In the context of education, a digital ecosystem refers to the integration of digital technologies, tools, and platforms into the learning environment. It encompasses the network of interconnected components that support and enhance educational processes, interactions, and resources.

Your school’s digital ecosystem is an important part of your administrative, student and teachers’ daily lives that can either be the thorn in your side or a gateway that transforms teaching and learning. As we can all relate, our daily digital lives continually change at a rapid pace, and it is important to monitor purpose and utilization as it relates to the technologies we use in our schools. For example, a common redundancy or lack of clear expectations is often found between a school/district’s curriculum planning platform and their learning management system (LMS). As teams work to define expectations and resources for curriculum work, clarifying what elements of the process should be captured for curriculum planning vs day to day lesson planning is important for successful implementation and ongoing efficiency in the process.

Streamlining and creating consistent wayfinding within a school’s digital ecosystem is essential to lifting the burden off teachers to “figure it out themselves” while at the same time creates efficiencies and “flow” for students within their digital experiences between classes. One way to ensure the health of your school’s digital environment is to establish an infrastructure that is consistent with agreed upon expectations inclusive of admin, teachers and students. Here are some guiding questions that will help monitor your school’s digital pulse.

Guiding Questions for Schools:

  1. Creating a Vision: Has your school established a technology vision statement that is in sync with your school’s mission statement?
  2. Strategic Planning: Does your school have an Academic Technology Plan that is renewed every 3-5 years (this does not exclude IT, but it is not IT-focused)?
  3. Establishing a Healthy Infrastructure: Is your schools budget designed to support technological and IT needs (eg. data, network, software, security and hardware)?
  4. Establishing Trust, Growth, and Confidence: Are there established routines and structures for coaching and professional development?
  5. Space for Reflection and Feedback: Are administrators, teachers, students and parents involved in providing feedback to their digital lives at your school?

One School’s Journey to Understanding their Schools Digital Ecosystem


Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts is a private boarding school consisting of 538 students in grades 9-12, with 80 teaching faculty. During the time of this case study prior to 2020, the IT department consisted of three people and the school had hired a new Academic Technology Director. The previous Technology Plan focused mostly on IT such as wifi, costs, security, acceptable use policy ect. The Academic Technology Committee was established and tasked with updating this plan to include an academic digital learning lens.

Prior to establishing an Academic Technology Plan, teachers were living in individual digital bubbles that were not consistent from classroom to classroom. With the best of intentions, teachers and departments used what worked best for them with sporadic consistencies between classrooms. These inconsistencies made it difficult for students to stay organized and it was time consuming for the IT department to manage. The Curriculum Leadership Team also needed further transparency with the ability to run reports for mapping and planning purposes. They had just introduced a learning management system (LMS) the year prior and needed to understand what was working well, what was not and why. Here are some ways Tabor collected information from their community to ensure they understood the school’s digital pulse before establishing priorities and action items in the plan.

Discovery Phase: Data Collection

1. Mapping Student, Teacher, and Administrators’ Digital Ecosystems

Mapping student and teacher@2x 1
In this activity we created three separate focus groups with administration, teachers, and students. This activity was meant to record a snapshot of Tabor’s daily digital lives and provide an opportunity for dialogue with the Academic Technology Advisory Committee (composed of students, teachers, IT, and admin). They drew a stick figure in the middle of poster paper or projected digital notepad. Participants then listed all the tech they used from sunrise to sunset. They opted to record these conversations so they could return to them if needed.

2. Post Map Deep Dive

After these conversations it allowed the Academic Tech Committee (comprised of teachers, students, Curriculum Director, Academic Tech Director, IT team) to reflect on the discussion and categorize the maps according to utilization and purpose of the specific technology (eg. communication, assessments, organization, curriculum mapping, learning management etc.). They found redundancies, discussed pain points, researched opportunities for integrating tools and discussed next steps towards a unified edtech vision. Some security red flags also came up during the student conversation that needed to be addressed with the admin and the IT team.

3. Digital Practices Heat Map: What’s Hot and What’s Not?

This activity was done with the Academic Technology Committee (comprised of teachers, admin and students). The purpose was to go beyond the tools and explore the best practices that make up a healthy digital ecosystem in school communities. After some research, they decided to use the NAIS Digital Principals as their compass. Members got color stickers: red (we do not do this well), yellow (could use improvement), green (we do this well) and blue (I don’t know). The group posted the NAIS Digital Principals around the room and we spent time labeling each area with their stickers. After the exercise, they aggregated the data into a heat map. It allowed them to quickly see the pain points and areas of need that they should consider prioritizing in their Action plan. Here is a template survey that mimics this same activity in a Google Form (feel free to make a copy to use with your school).

4. Surveying Students, Teachers and Admin:

Tabor also wanted to capture a larger data set inclusive of all voices in their community. Surveying their community after the focus groups allowed them to be more thoughtful with what they wanted to ask the entire school community. Survey results were aggregated into themes similar to this document (*Please note this resource has since been updated by the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools. Please check out this new Self Study Guide).

5. What are other schools doing? You’re not alone!

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t” – Bill Nye
It was important to the committee to also hear and learn from other schools. They established a meeting with a school that had similar demographics to ours and had some experience to share regarding their own schools journey within digital learning and planning. The Academic Technology Director also joined digital collaborative groups formulated by the state’s edtech organization.

This to
Because they took the time to listen to their school community, understand the specific needs of their school, and learn from others, the Tabor team was able to develop a well thought out, data driven, comprehensive Academic Technology Plan. It was rooted in a unified vision that produced meaningful action items inclusive of admin, teachers, and students. The collaborative and positive partnership between members of the IT department and the Academic Technology department was also key to the ongoing success of supporting our community for future changes.
Here is a sample of the Table of Contents from the plan that transpired:

Digital Learning Vision Statement
History of Technology at the School
Overview of Equipment, Infrastructure, Budget
Equitable Access Policy for Students
Adopted Standards for Students, Teachers, Admin, IT (eg. ISTE standards)
Digital Citizenship / Ethics
Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning
Professional Development and Support
Safety, Security and Data (eg. Acceptable Use Policy)
Emergency Remote Learning Plan
Self Evaluation Results and Action Plan:

  • Focus Area 1 – Establish a Primary LMS and consistent use
  • Focus Area 2 – Establish Framework for PD & Tech Coaching
  • Focus Area 3 – Formalize Digital Citizenship Curriculum

Continuous Improvement Plan (3 year rotation)
Glossary of Terms
Resources and Credits

Helpful Resources:

About The Author

lianne pic

Lianne Petrocelli
Standards and Services Team
Faria Education Group

Lianne Petrocelli manages our Standards and Services team for Atlas and ManageBac. She procures copyright from Standards Organizations and helps maintain our Standards database. She also manages the team at Faria that provides standards customization and curriculum mapping services for Atlas and ManagBac clients. With over 20 years of experience in both the public and private sector of education she brings a wide array of knowledge from Early Childhood Education to High School.

Share This