The Supernodes

The Emergence of Digitally Advantaged Schools

Published: 25 August 2012

The emergence of the supernode or the digitally advantaged school marks an important development within the education ICT landscape. This article provides an insight into the characteristics associated with the growing number of digitally advantaged schools or the new supernodes with the education sector.

There are four pre-requisites for becoming a supernode:

Firstly, the supernode leverages the benefits to be gained by securing independence from the local authority or from any other local government body that provides networked education services to schools.

Secondly, the supernode is typically a secondary school. Its size enables it procure, commission and manage an enterprise level ICT environment for itself and the schools it provides networked services to.

Thirdly, the supernode seeks to protect its interests by securing and establishing networked services with local primary schools from whom many of its students emerge. This is one of many education links that the supernode has with local primary schools.

Fouthly, it goes without saying that the governing body and the senior leadership team at the supernode acknowledge the educational benefits to be gained by supporting the development and enrichment of networked ICT services. The support programme is wide ranging and covers all the financial, educational and change management strands that enable the supernode to be successful in its endeavours.


The Supernodes

The supernodes recognise the power of technology to magnify the potential of all learners and educators alike.  More importantly they accept that technology alone is not enough to enable positive change within an education setting. In the article entitled Technology and Educational Change I stated that the schools that promote and drive forward positive change among their staff and students will be the ones were new technologies and services will be successfully adopted and applied to support to teaching and learning. By placing a greater emphasis on promoting positive cultural and pedagogic change the impact of new technologies and services will be more pronounced in digitally advantaged schools.

Digitally advantaged schools support and encourage participative cultures and they exercise a greater degree of educational democracy within their physical and virtual campuses. In the article entitled Democratising Education I state that the supernodes enable learners to have greater self-determination and a more active and participatory role within the education setting. Learners are not just passive consumers of content or of learning objects; rather they are active participants, contributors and players in the networked and connected school. The management of networked services in digitally advantaged schools are more devolved towards teachers and students.

Supernodes support digital intervention strategies to further improve teaching and learning in their institutions. The relationship between learners and the technology that surrounds them should not be underestimated. In the article entitled Technology and Behavioural Change I state that digitally advantaged schools design and take advantage of digital intervention strategies to derive positive behavioural change in teachers and students. I define behaviour as any action, conduct and interaction that supports or deflects from teaching and learning. The digitally advantaged school strives to promote innovative technologies and practices that encourage and foster participative teaching and learning.

In the article entitled Mind The Gap I state that the digitally advantaged school leverages its networked services to enable other schools to benefit from improved connectivity, to have access to technologies and services that would previously have been beyond their reach, improved IT support and the financial benefits of belonging to a larger network of schools. The motives for being a supernode are many and mixed, but the educational benefits of belonging to a participatory network soon override the narrow and selfish motives across all schools in the network. The scarcity of resources at local government level means that the number of supernodes in the UK will rise.

The growing maturity of ICT services within the education sector is enabling the supernodes to think more broadly when designing, developing and implementing new curriculum models and programmes of study. The continuing rise and pervasiveness of the knowledge economy and its demand for a workforce that is educated and trained in the use and application of new technologies has meant that the supernodes have had to develop and deliver new curriculum models and courses in order to equip their students to enter the knowledge economy.

Supernodes are developing curriculum models that are aiding, supporting and fostering students to enter new and emerging job markets within the knowledge economy and the digital industries in particular. Students are becoming active participants in their own learning and their learning is directed more so to the world beyond the school gates. This is enabling them to have the opportunity to be economically engaged, to be qualified participants in the knowledge economy and to be actively involved in the wider society. The supernodes actively recruit specialist staff, establish partnerships with ICT partners and devise programmes of study that are attractive to the student body and to the wider communities that they serve.

Whilst the emergence of the supernode is welcomed; local, regional and national educational leaders need to be wary of the growing digital divide between the digitally advantaged schools and those schools who are struggling to cope with the growing complexity of the education ICT landscape.


Footnote: The following description of a supernode in peer to peer networking provides a useful insight into how digitally advantaged schools support and engage with other schools. ‘In peer-to-peer networking, a supernode is any node that also serves as one of that network's relayers and proxy servers, handling data flow and connections for other users. This semi-distributed architecture allows data to be decentralized without requiring excessive overhead at every node.’ (Source: Wikipedia).