Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
Unwittingly the pathfinder schools of the world, those that have normalised the use of the digital, have become in many areas of schooling the de facto policy makers and are on course to be increasingly more so.
Developmentally the pathfinder schools are invariably quite literally years ahead of the central office policy makers, obliged daily to decide on the appropriate practises, procedures and policies as they take their schools into unchartered territory.
The schools moving beyond the Digital Normalisation stage are entering into completely unexplored territory. How they evolve none of us know. Scour the literature and you’ll find no hint of what is likely to transpire.
The decisions those pathfinders make, how they deploy the emerging technology, the type of schooling they provide, the practises and policies they adopt will strongly impact the later adopter schools, far more in many areas of schooling than any central office bureaucrat, working party or academic.
It is a new reality that astute policy makers and academics should build upon, rather than as now being seemingly oblivious to the development.
Significantly in a globally networked world where schools as complex adaptive systems are evolving in a remarkably similar manner the pathfinders are unknowingly creating policy for the early and later adopter schools worldwide.
While the policy makers have only a local brief the pathfinders are unwittingly working on a global remit.
Analyse the attributes of the pathfinders (Lee and Broadie, 2016) and you’ll see they have shaped policies on the likes of home-school collaboration, staff empowerment, equity of student access to technology, pooled resourcing, recognition of out of school learning, BYOT and student responsibility for operating their chosen technologies years before the local education authority.
Moreover look at the trend line and you’ll appreciate that while the pace of digital evolution in the pathfinders is accelerating the operations of the local bureaucracy remain unchanged.
While structurally the pathfinders have the agility needed for rapid on-going transformation, organisationally bureaucracies are struggling in the cutting edge policy areas.
The pathfinders, like the digital masters in industry are using the vast body of data generated by their many digital systems to research the way forward on the fly, finding limited value in traditional, invariably dated rearward looking, external research by those who don’t know their situation.
Critically the pathfinders are operating within an ever evolving digital mindset, making decisions in a paradigm largely alien to most of the bureaucrats, committee members and academics who invariably will be working within a paper based paradigm, or as Bhaduri and Fischer (2015) describe, an analogue mindset.
So profound is the difference in mindset many pathfinders struggle to explain their work to colleagues and bureaucrats working in traditional settings.
The authors openly admit that while we have researched the pathfinder schools for over a decade we too struggle to keep up with the pace of digital evolution. All we can do is take snapshots of the schools at moments in time.
It is those in the early adopter schools who are calling the shots, unwittingly making many of the policy decisions and having them taken up globally before the local authority moves.
As Professor Glenn Finger observed in conversation in the traditional paper based schools where constancy and continuity were the norm school policy development invariably took the following form
Educational Research – Policy – Practice
Policy development, with its various white and green papers often took years.
Within the pathfinders that slow measured approach has been replaced by
Emerging Technology – Pathfinder Schools – Practice – Research – Policy
The pathfinder schools are in many areas of schooling the educational leaders, the de facto policy makers charting the ways for the later adopter schools, the policy makers and indeed government, rendering much of the traditional policy making and educational research irrelevant.
They are translating the emerging, increasingly sophisticated digital technological developments into classroom, school wide and potentially system wide practice at such a pace that most educational researchers and educational administrators struggle to comprehend the significance of the development let alone shape it.
It is a new reality all policy makers, those in the pathfinder schools, the education authorities and indeed educational researchers need not only to be aware of but which they should build upon .