Category Archives: Evolving school ecologies

Cutting Through the Technology Hype

Minimising the waste and maximising the effectiveness

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

aaeaaqaaaaaaaaxnaaaajgvmymrmnmy4ltg5zdgtngvlny1im2vkltvhymy4ymi5mwe4ng

A growing and perpetual challenge schools will face in their digital evolution is that of successfully cutting through the immense and often very sophisticated hype associated with all emerging digital technologies, to acquire the technology needed and to avoid wasting scarce monies, social capital and teacher’s time with the unnecessary and the ineffectual.

This is where the principal’s digital acumen is tested.

While the technology companies have over the last century plus displayed considerable marketing expertise in winning over the school market globally (Lee and Winzenried. 2009) their efforts in recent years have become that much more sophisticated – and in some instances one might say insidious. Most of the companies are simply doing their utmost to sell their product, but recent studies on a development known as ‘edubusiness’ indicate a few could be using their involvement in educational testing to ‘validate’ the selling of their instructional technology.

The studies by the likes of Hogan (http://researchers.uq.edu.au/researcher/11666, http://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?tag=anna-hogan) and Lingard (http://www.educationincrisis.net/blog/item/1243-complementarities-and-contradiction-in-the-pearson-agenda) provide an insight into the techniques some of the multinationals employ to secure and hold the school’s custom.

Those studies underscore why the head, as the school’s chief architect and final decision maker, has to be able to cut through the technology hype (Lee and Finger, 2017), and why it is vital the school has a ‘chief digital officer’ (Lee, 2016, 1) who can provide the principal the requisite expert advice.

While those of us studying the evolution of the digital technology in schooling have observed the finite hype cycles of all the major instructional technologies over the last fifty plus years, and the often still very considerable gap between the technology rhetoric and the reality, daily we continue to watch schools and governments spend vast monies on dated and dubious technological ‘solutions’.

Schools, education authorities and indeed governments globally have over the last forty plus years wasted millions of scarce dollars acquiring inappropriate and unnecessary digital technologies. They continue doing so today. Election after election globally one sees the ‘in technology’ offered up to the voters. The poor decision- making is not only costly but also wastes the teachers’ time and impairs the productive use of the apt technology.

Disturbingly this has been so with all manner of instructional technologies since the magic lantern (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) and is likely to continue until schools – and principals in particular – exercise the requisite acumen and leadership in shaping the desired totality.

How great that waste of money and time has been no one knows. Suffice it to say any who have been associated with digital technology in schools for any time will be aware of the monies that have been, and are currently being wasted, the staff’s frustration of being lumbered with inappropriate technology and the damage caused the digital evolutionary quest when ill conceived decisions are inflected on the school. For example in the recent elections in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) the subsequently successful Labour Party pledged to provide every student an iPad. This ‘one size fits all approach’, that would be controlled by the Government’s ICT experts, without regard to each school’s situation was offered to some of the most affluent electorates, in one of the world’s most affluent nations. No thought was seemingly given to the reality that virtually every child in that wealthy city state already had a suite of personally selected digital technologies, that the children from a very early age had already normalised the use of the digital 24/7/365 and that the government was both duplicating the home buys and imposing a ‘solution’ that would stymy the digital evolution of its schools.

Sadly the ACT scenario is being replicated worldwide, probably daily by other governments, education authorities and schools. All are still focussing on the parts, and not the creation of the desired tightly integrated digitally based ecosystem (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 17).

It takes astute decision makers, supported by apt processes to acquire and secure access to the digital technologies required, to see through the hype and spin, to reject the unwarranted, and to minimise the waste and maximise the effectiveness of the technology.

It requires of them very good crap detectors.

Fortuitously it would appear the first of the schools have attained a digital maturity and an understanding of the desired totality where they can markedly minimise the risk of acquiring the unnecessary technologies, while simultaneously ensuring their staff, students and parents have the digital tools and resources required.

That said we’d suggest it is impossible for schools not to make mistakes. Digital evolution and transformation is by its very nature risky, the way forward uncertain and while the digital technology has improved markedly there is still often a large gap between the promised and actual performance. Mistakes, some substantial were made by all the schools studied. All one can ever do is to minimise the risk.

That risk can be markedly reduced by:

  1. Giving schools the power and responsibility for ‘acquiring’ the digital instructional technologies they require, getting the central office ‘ICT experts’ out of the play with the personal technologies (Lee and Levins, 2016) and having the latter focus on providing the bandwidth and where apt the network infrastructure. Be willing to say no to undesired technological solutions offered by the ‘ICT experts’, be they in or out of house.
  2. Ensuring the Principal and ‘CDO’ oversee all key digital technology decisions. All buys should enhance the desired school digital ecosystem and as such one needs both a whole of school digital technology budget, and most assuredly not the traditional discrete faculty/unit budgets, and simple checklists and processes that lessen the chance of the school purchasing inappropriate technology solutions.
  1. Moving the school to an increasingly mature digital operational base, distributing the control, empowering the school’s community and having all better understand the role the balanced use of the digital and socially networking can play in creating the desired culture and digital ecosystem. Having all, rather than a few ‘experts’ understand the desired role of the technology is vital.
  1. Pooling the digital technologies of the student’s homes, the school and its community and distributing the risk, particularly with short life cycle technologies. Schools don’t have to own the desired personal technologies to ‘acquire’ them. Indeed it is far wiser not to buy them, except in special circumstances.
  1. Adopting a BYOT policy, and in turn normalising the whole of school use of the student’s own suit of evolving digital technologies. BYOT – and having each student select, acquire, support and upgrade each of his/her chosen suite of hardware and software places control in the hands of each user and largely removes all the risk for the school and government associated with most of the short life personal technologies. With BYOT the school basically removes from its remit the near impossible task of continually funding and selecting the desired personal technologies for each child, while at the same time empowering its clients. By all means offer advice but the school and vitally government has no longer to worry about all the hype and risk surrounding the plethora of short-term personal technologies.
  1. Appreciating that the richness of the educational resources on the Net and the multi-media digital creation facilities and apps in the student’s hands significantly reduces digitally based schools having to buy packaged teaching resources – digital or print.
  1. Networking or working collaboratively with other ‘educational’ services, distributing or totally removing the risk to the school.
  1. Renting apt Cloud or app services. Many schools have over time built very extensive and expensive hosting facilities, the services on which have to be continually updated with the associated risk and costs. The rental of continually upgraded apps and Cloud based services removes much of that hosting cost and the many associated risks.

It also helps if the leadership:

  1. Understands the Gartner Hype Cycle (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hype_cycle,) and those technologies whose life cycle is shortening. Appreciate – as Lee and Winzenried identified in their 2009 study and description of the life cycle of instructional technologies – many of those technologies will never move beyond the ‘hype’ phase, dying before they are viable. This harsh reality tends to be overlooked in the more recent Gartner studies. Think of the literally thousands of education apps and software solutions – many created and promoted by governments – that never really moved beyond the hype phase and ‘sit’ unused. The other point to appreciate is that in general terms the life cycles of even the economically successful instructional technologies are getting shorter.
  2. Avoids the acquisition or leasing of short life cycle digital technologies. The prevailing perception of likely most schools and the auditors is that the technology will remain current for years. The fact that it won’t and will be soon superseded needs to be understood.
  3. Recognises the total cost of ownership of the technology, and the importance financially, operationally and user wise of very high reliability, low maintenance and the ease of being integrated in the school’s digital ecosystem.
  4. Is aware of the moves by the major technology companies globally to ‘own’ the school and its data, their desire to ‘hook’ schools financially into long term financial commitments and is very wary about entering into any long term financial agreements with those technology companies.
  5. Is continually alert to the likely unintended impact and benefits that will flow from the 24/7/365 use of the digital and the importance of optimising the desired (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 21).

Conclusion

The ability of the head – with the help of the ‘CDO’ – to cut through the digital technology hype, to ask the telling questions and identify if the technology can assist the school realise its shaping vision is a critical leadership skill increasingly required in all digital schools. The failure to do so can at the extreme, as too many schools and education authorities have found, bankrupt the organisation or at the very least deprive the school and authority for years of scarce resources.

That is an unwarranted risk that can be easily avoided if the school’s leadership continually asks if the suggested new technology is needed and ensures the due diligence is undertaken.

 

  • Gartner (2016) ‘Gartner’s 2016 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies’ Garner Newsroom, August 2016 – http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3412017
  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016, 21) ‘Optimising the Intended and Unintended Benefits’, Digital Evolution of Schooling June 2016 – http://schoolevolutionarystages.net/?m=201606

 

 

The Digital Infrastructure and Ecosystem

0516_cio_infra_g_20160517082749

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The successful digital evolution of the school necessitates it having an apt, continually evolving and largely invisible underpinning digital ecosystem.

It necessitates embarking on the digital evolutionary journey with the desire to create that digital ecosystem as soon as is feasible and to continually enhance its ability to assist deliver the desired education of each child.

Indeed one of the important lessons to be learned from the pathfinder experience is to openly share with one’s colleagues and school community the quest to create an increasingly powerful and productive digital ecosystem.

Without that infrastructure and an astutely shaped highly effective digital ecosystem all the school can do is dream.

Campus wide access to the Net within the school should be super simple. One click and all systems go.

Everything we have written thus far in this series of blogs is prefaced on the assumption that the school has

  • the apt underpinning electrical and digital base
  • created a mature highly effective and reliable digital ecosystem that continually supports the school’s efforts to realise its shaping educational vision.
  • provided its total teaching and learning community ready 24/7/365 use of that digital ecosystem.

To evolve digitally every school needs have

  • a highly reliable supply of electricity
  • apt total school campus wide Wi-Fi access
  • ample, but ever greater bandwidth
  • limited and reasoned Web filtering – with the school observing the laws of the land
  • current digital presentation technology in every teaching room
  • all having in their hands and using their chosen suit of personal technologies
  • personal technologies it can provide children in need
  • all staff – teaching and professional support – with the digital tools needed for their work
  • in its website the digital interface between the school’s digital ecosystem and the socially networked world
  • digitised all school administration and communication – gradually shedding all paper based processes
  • integrated all its digital operations, in and outside the school walls in its shaping of a highly productive ecosystem

The last point is critical.

One should be seeking to create from the outset an increasingly higher order and more efficient and productive ecosystem where all the digital technologies are geared to supporting the realisation of the school’s shaping vision, in manner consistent with the school’s culture.

The shaping and the daily governance of that apt tightly integrated digital ecosystem should, as indicated be the operational responsibility of the school’s ‘CDO’ or his/her equivalent.

It does, within a rapidly evolving environment where empowered members are actively encouraged and supported to take risks, require a ‘CDO’ with high-level people skills who can balance the quest to allow teachers to fly with the need to maintain efficiency. It most assuredly can’t be done by a part time ICT committee or by a network manager lacking the prerequisite high-level educational prowess and people skills.

Three of the early tasks before embarking on the digital evolutionary journey is to;

  • do a brutally honest appraisal of the school’s digital infrastructure and its capacity to readily allow everyone to access the Net at speed any time, anywhere they wish.
  • explain the imperative of creating the desired, ever evolving digital ecosystem.
  • select a ‘CDO’ and his/her team. As indicated the finding of the ‘CDO’ can be hard, but from the outset you’ll need someone responsible for overseeing the shaping and daily workings of the digital ecosystem.

It is highly likely that many of the digital operations to be overseen by the ‘CDO’ will currently be undertaken within separate silos, with those in charge of each often reluctant to relinquish their power.

It is thus important from the outset to emphasise the quest to create the tightly integrated digital ecosystem and to underscore the importance of its daily governance.

In 2016 many if indeed not most schools don’t have the requisite total digital infrastructure and most assuredly have yet to appreciate the imperative of integrating all the parts to form an increasingly powerful and productive digital ecosystem.

It is appreciated the school’s location and its resources can frustrate that quest but all too often the major impediment is the school’s leadership, and its unwillingness to prioritise the creation of a powerful digital ecosystem.

In the mid 2000s Mal observed that all schools in the developed world could if the head considered it a priority find the funds to place IWBs in every teaching room and network the school.

A decade on with the drop in technology and network pricing, markedly enhanced equipment reliability, virtually all children having their suit of personal technologies and growing societal digital expectations there is no reason other than leadership why any school in the developed world should not have an adequate whole school digital ecosystem. While concerns are expressed about lower SES schools the reality is that globally, developed societies fund schools on a needs basis allowing all such schools to acquire the technology if the principal desires.

If your school wants to evolve digitally prioritise the resourcing and formation of the underpinning digital ecosystem.

Remember getting the technology in place is the easy step.

Getting the school’s community to use the ecosystem to best advantage is the challenging stage.

 

Politicking School Evolution

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

On first glance this might appear to be an unusual topic to include in the digital evolution of schooling. You’ll not see mention of it in any school planning document.

But the reality is that every school, small and large and indeed every organisation seeking to evolve digitally needs leaders skilled in the politicking of change, ready to apply those skills whenever the opportunity arises. The organisational change literature (Kanter, et.al, 1992) suggests up to 20% of a leader’s time can be spent directly or indirectly in politicking the desired change. It could be much more.

In most instances one is looking at small ‘p’ internal politicking but there could well be times – quite pronounced in some settings – where the school leadership needs to astutely engage in large ‘P’ politicking and to work with the professional politicians in advancing the school’s evolution.

It is appreciated state school leaders across the Western world as public servants are invariably prohibited from the latter type of ‘collaboration’ but as any who have worked in school administration for some time appreciate there are ways of safely activating supportive politicians as sponsors of a change.

If one is to successfully lead the digital evolution of a school, either as principal or as a member of the leadership team one needs to be skilled in the art of politicking the desired change and the protection of one’s back. The latter is important.

It is critical the leader secures the requisite support and endorsement at each key stage of the evolutionary journey and nips in the bud any moves that could distract the school from realising its shaping vision.

That entails very good people skills, astute social networking, the securing of sponsors and promoters of the change, the generation of a strong reserve of social capital, respect, the close daily monitoring of the school’s total operations and an appreciation of when it is necessary to secure the endorsement of various parts of the school’s community before making the next step. That endorsement doesn’t always have to be formally minuted but it is always helpful to have at least an email record of any agreements for possible future reference.

It also entails – when the circumstances dictate – the principal being willing to make unilateral decisions. Hansen in his excellent study on Collaboration (2009) talks of ‘disciplined collaboration’ and the necessity of leaders ‘assessing when to collaborate (and when not to)…stressing the ‘goal of collaboration is not collaboration, but better results (Hansen, p15, 2009).’

The latter is often forgotten.

It becomes particularly pertinent as the pace of the digital evolution accelerates, natural nonlinear growth impacts and the school realises ever more unintended benefits.   There is scant time or indeed interest in scrutinising every step and a willingness to let those at responsible make the decisions provided they are consonant with the school’s shaping vision.

The pathfinder school experience strongly suggests, particularly in the early stages, the evolution can be two steps forward and one step back. One is most assuredly not looking at a clear linear, A to B to C evolutionary path even with the best of planning and politicking.

It is easy to forget that in going digital schooling is embarking on one of its most momentous historical changes, and is doing so in a historically remarkably short period. It is very likely that none of the school staff or parents has ever had a digital schooling, and as such has a clear understanding of what is entailed.

It is an immense change to politick, to manage and have accepted as the new norm.

It is thus imperative that one sell the school’s evolution not only with the staff and the educational decision makers but also with the school’s student, parent and wider school community – with one’s clients –and ensure as best one can the clients are supportive of the school’s evolution and growth.

Virtually all the parents have only known the traditional paper based mode of schooling and while generally supportive of the digital they will retain a degree of ‘digital paranoia’, will at times default to the traditional ways and interestingly will likely expect the school to ‘fix the problem’ even when the responsibility has supposedly been shifted to the parents. In brief even when giving an endorsement, such as supporting BYOT many parents will not grasp the full implications of that approval.

The challenge is amplified when each year the school takes on a new student parent cohort.

You’ll soon find the students, even the very young will be your greatest political allies, particularly when you empower and collaborate with them, and ensure they are taught how the 24/7/365 use of their digital technologies can enhance their holistic education. There are few things more powerful politically than having a total student group able to articulate to parents and visitors how the digital is improving their learning.

Experience suggests it will take time for the digital transformation of schooling to be fully accepted, but that acceptance can likely be accelerated by genuinely collaborating with all the ‘teachers’ of the young – the staff, the students, their families and the wider school community – respecting and recognising their contribution, empowering them and having all appreciate the macro workings and aspirations of the school such that all can assist with politicking the evolution.

  • Hansen M.T (2009) Collaboration: How to Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results, Boston, Harvard Business School Publishing
  • Kanter, R.M., Stein, B.A. and Jick, T.D (1992) The Challenge of Organisational Change NY Free Press

 

The School ‘Chief Digital Officer’

Back view image of young businessman standing against business sketch

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Every digital school needs a senior staff member responsible for daily providing the school community the digital ecosystem that will enable it to realise its shaping educational and digital vision.

It is not a job for a committee.

It is a task for a high level professional educator.

It doesn’t matter what title the position carries – be it deputy head, e-learning coordinator, director of information services, digital technology or CDO – what is important is to have a person with operational responsibility for all facets of the school’s digital operations.

What is critical is that the school has an astute, visionary senior educator with good people skills and a high degree of digital expertise responsible for shaping, operating and growing the school’s digital ecosystem.

Business and many large public sector organisations are appointing high-level, very well paid chief digital officers (CDOs) to shape and coordinate all the digital operations of the organisation and to ensure all are directed to assisting realise the desired vision (Lee, 2016).

Tellingly all the successful pathfinder schools unwittingly have had such a person, albeit under different titles, with all having long abandoned the reliance on the part time ICT committee.

The provision of an apposite, ever evolving, increasingly powerful and productive school digital ecosystem that meets the particular needs of the school is a highly challenging task. It requires a leader and a team willing to actively support the distributed control of teaching, learning and resourcing that can provide the desired digital expertise, direction setting, infrastructure, services and support.

What is critical is having an educator who shares the principal’s digital vision and macro understanding of the workings of the school, with a strong awareness of the digital, able to work collaboratively with an empowered staff in providing the apposite tightly integrated digital platform.

The position requires an appreciation of the school’s shaping educational vision, the kind of digitally based ecosystem and school culture that will best realise that vision and the facility to provide the total digitally empowered school community the apposite, ever evolving, seamlessly integrated digital ecosystem.

It most assuredly does not require an ‘ICT expert’ who unilaterally decides what technology all in the school will use.

Critically it needs a visionary educator able to collaborate with a digitally empowered staff, students and parents, ensuring all are provided with the opportunity to fly with the digital, who can simultaneously govern the school’s use of the digital and ensure multiple systems and offerings are appropriately integrated and refreshed.

It should go without saying schools won’t evolve digitally and be able to govern the astute whole of school community use of the digital with a part time, invariably ‘bolt-on’ ICT committee. It is a job for the professionals with the time needed to fulfil this critical role.

If you still have an ICT committee get rid of it ‘tomorrow’, appoint the requisite professionals and integrate all matters digital into the everyday workings and growth of the school.

The role of ‘CDO’ is – as elaborated upon in The Chief Digital Officer and the Governance of the School Digital Ecosystem (Lee, 2016) – and the now many business management publications – is a demanding job, requiring a special talent and a skill set rarely if ever taught at the postgraduate level in education faculties.

Most in the role have like the digital leaders learnt on the job, invariably supported by astute heads.

It is highly likely at this point in time that you too will need to grow such a person. Look to mentors who can assist that growth.

We’ve gone out on a limb and stressed the school CDO needs first and foremost to be an educator, with a strong understanding of the total workings of the school, very good people skills and a high level understanding of the digital. One can readily grow the digital understanding but not the high level educational.

Our message for all school leaders embarking on the digital evolutionary journey is to find very early in the piece a ‘chief digital officer’ who can translate the vision into reality.

Bibliography

 

Pathfinder Schools Enter the New Frontier

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

3147

The first of the pathfinder schools are entering a new historic frontier, taking schooling into the world of the unknown.

Importantly they are very well prepared to make that move and thrive with the on-going uncertainty, evolution and organisational transformation.

It is a development that governments and education’s decision makers would do well to recognise and to build upon.

One is talking about those as yet rare schools that have moved beyond the Digital Normalisation stage where they normalised the whole of school community use of the digital and which are building upon that digital platform to provide an as yet embryonic 24/7/365 mode of schooling (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

In so doing they are entering a world where no schools have entered and which from hereon the early adopter schools, as self regulating units, will be obliged to continually shape their desired future.

It is a new reality that the digital masters in business have learned to thrive within but it is something very new – and possibly very scary – for traditionally risk adverse education policy makers. Digitally evolved organisations exchange the certainty of hierarchical control for trusting relationships where improvement is devolved by empowering staff, with apparently more scope for failure but in reality far more success, from the breadth and depth of innovation well outweighing the risks

What lies ahead for those schools, what form the schools, as ever evolving complex adaptive systems, that are interfacing with all manner of other digital ecosystems within an increasingly socially networked world will take no one knows. The futurists can make their guesses but that is all they can do. Yes the schools will be able to benefit from some research on specific teaching initiatives but always the research’s relevance will need to be adjudged in context.

Significantly the pathfinder schools in their shaping of their digitally based socially networked ecosystems have unwittingly readied themselves to thrive in the unknown.

The pathfinder schools have positioned themselves to continually thrive and take advantage of the virtually endless educational options opened by the Digital Revolution by;

  • taking control of their own growth,
  • embracing a culture of change,
  • empowering their communities,
  • identifying and focussing on the desired shaping educational vision,
  • collaborating closely with and listening to their clients,
  • distributing the control of the teaching,
  • learning and resourcing,
  • building a strong underpinning digital base
  • and normalising the whole of school community use of the digital.

The schools are by virtue of their digital normalisation free of most of the constructs of the paper based world and its strong ‘site’ based thinking (Lipnack and Stamps, 1994) and are of a mind to continually attune their operations to the changing environment.

They are finally in the position, as largely autonomous self regulating units, to exercise considerable control in shaping the mode of schooling – the school ecosystem – that they believe will best meet the needs of their students in an increasingly sophisticated digital and socially networked society.

We say ‘considerable control’ advisedly because although the pathfinders are developmentally years ahead of the government decision makers and have in many areas become the de facto policy makers they, like all other schools are obliged to work with a suit of givens. All for example will be constrained by the resourcing, staffing agreements, physical plant, the obligation to care for the students within a specified time and the laws of the land, to name but a few of those givens.

We also say ‘considerable control’ because the schools are very much part of a wider continually evolving digital and socially networked society, impacted by all the forces at play in the society. They are also complex adaptive systems that will experience considerable and likely increasing natural growth and transformation – much of which will be common of schools at this evolutionary stage globally (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

That said the pathfinders have shown their ability to shed the ways of the traditional paper based school and to shape increasingly sophisticated digitally based school ecosystems with the agility to thrive in the seeming chaos of the frontier. They have become the type of self-regulating unit that Helbing (2014) has flagged as being essential to future organisational growth and evolution in the Digital Revolution, where the pace of change and degree of uncertainty renders the traditional centrally controlled bureaucracy archaic.

The key is for all to recognise that the pathfinder schools, like their counterparts in business will from hereon – largely regardless of the dictates of government – work in unchartered territory, taking charge of their own growth and evolution, heavily dependent on the professional staff collaborating closely with an empowered community in identifying the best way forward.

It also important that governments in particular appreciate that these schools are well prepared to continually thrive within the unchartered frontier and that government instead of relying on the traditional ‘expert’ committee that invariably identifies the way forward by looking through the rear vision mirror would do well to learn from and actively support the pathfinders.

What is clearly apparent is that the schools and their communities have through astute leadership been readied to enter the new frontier with their minds open, accepting of on –going change and evolution, with an organisational form and culture that allows them to readily adjust course when required.

They are not aberrant outliers but a vital insight into how all schools can be readied to continually thrive in a rapidly evolving digital and networked society, where no one can tell with certainty what lies ahead.

In many respects the pathfinders in schooling are no different to their counterparts in architecture or engineering in that they provide the later adopter organisations an important understanding of the evolutionary path ahead.

  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages: Evolution within the Threads, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com
  • Lipnack, J & Stamps, J 1994, The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.

 

 

Silo Like to Integrated Schools

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

A significant part of your digital evolutionary journey will be the school’s historic movement from its inefficient silo like organisational structure of Industrial Age origins to an increasingly integrated, efficient and productive one befitting a digital and socially networked society.

You’ll shift from the traditional arrangement where the various cells within the school – the classroom teacher, the faculty, the ICT unit, the library, the front office – operate largely autonomously to a significantly more integrated structure where all operations are interconnected and focussed on realising the school’s shaping vision.

A major – and again largely unwitting – driver of the shift will be the school’s move to a digital operational base and the recognition of the many benefits that flow from convergence and organisational integration. Digital congruence is the key. The physical networking of the school and the ubiquitous use of all manner of digital technologies that can talk to each other make redundant many practises and quickly remove the strict divisions between the operational units.

The vast majority of the world’s schools, and in particular the secondary are still impacted by the factory model with its strong division of labour and the assumption that if each unit on the production line does its job the students would graduate with an appropriate holistic education.

Many over the last fifty years have questioned that assumption and some schools have made major strides in adopting organisational structures that open the way for a more holistic education.

Until relatively recently the major impediment to the running of a more integrated school has been its underlying paper base. Paper as a technology has major limitations, the most important of which is the requirement that the information thereon has to be physically transported to its recipient/s. The high level use of that technology necessitated close physical proximity. The delivery of a paper to another member of staff meant getting up and physically delivering the information.

While philosophically and organisationally the school might have wanted to integrate its efforts while ever it retained its paper operational base its efforts would be frustrated.

Networks and the digital technology change the game. Not only does the digital operational base negate the physical and logistical shortcomings, stimulate operational integration but it also allows full multimedia creation, 24/7/365 communication, interaction and storage – all at pace and with little cost. Few have yet to sit back and analyse the impact alone of the physical networking of schools in that 90’s and early 2000’s.

The experience of the pathfinder schools would suggest the shift from the loosely to more tightly coupled school will be gradual, incremental and will accelerate the more the school matures its ecosystem.

That acceleration will be assisted by the school’s:

  • tightening focus on its shaping educational vision
  • efforts to ensure all school operations are directed to realising that vision
  • rising digital expectations
  • recognition that digital congruence is the crux
  • trust and empowerment of its staff and community, and efforts to ensure all have a better macro understanding of the school’s workings
  • endeavours to shape an increasingly mature and powerful school ecosystem
  • daily efforts to create an evermore productive ecosystem, that marries the in and out of school learning and resourcing

Experience has demonstrated that the integration will in general terms occur much faster in the primary or elementary school than in the high schools. The structural hurdles and cultural mores of the high school are far harder to overcome than those in the primary school.

In the secondary school in addition to the challenge of changing the culture, and shifting the focus away from paper based external exams there is the invariable silo like organizational structure and the fiefdoms and their warlords keen to retain their power base.

In brief if you are leading a secondary school on its evolutionary journey be prepared for a long and at times painful graduated shift.

 

Winning over the clients

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The bottom line in a market driven economy is that every school – state and independent – has to attract and retain sufficient clients to remain viable.

The new and added challenge for schools – that business is already grappling with – is how to win the continued patronage of the client’s year after year, student cohort after cohort in a world of rapid change and evolution? As Nokia, Blackberry and Yahoo can attest client support in the digital world can be momentary. What are perceived as exemplar schools today within years could suffer the same fate as Nokia if they don’t continue to attract the clients.

Both are realities that many schools don’t appear to recognise or to factor into their planning. You should in readying your digital evolutionary journey.

Compounding the challenge many of the same principals and teachers appear loath to view the students and their parents as clients, seeing them simply as ‘conscripts’ obliged by law to attend the school, fortunate to have access to their professional expertise.

That belief is particularly apparent in schools at the lower school evolutionary stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016). At that stage the leadership and indeed most of the teachers are firmly of the belief that the educational experts should unilaterally control all aspects of the schooling. The students and parents should be acquiescent and accept the control given by government to the experts.

The expectation of those schools is that the students and the parents accept the established ways and will, without question attend the local school.

That might have been acceptable to students and parents in the past. It might even be acceptable in some situations today where there is no alternative to the traditional mode of schooling but it is increasingly less tenable where there are good digital schools ‘competing’ for the student custom.

The stark reality in a market driven democracy is that if parents want to get their children into the desired state school – and they are willing to play the political game – they will invariably succeed.

In 2016 the clients, the customers expect the market – and not the government – to govern their choice. Moreover they expect organisations will not only meet, but hopefully will exceed their needs and wants. As soon as another organisation is perceived to do that better they will likely take their custom to the superior provider.

The same is on trend to become increasingly a feature of schooling, with the marketplace determining the winners (Lee and Broadie, 2016…).

Forrester’s in its research on digital transformation of organisations concluded:

  • The customer experience is at the heart of digital transformation. With customers in the driver’s seat of their interactions with brands, businesses must create positive and relevant customer experiences across channels and touch points. As a result, digital development and customer experience improvement are two key priorities for businesses (Forrester, 2015, p1)

The same holds true for schools.

We would urge all embarking on the digital evolutionary journey to treat your current and prospective students and parents very much as your clients. View them as clients who could take their custom elsewhere if they perceive their needs are not being meet. Follow the lead of the digital schools and indeed the digital masters in business and the public sector and focus first and foremost on the clients and recognise the increasingly tenuous hold you have on their patronage.

Putting their needs to the fore, listening to them, communicating with them through multiple channels, striving to continually improve the schooling, positioning the learner at the centre of the teaching and doing the utmost to ensure each child continually receives the appropriate schooling 24/7/365 in a rapidly world will go a long way to towards changing the focus and nature of the schooling and ensuring the school’s continued viability.

While many have advocated since the 80’s that schools should better meet their client’s needs most have not done so until they moved to a digital operational base, began lowering the school walls and recognised the considerable value of genuine collaboration with their current and prospective clients.

The challenge of identifying your client’s needs in the midst of the Digital Revolution is considerable. But the case study digital school experience strongly suggests that if the school trusts, respects and empowers its clients and works collaboratively them in their identification they will be satisfied and will work with the school in helping identify and meet the rising expectations.

That said as an educational leader within a rapidly evolving world you, like the leaders in industry will be expected to identify the client’s needs well before the clients recognise that need. The genius of a Steve Jobs was his ability to read as yet unarticulated customer needs. That will increasingly be desired of school leaders as they seek to identify the kind of attributes desired of the young twenty, thirty years hence.

That critical task is made that much easier if the school is focussed its clients and winning them for the long haul.

Forrester (2015). Digital Transformation in the Age of the Customer. Forrester for Accenture. October 2015 – https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/Accenture/Conversion-Assets/DotCom/Documents/Global/PDF/Digital_1/Accenture-Digital-Transformation-B2B-spotlight.pdf

 

 

 

Think Digital, Not Analogue

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In undertaking your digital journey your mindset – and that of your school community – will gradually change and evolve, slowly but surely moving away from the traditional paper based, strongly analogue way of thinking, shifting to a far more digital and socially networked mindset.

The change – based on the experiences of the pathfinder schools – will likely be gradual and for a period one will default to the traditional ways but over time the digital mindset will become so natural as for you not to think about it, until you encounter those still operating in the analogue mode!

Examine the attributes at each of the key evolutionary stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016)) and you’ll note the pronounced change in thinking that occurs as the schools evolve and how by the Networked stage the school, the teachers and indeed the parents have adopted a very different mindset – a very different outlook and set of expectations to those at the Paper Based and Early Digital stages.

The digital mindset is in many respects antithetical to the analogue.

Bhaduri and Fischer in a 2015 Forbes business magazine asked ‘Are You a Digital or Analogue Leader? While directed at business leaders the two-page comparison of the distinguishing features of each type of leader remarkably parallels the change in thinking identified by the authors in the leaders in the pathfinder schools.

Download the comparison from – http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfischer/2015/03/19/are-you-an-analog-or-digital-leader/ – discuss it with your colleagues and position yourself.

By virtue of brevity the comparison verges on the black and white but critically it makes the point that it is the mindset of the CEO/the principal which strongly impacts the nature of the organisation and its culture.

Principals operating within a digital and networked mindset will run a very different kind of school to those ensconced within an insular analogue mindset.

Interestingly many of the pathfinder principals commented on their difficulty in explaining to traditional principals and teachers the nature of the schooling they were providing – so different were the two modes. Even in 2016 many school leaders can’t envision schools changing. They genuinely believe they know everything there is to know about schooling. In contrast the digital leaders are highly ambivalent about the form their schools will take in future years, even five years hence. While the former’s is a world of constancy and certainty the latter’s is world of rapid uncertain change and evolution where one forever on will be leading the school into uncharted waters.

What can you do to expedite the change in mindset in your school? We are not really sure.

Those associated with the pathfinder schools – and that includes the staff and the wider school community – have made the shift as part of the school’s evolution, it invariably taking years.

Logic would suggest the later adopter schools should learn from the early adopters and be able to hasten the change in thinking but the authors’ strong suspicion is that the deep-seated change in mindset will only come from the everyday association with evolving school ecosystems and cultures.

You’ll lose little by discussing the shift with your staff, by publicly noting significant shifts in thinking but bear mind historically you are talking about changing a mindset that has shaped schooling for hundreds of years. Moreover on your evolutionary journey you will need to change the thinking of all your staff, the students, the current and prospective families and indeed the wider school community while simultaneously addressing the plethora of other key variables.

That said the school will be operating integrally within an increasingly socially networked society, where most in the school’s community will have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital technology, will have rising expectations of the digital and where many of the parents will in their work be employing a digital and networked mindset

There is much to be said for being conscious of shifting the mindset but letting the continued evolution of the school and the societal pressures naturally do the job.

Bibliography

 

The Educational Power of Digital Ecosystems

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

What we are about to suggest will for many be contentious.

It is a suggestion that Mal has elaborated upon at http://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2014/07/15/digital-technology-and-student-learning-the-impact-of-the-ecology.

It is to our minds a logical extension of all the previous writings on the growing power and impact of increasingly focussed, more tightly integrated digitally based school ecosystems and a rejection of the current naïve assertion that the digital instructional technology will somehow of its own volition enhance student learning in particular subjects. The technology alone never has and never will (Higgins, et.al, 2012). It is the way that digital tools and the connected word make much better practice possible that has the impact on learning

That said ask any parent or indeed anyone in the street and they will tell you the normalised use of the digital has markedly impacted the lives of all but in particular the world’s young. Globally they have embraced it outside the classroom from a very early age, have become very confident and proficient in its use and daily use it in a remarkably universal manner, consciously and unwittingly to enhance their learning.

Our belief is that is that the power of the digital is far more deep-seated than currently envisaged by most. The power is not to be found in simple linear, A then B relationships, but rather in the interplay of the myriad of variables within highly complex adaptive ecosystems. Led astutely, these act to increase engagement with learning and time on task, levels of concentration and the help in learning students get from their peers as well as their teachers

The signs are increasingly suggesting that the greatest impact the digital technology will have upon student learning in the school will come from

  • the technology’s underpinning all-pervasive role within an ever evolving digitally based school ecosystem enabling all to work and interact much more efficiently and effectively
  • highly capable leaders and teachers able to make the best educational use of that digital ecosystem and to operate at a significantly higher professional level.

It is the educational power of tightly integrated, focussed digitally based, socially networked school ecosystems which allow teachers of all types to simultaneously address 24/7/365 all the variables – in and outside the school walls – that enhance student learning. This far exceeds what is possible within a loosely coupled, largely insular paper based school where the teaching occupies less than 20% of the child’s learning time each year.

Critically while the power of the underpinning digital technology will grow at pace and the digital ecosystem will evolve, mature and move to an ever higher order, the capability of the paper based school has long been maximised and as such will basically stay as now.

No one in 2016 would suggest that a carmaker would enhance its productivity by simply installing a robot or that Apple’s success is solely dependent on a single piece of technology like an iPad. The enhanced productivity of the digital masters in the corporate world (Westerman, et al, 2014) comes from skilfully shaped, expertly led and staffed, highly focussed, tightly integrated, ever evolving digitally based ecosystems.

And yet in 2016 teachers, principals, governments, some technology companies and journals globally perpetuate the myth that one has simply to acquire the latest digital kit and as if by osmosis school learning will be enhanced. Decades of research (Higgins et al, 2012) affirm there is no significant linear connection between the use of digital technologies and enhanced student attainment. The randomised controlled trials on which this research is based cannot adjudge the individual attitude changes that occur in pupils’ and teachers’ brains, which foster the willingness to commit greater time and concentration, and that enable the higher order interactions and better learning

However until schools develop an apposite digital school ecosystem, adopt a culture therein that empowers the teachers, students and parents, and actively support all to take a lead role in the astute use of the digital in the 24/7/365 teaching of the young and which positions the school to grow schools won’t be able to take advantage of those opportunities and continually enhance their productivity.

It is time to appreciate the traditional, simplistic way of looking at the impact of digital technology on student learning has to fundamentally change.

Bibliography

Higgins, S., Xiao, Z., & Katsipataki, M. (2012). The Impact of Digital Technology on Learning: A Summary for the Education Endowment Foundation London: EEF. Available at: http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/The_Impact_of_Digital_Technologies_on_Learning_FULL_REPORT_(2012).pdf

Lee, M (2014) ‘Digital Technology and Student Learning’, Educational Technology Solutions – July 15, 2014 – http://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2014/07/15/digital-technology-and-student-learning-the-impact-of-the-ecology/

Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

Trust and School Evolution

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Trust is critical to the digital evolution of the school and achieving digital normalisation.

The principal needs to trust and empower all staff, the students, the parents and the supporting community. That trust will be repaid in numerous, very positive ways.

Trust fundamentally changes the nature of the schooling and opens the way for a more collaborative 24/7/365 mode of schooling and resourcing.

The traditional hierarchically structured school is based on distrust. It is deemed imperative that a small executive team exercises unilateral control over all school operations. Neither the classroom teachers, the support staff, the students, the parents or the community can be trusted, and their roles must be carefully managed from on high. The ethos is at root one of teachers and pupils doing what they are required to do on pain of sanctions, rather than an ethos of mutual expectation that what is required will be done because that is the job that the whole community is collaboratively engaged in.

The history of the use of instructional technology in schools (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) over the last century has been characterised by its distrust of teachers to use the technology wisely. That history sees teachers being obliged to secure licenses to use the gear, instructional technologies being ‘teacher proofed’ and ironically from around 1984 the ‘ICT experts’ controlling every facet of the digital technology. That distrust extends through to current times, as witnessed by the California iPad debacle.

That distrust might well be evident throughout your school operations today.

The distrust stymies the school’s facility to make best use of its greatest resource, its people – its salaried staff, students, families and community. All feel disempowered and unrecognised, most unwilling to put in the extra yards to assist the school’s growth.

The experience of the pathfinder schools, extensively documented in the authors’ Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages (2016) is that when schools move to a digital operational mode they begin to use the technology to reach out beyond the school walls, to genuinely collaborate with their parent community and to recognise and respect the contribution the teachers, support staff, students, families and wider community can make to the holistic teaching of each child. If this process is not led by the Principal it is very likely to start happening surreptitiously, particularly amongst the pupils but with aware teachers also starting to use online systems and social networks

These schools begin to appreciate the benefits of more fully trusting all, empowering them and distributing the control of the teaching and learning.

That said it invariably takes time – likely years – before the leadership, and indeed the teachers, are willing to cede some of their power and distribute the control of the teaching, learning and significantly the digital technology resourcing.

In many school settings, as the work by Lee and Levins (2016) will attest, some of the most reluctant to cede that control and trust others are the ‘ICT experts’. Yes – for many the ICT ‘empire’ has been their power base, but if schools are to normalise the whole of school community use of the digital the control has to be distributed and all within the school’s community trusted.

The principal’s willingness to trust will be crucially tested when faced with the decision of letting the children use in class the suit of digital technologies they already use 24/7/365. Is the head prepared to trust the children and parents and go with BYOT or declare his/her continued distrust by going the BYOD route where the school specifies the personal technology? Is the principal willing to trust the students and parents, accepting what to him/her might not appear be a perfect solution but which in time with genuine collaboration will not only work well but yield many other dividends?

It is a critical decision in the school’s digital evolution.

Until the principal is willing to trust and respect each student’s and parent’s choice of technologies, and to genuinely collaborate with them in the teaching, learning and technology resourcing the school’s digital evolution will be stalled and digital normalisation unachievable. While there are schools with ‘successful’ (though expensive) approaches that provide all pupils with the same device, at the root of this is the school wishing to dictate the use of certain software or device. This puts the focus on the technology rather than on the task to be achieved and denies innovation as the devices and software inevitably age. Far better to decide what human and interaction functionality is necessary for all pupils to use their devices.

Reflect for a moment on your children’s normalised out of school use of the digital and you’ll appreciate it is dependent on your trust in them to use and maintain the technology wisely. Your children will invariably respect and build upon that trust such that in a relatively short time their use of the technology becomes so normal as to be largely invisible.

That is what is wanted within the school walls, but it is only achievable when the school has created a whole of school culture – ecology – that trusts, respects and empowers the students and their parents, and values the contribution they can make to the workings, safety, resourcing and growth of the school.

  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2nd Edition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/