All the major are are being relocated to the Digital Evolution of Schooling site at – www.digitalevolutionofschooling.net – to provide a more comprehensive picture of the evolving scene.

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ACER Teacher Digital Evolution Series

Mal Lee has written for ACER’s online Teacher magazine in a series of brief research papers on the digital evolution of schooling. They include:

Posted in Benefits of school technology, BYOD, BYOT, Digital normalisation and school transformation, Digital Schooling, Digital technology and student learning, Evolution of Schooling, Leading digital schools, Normalised use of the digital in schools, paper-based schooling, Use of Instructional Technology in Schools | Comments Off on ACER Teacher Digital Evolution Series

The Educational Fallacy of an ICT Continuum


Mal Lee

August 2014

Teachers, schools and curriculum authorities globally have and are continuing to promote the educational importance of all students learning how to use the digital technology by studying a common K-12 ICT continuum. With due deference to all those esteemed folk and bodies I’d like to suggest their thinking is dated, fallacious, educationally inappropriate and economically wasteful in an ever evolving, digitally based 24/7/365 socially networked environment where increasingly sophisticated technology and users are daily transforming the nature of learning, teaching and schooling. It is not the expert to novice learning continuum that is the concern, rather it is its application to digital technology. The use of the ICT continuum is based on the belief that

  • the young have to be taught how to use digital technology
  • the instruction is best undertaken in a rational linear manner
  • only professional educators, expert in the area can do the teaching
  • the teaching should only occur and be recognised within a physical place called school, using a K-12 syllabus designed by the ’ICT experts’
  • those curriculum designers can identify the desired subject matter for 13 years of schooling
  • the subject matter can be chunked and taught in segments out of context in a controlled roll out over a protracted period

There is also the premise that

  • all schools are basically the same, at the same evolutionary stage in their use of the digital technology
  • all teachers and schools should use the one common, ‘one size fits all’ continuum
  • lastly but by no means least, there is a discrete learning domain called ‘ICT’ within which it is possible to identify the core elements the young will need to learn as they move from novice to expert standing.

The reality is that schoolteachers have had miniscule impact on the world’s uptake and learning of how to use the digital technology and are on track to have to even less impact. Perelman in 1992 noted that of the 50 million people then using computers only a minute fraction had been taught to do so by teachers. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU, 2014) estimates that there is 2.3 billion mobile – broadband subscribers using increasingly sophisticated hand held computers of some type, with 55% of those subscribers being within the developing world. Once again the schoolteachers of the world have played virtually no part in developing the digital competency of those billions of people, nor have they in assisting the now half of Australia’s population that are using highly sophisticated smartphones or the millions using all manner of other digital technology be it tablets, PCs, Wi Fi, PVRs, MP3 players, the social media, apps, digital cameras, video games, digital television or that in their car.

The world, and in particular its young are demonstrating daily that school teachers play scant part in teaching the current or future generations the general workings of the burgeoning, evermore sophisticated digital technology. Indeed one has only to look to the Pew Internet research (Purcell, et al, 2012) to note how low on the list teachers rate compared to the likes of Google, You Tube and peers when the young seek support on the use of the digital.

The irony is that while laying claim with the ICT continuum to teaching the nation’s young about the digital the vast majority of schools in the developed world (Maher and Lee, 2010) still ban the use of the children’s own mobile phones, the personal digital technologies they use naturally 24/7/365, strongly filter the young’s use of Net and base their teaching on the premise that the students and parents can’t be trusted with technology and that the school ICT experts need to decide which digital technologies are appropriate for education and to strictly control that technologies use.

Over the last twenty plus years, in particular since the advent of the Net schooling globally has in general dropped the ball badly in relation to playing a significant and lead role in the young’s use of the digital. While there have been the exceptional pathfinder schools and education authorities most have in that time taken a negative, almost paranoid approach to the use of the digital and have sought to cocoon and protect the children from the ‘evils’ of the digital and networked world.

What most educators failed to see was that 80% of the children’s learning and teaching time was outside the school walls and that the young, with the support of their parents would use the increasingly sophisticated digital technology largely unfettered 24/7/365 in every facet of their lives. In that laissez-faire digitally based environment, where the use of the digital was seen by most teachers as play, disjointed in nature and at times chaotic there soon emerged a remarkably common, universal suite of attributes and mores within the young of the world, who adopted a very different approach to learning and teaching than that used by schools.

Out of the seeming chaos evolved a distinct mode of teaching and learning apposite for a constantly changing, often uncertain, but immensely exciting and ever evolving digital and networked world; an approach that in contrast to the schools empowered each young person and gave them considerable control over their own education and lives.

It was non linear in nature, strongly impacted by the context, that honed in on the task at hand, which made extensive use of peer and networked learning and that ironically was strongly constructivist in nature (Tapscott, 1998). In 2000 the author wrote of that non linear mode of learning and the order emerging out of the seeming chaos (Lee, 2000), on reflection unaware of the writing of Pascale, Milleman and Gioja (2000) at the same time on Surfing on the Edge of Chaos that identified the profound impact the digital and networked operational base upon the remarkably similar evolution of complex organisations globally.

The approach taken by the youth of the world outside the school walls is basically how all the peoples of the world learn to use the general workings of the ever evolving, ever changing digital technologies. Yes, on many, many occasions there will be immense value in a ‘teacher’ of some type assisting the learning but as you reflect on your own use of the digital and how you manage to stay current with the latest technology you’ll appreciate you basically teach yourself, in context, anywhere, anytime and use that technology you find apt for the task at hand, only occasionally calling on a friend, loved one or as Nicolas Negroponte (1996) astutely observed your children. Indeed as the technology has become that much more sophisticated and intuitive and the help facilities refined even that need is likely declining.

You undertake that learning while doing, in the train, taking a photo of your kids, in the workplace, in the coffee shop talking with friends, in front of the TV and just occasionally with a ‘teacher’.

Significantly you integrate that learning and self teaching into the wider ecology, synchronising the learning across your suite of digital technologies, applying the skills learnt with other digital tools probably never thinking for a moment whether what you are doing is personal, educational or work related, such is the way with ever greater digital convergence and the demise of the old demarcation boundaries.

Importantly you tailor your learning to your particular needs, becoming competent in the operations you require, using technology that suits your situation and organising your files in the way you wish, in the process leaving untouched the myriad of apps and facilities you deem irrelevant.

In brief you tailor your learning of the technology to your needs, as have the young of the world outside the school walls.

This mode of learning has enabled you like billions of others, including the very young globally to normalise the use of the digital. Indeed digital normalisation is virtually the norm everywhere throughout the developed world except within its schools, the designated place of learning.

While there are a handful of pathfinder schools globally that have achieved digital normalisation most lag well behind general societal use. The factors why are many and complex but have in large to with the premises underpinning the quest to create and teach to a common ICT continuum.

Most teachers, education authorities and even governments seemingly still have difficulty imagining people and in particular young people might best learn to use the technology of their own volition, in a non linear manner, in context, as the need arises, with the support of their peers and with the technology each person finds most appropriate. As indicated there is still the strong propensity for most teachers to think within the traditional insular paper based Industrial Age mindset and to envision real learning can only happen within the classroom under the control of qualified teachers. Any out of school use of the digital is mere play, unworthy of any recognition.

They appear to have not yet observed the global digital revolution, nor the shift of all manner of organisations – including schools – to a digital and networked operational base that will see those organisations forever evolve and change in form.

It might help if those educators visited the early childhood classes of those schools that have normalised the use of the digital, where the children are using in class the personal technologies they use 24/7/365 and observe how naturally they apply their understanding of their chosen technology in authoring e-books, recording audio and musical tracks, in shooting and editing the desired images, downloading material from the Net, exchanging files via Dropbox as part of their group project.

The question that immediately came to mind in watching these children was how would they apply the digital technology in their graduation year in 2026 where Moore’s Law is suggesting they will be using technology with a computer processing power 150 times greater than now and will have use of computing systems 350 times more sophisticated (Helbing, 2014).

That said, it needs to be understood that the aforementioned is only happening in schools at the Digital Normalisation evolutionary stage, schools that have created an ecology that recognises the 24/7/365 learning of the young, that builds upon their out of school learning, that trusts and supports the children’s use of their own technology and which appreciates that the school no longer needs teach the children how to use their chosen technology and which should instead focus on applying that functionality in higher order teaching.

These schools, these early childhood children have no need of an ICT continuum, merely a desire in every area of learning to capitalise upon and nurture each child’s growing digital proficiency. Most schools are years away from reaching this higher order mode of teaching. What however this very real example underscores is the fallacy in assuming that

  • all schools are the same and that regardless of their evolutionary position should use a common ‘one size fits all’ ICT continuum, and that
  • curriculum designers can divine the desired content of a K-12 ICT continuum apposite in 5 – 10 years time.

As the history of ‘computing/ICT ’ syllabus design will attest as one looks back at the last 30 plus years all one can do is take a snap shot of the moment, and whether the the time required learning how to use mark sense cards, DOS, HTML, Microsoft Office or the current suite of apps and Web 2.00 applications. The author well remembers a 2008 – 2009 technology curriculum design project that had it efforts superseded a year later by the release of the iPad and the associated apps. Out of interest look at this example of a supposedly current and relevant Y6 computer skills assessment – www.http://www.schools.nsw.edu.au/learning/k-6assessments/csa6ictskills.php

A major educational shortcoming of any ‘ICT continuum’ is the lack of clarity of what is ‘ICT’ and the absence of any clearly identifiable learning domain that one finds with subjects like history, mathematics, psychology, physics or computing science. Undertake a Google search of the term ‘ICT’ and you’ll find all manner of meanings from the broad to very narrow, the ever evolving nature of the term and the pronounced propensity since the mid 2000s for ‘ICT’ to disappear from the literature and to be replaced by the term ‘digital technology’ (Lee and Winzenried, 2009). At various iterations information and communication technology (ICT) included the study of both analogue and digital technologies, and throughout the term has for some reason excluded the study of many of the most popular modes of ‘ICT’ namely the cell phone, television, film, radio and the games technology, a decision that is becoming increasingly difficult to justify as the digital technology becomes evermore convergent and those facilities are included on virtually all popular digital technologies.

While it is important to clarify the terminology it is also vital at the same time to sort out what should be taught in relation to the digital technology by whom, where and when in an ever evolving increasingly networked world where the young learn 24/7/365 and where the evermore sophisticated digital operational base is fundamentally changing the nature of schooling and learning.

Serious consideration and discussion time needs to be given to how developed societies educate their young to best use and build upon the surging sophistication and power of the digital technology.


Schools generally have as indicated accommodated the digital revolution poorly, have fallen well behind the young, their homes and society in general in the normalised use of the digital and in seeking to oblige all children to undertake a dated, fallacious ‘one size fits all’ ‘ICT continuum’ will take schooling evermore out of touch with the billions successfully normalising the astute use of the digital, while wasting scarce and better deployed teaching resources.

Fortunately the pathfinder schools and education authorities understand the type of 24/7/365 learning and teaching desired.

The hope is that their lead, the reality 2.3 billion users and the decision-makers reflection on their own digital learning and teaching will see the dropping of the K-12 ICT continuum and the adoption of a more apposite approach.

ICT Continuum


Helbing, D (2014) ‘What the digital revolution means to us’. Science Business 12 June 2014 – http://bulletin.sciencebusiness.net/news/76591/What-the-digital-revolution-means-for-us

ITU (2014) The World in 2014. ICT Facts and Figures. April 2014 at http://www.itu.int/en/ITU- D/Statistics/Documents/facts/ICTFactsFigures2014-e.pdf

Lee, M (2000) ‘Chaotic Learning: The Learning Style of the Net Generation?’ in Hart, G (ed) (2000) Readings and Resources in Global Online Education Melbourne Whirligig Press

Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools Melbourne ACER Press

Negroponte, N (1996) Being Digital, NY, Hodder and Stoughton

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

Purcell, et al (2012) How Teens Do Research in the Digital World Washington Pew Internet Nov 1 2012

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Digital Technology and Student Learning

Mal Lee

June 2014

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 and for all associated with schools to understand that the impact of digital technology on student learning can be profound if an apposite school ecology is created.

We 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 emanate in the main from the ever-evolving digital operational base and the associated tightly integrated ecology found in those schools that have infused the use of the digital technology in all facets of their operations.

That profound impact is evidenced increasingly in those pathfinder – early adopter – schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia where all the teachers in the school by using the digital technology in their everyday teaching have moved the school from a paper to digital operational base.

Those schools have, often unwittingly, created digitally based, tightly integrated strongly educationally focussed ever-evolving school ecologies that simultaneously address the many factors that enhance each child’s learning.

That ecology is not simply amplifying the impact of the suite of variables known to enhance student learning but is also facilitating the emergence of an additional suite a set of variables, intended and unintended, that have the potential to markedly lift school attainment globally.

What needs to be understood by all, and in particular government and the media, is that at best there is limited direct connection between the use of a particular digital instructional technology and improved learning in the academic curriculum.

It is particularly important that the school principal, the principal orchestrator of the apposite ecology within each school, understands that reality and the necessity of the new focus.

It is imperative the more deep seated, and in many respects more complex, all pervasive and tightly interrelated impact of the digital technology is understood. Educators need appreciate today it is the total school 24/7/365 use of the digital technology, by all within the school’s community that is key to helping shape the desired teaching and learning.

To read the full article – click here Digital Technology and Student Learning

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A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages

Roger Broadie and I have posted on both the http://www.schoolevolutionarystages.net and http://www.BroadieAssociates.co.uk a copy of our Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages and the complementary publication Evolution through the Threads.

Both publications are free.

We’d strongly suggest downloading both publications.

The Taxonomy posits, as mentioned in earlier posts that

  • schools globally evolve in a remarkably similar manner, particularly when shifting to a digital operational base
  • all schools currently sit at a point on six stage evolutionary continuum; a continuum that will over time continually expand
  • schools will evolve through a series of key evolutionary stages, demonstrating at each stage remarkably similar attributes
  • the vast majority of schools will need to evolve through each of the stages before moving on to the next
  • it is finally possible with the continuum to provide schools and their communities an international indicative measure, that allows them to readily identify their school’s approximate current evolutionary stage and the likely path ahead
  • it takes considerable time and effort for schools to move along the evolutionary continuum
  • schools in equilibrium are prone to the same risks as other complex organisations that don’t continue to evolve.

The Evolution through the Threads explores in depth the evolution that has occurred in the pathfinder schools that have or nearly normalised the whole school use of the digital technology in some 20 plus key operational areas. Vitally the analysis of the threads underscores the reality that the evolution in a school might well occur at a different pace in different operational areas.

Both works have emerged out of the research we have undertaken with pathfinder schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia.

While as stressed both works are human constructs and indicative in nature we have both in our school consultations found the staff and vitally the parents can swiftly position the school and soon understand the many variables needing to be addressed.

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NAPLAN online in 2016: Everyone ready?

NAPLAN Online in 2016 – Everyone Ready?

Mal Lee

The Australian Government is planning to conduct NAPLAN online from 2016 (http://www.nap.edu.au/online-assessment/naplan-online/naplan-online.html).

While the Government is to be commended on the move to take advantage of the efficiencies and the opportunities opened by going digital and online, will all parties critical to the success of conducting NAPLAN online be ready for a 2016 test? Will all Australia’s 9,500 schools, 40 plus education systems and ACARA itself be ready to implement the test in a manner where no child is excluded?

Taking the test online is a high-risk strategy. Indeed on any risk assessment scale the conduct of the first national test online is a very high risk strategy which if not approached astutely has to the potential to traumatise children, anger parents, alienate teachers, embarrass principals and educational administrators and politically damage the Federal and state and territory ministers of education.

This is where the rubber hits the road. One is no longer talking hype and rhetoric. Probably unwittingly, the conduct of NAPLAN online in 2016 will be a test of the digital capability of every Australian school, education authority, state, territory and of the Federal Government. It obliges every one of those parties to have the requisite capability by that date and ensure every student entitled to do so is able to sit the test.

It is easy to envision the media outcry should one school or school cohort be excluded.

Ironically the vast majority of the nation’s students could readily sit the test at home or anywhere in networked world outside the school walls with their own ever-evolving suite of digital technology.

The concern is the network readiness of Australia’s 9,500 schools, 40 plus education systems and ACARA.

While the young, their parents and society in general have normalised the 24/7/365 use of digital technology, Australia’s schools lag well behind. In 2014 there are only a few schools nationwide that have or nearly have normalised the whole school use of the student’s choice of digital technology (BYOT). While there is an increasing number of schools moving to that position there are also a very sizeable – as yet unspecified – number of schools making scant use of digital technology who are currently ill equipped to have all their students sit NAPLAN online in 24 months.

The important point to grasp with Australia’s schools is the immense and increasing variability in the actual use of digital technology in teaching, with schools ranging from the few that have fully integrated and normalised use to the vast majority where the use in everyday teaching is peripheral.

Bear in mind that two thirds of Australia’s schools are primary schools, and they received none of the Rudd monies.

The scarcity of resources has been compounded by many school principals’ unwillingness and/or inability to use the resources at their disposal to make the best educational use of the technology. My research (Lee, 2014) and that of colleagues in the UK, US and NZ underscores that it is the principal who in a positive or negative sense is primarily responsible for the level of digital technology usage in the school. As the CEO of increasingly autonomous schools he/she, as the chief educational architect and financial controller, has ultimate responsibility for their school’s requisite digital eco-system and capability.

How quickly one can redress the problem of an inadequate school principal, and ready the school for NAPLAN is a moot point; the research underscores that the task of creating the desired eco-system is very challenging and takes significant time.

How many of Australia’s near 9,500 principals can provide that leadership?

The author would strongly suggest that, in the near future, the authorities responsible for every one of Australia’s schools check their schools’ ability for their children to sit NAPLAN online from 2016, and take the appropriate remedial action.

While the testing of NAPLAN online does oblige all schools to be prepared, it also requires the 40 plus education systems to ensure their networks are up to the task and that ACARA can cater for the array of technology and operating systems being used by the children on the day of the test in 2016.

If, as surmised all Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 children are to sit NAPLAN at the same time in 2016 it will place considerable extra pressure and responsibility on Australia’s 40 plus education system networks. Assuming that their school networks will still be used by all the other students in the school, one is talking about placing approximately an additional 20% load on often unreliable networks.

Will every one of those networks be able to deliver on the day?

In readying the online version of NAPLAN ACARA needs to appreciate that it is not merely setting a test for 2016 but is positioning the test to be conducted online for each year thereafter, and will in 2016 and every subsequent year need to accommodate the clients’ current technology. In a post PC world Australia is well past the stage where the users have to fit in with the technology rather the technology having to accommodate the clients’ ever-evolving situation.

The kind of variability of technology readiness found in the nation’s schools is also be evidenced in the array of technology that the children will be looking to use on the day of test in 2016. Tablet technologies will continue their rise, and the use of desktop PCs continue their decline. New technologies and operating systems will emerge, children, who increasingly view the computer mouse as archaic will join the global move to BYOD and BYOT (Lee and Levins, 2012) and make use of a suite of technology and apps of their choosing.

From this, it is easily seen that the Government has an imperative to employ an on-going online testing approach that can cater, at no extra cost, for all the major technologies used by the children at the time of each test.

It is thus disappointing, to say the least, to note in the survey sent to school principals over Robert Randall’s name that specified in point 11 “doing the tests on tablets will require external keyboards…”

That requirement will oblige every child/school using a tablet in 2016 to outlay approximately $100 each simply for a one-off test that most would prefer not to sit. Those parents, schools and states that have readied themselves for the sustained use of current technology will be financially punished.

One can already see the headline


That seemingly simple little technical ‘requirement’ entails the outlay of many thousand dollars, puts the Federal, state and territory ministers under immense unwitting political pressure, provides a rallying call for all opposing NAPLAN and places the test itself in jeopardy.

It is imperative these kind of unnecessary impediments are avoided

I’d suggest it is also imperative to conduct full-scale rehearsals that stress test the readiness of all schools, system networks and ACARA. While it is appreciated ACARA is surveying the schools in 2014 it, like you and I has no firm idea of what will be the main technologies and operating systems used in schools in May 2016. The history of major public sector online deployments is festooned by disasters that were not adequately pre-tested. It is vital that pre-testing needs to occur far enough ahead for all parties to take any remedial action, yet close enough to mirror the actual technologies to be used.

Closely allied is the importance of ACARA having and clearly promoting the alternate plans should key parts of the exercise fail. The running of the test assumes 100% network uptime, and as such 100% electrical supply throughout. A Darwin like, 9 hour electrical shutdown will render all the other preparations meaningless.


Unintentionally the Government in seeking to conduct NAPLAN online in 2016 is as much, if not indeed more so testing the digital capability of Australia’s 9,500 schools and its external school support agencies as it is testing the young of Australia.

It is vital that all parties understand this.

It is laudable to conduct NAPLAN online but it is a very high-risk initiative that requires literally millions of variables to be identified and dealt with astutely if it is to succeed.

If the risk is too great and too many elements cannot be readied in time it might be wise to hold back a year or two.


Lee, M and Levins, M (2012) Bring Your Own Technology Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M (2014) ‘Leading a Digital School’ Education Technology Solutions Vol 1 2014

NAPLAN 2016 – All Ready?

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Teaching in a Digital School: The Differences and Attributes Needed

Mal Lee

Teaching in schools that have normalised the use of digital technology by all teachers, in all the teaching rooms – schools that have gone digital – is dramatically different to teaching in the traditional paper based school and is on track to become ever more so.

It is a fundamental difference requiring of the teachers a suite of skills and mindset that few teaching institutes, national teaching standards or indeed teacher education organisations recognise as being required. Explore the work of the teachers in the pathfinder schools in the US, UK, NZ or Australia and you’ll see they are all rapidly developing a suite of distinct attributes to assist them thrive professionally in the schools of an ever more digital, networked and collaborative world, where that human networking is daily aided by ever more sophisticated network technology.

In 2014 it is both extraordinary and disturbing than one needs to make the above observation, for in virtually every other knowledge profession it has long been accepted that the attributes have to be appreciably different. What is of even greater concern is that the vast majority of educational decision makers don’t appear to even recognise the need for the new, let alone to begin work on them.

Globally there is still the all-pervasive sense that schools are the same and will ever more so remain, with the teaching skills also being constant.

Digital schools, operating to the fore of the school evolutionary continuum (http://www.schoolevolutionarystages.net) are already fundamentally different environments to the traditional, are evolving and transforming at pace and in so doing are daily escalating the already considerable school variability. Where the traditional paper- based school has been characterised by

–       its insularity

–       focus on the teaching within the physical place called school

–       its unilateral control of the teaching

–       by solitary teachers teaching class groups, invariably behind closed doors for X hours a week for Y days a year

the schools that have normalised the digital

–       are increasingly socially networked 24/7/365 operations

–       have distributed the control of the teaching and learning

–       are beginning to genuinely collaborate with all the teachers of the young – the parents, grandparents, carers, community organisations and the children themselves – from birth onwards in the provision of an increasingly personalised apposite 21st century holistic education.

Where traditional teaching has for generations been distinguished by its constancy, continuity, risk adverseness and fear of change teaching in the digital schools is dynamic, attractive, often messy and uncertain, conducted in a culture of change, ever evolving, ever more integrated and vitally ever higher order. The former schooling is strongly shaped by the paper organisational base while the latter by the digital (Digital Operational Base – http://www.schoolevolutionarystages.net).

The traditional is about solitary teachers, working with mass groups of children, moving along a clearly defined linear teaching path while the networked (Lee and Finger, 2010) is working towards ever greater collaboration, marrying the teaching of the school with that of the home, becoming increasingly personalised and understanding that learning and teaching can occur anywhere, anytime 24/7/365 and that much will be non-linear.

Vitally the mindset of the teachers is dramatically different. The traditional teaching is inward looking, concerned with only that within the school walls, in the operational hours, often within one’s own silo, where it is a given that the teachers will unilaterally decide what will be taught and assessed and will work only with the resources provided. The teacher’s thinking in the digital is socially networked, flexible, outward looking, seeking to draw upon the apposite local and global community, highly collaborative and yet tightly integrated where the teachers, while playing a lead role understand the benefits of distributing the control of the teaching and learning and genuinely trusting the other teachers of the young (Lee and Ward, 2013).

Teachers thriving in the digital and networked schools

  • possess many of the attributes that have always distinguished good teachers
  • have skills that while always important have taken on a heightened significance
  • are also developing a suite of new attributes essential to thrive in ever-evolving schools.

Conscious of the amount already written on the traditional attributes the focus of this article will be on those of greater importance and new to teaching. Mishra and Koehler’s work on TPACK (http://www.tpck.org) (Finger and Jamison-Proctor, 2010) succinctly encapsulate the ‘traditional’ attributes that will always be required of good teachers. They have to know the pertinent content, they require excellent pedagogy and vitally very good people skills. But as the research on the pathfinder schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia attests they need to adjust the old suite of attributes by adding some and deleting others.

Space precludes elaborating upon each. That is done in the forthcoming book on Digital Normalisation and School Transformation. Most are largely self-explanatory.

Of interest as you’ll see below many of the new attributes are antithetical to those deemed important in the paper-based mode.

  • Digital teaching base

Every teacher in the school – permanent and casual – needs to have normalised the use of the apposite digital technology in their teaching. It is not good enough to have 50% or 90% doing so – it needs to be 100%.

  • Empowered professional

The teachers ought to be fully empowered educators possessing the professional wherewithal to contribute meaningfully to the continued evolution of higher order, ever more complex schools. They can no longer be mere line workers.

  • Macro understanding of school evolution

All – here stressing all – the teachers, and not simply those atop the apex should understand the purpose and macro workings of ever more integrated and networked schools, as well as being expert in their designated area/s of responsibility, and daily be able to assist the school realise its vision.

  • Independent risk taker

Paradoxically they need also be independent thinkers willing and able to lead and to take personal risk to enhance the school’s quest, understanding that at times mistakes are likely to be made. This as you’ll appreciate is antithetical to the traditional approach but as the literature on networked organisations attests (Lipnack and Stamps, 1994) it will be increasingly vital.

  • Networked mindset

The having of a networked mindset, of instantly seeking solutions in and for a networked organisation and society rather than simply seeking the answer or resources in-house is one of the attribute that sets the teachers apart from colleagues in traditional schools (Lee and Ward, 2013). It is mode of thinking that is seemingly not easily developed and appears primarily to emerge from working in a digitally based and networked culture, where the leadership, the teachers and the wider school community work naturally in a networked paradigm.

  • Networker

Allied is the importance of being able to network, of using one’s networks, contacts and social capital, and while it has always been a vital ‘old’ skill that rarely rated a mention in the traditional teaching standards the ability is vital in ever-evolving networked organisations.

  • Collaborator

While good people skills and the ability to work with moderate needs in teams have always been important the facility to collaborate aptly with all within the school’s community is essential. As Lee and Ward reveal in their study on Collaboration in learning (2013) teachers are relatively new to genuine collaboration in the workplace and its many finer nuances and have some distance to travel to acquire the sophisticated collaboration found in many other industries (Beyerling and Harris, 2004), (Hansen, 2009).

  • Willing delegator of educational control

Another of the major differences between the teaching in the digital and paper based mode is the teacher’s willingness to distribute the control of the teaching and learning process; in brief to cede some of their traditional power and rely more on their educational leadership. It is a major change that a sizeable number of teachers, even those new to teaching find difficult to make.

  • Preparedness to trust

That delegation of responsibility requires the teachers to work from a position of trust, trust in and respect for the parents, carers, grandparents and community mentors and vitally the children, and the recognition that virtually every parent – regardless of their situation – has worked from birth onwards providing the best educationally for their children.

Interestingly the history of the use of electronic and digital instructional technology in schools over the last century has been characterised by distrust, of the children, their parents and in many instances the teachers (Lee and Winzenried, 2009). The vast majority of schools and teachers in 2014 are still unwilling to trust the children, parents or teachers to choose the apt instructional technology but until they do those schools won’t achieve digital normalisation or the desired school evolution (Lee, July 2012, http://www.byot.me).

  • Lead teacher

All teachers, and not just the experienced need begin playing a lead teacher role from the first day in the school, ensuring they contribute to the on-going evolution of the school’s ecology.

  • Eternal quest for the ideal

This has been evident in good teachers for thousands of years, but is ever more important in ever-evolving, ever higher order schooling.

  • Unerring focus on the desired educational benefits

Linked is the imperative of all teachers focussing in all they do on the realisation of the school’s education vision and the benefits the school is seeking to provide its students.

  • Ease with constant change and evolution

The teachers need to thrive in, to enjoy a culture of on-going evolution and enhancement with all its associated messiness, uncertainty and seeming chaos. One finds in the teachers of the pathfinder schools a palpable excitement and a driving desire to grasp the emerging opportunities.

  • Flexible

In such an environment, where there are often no maps to show the way teachers have to be highly flexible and willing to take alternative paths.

  • Reflective practitioner

While this attribute has long been expected of school leaders (Schon, 1987) with all staff fully empowered and expected to lead it is important all teachers become reflective practitioners.

  • Networked and connected learner

This ability ties closely with the reflective practitioner for in an ever-evolving scene while the staff does at times need to address personal development collectively it is important all the professionals assume prime responsibility for their on-going enhancement by making astute use of the networked world.

  • Time smart and efficient

Lastly but by no means least is the imperative of teachers in schools awash with information and educational opportunities is to work smartly and to take advantage of the efficiencies accorded by the digital technology.


These are the attributes that have emerged out of the current research, and as such are not a ‘wish list’.

Vitally they are not intended to be the basis of a ‘silver bullet’, ‘how to succeed in teaching’ solution.

Rather they are the key attributes that have come to the fore in the pathfinder schools in 2013 the UK, US, NZ and Australia and the research undertaken by Nacce (UK) in identifying the teaching skills desired in what it terms the 3rd Millennium Award schools.

The list, while extensive is likely not exhaustive. It most assuredly will continue to evolve.

It nonetheless succinctly highlights the many different attributes teachers will need to contribute fully to ever-evolving digital schools.


Beyerling, M.M and Harris, C.L (2004) Guiding the Journey to Collaborative Work Systems San Francisco John Wiley

Finger, G and Jamison-Proctor, R (2010) ‘Teacher readiness: TPACK capabilities and redesigning working conditions’ in Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) 2010 Developing a Networked School Community Melbourne ACER Press

Hansen, M.T (2009) Collaboration Boston Harvard Business Press

Lee, M & Winzenried, A 2009, The use of instructional technology in schools: Lessons to be learned, ACER Press, Melbourne.

Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) 2010 Developing a Networked School Community Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls Melbourne ACER Press

Lipnack, J & Stamps, J 1994, The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.

Schön, D 1987, Educating the reflective practitioner, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Teaching in a Digital School – 2014


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Leading a Digital School

Mal Lee

It is ever more apparent that principals are central to the successful on-going evolution of schools, particularly when the school moves to a digital operational base. Indeed the indicators increasingly suggest school principals, in both the positive and negative sense, are primarily responsible for the current digital divide between schools.

While teachers, bureaucrats, governments, funding, school culture and until recently the technology itself can make the principal’s job very difficult, and at times near impossible ultimately it is only the principal, the school’s chief educational architect and decision maker, its CEO who can lead the school to the digital evolutionary stage and beyond.

In 2008 Professor Mike Gaffney and I published Leading a Digital School, probably the first work that coined the term ‘digital school’ and which specifically examined the role of the principal in a school operating on a digital base. Since then, in conjunction with colleagues in the UK, US, NZ and Australia I’ve penned a selection of books and plethora of articles (http://www.malleehome.com) that have more fully examined the evolution of schooling and the role of the principal therein. Indeed I wrote a piece on the topic for Educational Technology Solutions only a year ago. However in researching the forthcoming book on Digital Normalisation and School Transformation whereI took the opportunity to build on the earlier work and interview some 70 schools and astute education observers in the four nations on the current situation in schools that had or nearly had normalised the whole school use of the digital technology the importance of the head’s leadership became ever more apparent.

In all the lead role of the principal was paramount, and central to school’s digital normalisation. Ever higher order, evermore complex and integrated, and ever evolving school ecologies require astute principals able to conduct increasingly sophisticated world-class ‘orchestras’. Decades of school effectiveness research, from the pioneering work by the likes of Lightfoot (1983), Sergiovanni (1986), (Goodlad (1986) and Beare, Caldwell and Millikan (1989) onwards have underscored the importance of the principal in what were at that stage relatively simple paper based organisations.

As schools move to a digital operational base, an ever higher order operational mode, an ever evolving ecology that increasingly integrates the ‘in and out of school’ teaching and learning all the signs suggest the importance of the principal will be ever greater. While specific in-depth research has yet to be undertaken on the nature and importance of the principal’s role in such an environment the case study experience – as well as logic – would point to the principal’s contribution to the effectiveness and success of a school escalating. While some would rightly argue all schools need successful leadership teams and not simply an astute principal the point made by Peter Drucker (2001) of industry equally holds with schools, that all organisations must ultimately have a CEO who takes ultimate responsibility for the workings of the organisation. In any institution there has to be a final authority, that is, a “boss” – someone who can make the final decision and who can expect them to be obeyed (Drucker, 2001, p11) In the school it is the principal.

Not surprisingly every one of the pathfinder schools had an astute principal who was prepared to play a lead role over a concerted period, often over many years in shaping the desired mode of schooling. In performing that role they demonstrated the leadership and people skills that have long been associated with successful principals but in addition they all, probably unwittingly, demonstrated a set of skills and a mindset particular to the digital school. It is the latter that is the focus of this article.

Central role

Ever evolving schools operating on a digital base, experiencing significant natural growth that will have to be constantly shaped to realise the desired benefits require the school principal be the conductor of an ever more sophisticated, ever-larger ‘orchestra’ where in addition to the professional players there may well be sizeable parent, student and community membership, with all the players invariably wanting to constantly perform at the international standard. It requires the principal as the conductor to understand the total score, the finer nuances therein and when change or retention of the status quo is required. It requires of the principal, the head teacher, to have a macro understanding of all the school’s workings, a strong educational base and an intimate awareness of all the key school operations and their interrelation. The contrast with the traditional silo like operation, particularly that of high schools where the principal often has little or no understanding of the work of the siloes is pronounced. In employing the metaphor of the chief conductor it most assuredly does not mean the principal needs to be the sole conductor or to do the actual playing. Rather it requires the empowerment of the total ‘orchestra’ and its support staff, and the constant monitoring, either directly or through delegates, of the part that all members are playing in the performance.

Attributes of principal operating in digital and networked mode

Many of the attributes required to undertake this kind of whole school conducting are those that have been enunciated in the general leadership and school literature for decades and are to be found in virtually all the education authority publications and standards. Attributes like a strong educational philosophy, the willingness to lead, the facility to articulate the desired vision, an in-depth understanding of the instructional program, strong people and management skills, the setting of high expectations, political acumen, attention to detail and the capacity to manage the school’s finite resources are as important as ever. There is no point in reiterating them at this stage. What however is important is to discuss are those attributes that emerged out of the work of the pathfinders that are particularly important for principals working in digital and networked schools.

  • Digital acumen

In the research my colleagues and I have conducted over the last five years (Lee and Gaffney, 2008), (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Finger, 2010), (Lee and Levins, 2012), (Lee and Ward, 2013), (Lee and Broadie, 2013) all the principals leading successful schools operating in the digital or networked mode demonstrated a high level of digital acumen. On first glance that might seem blindingly obvious but in Australia at least that is still not readily evident in the literature or national standards for school principals. What is the situation with in your school? Although principals do not have to be a digital technology expert, they do need a macro working understanding of the digital technology with which they will be working. The digital technology in all its forms is core to all facets of the school’s operations and as the school’s chief educational architect principals have to know how it should be used astutely. Principals who delegate the technology to a middle manager are in reality abrogating their role as the school’s chief conductor and any hope the school has of going digital.

  • Networked mindset

Another new and vital attribute required is a networked mindset that is constantly scanning the networked community for opportunities to collaborate and to enhance the educational offerings or the school’s resources. The contrast with the traditional insular outlook of heads is marked.

  • Willingness to take charge

Without labouring the point principals as the school’s chief conductor have to take charge of all facets of the school’s evolution. The pathfinders have underscored the principal has to be proactive and lead, neither waiting for the ‘system’ to give the green light or delegating the responsibility to other staff.

  • Clear shaping educational vision

While always theoretically important what is apparent as schools evolve is that the imperative of the effective shaping educational vision becomes ever-greater, as does a principal consonant with that vision, intimately aware of the many elements needing attention. Vitally the principal, the head needs to be able to consistently articulate that vision succinctly and powerfully to all manner of audiences.

  • Instructional leadership

All the aforementioned attributes point very strongly to the CEO of the digital school needing to be an instructional leader, an educator with the deep educational understanding required to take ultimate responsibility for constantly shaping an ever-evolving school ecology. It is a very substantial challenge, requiring a very capable person with the wherewithal to convert a plethora of shaping forces into a consistently effective school.

  • Commitment to enhanced educational attainment

Along with the clear shaping educational was the drive by all the pathfinder principals, some might say the passion, to have all the students enhance their attainment. It is appreciated this has been to the fore in all good schools but it appears to be that much more up front in the pathfinders, with most openly expressing the desire to match the schooling they provide with the best internationally.

  • Ability to understand and ride the megatrends

One of the vital skills on track to become ever more important is the facility to read the swelling megatrends, to know when to catch those waves, how to ride them and get the most from them and vitally when to get off and catch the next. Interestingly while it is undoubtedly a talent many a school principal has had for some time it is an attribute until recent times rarely mentioned in the educational leadership literature, shaped as it has so often been by the sense of constancy and school insularity. The societal and technological megatrends have had a profound impact on the transformation of schools and are on track to have an ever-greater influence. Indeed so powerful are many of those developments schools can I’d argue only ever hope to ride them to advantage.

  • Big picture planning

All the pathfinder schools well understood the impact of the megatrends and the constantly, and often rapidly evolving scene and have opted to employ big picture planning strategies that allow the chief conductor to vary the pace of the orchestra’s performance as the situation required. In an ever more tightly integrated ever-evolving school ecology where all the parts are interrelated there is little place for the traditional segmented five-year development plans where bureaucrats oblige schools to identify the month several years hence when a program will be completed.

  • Thrive on chaos – and change

Principals have not only to have the personal wherewithal to thrive in a world of constant change but to assist create a school wide culture that relishes change, and chaos. Tom Peters, the management writer identified this need for the business back in 1987 with his Thriving on Chaos. Twenty-five years on principals need to both appreciate and thrive within that environment. It is an environment seemingly most within the pathfinder schools have come to relish, to enjoy the excitement, the vibrancy, the ever opening educational opportunities, the professional rewards and generally to thrive.

  • Organisational integration

The onus on, and the need for the principal to constantly ensure all the elements in the ever-evolving ecology are integrated and vitally are directed at realising the desired education is considerable, and growing. Principals do have to know the total orchestral score; the finer nuances therein and constantly address the desired totality. Equally they need quickly to decide if a proposed addition to the school’s operations is consonant with the school’s shaping vision and can be readily integrated into the school’s ecology. Yes all the staff, teaching and professional, do need to support that work but ultimately it has to be the head, the principal who ensures the requisite integration occurs.

  • Empowerment and trust

The willingness and facility of the principal to trust and empower the total school community, and in particular the professional staff in a networked organisation is critical. Lipnack and Stamps (1994) in their work on networked organisations speak of the need for leaders at multiple levels and allowing staff the autonomy, the independence to lead the change. That was apparent in all the pathfinders.

  • Focussing on the priorities

School principals have always theoretically had to set the school’s priorities. In rapidly evolving, ever changing schools where potential opportunities are being opened virtually each week, where staff highly enthusiastic and committed are pushing the boundaries and where governments, their agencies and society in general have seemingly growing expectations of what should be tackled by the school, the pathfinder principals have increasingly had to identify the priorities apposite to the school realising its educational vision and let the less important go through to the keeper or be accorded minimal attention. That skill drew upon the head’s understanding of the total score and their political acumen. While principals have always had to protect the staff from the extraneous the further the schools move along the evolutionary the more important becomes the need.

  • Controlling the pace

The school’s chief conductor has to control the pace of the evolution, carefully monitoring the load on each staff member, allowing the natural growth to run its course and if needed to slow the tempo for a time. The contrast with many of the traditional paper schools where inertia is often the norm and teachers have to be energised is dramatic. The pathfinders comment on the very real issue of slowing down highly committed teachers anxious to grasp every opportunity for their students, of ensuring senior staff constantly monitor for signs of stress, applying due stress relief measures and when apposite applying the brakes. It is new art for principals to learn. Conclusion For Australia to have every one of its 9,500 schools operating on a digital base, ever evolving, and ever providing an apposite international standard for the digital and networked world it requires 9,500 principals capable of leading a digital school. Is that too much to expect? Leading a Digital School Bibliography

  • Beare, H, Caldwell, B and Milliken, R (1989) London Routledge
  • Drucker, P (2001) Management Challenges for the 21st Century NY Collins Business
  • Goodlad, J (1984) A Place Called School NY McGraw-Hill
  • Lightfoot, S (1983) The Good High School NY Basic Books
  • Lee, M and Gaffney, M eds, (2008) Leading a Digital School Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) (2010) Developing a Networked School Community, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2012) Bring Your Own Technology Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (in press) The Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages
  • Peters, T (1987) Thriving on Chaos NY Alfred A. Knopf
  • Sergiovanni, T (1986) The Principalship Boston Allyn and Bacon
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Schools take charge of evolution and technology

Mal Lee


There are pleasing signs globally and across Australia that evermore schools are recognising they have to take charge of their own evolutionary development and the digital technology they employ to achieve that sustained development.

Evermore are recognising they have to be the prime unit of change, and as such they, and not the government of the day or their local education authority, are responsible for successfully addressing the plethora of variables that will allow them to evolve at pace and achieve the desired digital normalisation and provide an apposite 21st century education.

They are long past waiting for government or the system to provide the answers and funding for the way forward.  Yes, they will most assuredly use any apposite support provided by external agencies but they understand they have to take control of their own destiny.

The stark reality is that while in some fortunate situations the ‘system’ is providing apposite support most central offices are currently demonstrating little appreciation of what is occurring with the pathfinders, of the evolutionary continuum or how the continuum can assist individual schools in their journey. Many are adding little value to the teaching in the schools and simply frustrating the school’s evolution.

In many respects it matters not to the individual school what the Federal Government of the day is, whether it be the Greens, Labor or Liberal or indeed who wins the next election.

While governments of all persuasion globally, and not simply in Australia, like to project the profound impact they have upon the running and performance of the nation’s schools, and imagine that by the end of their term in office all ‘their’ schools will naturally have embraced and benefitted from the government’s policies the reality is that most government’s have limited impact on the school’s culture and operations.

The power lies primarily within the school.

To read the full article click here – Schools Take Charge of Evolution

028-031 ETS_56 InteractiveLearning

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Melbourne presentation – Collaboration in learning

Attached is a presentation given in Melbourne – as part of the Leading a Digital School conference – in August 2013.Collaboration in learning – blog version

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