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.