Category Archives: Digital ecosystems and student learning

Natural Sustained Informal Learning with the Digital

 

Outside the School Walls

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The last twenty plus years reveal how successful the young of the world and their digitally connected families have been in learning with the digital informally in a naturally sustained manner – albeit outside the school walls (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

Sadly, that learning, like the success of the digitally connected families has been largely unseen.

It is time it is. and its global and historic significance is recognised, and the vital learning built upon.

Most when thinking about the young’s learning with the digital focus on the technological proficiency of the billion plus digitally connected young.

That proficiency with the current personal technologies is critical to the young’s all pervasive use and learning with the digital. However, in the total scheme of things far more important is the young, with the support of their families naturally taking charge of their learning with the technology, learning how to learn of their volition and with others, and being able to naturally sustain the learning in whatever domain/s they wish, lifelong.

Remarkably the billion plus digitally connected young have in a completely laissez faire, seemingly chaotic world in their use and learning with the digital naturally grown a suite of remarkably common capabilities. None of them have been planned, but are a natural unintended flow on from the Digital Revolution and the digital empowerment of the young. We’ve identified twenty-eight (Lee and Broadie, in press). Time and research might identify a few more, or few less.

What is important is that three quarters of the capabilities relate to the young’s learning how to learn, and only a quarter with the digital proficiency.

All are capabilities the young learn very early, well before school age and then grow throughout life.

With each child taking charge of his/her learning with the digital, and pursuing their interests and passions in addition to the common capabilities each will also have their own special capabilities, some being of a very high order.

A telling and fundamental difference between the young’s learning with the digital in and outside the school walls is that while of the school learning is constant that outside is dynamic, and naturally evolving, lifelong.

It is a significant difference, that few have noted.

In the school teaching the experts determine what is to be learned, how, by when and how it will be assessed and reported upon at the course conclusion. There is very much a beginning and an ending, and with the final assessment the sense that the learning – or at least a segment of – is completed.

In contrast the learning with the digital outside the school is decided upon and directed by the learner, learning what is desired, when and how, with there being no obvious beginning or end to the learning.  It begins at birth and will likely continue to death, as the digital continues its evolution. The control and nature of the learning will evolve in harmony with the technological change, going a long way to ensuring the young naturally accommodate exponential change.

Digital proficiency

The digital proficiency of the young is probably best expressed in the reality that near 60%, soon to be 70% of the world’s young are digitally connected (Ericsson, 2016), (Futuresource, 2017) and have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the current personal technologies in most every facet of their lives and learning.

The proficiency has to do with what the young at various stages of life want to do with the digital in their daily lives now, rather than what the ‘experts’ believe should be mastered for future application.

While the level of proficiency will vary with age, interest, expertise and support the bottom line for the first time in human history over half the world’s young are digitally connected, on trend in not many years for virtually all to be connected, able to instantly access and work largely unfettered the learning and resources of the networked world.

It a stark new reality, with immense implications that most governments, bureaucrats and schools have yet to seemingly grasp.

As is the reality that the young of the world have learnt – and will forever on learn – what they want, not simply what those in authority desire.

Moreover, twenty plus years reveals the digitally connected young will continue to grow the capabilities they desire outside the school walls – regardless of what governments or schools believe is important.

In their learning, they have demonstrated from around age three their ability to readily work the core functionality of the current personal and family digital technologies (Chaudron, 2015) – the smartphones, tablets remote controls, digital peripherals, games consoles, digital and video cameras, digital TVs, PVRs, home entertainment systems and the increasingly integrated family ecosystem.

Well before they can read, or start school they have learned to navigate the networked world and use the apt medium to access the desired functions.

Moreover, they have learnt to use the various digital communications facilities, largely toll free, strongly favouring the latest video communication technologies.

Over the last twenty plus years they have also learnt to use the new media creatively in the pursuit of their passions, unbounded by the traditional ways, and once again to do so from a very early age.  You’ve undoubtedly observed the many diverse and creative ways your own children or grandchildren have used the technology.

Contrary to the views expressed by many politicians and older members of society the research affirms (Lenhart, et.al, 2013). (Lee and Broadie, in press) teens have for many years been tech-savvy. Invariably they – operating as they are at the cutting edge – understand the dangers well before their elders and the policy makers.  That said the very young, with still forming minds require family guidance, and in general terms are not cognitively ready to use the Net unsupervised until around ten (Strom and Strom, 2010).

Learning how to learn

In examining the learning with the digital outside the school walls over the last twenty plus years what stands out is the young’s ability to take charge of their learning, to do so from the outset, to direct and individualise that learning and to learn how to learn (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

And as indicated to do so in a naturally sustained manner lifelong.

With their strong digital mindset, and rising expectations the digital technology underpins all their learning.  Their first step is to use the digital and the connectivity, unlike many older folk who default to the traditional ways.

Allied is their ability to teach other folk, particularly those older to use the new technology, and naturally contribute to the family’s learning.

They very quickly – well before formal schooling – become self-learners, with that vital educational ability to shape their learning with the digital, underpinning all they do.

In being empowered and trusted, and given the freedom to use the technology largely unfettered they soon learn what they want to learn, how and when, and vitally quickly identify when they need to improve that capability and how best to do so.  They very quickly, from the mid 90’s onwards, and from early life learned the art of improving the learning by themselves, with the aid of the technology or in collaboration with the family, peers and social network (Lee and Broadie, 2018). As the Pew research notes (Purcell, et.al, 2012) Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and the peers are called upon far more than any teacher.

And they don’t need to be tested!  Like all of us they reflect on their performance and when desired improved it.

In being free to use the digital as desired the young soon learn to use the technology and the Net to pursue their interests and passions, enhancing their learning in the area/s of interest, to an often very considerable extent (Ito, et.al, 2013). It matters not if it is pursuing an interest in contemporary music, astronomy, blogging, fashion design, apiary, drone piloting, professional gaming or coding apps. While kids have always had this freedom in their informal learning the parent’s provision of the technology overnight removed the traditional adult gatekeepers and allowed them to draw upon resources of the Net, the moment desired.

It moreover enabled them to decide the best approach to the learning. They – and not an adult – decide when to employ a discovery based, didactic or highly repetitive learning approach.

Similarly, each child chooses the digital tools they needed for the task at hand.

From the mid 90’s the adolescents and in time the very young – like all of us – soon learned the unwritten ways of the digital and online worlds, the parameters to work within, the universal mores to be observed and when they had crossed the boundaries.

Allied, in taking charge of the use of and learning with the digital the young from the 1990s have made extensive and increasing use of the connected world and human networking, it long being a natural, almost invisible part of their normalised use of the digital. Unwittingly, and initially unseen, the young increasingly build the number of contacts they can readily call upon for all manner of support when desired.

Very quickly the young abandoned the traditional academic boundaries used in the schools, and adopted a more integrated approach to learning, drawing on whatever areas of learning thought suitable (Lee and Broadie, in press).

Largely unseen the young also learned to make ever greater use of their visual intelligence in all they did.  This was particularly apparent in the two and three-year old children’s use of the touchscreen mobile technology (Chaubron, 2015), but it was – as you might have noted – apparent at all age levels and in the burgeoning use of video and images.

From the mid 2000’s the young increasingly grew the art of mobile learning, and using the resources in their hands, 24/7/365, just in time and in context. That preference for the mobile technologies is evidenced even when at home, where desktops in designated rooms gather dust. The young from very early in life don’t see the need to learn only in a physical place; unlike governments and schools that remain site fixated.

What should be stressed is that these are all vital educational capabilities in a rapidly evolving, uncertain and complex world, where it is essential to know how to learn with the digital, lifelong.

They might not feature in government education priorities but they are the vital generic capabilities the great educational thinkers have been arguing schools should develop for aeons.

Enhancing the learning

Over the last quarter of a century the young of the world have in historic terms learned to learn with the digital remarkably quickly and well, not only continually enhancing their digital proficiency but also their ability to take charge of their own learning with the technology.

However, the exponential digital evolution, with its increasingly powerful, sophisticated, integrated and complex technology and practises, and their global impact demands the world’s young continually enhance their capability.

Much will on current trends will continue to happen naturally. As the technology evolves so naturally will the requisite personal learning.

But there is the opportunity to lift the learning with the digital even higher, particularly now we better understand what has been learned and how.

The natural inclination is to look to schools to provide that enhancement.

Sadly, twenty plus years of history (Lee and Broadie, 2018) suggests aside from some exceptional schools that enhancement is not likely to come from them. Not only aren’t most of a mind to collaborate with the families, nor are culturally ready to embrace the five critical conditions required but all are still operating in linear, hierarchical Industrial Age organisations that lack the agility to accommodate accelerating change – even if governments allowed the schools to change.

Most lag so far behind where the young are at attitudinally and with the cutting-edge technologies all they would do is impede the young’s enhancement.

We accept that governments and most educators would not be of that view.

But the reality is that governments and schools that ban or markedly constrain the in-class use of the student’s mobile technologies and by default throw the responsibility to the family are not likely to provide any worthwhile assistance.

The enhancement most likely will come from the family building upon its better understanding the learning with the digital, its increasingly powerful digitally based ecosystem and it more deliberately growing the learning. It is its better understanding of how to learn, providing an increasingly sophisticated and powerful ecosystem, and as family more openly addressing the enhancement that will bring the improvement.

It will hopefully in time be the digitally connected families of the world shouting from the rooftops what they have achieved that will open society’s, government’s and school’s eyes to what has been achieved and what is possible.

Conclusion

The best learning practice with the digital has for years been evidenced in the digitally connected families of the world – and most assuredly not in its Industrial Age schools.

It is appreciated this view runs counter to the in-school and government thinking but it is time for educators and governments to look outside the school walls and recognise the natural sustained learning with the digital that has occurred, and is occurring daily, with most of the world’s young – outside the school.

With the digital it is imperative to examine what has happened, is happening and the major global trends, not simply at what governments want to happen.

In the natural, sustained learning with the digital most schools and governments have long been dealt out of the main game.

 

Two Models of Digital Education

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

From the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1993 the young of the world have experienced two models of digital education, that outside the school walls and that within.

Outside the young and the digitally connected families of the world employed –  unseen – the naturally evolving laissez faire model.  Within the school the young worked within the traditional, highly structured model.

It is time the difference is understood, the global success and benefits of the laissez faire recognised and lauded, and the serious shortcomings of the highly structured understood and addressed.

For much of the period the two models ran in parallel, with most schools showing little or no interest in the out of school digital education.

Around 2010 – 2012 the scene began to change when a handful of digitally mature schools began genuinely collaborating with their families in the 24/7/365 digital education of the children.  Those schools had reached the evolutionary stage where their teaching model and culture closely mirrored that of the families. They revealed what was possible with collaboration.

That said it took time for that collaboration to take hold more widely and for the most part the parallel models continue in operation today, with the difference between the in and out of school teaching growing at pace.

It is surely time for schools and government to question the retention of the parallel modes and to ask if taxpayers are getting value for the millions upon millions spent solely on schools when the digitally connected families receive no support.

Might it be time to employ a more collaborative approach where the schools complement and add value to the contribution of the families?

Without going into detail, it bears reflecting on the distinguishing features of the learning environment and digital education model, of both the digitally connected family and the school, and asking what is the best way forward,

The learning environments.

  • Digitally connected families

That of the families we know well. It has been built around the home’s warmth and support, and the priority the parents attached to their children having a digital education that would improve their education and life chances. The focus has always been on the child – the individual learner – with the children from the outset being provided the current technology by their family and empowered to use that technology largely unfettered.

Importantly the family as a small regulating unit, with direct responsibility for a small number of children could readily trust each, and monitor, guide and value their learning from birth onwards, assisting ensure each child had use of the current technology and that the use was wise and balanced.

The learning occurred within a freewheeling, dynamic, market driven, naturally evolving environment, anywhere, anytime, just in time and invariably in context. Those interested could operate at the cutting edge and the depth desired.

Very early on the young’s use of the digital was normalised, with the learning occurring as a natural part of life, totally integrated, with no regard for boundaries

The time available to the digitally connected family was – and continues to be – at least four/five times greater than that in the school.

It was to many seemingly chaotic, but also naturally evolving.

Very quickly the family learning environment became collaborative, socially networked, global in its outlook, highly enjoyable and creative where the young believed anything was possible.

By the latter 2000’s most families had created – largely unwittingly – their own increasingly integrated and sophisticated digital ecosystem, operating in the main on the personal mobile devices that connected all in the family to all manner of other ecosystems globally.

  • Digital learning in the school.

The general feature of the school digital learning environment has been invariably one of unilateral control, where the ICT experts controlled every facet of the technology and its teaching.

They chose, configured and controlled the use of both the hardware and software, invariably opting for one device, one operating system and a standard suite of applications.

The students were taught within class groups, using highly structured, sequential, teacher directed, regularly assessed instructional programs.

The school knew best. The clients – the parents and students – were expected to acquiesce.  There was little or no recognition of the out of school learning or technology or desire to collaborate with the digitally connected families.

The teaching was insular, inward looking, highly site fixated.

In reflecting on school’s teaching with the digital between 1993 and 2016 there was an all-pervasive sense of constancy, continuity, with no real rush to change. There was little sense that the schools were readying the total student body to thrive within in a rapidly evolving digitally based world.

Significantly by 2016 only a relatively small proportion of schools globally were operating as mature digital organisations, growing increasingly integrated, powerful higher order digitally based ecosystems.

The reality was that while the learning environment of the digitally connected families evolved naturally at pace that of most schools changed only little, with most schools struggling to accommodate rapid digital evolution and transformation.

The teaching models

With the advantage of hindsight, it is quite remarkable how hidden the laissez faire model has remained for twenty plus years, bearing in mind it has been employed globally since the advent of the WWW.

For years, it was seen simply as a different, largely chaotic approach used by the kids – with the focus being on the technological breakthroughs and the changing practices rather than on the underlying model of learning that was being employed.

It wasn’t until the authors identified and documented the lead role of the digitally connected families of the world did we appreciate all were using basically the same learning approach. The pre-primary developments of the last few years affirmed the global application of the model.

We saw at play a natural model that was embraced by the diverse families of the world.

All were using the same model – a naturally evolving model where the parents were ‘letting things take their own course ‘(OED).

The learning was highly individualized, with no controls other than the occasional parent nudge. That said the learning was simultaneously highly collegial, with the young calling upon and collaborating with their siblings, family members, peers and social networks when desired.

Interestingly from early on the young found themselves often knowing more about the technology in some areas than their elders – experiencing what Tapscott (1998) termed an ‘inverted authority’ – being able to assist them use the technology.

Each child was free to learn how to use, and apply those aspects of the desired technologies they wanted, and to draw upon any resources or people if needed.

In the process the children worldwide – from as young as two – directed their own learning, opting usually for a discovery based approach, where the learning occurred anytime, anywhere 24/7/365. Most of the learning was just in time, done in context and was current, relevant, highly appealing and intrinsically motivating. Invariably it was highly integrated, with no thought given to old boundaries – like was it educational, entertainment, communication, social science or history.

In contrast the school digital teaching model has always been highly structured and focused on what the school or education authority ‘experts’ believed to be appropriate.

Throughout the period the teaching has been unilaterally controlled, directed by the classroom teacher, with the students disempowered, distrusted and obliged to do as told.

The teaching built upon linear, sequential instructional programs where the digital education was invariably treated like all other subjects, shoehorned into an already crowded curriculum and continually assessed.  Some authorities made the ‘subject’ compulsory, others made it optional.

The focus – in keeping with the other ‘subjects’ in the curriculum – was academic. There was little interest in providing the young the digital understanding for everyday life.

The teaching took place within a cyber walled community, at the time determined by the teaching program.

Increasingly the course taught and assessed became dated and irrelevant.

In considering why the young and the digitally connected families of the world have embraced the laissez faire model of digital education aside from the young’s innate curiosity and desire to learn we might do well to examine the model of digital learning we have used over the last twenty plus years and reflect on how closely it approximates that adopted by the young.

Might they be following that ancient practice of modelling the behaviour of their parents?

The way forward.

Near a quarter of a century on since the introduction of the WWW and an era of profound technological and social change it is surely time for governments and educators globally to

  • publicly recognise the remarkable success of the digitally connected families and the laissez faire teaching model in the 24/7/365 digital education of both the children and the wider family
  • understand the digitally connected families are on trend to play an even greater lead role
  • identify how best to support the family’s efforts without damaging the very successful teaching model employed
  • consider how best to enhance the educational contribution of all the digitally connected families in the nation, including the educationally disadvantaged
  • rethink the existing, somewhat questionable contribution of most schools and the concept of schools as the sole provider of digital education for the young
  • examine where scarce taxpayer monies can best be used to improve the digital education in the networked world.

Let us all finally recognise the core qualities and the remarkable global success of the laissez faire digital education model and build upon its achievements.

Bibliography

  • Lee, M (1996), ‘The educated home’, The Practising Administrator, vol. 18, no. 3 1996.
  • Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Meredyth, D, Russell, N, Blackwood, L, Thomas, J & Wise, P (1998), Real time: Computers, change and schooling, Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Canberra
  • Project Tomorrow (2011) The New Three E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged and Empowered Speak Up 2010 National Findings Project Tomorrow 2011. Retrieved 24 June 2014 at – http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/pdfs/SU10_3EofEducation_Educators.pd
  • Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Collaboration in Learning. Transcending the School Walls

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Mal Lee and Lorrae Ward published their research on the growing school – home nexus in 2013 in their ACER Press publication Collaboration in Learning: Transcending the School Walls. That work not only examined the nature of the collaboration in case study schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia and its many benefits, but also the importance of developing a mode of schooling and teaching apposite for an ever evolving digital and increasingly socially networked world.

Lee elaborated upon that work in ‘Digital Technology and Student Learning’ (2014) and fleshed out how schools in their genuine collaboration with their homes could markedly improve the student learning. By

  • improving the home – school collaboration
  • empowering the parents and students and furthering their understanding of what is being learnt outside the classroom
  • making learning more relevant and attractive
  • lifting time in learning
  • adopting more individualised teaching
  • making greater use of peer supported learning
  • teaching more in context and
  • making apt use of increasingly sophisticated technology

the belief was schools should be able to markedly improve each child’s education.

The intention here is not to elaborate upon that work nor is it to repeat the points made in ‘Home – School – Community Collaboration’ (Lee and Broadie, 2016), but rather to comment on the developments that have occurred since writing the earlier works, and to place the developments in context.

What is increasingly apparent is that genuine home – school collaboration and teaching and learning that transcends the classroom walls is primarily a feature of a higher order mode of schooling. It is likely to be found only in those schools that have a digital operational base, recognise the learning happening outside the school walls and which are of a mind and have a culture accepting of genuine collaboration. While as indicated (Lee and Broadie, 2016) educational leaders and governments have for decades extolled the benefits of home – school collaboration and spent vast monies and efforts in the quest, genuine collaboration – except in some niche school settings – doesn’t take hold until schools have gone digital, begun to socially network and are of a mind to nurture the desired collaboration.

What is also clearer is that genuine collaboration between the school, its homes and community is critical to the on-going digital evolution of schools, the shaping of school ecosystems that merge the expertise and resources of all the teacher’s of the young and in time the development of a curriculum for the 24/7/365 mode of schooling. Until schools are ready to collaborate, to listen to their homes and the young, to value the contribution all parties can make to the 24/7/365 teaching of the young and have in place a culture and digital infrastructure that will facilitate the collaboration they have little chance of creating and resourcing the desired ever evolving school ecosystem or of providing an instructional program for a socially networked community, that successfully involves all the teachers of the young. Rather the schools will continue as insular, site fixated teacher controlled organisations, increasingly divorced from the real world.

Genuine collaboration is thus one of the critical steps in the school’s digital evolution.

With the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to examine the operations of schools that have moved beyond the Digital Normalisation stage it is also clearer that in genuinely collaborating with the student’s homes and the community in improving the education provided the schools will – without any significant extra effort or expense – also simultaneously enhance the school’s

  • social networking
  • ecosystem
  • resourcing
  • administration and communication
  • marketing and promotion, and
  • growth and viability.

Genuine collaboration with the school’s clients in the school’s prime business – the holistic education of its young – will in a digitally based, socially networked school largely naturally fuel the growth of the total school ecosystem.

While the silo like nature of traditional schooling inclines one to consider the teaching and learning – the educational element – in isolation, the situation within increasingly integrated evolving complex adaptive systems obliges all associated with the school, but in particular its leaders to always look at the integrated totality, and how the enhancement of a critical facet of the ecosystem will likely impact all the other parts.

Within an integrated school ecosystem the old division of operational responsibilities largely disappears. The focus is on the desired learning, with the school looking to use whatever it deems appropriate to enhance that learning. It matters not if it makes use of a community organisation, a communications tool, a student team, an online resource or a combination of ‘resources’. What matters, is the desired learning.

Achieve genuine collaboration in the learning and the school will be well positioned to continually grow its total ecosystem and productivity.

  • Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M (2014) ‘Digital Technology and Student Learning’, Educational Technology Solutions – July 15 2014

 

Marrying the in and out of school learning

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The rationale is simple.

Integrate the teaching and learning of the school with that happening outside its walls and the education of every child can be markedly enhanced.

Make better use of both the 80% of the child’s annual learning and teaching time spent outside the schoolroom and the 20% within and it should be possible to significantly lift national student attainment and productivity.

Astute socio-economically advantaged parents have for generations complemented the school’s teaching with their own, providing their children the books, the culture, the expectations and the teaching in context, anywhere anytime. If schools making astute use of the digital technology could assist more parents provide that kind of holistic 24/7/365 teaching many more children could benefit.

The young have of their own volition for the past 20 plus years embraced the use of the digital and the online in every facet of their lives, with the technology markedly impacting the thinking, expectations, learning and teaching of the Net Generation, the Millennials. Two decades of literature (Lee. 1996) (Tapscott, 1998) (Meredith, et al, 1998) (Green and Hannon, 2007) (Tapscott, 2009) (Ito et al, 2010, 2013) (Lee and Finger, 2010), (boyd, 2014) (Project Tomorrow, 2003 – 2016) (Lee and Levins, 2016) has documented the nature and profound impact of that seemingly chaotic laissez-faire mode of learning and teaching. It has moreover highlighted the almost complete absence or support for the out of school learning by the schools and government, and the very considerable potential yet to be tapped.

That said it also it is one thing to recognise the potential, to accept the rationale and another to begin harnessing that potential, particularly when most governments and education authorities have yet to adopt a digital mindset or understand the vital role schools can play in growing a socially networked society.

The task of marrying the in and out of school teaching and learning, of better and more productively integrating the efforts of the school, the homes and community has been largely left to the pathfinder digital schools globally.

Moreover it is a challenge being primarily faced by those digitally mature schools that are of a mind to reap the many benefits that flow from genuinely collaborating with all the teachers of the young in the provision of a 24/7/365 mode of schooling.

When your school reaches the evolutionary stage where it wants marry in the in and out of learning, it like the early adopters, should begin asking and addressing these kinds of questions: who

  • best teaches a particular attribute/concept
  • where
  • when
  • and what age?

For example who, or which combination of teachers in and outside the school walls best teaches

  • reading
  • digital literacy
  • quantum physics
  • the art of social networking
  • patience
  • teamwork
  • goal setting and time management

Do you continue with the prevailing belief that all of the above the teaching should only be taught

  • by a professional teacher
  • within the classroom
  • at the time determined by external curriculum experts?

Or do you work towards a distributed model of teaching and learning that actively involves all the teachers of the young, and where the school provides direction and support?

If you opt for the latter you need ask and critically identify

  • what competencies, mindset and expectations do the children – at different development stages in their learning – bring to the classroom?
  • what mode of teaching do they use outside the classroom and if it consonant with that within? Do the children employ the highly linear teacher controlled approach favoured by teachers or does their teaching with the support of their peers and the digital differ?
  • what form will the instructional program of a socially networked school community take?

Take for example early childhood students a year into their schooling. We know most have likely been using the digital competently for several years at home. The recent Erikson study (2016) found not only did virtually all the pre-primary use the suite of digital technologies in the home but that 85% of the parents were engaged in teaching the balanced use of that technology. What are the digital competencies that teaching partnership brings to the classroom in 2016? Perhaps equally importantly what mindset and expectations re the use of the digital technology do they bring? You won’t find the answer in any national technology syllabus, or even the likes of ISTE’s excellent 2016 Standards for Students. What might be the digital competencies and expectations of the 2018 intake of children?

Who within the school community best nurtures those competencies and expectations? Is it the parents, the students, the teachers or all collaboratively?

What kind of ‘instructional program’, what kind of matrix or guide should be used?

Where can the school look for support in tackling these questions?

The introduction of BYOT, the decision to trust the children to use the digital technology of their choosing, the expectation that those students will understand the general workings of their chosen kit and that the teachers will focus on applying the children’s competencies in higher order learning tasks obliges the teachers understand – at least in general terms – the digital competencies, mindset and expectations each child is bringing to the classroom.

This early childhood example constitutes a small but very real part of the kind of thinking needed when schools begin marrying the in and out of school teaching.

It is as flagged a very considerable undertaking that should be approached with the eyes wide open and gradually.

The task is likely to be too onerous for the one school. It is however one that can be tackled collaboratively by like-minded schools globally and indeed with the support of professional associations liaising with their international counterparts.

Conclusion

The key is to recognise that in embarking on the seemingly very natural and logical quest to coalesce the efforts of the school and the home you are in fact well on the way to fundamentally changing the nature of the school curriculum and creating one appropriate for a digital and socially networked world and the 24/7/365 schooling of the young.

  • Boyd, D (2014) Its Complicated. The social lives of networked teens Yale University Press – http://www.danah.org/itscomplicated/
  • Erikson Institute (2016) Technology and Young Children in the Digital Age. Erikson Institute August 2016
  • Ito et al (2010) Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out. Kids Living with the New Media Cambridge US MIT Press retrieved 20 June 2014 at – https://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/titles/free_download/9780262013369%20_Hanging_Out.pdf
  • Ito, Mizuko, Kris Gutiérrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, S. Craig Watkins. (2013). Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.
  • Lee, M (1996),‘The educated home’, The Practising Administrator, vol. 18, no. 3.
  • Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) (2010) Developing a Networked School Community, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Meredyth, D, Russell, N, Blackwood, L, Thomas, J & Wise, P (1998), Real time: Computers, change and schooling, Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Canberra.
  • Project Tomorrow (2011) The New Three E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged and Empowered Speak Up 2010 National Findings Project Tomorrow 2011. at – http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/pdfs/SU10_3EofEducation_Educators.pdf
  • Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York
  • Tapscott, D (2009) Grown up digital. How the net generation is changing our world McGraw Hill, New York

 

Engaging each learner

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In shaping the digital evolution of your school and creating the desired 24/7/365 teaching and learning environment we suggest it is important to address something schools have not done well – engage each and every learner.

Take advantage of the digital operational base and the opportunities opened by the digital to engage an appreciably greater percentage of the student cohort.

Despite generations of hype, and thousands of well-intended efforts schools globally have a long way to travel before they can seriously engage all learners.

With over a 100 years experience with schools between us we are realistic enough to acknowledge, that despite the important ideals of government and educators, schools as institutions might never engage every student but they can do appreciably better than now.

The Fall 2015 US Gallop Poll (Gallop, 2015) found 50% of secondary respondents were disaffected with the schooling provided.

While the figures might be vary slightly from nation to nation in all there will still be a significant proportion of the students disaffected, particularly within the secondary school and within the lower quartile of the primary school.

Thirty years ago Eckert in Jocks and Burnouts (1989) classically identified the 30% plus of students who knew how to play the ‘school game’ well and succeed, and the very considerable percentage of ‘burnouts’ who very early on lost interest in playing that game and succeeding academically at school.

Secondary schooling – whatever the local nature of the school game might be – is still failing too many students. Despite the many, often punitive, efforts of government, the percentage of students completing schooling has largely plateaued.

In many respects that should not come as a surprise in that the nature of schooling and the culture therein in most schools has not fundamentally changed in the last fifty plus years. The vast majority of schools, particularly high schools are still insular, paper based, risk adverse organisations focused on readying the ‘good’ students for tertiary entrance.

The movement to the digital operational mode, the young’s normalised use of the digital, the gradual shift in schools from a total preoccupation with teaching and learning within a physical place to the recognition that it can happen anywhere anytime 24/7/365 opens the way for schools at all levels to take risks and try new ways of engaging more students.

The digital and the socially networked is not going to be the answer for all, and most assuredly not overnight, but it does provide educators with a plethora a of options unavailable to those working with paper as the underlying technology.

Critically by going digital school can more readily look to:

  • move the learner to the centre and make learning more intrinsic
  • better individualise and differentiate the teaching and learning
  • shed the reliance on the physical site, and have the teaching and learning occur anywhere, anytime and in context
  • make learning and teaching more attractive and relevant for the full spectrum of students
  • recognise and build upon each students out of school digitally based mode of learning and self -teaching, passions and achievements
  • appreciate most young in their use of the digital don’t employ the traditional highly linear mode of teaching and learning
  • make greater use of peer teaching
  • take risks and try different modes of teaching, learning and assessment.

After 40-50 years of continued failure it is surely time to stop flogging a dead horse, to move from the one size fits all approach, to make greater use of in context teaching and learning and to try alternative approaches.

Seriously ask what percentage of your current cohort are disaffected or disengaged and how you could better use the digital to engage those students.

In asking that question look at the full array of students and appreciate that many of the capable students are as bored and disengaged as the less capable.

  • Eckert, P (1989) Jocks and Burnouts NY Teachers College Press
  • Gallup Student Poll (2015) Engaged Today: Ready for Tomorrow Fall 2015 Gallup – http://www.gallup.com/services/189926/student-poll-2015-results.aspx

 

 

A Curriculum for a Socially Networked Society

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

 This hopefully will challenge the conventional thinking – that is still largely schooling children for the 1950s.

All schools should in their teaching today be guided by a curriculum for digital and socially networked society, where the young are in essence being schooled 24/7/365.

All ideally need a curriculum that is current, appropriate to the school’s situation, which readily accommodates continual rapid, uncertain change and school differences, apposite for socially networked learning, that increasingly integrates the in and out of school teaching and which readies each child to thrive in a seemingly chaotic, ever evolving digital and socially networked world. That said the curriculum should also continue to address the core learning, of the type fleshed by Pellegrino and Hilton in their Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century (2012) and the values and human rights of contemporary society.

Crucially they’ll want a curriculum where the teaching and learning can happen anywhere, anytime, in context in the socially networked world, and not as now that is fixated on learning within a physical site, within a restricted time frame and which disregards the learning and teaching occurring outside the school walls. Why shouldn’t all manner of upper secondary students build upon their out of school learning and be able to receive part of their teaching outside the classroom, in context, collaborating with the likes of start-ups, international aid agencies, tertiary faculties, theatre companies, digital marketers, hospitality, fashion houses or automotive electricians?

Allied is the necessity of providing guidance for all the teachers of the young, as they work evermore collaboratively in the 24/7/365 development of the children’s cognitive, inter and intrapersonal competencies (Pellegrino and Hilton, 2012). While the focus of the curriculum should rightly be on the professional teacher and the critical intensive teaching that occurs within the school walls the curriculum should also guide all assisting educate the young, be they the children themselves, the parents, carers, grandparents or the community mentors, or local businesses and service groups. The teaching and the curriculum should be intertwined, with the student’s needs guiding all. As the schools distribute the control of the teaching and learning, and work to enhance the contribution of the volunteers so the latter teachers will need instructional guidance. Some might argue to leave to the ‘out of school’ teaching completely laissez faire, but the authors’ suggest the vast majority of parents would benefit from schools providing somewhat more curriculum direction and support than now.

In looking to provide that curriculum it is vital schools and government understand that schools will need to:

  1. be genuinely committed to collaboration with their homes and communities, with other schools, and professional associations to be a successful networked school community
  2. develop and enact a digital, networked mindset
  3. have a supportive digital ecosystem and culture
  4. have the agency and agility to design, implement and assess curriculum that is relevant and meaningful for their context, by responding to and shaping societal and technological changes
  5. recognise that in an evolving socially networked society where the young learn more than ever 24/7/365 much of that learning – and teaching – will be seemingly chaotic, non-linear, synergistic, naturally yielding often unintended benefits
  6. address equity issues regarding access to, participation, and outcomes of its students in relation to technologies and learning.

All are vital preconditions.

In brief the schools need to be ready to successfully teach to a curriculum for a socially networked society.

Critically that curriculum should be delivered by a school that is digitally based, socially networked and which has an ecosystem and culture that naturally promotes and supports in everything it does a 24/7/365 mode of schooling. It is near impossible to teach to a curriculum that seeks to empower the young, promote risk taking, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, reflection, agility, social networking, team work and collaboration in a school that is risk adverse, site fixated, micro managed, tightly controlled and where the curriculum is dated and the students are disempowered. Even the greatest of teachers will struggle to provide a 24/7/365 education in the latter environment.

Michio Kaku rightly observed at the 2016 ISTE conference that most schools, by their very nature are still geared to educating the young for the 1950s (Nagel, 2016).

It is impossible – despite the government and bureaucratic spin – for the traditional, centrally developed national and provincial curricula to provide schools a current and appropriate curriculum for a rapidly evolving, socially networked world. Their development invariably takes years of committee work, and as such they are dated well before implementation and antiquated by their next revision. They are a product of a world of constancy, continuity and government desire for control.

They are designed on the dated belief that all schools are the same, and will remain so for years to come. Schools at significantly different evolutionary stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 12), offering appreciably different modes of schooling, are expected to gain guidance and direction from the one document. Schools that have normalised the whole school use of the digital and which are building upon the digital competencies their students bring to every classroom are expected to follow the same Technology curriculum as those paper based schools where the children are obliged to ‘learn’ how to use computers in the lab.

Globally education authorities continue to ready the curriculum for their particular bailiwick, their own patch of the world, very often strongly swayed by the government of the day. Little or no thought is given to the reality of the socially networked world or ever evolving complex adaptive systems that geographic boundaries matter little as both the schools and their instructional programs naturally evolve in a remarkably common manner globally. The young are learning and being taught, whether the authorities like it or not, in a boundary less socially networked world over which governments have limited control.

Little is the wonder that the early adopter digital schools globally have chosen to largely disregard the ‘official’ curriculum and work with like-minded schools worldwide in the design their own.

At first glance it could be argued that the various education authorities could in time, particularly if they adopted a digital mindset, produce a curriculum for 24/7/365 schooling. Leaving aside the inherent inability of bureaucracies to accommodate rapid change there is also the telling reality that schools can’t hope to successfully use a 24/7/365 curriculum until the school has readied a supportive higher order digitally based ecosystem and culture, where all within the school’s community are ready to collaborate in advancing that mode of teaching.

All can see the folly of governments trying to impose a 24/7/365 socially networked curriculum on insular inward looking schools unwilling to genuinely collaborate with their communities, to distribute the control of the teaching and learning, to network and which are lacking the digital infrastructure and processes critical for ready collaboration.

In brief a sizeable proportion of the schools would be unwilling or unable to work with such a curriculum.

The key is to recognise that schools, even within the one authority, are at different evolutionary stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 43), to understand that those differences are on trend to grow at pace and to endorse the lead of the pathfinder schools and formally support school based curriculum design.

By all means provide if desired system and national guides for the various areas of learning, and matrices suggesting which of the teachers of the young might best teach what attributes, but understand in the curriculum design that schools will never be the same again, each is unique and should shape its own curriculum. Of note is that globally many professional associations already provide these guides.

While some might recoil at the mere idea of school based curriculum and student assessment remember that there are globally education authorities that have been successfully using school based curriculum, and indeed school based student assessment, for generations. The empowering of the professionals and expecting them to provide instructional leadership is not new.

Helbing in discussing the impact of the Digital Revolution (Helbing, 2014) made the telling observation that the accelerating pace of organisational evolution and transformation, and the inability of bureaucracies to handle that change obliges the societal adoption of self-regulating units that have the agility to thrive with the on-going change, seeming chaos and uncertainty.

The pathfinder schools have adapted to that reality.

Conclusion

In writing this piece we don’t expect most education authorities or governments to relinquish their control over the curriculum at any time in the near future. We most assuredly don’t expect most to cede their control of student assessment and adopt procedures consonant with a school-based curriculum.

What they could do is to revisit the warning John Dewey, one of the world’s great educators, who a century ago offered in Democracy and Education:

As formal teaching and training grow in extent, there is the danger of creating an undesirable split between the experience gained in more direct associations and what is acquired in school, This danger was never greater than at the present time, on account of the rapid growth in the last few centuries of knowledge and technical modes of skill (Dewey, 1966. p11).

One hundred years on his concerns about society disregarding the ‘more direct associations’; the informal learning; the 80% plus of learning time available to the young outside the school walls are that much more critical.

Largely unwittingly schooling has in its formalising of the curriculum in the twentieth century created highly insular, dated learning institutions, largely removed from the real world.

It is time to heed Dewey’s advice, to re-establish the connection and to create schools and provide a curriculum appropriate for a rapidly evolving, socially networked society.

Acknowledgements.

The authors would like to acknowledge the support and advice given by Professor Glenn Finger (Griffith University) and Greg Whitby (Executive Director Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta) in the preparation of this piece.

  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016, 12) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2nd Edition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/ =
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016, 43) ‘School Difference as the New Norm’, Digital Evolution of Schooling at www.digitalevolutionofschooling .net
  • Nagel, D (2016) ‘Education in the ‘Fourth Wave’ of Science driven Economic Advancement’. T.H.E. Journal June 2016
  • Pellegrino, J.W and Hilton, M.L., (eds) (2012) Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century, Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills; Center for Education; Division on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; National Research Council

 

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.