Today’s developed societies, with their digitally empowered parents and pervasive application of the digital in every facet of life, should rightly expect schools to provide a higher order education at least consonant with, if not slightly ahead of, the societal norms of the digital and networked world.
The teachers and schools appear to concur. In the school consultations and leadership workshops I have conducted, I have yet to encounter a teacher or school leader who doesn’t believe that in time every school will normalise the use of the digital. Throughout Australia proactive schools, often with the support of their education authority, are striving for that normalisation
The normalised use of the technology is key. It is not simply the school having the technology for everyone, or indeed using that technology, but rather it is using it so naturally, so normally in every facet of the school’s operations as to forget the technology is there. For centuries we have normalised the use of paper, the pen and the teaching board, with few giving a moment’s thought to their power or impact.
That is where we are fast moving with the digital technology in schools. It is an extension of what is happening with the kids, in their homes and in society in general.
The young have long normalised the use of the digital. Their parents have done so and, importantly, schools are now teaching the children of digitally empowered ‘Net Generation parents.
With digital normalisation, the school weaves through its total fabric a fibre that is not constant in form but which seemingly magically grows more sophisticated and powerful, enabling the school and its education to grow, evolve, move to a higher order, and to grasp the relevance of unimagined educational opportunities.
By normalising the use of the children’s own choice of technologies, schools are removing from their load the onerous ongoing burden of funding, choosing, setting up, controlling, maintaining and replacing rapidly evolving personal technologies, while positioning themselves to use the current technologies that each child deems apt.
Tellingly, every pathfinder school studied that had normalised or nearly normalised the whole school community use of the digital had in their evolution not only adopted a remarkably similar mode of schooling but had also evolved a mode appropriate for a digital and networked world. The nature of the schooling at the digital normalisation stage is fundamentally different to, and in many respects, antithetical to that provided in the traditional paper-based school.
Achieve total student usage of their own technology and everyday use of technology in class, but schools recognise that with the children’s proficiency in using their chosen kit, it is no longer necessary, even at a very early age, to waste valuable time teaching them the workings.
The teachers are able to build on the digital normalisation and apply the functionality and immediate availability of the digital tools in all manner of higher order teaching situations, working collaboratively at the right moments to continually enhance that functionality.
That said, this natural, almost invisible, higher order educational use of evermore sophisticated technology and, vitally, the associated learning ecology, has taken the pathfinders many years of concerted whole of school community effort to achieve. Those school’s leaders have envisioned the opportunities possible, put in the concerted effort and are finally beginning to exemplify why, in time, it will be imperative for all schools to fashion an ecology where the use of the digital is normalised.
The movement to the Digital Normalisation stage and beyond obliges the schools to genuinely collaborate with their homes, to trust and respect their contribution, and to actively involve them and their digital technology in teaching of the young. This attribute was evidenced in all the pathfinder schools, be they primary, special schools, primary, or high schools. Primary schools, with their close relationship with the parents, particularly in the early childhood years, are once again invariably better positioned to ramp up that genuine home-school collaboration than most high schools which historically have been loath to distribute their control of the teaching and learning, and genuinely collaborate with their parents.