Category Archives: Implications school evolution

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apparent during the pandemic were the many situations where what was ‘normal’ at the beginning of the year had been superseded by a ‘new normal’ six months later.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

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 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

Schools as Digital Constructs

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In moving schooling from a paper to digital construct the way is opened to shift to an increasingly sophisticated, powerful, flexible and naturally evolving operational base, and allow schools to continually provide an apt, ever richer, contemporary 24/7/365 education.

Critically the shift in thinking enables schools and systems to better accommodate the world of accelerating, seemingly chaotic, often uncertain digital and societal evolution they are operating within, and importantly to evolve and grow in harmony with the rest of society.

Theoretically, as indicated in the last post (Lee and Broadie, 2019), the possibilities for teaching and learning opened by a digital construct are virtually unlimited, with possibilities being added daily as the thinking develops and the technology evolves. 

While that might hold in many fields of endeavour, schools as formal government controlled institutions with defined obligations, having to contend with societal expectations will always be more constrained than most other organisations. 

That said the success of the schools that have gone digital, and adopted a socially networked mode have demonstrated schools can move some distance along the digital evolutionary continuum, and with apt leadership and support can evolve ad infinitum.

The facility to do so will differ markedly with the type of school, likely the size and type of education authority, and the government of the day. Independent, and largely autonomous schools will invariably have greater scope to move, as will smaller government systems. 

While individual schools can make a significant shift ultimately the government of the day must play a lead role if the schools/system is to move from Industrial Age staff selection criteria, working conditions and remuneration or to remove the blockages imposed by the likes of statutory examinations boards, basic skills tests and inspectorates. 

Tellingly, mostly unnoticed, many nations now have in their distance education schools/system ground breaking digital constructs, that have long abandoned their correspondence schools, which astutely couple the evolving technologies, social networking and face to face teaching, and provide an important insight into what is possible. Significantly many of those schools already have working conditions and remuneration arrangements markedly different to the mainstream schools.

The key variable in any construct shift will be human, with the decision makers opting to move to a digital construct or choosing to reject or minimise the opportunities opened and stay with the lower order variant.  

Thus far, near all the world’s education authorities and schools have chosen, consciously or not, to stay with the latter, to fend off digital disruption and natural evolution, and to largely deny the opportunities opened by a digital construct.

While most schools and systems have chosen to retain, and laud the paper construct, outside their walls the world continues to evolve at an accelerating rate, daily distancing the young’s in from the out of school use of and learning with the digital (Friedman, 2016). The digitally connected young outside the school naturally, and unconsciously employing a digital mindset, embracing networked learning, taking charge of their 24/7/365 learning with the technology, and daily growing their version of being digital (Lee, Twining and Broadie, 2018).

The paper construct, with its focus on learning within the physical site and virtual disregard for any learning outside the school has likely inclined most to disregard the reality that formal schooling occupies less than 20% of the young’s annual learning time. They seem conveniently to forget today’s schools are operating within a rapidly evolving, chaotic, increasingly connected world where most global change happens naturally, unplanned, with myriads of consequences and unintended benefits and disbenefits. Disruption, seeming chaos will invariably result in order, and a new normal.

Among the many challenges in shifting to a digital construct is to obviate the inefficiencies of natural evolution (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). There is need to marry the natural with planned change, to continually take advantage of the pertinent global megatrends in creating and shaping the desired learning environment and culture.

The early adopter schools have demonstrated how that can be done.

But ultimately governments must lead the way for school construct change to happen and be sustained widely.

While visionary, often maverick heads and governments have orchestrated pronounced construct change, history reveals all too often that change is ‘rectified’ and the dents removed with the change of head, or government. Invariably the dents are removed by the application of stultifying carry overs of the paper construct. The great dampener, is the use of principal selection criteria that favour those wanting to maintain the status quo, and which accords no importance to the new head being able to grow the construct shift underway.

Governments must be responsible for the human construct it employs within its schools. If it opts to stay with the traditional then it should bear the political, educational and economic consequences. If it chooses to shift it needs to ensure the total construct, the total digitally based ecosystem is attuned to realising the shaping educational vision.

The Opportunities 

Even at this still relatively early phase of the Digital Revolution the opportunities opened for schools moving to a digital operational construct are immense, and largely limited by the human imagination. 

Many of the possibilities the authors have examined in earlier writings, all of which can be read on the Digital Evolution of Schooling website.

There are a few that merit special mention.

The move provides the opportunity to:

  • Return to first principles and clarify the desired shaping educational vision. It bids all associated with the school to question, and to continually question the aptness of all paper construct practises in a digital context.
  • Have all associated with the school/s, but particularly the leadership approach contemporary schooling, and the wider education of the young, with a digital, and networked mindset – not as now with an analogue.
  • Ensure the educational vision, the clear sense of purpose guides the creation and daily shaping of a school ecosystem and culture that facilitates the desired learning and resourcing. 
  • Identify those facets of schooling to be retained within the digital construct – which are likely to be many.
  • Evolve the school/s, largely in step with society’s ever rising expectations – rather than as now daily falling further behind.
  • Have schools play a more integral and productive part within a networked society and economy, moving them out of their current insular situation, making them more efficient, effective, economic and productive, contributing more fully to the growth of not only the young but also the local and national economy. 
  • Transform paper constructs into digitally mature organisations, built in large upon a tightly integrated, ever evolving, increasingly sophisticated, synergistic digital ecosystem, able to readily interface with and contribute to the networked world.
  • Realise John Dewey’s (1916) century old desire of more consciously cultivating both the informal, out of school learning with the formal, in school in the holistic education of each child.
  • Better individualise every child’s education, and build upon the young, from around the age of three taking charge of their use of and learning with the digital, learning to learn and naturally growing their being digital.
  • Have the schools genuinely collaborate with their digitally connected families in the education of each child, with both parties aware of where they should focus their efforts in growing the child’s holistic education. 
  • Accommodate both planned, and unintended change, and to optimise the benefits that flow naturally from chaotic evolution.
  • Grow a set of operational parameters for a continually evolving digitally based ecosystem and culture, where the young are trusted and empowered – rather than, as now trying to accommodate the young being digital within an aged paper construct where they are distrusted.
  • Have the digital underpin all school operations, normalising its ubiquitous use in and outside the classroom, using it to complement the other media, and accrue the efficiencies, economies, synergies and enhancement that can be achieved, intended and unintended.
  • Have the schools, as formal institutions recognise that while they can never lead the way in the young’s use of and learning with the digital they can better recognise, build upon and provide direction to the 24/7/365 use and learning.
  • Rethink the current Industrial Age structures, processes, working conditions and remuneration and gradually move to those befitting a digital construct. 
  • Complement the site based with networked teaching, learning and assessment, that can occur 24/7/365, anywhere, anytime.  In the upper secondary years, strong arguments can be mounted for much of the learning to happen off site, in jobs, apprenticeships, internships or intensive workshops.
  • Employ a more networked mode of school resourcing, where the school and the families pool their resources and expertise, and where schools can draw upon the resources of a networked society, and lessen its near total reliance on government/parent funds.

The educational vision

As we detailed in the last post, the paper construct has led to approaches to schooling, teaching and learning that we continue to accept as ‘normal and correct’ without thinking. Having pursued those ‘normals’ for aeons we understand the type of learning they produce. But we have yet to identify the learning possible within a digital construct.

These now need to become the subject of acute observation and research. 

The most obvious of these new affordances are:

  • Time learning. If students accept and enjoy the learning challenges that schools lead them into, they can radically extend the time they spend learning. This makes student engagement vital, so that learning is driven more by their internal desire to learn rather than external pressures.
  • Just in time access to information. ‘Road-bumps’ in learning, caused by lack of knowledge or understanding can be rapidly overcome, so that they don’t inhibit and damage the flow of learning.
  • Individual learners taking charge of their learning 24/7/365, lifelong. The implications of the learner, and not so much the ‘authority’, taking charge of their use of and learning with the digital, from around the age of three through to death are profound.
  • Connection to people. Ideas can be discussed online, and forums allow learners to follow the discussions of others. This can bring a multiplicity of people into students’ learning networks and raise the importance of students verbalising and discussing their current understanding.
  • The importance of learning to learn, relative to learning a formal curriculum. A key feature of the digital world is the extremely rapid growth of knowledge, which necessitates life-long learning for all. This also implies that state derived curricula and assessments need to focus on competence in a field, and to change as the societal perceptions to be competent evolve.

The Way Forward

The move to a digital operational construct necessitates schools having school principals willing and able to orchestrate the shift, and its continued evolution.

This has been strikingly apparent in the schools that have made the shift(Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Broadie, 2018),and indeed in the digital evolution and transformation of all private and public sector organisations.

Without an astute chief executive officer, with digital acumen, able to set the expectations, communicate the vision and daily orchestrate the daily workings and growth of a digitally based school ecosystem there is little chance the shift will occur, let alone be sustained.  Great deputy heads, highly committed staff and supportive communities can all assist, but the head must lead.

The head must moreover understand that the construct shift is first and foremost a human challenge, where the school community shapes – on the fly – an organisation it believes can best deliver the desired education.

It is not, contrary to the current approach, a technological challenge, best left to the ‘ICT experts’. 

For well over a quarter of a century the universal propensity has been for teachers, ICT coordinators, principals, administrators and particularly governments to focus on the technology, and often only the technology (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Broadie, 2018). Invariably the first step has been to purchase the latest gear, and to laud its purchase. Few appear to understand they have simply been trying to shoehorn a limited use of the digital technology into a paper construct, constrained by Industrial Age structures, processes and mindset.

Not surprisingly the billions spent on digital technology for schools hasn’t magically occasioned construct change, nor will it.

The challenge is for school leaders to identify and gradually shape an organisational structure, a learning environment and culture that takes advantage of the evolving digital technology to provide the desired contemporary education.

The schools and education authorities that have moved to a digital construct have recognised the imperative of putting the educational agenda to the fore and then addressing the many human and technological variables that assist further the agenda.

They have also appreciated they can hasten the shift from the paper to digital construct by tackling those variables largely unconstrained within the existing construct. The shift from an analogue to digital mindset, distributing the control of the teaching and learning, trusting and empowering all, enhancing the family-school collaboration, ensuring all students have the technology, recognising out of school learning with the digital, pooling the home and school resources and expertise, the establishment of an integrated school ecosystem, social networking, and the adoption of a culture of change can all for example be fostered within the existing operational parameters, with few involving an overt clash with the established ways.

History suggests the evolution in schools will be gradual, the schools moving along an increasingly higher order evolutionary continuum, shedding the ways of the paper construct, overcoming the impediments to change, working increasingly within a digital construct.

The authors’ research with the early adopter schools (Lee and Broadie, 2016), points strongly to;

  • The schools, while each shaping their own course, in a seemingly chaotic world will move through remarkably similar evolutionary stages as they shift from the paper to increasingly digital construct
  • Each displaying, regardless of type or context, common attributes at each stage
  • Most schools in their evolution and shift to a higher order of operation needing to move through each of the evolutionary stages
  • The evolutionary continuum continually lengthening as the thinking, expectations and technology becomes more sophisticated
  • Primary/elementary schools moving faster along the continuum than the secondary.
  • The schools lessening their dependence on the physical site for much learning, taking increasing advantage of networked learning and teaching. 

Movement along the continuum will rarely be constant, more often it will be the case of two steps forward, and one step back, often with a change of head the school regressing to the world of paper (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

The unplanned commonality evidenced globally in the young’s use of the Net (Tapscott, 1998), and more recently in the children’s use of and learning with the digital (Lee, Twining and Broadie, 2018) is seemingly mirrored globally in schools shift to digital construct. 

Conclusion.

While still early days, with appreciably more research to be undertaken the strong suggestion for any school, or education authority seeking to move to a digital construct is to note the key traits evidenced in the evolution of all digitally mature organisations. 

  • Dewey, J (1916), Democracy and education, New York Macmillan.
  • Friedman, T (2016) Thank you for Being LateNew York Farrer, Straus Giroux
  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2ndEdition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Lee, M. Broadie, R and Twining, P (2018) Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families. Armidale. Australia Douglas and Brown http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2019) ‘Moving Schooling from a Paper to Digital Construct’. Linkedin -19 August 2019 – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/moving-schooling-from-paper-based-digital-construct-mal-lee/
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press
  • Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York

Empower and Educate: Not Ban

 

Avoid Damaging the Schools

 Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Being digital in a universally connected world is a core educational capability all the young will require.

At first glance, it is logical to expect schools to lead the way in growing that capability.

When a nation like France decides to ban the use of smartphones in all its schools many will ask how is it going to ready its young for being digital?  The same holds of schools that chose to ban the children’s kit.

Isn’t it better to educate them on the use of the digital astutely, than to ban the technology and abrogate responsibility? Shouldn’t the nation’s schools, funded to educate the young, be nurturing that core capability?

As a general principle, the answer is yes.

That said one must simultaneously also ask a question rarely posed – who is best placed to grow the young’s being digital?

History (Lee and Broadie, 2018) affirms that while ‘being digital’ is in part an inherent capability, that will largely naturally grow from birth onwards it does require the astute guidance of elders to support and shape its appropriate growth.

Seemingly highly logical.

The answer as to who is best placed is however not black and white.

Twenty plus years of history and digital disruption (Lee and Broadie, 2018) suggests the best way forward is rather more nuanced.

Governments, schools, many academics and even the media seemingly have no doubt it should be the schools, with the teachers implementing the policies of government.

History and near two billion digitally connected young say it should – and will be – the digitally connected families of the world.

And that parents globally have – largely unseen – already adopted the new global normal, where the families play the lead role, from the day the child is born. The trend is very strongly for the digitally connected families to play an increasingly central role in nurturing the children’s learning with the digital, and for the schools at best to play a complementary role, and critically only when they are prepared to create a learning culture akin to, and build upon the leadership of the families.

This development is a natural flow on from the Digital Revolution, and the continuing exponential digital evolution.

The current reality is that it will make little or no difference to the world’s young being digital if most schools and governments ban the use of the children’s personal digital technologies in the classrooms. It hasn’t made any difference since the mid 1990’s when society began going digital, and the schools retreated behind their cyber walls and successfully repelled the Digital, and Mobile Revolutions (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

Ironically the bans will likely negatively impact the schools more than the young.

The natural growth of the young’s being digital will, on current trends, continue unabated.

Most schools have long been dealt out of the main play in the young’s learning with the digital.

Near on 70% (ITU, 2017) of the world’s young are digitally connected and have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital, from the age of three upwards.

Governments and most schools globally have played no significant part in that connectivity.

It has been – and continues to be – the digitally connected families of the world that have funded the technology and connectivity, and been willing to empower and trust their children to take charge of their learning with the digital, largely unfettered.

The governments and schools have provided the families of the young little or no funding or support, all the while spending billions of taxpayer’s monies ineffectually on school technology.

Indeed, from the mid 1990’s most schools have operated behind their walls, isolating themselves from an increasingly connected world, refusing to recognise the out of school learning with the digital, preventing the classroom use of the children’s mobile digital technologies, and leaving the families to fend for themselves.

Significantly the schools have not – and still don’t – attach great importance on the digital underpinning all learning. They see no need to grow the children’s being digital as a core capability, or to move away from their use of the traditional highly controlled and structured, linear teaching, within what are still Industrial Age organisations.

Critically most schools have not given their students agency over their learning with the digital. The students are disempowered, distrusted, have no voice in what is taught, are obliged to learn what the experts believe right, are compelled to use the school technology and to follow the dictates of the teacher.

In marked contrast the digitally connected families of the world, from the 1990’s onwards believed being digital in an increasingly connected and networked world was vital for their children’s education and life chances (Lee and Broadie, 2018). Revealingly a 2018 US Gallup survey on digital devices concluded while 87.5% of parents believed they were important to their children’s education only 36% of teachers held that belief (Busteed and Dugan (2018). Tellingly the same poll revealed that while only 13% of parents believed the devices could be harmful to the children’s education 69% of teachers believed they would (Busteed and Dugan, 2018).

While US figures little is the wonder that scant if any notice is taken of educators’ invariably negative advice on the acquisition and use of the most sought after devices in human history; devices that daily are becoming more central to life, learning and work in a digitally connected world.

Significantly the families not only provided their children the technology but supported their use of a strongly laissez faire, non-linear, naturally evolving approach to learning, where the children largely took charge of their use and learning with the digital.

As the technology evolved and became simpler to use so the age of those using the digital outside the school walls plummeted.

For at least the last five years, most children born into digitally connected families will by three have largely naturally grown the key elements of being digital, capabilities they will use, and grow lifelong – regardless of what schools or governments desire.

The die is largely cast before governments and their schools come into the children’s education.

The young will only use the structured learning approach of schools when compelled.

The several billion digitally connected young – and those millions being connected weekly – are not about to give up the agency over their learning, and abandon their highly successful, enjoyable and strongly individualised approach that naturally keeps them at the cutting edge. They are not about to revert to a dated, ineffectual approach, where their learning with the digital outside the classroom isn’t recognised, and they are distrusted and disempowered.

Governments and schools could learn much about who is best placed to grow the young’s being digital by comparing the development with the young’s learning to speak.

Both are inherent capabilities, naturally grown by the parents in the family setting, ‘operational’ with most children well before starting school.

Tellingly learning to speak – although one of the most basic of educational capabilities – isn’t formally taught by the schools, except with children struggling. A core skill that underpins all learning is naturally collaboratively built upon by the school and family.

The growing of the nation’s young ‘being digital’ from birth onwards, and having it underpin all learning 24/7/365 could and likely should be approached the same way.

It would necessitate the schools – and government – recognising the families’ lead. It would oblige them to appreciate that for decades the best teaching practice with the digital has been be found outside the school. It would entail schools growing a learning culture like the families, and being willing to empower and trust the young. The schools – like with speaking – would be complementing the efforts of and adding value to the efforts of the digitally connected families.

That is what is happening with those exceptional schools globally that have long ceased doing the digitaland are being digital.

Schools, governments can continue to operate alone, controlling every facet of learning with the digital within the school, dismissing the efforts of the digitally connected families, banning the student’s use of the personal technologies and declining to build upon the children’s digital base but all that will do is lessen the standing and relevance of the schools.

Children and families that have only ever known a digitally connected world will regard those schools increasingly as out of touch with reality, dated and irrelevant, with the students becoming increasingly disengaged and likely alienated.

Hand written exams are not their world.

The young – with the support of their family, peers, networks – will continue to take charge of their learning with the digital, to grow their learning how to learn and to apply that talent in an increasingly connected world to learn what they desire, by-passing the schools when they want.

Schools that try and compete with the families will lose. What little influence they have with the digital will continue to decline as those schools lag increasingly behind the families’ thinking and usage.

Significantly the schools that try and compete, and which ban the technology will deny the nation’s digitally empowered young the opportunity to work with many talented professionals, who if empowered and allowed to fly can take the children’s thinking and learning to an appreciably higher order. The untapped potential of the digital remains immense. All the nation’s young – and not just the ‘self-starters’ – need to be challenged and extended. It is not enough for the young to be digitally proficient – all should be continually challenged and supported by astute teachers and innovative teaching to operate at a high plane lifelong – whatever the young’s interests and passions.

Conclusion

While the history, research and logic strongly suggests governments and their schools should move immediately to genuinely collaborate with the digitally connected families the same history, and governments near universal desire to control every facet of schooling, suggests very strongly it isn’t about to happen.

There will be exceptional schools, and likely more exceptional schools that will be willing to distribute their control of the teaching and learning, and genuinely collaborate with their families, but most will not (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

Most schools, usually with the support of government, will continue with their insular Industrial Age ways, placing limited importance on being digital or empowering the young to take charge of their learning, and banning or inordinately controlling the young’s school use of the technologies they use 24/7/365.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pre-Primary Digital Normalisation

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

[ Sitting beside us at a restaurant last Friday night a two year old was very happily immersed in the Australian Play School app]

Largely unseen, the digitally connected families of the world have over the last four to five years taken a lead role in providing their pre-primary children, from the first year of life onwards, the start of a quality 24/7/365 lifelong digital education.

Critically they have employed the same naturally evolving, highly individualised laissez faire model of teaching used so successfully by the digitally connected families of the world in providing millions upon millions of their older children the desired education.

It is a success that should be proclaimed universally and the parents commended for their success in contending with a rapidly evolving, uncertain digital environment.

The very real challenge for pre-primary parents worldwide will be to build upon that model, to proclaim its success and prevent bureaucrats and educators – no matter how well intentioned – from instituting the stultifying structured approach found so wanting within the schools.

The pre-primary children of the developed, and increasingly the underdeveloped world, are on track to begin formal schooling having normalised the astute use of the digital, and for the digital to play a central role in their upbringing, lives and learning.

The implications of the pre-primary digital normalisation are immense and are only now becoming apparent.  They will impact on every facet of the children’s vital early childhood upbringing and education, whether governments desire it or not.

It is a development all need to better understand if it is to be used astutely and enhanced.

Evolution of pre-primary digital normalisation

The origins of the development are to be found soon after the emergence of the WWW in 1993, in the historic change to the nature of youth, and youth education, that flowed from the digital empowerment of the world’s young, the evolution of the digitally connected families and the introduction of digital touch screen technologies.

The move by parents globally twenty plus years ago to empower the young outside the school and provide them with largely unfettered use of the online and the digital has as mentioned had profound implications.

By the early 2000’s the adolescents of the developed and increasingly the developing world had with the vital support of their families normalised the use of the digital, albeit outside the school walls.

As indicated by around 2007 – 2009 the digitally connected family had become the norm across the developed and increasingly the developing world, with the digitally empowered parents taking a greater lead role in their children’s 24/7/365 digital education.

It bears remembering that until the mid 2000’s digital usage by the world’s young was primarily by the teens, and while much younger children used the technology the keyboard and the mouse were not exactly child friendly.

The release of all manner of touchscreen technologies in the 2007 – 2010 period – the iPhone, the iPod Touch, the Android mobile operating system, Apple’s App store, the iPad and the Android based tablets– changed the scene irrevocably overnight.

Very quickly the age of those of using the mobile technologies plummeted. Devices like the iPod Touch and the iPad became very popular with the young, with many a young child also accessing mum and dad’s smartphone.

By 2012 – 2014 children as young as two or three were readily using iPads and the various Android tablets, with the parents having to contend with the development.

They, like the digitally connected families before them, moved naturally to using an informal, non-linear, highly fluid, self-directed, individualised, play based, parent or older sibling guided model of learning. Any who have sat and observed the very young at play on an iPad will have soon noted the children’s excitement, the use of the visual – and rarely the verbal –  intelligence in navigating the device, the integrated approach, the speed of learning but also the vital role the family members play in assisting the children over hurdles, and bringing the usage to an end.

The digital connected families of the world have – largely of their own volition –  accommodated the surge in pre-primary use very well.  A read of the European Commission’s study (Chaubron, 2015) of 0-8 digital learning in eleven European countries or the Erikson (2016) study of US families reveals the common sense, the balance and networked learning brought to play by the parents, and the limited contribution made by educators.

It bears noting that the UK Ofcom (Ofcom, 2016) reported that 37% of 3-4 year olds accessed YouTube from a mobile device in 2016.

We suspect every parent with a pre-primary child would appreciate some support and direction in the use of the digital, but the vital message should be one of commendation for their success in a period of rapid, accelerating and uncertain digital evolution and transformation, where few experts globally have much more insight into the path ahead.

In many respects the success should not come as a surprise. The current digitally connected families are among the most educated in their nation’s history, who have long normalised the everyday use of the digital. They have, particularly in the last decade, grown their ability to lead the out of school 24/7/365 digital education of the young and to use a learning model that continually delivers in an era of rapid uncertain digital evolution and societal transformation.

The Way Forward

In looking forward and providing advice to the parents of pre-primary children we’d suggest they

  • approach the role with confidence, and as a digitally connected family
  • continue using common sense, and treat each child as a unique individual
  • continually look forward, and not seek answers or ‘best practise’ from an analogue mode
  • reject all moves to structure and assess the learning except where this is part of the child’s delight in gaining mastery
  • continue drawing upon the emerging global research on pre-primary digital education
  • appreciate the pre-primary children’s application of their visual intelligence to their digitally based learning will likely over time occasion a reworking of at least sections of the Piagetian base upon which educator’s work.
  • become intolerant of schools that continue to refuse to recognise the very valid and important learning that happens in the out-of-school and in the family environment.

Appreciate as part of a digitally connected family parents are embarking upon a lifelong education, that will invariably entail all continually making the best use and application of an ever evolving, increasingly powerful, sophisticated and integrating suite of digital technologies.

One most assuredly is not on a short sprint where the parents will hand all digital education over to the school. Schools that do not collaborate with their families and listen to their pupils on the digital will not only fail their societal remit but will educationally, socially and economically disadvantage their students.

If very fortunate the children will attend a digitally mature school which will respect and build the children’s learning and genuinely collaborate. Sadly most schools won’t be interested and will expect the children to conform with the traditional one size fits all highly structured teaching program.

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.