Digital competence in 10 questions: All you need to know to develop it in your classes

7 minutes
Written by: Ruth Martín

Did you know that digital competence still doesn’t appear in English dictionaries? We at Genially think this is a sorry state of affairs and that is why we’ve decided to define it in our own way.

Digital competencies are the skills that enable us to use technology effectively, to communicate, collaborate, reach solutions, and create new opportunities.

However, as teachers, the goal is that this digital competence reaches the students. To do this, we must go through other levels of competence: A) digital competence itself and B) digital competence in teaching

It’s highly likely that, like 99.99% of teachers, you are interested in knowing how to develop your digital teaching skills. And not only that, but knowing how to empower your students to develop their own and to participate actively and responsibly in this world that, yes we’ve all heard it a million times, is increasingly digital.

Well, you’re in the right place. Juanjo Mena, director of the Department of Teaching, Organization, and Research Methods at the University of Salamanca, has paid the Genially blog a visit to shed some light through a series of tips and guidelines that will help you effectively introduce technology in the classroom in order to improve teaching practice and student learning. Be sure to read on!

Thanks to your work as a teacher and researcher specializing in didactics and educational innovation, you have seen for yourself the benefits of acquiring certain digital skills and using them in your daily work. In your opinion, what are the benefits and repercussions of improving one’s command of digital teaching skills?

There are so many. We are always trying to train teachers to acquire the various skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to promote student learning. Today we are immersed in an era of digital transformation in all areas of society. 

That is why, at present, this teaching knowledge has to incorporate three fundamental aspects. As Mishra, Koehler and Henriksen (2011) argue, these are:

Knowing the subject matter to be taught (content), knowing how to explain that content so that students process it (pedagogy), and knowing how to make use of technology as a preferred channel of communication.

To achieve this, especially in the case of this third pillar, it is essential to master digital competencies.

What digital competencies do you think are most important for teachers?

The European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators (DigCompEdu) is one of the most robust international models for the development of digital competencies for teachers. It details 22 competencies within 6 areas: 

  1. Professional involvement
  2. Digital resources
  3. Teaching and Learning
  4. Evaluation
  5. Student empowerment (fostering creative use of digital tools)
  6. Facilitating students’ digital competence

It is not a matter of content per se, of discerning whether some content is more important than others, but of approach. What is essential, therefore, is to develop these competencies not as a series of technical skills and handling of technological resources, but to know how to apply them in the classroom to seek learning outcomes. A more didactic context.

When does a teacher feel qualified and competent to transfer this knowledge to their students?

It is always a challenge for teachers to achieve high levels of digital competence in all areas, according to DigCompEdu

In an article we published on digital competencies in the journal ‘Computers in Human Behavior’ (Ramírez-Montoya, Mena & Rodríguez, 2017) we developed a predictive model to see to what extent 863 practicing teachers were able to produce open educational resources (OER) in digital formats for their classes. 

The sample was divided into three levels: teachers with low, medium, and high levels of digital competence.

The analysis showed that it is difficult for teachers to reach an expert level in digital competence, even if they learn to create digital resources. 

In my view, what is clear is that the transfer of digital competence to students can be achieved by increasing the digital competence of teachers. That way, the teachers themselves will promote the use of technological tools, following guidelines and aiming for certain objectives for the students. 

What role do digital competencies play at other levels of education, such as higher education, and is developing them as important as at earlier educational stages?

They play a crucial role. Digital transformation affects all sectors and levels. Universities, for example, have long been immersed in a process of change for the inclusion of technological resources and active methodologies in the classroom. 

In fact, many of them encourage the development of teaching innovation projects for this very purpose. This is really helping to change and update the way we teach. 

Following the acceleration in the development of teachers’ digital competencies due to the pandemic, what would you say is the legacy this experience has left us with? What have been the most important lessons learned?

Generally speaking, we can say that what it has left us is the fact that we have standardized the use of digital resources for teaching. It has taught us that digital is fundamental for teaching today.

It has also made us more critical and we now know that there are serious risks of exclusion for students who do not have the necessary technological devices and that a solution must be found so that this does not happen.

What do we need to improve, and is there anything we have left aside that we should bring back?

There is something we must not forget, especially in stages such as Pre-school and the first years of Primary School: we begin learning by handling physical objects.

For example, to teach a child addition (e.g. 3+2=5), before going on to solve the algorithm in an abstract way, teachers teach it in a figurative way (e.g. pictures of the units being added together, etc.).

But even before this, it is necessary to practice the concept of addition by handling objects (e.g. picking up three buttons and adding two more). This means that analog and digital resources must be complementary to foster interactive experiences with physical materials and both real and digital contexts. 

What is clear is that the transfer of digital competence to students can be achieved by increasing the digital competence of teachers.

What would be your recommendations to a school that wants to start developing its teachers’ digital skills? 

I would emphasize that time must be invested in training, that this time requires an extra effort on the part of the teacher, and that results are achieved gradually. 

According to the research, and breaking it down into simple terms, there are usually three levels of innovation: application, implementation, and transformation. 

For the first level, we need enthusiastic teachers who want to apply digital tools in a particular way in some of their class content. To implement this, we need to include these tools in the curriculum of the educational stage and the teachers need to be the ones who do it, by introducing the tools in the teaching programs to use them with the students. 

To achieve the transformation, all teachers need to be digitally competent and able to change the ways of doing and being in school, according to the new social demands and those of their students.

As for students, it is often said that one of the fundamental digital skills they should develop is the creation of digital content. How can we motivate them in our teaching practice so that they feel motivated to become digital creators?

Two fundamental points should be assessed. The first is that teachers need solid training – both technical and didactic – in the use of digital tools. 

The second aspect is that it is very important to transmit enthusiasm for the use of these tools to students and to help them see the need for them as essential means for personal and social development in today’s world.

From all the frameworks available today, which in your opinion is most suitable for starting to develop digital competencies?

I believe that the European Digital Competence Framework for Educators (DigCompEdu) I mentioned before is one of the most complete models.

Finally, what advice would you give to teachers who are reading this and want to start developing their digital skills and those of their students?

From my experience as a teacher in various educational stages and my own research and findings, I would close with three final points: 

  1. Digital is here to stay. We have to adapt to the new paradigm and seek ‘digital excellence’ in our continuous training process in this profession.
  1. Being digitally competent (in any field) is a process that is achieved through training, self-study, and the use of platforms that make it easy to carry out this process, such as Genially. You have to bring yourself up to date every day because this universe changes and optimizes itself very quickly.
  1. Being digitally competent is not a matter of using the most current apps, tools, or resources and mastering them technically. It requires a critical exercise on what their didactic value is and how we can apply them to teaching. For example: how do digital competencies help me to improve learning outcomes in students? And to understand their connection with learning theories.

How about you, dear readers? How do you work to develop digital competencies in the classroom? Have you got any tips for other teachers? Share them in the comments!

Ruth Martín
Ruth Martín
If you don’t get it wrong from time to time, it means you’re not learning enough
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2 Responses

  1. I wanted to share this post on Facebook but when I use the FB button on the page or paste the url to my FB page I just get the error 403 Forbidden

    1. Hi Chris!

      Oooops! Sometimes technology fails us, but it was probably a one time error. Try again and see if it works!

      Have a great day!

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