Effective leaders develop a vision for where they want their organizations to be in the future and enable everyone they lead to understand that vision.
This chapter aims to explore the development of your vision for a future, digitally-enabled learning organization.
You are a leader so you already have an overall vision for learning and teaching in your organization and how you want it to develop over time.
Developing your vision to include the digital environment in which your organization will exist 10 years in the future is an important aspect in ensuring the success of your overall vision.
Why 10 years?
Consider the dynamics of educational change. Pressures on staff and resources are so great that trying to make too large a change too quickly may well result in no change at all.
Equally, many major, new technologies, and their impact on learning and teaching, may well be limited within the near future. This may be due to a number of factors, cost being a major one since many new technologies tend to cost a lot more when they are first introduced.
So your vision should look ahead at least 10 years and try to predict how your organization will have changed in response to both the opportunities that emerging technologies may bring and the challenges that they may pose.
Remember, it is a vision and visions can sometimes be hazy or lack precise details. Your vision should set out broad goals for learning and teaching within the context of your specific organization, taking into account your social context and organizational structure.<figure class="graf--figure graf--iframe graf--layoutOutsetLeft graf-after--p" id="3d8f" style="float: left;width: 525px;color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.8);"></figure>
A vision that is bold
It is often very easy to set a vision in terms of the tools and the context that we are comfortable with today.
Whilst this is a relatively easy thing to achieve, for a busy leader it will probably end up being less effective than a bold, future-looking vision that pushes the boundaries of what is possible now.
Spending some time looking into the future learning and teaching activities that you expect to be implementing in ten years time may be challenging but it can also be one of the most exciting and rewarding activities that you can carry out as a leader.
A vision that is bold — A School Example
As an example, back in 1986, before networks were available to anyone other than very rich companies or universities one of our team set out a vision for a hyper-connected educational environment.
In this vision every classroom in a multi-site school was connected not only with each other but with student homes so that learning could be carried out, with access to the required resources, at times and in places that were appropriate for both learner and teacher.
It was labeled ‘Martini Computing’.
At the time this vision was neither technically or financially viable for the school but was adopted because it made sense in terms of the educational objectives that the school had set itself.
Some years later the school administration decided to connect their sites with an internal telephone system and the IT team used the vision to gain approval for an additional set of computer-related, fibre-optic connections to be laid at the same time.
Having connected each site, the school gradually developed the internal networks within each part of the school and when the Internet started to become available it was an easy decision to connect the school and provide access to their internal resources to parents and pupils at home.
All of this technological innovation was accompanied by educational changes that reflected the eventual aim to provide resources and activities at times and in places where it was most appropriate for the learner.
So by the time that the school was connected to the Internet there was already a well-developed internal elearning infrastructure that had been encouraged by the initial, multi-site network connectivity which had been created thanks to that initial vision. Thus they were ready to take the next steps into an online learning and teaching environment that was, to them, merely an extension of the work that they were already carrying out internally.
A bold vision, and its constant reinforcement, had enabled a gradual, planned and integrated approach to educational change.
A vision that is bold — A School District Example
In 2001, before broadband was a ‘must have’ for every home and the smartphone was a glint in Steve Jobs eye, one member of the Hive Knowledge team set out a vision for a City-wide ePortfolio system that would allow students of all ages to share their learning progress with their parents and family members through the use of digital media and online tools.
The vision was in response to the relatively poor performance of young people across some of the more deprived areas of the City and was informed by some exciting research carried out by Kings’ College London.
The ‘Inside the Black Box’ research suggested that removing grades and marks as part of the assessment regime and focusing on developing a learning dialogue between students, teachers and family members could have a positive impact on learning outcomes.
Funding was provided for the development of a lightweight ePortfolio system and the provision of high-speed, broadband access to pilot schools.
Staff were given support to modify their teaching approaches and work carried out to translate high-stakes exam criteria into both parent and student friendly text. Over several years a new approach to assessment for learning was developed, in an increasingly large number of schools.
The ePortfolio system was developed as a small, but important element that enabled everyone involved to track and reflect on learning progress. This was especially important to parents, some of whom, for various reasons, had never seen any of their child’s schoolwork.
Over time the new approach saw a double-digit improvement in high-stakes exam performance by previously low achieving groups of students.<figure class="graf--figure graf--iframe graf--layoutOutsetLeft graf-after--p" id="e40a" style="float: left;width: 525px;color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.8);"></figure>
A bold vision based on pedagogically sound ideas can turn a simple tool into a driver for educational change.
Being Bold — A Small Group of Schools
In 2014, a member of the Hive Knowledge team worked with a group of schools to set out a vision for 2025. In that vision the school leaders foresaw the replacement of the ‘teacher wall’ display technologies with augmented reality tools that enabled classrooms to become three dimensional, collaborative exploration spaces.
They also envisioned the rise of personal, student owned technologies and the reduction in the number of school-owned computers. Instead, they aimed to move towards the school providing a high-quality, full-featured, technology infrastructure with the addition of school-owned specialist technologies such as 3D-printers and virtual/augmented reality environments.
Whilst the resulting vision statement has yet to be realized it has allowed their technology director to plan the technology investments for the next five years and beyond. With a focus on high-speed, internal networks, faster, more reliable Internet connectivity, a centralized server infrastructure, a reduction in their investment in desktop computers and a plan to introduce an effective mobile device management system.<figure class="graf--figure graf--iframe graf--layoutOutsetLeft graf-after--p" id="8d12" style="float: left;width: 525px;color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.8);"></figure>
A clear vision for the future of digital has translated into a detailed investment investment strategy.
A vision that is technology agnostic
Note that none of the above examples mention specific vendors or technologies. Technology changes too quickly.
Just think about how important the iPhone, iPad and Android technologies are today and yet ten years ago those technologies were nowhere to be seen and the major players in the mobile device sector were Nokia and Blackberry.
Visions are about what can be done in a learning environment with the aid of technology. Your vision should shape which technologies you use and not the other way round.
A vision that is concise
If you fill your vision with too many details the chances are that many, if not all, will fail. Not because they are bad but because including too much detail makes it difficult for all concerned to focus on the core of what really matters.
If a vision is too long you are probably starting to stray into technology-specific ideas, which is bad because sure as eggs are eggs the technology you think about today will be totally different in ten years.
A vision should be concise enough so that when a member of staff is planning something new, or looking to buy some new teaching resource they can quickly review whether it helps move their professional practice towards your vision.
A vision that impacts your whole organization
Try to make the goals within your vision applicable to as wide a range of subjects and members of your community as possible. Evidence suggests that a whole-school approach to change has a greater chance of success.
Whilst your vision should include everyone, it should be flexible enough to enable individual departments and even staff to explore their own pathways to achieving that vision.
This will help everyone personalize their approach to the vision and aid adoption in ways that are most appropriate for individual needs.
Address important priorities
As an organization you already have a list of key priorities that need to be addressed if you are going to be successful. Everyone will know these and will, hopefully, be focused on finding ways in which they can have a positive impact on these important requirements.
Taking a longer term view of what your organization will look like once these have been addressed may help you think ‘outside the box’ a little and will certainly give you a chance to paint a more positive picture for staff and others.
Many organizations have visions that were created either by a single member of the senior leadership team or a small group of senior leaders and subject heads.
Whilst this may be quick and easy it may lack credibility for many of those who will be affected by the vision and, importantly, could mean that you miss the opportunity to involve someone with a great idea.
Involving everyone also improves the chances that the vision will be sustainable over a period of time and manage to survive changes in staff. Everyone means all the staff, all the Governors, students, parents and, potentially, members of the local community.
Involving them means that you have made an early start taking them on the change journey that you want them to travel.
Develop Day in the Life Scenarios
Develop ‘Day in the life’ stories that explore what a digitally enriched learning environment may look like for different members of your community and at different times in the school year.
Creating these scenarios can provide great professional development opportunities for staff, exciting and informative computer science and personal/social activities for students as well as chances for parents and members of the wider community, especially businesses, to provide more concrete input into the vision development process.
These scenarios can be difficult to construct as many people will find themselves being dragged into a description of specific, current technologies.
Try to relate them to the pupil pursuits that you carry out occasionally and think about how they may look in ten years.
Create a few examples to get people started and challenge subject departments and others to produce their own about lessons that they would hope to see improved across their area of expertise.
Don’t forget to think about the whole school day. For students this must include time before and after their time spent actually in lessons. Similarly, don’t forget to include the time that staff spend in planning, preparation, assessment and developing their own professional expertise.
These scenarios offer you a chance to focus on the details and mechanics of how learning and teaching could be different when you achieve your vision. They are often hard to create but always useful as a way of refining your vision.
Explore other visions
Whilst your organization and your needs are specific to your context, it is worthwhile, as part of the initial development and the annual review, exploring the vision statements of other organizations.
Don’t just be restricted to educational organizations. many companies, especially the big ones such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc. will present visions of the future videos or documents that you can use as background.
Organizations such as ALT, ITSE, NAACE, JISC and government bodies will also provide useful background reading and visions.
Review your vision regularly
An annual review of your vision, built into the overall annual review process, will allow you to assess progress and enable people who may not have felt ready to input into the vision before to provide feedback and suggestions.
As more and more decisions are taken that are aligned to the delivery of your vision you will often find that a growing number of people will want to feedback and help you develop your vision.
Encourage this debate and make sure that you capture and recognize the input from staff, students and the wider community so that as many people as possible feel invested in your journey.
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