School Evolution and Technology


As a teacher, as a school leader, it is vital you understand that:

  • schooling globally is undergoing a fundamental change in form
  • those schools that have normalised the use of the digital will constantly evolve and change their form and mode of teaching
  • increasingly sophisticated technology will continue to change the nature of schooling and teaching
  • there are macro changes underway in schooling and you need to appreciate the kind of impact they will have on teaching and learning, and work to shape the forces at play to provide the desired education.

As you experience ever-emerging technology, contemplate how it might be best used and as you read the many excellent articles in this journal, appreciate the macro impact evolving technology is having upon your school, your teaching and vitally, the 24/7/365 teaching and learning of your students.

While government and the media continue their narrow focus on testing and PISA tables, and seemingly work on the belief that the traditional form of the school will never change, the reality that many of you are seeing every day is that technology is occasioning significant, irrevocable change in schooling.

In fact, technology has always impacted on the nature of schooling and teaching but few thought about the extent of that impact.

Paper- Based Schooling And Teaching

For centuries, the form of the school and the nature of the teaching was shaped by a technology called paper, by what could be done with it and by its limitations. In brief, that technology obliged the young to be taught at a place called school, and by a teacher in that physical place who could impart the knowledge that would be committed to paper.

Paper was a static technology acting to reinforce the constancy and continuity of the school and the teaching. That is the mode of schooling we all experienced.

Paper, the pen and the teaching board – be it black, green or white – were the instructional technologies used by every teacher. While throughout the twenty-first century, a line of electronic technologies were expected to ‘revolutionise’ teaching, the reality is that none were used by a majority of teachers or matched the all-pervasive use of paper and the board (Lee and Winzenried, 2009).

Ask yourself – are most of the teachers in your school still primarily reliant on paper, the pen and the board?

Early Digital

In the latter half of the 1990s, a sizeable number of proactive schools and education authorities began providing their teachers and students with digital technology. However, it wasn’t until around 2002-2003 when interactive whiteboards and data projectors reached a level of maturity and a price point schools could afford that whole-school teaching staff began using digital technology in their everyday teaching and moved away from the paper base.

While many so called ‘ICT experts’ liked to knock IWBs, the reality was that technology was – and continues to be – the prime catalyst in shifting teachers to a digital teaching mode.

Invariably, when IWBs were introduced astutely into every teaching room, schools soon had a critical mass of their teachers, 70%- 80% of them, normalising the everyday use of the digital in their teaching.

Has your school reached or moved past this early digital stage?


Under the leadership of an astute principal, the pathfinding schools used the critical mass of digital users and the momentum and culture they created to push forward and get all the teachers in the school using the digital in their teaching to achieve ‘digital take off’ (Lee and Gaffney, 2008) and to soon normalise the use of the digital in the school’s teaching.

Interestingly a number of those pathfinding schools ‘rested’ at that point, seemingly content with their progress and while having normalised the use of the digital chose to continue operating as a ‘stand alone’ school, inside their school walls, retaining a traditional, strongly hierarchical organisational structure.

Others of the pathfinding schools, having normalised the use of the digital, recognised they had only started to realise the immense educational opportunities available and used their digital base and the networked world to begin networking far more closely and collaboratively with students, parents and their wider school community.

They saw the benefit of lowering or indeed dismantling the traditional school walls, the internal and external, and offering a more holistic 24/7/365 education.

Is your school at the digital stage where it has yet to vary its traditional operations and extend its teaching beyond its school walls? Or are you at an early-networked phase where the school is starting to provide a far more holistic, networked form of teaching?

It is important to appreciate is a point I’ve now made on numerous occasions: once an organisation – be it a bank, a post office or a school – leaves its paper base and goes digital, it moves from a position of constancy to one of ongoing, often rapid change and evolution.

Once it goes digital, its form will be strongly impacted by the ever evolving, ever more sophisticated digital technology.

Where paper was a technology that supported constancy, the digital technology, with its full potential barely touched, will continue to occasion ongoing change and evolution.

In time, even those schools in the digital phase that choose to ‘pause’ will find the pressure to continue to evolve too strong to resist.


Where your school is at on the evolutionary scale will depend primarily on the school’s leadership, the principal, far more than the technology.

It would be difficult to find a school in the developed world that is not now making ever-greater use of computers.

In time, and with the retirement of principals, society’s use of the digital  technology will eventually impel all schools to move along the aforementioned evolutionary continuum.

The principal is the key factor enabling some schools to evolve at a pace consistent with the society in which they operate and others to continue operating in a bygone world.

Some schools are fortunate in having principals with the vision and wherewithal to make best use of evolving technology while sadly, many Australian schools don’t.

Australia still lacks the post-graduate leadership programs needed to provide the leaders with that wherewithal but it would be hoped that more entering the principal ranks would have readied themselves to lead networked school communities.

Networked School Community

Daily, ever more schools that have normalised the use of the digital, which are using the digital integrally in all their operations, and appreciate the opportunities constantly opening in the networked world, are beginning to operate within a networked operational paradigm (Lee and Finger, 2010).

Has your school moved to this phase?

These are schools where constant change and evolution is now the norm.

Vitally they have reached the stage in their evolution where much of their growth and form will be shaped naturally from their daily use of the emerging technology.

The very real challenge for those leading these schools is to ensure the technology use enhances the desired teaching and learning, and the school develops at a manageable pace.

One of the emerging challenges is to understand the importance of letting the developments grow naturally and gradually take their desired form.

This has become particularly evident in the natural evolution of a more collaborative style of teaching (Lee and Ward, in press) and the move to BYOT – Bring Your Own Technology (Lee and Levins, in press).

Astute principals are providing the opportunity for both developments to evolve naturally, using an occasional nudge rather than over-planning, and school administrators have been schooled to plan every operation to generate change.

In the networked mode where change is the norm, one needs to astutely manage and nurture the change, to avoid over-planning and in so doing, to be prepared to cede some control.

The variability between schools in Australia is vast and growing, even within the one education authority. As a teacher or administrator you need to recognise the impact of technology on the development of your school, and to understand where your school sits on the evolutionary continuum and why.

Ideally, your school ought be using in its teaching and learning, and its administration, the technology of the day, not that of the nineteenth century. If it isn’t, you should be openly asking why.

How you best achieve that I’ll explore in the coming columns.

Mal is currently working on three works for ACER Press: Leading a Networked School Community, BYOT and Collaborative Teaching. Fuller details on Mal’s books and articles can be found at


Lee, M and Gaffney, M (2008) Leading a Digital School Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools: Lessons to be learned Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M (2010) ‘Interactive whiteboards and schooling: the context’ Technology, Pedagogy and Education Vol 19, No.2. 2010

Lee, M and Finger, G eds. (2010) Developing a Networked School Community A guide to realising the vision Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M and Levins, M (in press) BYOT: A guide to introducing a ‘bring your own technology’ model, Melbourne, ACER Press

Lee, M and Ward, L (in press) Collaborative Teaching Melbourne ACER Press


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Mal Lee
Mal Lee is a former director of schools, secondary college principal, technology company director and now, author and educational consultant. He has written extensively on the impact of technology and the evolution of schooling.

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