Saturday, 28 February 2015

Defining Digital Competence

In a couple of previous posts I looked at what was meant by the term digital literacy and what this could mean in the Welsh education context. These were written in response to a recommendation from the ICT Steering Group report, proposing a new statutory Digital Literacy Framework for schools. I attempted to define what digital literacy meant using definitions from groups such as The Royal Society, Becta, Futurelab, Jisc and Common Sense Media. It was very difficult to pin down exactly what it meant but there were certainly commonalities between all of them. This week however, Prof. Graham Donaldson published his report on the curriculum and assessment in Wales, "Successful Futures", and in it referred not to digital literacy, but to digital competence (which is a term I'm far happier using).  I therefore feel it's important for me to try in this post to understand what is meant by this term, look at some definitions and find out if there are any differences to digital literacy.

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Definition of Digital Competence
As I did previously, before looking at how some groups have defined digital competence, I'm going to look at each word separately to help me get a clearer idea of meaning:

Digital - one of the definitions of which is “involving or relating to the use of computer technology” or “characterized by widespread use of computers”. I think most of us would be happy with that simple definition in this particular context.

Hence, my own definition based purely on my understanding of each word would be: 
"The knowledge and skills to enable a person to use computer technology successfully or efficiently, in a wide variety of situations."
European Union (EU)
In 2006 the EU made a European Recommendation on Key Competences, of which digital competence was acknowledged as one of the eight key competences for lifelong learning. My understanding is that the Information Society Unit at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) spent almost 2 years on a project that among other things aimed to:
- identify the key components of digital competence in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be digital competent
- propose a roadmap for the possible use and revision of a digital competence framework and descriptors of digital competences for all levels of learners.

Therefore this seems to be a helpful place to begin looking for possible definitions of digital competence.
"Digital Competence involves the confident and critical use of Information Society Technology (IST) for work, leisure and communication. It is underpinned by basic skills in ICT: the use of computers to retrieve, assess, store, produce, present and exchange information, and to communicate and participate in collaborative networks via the Internet." (European Parliament and the Council, 2006). 
In 2012 a report was produced called, 'Digital Competence in Practice: An Analysis of Frameworks'. The report looked at 15 different frameworks, with one of the aims of identifying the key components of digital competency in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be digitally competent. The following definition was an encompassing definition of digital competence, based on the many definitions found in the different frameworks in the study:
"Digital Competence is the set of knowledge, skills, attitudes (thus including abilities, strategies, values and awareness) that are required when using ICT and digital media to perform tasks; solve problems; communicate; manage information; collaborate; create and share content; and build knowledge effectively, efficiently, appropriately, critically, 4 creatively, autonomously, flexibly, ethically, reflectively for work, leisure, participation, learning, socialising, consuming, and empowerment." (Pg. 3-4)
Finally in 2014, "Measuring Digital Skills Across the EU: EU wide indicators of Digital Competence", added that, "digital competence is a broad concept, including much more than basic/operational skills in the use of ICT – though these are fundamental to it."

So, according to these definitions, digital competence is not only knowledge and skills, but incorporates attitudes such as being confident and critical. It is about being competent to use technology in different situations (eg. work, leisure) and for different purposes (eg. learning, communicating, solving problems, online collaboration, building knowledge, creating and sharing). All fundamentally underpinned by basic ICT skills.

I'm quite drawn to this diagram taken from the paper "Online Consultation on Experts' Views of Digital Competence" (pg. 16, 2012):

These 12 competencies, that make up the 'digitally competent person', were developed from the feedback from 54 experts from across Europe, the US, Israel and Australia.

I will look in more detail at the actual competencies finally suggested by the EU in another post.

Digital Competence v Digital Literacy?
As I said at the beginning, the ICT Steering Group Report recommended that a digital literacy framework should be implemented in schools. However the Successful Futures report uses the term digital competency. So, is there any practical difference between the two terms? On Pg.24 of the Successful Futures report, Prof. Donaldson seems to move seamlessly from digital literacy to digital competence, "the recommendation in the ICT Steering Group’s report to the Welsh Government that digital literacy, or digital competence, is as important in the twenty-first century as literacy and numeracy." He therefore seems to believe that the two terms are synonymous with one another.

In the paper "DIGCOMP: A Framework for Developing and Understanding Digital Competence in Europe" (2014), the authors state that:
"In the European Commission working paper (European Commission, 2008) digital literacy was defined as “the skills required to achieve digital competence. It is underpinned by basic skills in ICT and the use of computers to retrieve, assess, store, produce, present and exchange information, and to communicate and participate in collaborative networks via the Internet”. The definition indicates that digital literacy comprises of basic ICT skills, which lead to digital competence. However, in the academic field, digital literacy is used as a synonym for digital competence."
It therefore appears from these two brief examples that the terms are being used synonymously. In fact, I don't know if you noticed, but the definition of digital literacy from the EU (2008) above, is virtually identical to one of the previous definitions of digital competency. I'm certain that there are for more intelligent and better read people out there who will tell me that there are differences between two. In my next post I intend to look at the actual framework competencies that the EU report suggested, and I think we'll certainly find overlaps between many of the areas of digital literacy and EU digital competence frameworks.
"The concept of Digital Competence is a multi-faceted moving target, covering many areas and literacies and rapidly evolving as new technologies appear. Digital Competence is at the convergence of multiple fields. Being digitally competent today implies the ability to understand media (as most media have been/are being digitalized), to search for information and be critical about what is retrieved (given the wide uptake of the Internet) and to be able to communicate with others using a variety of digital tools and applications (mobile, internet). All these abilities belong to different disciplines: media studies, information sciences, and communication theories. Analysing the repertoire of competences related to digital literacy requires an understanding of all these underlying conceptualisations." (Pg. 3)
Thoughts / Questions
- If digital competency is a 'multi-faceted moving target' then wouldn't the framework need regular updates and revisions to remain relevant?
"as time passes, the substance of the term changes: being digitally competent meant something different ten years ago than it means now, as new technologies develop and so do the competences needed to use them. This is perhaps the most poignant complication in understanding the concept of digital competence: technological innovations as well as their appropriation by users are hard to predict and even to the extent that future developments can be predicted it is often hard to see exactly how they will affect the way we live." (Online Consultation on Experts' Views of Digital Competence, 2012, Pg.9)
- I find it interesting that recent press reports on the launch of Successful Futures seemed to focus only on coding elements within a digital competence framework.
"Digital would equip pupils with the ability to programme and code computers. Teachers would have to think of ways of weaving that, along with literacy and numeracy, into every lesson." (
Really? Teachers would have to think of ways of building coding into every lesson?? Where did the BBC get this idea from as I can't see this actually written anywhere in Donaldson's report, unless I've missed it. As you can see from the definitions above, in my opinion being a digitally competent person involves having a wide range of digital skills, knowledge and attitudes, not just being able to code.  

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Successful Futures

I woke up this morning to the news that there is to be a "radical national curriculum overhaul proposed for Wales". Professor Graham Donaldson today published his report titled 'Successful Futures', the result of almost a year long review into the curriculum and assessment in Wales.

A lot of radical and exciting changes recommended, with much for educators in Wales to mull over and discuss in the coming months during a period being called, 'the great debate'. I've only really just scanned over the 124 page document, but here are some of the headlines I've picked out:

- Six new areas of learning and experience from 3 to 16:
Expressive Arts
Health and Well Being
Languages, Literacy and Communication
Mathematics and Numeracy
Science and Technology

- The current separation of the curriculum into phases and key stages should be removed. Statutory schooling should be seen as a coherent and progressive whole, including the move between primary and secondary sectors.

- Progression Steps should be identified within each Area of Learning and Experience at three-yearly intervals over the period of statutory education.

-  Literacy, numeracy and digital competence should be the responsibility of all teachers. These are so fundamental to thinking, learning and life that they should be developed and reinforced across the curriculum as a whole.

Digital Competency Framework
Interestingly yesterday's blog finished with the question of whether Prof. Donaldson would take on board the findings of the ICT Steering Group Report or do something slightly different? The clear answer is that he has agreed with the recommendations in the report, in fact the main headlines on the news reports I've seen this morning have mainly mentioned how digital competency should be equally as important literacy and numeracy. I'm particularly happy that the Professor is using the term 'digital competency' and not 'digital literacy'. As I mentioned at the end of this blog post from last year, "Digital Literacy: the context for Wales and definitions", I particularly like the term digital competence as digital literacy, in my opinion, is a slightly ambiguous term.

So, let's pull out some key phrases from the report that refer to digital competency:
"Digital competence is increasingly fundamental to learning and life and that it should have similar status within the curriculum to that of literacy and numeracy." (pg. 40)
"The Review therefore recommends that literacy, numeracy and digital competence should be Cross-curriculum Responsibilities for all teachers and people who work with children and young people." (pg. 40)
"The ability to use digital technology skills creatively is an increasingly common feature of the modern workplace, for example for developing simulated models that test out ideas safely and inexpensively or when using complex medical equipment that needs to be reprogrammed to match the patient’s individual needs." (Pg. 41)
"A digital competence progression framework and an accompanying ‘Routes to Learning Digital Competence’ would need to be developed, taking account of the recommendations of the ICT report. Different aspects would be included and highlighted within the most relevant Areas of Learning and Experience, for example within Languages, literacy and communication for aspects relating to language and communication, and Science and technology for scientific interfacing, data handling and process design." (Pg. 41)
The actual recommendations are:
6. Children and young people should have their learning developed across the curriculum through three Cross-curriculum Responsibilities that should be the responsibility of all teachers: literacy; numeracy; and digital competence
7. A digital competence framework and an accompanying ‘Routes to Learning Digital Competence’ should be developed and be included as a Cross-curriculum Responsibility. 

Computer Science
Interestingly I can't see a reference to the word Computing being used instead of ICT, which was one of the recommendations of the ICT Steering Group. Under the new Area of Learning and Experience called 'Science and Technology' we are introduced to 'computer science' only:
"(T)he introduction of computer science – spanning, for example, the kinds of thinking skills used in computation (including analysis, use of algorithms and problem solving), design and modelling, and developing, implementing and testing digital solutions." (Pg. 51)
"The Science and technology Area of Learning and Experience will draw on physics, chemistry and biology, engineering, design technology (food, textiles, resistant materials), craft, design, graphics and, importantly, computer science.." (Pg. 51)
So distilling the information from above into something my brain can handle, here's my simple basic interpretation:
- a new Digital Competency Framework that should be the cross curriculum responsibility of all teachers, and have similar status within the curriculum to that of literacy and numeracy
- computer science would sit in the new Area of Learning and Experience called Science and Technology.

Initial Thoughts and Comments
I'm going to need far more time to read thoroughly through this report to get to grips with everything Prof. Donaldson has proposed, but there are some initial questions and thoughts that come to mind:

- This is certainly a far reaching report and if fully accepted, in my opinion would fundamentally change education in Wales for the better, especially in the use of digital technologies.
- Teacher CPD will need to be addressed. The Digital Competency Framework will now place emphasis on all teachers applying digital skills across all curriculum areas. For example, databases, spreadsheets, modelling and simulation have long been problem areas, as reported by Estyn. Something will need to be done to improve skills and confidence in these areas (and others), and also by providing help in spotting the appropriate opportunities to apply the skills in the curriculum. 
- Teacher CPD to support computer science. England brought in computer science elements into their new Computing PoS in September 2014 and there have been several reports saying that many of the schools are not confident in effectively teaching this aspect.
- Are there enough available digital technologies in some schools to support the Digital Competency Framework? For instance, if a primary school of about 220 pupils has a set of 15 laptops and a small number of slate/tablet devices, can they effectively support the framework if teachers only have access to them for possibly half a day a week? 
- Where do the digital skills get taught? This is possibly more an issue in the secondary phase. Is there a digital skills session that teaches a particular skill and then applied via the framework in a subject area? Or is the subject area ie. history, expected to teach that ICT skill (every teacher being a teacher of Digital Competency, Literacy and Numeracy)? Back to my first comment about teacher CPD needs. 
- What are those digital competency knowledge, skills and attributes that we want to develop? Basic functional skills; effective searching; online collaboration and sharing; finding and analysing data; creating and communicating information; safe, responsible and respectful use of the internet technologies? A lot to 'unpack' there.

All questions and thoughts (and I'm sure there will be an awful lot more) to throw into 'the great debate'. I can't wait, exciting times ahead :-) 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Alignment of Reports

Last Tuesday (17th February) a House of Lords Digital Skills Committee produced their report titled "Make or Break: The UK's Digital Future". The report is a call for action to the new incoming Government in May 2015 in the following areas:

  • The economy - millions of jobs are at risk of automation
  • Skills - the UK population needs to learn the right skills for the future
  • Schools - make digital literacy a third core subject
  • Inclusion - realise the benefits of universal digital access
  • Women - realise the economic potential of more women in digital careers

I haven't been through all the 144 pages of the full report yet, but I have had a chance to go through the summary of conclusions and recommendations of the committee, and it does provide plenty of food for thought for those involved in education and for the whole of society.

The thrust of the report is that digital technologies permeate all areas of our lives and that the "UK cannot afford to miss the opportunity or shirk the challenges it presents." Digital skills are often referred to and are described as the "life skills" that are "needed to interact with digital technologies." The statement that caught my attention however was this:
"We must aspire for the vast majority of the population to achieve the level of digital literacy needed to fully participate in society.
In my opinion, a significant aspiration, and one that schools will obviously play a leading role in supporting. So, what does it say that schools should be doing to help to realise this aspiration?  The report lays out a UK Digital Agenda, which they would like to new incoming Government to comment on and to commit to designing its own. Objective 4 relates directly to schools and teachers.
55. Objective 4: No child leaves the the education system without basic numeracy, literacy and digital literacy.
56. As part of this:
a. digital literacy is taught as a core subject alongside numeracy and literacy, embedded across all subjects and throughout the curriculum;
b. more focus is placed on building links with employers (including somebody from industry on the governing body of every school); and
c. delivery of the new computing curriculum is seen as a priority. In particular more investment in training new teachers and speed and urgency to train existing teachers involving the third sector and industry.
Reflecting on this from a Welsh education perspective, this all seems to agree very much with the recommendations found in ICT Steering Group Report, which reported towards the end of 2013. In it recommendation 3 called for the statutory implementation of a digital literacy framework that would work alongside the current literacy and numeracy frameworks. Concerning links with employers, recommendation 7 called for the engagement and collaboration between education and industry that should be an integral part of the curriculum to embed current practices and skills. Finally, with regards to a new Computing curriculum, the ICT Steering Group Report recommended a new subject called Computing being created to replace ICT, disaggregated into the two areas of Computer Science and Information Technology (recommendation 1). Alongside this, recommendation 9 suggested a programme of training and professional development to enable the new Computing curriculum being accessible to new and existing teachers. Therefore it is clear that there is a very strong alignment between the two reports in their proposals for education.

It'll be interesting to see what Professor Graham Donaldson says in his comprehensive review of the curriculum and assessment in Wales, which is due to be published shortly. Will he take on board what has been recommended by the ICT Steering Group, and now by the House of Lords Committee, or will Wales be travelling in a different direction?