Normalised Use of the Digital

Normalised Use of the Digital

Mal Lee

March 2012

The research is affirming that fundamental to schools being in the position to shape their desired educational future is the normalised use of the digital by all within the school’s community, its teachers, professional support, students and the parents.

When all are working naturally from a digital base the school will rapidly achieve ‘digital take off’ (Lee and Gaffney, 2008), will move to a digital and turn networked operational paradigm (Lee and Finger, 2010), will shift from a position of constancy and continuity to one of on-going change and evolution, the staff will adopt a more networked mindset, the traditional school walls will begin to be dismantled, the school will naturally shift to a more collaborative mode of teaching (Lee and Ward, 2012) and adopt a BYOT (Lee and Levins, 2012) model of school and position itself to provide the best possible education for the networked world.

The key is the normalisation by all of the digital.

Until schools begin operating on a digital and networked base the nature of schooling and teaching, despite the best efforts of great users of the digital will remain locked in a traditional paper based organisational mode and mindset.

The schooling and teaching will remain largely insular, with the teaching occurring behind the school walls, handled by sole teachers teaching mass groupings often behind closed classroom doors with little or no collaboration with the student’s homes, making little or no use of the immense untapped resources in the student’s hands, in their homes or in the wider networked world.

The schooling will become ever more divorced from the real world.

Vitally teachers and school leaders will retain their insular mindset where they believe only they know what is best for the young and as such have to control the school’s and the nation’s education of the young, largely dismissing the teaching contribution the parents and the young themselves have made since birth.

Change the mindset and you’ll move forward at pace embracing the kind of developments I’ll explore in the coming columns.

The teachers

The major challenge is to get every teacher, including your casuals and new staff normalising the use of the digital.  Get them all using it and so too will all the students but until you secure that usage the school will stay locked in its old mode even if having ample digital technology.

Let’s be clear – the problem lies not with the teachers but with poor leadership at the school, education authority and national government level.

Recognise virtually every teacher, like the parents and the young have normalised the use of the digital in their everyday lives.

It is only in the classroom where far too many still have not normalised its use.

Lack of leadership

In researching the use of instructional technology over the last century the lack of astute leadership stood out (Lee and Winzenried, 2009).

The same holds today.

There are very good leaders of schools and education authorities who understand the imperative of achieving the normalised use of the digital, who have shown since the early 2000’s how relatively easy it is to achieve addressed astutely but far too many, including those in the bureaucracy and academia still don’t understand its imperative let alone what is entailed in making the change.

The key is to normalise the use of the digital in each classroom in each school in Australia.

That will however require the leadership to change its current largely ineffectual priorities.

Radical as it might seem it is far more important to get every teacher naturally using the digital in their everyday teaching and changing their mindset than it is to enhance the effectiveness of the teaching with the digital.

The focus in Australia from the 80’s – at the school, authority and national level – has been on improving the teaching of those using the digital. The thrust has not taken Australia’s schools into the digital mode nor will it ever (Lee and Finger, 2012) (Lee and Ward, 2012).

While it is important professional development is but one of a suite of human and technological variables requiring immediate attention if the nation is to have all its teachers normalise the use of the digital.

Ask yourself;

  • What percentage of the teachers in your school have normalised the use of the digital in their teaching?
  • What percentage of the teachers within your education authority have normalised its use?
  • Why so many schools have succeeded in securing 100% uptake when yours hasn’t?

Total staff normalisation.

The answer is now clear and it entails all schools, with hopefully the support of their education authority, addressing the nine variables identified by Lee and Winzenried in 2009.

Those nine closely interrelated variables are:

  • Teacher Acceptance
  • Working with the Givens
  • Teacher Training and Teacher Developmental Support
  • Nature and Availability of the Technology
  • Appropriate Content/Software
  • Infrastructure
  • Finance
  • School and Education Authority Leadership
  • Implementation (Lee and Winzenried, 2009, P225)


All need to be addressed simultaneously.

Each is analysed more fully in The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) and in a shorter article at –

Many today ought be self-explanatory.

However a number are worthy of particular comment three years on particularly in view of the continued failure by too many school leaders to vary their ways.

  • Teacher acceptance

Teachers are contrary to oft-used criticism not Luddites.

They are however a group that has been poorly led, supported and understood.

While seemingly obvious teachers have to believe their use of the digital will enhance their teaching and the education of their students.

If they believe that the vast majority will near break their back in their quest to do the right thing by their kids.

But if they don’t, as history reveals (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) no amount of threats, industry criticism or government mandates will change their ways.

As Larry Cuban (1986) astutely observed teachers are the gatekeepers to their own classroom. Each will decide on the nature of the teaching and teaching tools used in his/her room.

They have to be won over.

Win over a critical mass of the teaching staff and the late adopters will invariably follow suite.

In retrospect it ought come as no surprise to find that the vast majority of schools across the developed world moved to digital take off and the normalised use of the digital in the everyday teaching when the first piece of instructional technology designed for teachers (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), the interactive whiteboard (IWB) reached a price point around 2002 – 2003 when one could be placed in every classroom.

Teachers could immediately see the educational value of the technology.

In many respects it was, and continues to be the revolutionary technology that has moved most teachers globally to the normalised use of the digital in the classroom (Lee, 2010).

Interestingly the percentage of the nation’s classrooms with an IWBs is a rough guide to the level of teacher normalisation in the nation. The latest Futuresource (2011) figures for Australia for example showed 58% of rooms with IWBs.

  • Working with the Givens

The other often forgotten point is that teachers have to work within a set of unwritten givens and any digital technology they use has to fit within them.

All the teachers teach classes, within a finite sized teaching room and are obliged to teach a specified curriculum to that group, within a specified time slot while expertly managing the kids.

Teachers want the technology in their teaching room. History reveals the vast majority of teachers are not prepared to waste time moving their students to the technology and to put up with ‘riots’ while trying to get the technology to work.

It has to be in the room, instantly available for ready to use and manage as one could with the blackboard, a pen and paper.

Harsh though it might appear schools that rely on computer labs are destined never to normalise the use of the digital across the staff using that approach (Lee and Winzenried, 2009).

  • Nature and availability of the technology

Not only does the technology have to be in the classroom, but also every teacher and student has to have ready use of both personal and whole of group technology.

In Australia in early 2012 the current guesstimate, that is being clarified in time for use in a future column is that around one third of Australia’s teachers are still not provided a computer for personal use by their employer. That holds in the state, Catholic and independent school sectors.

There is little chance of whole school normalisation until every teacher is provided the requisite tools.

What is particularly worrying is that the advice given suggests that in the vast national DER roll out no federal or state coordinating group saw the wisdom in ascertaining how many teachers didn’t have the that tool, let alone remedying the situation.

  • School and authority leadership

In brief too many in leadership positions in Australia in 2012, be they in schools or the educational bureaucracy still have not recognised the fundamental importance of every teacher, in every one of the near on 10,000 schools in Australia normalising the everyday use of the digital in their teaching.


It is a very simple equation; have every staff member normalise the use of the digital in their work and the school will naturally over time go digital and networked, and realise the many dividends that will flow,


Cuban, L (1986) Teachers and machines: The classroom use of technology since 1920, Teachers College Press, New York.

Lee, M and Gaffney, M (2008) Leading a Digital School Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools: Lessons to be learned Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M and Finger, G eds (2012) Leading a Networked School Community Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M and Levins, M (2012) BYOT Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M and Ward, L (2012) Collaborative Teaching: the beginning of the journey Melbourne ACER Press




About Mal Lee

Mal Lee is an educational consultant and author specializing in the evolution of teaching and schooling from the traditional paper based mode to one that is digital, and in turn networked, and the impact of the technology on that evolution. Mal’s is a macro focus examining all the elements associated with the development, leadership and operation of schools operating within a digital, and increasingly as networked school communities. Most importantly his is a positive approach that envisions how educators and school communities might best use the ever-evolving, ever more pervasive technology in the home, on the move and in the classroom to provide an ever better schooling for the full range of students. Mal is a former director of schools, secondary college principal, technology company director and a member of the Mayer Committee that identified the Key Competencies for Australia’s schools. A Fellow of the Australian Council for Educational Administration (FACEA) Mal has been closely associated with the use of digital technology in schooling, particularly by the school leadership for the last two decades. A historian by training Mal has written extensively, particularly in the Practising Administrator, the Australian Educational Leaders and Access, Educational Technology Guide on the astute use of technology in the development of schoolings. Mal has released four publications with ACER Press. In 2008 Mal and Professor Michael Gaffney edited and had published Leading a Digital School. In 2009 he co-authored with Dr Arthur Winzenried The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools – Lessons to be Learned, and with Chris Betcher, The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution – Teaching with IWBs. In 2010 Mal joined with Associate Professor Glenn Finger (Griffith University) in the writing of his most significant work yet for ACER Press on Developing Networked School Communities: a guide to realizing the vision – on the next phase of schooling. Copies of the books can be obtained from the ACER Press website at -
This entry was posted in 24/7/365 teaching and learning, Collaborative Teaching, Digital Schooling, Evolution of Schooling, Normalised use of the digital in schools, teachers and the digital, Use of Instructional Technology in Schools and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.