Reimagining Your Story @ Digital Learning: Three Questions

You stand at the water’s edge, looking out at the vast ocean of possibilities that technology holds for your school community in 2023/2024. The first of the big Chat GPT waves from last year have receded, leaving behind a relative sense of calm — a moment of introspection. 

You look toward the horizon and see wispy clouds, seagulls…and wait, is that a giant digital clockface flashing 12:00? It is. It’s the infamous “blinking 12:00″ from VCRs of yore, encapsulating the frustration that arises when technology requires more cognitive load than users are willing to bear. When the perceived cost in time and effort exceeds the perceived benefit, resistance to technology ensues.

Which begs the question, so you ask yourself “Despite consistent and undeniable technological advancement, why hasn’t the enormous investment in educational technology over the past two decades resulted in anything more measurably significant in terms of student achievement gains than if we’d instead focused on using simple, well-known teaching strategies?”

You wonder: Could it be that technological transformation is far more a social process than it is a technological one?

Might the path to meaningful progress be high-touch as much or more than it is high-tech? You consider your school’s overall past performance in challenging established norms, dismantling paradigm paralysis, and encouraging innovation…and…what’s clear is a fresh approach certainly couldn’t hurt.

Dynamic school leaders see their role as serving their communities, as co- constructors of systems and workflows that prioritize the needs of students, staff and the community–the users—first. This is how dynamic school cultures do difficult things.

You know that organizations fall to the level of their systems far more easily and more often than they rise to the level of their goals so you realize you need to know which strategies to achieve “techno-social system transformation” have the best shot at moving the needle for gains in student achievement.

You smile as three question pathways appear before you:

What if you, ask not—“How do we get there?” but instead, “Where can we get from here?”

What if instead of setting top-down goals, you collectively envision a broad direction and cultivate an evolutionary mindset among staff by asking “Where can we get from here?”

Leadership, in its truest sense, is not about extracting from people; it’s about enabling people and teams to move forward by fostering a sense of collective empowerment and community. Hierarchical authority as it is in schools, however, tends to evoke compliance, not foster commitment. Commitment and collaboration will take your community farther than compliance so we must rethink our policies to motivate rather than constrain, drive change from within rather than enforcing it from above.

What if you elevated staff and students into active agents of change and ruthlessly went after systems and processes that are diverting energies to administrative Yak Shaving over student learning and support?

A pivotal first step towards meaningful progress is to engage everyone in collective inquiry @ system and process redesigns. Students and staff should be designing technology innovations, not just implementing them. Encourage teams to question deeply held assumptions, challenge the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality, and examine systems and processes that are too often frittering away our most precious resource — human brain cycles.

Daisy chained, pieced together systems lacking stakeholder input from day 1 get put into place in ways that may seem locally efficient (for the IT Dept, Office staff, Admin) but make yak shavers of the users these systems are ostensibly supporting.

What if you deliberately re-balanced your digital ecosystem toward high touch support?

More than anything, we need to ensure that inquiry and experiments in digital transformation do not create an onerous burden for our community but instead provide meaningful, user-friendly, and beneficial change. Computational kindness, a concept that refers to the way we design and use technology in ways that are considerate of human factors, should be at the heart of our endeavors. This shift toward a “user focus” prioritizes high- touch integration support and proactive problem finding alongside the “reactive problem solving only” style of support that is the relatively prevalent norm.

By turning this inquiry into action we are in much better shape to write the next chapter.

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