Critical Digital Competencies for 21st Century Teachers

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The advancement of technology in the 21st century has completely transformed the way we work, play, communicate, organise our lives, and discover information. There is no denying we live in a digital era that has drastically changed the way we think and behave.

So what does it mean to be a teacher in the 21st century? Since the digital world is here to stay, teachers need to be equipped with the necessary competencies to exploit the potential of digital technologies for enhancing teaching and learning, and for adequately preparing youths for life and work in a digital society. Teachers who are digitally competent can open up many opportunities for our youths to develop their skills for living, working, and thriving in the digital society and the innovative economy.

The digitally savvy teacher looks forward to what the future will bring. They are aware of the ever-changing trends in technology and are in tune with what the future has in store for education. A modern teacher is aware of the potential career opportunities that the future will have for their students and are always advocating forward thinking and planning to ensure no student is left behind.

A 21st century teacher has the following key characteristics:

Master of technology in the classroom: A modern teacher keeps pace with the rapid advancement of technology both inside and outside the classroom. Whether for lessons or assignments, classroom technology can help a teacher make the most of their time as well as help students learn faster and more effectively. This doesn’t mean that every student necessarily has to have access to a tablet or other smart device, but it does mean there’s a balance of educational tools in the classroom. A digitally savvy teacher knows which digital tools can transform their students’ educational experience – they know what the best tools are and precisely when to use them.

Adaptive: A teacher should be able to dodge, duck and dive to tackle whatever comes their way. The tools of teaching have changed over the years. An effective teacher is able to adapt based on the needs of their students. Teachers must be able to adapt their teaching style to include different modes of learning, adapt when a lesson fails, and adapt to new technology. By using the available tools and a bit of imagination, teachers can educate in creative ways.

Lifelong learner: A digitally competent teacher never stops learning or rolling with changes to their profession. Just as they expect their students to be lifelong learners, effective teachers stay on top of what’s new in education. They know how to keep up to date with what’s current. A great teacher will not only embrace technology but be willing to learn more about it.

But what are the exact competencies a teacher needs to thrive in the 21st century, as well as help their students succeed. The European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators (2018), or DigCompEdu, has a comprehensive answer for teachers around the world.

What is DigCompEdu? It:

  • Is the most comprehensive framework that guides teachers’ professional development of digital competence.
  • Supports the development of teachers’ professional and pedagogical competencies and the students’ digital competencies.
  • Offers self-assessment tools and training programs to guide teachers step-by-step to develop their competence.
  • Provides teachers with a common language and logic that can help the discussion and exchange of best practices across borders.

DigCompEdu distinguishes 22 professional digital competencies of educators organised into 6 key areas  

With this overview of digital competencies, what can be done by teachers to enhance different areas of digital competence?

Understand digital pedagogies:  Teaching is not about the tools, it’s about learning. Therefore, effective teachers employ pedagogical considerations to guide their choice of digital tools and resources. There is an abundance of teaching technologies to choose from, making it difficult to decide what to settle on. When it comes to integrating digital tools, more is not always better – it should be all about pedagogical considerations. As the Digital Pedagogy Lab says: “Digital pedagogy is precisely not about using digital technologies for teaching and, rather, about approaching those tools from a critical pedagogical perspective. So, it is as much about using digital tools thoughtfully as it is about deciding when not to use digital tools, and about paying attention to the impact of digital tools on learning.”

Transform teacher and student roles: The role of teachers needs to switch from being an authority of knowledge to facilitator of learning, and students need to become active participants rather than passive recipients of learning. This transformation of roles will change teaching practices with digital technologies. Harnessing the power of digital technology and strengthening information and media literacy is an essential competence for teachers and students.

Participate in professional development: Seek to learn from the advice and experiences of other professionals. Try out various professional learning activities involving the use of digital technologies in education to develop your digital competency.

Be adaptive: Digitally competent teachers need to be agile, adaptable, and ready for change. A 21st century teacher can keep up to date with quickly evolving technology. What works today may be obsolete tomorrow. Agile teachers are those who are lifelong learners, those who value collaboration, and those who are flexible and open to new ideas.

Adopting technology and all that it brings with it will enhance the performance of teachers and make their lives easier. Being digitally competent with technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) gives teachers the ability to better manage their classrooms by leaving some tasks to the AI and being able to focus on more technically difficult situations as well as give attention to learners who need it the most.

A 21st century teacher, therefore, is one who acknowledges the wide array of digital competencies necessary to elevate their profession to the next level. With the advancement of technology, there are more tools than ever to choose from when it comes to education, but the discerning teacher will be best placed to the choose those tools that enhance rather than detract from the learning experience.

Written by Rob Ewart


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