Professional and Digital Competence of Higher Education Teachers
On 7 May 2021, EDUDL+ organized a seminar on competence frameworks in tertiary education. Theoretical models of competence, institutional developments and practical usages of competence frameworks were presented and discussed.16 participants from different universities and countries attended the seminar. One contribution was canceled for technical reasons.
Research and Development of Competence Frameworks in Geneva and at UniDistance Suisse
Two frameworks were developed within the national research and development project P8 «Strengthening digital skills in higher education» launched by swissuniversities.
The Genevan project – digital competence framework @ unige and its online platform Make IT Easy – is an interdisciplinary and collaborative work of different stakeholders within the University of Geneva. The Genevan team consulted existing practices, scientific literature, and statistics on digital skills of the Swiss population aiming at developing a framework that serves as pedagogical tool to evaluate and develop the digital competencies of the university staff and that is based on a common vocabulary and the existing training offers. Other frameworks such as DigComp and JISC served as models and were adapted to the specific context of the University of Geneva regarding research and academic work. The Genevan framework addresses the whole academic population: students, teachers, administrative and technical staff. It focuses on the autonomous usage of competencies and the adaptation to digital innovation in the sense of developing a digital identity and computational thinking for teaching, learning, research, and development. And it differentiates four competency levels from baseline to expert. To implement the framework, the platform Make IT Easy will provide a login to a self-assessment tool resulting in a digital competence profile and a correspondent catalogue of training opportunities.
Edudemia (UniDistance Suisse)
The competency framework edudemia was developed at EDUDL+, UniDistance Suisse. Scientific literature about higher education teaching and digital competencies with special focus on distance learning, national and international educational policies were consulted prior to the development of edudemia. Different theoretical competency models, frameworks, empirical research, and institutional practices served as models to be adapted to the specific institutional, social, and cultural contexts of the Swiss academic landscape. This framework addresses higher education teachers and focuses on the development of their professional identity as teachers in addition to their identity as researchers. Understood as foundational literacies, digital skills are embedded in all areas of competence and fields of action of university teachers. The idea is to identify and to develop those competencies that serve the educational purpose at university. Thus, the pedagogical starting point is the assumption of potential instead of deficit. Valuing that potential serves as incentive to further development. edudemia is in the process of empirical validation. It will be accessible via a web application to search the database of competencies and items from different usage perspectives.
The second part of the seminar was dedicated to a guided discussion and collaborative online work about the challenges of evaluating and assessing digital competencies. The purpose of this discussion was to inspire the projects by sharing institutional practices, highlighting the most interesting elements of the presented frameworks, and reflecting on potentials and limits of competency frameworks.
Sharing best practices: peer collaboration is of the essence
The participants were asked to share good practices to develop and eventually assess digital skills. Interestingly, most examples were related to peer activities such as periodical discussion groups about digitalisation in education, peer inspiration and sharing. Indeed, both models sustain the importance of peer work to develop digital skills. Yet, the question remains, how to exploit this peer activity to assess them.
What was participants’ feedback on both frameworks?
Participants highlighted the flexibility of the Genevan model as it is conceived to fit a variety of addressees within an institution and the structured and coordinated assembly of the existing offers as starting point to profit from what has been already developed. It is an overall convincing model. As for edudemia, the idea of putting teaching identity at the core of the framework and focusing on resources instead of deficits were considered strongly empowering elements. The fact that edudemia seeks to link theoretical and empirical work was also highlighted. These characteristics signalise this framework’s innovative character. It can be stated that the Genevan model follows a rather systemic approach, while edudemia defines individual teachers and their potential as starting point. Thus, both models complement each other.
What skills should be measured in a digital competence framework?
Discussing potentials and limits of using competence frameworks in general to evaluate and assess digital and other skills raised more questions than it provided concrete answers. The more complex a framework is, the stronger is the need for prioritising competencies and skills that should be measured. On the other hand, also less complex models bare the risk of trivialising the addressees’ skills and the capacities. In other words, the challenge lies in balancing competencies and items between abstract and general descriptions and too detailed low-level activities to avoid losing the addressees (teachers, students). Framework developers should not forget teachers’ intrinsic motivation. In this sense, the question of the value of «so many aspects of competencies» was posed. Thus, the need for evidence that «digital skills are really an asset» has been rated important to motivate teachers. Participants contributed constructive ideas for the further development of both frameworks and their implementation to evaluate and assess digital skills: portfolios as flexible instruments for showing competencies, case studies, peer review of educational materials, peer instruction, impact factors of teaching and learning materials, etc. Thus, evaluating and assessing digital skills has to balance between «learning by doing» (e.g. in courses with defined learning outcomes, using tools as it was the case in this seminar) and measuring competencies with traditional psychological procedures. Last but not least socio-emotional and health aspects of digital skills and digitalisation of teaching and learning should be taken into account.