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Beyond Technology: Dimensions of Digital Transformations in Schools


Abstract and Figures

The complexity of transformation processes has become apparent at different levels and contexts. Schools, in particular, currently face more challenges than ever in developing new (digital) strategies for innovating their traditional systems. In our paper, as a part of the transfer project Towards digital schools realised jointly with the Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium, we first illustrate these transformation processes' complexity. We address the transformation as an innovation process, including the three dimensions-people, organisation and technology-and analyse it using process modelling techniques. Furthermore, we adapt the classic Business Model Canvas for the transformation process of schools as an organisation and individual subjects as a single element within the organisation. The study's results showed the innovative potential of the transformation and its challenges, which are particularly relevant for educators and decision-makers in schools, alongside parents and EdTech companies.
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This paper was presented at ISPIM Connects Valencia Reconnect, Rediscover, Reimagine, on 30
November to 2 December 2021. Event Proceedings: LUT Scientific and Expertise Publications:
ISBN 978-952-335-691-7. Order number in series 110.
Beyond Technology: Dimensions of Digital Transformations
in Schools
André Renz*
University of the Arts Berlin/Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked
Society, Hardenbergstraße 32, 10623 Berlin, Germany.
Gergana Vladova
University of Potsdam/Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked
Society, Hardenbergstraße 32, 10623 Berlin, Germany.
Doris Hellmuth
Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium Berlin, Dunckerstraße 65, 10439 Berlin,
*Corresponding author
Abstract: The complexity of transformation processes has become apparent at different levels and
contexts. Schools, in particular, currently face more challenges than ever in developing new (digital)
strategies for innovating their traditional systems. In our paper, as a part of the transfer project
Towards digital schools realised jointly with the Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium, we first illustrate these
transformation processes’ complexity. We address the transformation as an innovation process,
including the three dimensions people, organisation and technology and analyse it using process
modelling techniques. Furthermore, we adapt the classic Business Model Canvas for the
transformation process of schools as an organisation and individual subjects as a single element
within the organisation. The study’s results showed the innovative potential of the transformation
and its challenges, which are particularly relevant for educators and decision-makers in schools,
alongside parents and EdTech companies.
Keywords: digital transformation, education, canvas, process modelling, innovation, educational
1 Introduction
In education, it is recommended to focus school transformation processes on the areas of
teaching, personnel and organisation, following the triad of school development. The area
of organisation includes both structural and cultural aspects (Rolff et al., 2000; Warwas,
2008). Usually, it was the school management that initiated change processes based on
these systematisation criteria or specifically used discretionary powers in implementing
official requirements (e.g., Biewer, 1994). In the context of the digitalisation and
datafication of education, it is increasingly external change dynamics and educational
This paper was presented at ISPIM Connects Valencia Reconnect, Rediscover, Reimagine, on 30
November to 2 December 2021. Event Proceedings: LUT Scientific and Expertise Publications:
ISBN 978-952-335-691-7. Order number in series 110.
administrators, alongside school management, that influence internal school development.
In addition, the development of past years shows that schools are no longer seen as
independent entities but as part of the larger ecosystem in which they operate. Some
schools collaborate with each other and establish networks or partnerships with other
schools or organisations, such as research institutions or technology companies. Connected
within this network, schools face the requirements and challenges of a digitalised and
datafied society (OECD, 2019). Within the digitalisation-driven change processes,
regardless of whether a school uses networks or implements change processes, mostly on
its own, the following should be ensured: clarification of responsibilities within each
educational institution; a common understanding and consideration of the particular
interest of all actors; understanding that, compared to technocratic structural aspects,
organisational cultural aspects regarding collective orientation are often realised more
slowly and in iterative steps (Warwas, 2008). The perspective on educational technology
(EdTech)as a driver of transformative processes in schools has also shifted from mainly
focusing on devices and equipment to an interdisciplinary field in research and practice
(Scanlon, 2021).
Applied research on school transformation, driven by digitalisation, can be described as 'a
complex and often problematic constellation of social, technological and pedagogical
changes' (Bayne, 2014, p. 5). Four core elements: pedagogical, technological, ecological
and practical contextual communities (Scanlon et al., 2013) should be considered in an
integrative approach to ensure sustainable and successful development and implementation
of EdTech’s in schools.
In our paper, we address the complexity of this transformation. We also developed a
process model in cooperation with the Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium (Berlin, Germany) that
aims to strengthen transparency in the digital transformation process and increase
participation. In this way, teachers' fear of losing their pedagogical freedom due to external
dynamics is to be eliminated as a major factor for failures/obstacles in implementing
corresponding changes. In our approach, the need to create a change dynamic from within
is significantly important. In the second step, we take a closer look at one element of the
process model - the teaching subject. Hence, we introduce the artefact Digital School
Canvas. The paper concludes with implications, limitations and a short summary.
2 Digital transformation of schools
Digital transformation in education encompasses many different aspects infrastructure,
content, learning, organisation, teaching/training and tools, alongside economics, security,
environment and privacy. These aspects are often only covered and examined separately
in the literature because of their complexity. A holistic perspective on a complex system is
therefore difficult to achieve (Demartini et al., 2020). On a theoretical level, there are
several publications about the school of the future e.g., Zhang and Zhou (2017), Sorensen
and Koefoed (2018) or Kurent (2017). According to these authors, classrooms of the future
would be designed with multi-screens, lab simulations and wireless internet access. With
the help of smartwatches and thought-recognition devices, virtuality and reality are
connected to strengthen collaborative work. An increasing number of initiatives are
developing new solutions, e.g., based on virtual reality, intending to innovate teaching and
learning (Cannavo et al., 2019; Jiang, 2018).
Even if the digitalisation of organisation and administration of teaching in schools and of
the forms of knowledge transfer to students is a well-known phenomenon, the Covid-19
crisis has shown how complex this process is and how many actors and interrelationships
between them play a role (Vladova et al., 2020), alongside how social inequalities can be
transferred into the digital space for example, by the fact that not every child has a suitable
space and devices for learning from home (Iivari et al., 2020). Furthermore, it has been
shown how different the competencies of teachers are, which, among other things, have
induced a completely different state of digitalisation at different schools (Iivari et al.,
2020). This observation underscores earlier research showing that the features and
processes relevant to information and communications technology (ICT) implementation
in educational practice need to be clearly defined and structurally organized to enable these
goals to be achieved (Mooij and Smeets, 2001). A good overview of the role of internal
stakeholders is given by Mooij and Smeets (2001). Political and budgetary decisions made
by school management affect the quality and quantity of ICT resources available in the
school. Thus, the attitude and commitment of the school principal is the most important
factor, yet the role of the ICT coordinator should be equally strengthened and not
underestimated. Furthermore, it is necessary to convince teachers of the relevance of the
change and to strengthen their skills or competencies in using computers. Jones (2010)
described how emotional responses to technology affect learning and the impact
technology may have in supporting socio-emotional skills. The integration of technology
into the classroom also requires competence and confidence. According to the Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), approximately 60% of teaching
staff reported a need for professional development in using appropriate educational
technology in the classroom (OECD, 2016). Furthermore, teachers' attitudes towards
technology play an important role in the digital transformation process (Mac Leodand and
Yang, 2016).
The digital transformation of school processes is not to be understood as an isolated act
that has a defined end point. Rather, an ongoing complex process should be assumed
(Kowch, 2021). According to Kowch (2021, 2018), digital transformation in learning
organisations requires leadership approaches and organizational structures that allow
autonomous, team-based digital innovation efforts across education ecosystems.
3 Case study
Against this backdrop, our goal is to provide schools with a method for accomplishing the
digital transformation and, in particular, not from an abstract perspective but with concrete
reference to their own school. This method is presented below using the example of a high
school in Berlin. We initially chose to conduct a single case study for this paper. In this
context, the single case study research design was considered a well-established tool (e.g.,
Velu, 2016). Although a single-case study is less robust than a multi-case study, we can
present a valuable snapshot of the current requirements and challenges for schools in
Germany using the present example of Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium.
3.1 Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium
Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium is a sought-after secondary school for pupils aged 10 to 18 in
the heart of Berlin, with a special focus on science, technology, engineering and
mathematics (STEM), alongside music. It comprises a student body of 850 and about 100
staff. Many of the teachers and students are interested in the natural sciences and computer
This paper was presented at ISPIM Connects Valencia Reconnect, Rediscover, Reimagine, on 30
November to 2 December 2021. Event Proceedings: LUT Scientific and Expertise Publications:
ISBN 978-952-335-691-7. Order number in series 110.
science, which makes additional training in this field easier and more accepted than in
schools with a different focus.
The school comprises two recently redecorated buildings, with fiber optic connections to
the telephone line and WIFI accessibility in most rooms. Nearly all rooms are equipped
with imaging devices, such as projectors or smartboards. Recently, the school has
transitioned to a new learning management platform and all status groups have embraced
the change wholeheartedly.
Within the management of the school, there exists a panel of teachers and management
under the leadership of one teacher dedicated to focusing on the digital transformation of
the school. In addition, the students' union often presents the needs and ideas from the
student body. From the online teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic, the school
community gained valuable insights into the mechanics of online learning and established
routines to help students and teachers organise their workloads.
Despite this good starting position, due to the specific nature of the transformation process,
part of the teaching staff feels discouraged from investing in digital learning, as the
outcome seems to be less than expected. The daily hassle of keeping the learning platform
running, plus the ongoing time intensive process of establishing clear guidelines as to when
the transition is successful, has led to a feeling of futility. The necessity of insight into the
multi-layered process that the school community finds itself in-between seems evident.
This is what led to the production of the process model, which hopefully will make it easier
to understand at which point in the process a specific school is at any given moment while
highlighting the distance already travelled alongside major developments still to be tackled.
3.2 A process model for the transformation into a digital school
To grasp the complexity of the changes in schools during the digital transformation, we
analyse the processes in the school as business processes. A characteristic of these business
processes is that they include inputs, transformation, outputs and boundaries and can be
analysed as an interplay of subsystems: people, tasks, structure and technology. These
subsystems pursue specific goals, and they interact with each other (internal relationships)
and with their environment (external relationships) to achieve them (Melão and Pidd,
2000). In transformation processes (e.g., digitalisation), smooth interaction between all
internal and external stakeholders involved is crucial. There is a need for a common
understanding, agreement and joint commitment regarding topics, such as the overall
strategy and future development. To support such transformation processes, business
modelling languages and frameworks are generally seen as an effective method (van Gils
and Proper, 2018) for creating a suitable basis for analysing complex relationships and
phenomena from practice.
Regarding the digitalisation of teaching and learning processes, the first question to be
asked is where the processes take place within the school organisation and what
dependencies exist between the actors involved, alongside what technologies are used.
Especially in the transition to digital teaching, the course of processes and relationships are
changed. Therefore, the starting point for the analysis is the so-called target models, which
are based on the strategic planning of the organisation. These are compared with actual
A summary of the digitisation activities at the Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium can be found at:
models that depict the current state. Recommendations and needs for action can be derived
in this way.
Through participant observation and expert interviews, key actors, technical tools and
relevant process steps were identified, collected and graphically represented. To capture
the processes, knowledge modelling and description language (KMDL) was used for the
modelling (Gronau, 2012). This software-supported method is characterised by its ability
to represent and analyse knowledge-intensive business processes at various levels. In the
process view, KMLD has the following relevant elements: tasks for the activities that
determine the course of the process; roles which represent actors or groups of actors;
information systems which show information and communication tools. Figure 1 shows
a small section of the transformation process in the studied schools.
The process depicted in the model is based on the development at Käthe-Kollwitz-
Gymnasium Berlin during the last two years. The idea is that by showing a stereotypical
transformation process, the prospect of advancing transformation into a digital school
becomes less daunting.
Figure 1 Transformation process excerpt from Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium
The starting point for the transformation process described in the model is an internal
survey addressing the changes made by the school management. In the next step, the results
will be discussed by the school management, the quality representative and the teaching
staff. The two main structural elements at this point the didactic goals and the
infrastructure are highlighted. Subsequently, the individual goals of the school are
developed and used to formulate possibilities for improvement. The school management
and media coordinators are involved. The model continues to show two vital strands of the
digital transformation process that unfold after this initial phase. Now, the two main
structural elements are simultaneously the lesson planning and the building of a 'virtual
school'. Within this virtual school, school management, parents, students and teachers
interact. The necessity for focused management decisions alongside support from the
school community as a whole becomes evident at this point. A vital aspect of digitalisation
in schools is the continued communication process between different status groups. To
conduct survey
on the topic of
discuss the survey
develop school -
specifiic goals for
the transformation
discuss potential
and possibilities for
management quality
Canvas school
management Task
Control Flow Membership
Task Role
Comment Information
This paper was presented at ISPIM Connects Valencia Reconnect, Rediscover, Reimagine, on 30
November to 2 December 2021. Event Proceedings: LUT Scientific and Expertise Publications:
ISBN 978-952-335-691-7. Order number in series 110.
facilitate this process, a specialised canvas has been developed (compare Section 4). This
can be used for in-depth workshops on individual process steps.
The process model aptly visualises the whole process complexity. Ideally, school
management starts the transformation, and this is therefore what we took as our starting
point in the model. Then, sufficient status groups get involved. However, this is regularly
not what really happens; rather, some interested teachers start using digital tools. The
experiences of these early adopters then encourage others to follow suit. Simultaneously,
there might be an initiative by the school management to install a schoolwide messaging
platform, while parents worry about the amount of time students spend with their
smartphones and demand actions to banish them from the school. Meanwhile, the state
grants money for the digital infrastructure if the school manages to spend it within few
months. Hence, the IT staff by necessity, focusing on the technical site might start
equipping each room hastily and not consider the individual needs of the staff or even have
a vision for a digital future of the school as a whole.
These actions are all vital for the process as such, but it can be difficult to see a clear
connection between these strands. Thus, the players involved might not see their actions
and demands as part of one single process. However, they try to find individual solutions
for each topic. School management might find it hard to stay above the communication
process and spearhead development.
The process model aims at helping to find where in the process the school has already made
some leeway and what seems necessary to install the next. In all likelihood, there will be
something that someone should have tackled at an earlier stage. Here, we can see who that
someone might ideally be and what exactly still needs to be done.
4 Canvas as a tool for the design of digitally enhanced classes
Process modelling can help a school answer the question of where digitisation processes
take place within the school organisation and what dependencies exist between the actors
involved, alongside what technologies are used. Because of the complexity of all relevant
aspects (Demartini et al., 2020), in the next step, we focus on the aspect of teaching. With
the Digital School Canvas, we present a visual method to check one's teaching regarding
digital maturity and to discover potentials for the next steps.
4.1 Introducing the idea of the digital school canvas
Using a canvas has already become firmly established in many fields. The canvas is
understood as a template divided into different fields that clearly depict the important
aspects of a topic and their interrelationships on one page. Tsoukas and Chia (2002, p. 579)
described such tools as discursive templates which 'make it possible for organisational
members to notice new things, make fresh distinctions, see new connections and have novel
experiences'. The canvas, as a visual artefact, is also consistent with design and visual
thinking approaches (Ware, 2010). It allows users to create mental models that can be
shared, communicated or collaborated on with other users (Nagle and Sammon, 2016).
Templates are available for many topics. Business companies, e.g., use the canvas to
analyse individual company activities, products or services or as a basis for deriving
holistic strategies and visions. Probably, the best-known canvas is the Business Model
Canvas by Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010). Some templates for different topics can also
be found in the area of digitisation e.g., the Data Ethics Canvas (Open Data Institute,
4.2 Elements of the canvas
The canvas is intended to help determine the current state in individual fields and to
stimulate an exchange about possible next steps. The tool is designed to help as a basis for
discussion, with a visual capture of the individual elements that brings all participants to
the same starting point. The canvas is intended to help address the following questions:
How do I, as a teacher, currently use and design my lessons with digital elements and
what additional potential can I discover?
Figure 2 Digital School Canvas (designed with
(a) Digital teaching
Digital teaching is at the centre of the canvas. This should not be generally planned for the
entire school but rather for your specific lessons and, preferably, specifying the grade level
and individual circumstances. This makes it easier to implement concrete measures.
(b) Where are we heading?
This question does not have to be answered immediately at the beginning. The best thing
to do here is to give the answer space to develop. Digitisation is a dynamic process that
constantly presents new opportunities. Sometimes, big answers seem to present themselves
here. However, it is advisable to break down this question into feasible/concrete sub-
This paper was presented at ISPIM Connects Valencia Reconnect, Rediscover, Reimagine, on 30
November to 2 December 2021. Event Proceedings: LUT Scientific and Expertise Publications:
ISBN 978-952-335-691-7. Order number in series 110.
questions and work on a canvas for each of these. That way, the results will become visible
(c) What pushes us?
Based on this particular goal, it is advisable to consider why exactly digital work could
enrich your teaching.
(d) What is holding us back, giving us concern?
As important as the motivation are the concerns that come along with it. Record your
thoughts on this. The next time you pick up the canvas, you may find that the concerns
have dissipated or that you have overridden the concerns with a positive experience. This
will motivate you to take the next steps.
(e) What have we already achieved?
Record here all activities and measures that you have already been able to extend with
digital elements in the classroom. If you are at the very beginning, leave the field blank.
(f) What do we want to achieve in the future?
This section helps you record all thoughts and ideas that you would like to try out and
implement in your teaching. We recommend proceeding in small steps here. Especially if
you want to integrate a digital element into your lessons for the first time, it is exciting to
record the thoughts that arise in the individual fields. If you are using multiple digital
elements, the canvas will also help you understand if and how the individual elements work
in designing your lessons.
(g) What are the implications?
The implementation of a digital element in teaching is always associated with (hoped-for)
changes. They can relate to single lessons, a sequence of lessons or the teaching
arrangement of a whole class. These find a space in this element.
(h) What support do we need?
In digital transformation, another key is to focus on synergies. Record here, all the aspects
necessary to realise your goal, e.g., which players or training measures you need. Which
requirements, the classroom equipment really have to meet? What has to change?
The canvas presented here is not meant to be a rigid template. However, it is intended to
help teachers evaluate their own teaching regarding digitisation measures using visual
4.3 Canvas evaluation
The evaluation phase focuses on the utility, quality, validity and effectiveness of the
developed artefact (Helfert et al., 2012; Hevner et al., 2004). We opted for a combined
adaptation and evaluation procedure in four steps:
/ Step 1: Conception of the first canvas version in the core team of the research and
transfer project: Towards digital schools.
/ Step 2: First evaluation phase employing experts from the field of design thinking
and coaching.
/ Step 3: Test phase of the adapted canvas with a sample of teachers from different
/ Step 4: Open consultation like a white paper, which we made available, open
source, in spring 2021 (Project Page). The corresponding feedback was collected
and directly implemented/incorporated where possible.
Steps 3 and 4 follow Pfeffer et al.'s (2006) understanding of a process stage preceding the
evaluation phase for demonstrating or implementing the artefact in a practical test. The
insights gained in this way can be evaluated to better understand how the canvas is suited
for solving a specific task or challenge. Nagle and Sammon (2016) further emphasised that
it is not primarily the successful problem-solving that determines the success of the artefact
but rather the findings from the evaluation per se that already provide valuable results for
research. The current version of our Canvas continues to adapt through teacher feedback
and retains degrees of freedom for modification.
4.4 Fields of application of the Canvas
In the tables below, we have listed some possible ways to use the Canvas.
Blue Sky Thinking
The canvas can help teachers to develop new ideas together on how to
purposefully use digital elements in the classroom. The exchange in small
groups (max. 8 persons) is recommended so that there is enough time and space
to share all ideas. Please allow 1 h to 1.5 h for each session.
Presentation at a parents' meeting
The canvas can be used to present the current state of digital activities in the
classroom at a parents' meeting to clarify that this is and must be a work in
Working group
It makes sense to establish working groups for individual fields in the canvas to
exchange information on a regular basis about developments in the digitisation
of teaching. Within the individual working groups, specific concerns can be
addressed in more details.
Table 1 Recommendations on how to use the canvas
4.5 An example canvas in the workshop
The presented project for digitally based teaching will take place in an 8th form with a body
of 32 students. It is a group that has been using tablets in class for a year now, with everyone
holding the same model, an iPad. This is the first 'tablet class' in the entire school, which
has made teaching a new experience for everyone, and we are now ready for the next step.
Partnering with Futurium (, a museum focusing on future
developments, the class is about to work on a project in its history and politics classes.
Students are going to head the museum on their own, roam the whole building and organise
their work process, while the teacher monitors the work flow remotely over the learning
platform that the students are using. The planned time is three sessions every second week
for 10 weeks, so 15 sessions of 80 minutes in all.
The following canvas represents the results of an internal workshop with the teachers of
the project class. The Canvas was used to evaluate the current state of the class and to agree
on the hoped-for goals in preparation for the project. In total, the workshop lasted 1.5 h,
and we summarised the results of the workshop as an example.
This paper was presented at ISPIM Connects Valencia Reconnect, Rediscover, Reimagine, on 30
November to 2 December 2021. Event Proceedings: LUT Scientific and Expertise Publications:
ISBN 978-952-335-691-7. Order number in series 110.
Figure 3 Template Digital School Canvas (designed with
5 Conclusions
Digital transformation in education encompasses many different, often interdependent
aspects. In the school sector, systemic change is emerging. Transformation processes are
no longer driven by school management alone. However, change is taking place at different
levels, with internal and external actors and with different dynamics (OECD, 2019). To
keep transparency and track of individual activities in the process of digital transformation,
it is useful to use a comprehensive way of visualising the change process. In our paper, we
refer to two approaches from the business community process modelling and the artefact
of the canvas. As a case study, the Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium Berlin helped us to
concretely map or model the complexity of digital transformation processes.
Change-driven, existing organisational processes usually develop a new dynamic, which
often comes top-down, alongside bottom-up. The presented process modelling and canvas
methods can first help to capture and structure the transformation process and provide
important insights into the current state of the digitalisation of the school. The second
important contribution of these methods is to involve directly, in a well-structured and
goal-oriented way, all internal key actors in the change process' development and
monitoring, including external stakeholders such as parents, associations, or business
cooperation partners. The process model helps school management to co-develop the
teaching progress with all key actors and thus to increase the acceptance of the changes.
One main advantage of the canvas is that it provides teachers with a concrete method/tool
for evaluating their teaching, which also considers collaborative aspects. Thus, teachers are
motivated to effectively share their teaching and learning materials and to engage in a
curated exchange of experiences. Similar to the Business Model Canvas (Osterwalder and
Pigneur, 2010), it is important to provide different versions (e.g., PowerPoint, PDF format,
iPad app, etc.) for different communication formats, such as documents, presentations or
workshops (Nagle and Sammon, 2016). The canvas we have created also retains degrees
of freedom for adaptation so that it can meet the individual circumstances of a school.
However, the demonstrated applicability of both methods/tools is limited due to the
situational research design. Goldkuhl (2012) stated that concepts of practice research
conducted regarding situational enquiry or driven by a local problem also generate
situational knowledge. The next step is to examine the extent to which these contributions
help the broader community of practice and/or serve as contributions to the body of
scientific knowledge. Another limitation is evident in the chosen research design of a single
case study, which does not allow for a generalisation of applicability. Consequently, the
next step is to apply both methods process modelling and the canvas in further schools.
It is also advisable to select schools that have reached different levels of digitalisation.
Regarding process modelling, it remains unclear whether a school with an advanced level
of digitalisation would gain added value, in this respect, from a retrospective perspective.
The Digital School Canvas is still in the test phase and is currently being evaluated by other
teachers. Adjustments to the design and wording will be made in the next project phase.
This paper was presented at ISPIM Connects Valencia Reconnect, Rediscover, Reimagine, on 30
November to 2 December 2021. Event Proceedings: LUT Scientific and Expertise Publications:
ISBN 978-952-335-691-7. Order number in series 110.
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cooperation and many helpful impulses.
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