I began investigating the impact of digital technologies on the curriculum in 2001 when I organised the use of technologies in creating work for Perth’s AWESOME Festival for Young People. I reported on the experiment in the Australian Drama Education Magazine (2001) in ’Seeing is believing: embracing new technologies to enhance drama education and the development of youth theatre’.
In 2003, I self-funded a workshop space, resourced it with WIFI and 10 Apple MacBooks to develop ‘nonsense projects’ with 6-to-14-year-olds. We produced animations, live performance and creative stories in prose and dramatic texts around nonsense literature and critical thinking. Here’s the introduction we wrote for the program.
I’d love to claim that I knew what I was doing in the four-and-a-half years I worked on the projects. Michael Anderson, John Carroll and David Cameron, editors of Drama Education With Digital Technology (2009), bring together a collection of far more scholarly studies. Or you might also read Kim Flintoff’s fascinating retrospective in Connections between Drama Education and the Digital Education Revolution (2010).
However, for me, the pre-2010 period was more like I knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to pursue a single-minded view of educational standards. I didn’t want to ignore the coming of the digital age. And I particularly didn’t want anything that looked to ‘fix’ what was wrong with teachers and students. Instead, I tried to embrace the challenge of ‘cognitive dissonance‘, between analysis and creativity, individuality and social collaborations and, above all, scientific and artistic methodologies.
Today, I find Elliot Eisner’s and Sir Ken Robinson’s reference ‘educational connoisseurship’ a positive way of validating my experiences during that time. Eisner explains in The Perceptive Eye, that as educational practices are inordinately complicated, fostering connoisseurship in education “means not necessarily a liking or preference for what one has encountered, but rather an awareness of its characteristics and qualities” (1975, p.6), while Ken Robinson makes it clear that “great teaching is about ‘judgement and connoisseurship’. So we must not overlook the curriculum leader’s ‘expert eye’ and replace it with data at the expense of sidelining the teachers’ judgements (Barry, 2018).
In hindsight, I acknowledge the difficulty of articulating change in education while simultaneously living through it. What helped me in that regard was stepping out of familiar educational settings and working in the environs of London’s financial services and its IT sector between 2009 and 2014.
It was then that I saw how many industries were coming to terms with the tidal wave of information arising from digital disruption. I began to recognise that perhaps I had been looking at meeting educational outcomes in the digital age too narrowly. In fact, as an educator, I had deprived myself of valuable knowledge by being downright suspicious of the ‘business world’.
Larry Cuban’s seminal research on the differences between public and private interests is helpful for school leaders to use in explaining the differences between cultivating “civic engagement, heightening cultural awareness, enhancing individual well-being, and reducing economic and social inequalities”,particularly since Cuban shows the different demands on the “elected and appointed public officials responsible for schools” and the “non-elected board of trustees who lead private-sector firms” (2004, p.185).
From discerning such differences, I believe, school leaders should look across as many professional sectors as they can to view how different organisations are optimising their digital communications strategies. With clear thinking, such differentiations will enable them to more effectively share their school policies with families and other stakeholders in their school communities.
All About pedagogy
In 2017, Ray Trotter, the principal of Wooranna Park Primary School in North Dandenong, allowed me to survey the school’s curriculum documents.
At the time, Ray was writing about the reforms taking place in the school for an acclaimed international journal. I was curious to observe how telling the ‘school story’ supported curriculum reforms. I asked that I might be allowed to explore how he and the school leadership team were benefiting from their writings.
As a result, I launched into an ‘educational content audit’ to record all the different ways the school told its pedagogical story online. What I discovered at WPPS was so much more – in over 150 substantial texts, created between 1998 to 2017, all focused on describing its pursuit of a new education paradigm. I accessed theses, book chapters; over 30 newspaper articles by local, state and national newspapers and 78 articles in professional journals.
Other documents about the school were found on local, state and federal members of parliament websites, state and national Departments of Education (most notably ACARA’s My School website) and various ‘good school guides’ that rank the school in comparison to other Australian schools.
Furthermore, these text documents (found online as printable PDFs) sat beside nearly 1000 videos demonstrating various aspects of WPPS’s pedagogy, photographs on Google Images, a Twitter feed for the school, classroom-based blogs through Seesaw, and Google for Education apps.
I was also able to bring together principal Ray’s documentation of the changes that occurred over the twenty-plus years. This included academic articles, purpose-made videos, website notices, official policy documents and a significant number of photographs around school events.
A vital question for me was how should such a treasure-house of valuable content be used to grow the school’s relationship with its community? The marketing term used for such work is branding, but somehow it doesn’t do justice to the value of a school’s reputation and its links to its principles of learning.
We know, for instance, that parents look to buy homes in areas where they can enrol children in a ‘good school’. But we also know that in an egalitarian society every child has the right to a ‘good education’. So it’s understandable that school leaders dismiss simplistic notions of marketing schools when compared to the pedagogical complexities in which they operate.
As WPPS shows, however, the good news is that school leaders have at their disposal a lot of content and resources through which they can communicate the effectiveness of their work. Furthermore, the knowledge of how to achieve ‘digital leadership’ is becoming widespread thanks to principals and scholars like Eric Sheninger and Trish Rubin, who write in BrandED how a school’s brand can improve school culture, expand school performance and increase school resourcing (Sheninger and Rubin, 2017, p.8).
Having been convinced by Naomi Klein’s No Logo back in 1999, I don’t have quite the same enthusiasm for branding as Sheninger and Rubin. Nonetheless, I remain confident that school leaders have the capacity to draw on useful communication strategies from an eclectic source of opinions to showcase teaching and learning in their schools.
I am also encouraged by the fact that the digital disruption of the advertising and marketing industries has produced a profound shift towards learning principles to engage with and retain clients. School leaders may be surprised to read, therefore, that the digital marketing platform Hubspot has as its company mission the creation of a platform that unites “software, education, and community to help businesses grow better every day.”