Whole School Normalised Use of the Digital


Mal Lee


If your school is to provide an appropriate quality education for the Twenty First Century and take advantage of the immense teaching and learning opportunities opened daily in the digital and networked world it only stands to reason all your teachers have to have normalised the use of the digital.

You need all, including all the part-time and casual teachers using the digital in their everyday teaching as naturally as they would paper and a pen.

The bottom line is that if the teachers don’t use the digital in their classrooms nor will the students.

Until you have at least a critical mass of your teachers having normalised the use of the digital your school will remain in an ever more dated insular, paper based operational paradigm unable to benefit from the opportunities opened by the digital and networked world being enjoyed by the pathfinding schools.

Somehow this very basic and obvious fact fact seems to have escaped the attention of most goverments and educational administrators and in 2012 still not received the attention due.

Whole school teacher usage of the digital is the key to the way forward for every school.

If there are teachers on your staff who have not normalised the use of the digital – even if only a few – not only ask why not but move expeditiously to redress that anomaly.

Today the use of the digital is normalised with every child, by the parents, every work place and by virtually every teacher outside his/her classroom.

The one place it is not is the supposed place of learning – the classroom.

Until that occurs – as indicated in my below article on ‘Normalised Use of the Digital’ – your school is prevented from providing an education apposite for a digital and networked world, from enjoying the benefits of evolving naturally as an digital organisation, of viewing future schooling from a networked mindset, successfully shifting to a model of collaborative teaching and BYOT and providing an education consanant with that expreienced outside the school walls.

To get your school into the play with all staff members able to contribute you’ll need simultaneously address the following nine key human and technological variables.

  • 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

I first identified these variables with Dr. Arthur Winzenried in 2006 and then elaborated upon them with him in The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools in 2009.

In revisting them today, with the benefit of having been able to draw upon another four years of research associated with the evolution of schooling and having watched many dramatic game changing developments in the technology since 2008 all still hold true.

What however I’d now add is that total teacher normalisation of the digital is that much more central to school development and enhancement.

Schools not at that stage are not only denying their students the requisite education they don’t even appreciate they are failing them.

Forget the various simplistic whole of teacher usage solutions that have been offered up by so many schools, education authorities and governments and recognise you’ll need to simultaneously address a suite of closely interrelated variables if you are to achieve total teacher usage.

History reveals time over you’ll not achieve 100% usage by simply handing the teachers the latest ‘you beaut’ gear be it a PC, laptop, IWB or Pad.

Similarly you won’t achieve it simply with professional development (PD) and in particular externally provided PD.

You most assuredly will not achieve normalisation by giving the students the technology and assuming the student use will embarras the staff to change.  There is no research to support the approach, rather there is evidence suggesting the strategy will strengthen the teacher’s intransigence.

What is that much clearer now than four years ago is that it is appreciably more important to get all teachers actually using a digital technology in their teaching than it is that a portion of the staff become expert in the use of a particularly technology.  In brief it is significantly more important school development wise that every one on staff uses an IWB, or netbooks or iPads competently in their everyday teaching than it is that a few teachers are taught to use Photoshop expertly, while the rest of the teachers continue using chalkboards.

It is appreciated that view is contrary to that of most ‘ICT experts’.

The research has affirmed (Lee and Finger, 2010, in press) (Lee and Ward, in press) (Lee and Levins, in press) that far greater school development will flow from moving all staff from a paper to a digital base, and having all the teachers approach their teaching from networked mindset than will ever be achieved when only a portion of the staff are highly skilled.

The key is to get all teachers working with the digital and understanding how it can be used to enhance teaching and learning.  With that breakthrough one can then work with the teachers on enhancing their wider digital competencies.

As you yourself will have seen over the last four years as we left behind the PC world and the ‘one size fits all approach’ – and where Microsoft expertise was deemed as synonymous with ICT expertise – and moved at pace to a position where teachers are able to choose from a plethora of ever-evolving digital technologies and applications the key today is understanding the options available and how one might best use that functionality in one’s teaching, rather than becoming expert in a particular technical skill set.

The Nine Variables.

  • Teacher Acceptance. 

Larry Cuban very aptly indicated in 1986 that teachers were the gatekeepers to what happens in their classrooms in relation to the technology.

You have to convince each of the worth of their normalising the use of the digital.

Historically the securing of that teacher acceptance has largely been forgotten (Cuban, 1986) (Lee and Winzenried, 2009).

All too often mandates from high, from government or the education authority that paid little regard to the needs of each teacher have been thought sufficient to get teachers to change their ways. It didn’t work and it never will.

The research (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) points very strongly to each teacher needing to believe his/her use of the technology in class will enhance the teaching and the student learning, and in the process if that use improves efficiency and reduces lesson preparation time so much the better.

While the leadership ought strongly communicate the school’s desire that the digital ought be used in every area of teaching and learning, K-12 it needs to personalise its efforts and work with each of the teachers not yet using the digital to bring them into the play.

Allied – as indicated below – is the importance of each teacher being able to begin with instructional technology they are comfortable using, and which they are able to use naturally in their teaching room.   That is what paper, the pen and the teaching board provided.

Peter Lambert in designing the original software for Promethean’s interactive whiteboards (IWBs) very consciously aimed to build on teachers universal use of and comfort with teaching boards – be they black, green or white (Lee and Winzenried, 2009).

It should not be a surprise that it was when IWBs reached a level of maturity and a price point where they could be instaled in every teaching room did we see – from around 2002-2003 – the first total teaching staffs normalising the use of the digital.

The IWB was and indeed remains today the breakthrough technology that assisted move the vast majority of teachers from their paper to digital teaching mode (Lee, 2010).

The challenge is to get each teacher believing he/she should use the digital in his/her teaching.

In the last couple of years the wider societal and in particular student normalisation of the digital has undoubtedly brought home to ever more teachers the educational value of they using the digital in their classrooms.

Interestingly in examining an array of case study schools that had normalised the whole staff use of the digital mention was regularly made of the

–       principal making it clear what was expected of all teachers in relation to the use of the digital in the teaching

–       school leadership requiring the digital be used in all teaching administration, be it to mark the roles, communicate or enter student assessment data. In brief the schools had employed both the carrot and the stick.

Significantly when schools achieve a critical mass of teachers – 65% – 75% – using the digital everyday the leadership is usually able to use that group and the momentum they are generating to win over the late adopters, and new appointments.

  • Working with the Givens.

It is very easy to forget in seeking to get all teachers using the digital and selecting the apposite instructional technology that teachers have to work within a set of invariably unstated givens, such as class groups, well-managed classes, the limited space of the classroom, a set and crowded curriculum and most importantly limited teaching time.

Teachers moreover want the facility to create their own lessons, and instructional technology that allows them to do so.

Historically those operational constraints have been largely forgotten.  Technology after technology in the twentieth century teachers were obliged to leave their own teaching room to make use of it, and were then obliged to use pre-packaged content they couldn’t customise.

Fortunately recent technological developments have negated the later concerns but still too many schools have not addressed the need to have the requisite suite of technology in each teaching room.

You’ll never achieve total teacher normalisation while ever the digital technology is primarily contained within labs.

Have specialist labs supplementing the in-class technology but rely on labs and you’ll stay in the paper based world.

Appropriate digital instructional technology has to be every teaching room.

If it is not there naturally the teachers will continuing use that there – the paper, pen and teaching board.

  • Teacher Training and Teacher Developmental Support.

No one should be surprised with this vital variable, but time and time again governments, education authorities and schools have not given due regard to this vital factor.  One requires far more than the one or two day PD per year. Rather schools require an appropriately resourced and focussed, on-going training and support model that becomes a normal part of the school’s everyday operations, able to accommodate an ever evolving technology.

It is interesting to note the number of schools across the developed world, primary and secondary that make asute use of what is variously described as an IT coach, instructional technology specialist, digital support staff – teachers atop the technology with the time to support the other teachers.

  • Nature and Availability of the Technology

Every teacher personally and in the classroom needs a suite of digital technology that best supports his/her teaching.

For far too long it was assumed the one magic piece of technology, the one tool, would be appropriate for all teachers, for all teaching situations from Kindergarten to Year 12.

Coincidentally that thinking coincided with Microsoft’s hegemony and a period when the ‘ICT experts’ put to the fore their technical needs rather than the educational agenda.

In the post PC era since 2010 the digital instructional technology options for teachers have grown ever wider but unfortunately the power of the ‘ICT expert’ and the ‘one size fits all model’ still lingers in many situations, making it very difficult for the later adopting teachers teachers to opt for the techhnology they would prefer.

The principal should determine which suite of digital tools each teacher requires, not the ICT staff.

The principal should also ensure every teacher – or at least near full time teacher – is provided the requisite personal mobile technology or an allowance to acquire that technology.

Sadly as amplified in the article below on ‘Technology in Australia’s Schools: The Scene in 2012’ far too many education employers are still not providing the requisite tools.

While many teachers have opted to buy their own mobile technology late adopting teachers could rightly claim if the employer is not prepared to support the digital usage aspirations with the provision of the requisite technology they too won’t go out of their way to make the change.

  • Appropriate Content/Software

Obviously without the appropriate quality content or software, be it films, videos, interactive multimedia applications or the latest apps, the use of any technology will be limited.

In 2012 with the plethora of free or inexpensive applications this is not the issue it was even four years ago.

Nonetheless with the shift to greater use of cloud based technology it is important the unnecessary ‘Net blockages are removed.

  • Infrastructure

Every teaching room must have Internet access – preferably very high speed – available 100% of the teaching year – and not 96%.

To that end all schools also require the requisite ICT support, information services and information management, ample digital storage, back up, disaster proofing and on-going network refreshment.

One cannot hope to have the sustained total teacher use of the ICT without quality infrastructure and support.

  • Finance

Schools also need the funds to achieve and sustain not only the total teacher use of digital technology, but also the monies to support the impact of the teachers’ ever-rising expectations upon the whole school.

The success of the low socio economic pathfinding schools in achieving total teacher acceptance of the digital technology would suggest that provided the school principal so decides virtually all schools in the developed world can finance the total school use of that technology.

Historically schools and education authorities have only ever allocated a few percent of their total recurrent budget on instructional technology, and in comparison to the other information rich industries schools are still the poor cousins.

That said the shift to a model of BYOT that is a natural flow on from achieving full teacher normalisation of the digital should make it that much easier financially to ensure the school can support the whole staff use of the digital.

  • School and Education Authority Leadership

An astute school principal who is prepared to lead, to strongly articulate the imperative of all teachers using the digital, to tailor the school’s efforts to each teacher’s needs and constantly ensure all the variables are addressed is fundamental to achieving and sustaining total teacher usage.

In many respects the main reason why so many schools have in 2012 have not normalised the use of the digital can be attributed to the lack of leadership from the school principal, and to a lesser extent the education authority leadership.

A lesser extent because bodies external to the school can only do so much.

It is the principal who controls the operations of the school and sets it priorities.

While it is appreciated globally there is a lack of post graduate training for the potential leaders of digital schools there are at the moment too many school principals who lack the understanding and competence to operate as the chief architect of a digital school.

Without the leadership schools have little or no hope of achieving total usage, as there is in the typically hierarchically structured school simply too many variables over which the principal has ultimate control.

While schools can achieve total usage without the support of the local education authority that authority can, often unwittingly, stymie or indeed reverse the take up.

  • Implementation

The history of the introduction of instructional technology reveals a long-term failure to adopt appropriate whole school implementation strategies.  The focus has been on rolling out the technology and not addressing the many human variables central to any successful use of the technology.

Sadly the same still holds true today.

Far too often one views instructional technology plans that don’t mention the human element.

A smart whole school implementation strategy that puts the teachers to the fore, appropriate for the particular school, coordinated by an astute coordinator is essential for not only addressing all the aforementioned variables, but for achieving whole school teacher normalisation.


When one analyses the long term ‘use’ of the various instructional technologies it is only recently apparent that it was not until the confluence of a set of technological developments in the opening years of the C21 that it became possible to achieve the long desired total teacher use of the digital.

Until then the conditions conducive to normalisation had not existed.

We are thus talking a relatively recent phenomenon but that said when one looks back at how quickly the pathfinders moved from their paper to digital base and how readily so many other schools globally have followed their path one can safely say in 2012 that provided the school leadership accords it the desired attention any school can move relatively swiftly to achieve total teacher normalisation of the digital and position the school to thrive as a networked school community.


Cuban, Larry (1986) Teachers and Machines, Teachers College Press, Columbia University, USA.

Cuban, Larry (2001) Oversold and Underused, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass. USA.

ISTE (2007) Maximizing the Impact. The pivotal role of technology in 21st century education systems.  ISTE, Partnership for 21st Century Skills and SETDA –


Friedman, T (2006 2nd Edition), The World is Flat, NY Farrar, Straus Giroux

Lee, Mal and Winzenried, Arthur (2005) , ‘Interactive whiteboards: Achieving total teacher ICT usage’, The Australian Educational Leader,  Vol. 28 No. 3, 2006, pp. 22-25.

Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2008)  A History of 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 (2010) ‘The Interactive Whiteboards and Schooling: The Context’ Education, Technology and Pedagogy Routledge Vol.19, No.2 July 2010

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

Lee, M and Levins, M (in press) BYOT Melbourne ACER Press

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

Meredyth, D et al (1999) Real Time – Computers, Change and Schooling, Canberra  Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs


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 - http://shop.acer.edu.au/acer-shop/product/A4032BK
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