By Dr. France Gravelle, Professor of Education Management and New Governance, Université du Québec à Montréal
Julie Monette, PhD candidate, Université du Québec à Montréal
Joelle Bérubé-Daigneault Research Assistant
The magnitude of the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of the world's educational offerings, a situation that, prior to 2020, did not seem to be on the global agenda! However, this context has raised many questions that did not exist before, and that is why a research was conducted in collaboration with the Fédération des cégeps and the Association québécoise des cadres scolaires, in order to identify some challenges, successes, strategies and recommendations that can help managers transform the educational institution they lead, in the digital age.
The purpose of this article is to present the results of research that aims to facilitate the task of managers and to better prepare them for a future that heralds perpetual change in education in the digital era, both provincially and internationally.
The digital transformation of the training offer before and during the pandemic
The magnitude of the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of training provision around the world, a situation that prior to 2020 did not seem to be on the global agenda! However, this context has raised several questions that did not exist before, which is why research was conducted, in collaboration with the Federation of CEGEPs as well as with the Association québécoise des cadres scolairesThe purpose of this study is to identify some of the challenges, successes, strategies and recommendations that can help managers transform the educational institution they lead in the digital age. More specifically, the results of this research are intended to facilitate the task of managers and to better prepare them for a future that heralds perpetual change in the education sector, both provincially and internationally (Academy for Digital Transformation [ATN], 2021; Conseil supérieur de l'Éducation [CSE], 2020, 2021; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2018, 2021a, 2021b).
Even though school managers were overworked during COVID-19, 4 managers from the education community agreed to participate in a semi-structured interview to help facilitate the task of fellow managers, which seems to have become more complex over the years (Bessette & Toussaint, 2010; Gravelle, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015; Pelletier, 2016; Poirel, 2009, 2012, 2014; Poirel et al., 2016; Poirel and Yvon, 2008, 2009a, 2009b, 2010, 2011), especially since the pandemic (Lemieux, Bernatchez, & Delobbe, 2020).
Despite the divergence in the profiles of the managers (2 college principals, 1 assistant college principal and 1 educational resource coordinator of a school service center - years of experience ranging from 1 to 14 years), it is interesting to note that there are several similarities. Although the majority work in colleges, there are several similarities in the clientele attending their educational institution: immigration, multi-ethnic environment, low income, as well as the difficulty in using digital technology due to lack of knowledge.
Some projects implemented during the pandemic: challenges and successes
The digital transformation projects for educational offerings have been quite similar from one educational institution to another. These include the creation of committees or departments, the accelerated transition to Office 365, and the creation of flex classrooms for co-modal instruction, which proved very useful during the pandemic.
In addition, although it may not have been implemented yet because of the pandemic, participants noted the importance of good planning and/or a concrete digital action plan, including step-by-step planning of the steps to be taken. Two participants also mentioned that communication, discussions and exchanges were at the heart of the transformation, in addition to the identification of needs and constraints for implementation.
In terms of the challenges encountered, these are quite different. Two participants mentioned that the primary difficulty was the openness to change (innovation) on the part of both managers and team members. One participant mentioned that the difficulties encountered included convincing their team members that change was a positive situation as well as the importance of improving communication between members in order to positively promote the digital transformation of the training offer. Another participant mentioned the lack of human resources in his environment, change management, working with divergent personalities, and the very short deadlines to be met following the release of ministerial prescriptions related to the pandemic.
In addition to these general mentions by participants, they also reported personal findings, including fear of the unknown, both on their part and that of their team members; hence the importance, according to them, of listening to them and accompanying them. In fact, according to the participants, the challenge was to understand how to help each individual adapt and progress during the process of digital transformation of the training offer within the educational institution where they work.
Despite the challenges, participants highlighted several successes, including those related to students: for 1 participant, the success is represented by the accessibility of online courses (flex classes). This means they no longer need to come to campus. A second participant mentioned the rapid design of kits and tools put in place to support student success. The other two participants mentioned the institution's position on the digital transformation of the training offer, notably the consistency of the tools used and their user-friendliness, which allows for the autonomy of the educational institution, in addition to increasing the possibilities of communication between the team members, the students and the parents.
Training and support in connection with the digital transformation of the training offer during the pandemic
Three out of four participants reported receiving support from their leadership team. One participant also received support from academic advisors and only 1 participant used services offered by outside agencies.
All participants reported providing training or development to their team members. One participant mentioned that he had encouraged his team to seek information from colleagues in other school service centers. Another participant mentioned having produced tutorials (video clips) with the help of his team members to meet certain needs, both technical and pedagogical.
Workshops and/or training were offered by technopedagogues and/or pedagogical consultants to 2 managers by their management team. Another participant mentioned using the LinkedIn platform to attend virtual trainings.
Importance of having policies or guidelines in place during COVID-19
With respect to policies or guidelines, 2 participants mentioned that policies and guidelines had been put in place within their educational institution. Only one of them specified what they were, i.e., that an action plan for the digital transformation of the training offer has been developed, stemming from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education's Digital Action Plan in Education and Higher Education (2018). In addition, it was mentioned by 3 of the 4 participants that policies regarding the use of technology exist to support all staff at the educational institution. One respondent indicated that there are no policies or guidelines yet, but that a newly created digital innovation office within their educational institution will be tasked with creating these policies and guidelines in the near future.
Participants were asked if they had access to training to support their pedagogical leadership development. They mentioned that they had not participated in any training related to this new style of leadership with a digital focus. One participant said that his training in project management was very useful for the transformation of his leadership in the context of the digital transformation of the training offer. The other participants emphasized the importance of the support received from the techno-pedagogical team.
Strategies to be prioritized to promote the transformation of the training offer in the digital age
Although participants' responses varied from person to person, each named the importance of taking action in their own way WITH and IN team! The hierarchical position held by the participants, within the educational institution, allows them to have a more global view to better respond to the needs of the team members, while being attentive and putting in place structures to promote the implementation of digital technology. According to the participants, it seems necessary to identify what makes sense as actions and validate them with team members as well as with the IT services team, which must be considered, from the beginning of the digital transformation, as a strategic partner. More specifically, institutions are composed of different actors with different digital skills, so it is necessary to listen to each one, in order to help them contribute to the digital transformation according to their capabilities, regardless of their level of proficiency (low or high).
Some recommendations following the digital transformation of the training offer experienced by the participants
The participants identified which recommendations. What emerges mainly from the various recommendations is the need to share what has been achieved with other actors in the field, in order to better equip ourselves for the future. With regard to the various recommendations made, the participants suggested round tables, sharing of documents as well as the importance of networking in order to share what has been experienced in the community.
Also, all participants raised the following recommendations to promote the digital transformation of the training offer:
- Work WITH and IN team.
- Have a vision and involve the IT resources department in the project from the beginning.
- Maintain excellent communication within the team.
- Mobilize all team members towards the objective to be reached.
- Plan and manage digital transformation projects for training offerings and timelines.
- Provide all necessary resources, both human, material and administrative.
- Identify key areas to focus on.
- Identify key impacts that may occur and the impact on team members.
- Learn about best practices.
- Organize continuing education considering the possibility of time release for team members.
- Be flexible and open to change.
*Note that the recommendations listed are not in order of priority.
Despite the fact that the digital transformation of the training offer has advanced at a great speed during the pandemic, the need for human resources seems to be an issue for many educational institutions, considering the current shortage of manpower in addition to the need for material resources that will be required by future technological changes. In fact, according to one participant, " What we need right now is an infrastructure that will support the digital craze that started during the pandemic! We need to continue to receive the necessary funding to hire new staff and purchase the equipment that will allow us to continue the digital transformation of the training offer achieved during the pandemic in the future ".
In short, according to the participants, digital technology has great pedagogical potential, we just need to learn how to use it effectively, in order to allow for pedagogical differentiation better adapted to the digital age!
In addition, it is important to mention that working WITH and IN team is a must, if we want to foster the digital transformation of the training offer for the future, because, no matter how much it changes, " Alone we go faster, together we go further! "(African proverb, n.d.).
Other research related to pedagogical leadership for school administrators
It is important to note that this research follows three others related to the pedagogical leadership of school administrators, conducted before and during the pandemic.
- One that was published in 2019 and is entitled Management of educational institutions in the era of digital implementation.
- A second research study was conducted for the Department of Education and Higher Education and was published in 2020. The research report is entitled Managing the implementation of digital classrooms in primary and secondary schools in Quebec: practices, strategies and models that can facilitate the task of principals.
- At the request of the Quebec Ministry of Education, a third research study was conducted and published in 2021. This research is entitled Pedagogical management and leadership.
In parallel to this last research, a self-supporting training entitled Pedagogical management and leadershipA training course, offered free of charge by the Ministère de l'Éducation du Québec, has been developed to support school administrators and school managers in the development of a digital action plan for an educational institution. Through reflective practices, it aims to foster the development of pedagogical leadership among participants. This training consists of seven modules including webinar replays, video vignettes as well as readings. " Pedagogical management and leadership "is the result of a collaboration between a team of researchers, the Faculty of Education, the Carrefour pédagogique et technopédagogique, the Audiovisual Service and the Vice-rectorate for Information Systems of the Université du Québec à Montréal.
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