The culture of tech use

Over the last year I have spent time working with colleagues on developing our school technology strategy.    I have always felt we had a reasonably clear strategy however it was largely unwritten;   I felt there was a need to get something written down to ensure transparency and consistency in terms of technology decisions.      In exploring and developing this written version of the strategy one of the things I gave consideration to was culture where culture is evidenced by “the way we do things around here”.    My thinking was very much based on peoples actions, the stories they told, the narratives, being evidence of the culture.    In other words the behaviours were the outcome of the culture, cause and effect.   On reflection this is a little too narrow and one way.    As with most things in life, things are seldom this simple.

In thinking about wellbeing and the mental and physical side of things, rather than technology, it is clear that taking physical care of yourself, such as going for a run, can impact on your mental wellbeing.   And your mental wellbeing can have an impact on how you feel physically.    I remember reading of a study which correlated smiling, even if brought about due to holding a pencil in your mouth, with improved emotional state again showing a link between physical and mental aspects of our being.    This got me thinking as to culture, that rather than being cause and effect, if it is more a case of interdependence.

So, what if our actions and behaviours are not only a marker of the culture, but also the things that shape and mould culture over time.    We now have a cyclical relationship.    Our behaviours, our stories, etc shape the culture which in turn shapes our behaviour and the stories we tell and on and on ad infinitum.   This seems to link nicely to the fact that culture isnt easy to change, and changes over a longer rather than shorter time period.   As such actions to change culture are often little more than dropped rocks in a river.    They have limited impact on the rivers flow but over time and as more rocks are dropped in they can cumulatively change the direction of the river.

In relation to technology strategy and the culture which surrounds technology use in school, in terms of students, staff and parents, changing it is not easy however strategic initiatives, a lot like strategically deployed rocks, can help to change and shape an organisations culture relating to technology.   So, the question therefore is to decide which initiatives are likely to be successful and have the impact you are looking for.   One of the challenges here though is the constantly changing technological world and the increasing focus on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and school achievement measures.   These often draw focus towards the short term, this academic year, this term, etc, and away from the longer term and the little things which will change how the school looks and operates in 3, 5 or 10 years time, the school culture.  They also highlight the need to carefully plan and avoid failure, where we actually might want to be more innovative and agile in our planning plus embrace failure as a learning experience.

Strategic rocks in the culture of tech use

So, what are my strategic rocks?    For me there are 5 areas in technological strategy in schools which jump to mind, which represent long term projects and introducing a cultural change.

  1. 1:1 and increased personalisation of learning through technology with this embedded in teaching and learning practices

This is about using the tool, which is the technology in a classroom, to allow students to stretch the curriculum, how they evidence learning and also how they can customise learning to support their individual needs.   We are already seeing lots of examples of this in how tools like Flipgrid, OneNote, Microsoft Lens and Minecraft, to name but a few tools, that are being used.  We now need to build on this, embedding a greater use of technology across all lessons, but only where appropriate.

  • Increasing use of video and virtual reality or augmented reality to support teaching and learning beyond the boundaries of the physical classroom and the school day.

The pandemic has shown us that learning can take place, through technology, even when students cannot come to school.   Flipped learning, not a new concept, has already shown us how learning can happen outside lessons, with the review and reinforcement then happening in lessons.   The challenge is now to take what we have learned and to maximise the impact we can achieve from it now we are largely back in school, and in preparation should another pandemic or other issue occur.

  • A shift to cloud-based services

This is quite simply an acceptance that largely, but not always, schools are better having their services in the cloud supported by the infrastructure and support teams which are provided, rather than trying to support solutions hosted on-site with their own limited resources.    As the cyber risks continue the need to move to the cloud only intensifies.

  • Development of a holistic digital citizenship programme for staff and for students including greater awareness of data protection and cyber resilience.

As our technological reliance in the greater world increases and as we make greater use of technology in schools we need to ensure that students understand the benefits and risk.   They need to be supported to grow as digital citizens, to understand that the convenience provided by online services, by search and recommendation algorithms, is not without risk.   The challenge of individual privacy versus public good is another area in need of exploration.  They also need to appreciate the ethical dilemmas that future technologies might present us with.    And all of this needs to be through a more holistic and integrated programme than that which schools generally offer at the moment.  

  • Increasing use of data to inform teaching and learning and other areas of school operations.

And we need to look at the massive wealth of data which schools can and do gather and how we might maximise the impact this data may have.    Now I note that the job of cleaning it up so it can be used is a significant one, but if we can do so we would have data which could inform and help direct teaching and learning.   We would have a way to help teachers and students take control of learning but in a more informed, and data driven manner.

Conclusion

I think the 5 areas above outline a direction in terms of how I see things for the years ahead, at least the next 5 to 10 years.    The key therefore is about starting to drop the strategic rocks which bring about the cultural change by which the above 5 points become simply how we do things in school.   It isnt going to be a short process to make the above happen in any real embedded way, such that it becomes culture, but we need to start somewhere. And one of the positive notes I will end on, is that at least we are already making some progress towards some of the above; The process has already begun.

Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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