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Technology Leadership through Social Capital: People Moving Technology

Yeo Hong Mui, Tan Tai Huat, Lee Peck Ping. 9 th World Convention of the International Confederation of Principals Singapore

2009

Abstract

This paper describes how leadership can augment the growth of social capital in building technological innovations in a school. Broadly conceptualized, it first explores the inter-connectedness between resource allocation and staff support, linking critical decision points with measured risk and true innovation under the auspices of “a direction without a roadmap” (Owen P, 2004). When teachers come together to “make sense of” technology for learning in a safe, enriched environment for experimentation, social capital is created The leadership in harnessing the passion of niche groups of teachers through developmental assignments and recognition is an important factor towards breaking new frontiers. The differentiated expertise of teachers is also crucial in the generation of new ideas, a natural outcome of social and networked environments – rich semiotic and intelligent environments in which everything speaks (Peters M, 2009). The success of the community of practice linking teachers to one another, increasing participation, encouraging reciprocity, and thereby fostering social capital (Arnold M, 2003) is also studied. Illustrated with specific examples of the initiatives undertaken by a young junior college in Singapore, the paper traces how social capital can be created and proposes an implementation model to facilitate systemic permeation of technology integration in education through the augmentation of social capital.

Key Words: community of practice• social capital • education • technology• innovation• distributed leadership• leadership

INTRODUCTION

The positive relationship between social capital and education, was first mooted (Woolcock and Narayan 2000) by Lyda J. Hanifan, then the superintendent of schools in West Virginia, in her writing on how community participation enhances school performance.

" If [an individual comes] into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community." (Hanifan, Lyda J. 1916:130)

However, it was the work of Robert D. Putnam (1993; 2000) that launched social capital as a popular focus for research and policy discussion. (Smith 2007). Putnam has elegantly pointed out the difference between physical capital, human capital and social capital (Smith 2001, 2007)

“Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” Putnam (2000: 19)

Cohen & Prusak (2001) further elaborated on social capital as “social connections and networks that are embedded in interactions among people and fostered by trust and shared understandings, values and behaviours that enable cooperative action” and that “high social capital supports collaboration”.

Though the concept of social capital has gained much prominence, the “effects of social capital may be easily overlooked in any given situation” in organizational design simply because “they are ubiquitous” (Frank, Zhao and Borman, 2004)

As rightly pointed out in the same article, educators are too often absorbed “on producing new curricula and training teachers”, thereby “losing sight that schools are fundamentally social organizations”. (Ibid) School leaders’ actions and directions, should thus work towards enhancing the social processes within schools.

It is therefore the intention of this paper to share some of our experiences and point out the importance of actions and directions that are needed from school leaders in engineering an environment where the growth of social capital is consciously nurtured, particularly in building technological innovations in a school as well as how social capital augmentation impacts the Adoption Cycle (Moore 1991) Broadly conceptualized, the inter-connectedness between resource allocation and staff support is emphasized, with the school leadership linking critical decision points with measured risk and true innovation under the auspices of “a direction without a roadmap” (Owen P, 2004). When teachers come together to “make sense of” technology for learning in a safe, enriched environment for experimentation, social capital is created The leadership in harnessing the passion of niche groups of teachers through developmental assignments and recognition is an important factor towards breaking new frontiers. The differentiated expertise of teachers is also crucial in the generation of new ideas, a natural outcome of social and networked environments – rich semiotic and intelligent environments in which everything speaks (Peters M, 2009). The success of the community of practice linking teachers to one another, increasing participation, encouraging reciprocity, and thereby fostering social capital (Arnold M, 2003) is also studied. Illustrated with specific examples of the initiatives undertaken by a young junior college in Singapore, the paper traces how social capital can be created and proposes an implementation model to

facilitate systemic permeation of technology integration in education through the augmentation of social capital.

BRIEF BACKGROUND OF THE JUNIOR COLLEGE (JC) UNDER DISCUSSION

Innova started its operation in 2005. One of the authors of this paper, Yeo H.M., has helmed the JC since its inception. In 2004, she had the opportunity to interview teachers who expressed interest in joining the new JC through the annual open posting exercise. Through this interview, she recruited some of the teachers who showed a high level of competency in using technology for education and she also shared her vision on how the new JC make use of technology with the interviewees.

In its first year of operation, teachers interested in the use New Media and New Media Arts (NMA), which was a relatively new terminology in 2005, was given the go-ahead to set up the NMA Committee where teachers could explore the use of New Media.

By the end of its first year of operation, tablet PCs and wireless networks were set up which enabled teachers from different disciplines to come together to experiment with the use of inking technology afforded by the technology. Two classes were selected for the pilot programme and the outcome of the project was shared with the other teachers. Since then, the tablet PC programme has been an integral feature of the JC’s academic programme, involving teachers from different subject expertise. Activities conducted ranges from innovative use of technology to the sharing of technical and pedagogical skills among the teachers involved. To tap on external resources, the JC also participated in the BackPack.Net programme, jointly organized by IDA, Microsoft and MOE.

As the JC matures, she began to conduct numerous sharings with other schools, presenting papers in local and overseas conferences, especially on research involving the use of new media in education. In 2006, the JC successfully applied for inclusion in the Lead ICT@Schools Scheme. In 2007, the JC was awarded the Lenovo Award (Merit) for its use of 2nd Life in the teaching of General Paper and the JC was also recognized as a Centre of Excellence (CoE) for New Media at the cluster level. By 2008, the JC CoE has been further recognized at the national level.

THE ERT MODEL

The authors used their experiences, in the capacity as school senior and middle management, to propose a model to engineer an environment that leads to the growth of social capital, which will form the quintessential engine for the diffusion of the use of technology in schools.

  • 1. The Experience and Expertise of School Leaders

School leaders, in general, would have accumulated a wealth of experience and expertise by virtue of their wide-ranging involvement in different educational contexts compared to that of the teachers. With more than half of Singapore’s teachers aged 35 and below, the role of school leaders is especially important in determining what constitute “measured risk and true innovation” (Owen P. 2004)

The skillful leader will have to exercise judgement to decide on the potential of an endeavour and the right amount of resources to be invested, at the same time empower the champions of the endeavour to make decisions. While Owen also emphasized on the use of champions as a form of distributed leadership which is essential to obtain a high degree of buy-ins, the role of the leader in providing wise counseling and suggestions are essential to breaking bottlenecks.

It is through a thorough understanding of the interconnectedness between resource allocation and staff support, balanced by an assessment of the opportunity cost to the school that the school leader decides on the optimal resource investment that commensurates with the potential benefits to the school. It certainly helps that the school under discussion is helmed by a school leader who was involved in the implementation of Singapore's Masterplan for ICT in Education.

School leader’s experience and expertise is one of the crucial factors when schools embarked on what Owen P. describes as “true innovation” which necessarily entailed “a direction without a roadmap”. This is so as true innovation, despite good planning, will have an “inherent risk of error”. (Ibid) The support school leaders gave to the group of teachers trailblazing NMA back in 2005 is a prime example, which subsequently blossomed to become the college CoE.

The commitment of the leader to the innovation instills safety and confidence in the teachers and helps them cope with “serendipitous events” (Ibid) which are precipitated by the aforementioned “inherent risk of error”. Example of how school leader demonstrates commitment is that there are no mixed messages about the importance of the use of technology in the college, it is part of the JC first and foremost strategic thrust, and reiterated over the years to ensure the consistency of messaging.

2. Recruitment

Social capital, residing in social networks, is accessed via social ties. It is thus important to have a core group of experts who can form the seeds to these social networks through which ties can be built. In fact, social capital leverages on existing expertise and social relations and when it is readily available, it is more economical and less time-consuming than having to purchase physical resources and to change the perception of teachers about the value of technology in Education (Frank et al, 2004). Hence, the recruitment process is vital to the identification of teacher experts with an innate interest, in the context of our discussion, to want to use technologies in their professional work.

As the college matures and wins accolades such as Lead ICT@Schools, Lenovo Award and the status of Centre of Excellence for New Media (National), teachers who are innovators and early adopters of technology tend to gravitate towards choosing the college as their choice workplace.

Using Moore’s model, successful recruitment of the experts will help greatly increase the number of innovators and early adopters, which act as nodal points in the teachers’ social networks that provide the necessary ingredient to fill up “The Chasm”. (The Adoption Cycle, Moore 1991). While Owen’s article points to the role of leadership in “establishing incentives to help faculty overcome their anxiety and skepticism and cross the “The Chasm” (Owen. 2004) and the traditional construct of the diffusion of innovations is about changing perception of actors and letting the new perception drive innovation (Rogers’ 1995:5), our model emphasizes the establishing of social networks, which we will elaborate in the next segment on teacher development.

2. R ecruitment Social capital, residing in social networks, is accessed via social ties. It is

(Figure is from What Ever Happened To Instructional Technology?, by William H. Geoghegan, IBM Academic Consulting)

3

Teacher Development

As mentioned in "Singapore ICT Masterplan 1997-2008", the learning points sieved from ICT Masterplan 2 are as follows:

"The key challenge in mp2 continued to be teachers’ readiness and capacity to change their classroom practices to effectively integrate ICT into the curriculum, thereby equipping students with the skills necessary for the 21st century. The varying degree of teachers’ readiness and competency in mp2 made it challenging for professional development programmes to meet the specific needs of all teachers"

Recognising that schools are social systems, we must be careful about viewing professional development to mean setting up more training programmes and more curricula re-design. The focus, first and foremost, is to recognize schools as social systems and hence professional development should be geared towards enhancing the social processes in schools.

Skilful leaders hence employ staff development as a means to build up their teachers’ capacity to effect positive changes. Beyond the normal skills training, teacher development also comes in the form of mentorship and guidance from School Leaders in harnessing the passion of niche groups. The mentorship and guidance from School Leaders is in effect, the building of social ties for the staff to gain access to the resources of the school leaders themselves, which establishes a social network between teachers and school leaders.

Through an assessment of the potential of the teachers, development assignments catering to the passion of the teachers will guide the teachers towards greater achievements, which are then recognized through both tangible and intangible awards.

The absence of a social network in schools often resulted in the resources of “Innovators” and “Early adopters” to be inaccessible to the “Early Majority”. In Moore’s book on “Crossing the Chasm”, he emphasized the importance of winning over this group as securing this “Early Majority” is tantamount to securing a beachhead in a conquest (Moore, 1999). Therefore, the formalizing of sharing platforms provides the opportunity for social ties to be built and hence allows the “Early Majority” to access the resources embedded in the network of the “Innovators” and “Early Adopters”. Effectively, social capital is used to “fill” the “Chasm”, bridging the gap for the Early Majority to join the Early adopters. When the “Early Majority” successfully crosses the “Chasm”, the creation of a safe environment is further enhanced as teachers will find safety in numbers.

Sharing platforms can be as informal as pr ofessional interactions in the hallway or the staff room (Penuel, W., and Riel, M. 2009) or formalized into professional sharing sessions that occur on a regular basis which can be structured into the

timetable of teachers. More sharings and discussions allow the cyclical process of asking questions and providing solutions which leads to the build up of social capital as social capital accumulates through a cyclical process (Bryk and Schneider 2002; Putnam 2000).

Apart from forming social ties between the “Early Majority” and the “Early Market Group”, the core group of teachers (“Innovators and Early Adopters”), who may possess expertise in different areas, can also be orchestrated to interact such that these interactions within the core group or “Early Market” teachers, through building social ties, obtain the necessary synergy to test the frontier of pedagogies. An example of that happening is the collaboration between the ICT champions between teachers teaching General Paper, teachers in the ICT Committee and the lecturers from National Institute of Education. This core group of teachers worked together to complete a pilot project on the use of 2 nd Life as a virtual immersive environment to teach argumentative skills in GP.

Through the expertise and experience of the school leader, coupled with the effort spent in identifying the right people and the creation of the corresponding social network, and with the right dose of teacher development, social capital in schools can then be harnessed towards enabling teachers to move technology.

IMPACT OF USING THE ERT MODEL

Technology use Recruitment Teacher
Technology use
Recruitment
Teacher

Experience

and

Expertise

Development

The ERT model can be visualized as a 3-legged stool as shown in the diagram above. As Experience and Expertise of the school leader drives Recruitment and Teacher Development, and Recruitment of expertise improves the quality of the teacher’s potential social network which in turn enhances Teacher Development. Dark bars are drawn between the three legs of the stool to symbolise their mutual interactions, which is also the social capital that adds strength to the ability of the 3 legs to raise the platform (the use of technology in education).

Number Peak of curve shift up and to the left Maroon region Black region Time New
Number
Peak of curve
shift up and to
the left
Maroon region
Black region
Time
New
Early
New Mainstream
market
Original
Displaced
Chasm
Chasm

The figure above demonstrated the possible impact of applying the ERT model on Moore’s Curve. The region shaded in black represented the increase in the “Early Market” group as a result of the successful recruitment of teachers having a higher competency and inclination in the use of technology in education.

The region shaded in maroon represents the increase in the “Mainstream Market’ group. The increase may be attributed to the migration of a portion of original “Late Majority” into the “Early Majority” group due to the effectiveness of teacher development that has received a boost from the social capital that is created. The migration of a portion of the “Late Majority” group also necessitates that there is a decrease in the number of “Late Majority” in the new curve.

The

overall

impact is

a

shift

of

the

curve to

the

left,

i.e., meaning, the

“Mainstream Market” has increased, with proportionately more of the

“Mainstream Market” in the “Early Majority”.

Hence, when these big group of

teachers “crosses the chasm”, the effective number or “buy-ins” is greater.

TESTING VALIDITY OF ERT MODEL

In establishing and affirming the validity of the proposed ERT model, a video interview was conducted with 10 teachers (5 key personnel and 5 teachers) identified as part of the ‘early market’. A total of 16 questions were asked in the domains of school leadership, resource distribution and teacher development. From the interviews, it is affirmed that leadership plays a vital role in engineering a ‘social capital augmenting’ environment leading to widespread adoption of ICT. A representative combination of 5 Key Personnel (middle managers) and 5 teachers were chosen in order to maintain a balanced perspective.

The profiles of the interviewees are shown below:

Name

Years in Service

Subject Teaching

Key Personnel

Teacher 1

  • 3 Economics

 

No

Teacher 2

  • 9 Mathematics

 

No

Teacher 3

  • 4 Mathematics

 

No

Teacher 4

  • 2 General Paper

 

No

Teacher 5

  • 4 Chemistry

 

Yes

Teacher 6

  • 3 General Paper

 

Yes

Teacher 7

  • 3 Economics

 

No

Teacher 8

  • 5 Physics

 

Yes

Teacher 9

  • 5 Chinese

 

Yes

Teacher 10

13

Physics

Yes

The results are discussed in accordance with the various components of the ERT model as follow:

Expertise and Experience

Casting a Shared School Vision and aligning actual practice

9 out of 10 teachers could clearly outline the college’s strategic thrust of Achieving Academic Excellence through Innovative Pedagogies and ICT, while those who could do so also reported positive experiences with the Principal and/or Vice Principal in championing this cause.

8 out of 10 respondents have also indicated Senior Management’s support as most important in ICT integration, revealing expectations on the part of teachers and that have been met by the school leaders as mentioned above.

Expertise and experience of the school leaders therefore is relied upon in engineering the appropriate environment by setting a clear direction and casting a shared school ICT vision, as well as aligning actual practice to it.

Resource allocation

As with any change processes, physical as well as human resources have to be adequately allocated in order to achieve the intended outcomes of the processes. In addition, social capital, manifested in the form of access to expertise and support, also acts as the catalyst in encouraging early majority group to move into the early market group and the late majority to move into the early majority group.

For instance, all teachers who were interviewed expressed receiving strong support in ICT in both hardware / expertise and are aware of how and where to access these resources. This strong support was also manifested in teachers’ confidence when they compared themselves vis-à-vis their peers in other schools to conclude that there is a higher rate of ICT integration into teaching and learning at Innova JC. The 1:1 ratio of teacher to tablet PC was often quoted during the interviews.

The observation does not end with the hardware. Teachers’ confidence was also manifest in their perception of the ease of access to expertise, through the many formal and informal channels available.

The school leaders have also commissioned two committees in its ICT adoption process: a New Media Arts Committee that engages in pioneering research and development of emergent technologies into teaching and learning as well as an ICT committee that looks into scalable implementation of these tested technologies at the department and college level. Each of the committee was chaired by a Head of Department and consisted of champion representatives from each department – a substantial investment of human resource where most schools only have one committee.

Empowerment

As was highlighted in the ERT model, empowerment of champions by school leaders was essential in encouraging ‘true innovation’. School leaders have to exercise their expertise and experience in gauging the potential of new endeavours as well as to manage and guide the champions in breaking bottle necks.

In the video interview, 2 teachers shar ed about the encouragement and support the school leaders have shown towards the development of the college as a Centre of Excellence for New Media.

In this very instance, the empowerment of the New Media Arts committee led to rapid changes and development, from a school niche in 2005 that quickly developed into a Centre of Excellence in 2007, conducting 3 action research

groups in 2008 which expanded to 7 gr oups by 2009. Papers on technological integration were shared at various cluster, national and international platforms.

Under the broad directions of the school leaders, project owners were not only provided with the resources and expertise, they were given the flexibility and were empowered to run their projects their way – a form of distributed leadership. With adequate empowerment, trust and ownership, a safe environment for experimentation is again nurtured, and in its process, augments the growth of social capital.

Recruitment

In naming the three important milestones of the college, 9 out of 10 teachers highlighted the Centre of Excellence (COE) for New Media, while 3 out of 10 teachers highlighted both the COE and Lead ICT @ Schools. On recruitment wise, half of the teachers were attracted to Innova JC as it was a new school which offered different possibilities and the chance to try out new ideas. There was also a teacher who indicated that he had opted to come to Innova JC because of the COE and because of his former media industry background.

In recruiting staff with former experience and expertise in ICT and others who were ready to try new things, the pool of innovators and early adopters has been expanded. With more expertise available within the school that could be tapped on (increased social capital), a safe environment has been built.

Teacher Development

Mentorship and guidance from school leaders

7 teachers indicated that they had benefitted from the school leaders’ expertise, either through formal mentoring and guidance or through day to day informal discussions and sharings. 3 teachers quoted steep learning curves from the Finland Study Visit with the Principal with at least 1 citing a ‘perspective changing experience’.

Availability of platforms

A plethora of formal and informal platforms were put in place and encouraged social interactions and these included departmental professional sharings, ICT sharings, action research groups etc. All the interviewees reported having shared their ICT successes with their peers, either during departmental professional sharing, committee sharing and sharing at national conferences or in the action research groups they have joined. A strong culture of sharing is prevalent and augments the social capital leading to the formation of Communities of Practice.

Developmental assignments

It is interesting to note that though 8 out of 10 teachers have expressed that they have received some form of reward and recognition for their efforts in ICT, 9 out of 10 teachers have ranked tangible rewards and recognition as the second least if not the least important factor when it comes to their ICT integration in teaching and learning. In our opinion, this should not be interpreted as rewards and recognition being unnecessary in boosting staff morale, but rather job satisfaction achieved by these teachers has gone way past what tangible materials gains has to offer.

In actual fact, these teachers all had developmental projects in one form or another, be it conceptualizing a paper, designing a programme, heading a department, leading action research, building a facility. At least 2 teachers expressed that in being given the opportunity to present papers at national and international conferences, they felt recognized.

All in all, social capital is reportedly most important when it comes to accessing resources and support. 9 out of 10 teachers referred to other peers whom they would turn to for aid while the remaining teacher indicated ‘Internet and sharing folder’. A salient takeaway from ICT and new media sharing was that human relationship management (i.e. social capital) plays a key role in encouraging the early majority to ‘cross the chasm’ while at the same time provide the motivation for the early adopters to continue to spread the good word.

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