A Culture for a Digital and Networked Society

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The challenge all schools wanting to prepare the young for a digital and networked society have to successfully meet is the creation of a school wide culture of change.

For the vast majority of schools that entails a fundamental, 180-degree turnabout, and the creation of a culture antithetical to what has long been regarded as the desired norm.

That change in culture will take years of concerted astute effort and skilful school leadership.

It entails moving the school from a culture of constancy and continuity, that is highly risk adverse and anxious about change to one that embraces and thrives upon on-going, rapid and often uncertain change, evolution and transformation and which actively encourages and supports risk taking and innovation by all within the school’s community.

It places the learner rather than the teacher at the centre and moves the school away from teaching mass groups to a more individualised and differentiated approach.

It requires the school to move from its traditional highly hierarchical organisational structure where the executive unilaterally control operations and the vast majority of the staff, the students and the parents are disempowered and simply acquiesce, to a flatter organisational structure that trusts and empowers all members of the school community, that distributes the control of the teaching and learning and actively collaborates with all in school community in the 24/7/365 teaching and learning, and growth of the school.

Critically it entails the shift from an insular, loosely coupled organisation where each silo like unit is largely autonomous, strongly resistant to change, to a tightly integrated, ever evolving socially networked, digitally based ecosystem with the agility and desire to rapidly and continually transform its operations. Where the former takes literally years to respond to the changing circumstances the latter can adjust in months.

Bhaduri and Fischer (2015) posed in the Forbes business magazine the question, ‘Are You an Analogue or Digital Leader? (http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfischer/2015/03/19/are-you-an-analog-or-digital-leader/) While written with business in mind in two pages they succinctly describe the culture found in most schools and that required to succeed in a digital and networked world.

Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull rightly observes that while this is one of the most exciting times in human history it requires of the nation, of all organisations a mindset, a culture willing to embrace the on-going digital transformation, to take risks and to learn from failure.

This is the kind of culture found in the pathfinder schools globally (Lee and Broadie, 2016) and the digital masters in industry (Westerman, et.al, 2014).

It is an anathema to the majority of schools and educational bureaucracies, set on maintaining their unilateral control of the teaching and learning.

For schools, like business to thrive in a digital revolution they must adopt a culture and a mindset apposite for that scene.

It is not merely about acquiring the technology, but rather it entails the creation over the years of an ecology, and a school community wide culture that facilitates and supports on-going evolution and transformation.

Until schools create that culture their growth will be stymied.

  • Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press