FSA Member schools were invited to join Mary-Lou O’Brien and Peter Hutton in conversation on Tuesday the 12th of May.

“Mary-Lou is a digital transformation leader, a change maker, an innovator, a self-confessed geek, a global explorer, a trend watcher, an Aussie retail pioneer, an intrapreneur & forever a student! In 1997 she became one of Australia’s internet pioneers when she launched Australia’s first online retail business, Australia Presents. With a varied background with an extensive cross sectoral history across education, travel and tourism, recruitment and retail, this conversation on how digital technology will redefine school-time in a post COVID world, is one not to be missed. Mary-Lou was a key change agent behind Melbourne Girls Grammar transformation to be positioned as one of the most innovative schools in Australia. A zoom link will be sent to FSA schools.”

Live Interview recorded May 2020

Digital transformation covers a huge number of processes/interactions/transactions and it can be a long journey as real change & culture-shifting takes time. It is also about having the right people and the right culture. Successful digital transformation isn’t just about technology but relies on the people involved and all projects should have customer-focused goals top of mind. 

Technology should only ever be seen as the tool that facilitates the transformation.

In an era where the rhetoric around education is very much about change, digital immersion and innovation, it has been recognised that the education sector is at odds with innovative cultures. This is due to the risk-averse nature and the pressure to ensure quality (Ellis & Goodyear 2019). The other factor that stymies innovation is the focus on testing and results e.g. ATAR, NAPLAN, PISA in Schools and similar data in industry e.g. targets such as sales figures that can distract from the true purpose of the business. 

According to the Australian government’s Tech Futures Paper released in Nov. 2019, the barriers to digital adoption in business include:

  •         low digital skills
  •         lack of awareness of benefits
  •         lack of time to research and trial new technology
  •         concerns about cost
  •         unreliable internet access.

So then, what does true digitisation look like? 

1.            There must be a vision, in Education, this may fall out of, or under, the Strategic Intent. The vision should be a strong, simple and succinct statement. A vision will set the compass and also provide the anchor for the change management process. You must know what problems you are trying to solve and know the benefits e.g.: 

  •         Better customer experience or access
  •         New revenue channels and possibly competitive advantage
  •         Greater transparency
  •         Agility & increases opportunities and the cultural appetite for innovation
  •         Employee empowerment
  •         Greater customer insights 
  •         Easier management of resources
  •         Access to a global economy 
  •         Easier collaboration across disciplines, departments, branches, faculties, sites etc

2.            There must be digital immersion led from the top down. In every organisation digital skills cannot simply be an add-on, all learning needs to be constructed around the emerging future of work. The digital economy requires a focus on new skills and I don’t mean just teaching every child coding, digital literacy and digital technologies. The skills for a digital economy need to be embedded in every subject, just like reading and writing is. The skills also need to be embedded within the recruitment process as unless your organisation either has the resources or is willing to support and train staff, you’d rather know what supports and investment is required at the initial stage of the recruitment process. With AI and Machine Learning already featuring heavily in industry, we need to focus on the skills that will be advantageous for our young people. We already know the skills shortages in Australia are far broader than just “coding” and include:

  • data management and analysis
  • cyber security
  • cloud computing
  • artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • robotics
  • digital design
  • software design
  • advanced mathematics and statistics.

Digital immersion includes the way we learn, online and blended models are imperative, as they are no longer just the way of learning in the future but are the way of learning now.

3.            BYOT- Bring Your Own Technology. True BYOD is now called BYOT after it was hijacked by Schools using the term incorrectly. BYOT is a FULL choice. BYOD is where Schools offer a choice between particular models (normally one will be Apple & the other Windows). In my recent position within a School, we introduced full choice, BYOT, for students and staff in 2012. 

The philosophy in a School many presume would be not to ban or prohibit, but instead focused on educating and preparing students on how to best manage the world they inhabit, but this is rarely the case. Our view was that technology is a ubiquitous component of modern life and mobile devices (inclusive of phones, tablets and laptops) are tools that are now integral to all our lives. Our philosophy was to use mobile devices as learning and communication tools and to support students to learn to manage these devices responsibly and safely. You can read more about this on my article from Feb 2019, Mobile Devices at School 

BYOT is also contentious for adults in the workforce and we all know the frustration felt at being told that we have no choice in our own personal device or platform. In this era, it should be borderless and not a platform, or brand reliant. When you allow employees to bring their own devices to work, it can create a more open, efficient and relaxed environment that benefits both parties. 

Some of the BYOT benefits may include: 

  • Save money by eliminating the need to buy employee devices and equipment, however the digital infrastructure must be in place first!
  • Increase employee satisfaction 
  • Boost productivity by allowing employees to use devices they are familiar and comfortable with.
  • Have up-to-date technology when employees get the latest and greatest devices (and they will generally find they are tax deductible).
  • In Schools it shifts the power from the teacher to the student

Although BYOT can also open the door to new risks and exposures, as long as the risks are understood, there are ways to add extra layers of protection to secure critical data and mitigate risk.

4.            Digitised processes and systems – moving towards paper-free! In 2020 I’m shocked when I hear of fax machines in use and paper-based diaries/calendars being printed at huge expense. When I began at MGGS we had departments spending thousands of dollars monthly on printing, we had a print room and a full-time staff member manning it. We started distributing the print reports, providing live printing figures and not only the monetary figure but also the number of trees cut down all in an effort to raise consciousness. Combined with the compulsory use of the LMS for all staff (and ours was an LMS but also a full portal that managed all School communications and housed information pages and group pages across the community). Once the curriculum was moved online we quickly saw an improvement. We digitised forms initially by turning them into PDF’s, but as the technology develops there are platforms that allow workflow to be built in too, saving a huge amount of time if built correctly. Digitising all internal and external documentation across the whole organisation allows for much faster editing, collaboration and publishing.

The demise of the ‘school diary’ wasn’t just about saving trees or the cost-saving, but was actually about teaching real-world skills, skills required in the digital economy. Students were taught from Year 8 how to use Outlook Calendar for diarising and making appointments. From Year 9 they would need these skills to book fortnightly appointments to meet with their wellbeing coach, fitness coach, and the content experts (the educators) as they navigated their way, at their own pace, through the curriculum which was all online. This was a battle based on “this is how we’ve always done it” but once won, meant that our students were leaving with a mandatory skill required at both university, in the workplace, and in life.

5.            Physical infrastructure: In my time at MGGS I worked on three building projects and in each, the technology infrastructure was more sophisticated. It was always a battle to keep up with the rapid pace of technology and with an eye to future-proofing, it was difficult when we recognised that the best outcome in many implementations would be just 3-8 years. The spaces in which we live and work can tell you so much about an organisation. In a school that has been digitally transformed you wouldn’t expect to see a teacher desk at the front of rows of student desks. The technology now allows a teacher to roam the room with a tablet and stylus, connected to screens and allowing them to be the “guide by the side” rather than the “sage on the stage”.

In the workplace, the changes are more drastic, as we see far more transient arrangements: far more flexibility and freelance and remote options have almost become the norm in larger enterprises.

6.         Data is the new commodity of the digital economy, and we’re seeing it driving productivity and allowing organisations to leverage emerging technologies such as AI and Machine Learning.  Artificial intelligence facilitates the analysing of data, categorising information, recognising patterns and making decisions. It is challenging the traditional notion of education and will encroach on how we all work, if it isn’t already. 

7.         Cloud: I almost left out this one as most organisations, if not already there, are well on their way. Where we used to run applications or programs from software downloaded on a physical computer or server onsite, cloud computing allows people access to the same kinds of applications through the internet.

Cloud offers:

  • Flexibility
  • Disaster recovery
  • Automatic software updates
  • Capital-expenditure Free
  • Increased collaboration
  • Work from anywhere
  • Document control
  • Security
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Flexibility

From the length of this article, you can tell that there is just so much to cover and each of these areas could be a stand-alone article. I plan to elaborate on each of these further down the track, but in the meantime if any of this is of interest, or if you need further information, feel free to get in touch as I’d love to hear from you.