Category Archives: 24/7/365 digital education

12. The Imperative of a Digital Mindset in Networked Schools

Mal Lee

To succeed in a disrupted world, leaders will need to forge an agile and connected enterprise with a future-focused workforce. For both individuals and organizations, there needs to be a reconciling of the demand for digital skills to deploy and manage technology, and the human skills to live and work with this technology. Positioning the enterprise for success as the work of humans and machines converges, will require a digital mindset. (KPMG)

The same kind of exhortation has been expressed by the other global management consultancies and throughout the business management literature. Lewis (2020) writing in the Harvard Business Review noted

……having a digital mindset means being constantly on the lookout for ways to introduce digital technology to your role, your team, and your organisation.

You’ll struggle to find the same advocacy in the school leadership literature. A Google search will unearth little.

Nor will you find it in lead teacher advertisements, the teacher standards, teacher accreditation documents or initial teacher training programs.

You will however find the mindset shaping the personal lives of most of the world’s teachers and the four billion plus digitally connected. While few have likely fully appreciated the profound change that has occurred, particularly in the last decade, it takes only a few prompts for them to appreciate it’s distinct nature, the magnitude of the shift, its continuing evolution, and the extent to which the mindset shapes their personal lives, 24/7/365.

The digitally connected have grown in their everyday use of the digital and networked world, a mindset, a set of expectations and behaviours that see them instinctively opting to use the digital in most facets of their lives. While strongest in the young, who have only ever known a digital world, the mindset is to be found in varying degrees in most every age group.

It is a mindset that expects instant connectivity, 24/7/365, anywhere, anytime, at speed and control of one’s chosen digital device/s, with the agency to use them how desired, when wanted, to do what and how they wish. It assumes everyone, from a very early age will choose the technology, configure it, use the apps they want and critically to learn what, how, when and where they want. Moreover, they expect to directly access the desired material, without going through gatekeepers.

While one might rightly debate the traits that combine to make the digital mindset, but most summaries would include:

  • An instinctive preference for a digital solution, and an acceptance that many traditional practises will be superseded by the digital
  • Normalised everyday use of the digital and social networking
  • A working understanding of the mores of the networked world 
  • Natural continual adaptation to the rapidly evolving digital and networked world
  • on-going enhancement of the desired digital thinking and competencies
  • a strong appreciation of the up and down sides of the digital and network use
  • Just in time, non-linear, experiential learning, done mainly in context
  • A preference for self-discovery, while being willing to network and learn collaboratively when desired
  • Increased and rightful individualisation of the digital capabilities, that flows from each if us having greater control of our learning, and being able to pursue our particular interests and passions.

The digital connected, in going about their everyday life, find themselves ‘being digital’ (Negroponte, 1995), on trend to grow and strengthen that situation lifelong.

Nearly sixty years ago Marshall McLuhan (1964) famously alerted the world to the reality that ‘the medium is the message.’

In today’s world the message is digital and networked.

The strengthening of the digital mindset has been accelerated by COVID, and particularly by governments’ taking as a given the population being digital, connected, and having at the centre of their lives, a smartphone.

Significantly the COVID experience also accelerated the nation’s teachers bringing the digital mindset into their teaching, as well as the digital competencies they had naturally grown in their personal lives.

While the educational leadership at the school and system level, and within most educational faculties have yet to have the digital mindset shape the school and its teaching most teachers used the mindset to advantage.

Significantly they used it astutely in teaching remotely with their digitally connected families, understanding the importance in so doing of working collaboratively, of individualising much of the teaching and support, of giving the students and their families agency, and resourcing the remote teaching.

A digital mindset shapes, as noted in earlier posts, a very different type of schooling to that with its roots in the Industrial Age.

It challenges much of the ‘grammar of schooling’.

The reality facing all school leaders is that society’s worldwide are going to increasingly shape the way forward with a digital mindset.

As will most every private and public sector organisation.

COVID accelerated the world’s teachers use of the thinking in their classrooms.

The new normal is already, as discussed, looking to be accommodated by all schools.

That accommodation is markedly assisted by a school and system leadership looking to shape the way forward with a digital mindset, and not one from an aged past.

  • McLuhan, M (1964) The Medium is the Message. NY. MIT
  • Negroponte, N (1995) Being Digital Sydney Hodder and Stoughton

Schooling 2050

Roger Broadie and Mal Lee are embarking on the quest to identify the major trends and issues that they believe will impact on the nature of schooling in 2050.

The late management guru, Peter Drucker, very wisely remarked

  1.  Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window
  • The best way to predict the future is to create it.

We will limit our quest to the identifying the megatrends on course to markedly impact the nature of schooling in 28 years, and the major issues school decision makers worldwide will likely have address it they are to create the desired schools.

The great benefit of Naisbitt’s seminal, and immensely popular 1984 publication on Megatrends was that it provided the general reader a succinct and clear appreciation of the trends likely to impact both society in general and its organisations.

It is well worth a revisit to appreciate how prescient was much the work, and its continued validity today.

That is what we hope, in our own humble way, we can do for global schooling.  

One of the oft forgotten realities is that the ‘grammar of schooling’ worldwide is remarkably similar.

So too is the way the young of today’s digital and increasingly networked world use and learn with the digital 24/7/365 outside the school walls.

Our plan is to identify the similarities, the global trends, the philosophical and political flashpoints, and the issues to be addressed in shaping the desired schools.

As the digital evolution and transformation accelerates and impacts near every part of society school leaders in the next couple of decades will be expected to adapt to the evolving scene, while at the same time contending with ‘political masters’ who will invariably wish to maintain control of ‘their schools’.

It should make for an interesting challenge.

Between us we’ll draw on over 100 years of experience with schools and several decades of writings and research on the digital evolution and transformation of schooling and the education of the young.

Over time we intend inviting colleagues and interested readers to contribute to the thinking and finally drawing together of our read of the scene

5. Accommodating the new normals in schools

Mal Lee

An integral part of schools transitioning to a more networked mode is readying them culturally and organisationally to continually provide the desired education in a world of accelerating, natural technological and societal evolution, transformation, and uncertainty, where the expectation will be that the schools will mirror the ways of society.

That readying will likely be new to many schools, attuned as they are to operating in a world of constancy and continuity, and taking no risks.

Future posts will address how that readying might be done.

But first it is important for teachers and heads to recognise the nature and the challenge of accommodating the new normals.

It is moreover important to appreciate, even within the more tightly controlled education systems the school ultimately decides on the education that will be provided the students.

Allied, in talking about ‘societal expectations’ it is important to recognise one is talking about a vast range of views, from the very conservative to the ultra-progressive.

That said history affirms there has always been, and likely will always be a suite of societal expectations that all schools will accept – even unwittingly – that must be accommodated. Indeed, that has been apparent in the global shift of near all schools, at all levels, to a more networked mode.

One of the first tasks is to better understand the kind of the ‘new normals’ society will expect its schools to accommodate, and the magnitude of the challenge.

As previously mentioned, many of the adaptations will be minor and readily adopted, as they have been for decades.

There are however expectations that all schools will in time have to consider accommodating – even if it opts to reject them.

The following are but a selection.

You’ll likely think of others.

Some are issues that have been growing in prominence over time, some are more recent global developments, while others are social issues highlighted by the increasing dependence on networking during the pandemic. Notwithstanding all are developments schools will have to consider.

In considering them ask, how well your school is positioned to examine, discuss, and accommodate each.      

  • Does it appreciate the transition underway, and at least some of the implications? 
  • Does it have a questioning, learning culture that encourages genuine professional discussion?
  • Is it of a mind to look outside it walls and take on board the evolving societal expectations?
  • Does it have the processes in place to address these developments, and indeed the unplanned benefits and disbenefits?

You’ll soon appreciate the expectations are invariably linked, and that any accommodation of one will oblige consideration of the others.

  • Digital mindset

One of the great unplanned societal, and indeed workplace changes in recent decades has been the natural growth in the digitally connected of the world of an increasingly strong digital mindset, and with it a suite of rising, strong digital expectations.

That mindset is particularly strong among the young, who have only ever known a digital world.  

That suite of expectations, likely strengthened by the COVID experience, includes the likes of, 

  • connecting the moment desired, anywhere, anytime, 24/7/365
  • having in your hands, most every waking moment, one’s smartphone, to action the QR codes, the digital wallet, Apple Pay, vaccine passport and the myriad of other facilities 
  • having agency of the choice, configuration, use and upgrade of our personal devices
  • being free to socially network with whoever you wish, and where in the world
  • using the apps, we want
  • taking charge of one’s own learning; learning what we want, how we want, doing it just in time, in context
  • deciding what protection, we’ll take with our own privacy

How ready is your school, are you as a teacher, to accommodate those kind of expectations?

  • Being digital

The digitally connected worldwide are operating, as Negroponte foretold (1995), in the state of being digital. So normalised is the use of the digital in its many forms that it has become too most largely invisible. 

That is particularly so with the world’s young.

It is a state of being which will not only on trend to strengthen but which will challenge many of the assumptions underpinning the traditional ‘grammar of schooling’.

  • Trust, empowerment, and agency

Core to being digital is trust, empowerment, and agency.

All three expectations, that young children express from around the age of three (Chaudron, 2014), are likely an anathema to the running of many schools.

Many, possibly most schools, still work on the belief that the students, parents, and classroom teachers are be controlled, distrusted, and disempowered, particularly when it comes to the use of the digital and networking. 

The accommodation of these now universal expectations could well entail the school having to rethink its whole modus operandi.

  • Centrality of smartphones

That willingness to trust and empower is communicated in the school’s stance of the use of smartphones.

COVID has underscored the centrality of the smartphones to the lives of all, young and old.

Indeed, most students cannot go about their lives, and even enter school buildings without their QR code and digital vaccination wallet.

Governments worldwide have normalised that reality and simply assume that all will have a smartphone.

How do schools that currently ban the use of smartphones sit with this new normal? 

  • Accelerating networking, connectivity, digital convergence, and digital disruption 

The speed with which a device first released in 2007 has become central to life globally in 2021 is an important indicator to schools of the imperative of accommodating the accelerating digitisation, connectivity, networking, and digital convergence in their everyday workings.

While societies and most assuredly its businesses have long recognised that imperative many schools and education authorities appear to have been loath to factor it into their teaching, operations, and planning.

Many seemingly want to perpetuate the illusion that schools will somehow remain is a constant while the rest of society changes at pace.

  • Transition from loosely to tightly coupled schools

Allied with the increased, connectivity and ubiquitous use of the digital is the burgeoning digital convergence, interconnectivity and organisational integration, and the recognition that the enhanced productivity of all organisations, including schools, lies in the shaping of evermore tightly integrated, efficient, focussed and naturally synergistic digital ecosystems.

Largely unheralded, schools in becoming more networked have moved along that path, shifting away from their traditional loosely coupled organisational form (Weick, 1976), and adopting an ever more tightly coupled mode. The extent varies widely, but in general terms the strong divisions of labour, clear operational boundaries and largely autonomous faculties are slowly but surely being superseded by more integrated operations where every operation is directed towards realising the school’s shaping purpose.

  • Shift from the mass to individualisation

Negroponte presciently identified this shift in Being Digital in 1995.

In being digital I am me, not a statistical subset….

True personalisation is now upon us (Negroponte, 1995, p164).

That is what has transpired.

More than half the world’s people are now digitally connected (ITU, 2020), and control their use of the digital. 

In that control, individuals, and not the state, make the decisions, very quickly individualising their learning and the digital competencies they acquire.

In contrast formal schooling always has been – and continues to be – about mass teaching, believing that every student must be taught and tested on the same thing.

Allied is the assumption that the state must unilaterally decide what will taught, how and when.

While educators have advocated for aeons for the greater individualisation of teaching that quest has been largely dismissed.

How schools accommodate the world’s transition to greater individualisation of will be an immense challenge.

That said the continued outright rejection of the new normal could well be a point of considerable tension.

  • Concern for student health and well being

Another of the new normals, that has been apparent for some time, but which was amplified by the COVID experience is the growing expectation by many in society that schools should play a central role in caring for the student’s well-being and mental health.

This growing trend, identified in COVID study after study, runs counter to many schools and governments increased focus on academic performance and diminished concern for a balanced, holistic schooling.

Accommodating this role asks what the purpose of schooling is, particularly in an increasingly networked society, accelerating at ever pace into the unknown and greater uncertainty.

  • The differences between schools will continue to grow at pace 

The decade’s long trend within the private sector for networked organisations to become ever more different is now being increasingly evidenced in schools.

The trend has been evidenced first-hand by parents worldwide with the remote teaching.

While some schools, that had long normalised the use of the digital and the networked world, accelerated their shift to a more networked mode during the shutdown/s at the other end of the widening continuum there are schools that still view the pandemic as a temporary interruption, who have made minimal effort to attune their teaching to the networked mode.

The new normal will be for schools to be ever more different, with those in authority at best able to shape the natural global megatrend. 

In reality every school, every classroom has been unique since the inception of formal schooling.  The school leadership, the shaping mindset, educational philosophy, context, heritage, culture, mix of staff, school development strategy and availability of resources all contribute to its uniqueness.

It is just that the transition to the networked mode, and the facility of astute heads to select from a growing array of options to create the desired learning environment has amplified the distinctiveness.

While ever the visionary heads continue take advantage of the opportunities opened and the risk averse stay where they feel safe the differences will widen. 

  • Families as teachers

Leave aside for the moment that parents always have been, and always will be the children’s first teachers.

The COVID experience alerted societies and schools to a reality seldom recognised in the teaching literature, that not only were near all the families of school students in the developed world digitally connected and had digital ecosystems that surpassed those in most classrooms, but they also had considerable digital competencies, and the long held desire to collaborate with the schools in the teaching of their children in a more networked mode (Project Tomorrow, 2011).

They have for years been educating their children in the networked mode, giving them the tools, connectivity, and agency to largely take charge of their use of and learning with the digital – on trend to continue playing that role regardless of what might be done by the school. 

The more astute of school leaders principals would undoubtedly have recognised 

  • the changing and rising expectations parents have of their schools
  • the COVID experience has given many parents an agency, and an insight into remote teaching and schooling they will build upon
  • that in living with COVID schools need to be ready, within literally hours, to work with their family’s digital resources and expertise in remote teaching
  • the wisdom of being proactive, of building upon the COVID collaboration and the shift to a more networked mode, to create a networked school community (Lee and Finger, 2010).

Conclusion.

The stark reality is that schools are naturally transitioning at an accelerating pace to a more networked mode.

They have moved from a world of relative constancy to one of continual transformation.

The schools can go with the flow, and shape the developments to advantage, or try to resist and bear the consequences.

4. Schools and the Evolving New Normals

Mal Lee

Society will expect, possibly unwittingly, the natural evolution and transformation evidenced in daily life and near ever organisation to be mirrored in its schools.

It will moreover expect the lessons learned from the COVID experience also to be taken on board.

In the last two years the transformative impact of these two developments has seen the popularisation, and global embrace of the term, the ‘new normal’. It has come to mean

a previously unfamiliar or atypical situation that has become standard, usual, or expected (OED)

It particularly pertains to the new ways of doing things society expects to be an everyday facet of life, work, and learning. 

While in some senses a redundant expression, in that the societal norm automatically evolves as society changes, the problem is that the term ‘normal’ has become synonymous with a sense of conformity, constancy and a lack of deviation from the established ways. 

The desire would appear to be to use a term that better communicates the speed with which some societal norms are evolving. Particularly apparent during the pandemic were the many situations where what was ‘normal’ at the beginning of the year had been superseded by a ‘new normal’ six months later.

Leaving aside the semantics the crucial point for teachers and heads to recognise is that inherent in the transition of schooling is the expectation that schools will continually accommodate the ‘new normals’.

While much of the accommodation has been, and will likely continue to be, relatively easy there has been, and always will be a set of issues, trends, and developments that will challenge the accepted ways and ask hard questions.

As the digital disruption accelerates, widens, and becomes that much more transformative so schools will likely be expected, implicitly and explicitly, to address evermore of the hard questions.  Fountain pens, immersion in a library of old books, pull down blackboards, teachers ability to control the flow of information and being free to teach as one wishes behind the closed classroom door, no matter how treasured the ways of a digital and networked world are no longer.

There might be well be good educational reasons for choosing to stay with the traditional ways that the parent community will accept.

There might equally be reasons that appear sound to heads and staff that the students and parents don’t believe mirror the thinking and ways of today’s world.

Heads are going, likely increasingly, and forever on, to have make some difficult calls and lead.

Ideally schools, like businesses, should be ready to naturally accommodate the evolving new normals. The thinking, the culture, the processes, the staff, the curriculum, the school community should be attuned to providing the desired constancy while simultaneously continually providing a contemporary education.

It is likely however most schools today are still attuned to a world of constancy, continuity, and conformity, ill prepared to handle rapid, uncertain, potentially transformative change.  

Many, possibly most, principals and schools still likely see the pandemic as a temporary irritation that once over will allow them to return to their ‘normal ways’.

What is thinking in your school?

Businesses wanting to thrive within the ever evolving world have long chartered changing client expectations with highly sophisticated tools.

Most schools have likely not followed that path. Indeed, experience as a head and educational administrator suggests that many loath the idea that students and parents are clients, whose expectations must be heard. Rather they, and often government, remain strongly of the belief that only they have the expertise and understanding to decide what is appropriate for the students.

The past 25 plus years suggests that mindset can accommodate the less disruptive of the new normals. 

How well a top down leadership approach can accommodate the more challenging new normals described in the next post is moot. 

In an increasingly socially networked world, where the digital mindset is so pervasive, organisational transformation is accelerating and where trust, agency, collaboration, working in teams and being highly agile and flexible is increasingly important unilateral control from on high might well be ineffectual, and indeed unacceptable to most staff, students, and parents.

The latter is very much the view coming out of the research with those digitally mature corporations that have successfully accommodated both the digital evolution and COVID (Deloitte, 2017, (Kane, et.al, 2016), (Kane, et al, 2017).  It reinforces the imperative of the chief executive officer distributing control and responsibility and giving the professionals the agency to assist shape the desired ever evolving digital ecosystem.

That distribution of agency is crucial to readying schools to naturally accommodate the new normals.

3.Inexorable Natural Evolution

Mal Lee

The transition of schooling from its traditional, insular paper based mode to one that is increasingly networked has been in the main a natural evolutionary development.

It is moreover an inexorable evolution, that is on trend to become faster, more sophisticated, wide reaching, transformative and to be part of schooling forever.

Critically the transition parallels the transformation occurring within most other organisations, private and public sector, as they make greater use of the digital and networking, and the digital convergence, AI and greater efficiencies promote more tightly integrated, synergistic, and interconnected digital ecosystems.

No world body, with visionary educators planned or shaped the transformation.

No government/s funded the phenomenon.

Rather it evolved naturally out of the confluence of a suite of global developments, linked in the main to the exponential growth in the power of the digital and the networking of the world.

The challenge for schools, likely including yours, is that most education decision makers, and likely most educational researchers believe, often fervently, that every facet of school growth must planned. Nothing can be left to chance. All growth must be approached in a highly rationale, largely linear manner, the progress measured, and the lessons learned factored into the next plan. 

Educational bureaucracies worldwide insist schools have detailed planning documents, that identify to the nth degree the learning outcomes that will be the focus of the school’s work and reporting.  In some of the more highly controlled education authorities priority is given those few outcomes to the near exclusion of all else.

There is little or no place for unplanned or unintended developments, or for the optimisation of the unintended developments no matter beneficial they might be.

With many schools there is little chance of moving away from ‘the plan’.

Implicit is the belief that humans can control every variable at play within in a school, within a tightly interconnected, rapidly evolving world, and plan accordingly.

It is a mindset that likely contributed to the failure by most not to see the transition by the world’s schools to the more networked mode.  While focussing on the forest floor they didn’t see that the forest had changed.

You’ll struggle to find any that acknowledge the students and teachers in their personal lives have been, and are naturally growing their digital mindset, the digital competencies they want and are continually adapting their ways to the global change. 

Similarly, it will likely be difficult to find any harnessing that natural growth in their staff development.

Significantly few schools appear to have factored into their planning the realities of natural, chaotic evolution (Pascale et.al, 2000), digital disruption, the inefficiency of the evolutionary growth or the importance of shaping the natural evolution to advantage.

What moves has your school made in this area in its planning?

Have you, has the school, paused, and wondered how it is that the digitally connected young of the world, all using their own digital devices in a strongly individualised, laissez faire, largely unfettered manner, use and learn with them in a remarkably similar way? 

It is a fascinating expression of natural evolution.  As far back at the late 90s Tapscott (1998) identified the universal mores and attributes that the Net generation had grown in but a few years in their use of the internet. 

The same similarity of thinking and use is to be found today, as we discuss in a future post.

Over 50% of the world’s 8 billion plus population are digitally connected (ITU, 2020), as are 70% plus of the world’s young (UNICEF, 2017), with the trend very much to near universal connectivity.

All have naturally grown their digital mindset, competencies and being digital in their 24/7/365 use and learning with the digital – not in a classroom.

Neither schools nor government have played any major part in funding the personal connectivity of the world’s 4 billion plus people, in providing the devices or in supporting their learning. The devices and connectivity have been bought by the families of the world.

Perelman astutely observed in 1992 that near all the users of personal computers had taught themselves and would continue to do so into the future.

That is the reality.

It is moreover a reality, and a capability that schools and governments were able to instantly capitalise upon when schools shut their doors in early 2020. Few have fleshed out why governments globally were immediately able to ask the teachers to teach from their homes, and the students, K-12, to partake immediately in a fully networked teaching. Neither government nor the schools have played any major part in growing that capability.

Indeed, a growing commentary suggests that most schools and education authorities even in 2021 still don’t fund or actively support their staff teaching from home. 

Does your school or government for example contribute to the cost of setting up your home office or connectivity?

In the early 1980’s Naisbitt (Naisbitt, 1984) alerted the world, but particularly the business world, to the megatrends shaping the world, and the facility at best to shape those forces to advantage.

40 years later, and 50 plus years since Gordon Moore enunciated his hypothesis the ability to shape the megatrends is that much more challenging.

Even more so is deliberately going against the megatrends. Societal expectations, particularly with businesses, but also with schools would soon render unviable any that chose not to adapt.

The critical leadership skill today for both heads and increasingly teachers is to better understand the evolutionary megatrends impacting schooling and to shape those forces to continually provide the desired schooling.

School planning, like that in every organisation is vital but it should be of a type apt for the day and situation, that accommodates both the planned and unplanned growth, and which has the capacity to readily adjusted to often rapidly changing circumstances.

The lesson the COVID experience has taught everyone, and every organisation is imperative of being flexible and agile, able to change plans literally within hours.

It is ever more important schools do what businesses have done since at least the 1990s (Thorpe, 1998) and be open to swiftly identifying the potential unintended benefits and disbenefits. The transition to a more networked mode will have its up and downsides. Schools should be ready to identify, adjudge and optimise the unintended benefits and quickly quash the inevitable disbenefits.

Contrary to the belief held by likely most educational decision makers one can argue that all the major worldwide educational changes that have occurred in the last twenty plus years have been unplanned. The emergence of digitally connected families, their lead role in growing their children’s digital mindset, and use of and learning with the digital, the growth of the young being digital, social networking, the shift from a predominantly text based mode of learning and communication to one that is increasingly multi-media and visual and the facility for the nation’s young to take charge of their learning anywhere, anytime 24/7/365 were all unplanned.

One will struggle to identify a planned global educational development that matches the aforementioned.

That reality should be factored into the school’s planning and workings.

Amplifying that need is the imperative of every school factoring into its planning and operations the accommodation of what society regards as the ‘new normals’.

  • Naisbitt, J (1984) Megatrends London Futura
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press
  • Perelman, L (1992) School’s Out NY Avon Books
  • Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York
  • Thorpe, J (1998) The Information Paradox Toronto McGraw-Hil
  • UNICEF (2017) Children in a Digital World. The State of the World’s Children 2017. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf

Transitioning from Traditional to Networked Schooling

Greg McKay
  1. Transitioning from Traditional to Networked Schooling

Mal Lee

Schooling worldwide is moving inexorably from its traditional, largely stand-alone, strongly paper based mode to one that is increasingly networked and digital.

The extent of the transition has already been profound, even in the more conservative of schools, far more than most likely have realised, on trend to become even greater.

It has however been largely unseen, unplanned and undocumented, hidden in part by contemporary society’s ready acceptance of the evolving new normal. It is highly likely that most teachers won’t have appreciated the magnitude of the change, although being central to the development.

Indeed, this is likely the first article to describe the transition, and to alert the education community to the transformation underway. 

The implications of the transition for all schools, teaching, and indeed all school operations are already immense. However in many respects the world is still in the early stage of the more networked mode, just beginning to understand the ramifications of the development.

While coming blogs will touch upon some of those ramifications far greater analysis at the school and macro level by many more in the years ahead will be needed. 

What however is clear is that all associated with schools, but particularly the teachers and heads, need to better understand the global phenomenon. They need to understand the key features, the trends, how the teaching and school have already been transformed, the shift to more tightly coupled digitally based ecosystems, able to adjudge the impact of the transition on the desired schooling, and how they might best assist shape the natural, inexorable transition to advantage.

Serendipitously the COVID pandemic, in its stress testing of every facet of schooling, has alerted societies worldwide to the transition that has occurred since the 90s, and affirmed the world has reached the point where for the first time in human history schooling can be provided remotely, in a fully networked mode and not just within a physical place.

In the space of 25 years near all the developed world’s, and increasingly the developing and undeveloped world’s classrooms, K-12 have transitioned from being telecommunications deserts to being networked. Schools have transitioned from a few, highly guarded, 56K phone lines, with none in the classrooms to near all teachers and classrooms having ready connectivity to high speed, multiple media, broadband networks.

In the early 90s a head had several weeks to contemplate the reply to be posted to the office. Near all communication, and virtually every aspect of teaching was paper based, handwriting was all important, books were dominant, the photocopiers daily consumed reams, and the control of the mail stamps and long distance phone calls was paramount.

Schools, three quarters of a century on from their standardisation around 1920, were still insular, largely stand-alone, loosely coupled (Weick, 1976) organisations that operated behind closed doors, replicating year in and year out, what Tyack and Cuban (1995) termed as the ‘grammar of schooling’.

The basic grammar of schooling, like the shape of classrooms, has remained remarkably stable over the decades. Little has changed in the ways schools divide time and space, classify students and allocate them to classrooms, splinter knowledge into ‘subjects’ and award grades and ‘credits’ as evidence of learning (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p85).

……Established institutional forms come to be understood by educators, student and the public as necessary features of ‘real’ school. They become fixed in place by everyday custom in schools and by outside forces, by legal mandates and cultural beliefs, until they are barely noticed. They become just the way schools are (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p86).

Schools were viewed as places of constancy, continuity and sameness.

Serendipitously as much the same time as Tyack and Cuban their observation schools, usually unheralded, began to be networked, initially internally within the administration, library and a few computer labs, and then also externally via a series of ever larger connections to the Internet.

In historic terms the transition to a more networked mode has been rapid, starting slowly in the 1990s, gathering pace in the 2000s, and accelerating evermore since 2010.

As seemingly recent as early 2010 the world and its schools could not have handled the pandemic like it did but 10 years later. The iPad revolution had yet to be launched, apps were unheard of by most, the broadband connectivity was lacking, and the primary school age cohort had yet to grow its digital mindset and competencies.

By early 2020 they had. 90% plus of digitally connected families across the developed world had the digital mindset, infrastructure, competencies, broadband connectivity and vitally the desire to collaborate with their schools in a fully networked mode and to support their children. Indeed, few questioned the ability of Year 2 children to participate in Zoom lessons. It was part of the new normal.

Critically near all teachers, mostly of their volition, had also grown their digital mindset, competencies, home infrastructure and connectivity to a level where they could teach remotely from home.

On reflection it has been the networking technology, the connectivity and the facility for ever greater, inexpensive social networking that has been the game changer – far more so than the digital devices.

Significantly history has affirmed the transition to the more networked mode has been in the main a natural evolutionary development. It is on trend not only to increasingly impact every facet of society, learning and the operation of most every organisation, but should also oblige all organisations, including schools to rethink their workings, the desired human resources, their fit for purpose and the aptness of their planning in an environment that necessitates they accommodate both the planned and unplanned developments.

For schools and education authorities still wedded to the belief that all change can and must controlled, planned and measured, natural, often seemingly chaotic evolution and transformation could be a significant challenge.  Many could struggle to reconcile the reality that one of the most significant and transformative changes in the history of schooling has been, and continues to be, unplanned, and that they not only failed to see the change but, in their planning, failed to accommodate the phenomenon.

In the accelerating digital disruption of the world there will in the adaption to the new continue to be the plusses and minuses, and inevitable tensions as people grapple with what of the old to retain, and what to let go, with some gaining power at the expense of others.

That will be true of near all schools.

Schools, like every other organisation, can at best shape the global transition to a more networked mode to advantage, optimising the benefits, remediating the disbenefits, while continually adapting their workings to provide the desired education. 

They cannot stop the transition.

Society will expect schools as public institutions to adapt and accommodate the new normal.

Approached astutely, with a clearly understood purpose, understanding the nature of the transition, the forces at play and being willing to factor in both the planned and unplanned individual schools globally have demonstrated they can not only adapt but thrive.

Neither this or the future posts will attempt to rationalise the world’s, or schooling’s transition to a more networked mode, or to discuss the pros and cons. 

It is pointless.

Rather the focus will be on working with the reality.

One of the realities is how readily all manner of societies have adapted their ways to the accelerating, all-pervasive, digital evolution and transformation, and embrace, invariably unconsciously, the evolving new normals.  Invariably it is only when one stops and reflects does the ease of much of the adaption to the emerging digital technologies and increasingly powerful digital ecosystems, and the willingness to abandon the old ways become apparent. Few comment on the normality in 2021 of near all elders using their smartphones and QR codes, but it is an immense social transformation that barely rates a comment. 

Parents, students, the media and government all speak in the COVID world of returning schools to ‘normal’. In reality most are likely talking about a return to site based, face to face schooling. A related reality is that post COVID most will unwittingly expect a ‘new normal’; a schooling that incorporates many of the plusses that emerged during the fully networked mode. Video conferencing in some form for example has likely already become a normal part of everyday schooling.

In reflecting on the transition and the evolving ‘new normal’ one will soon appreciate that the expectation will be that they are accommodated by the schools.

Their accommodation – or more likely the refusal to do so – has already created tensions, and will continue to do so, probably at an ever higher level as the transition accelerates. 

Think for a moment on the transition that has occurred in your school in the last couple of decades, the transformation that has taken place in near every facet of your school’s workings, and the issues raised and tensions generated as some staff sought to retain the ways of the past, while others wanted to take advantage of new opportunities. 

In reflecting consider the myriad of issues and options that accompany the development.

There is much to be gained by analysing the transition within all facets of your school’s workings in the last 20 years.

How that might best be done will be addressed in the next post.

What however will be immediately apparent will be the 

  • magnitude of the transition
  • shift from a paper based operation to one that is ever more digital and networked
  • ever greater use of networked teaching
  • shift to a more tightly coupled organisation
  • movement from a highly insular to more networked learning environment
  • inexorable, often unplanned nature of the phenomenon and the strength of the megatrends
  • importance of readying the staff and school to thrive within the significantly different teaching environment.

What should also be apparent has been the profound impact COVID has had in accelerating the transition to the more networked mode.

Tyack, D and Cuban, L (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press.

Weick, K (1976) ‘Educational organisations as loosely coupled systems’. Administrative Science Quarterly 21 1976

Digital Equity of Access

Mal Lee

Equity of access to the digital technology is vital for all the nation’s young.

Indeed one could argue it is so from around the age of two or three, the stage when most in digitally connected families begin growing being digital (Chaudron, 2015).

Ideally in a digital world every young person should have their ‘own’ digital device/s and connectivity, free to use largely unfettered. Even the poorest should like every other child be able to stream shows, create, explore, communicate, post, network, and learn collaboratively with the digital 24/7/365, naturally growing in the everyday usage their digital mindset and being digital.

Every child – and not just the advantaged – should enjoy a normal upbringing in a digital and socially networked world.

Without family, and ideally school, access, support and empowerment children will be disadvantaged, educationally, socially and economically.

It is an ideal that has that been pursued, often unwittingly by the digitally connected families of the world for the last couple of decades. Until 2019 they alone had basically provided their children their digital technology and connectivity, and critically shaped its use and provided the requisite support and direction with a digital mindset.

Not government, and only rarely the schools.

The families have done so remarkably successfully, readily evolving their ways in a rapidly changing scene.

Around 70% or near on 4 billion young people are now digitally connected (UNICEF, 2017), (ITU, 2020). That connectivity is not only more than double that in 2010, but is fundamental in that it saw the shift from a dated analogue to a digital medium (ITU, 2011).  

Typically 90% plus of children aged three or more have digital connectivity in the developed and increasingly large pockets of the developing world (ITU, 2020).  A New Zealand study undertaken post the COVID – 19 shutdown found 93.7% of the students attending Christchurch’s 150 schools had ready home connectivity and access to the desired digital devices (GCSN, 2020), with but 6.3% of students needing government assistance. 

Pre 2020 few governments worldwide shared the ideal of national or universal connectivity.

Some did.

England for example mounted its Home Access Scheme (Tolley, 2010), the government of the day believing it imperative all the nation’s young had home connectivity.  Sadly most efforts died with changes in government, leaving the families to fund the connectivity.

Most schools and governments was thus unprepared when the 2020 pandemic hit, and were obliged to operate digitally and work collaboratively online with their families. They had not shared the ideals of the families or the young about connectivity. Their thinking was still in large shaped by the traditional, insular, site based mindset which saw no real role for families in schooling, or the need for all the nation’s young to be connected. Most had only a limited understanding of their digital connected families’ digital resources, competencies, and preferred mode of learning with the digital. 

One will struggle even today to find a government or education authority which regularly monitors the evolving home digital expertise or resources.

Moreover few had readied themselves to work in a networked mode of teaching, even in a limited form. Revealingly the aforementioned Christchurch study affirmed 22% of secondary teachers markedly underestimated the digital resources of their student’s homes (GCSN, 2020).

Not surprisingly most governments adopted a short term, band aid solution, that paid no regard to the ideals or sterling work of the digitally connected families, or the universal connectivity of the young.  Invariably most, in the belief that only they knew best imposed a dated, largely ineffectual, ‘one size fits all’ model of digital use upon the student’s homes. Most opted to hand out laptops – the same model to everyone. A few provided some home connectivity, but the overall message was clear, employ a short term solution until the return to normal schooling.

In fairness most teachers, schools, national and provincial governments, and corporations from the outset of the shutdowns went out of the way to ensure students in need had the gear and connectivity (UNESCO, 2020). You’ll all have heard of the teachers, schools and companies that went to great length to ensure every child was connected, particularly in the rural and regional areas.

Yes sadly in some situations, like parts of the US (Vogels, et.al, 2020) many did not believe it was the role of government to support families in need. In the midst of the first wave of the pandemic only 53% of US adults believed governments should assist home connectivity of the students (Vogels, et.al, 2020). 

Most teachers, schools and governments, national and provincial understood the importance of looking after each child, and the political and electoral imperative of being seen to provide the kit and connectivity. 

The problem was not the effort expended, but rather the thinking that shaped it, and the failure to adopt a solution for today’s and likely tomorrow’s world.

Collaboration is the key within a networked society. Not unilateral, top down bureaucratic action.

The digitally connected families revealed during the pandemic their ability to operate digitally, demonstrating a level of digital resourcing that has for many years surpassed that available in most classrooms (Lee and Ryall, 2010). 

Vitally they also demonstrated their willingness to collaborate with, and support the schools, making possible the remote teaching. They, not government provided the bulk of the digital infrastructure, technology, connectivity and support for the online teaching – at no cost to the schools or government.

They showed why they had successfully connected 90% plus of the developed nation’s young, and why they – and not government – would lead the way to the near universal 24/7/365 connectivity of the nation’s young.

The visionary schools that shaped their operations with a digital mindset, and which had normalised the use of the digital understood the digital capability of their families, and the imperative of genuinely collaborating with them.

They also had long understood the importance of equity of access, and every student having home connectivity.  A decade ago in readying BYOT (Lee and Levins, 2012) school after school used as a case study proclaimed the necessity of looking after every child, and the relative ease of so doing.

Why governments and their administrators have still to embrace that imperative makes one wonder.

While still early days post the COVID – 19 shutdowns it appears most governments intend to return to the traditional ways of teaching and schooling, to continue the focus on the basics and use the digital peripherally in the classroom.  

In early 2021 one will struggle globally to find any government that provides home connectivity for students in need, or which expresses the desire for universal home connectivity. Situations like Lafayette County (US) are difficult to find.

Most appear to view the pandemic as an aberration, and are letting slide the educational imperative of ensuring every child, and not just the advantaged, have digital access 24/7/365, from early in life.

The very strong message at this point in history is that if your school believes in digital equity of access it must take the lead in its achievement.

The job is not hard. 

But it does require a head committed to the quest, and a school staff willing to respect, trust, empower and genuinely collaborate with their families in the use of their digital resources. It entails acknowledging the students will use their own devices and digital resources.

The number of students today in need of support is likely to be small. The Christchurch numbers are likely to be found in most developed nations. A potential challenge is ensuring all students in large families have ready access.

The cost of apt devices has dropped, and continues to fall.  Near all schools can provide the financial support or draw on a range of sources to secure the money.

While most schools can fund the access and connectivity there are invariably local service groups and government agencies able to assist as well.

What is required is that each year the school will, as a normal part of its operations with each new cohort sensitively identify those in need of support, and arrange it is provided.

Approach that support with a digital mindset, understanding each family’s situation and needs, empowering the family to make what it believes the apt decision.

It is time to stop the paternalism – well intentioned and unwitting as it might be.

For too long those in authority, the school, the bureaucracy have decided what the poor need.

Try if possible to give money, particularly for the devices.

Understand how important respect, trust and empowerment is to all digitally connected families, and their children. Connectivity is connectivity, but the message communicated in enabling the family, child/children to choose the desired device and apps is immense.

One of the great failings of England’s Home Access scheme (Tolley, 2010) was middle level bureaucrats deciding what technology was appropriate for those in need. Their actions trumpeted very loudly the poor and marginalised couldn’t be trusted to make the right choice. 

Digitally connected families worldwide are invariably technology agnostic, using within their ecosystem a mix of operating systems and technologies.

That said most in the family like to choose their own personal device/s. Some will prefer a tablet, others a desktop or laptop. Some will prefer Android, some Apple and others Windows.  Some will after a couple of years change.

It matters not.  

Nor does whether the students are using gold plated laptops or reconditioned units. It is the capability of the user that counts.

The bottom line is that every one of your students should have apt 24/7/365 home connectivity, able to take charge of their use of and learning with the digital.

Conclusion 

In an ideal world the funding for those in need requiring connectivity for their children should be factored into the social service payments, enabling governments to operate all its agencies on the knowledge of universal digital connectivity, obviating the need to prop up a decaying postal service.

But until that is done it will be up to the school. 

  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2012) Bring Your Own Technology Melbourne ACER Press
  • Tolley, R (2010) ‘UK Home Access Plan: A Case Study’ in Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) (2010) Developing a Networked School Community, Melbourne ACER Press
  • UNICEF (2017) Children in a Digital World. The State of the World’s Children 2017. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf

COVID -19 and Digital Schooling

Sharing the experience

Mal Lee

Do you have a school, education authority, government review of how the school/s handled the COVID – 19 lockdown that we can share?

Indeed if you would like to publish a reflective on your school’s experience in going digital we’d be delighted to publish those thoughts.

Simply email Mal Lee at mallee@mac.com

The 2020 COVID – 19 pandemic obliged schools and their communities like never before to address the facility to move to a more digitally based schooling.

Notwithstanding we expect most schools, education authorities, teacher education institutions and governments to return as soon as possible to the standard model of schooling, still shaped by an analogue mindset, having no desire to go digital.

But we are also aware of notable exceptions worldwide that used the digital astutely, who grew as school communities during the pandemic and which will continue to grow as digitally mature organisations.

Our desire is to use this site to monitor and reflect upon the digital evolution of schooling. 

Serendipitously over the last year Roger Broadie and I have been focussed on readying a new publication on the digital for ACER Press Australia.

The challenge given by the Publisher was to address the reality that a quarter of a century on from the world going online the use of the digital in most schools worldwide remained peripheral.

While the digitally connected young and their families globally had normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital most schools had not.

Could we write a book that addressed that challenge, and assisted teachers and trainee teachers normalise the use of the digital in their teaching?

We’ve written a book entitled Digital Teachers. Digital Mindsets.

It will be released early 2021.

The book takes as its premise that every teacher, K-12 should in 2020 to be a digital teacher, shaping their teaching with a digital mindset.

It reasoned that most every teacher in 2020 shapes their personal lives with a digital mindset. 

Teachers, like all of us expect to use our digital devices the moment desired, to connect instantly anywhere, anytime, at speed, 24/7/365, to use the personal devices they want, configured how they like, with the agency to use and learn with the digital as they desire.

The moment most of those teachers walk through the school gate they revert to using an aged analogue mindset. They assume learning with the digital must be tightly controlled, taught by specialist ICT teachers, with the students distrusted and disempowered, and needing to do and learn what the ‘experts’ believe best.  The focus is the technology, and the ‘right’ technology at that, with all students mastering the same skills.

The aim of the new book is to assist every teacher, at every level, in every area of learning normalise the use of the apt tools of the contemporary world in their teaching, shaping the use with a digital mindset.

The argument is the thinking, an apt contemporary mindset not the technology per se must shape the teaching and learning. 

Mid way through the writing COVID-19 struck, affirming the necessity of every teacher, in every school being able to operate from a digital base.

Tellingly the pandemic stress tested every facet of schooling, and in particular its ability to work digitally, remotely and with an apt shaping mindset.

While there were important notable exceptions most teachers, schools, education authorities and governments were ill-prepared.

The continued dominance of an analogue mindset, dependence on a century old ‘grammar of schooling’, focus on the basics and expectation that the digital would be used only within the existing organisational structures did little to ready teachers or schools to go digital.

As governments, education authorities, schools and education unions and professional associations review their performance during the pandemic and ‘stress testing’ we believe it important to make that thinking readily available and to critique the findings.

In the coming months – and likely years – we intend doing just that and monitoring the evolution of schooling, at the same time as we elaborate on the thinking within Digital Teachers, Digital Mindsets.

Below are links to two important pieces of research, both of which relate to equity of access to the digital.

The first is by Pew Internet, authored by Vogels, et.al – and released 10 September 2020 – 
https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/09/10/59-of-u-s-parents-with-lower-incomes-say-their-child-may-face-digital-obstacles-in-schoolwork/

Revealing is how few Americans believe governments should assist families in need with access to the digital.

The contrast with most developed and developing nations, and indeed the second study is pronounced.

The second is New Zealand, undertaken by the Greater Christchurch Schools Network. A copy is available at – https://www.gcsn.school.nz

It is an excellent comprehensive study of 150 schools all can learn from.

The study affirms New Zealand’s commitment to equity of access, but also highlights the exceptionally high level of digital resources and the very good connectivity in most student’s homes. 

Corona Virus, Schools and Smartphone Bans

Mal Lee

Should education authorties persist with their school smartphone bans at a time when nations are rolling out their corona virus contact tracing apps?

Why shouldn’t medical authorities be able to trace potential corona virus contacts among the young in schools, by using the smarts of the technology?

As governments globally promote the benefits of students learning from home, come to better understand the many benefits of using the student’s digital devices and debate how best to minimise the risks associated with reopening schools is it not time to revisit the bans many governments placed on smartphones in schools?

Virtually overnight the pandemic has obliged educational decision to markedly rethink the contribution the digital can make to the education and well-being of the nation’s young.

Part of that rethink should be the critical part the young’s personal devices play in their 24/7/365 development, learning and well-being in a digital and socially networked society.

A related aspect is the imperative of school decision makers recognising in 2020 schools are part of an increasingly interconnected and networked world, where smartphones are the device no one, and most assuredly the young can do without.

It is surely time for all to understand that the highly sophisticated smartphones in the student’s hands are devices of enormous power and potential – that require smart minds to realise that potential.

The corona virus tracing app is but one example of how the devices can be used for the good.

There are endless other possibilities.

But none will be realised while ever the Luddite stance is maintained and teachers’ ability to explore those possibilities is denied.

Corona Virus, Schools and the Window of Opportunity

Mal Lee

Overnight the corona virus has obliged society and the educational decision makers to rethink the nature of schooling in a connected world – in a way few other events have. 

There is a societal focus on the role of schooling, and online education the world has rarely seen.

It has opened the window for the serious consideration of how schools might better genuinely collaborate with their families in the education of the young in a networked society.

The irony is that where only months ago governments were banning digital devices, and supporting schools unilateral control of teaching today that are reliant on those personal devices, the family digital ecosystem and are seemingly wanting to collaborate with the families in the ‘schooling’ of the nation’s young. 

Presently the young experience two types of learning with the digital. The structured tightly controlled linear teaching of the school, that distrusts and disempowers the young. And the highly laissez approach used 24/7/365 outside the school walls, where near on 3 billion digitally connected young (UNICEF, 2017) have largely taken control of their use of and learning with the digital (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018).

They are diametrically opposite, with the young outside naturally adopting the approach used by 4 billion plus of the worlds digitally connected (ITU, 2018).

Schools and systems globally have seemingly dismissed, or have not noted that global phenomenon, in the main making no effort to recognise, build upon or complement the global connectivity or universal nature of the approach learning employed.

The virus provides the chance for more schools to enhance the nexus between the two, now parallel approaches, and to collaborate with and provide astute support and leadership for the world’s digitally connected families.

But it is only a momentary chance. Already parents, the wider society and teachers are desperately wanting to return to the schooling they know.

Globally there is a small cadre of schools, that after years of astute preparation are demonstrating what is possible.

There are another group doing their utmost with the online despite that lack of preparation.

And likely globally there are schools where the teachers are going out of the way to continue their teaching with a mix of paper and digital resources.

However, most governments and education authorities in announcing the arrangements for their schools during the virus proclaimed they were taking schooling online. 

They were taking a 1920 model of schooling, which is strongly site based online, from Kindergarten to Year 12, in every area of learning.

The claim sounded highly assuring in a time of crisis.

The trouble was that in most instances it was a myth, convenient spin. 

Literally overnight, with no planning, consultation, staff or community preparation, or infrastructure testing total education systems were through some magic wand waving to move from a wholly site based operation to working online.

Some exceptional schools, that have done the years of preparation have handled the challenge well.

Most however have struggled, with both the concept of teaching in a digital mode, and the logistics of teaching wholly online. One example sighted sought to unilaterally impose a 1920 model of teaching on the lives of all its families, specifying to the minute when students were to switch subjects, and the sanctions that would be applied if they did not. 

Glitch after technical glitch has been experienced by near all.

Little is the wonder most are wanting to return to the established ways.

That said maybe this is the cock-up schooling and particularly governments had to have.

What is now patently obvious from the pandemic experience is that physical attendance at a physical place school must be core to schooling forever.

The virus has daily underscored the critical role schools play in allowing young parents to work.

A related reality is that a century of unsuccessful school change has affirmed that the core structure of schooling will rarely, if ever be changed.

It is possible to make and sustain change within those 1920 structures, but – and it is a vital ‘but’ – it is virtually impossible to achieve sustained structural change in schools. History over the century has continually affirmed the attitudinal, political, structural, educational, legislative, legal, cultural, logistical and societal constraints to be overcome.

While it is pleasing to note is the number of commentators urging schooling take advantage of the virus to introduce fundamental change all fail to grasp how tightly the standard model of schooling is woven into the fabric of modern society.

Change can, and has been made within the existing structures. 

That is where to take advantage of the jolt provided by the corona virus. The culture can be changed, a digitally based school ecosystem grown, control of the teaching and learning can be distributed, genuine collaboration can occur between the schools and families and a greater nexus established between the in and out of school use of the digital.

Work on the reality that society will expect the kids to go school, and return home at a set time each day, five days a week, for X days of the year, and break for holidays in the same weeks each year. 

And just maybe some of the opportunities opened by the pandemic will be realised.

Just maybe governments will better understand how central personal devices, family digital ecosystems and digitally connected families are to the 24/7/365 learning of the young, and just maybe when schools return to the standard model governments will still want to genuinely collaborate with the families of the young.

  • Lee, M. Broadie, R and Twining, P (2018) Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families.Armidale Australia Douglas and Brown
  • UNICEF (2017) Children in a Digital World. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf