The signs are increasingly suggesting that the greatest impact the digital technology will have upon student learning in the school will come from the technology’s underpinning role within a digitally based school ecosystem; an ecosystem that is tightly integrated, strongly focussed and which simultaneously addresses all the variables that enhance student learning. When children are able to tackle a group project employing the digital technologies they use 24/7/365 the teachers can astutely build upon each child’s digital and social competencies, address the shortcomings, all the while teaching the desired material in a more individualised manner.
The signs are also indicating that the sophisticated digital base that already provides schools numerous additional opportunities to enhance the student learning will increasingly do so in the years ahead.
However until schools develop an apposite digital school ecosystem, adopt a culture therein that empowers the teachers, students and parents, and actively supports all take a lead role in the astute use of the digital in the 24/7/365 teaching of the young and which positions the school to grow schools won’t be able to take advantage of those opportunities and continually enhance their productivity.
No one in 2015 would suggest that a carmaker would enhance its productivity by simply installing a robot or that Apple’s success is solely dependent on a single piece of technology like an iPad. The enhanced productivity of the digital masters in the corporate world (Westerman, et al, 2014) comes from skilfully shaped, expertly led, highly focussed, tightly integrated, ever evolving digitally based ecosystems.
And yet in 2015 teachers, principals, governments and technology companies and journals globally perpetuate the myth that one has simply to acquire the latest digital kit and as if by osmosis school learning will be enhanced.
Decades of research (Higgins et al, 2012) affirm there is no significant linear connection between the use of digital technologies and enhanced student attainment.
It is time to appreciate the traditional, simplistic way of looking at the impact of digital technology on student learning has to fundamentally change. The impact of the digital on student learning can be profound if an apposite school ecosystem is created. However as indicated (http://teacher.acer.edu.au/article/digital-schools-an-evolving-ecosystem, http://teacher.acer.edu.au/article/the-importance-of-byot) its creation is challenging and entails the simultaneous addressing over time of a plethora of critical variables, human and technological (Lee and Broadie, 2015).
We all need to recognise that the impact of the digital technology on student learning is complex, far more deep seated than previously thought, is largely non-linear in nature, and appears to flow in the main from the astutely shaped, thoughtfully orchestrated, ever evolving, increasingly higher order, highly attractive, 24/7/365 digitally based school ecosystems that increasingly marry the in and out school learning.
That profound impact is evidenced in those pathfinder – early adopter – schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia operating on a digital base where the total school community is able to capitalise upon, in a genuinely collaborative manner, the normalised the use of the digital in the teaching and learning.
Of note is that all of the schools studied were performing above their socio-economic status and adding value to the student learning. That said all were moreover astutely led and managed, highly efficient, with an empowered staff that had embraced a culture of change, of a mind to take risks and work to make best educational use of the openings afforded by all within the school’s community having the digital in their hands. They were all good schools.
The implications flowing from the emergence of these digitally based school ecosystems are many, profound, often unexpected and are only now becoming apparent, and then only in that as yet rare cadre of schools with a mature digital ecosystem.
That said, there are two areas of flow on that warrant close immediate consideration.
- Research on the impact of the digital technology
Surely the time has come for those in schools, education authorities and tertiary institutions to cease looking for a linear connection between the technology and enhanced learning, and to address the impact of the digital school ecosystem – and all its associated and closely interrelated elements – upon each child’s learning and how that impact might be enhanced.
Higgins and his colleagues at Durham in their meta-analysis of the impact of the digital on learning concluded
Taken together, the correlational and experimental evidence does not offer a convincing case for the general impact of digital technology on learning outcome (Higgins et al, 2012, p3).
In researching and writing The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) and examining the claims made of and research undertaken on each of the major instructional technologies of the 20th century the author found the Durham conclusion consistent with the findings on the impact of all the earlier technologies.
The challenge of analysing and researching unique, tightly integrated, rapidly evolving, ever transforming school ecologies experiencing considerable natural organisational growth is likely to be immense, and will require some fundamental rethinking and different methodologies. This is a very different mode of schooling to the traditional insular, loosely coupled, silo like, paper based school characterised by its constancy and continuity. Where in the latter one could readily conduct a two or year longitudinal study in a digital ecosystem a plethora of key variables, not least of which will be the software, are likely to change significantly within months.
- Potential opportunities to enhance student learning
A digitally based school ecosystem, where all within the school’s community have in their hands a suite of evermore sophisticated digital technologies they can use anywhere, anytime 24/7/365, provides – as evidenced in the operations of the pathfinders – a platform from which to harness all manner of opportunities to enhance the learning of each child.
Those opportunities are explored in depth in ‘Digital Technology and Student Learning’ (http://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2014/07/15/digital-technology-and-student-learning-the-impact-of-the-ecology/).
Suffice it to say that the pathfinder schools have already taken advantage of the digital to cultivate opportunities simply impossible or impracticable without the digital platform to
- markedly strengthen the degree of home-school collaboration
- adopt an increasingly 24/7/365 mode of networked schooling
- use the personal technology to better individualise the teaching
- make the teaching more relevant and attractive to appreciably more students
- adopt an increasingly higher order mode of teaching
- enhance teacher efficiency
- achieve previously impossible synergies.
Importantly the schools, like business (Thorpe, 1998) have also recognised that even with the most prescient of benefits identification in this rapidly evolving environment unintended benefits will emerge, benefits that need to be immediately optimised.
The digital transformation of schooling and the emergence of unique, evolving digital school ecosystems that transcend the school walls fundamentally alters the way educators need to address schooling, teaching and learning and enhancing each child’s learning.
Higgins, S., Xiao, Z., & Katsipataki, M. (2012). The Impact of Digital Technology on Learning: A Summary for the Education Endowment Foundation London: EEF. Available at: http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/The_Impact_of_Digital_Technologies_on_Learning_FULL_REPORT_(2012).pdf
Lee, M (2014) ‘Digital Technology and Student Learning’, Educational Technology Solutions – July 15, 2014 – http://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2014/07/15/digital-technology-and-student-learning-the-impact-of-the-ecology/
Lee, M and Broadie, R (2015) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages Broulee Australia – www.digitalevolutionofschooling.net
Thorpe, J (1998) The Information Paradox Toronto McGraw-Hill
Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press