Digital Maturity and Appropriation

How can you reliably evaluate the extent to which a school or educational organisation is “switched on” to the opportunities and challenges presented by digital technologies? I’ve asked, and been asked that question in various forms over the years and wanted to try to share two of my favourite reads this year in trying to come up with an answer.

I was lucky enough to finish my MA this year and focused on how you can evaluate the extent a teacher has adopted new practice into their regular repertoire in my final assignment. Reading for that brought me into contact with many articles that I would never have read otherwise - and in particular a paper from the American Journal of Education (cited and linked to below) that offered the idea of appropriation: a way to view the different extents to which someone can have taken on board a new idea or approach. This can range from outright rejection, to lip service, to stealing a few features but otherwise not changing, all the way through to making it entirely embedded and making it their own. I found that idea really helpful in my review and have been looking for ways to use it on a practical level ever since.

Importantly, appropriation is not a measure of quality, it is a measure of adoption. A teacher who chose not to use a particular tool or set of practice may be better in many ways than one that had. I was the best interactive whiteboard user in my school many years ago (indeed the only one), but I would not claim to have been the best teacher by any means.

Now appropriation is not about organisations, it is about the individual, so the stretching and adapting I’ve done here to use it at school level is entirely my own fault!

Alongside that there’s a book by James Penny I’d recommend to anyone interested in EdTech called Learning Rebooted (again, link below). James covers a huge amount of territory in the book - and within it are a number of gems that stayed with me as interesting over the year, but I tend to need a practical purpose to engage with an idea and so a few pieces had just sat with me “pending.”

One chapter, for my money the best one in the book, looks at change in educational organisations - because for all the fanfare for the affordances of new technologies, it’s when practice and systems change they most come into play. James finishes that chapter describing what he calls the Educational Digital Maturity Index. EDMI offers a lot of questions around things like leadership, teacher skills, student skills and the underlying nuts of bolts of curriculum and infrastructure (what I’d have once called ‘Deep Experience’).

What I’ve tried to do in the document below is combine the two notions into a grid - I do like a grid. The idea is that you could look at any organisation and find the best fit in terms of how appropriated each of the aspects was. From my reading of appropriation I’ve only selected three (for me) important stages of development, ignoring non-use and mastery.

Lip Service is the level of use many of us see all the time. We know we should use technology more, we do our best, we say all the right things and from time to time we get a teacher who is really good who creates a buzz.

By Practical Features I mean that stage where the organisation is getting more serious and has picked the battles they can win, and makes sure they won them by following through and insisting on using particular tools as a given for the whole place. Some enthusiasts might be frustrated they can’t use other tools they really rate, but that is sacrificed in the pursuit of getting the organisation to a place where technology can be said to be making a real difference. Getting to this stage is hard work.

Fully Appropriated is my attempt to describe what happens next - I haven’t seen it in practice in many schools, but in some key stage teams and departments. It’s where that use of technology has become “just how we do things.”

This isn’t a bad to good scale it is a “introducing with care” through to “fully embrace” scale. Overall the school on the left side could be a much better school than the one on the right by many measures. The right hand side may not actually be a place a particular school aspires to be right now, I know many people who would be very happy to stake out a position on the left hand side and justify it very pragmatically.

This is very much a version 0.1, but I hope it is a useful starting point for a self-evaluation tool. I’d be very interested in any thoughts or comments - please @ me on or on Twitter (or in person when we get into 2019!)

EDMI Self Evaluation Tool version 0.1


Learning Rebooted, Education Fit for the Digital Age [Amazon link]

Grossman, P. Smagorinsky, P. & Valencia, S. (1999) Appropriating Tools for Teaching English: A Theoretical Framework for Research on Learning to Teach. American Journal of Education 108 (1): 1–29.

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