Mal Lee, Paul Morris and Sue Lowe
Near a year on from first mooting the idea of a hub and spoke networking model of system wide change, (Lee, Morris and Lowe, 2015) the authors can look back with considerable professional satisfaction at what has been achieved – intentionally and possibly unintentionally – in the last year and what is in store for the next.
It would not be too great a call to say the model has shown it can assist the digital evolution of schools, and vitally can do so by
- supporting schools progress from where they are at on their evolutionary journey
- encouraging each school to take charge of its growth, and to adopt a development solution befitting its unique situation
- the schools taking advantage of their considerable autonomy – in this instance that afforded under the NSW Government’s ‘Local Schools, Local Decisions’ policy
- building and sharing collective capacity across the network
- working with the existing resources in the school and its community.
The response from the schools involved affirms there is no need, or call to employ the traditional, specially funded, expensive, much hyped and largely ineffectual ‘one size fits all’, centrally administered change model, invariably out of touch with each school’s particular needs.
Indeed the irony is that the efforts to use the centrally administered technology failed as a result of its inability to meet the technology needs of the region.
The importance of the ‘hub’ school in the model is from the authors’ experience very considerable. That school needs to open the eyes to what is possible, to what is possible in an everyday school using the existing funds, and to support the other schools in the network, at least with their initial steps.
It was also important the program had the support and involvement of the local education authority – in this case the NSW Department of Education – and even though the grant provided by that authority was small it did communicate it’s commitment to the digital evolution of the region’s schools.
The unintended – or at least underestimated – part of the model that became increasingly important was the development of a regional – a Far South Coast – digital ecosystem, and its projection of a culture of change.
What became increasingly apparent was that while each school needed to grow its own digitally based ecosystem the school’s evolution could be markedly assisted by it being part of a regional digital ecosystem – within a wider culture – that held technology and schooling wise anything was possible. That wider ecosystem provided all the schools, small and large, authentic links with their community, local industry and government, which promoted partnerships that, supported each school’s digital evolution.
One can extrapolate further and suggest the impact of the networked change model would be enhanced by a national ecosystem that also encourages innovation and the astute use of the digital in a culture of on-going change. While still early days it is noticeable how well received have been the calls by the national Turnbull Government to create agile ecosystems that can assist grow the digital economy.
The schools soon recognised the educational benefits and ease of moving from their traditional, insular silo like mode and becoming increasingly socially networked schools, able to reap the opportunities opened by normalising the whole school use of the digital, and by networking with like minded schools the community.
Unintentionally the regional digital ecosystem, with its embrace of the digital, its promotion of the teaching of coding, it ties with the region’s digital industries and local government, the promotion of a local software industry and the conduct of an array of digital and STEM initiatives placed the school growth within a wider, very real world context. The staging of coding workshops for women, robotics competitions and hackathons all helped reinforce the importance of the schools embracing digital evolution and improving the life chances of their students.
In regional communities the leaders in the schools, the principals, teachers, parents are also invariably the leaders of the regional initiatives, thus serving to strengthen the growth of both the schools and the wider community.
Mal Lee suggests in ‘Digital Schools Grow Digital Communities’ (Lee, 2015) that in a digital and networked society the impact of digital schools spreads well outside the school walls and that in growing the digital capability of its immediate community the school benefits from a more digitally aware clientele with ever rising expectations of the school.
Unwittingly the swift embarkation of a critical mass of the region’s schools on their digital journey coupled with the regional digital ecosystem initiative has placed considerable pressure on the slower adopting schools, and in particular the region’s secondary schools to follow suit.
So important has become the regional digital ecosystem that the authors would now urge its development be factored into any future hub and spoke networking system change model.
The Key Indicators
In reflecting on the change that has occurred within the schools of the region since the introduction of the hub and spoke networking model, and in particular since the staging of the stimulus conference at the hub school in August the authors have had their observations affirmed. When one notes the change that has occurred since July when the schools revealed their then situation in a pre-conference survey, the requests for assistance fielded by the ‘hub’ school, the observations of the regional director and acting regional director of schools, the post conference survey of participating schools conducted in November and the nature and response to the regional Teach Meet conducted in late November one is looking at significant and rapid evolution.
- Post –conference survey
Fifteen of the thirty four – or approximately half – of the schools of the DEC schools that attended the Broulee PS ‘Building a Digital School’ conference responded to the follow up online survey sent out in November, providing an invaluable insight into the impact of the conference, the effectiveness of the hub and spoke networking model and the likely nature of the region’s schools digital evolutionary journey.
What emerged from the analysis of the survey is the:
- Impact of the ‘hub and spoke school networking model. The impact of the hub school in the networking model was and continues to be pronounced, with virtually every response commenting on the conference’s stimulating impact or the impetus it gave existing efforts.
- Digital vision. Tellingly virtually every response commented on their identification of a digital vision for their school. In opting to collectively speak to the concept at the conference we were aware that traditionally in schooling one plays up the shaping education vision, but building on the research undertaken on the digital transformation of business, and the imperative of having a digital vision we advocated schools do the same. The responses point to the widespread acceptance of the concept.
- Digital evolutionary journey. There was a universal appreciation that each school was on an on-going evolutionary journey, where the way forward had to be shaped by the school and its context.
- Think holistically. All but one school recognised the imperative of addressing the way forward holistically, simultaneously addressing a suite of interconnected human and technological factors. Gone was the idea that digital evolution was simply about buying the latest technology.
- Addressing the basics. Again all but one of the schools had embarked on the quest of ensuring the fundamentals to digital evolution like an apt network infrastructure, campus wide Wi Fi access, digital presentation technology in each room and staff having and using the technology in their teaching were in place.
- School website. Of note was the proportion of the schools that had begun work on creating their own website, and foregoing the ‘cookie cutter’ model.
- Dismantling of the ICT Committee. The strong message about getting rid of the traditional stand-alone, volunteer ICT committee in favour of factoring the use of the digital into the everyday workings of the school and having professionals lead the way and govern the shaping of the desired digital ecosystem had clearly cut through.
- Library/ICT restructure. While not addressed explicitly at the Broulee conference it was notable the number of schools that commented in the survey on their plans to restructure their present library/ICT support arrangements in favour of the more integrated iCentre model.
- Technology coach. Allied was the number of the schools that mentioned moves in creating a technology coach.
- Teaching coding. Of note was the number of schools, primary and secondary that flagged their intention to tackle the integrated teaching of coding from the early childhood years onwards.
- The message about needing to ready the school for BYOT came though, with schools mentioning the work to be done and several planning a phased introduction.
- Ripple Effect. Significantly there was a return from a primary school not at the Conference that had by word of mouth contacted the hub school to assist in shaping its digital evolutionary journey. One of the undoubted benefits of the hub and spoke networking model is the unbridled social networking occasioned, and the associated ripple effect that can create a positive tension or dissonance that promotes further innovation.
- Primary School Digital Evolution Faster than Secondary School. The overall survey response is further affirmation of the research undertaken by Lee and Broadie (2014) that in general terms primary/elementary/prep schools will, for a variety of factors, evolve faster than their secondary counterparts. The global trend, affirmed in this survey, is that pace of digital evolution in the primary schools will increasingly see Year 6 students who have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital transitioning into Year 7 classes where generally the use made of the digital is appreciably lower, and sometimes unfortunately the student’s personal digital toolkit is banned.
- Teach Meet
Conscious of the challenge of networking a group of teachers spread sparsely over a geographic area nearly the size of Scotland, a region that encompasses the Snowy Mountains through to the coastal fringe and which takes hours to traverse, the hub school decided to take advantage of the video conferencing facility in NSW DEC schools and to conduct a largely online teach meet (http://www.teachmeet.net) combining the more customary face to face with the online and making use of four geographically convenient locations.
It had tried to use Google Groups but soon found the local education authority’s central office blocked ready wider community involvement.
The hub school convened the initial Teach Meet – the ‘un-conference’.
The meeting was held at the day’s end, with teachers at each of the regional gatherings enjoying the host’s afternoon tea and the chance to compare notes with like-minded colleagues.
Short, conference follow up presentations were made by six of the schools, with folk able to question the presenters as needed.
What was revealing was the energy, the belief that anything was possible, the amount that had happened and that which was planned, and the extent to which the schools had not only taken charge of their own growth but also the networking of the region’s schools. When asked who would like to convene the next meeting several schools volunteered.
Tellingly all the networking and support afforded the region’s schools since the August conference has been done with the existing resources, with the schools collectively taking charge of the growth.
The survey was done using the free version of Survey Monkey and the Teach Meet took advantage of the existing videoconferencing.
Of note in the school’s strategic planning is the increasing use being made of the opportunities provided the regional digital ecosystem and each school’s own networks.
What we have witnessed on the far south coast of NSW is a school change model that very consciously makes use of the digital and networked world to provide an apt education for that world.
It would appear to be a model a variant of which could be used with minimal cost anywhere in the networked world.