal technology model to one that is technology agnostic.

Getting Your Staff to Fly

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In empowering your professionals the ultimate desire should be to have those staff fly, and for them to use their professionalism and the trust and autonomy accorded to continually search for the best possible education in a continually evolving world.

Lipnack and Stamps (1994, p18) in identifying the underlying principles of a networked organisation twenty plus years ago wrote of the importance in rapidly evolving, socially networked, increasingly integrated organisations of

  • Unifying purpose
  • Independent members
  • Voluntary links
  • Multiple leaders
  • Integrated levels

In elaborating on the concept of ‘independent members’ Lipnack and Stamps presciently observed

Independence is a prerequisite for interdependence. Each member of the network, whether a person, company or country can stand on its own while benefitting from being parts of the whole (Lipnack and Stamps, 1994, p18).

That is vital, but oft forgotten.

Digitally based, socially networked and ever evolving organisations need professionals with the mindset, confidence, wherewithal, independence and support to take risks, to grasp the emerging opportunities, to try things out, to work alone, with others or in teams and who can astutely adjudge when to push forward or to take another course of action. They need team players who can think independently and question the organisation’s practises and long held assumptions as the organisation evolves and transforms its operations.

Schools need staff – teaching and professional support – at all levels, and within all areas of the school willing and able to take the lead in enhancing the school’s operations, who understand the school’s shaping vision – its unifying purpose – and who can do so astutely at pace.

They are professionals who can fly, who can continually explore new paths, question current practises and continually energise and grow the school. They, as mentioned earlier, go to make the pathfinder schools the exciting places of learning they are, assisting create schools with cultures more akin to the ‘start ups’ than that those found in most traditional schools. Critically those ‘flying’ and taking advantage of the opportunities being opened are invariably the everyday staff of old who the school has empowered and assisted to grow. They are most assuredly no some specially trained change agent.

They are also staff that in many instances will opt to fly into leadership roles, often in other schools, helping in time grow the staff in the new settings.

While the focus will naturally be on the teachers it is equally important the professional support staff have the independence to assist grow the school. Indeed within increasingly integrated school ecosystems it will be important not only to have ‘multiple leaders’ within all areas but also the ready facility for voluntary links with leaders from different operational areas.

It is appreciated the concept staff independence, the letting of all to fly and taking risks will be an anathema to most schools and the ‘teaching standards’ bodies but if schooling is to evolve at a pace that meets the rising digital expectations of society – and not lag as it now does – it needs embrace the change. Bureaucracies micro managing schools every move will see the schools lag ever further behind societal expectations, move into a state of equilibrium and the place the viability of many schools in question (Lee, 2015, 5).

In staff flying and the schools moving at pace into the unknown schooling will experience the same kind of evolutionary journey as all other digitally based and socially networked organisations, business or public sector. Mistakes will be made, and valuable lessons will be learned as these highly dynamic organisations pursue their shaping vision.

Peter Drucker at the end of his illustrious career astutely observed:

‘To try and make the future is highly risky. It is less risky, however, than not to try make it (Drucker, 2001, p93).

Schools need very much to get their staff to fly, and fly at pace if they are to shape that desired future.

  • Drucker, P (2001) Management Challenges for the 21st Century, NY Harper Business
  • Lee, M (2015, 5) ‘Schools have to go digital to remain viable’. Educational Technology Solutions August 2015
  • Lipnack, J & Stamps, J 1994, The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York

Empowering the School Community

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Tellingly all the schools studied have gradually but very surely empowered their total school community – giving their teachers, professional support staff, students, families and the school’s wider community- a greater voice in the school’s teaching, learning, resourcing and direction setting – markedly expanding the school’s capability and improving its productivity.

Significantly the schools have

  • fully empowered their professional staff
  • accorded all in their community greater respect
  • recognised the part all can play in enhancing the 24/7/365 education provided by the school
  • collaborated with all in lifting their understanding of the macro workings of the school and the school’s shaping vision
  • in the process distributed the control of the teaching, learning and school resourcing.

Yes – in all the distribution of control, the collaboration and the empowerment has added to the load on the school leadership, but paradoxically it has simultaneously provided the school principal considerable untapped support and additional resources. All the principals commented on the time needed to genuinely collaborate and listen, the many frustrations and the seemingly inevitable rectification of well intentioned mistakes, but on the upside the empowerment has added appreciably to the teaching and learning capability of the school, its resourcing, and the support and social capital the principal can call upon in growing the school and its attractiveness.

Schools in the developed world historically are working with their nation’s most educated cohort of parents and grandparents who since their child’s/children’s birth have recognised the importance of a quality education for ‘their’ children and who in their home and hands have a suit of digital resources that markedly exceeds that in most classrooms. All moreover have in their community a sizeable and growing body of retirees with considerable expertise, time on their hand and a desire to be valued.

The above alone is a vast source of expertise and additional resourcing the pathfinder schools in their social networking and empowerment are only beginning to tap.

Within a matter of years the now digitally mature schools in their digital journey have moved culturally from the stage where most within the school’s community were disempowered and had little or no voice in the workings and growth of the school to the point where the total school community is naturally contributing to the daily operations of the school.

It is a historic shift that has been led by the principals – a move that has to be led by the principal.

The move has been graduated, often seeing two steps forward and one back, but inexorably reaching the stage where the empowered expect to be involved in the decision making, if only to be informed of a development that clearly improves the school’s quest to realise its shaping vision. In empowering the school’s community, and vitally by bringing the parents into the 24/7/365 teaching of their children, schooling as we have known it – where the professionals unilaterally controlled the teaching and learning – has likely irrevocably changed.

The digital interface with the school’s community that allows ‘time poor’ members to be consulted and informed about key developments has been – and likely will always be – critical.

That said the empowerment will not be without its moments, particularly as a previously disempowered staff and school community attune their antenna to the extent to which they will be able to express their thoughts and use their new found power. That situation will – as mentioned – be compounded by the ever changing student cohorts and the school leadership having to contend with those new to the school’s culture and ways.

Here again the astute leadership of the principal is critical as she/he works to harness the potential of the empowered while simultaneously maintaining the focus on realising the school’s shaping vision and providing each child an apt education.

It calls for some very skilful balancing but also remembering that in undertaking the digital journey all the adults – teachers and parents – will be experiencing a mode of schooling significantly different to that they knew in their youth.