26 SES 13 B, Educational Infrastructure, ICT Context And Resources As Factors That Shape Educational Leadership
In recent years, digital technology has significantly changed the organisational set-up of public institutions, including schools, and their capacity for effective and efficient service delivery. Since providing for capacity is the core function of organisations (Fountain 2001, 2005), this paper aims to in depth explore how digital technology impacts organisational forms of public schools (Fountain 2001). In particular, the question is how it affects the hierarchy, jurisdiction, standardisation, rules and files of the schools’ respective bureaucracies (Weber 1980/1922), and, as a result, to what extent improved or suboptimal performance can be traced (cf. also Cusick 1992).
On the one hand, digital technology has been recognised for its potential of interconnectivity, effectiveness and efficiency, as well as accountability of public administration (Yildiz 2007), including public schools (Prokopiadou 2011). On the other hand, a qualitative study by Selwyn (2011) on schools in the UK which adopted integrated systems early indicated that classical elements of bureaucratic government rather than support for teaching and learning may indeed be strengthened through the introduction of digital technology into school administration. These findings included standardisation, hierarchy, the creation of traceable files, and the establishment of new rules at the school level. Moreover, following the Technology Enactment Framework (TEF; Fountain 2001; 2005), it can additionally be argued that digitalization transforms existing features of bureaucratic organization in the schools, such as the meaning of “files” or “standardisation”.
In our paper we argue that, firstly, bureaucratic features largely explain how external requirements stemming from digitalisation are processed within schools, e.g. by creating additional specialisations and positions, or introducing new rules and procedures to respond to those requirements at an organisational level (Prokopiadou, 2011; Selwyn, 2011). Based on Fountain’s (2001) Technology Enactment Framework (TEF), we secondly contend that a redefinition of the nature of the bureaucratic features of school organisations has taken place. This means that, in a circular process, digital requirements transform the bureaucratic features of school organization. Thirdly, we argue that the effects of digital technology on the performance and efficiency of schools as bureaucratic organisations are ambivalent.
To analyse our assumptions and discuss effects of digital technology on the performance and efficiency of schools as bureaucratic organisations. We use data from a semi-structured interview study of vocational school centre head teachers in the German State of Bavaria. Performing the central leadership role for these complex school organisations, they possess an in-depth knowledge of the organisations and are located at the intersection to higher positions in the state’s educational bureaucracy. We were able to conduct phone interviews with experienced head teachers of 25 of the 49 Bavarian vocational school centres; our participation rate thus amounts to 51% of the population. We consider this to be a very high response rate for a qualitative interview study and acceptable in terms of validity for a study intent on exploration and theory-building. To evaluate the data, we carried out a structured content analysis using Mayring (2008) as a methodological foundation. To ensure validity, categories were obtained deductively and based on theory, referring to the Weberian model of bureaucracy (Weber 1980/1922; Cusick 1992), as well as to the Technology Enactment Framework (TEF; Fountain 2001, 2005) to code reference to the intersection between bureaucratic features and the enactment of technology. We use the following categories as regards the intersection of bureaucratic features and the enactment of technology: • The original (a) perceptions and (b) use of objective information technologies or their predecessors, influenced by the respective bureaucratic characteristics of the school organisation; • Reported changes (a) in the perceptions or (b) in the use with the introduction of (new) digital technology, mediated by the respective bureaucratic characteristics of the school organisation; • Ensuing improvement or deterioration in the reported performance or efficiency, hence the outcome of school administration. Under ‘perception’ we subsume the broader perspective the interview partners have of demands imposed by technology. By ‘use’ we mean the specific ways in which organisation members deal with technology. Reliability was pursued by means of clear definitions of the respective categories. The coding was carried out by two researchers. Only interview segments coded alike by these two coders were used for the purpose of the qualitative analysis. Since we did not systematically ask for the types of digital technology used, we did not use any theoretical coding for the kind of technology mentioned by the administrators; instead, we followed an inductive approach in our interpretation.
The relationship between digitalisation and the bureaucratic organisation of schools has barely been studied to date. Our analysis sheds light on the transformation of bureaucracy through digital technology. Indications for both the strengthening of classical elements of bureaucratic government through digitalisation, and the transformative nature of digital technologies with regard to the school bureaucracies, can be found in our data for all the bureaucratic aspects under consideration in this analysis. Potential transformations range from hierarchy to an increase in circular communication; from pervasive written trails to questioning the necessity of files and their fragmented use, and, specifically, from bureaucratically-driven standardisation to externally-driven digitally-induced standardisation, including possible restrictions on future capacity of the schools. The specific change occurring with regard to the latter feature of bureaucracy seems to be that the digital technology itself is standardised and seems to ‘dictate’ further standardisation through lock-in effects. Furthermore, the examples presented seem to highlight that gains in efficiency, or reductions of losses in efficiency caused by digitalisation, are mostly due to the specific use of digital technology within the respective school organisation. Indications for changes in the bureaucratic set-up beg the question of whether additional political coordination may be warranted, e.g. to guarantee factual access to relevant knowledge and to preclude unwanted lock-in effects. The results also indicate that the knowledge base of the head teachers and those in charge of IT integration matters. As a consequence of our analysis, it seems necessary to work with the schools on an organisational level, for example to train the head teachers, and emphasise best practice. Rules might be established to shield head teachers and staff from growing numbers of files and time pressure, and resources may be pooled to support lower level organisations with advice to diminish externally-driven standardization and avoid lock-in effects.
Cusick, P.A. (1992). The Educational System. Its Nature and its Logic. New York: McGraw-Hill. Dormann, M., Hinz, S. & Wittmann, E. (2017). Improving school administration through information technology? How digitalisation changes the bureaucratic features of public school administration. Educational Management Administration and Leadership, Online, 1-16. doi: 10.1177/1741143217732793 Fountain, J. (2001). Building the Virtual State: Information Technology and Institutional Change. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. Fountain, J. (2005). Central Issues in the Political Development of the Virtual State. In: Castells M and Cardoso G (eds.) The Network Society. From Knowledge to Policy. Washington, DC: Johns Hopkins Center for Transatlantic Relations, 149-183. Mayring, P. (2008). Qualitative Inhaltsanalyse. Grundlagen und Techniken, 10th ed. Weinheim, Basel: Beltz. Prokopiadou, G. (2011). Using information and communication technologies in school administration. Researching Greek kindergarden schools. Educational Management Administration and Leadership 40: 305–327. Selwyn, N. (2011). ‘It’s all about standardisation’. Exploring the digital (re)configuration of school management and administration. Cambridge Journal of Education 41(4): 473–488. Weber, M. (1980). Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Studienausgabe. Besorgt von J. Winkelmann. 5., rev. Aufl. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. (Original 1922). Yildiz, M. (2007). E-government research: Reviewing the literature, limitations, and ways forward. Government Information Quarterly 24: 646–665.
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