Historically, there have been two types of digital transformations in education. The first type is disruptive technology change. This is usually driven by the emergence of a new technology or an event. For example, the invention of laptops, followed by iPads, then the explosion of 1:1 device programs at every level of education - this has changed education irrevocably. History will tell if COVID is one of these types of catalysts. The swift move to technology dependent, remote learning has given educators a taste of change, a taste of what’s possible. Some are starting to adopt that ‘taste’ as their norm, others are using it to supplement their current practice.
The other type of transformation is incremental, evolving change. For example, the development of engaging, online content led schools to use it to supplement and then replace textbooks, screens became interactive, so schools swapped overhead projectors for screens. This is the more typical type of transformation in schools, and it is strategic, planned and needs to be effectively led to maximise adoption and impact.
What is constant in both these transformation models, is that technology, in all its forms, is evolving to facilitate, support and, effectively lead schools towards a student-centred model of learning and engagement. Individual learning is developing in relevance, meaning and purpose within and, sometimes, counter to, the context of the typical school-structured, standard model of curriculum delivery.
The hardest thing about effecting digital transformation in schools is building the ‘why’ in order to create educator buy in, so that any change is long term and sustainable. We all know that schools are not businesses, but unless you’ve lived it, you don’t realise how complex institutional change can be, in both small and large schools, where everything takes a back seat to the business of teaching and learning.
Multiple studies show that unless the teacher at the coal face believes that a change, development or new initiative will positively impact student learning, they will not successfully implement it, even if it is tasked by school leadership as an imperative.
The added complication is that time is finite. A teacher’s focus is on their students in the classroom, their wellbeing and pastoral needs, academic growth and outcomes, character and citizenship. Their time goes into planning, supporting, engaging, coaching, giving feedback, assessing, analysing, understanding and building the relationships with the young people they are helping to grow. They are committed and they are busy, so adding something new to their plate, even with a solid ‘why' and excellent strategic and operational planning, requires complex change management.
The majority of teachers, in a multiplicity of studies, do believe that the use of digital tools to support teaching and learning is important, it’s just not the most important thing in their ambit. So, until now, all the arguments for digital transformation in schools, have been compelling but not urgent.
If COVID has done nothing else, it has necessitated the adoption and heavy use of digital tools in schools – it has created the urgency. However it will be up to school leadership to harness the opportunity and build the ‘why’ of student centred, personalised learning in order to take advantage of the change that technology now enables, and has been driving schools towards, with COVID having made teachers sit up and listen.
At RTG, we work with schools to build that bridge from the rapid, heavy adoption of digital tools to protect learning continuity through COVID, to the meaningful integration of technology into learning. It begins with a process of data gathering to evaluate a school’s remote learning solution and identify the technology practices that have had the greatest effect on student engagement. From this base, we facilitate strategy workshops that take the school from ‘break-fix’ to innovation and impact. The chance to shift the industrial age schooling paradigm is finally here - how many schools will take it?
Is it time to reconceptualise what learning means for your school?