Digital Education Leadership

Surveying the Educational Leadership Landscape: A Digital Education Leadership Mission Statement


In 21st century culture, leadership is a word with, at best, ambiguous connotations. Our media, politics, workplaces, and interpersonal relationships are too often characterized by political pragmatism, economic opportunism, and the abuse of power and control, and these behaviors are too often intertwined with our assumptions about those who seem to lead. Yet we continue to look for leadership.

As a country that views education as a path to both national and individual wellbeing (Duncan, 2013), we often turn for leadership to the sphere of education. We look to school systems and classroom teachers to provide equal access to opportunity (Jones & Bridges, 2016) and we look to higher education leaders to create opportunities for all adults to attain a degree or credential (Bailey, Smith Jaggars, & Jenkins, 2015). Despite its high burnout rate, the field of education continues to attract the service of those who desire to see new generations grow up to be self-effective, ethical citizens who enjoy and share the fruits of their labors. This vision gets at a clearer view of leadership.

Leadership is essentially a form of giving. Leadership gives out of its own assets in order to create a common good, and also creates relationships that allow others, in turn, to give. Teachers become teachers because they recognize the leadership capacities of all learners. Leadership is also a form of creating. Leaders build intra- and interpersonal bridges. They draw together faculty and students, teachers and administrators, and stakeholders from both educational and other sectors. Leaders build not only personal and cultural bridges, but practical ones. They unite theory and practice, teaching and learning, quality and flexibility, society and individuality, and pedagogy and technology. Leadership, finally, is itself a process within the larger process of learning. Leadership belongs to the realm of application, transfer, new environments, and innovation—the realm of the end-goals of learning.

If these three points are true—that leadership involves giving, creating connections, and applying learning—it is worth suggesting that we allocate more initial and ongoing opportunities to develop the leadership capacities of students, teachers, and administrators alike. That notion is one of the themes this blog suggests. Another is the value of coming to terms with the digital age in which we find ourselves.


Digital education leadership

The pace of digital innovation that is a leading characteristic of 21st century culture is one that raises questions of who has power and control in designing and living within the digital systems that increasingly govern commerce, government, culture, and education. The advent of social media as a force that intersects all of these domains has resulted in the self-contradictory views many individuals hold of their lives—whether online, offline or in an increasingly blurred in-between— as “radically determined,” yet “radically free” (Ticona and Wellmon, 2015, p. 60). Online and blended or synchronous learning formats are changing our views of both K-12 and higher education, and of both teachers and learners. The pace of change exposes planning gaps in how educational institutions have engaged with matters of privacy and surveillance, intellectual property, ethical behavior, and matters of psychological, attentional, and physical wellbeing (Ribble and Miller, 2013). While instructional design and educational technology constitute lucrative new career fields, attitudes within education toward technology range from uncritical “boosterism” to nihilistic pessimism (Selwyn, 2016).

This culture-changing sea of new affordances and hindrances, both technological and human, is one in which leadership is more needed than ever, and also one in which new models of collaborative and flexible leadership are emerging. The impingement of new technologies for knowledge construction and transmission in every domain of educational administration and culture has also led to member networks of educators and administrators who have helped to re-articulate the leadership capacities that must now encompass digital capacities. In models of digital capability such as that developed by Jisc (2015), educational leadership has the opportunity to consider strategic planning, faculty development, management systems, student outcomes and institutional values anew and for larger ends as these play out in the ways technologies and curricula are adopted and assessed.

Jisc's Digital Capabilities Framework
Jisc’s Digital Capability Framework.

Jisc, 2015.


The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has developed technology standards that underlie the work of scholar-educators in defining the ethical, legal, curricular, and extra-curricular considerations that 21st century educators and policymakers must pioneer (Ribble and Miller, 2013). The educational and cultural affordances of technological innovations such as social media platforms, peer-to-peer media for knowledge and content construction, and a culture of open development and access create an exciting landscape for leadership development. These technological affordances also come with complications that can exacerbate existing problems—whether within society or within educational institutions—of equity, ethics, and wellbeing. ISTE’s coaching standard 5, Digital Citizenship, articulates some of the leadership values I seek to cultivate within this new/old landscape.

Ribble & Miller REP framework
The three categories and nine elements of Ribble’s Digital Citizenship model.

Ribble & Miller, 2013


Educational leadership in this new/old landscape calls not only for ethical grounding in the ability to evaluate and use new and emerging technologies, but for cultivation of disciplinary knowledge and pedagogies. As a leader I seek to engage the following three areas of leadership through corresponding guiding principles.


The new/old ethical landscape

We live in a world in which technology can create new social and educational problems or magnify existing ones, such as distraction, cyberbullying, inequitable access to learning tools, and the devaluation of teaching. Adequate reckoning of the issues of privacy, property, and participation by teachers and learners alike is yet to be accomplished. New opportunities for the corporate influence of testing companies, for-profit online education providers, and entrepreneurs create both new opportunities for learning and for disenfranchising teachers and learners. While it is easy to see how surveillance and data analysis technologies can create an increasing educational culture of compliance, regulation, and accountability, it is also possible to see how technologies can promote democratic participation, faculty agency and innovation, and flexible and individualized learning opportunities for an increasingly diverse student population (Chapman, 2016). This is where, as an educator, I see that perhaps the foremost leadership contribution I can make in this new/old ethical landscape is to build trust, respect and equity in the learning communities I belong to, so that teacher and learner agency and innovation, rather than automatization and regulation, can be the hallmarks of educational technology. My first guiding principle as a technology coach involves engaging this new/old ethical landscape and ISTE Standard 5b.

Guiding Principle 1: Foster the development of ethical maturity to build learning cultures characterized by trust, truth, and respect.


The new/old pedagogical landscape

Although originally educated as an interpreter of literature, I, like many other English scholars have migrated into the field of rhetoric and composition, and from there to the world of the digital humanities. The scope of what is involved in the teaching of writing, as mapped out in the hypothetical construct developed by White, Elliot & Peckham (2015), reveals the holism and complexity that I love and still find daunting about teaching writing.

Studying with compositionist Joanne Addison and others in the field of writing studies has supported me in mining the pedagogical riches of those fields, from the 3000 year old western tradition of rhetoric and critical inquiry, to the capacities of Genre Studies, English for Specific Purposes, and Teaching for Transfer pedagogies to support and scaffold student learning in the real-world genres of their majors and career fields. My training in second language acquisition, my study of how open-access postsecondary institutions address the needs of multi-lingual writers, and my work as a curriculum developer, professor, and writing center coordinator have given me opportunity to engage the range of linguistic diversity that students bring to our shared learning spaces, and to give essential consideration to these learners’ even greater diversity of culture, preparation, age, and cognitive development, as I design courses.

I began coaching alongside teaching as a graduate teacher instructor and curriculum development mentor for a K-6 reading comprehension program. Today, as an English and humanities faculty member, one of my goals is to help teaching colleagues across the disciplines identify areas where both writing and/or technology creates obstacles or opportunities in their teaching and use Writing Across the Curriculum pedagogies and technology integration best practices to harness the power of writing and/or technology for content learning. As I enter deeper into the world of the digital humanities, I continue to develop disciplinary lenses through which the critical study of literature, ethics, and rhetoric can interrogate the use of digital technologies in education. I aspire to provide technology coaching that draws upon my experience with cross-curricular models for writing pedagogy and localized curriculum development to help both faculty and students gain equitable access to teaching and learning technologies. My second guiding principle addresses this new/old pedagogical landscape and ISTE Standard 5c.

Guiding Principle 2: Apply the disciplinary and critical capacities of the humanities and education sciences to cultivate the use of technology for teacher and learner agency and equity.

White et al writing construct
A hypothetical taxonomy of the writing construct as it might be defined across a postsecondary institution’s writing curriculum.

White, Elliot, & Peckham (2015)


The new/old technological landscape

Leadership in this new landscape is not just the ability to adopt current and emerging technologies (be they cuneiform, alphabetic script, moveable type, or technological tools, platforms and services) to envision and teach to the job skills of the future. While the presence of technology in education is nothing new, and technology—the craft and creativity of shaping what we find in nature—is merely a defining aspect of what it means to be human, today’s technological landscape is undergoing a paradigm shift. Emerging technologies continue to create not only new modes of transmission, but new realms of knowledge, new ways of constructing knowledge, and new opportunities for empowering or hindering equitable participation in knowledge-making and sharing. As a technology coach, my role is not just to keep abreast of technological tools and affordances and use these to inform policymaking and help faculty develop curricula. My role is also to promote equitable access for faculty and students to best teaching and learning practices and to create collaborative learning cultures. My final guiding principle engages this new/old technological landscape and ISTE Standard 5a.

Guiding Principle 3: Communicate and apply knowledge of current and emerging digital capabilities resulting in the effective and equitable design and use of learning resources, curricula and systems.



Bailey, T.R., Smith Jaggars, S. & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America’s community colleges: A clearer path to student success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Chapman, R. (2016). Diversity and inclusion in the learning enterprise: Implications for learning technologies. In N.J. Rishby and D.W. Surry (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of learning technology (pp. 287-300). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

Duncan, A. (2013, December 4). Educating every student for college and career success. Remarks at the CareerTech VISION 2013 Awards Banquet. Retrieved from

Jisc. (2015, November 13). Building digital capability: the six elements defined. Retrieved from

Jones, M., & Bridges, R. (2016) Equity, access, and the digital divide in learning technologies: Historical antecedents, current issues, and future trends. In N.J. Rishby and D.W. Surry (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of learning technology (pp. 327-47). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

Ribble, M., & Miller, T.N. (2013). Educational leadership in an online world: Connecting students to technology responsibly, safely, and ethically. Journal of asynchronous learning networks, 17(1), 137-45.

Selwyn, N. (2016) The dystopian futures. In N.J. Rishby and D.W. Surry (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of learning technology (pp. 327-47). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

Ticona, J., & Wellmon, C. (2015). Uneasy in digital Zion.  The hedgehog review: 17(1), 58-71.

White, E.M., Elliot, N., & Peckham, I. (2015). Very like a whale: The assessment of writing programs. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. p. 75.


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