TEACHERS AND SCHOOL LEADERS IN THE DIGITAL AGE: BEYOND TECHNICAL TOOLS
The years 2020 and 2021 will be remembered. These are the years marked by the COVID19 pandemic, which had an impact on our way of life on many levels. One of the sectors deeply affected by it, due to the peculiarity of its nature, is education. All of a sudden, learners around the world could not go gather in classrooms and an alternative needed to be founded to assure, at the very least, teaching continuity. The outcomes of this process vary a lot, but at the core of it there are digital technologies that enable the students to “participate remotely”. Digitalization and digital tools were in the focus of education strategies and approaches even before this turning point, but they became even more central with the pandemic outburst.
It is not a coincidence that the European Education Policy Network (EEPN) – an initiative of relevant organizations supporting the European Commission’s policy work on teachers and school leaders – dedicated its 2020 research to the theme of digitalization, having in mind the theoretical premise that technology is not a neutral medium: «The digital technical tools are more than tools, they change our behavior», stated Peter Kelly, EEPN research coordinator and associate professor at Plymouth University, UK.
Changes in behavior and practices can be challenging, but they also have a great potential, and the EEPN network approached the topic from different perspectives that resulted in five papers, comprised of a conceptual framework and policy and practice examples: Digital technical tools, skills and competences supporting teaching and learning; Collaborative learning and collaborative school leadership in the digital age; Entrepreneurial skills and competences in learning, teaching and school leadership in the digital age; Communication, literacies, multilingual and critical thinking skills and competences for teaching and learning in the digital age; Active citizenship skills and active digital citizenship skills in teaching and learning in the digital age.
Digital tools supporting education, digital collaborative learning and entrepreneurial skills for teachers and school leaders in the digital age
The research underlines the uses that help enhance student learning that include, among other, «the access and learning support for isolated students and those with special educational needs and disabilities, models and simulations that can support concept or skills development or knowledge application, individualized instruction programs that respond to ongoing formative assessments of student performance and resources that allow interactive explorations, including those providing feedback».
The digital tools can also improve collaboration in learning (sharing of the same learning objectives). «Digital tools may, for instance, equalize – the research reports – the opportunities for the students to actively participate in the collaborative learning, provide a platform for knowledge creation and idea improvement, provide an opportunity for the students to link physical world with the digital world, and make the studies more meaningful and engaging». In the digital era, the role of teachers and school leaders shift, especially in time of crisis and school closure. And here is where entrepreneurial skills, indented as personal development, creativity, self-efficacy, resilience, taking initiative, and action orientation, come into play to meet the flexibility required by unforeseen and new and mutating circumstances. As stated in the dedicated paper, «the case study analysis shows that given the necessary orientation, support and tools, teachers take on new roles enterprising with curricula, introduce the development of entrepreneurial spirit in all levels and areas of education. Supporting them with tools raising the entrepreneurial spirit has also shown better results in specially challenging contexts such as rural or disadvantaged schools».
Communication and citizenship in the digital world
The pervasiveness of digitalization has a deep impact on the way we communicate and we act in the world. Educational settings are no exception. One of the many implications brought by this revolution to the field is that «the current mix of online and offline communication, accompanied by a more and more wide-spread multicultural reality, makes it necessary for education professionals to adapt their communication to a variety of socio-cultural contexts» and that, in this context, «the code needs to be adjusted to the needs of the learner as well as to those of the co-educators and the community», with the teacher more in the role of a “facilitator” rather than a “controller” of the process.
School should prepare for life and, as citizenship, community and participation are changing due to technology and digitalization, the education system cannot avoid taking it into account. «Information related to how we engage and exist online, it comprises of three digital domains: access and inclusion, learning and creativity and media and information literacy – explains the paper -. The first step to be an active digital citizen is to have access, basic skills and knowledge to use the tools and resources that allow effective participation» and the education system is one of the privileged contexts where those resources should be acquired and practiced – the research concluded.
A way forward
The analysis of the EEPN project aims to offer a basis for policy development and implementation at different governance levels and inform the work of the European Commission on the new roles and competences required of teachers and school leaders in the digital age for inclusive quality education in all European Union Member States. On the ground of the gathered evidences, the network will outline policy recommendations that will be published in June-July 2021.
All papers are available on EEPN website at this link.