What are the driving forces underpinning the adoption of technologies in our schools?
Social, cultural, economic or technological maturity?
Published: 7 March 2013
The success of schools is increasingly linked to their ability to manage an ever complex technological infrastructure, the expanding power of networked devices and the many and varied educational services that are delivered over these networked devices. The inherent complexity of networked services and devices and accelerating technological change means that only a minority of schools (the Supernodes) will be able to master and exploit the technology in order to deliver education services to the communities that they serve and in doing so they will become increasingly successful and they will continue to extend their digital advantage over other schools.  
The changing face of the education landscape and the availability of online distribution channels means that schools will be increasingly reliant on how they are able to exploit technological developments. Advocates of technology argue that education systems and schools can be improved as a direct result of digital intervention strategies. This viewpoint does not ignore the need for effective change management strategies, supportive leadership, effective school governance and sound financial management. There is a small yet vocal minority who argue that we have made too much of technological progress in our schools and this has been done at the expense of promoting deep learning. I argue that technological change and its role in schools should be seen as part of a much larger paradigm around social, cultural and economic processes that come into play across the education sector.
These social, cultural and economic processes are increasingly underpinning the adoption of new technologies in our schools. As schools become active agents in a hyper connected world we discover that they are profoundly affected by their cultural setting, by their place and position of authority within their respective networks, by peer pressure, by political institutions, the marketing strategies of global technology giants and by the fads and fashions of the day.
Whether we like it or not schools are operating in a competitive education market place. The maximisation of results, the ability to attract and retain students and the financial rewards of being a successful school are all powerful drivers of technological change across the education sector. If we see these drivers as being part of a broader social process we discover that the adoption of certain networked technologies and services will be strongly influenced by the political and economic interests of schools and by their relative position amongst neighbouring schools. These drivers could lead schools to adopt certain technologies and brands even though other technologies are better placed to satisfy the needs of the school.
However powerful these social drivers are within the education sector we still find a wide degree of variation in the choice of technologies, end user devices and services across many schools. These variations can come about for any number of reasons; including the school's socio-economic setting, the technical bias of its ICT support team, the school's ICT partner, the academic success of the school, management and cultural practices and the day-to-day norms of the school. As expected, the availability of funds to finance ICT expenditure is the single most significant factor that determines the shape of networked services and devices amongst schools, regardless of the aspirations of the leadership team at the school. In the UK successive governments have devolved greater financial autonomy to schools, thereby enabling schools to have access to financial products and services that give them the opportunity to procure hardware as a service or managed service options. A growing number of schools are leveraging operational leases to enable them to achieve a ubiquitous computing model, something that was out of the reach for many schools until a few years ago. What is significant is that the schools that have access to these financial services are the ones who already have sound financial practices, thereby enabling them to extend their advantage over other schools. 
When you couple healthy balance sheets, the availability of financial products and services, the presence of robust and reliable networked services and devices along with a strategic desire to shift from an outdated education model to one that is fit for the 21st century we will then see the social, cultural and economic drivers for technological change across the education sector manifest themselves in these digitally elite schools.
We are already seeing evidence that the new Supernodes are extending their education services to less performing schools in order to secure additional financial and education resources. The supernode leverages its networked services to enable other schools to benefit from improved connectivity, to have access to technologies and services that would have previously been beyond their reach, improved IT support and the financial benefits of belonging to a larger network of schools. The motives of the supernode are many and mixed, but the educational benefits of belonging to a participatory network soon override the narrow and selfish motives across all schools in these new networks. The number of these new participatory networks will continue to grow. They will exercise greater political control within the education sector, and this political power will grow as one network subsumes another. Over a period of time the traditional structures within the education system will disappear and they will be replaced with new ones. Indeed, the emergence of the networked school would not have been possible without the availability of new technologies and ICT services. One may argue that the complex nature of modern educational establishments necessitates the need for schools to belong to larger and cohesive network of schools for their own survival.