Teaching online

Switching to digital: teachers take centre stage

Teachers took centre stage at this Wednesday’s LearningConnects Facebook Live. Indeed, it is important to acknowledge their vital contribution to society, in general, but, especially, over the past 12 months where their ability to make the Covid pivot by switching to digital solutions and virtual classrooms proved remarkable. Shorter than usual, the event’s condensed format allowed for an in-depth, meaningful discussion with Julian Stanley, the ETF’s education expert in vocational education and teacher development. He presented findings from the pilot study of a needs’ analysis tool for digital competences in teachers conducted in five South Eastern European countries: Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. The ETF’s Daria Santucci guided the discussion making sure to recognise the event’s global reach with participants from Palestine, Jordan and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. This special edition of LearningConnects devoted to how teachers have been coping in these digital and pandemic times is part of the ETF’s March communications campaign on digital skills.

The purpose behind this digital skills assessment tool and the pilot study

The purpose to this Digital Needs Analysis Tool for Teachers or DNATT is to analyse and identify teachers’ training and development needs. It is based on six self-assessment areas: professional engagement (area 1), digital resources (area 2), teaching and learning (area 3), assessment (area 4), empowering learners (area 5) and facilitating learner digital competence (area 6). As Stanley stated, this tool is all about ‘getting better information into the hands of the right people – the people who can do something about it’. Teachers’ training needs are often analysed, but Stanley insists that ‘this analysis is not well-used’. DNATT aims to change that. Piloted successfully in Southeast Europe, this tool can be deployed anywhere in the world. If used correctly, DNATT can add value to educational systems by generating a greater understanding of overall teacher training needs as opposed to allowing this information to reside solely with individual teachers.

Who participated in this pilot study and what were the findings?

According to Stanley, 3,000 teachers in 123 general and vocational schools, representing 10% of the work force, took part in the DNATT pilot study. These impressive figures gave rise to surprising observations regarding digital skills needs. First of all, there were no major discrepancies among teachers working in general and vocational education. Teacher training needs appear to be distributed fairly evenly between academic schools and vocational schools. However, in some countries, differences in training needs were identified between schools in urban settings and schools in more remote or rural settings. By and large, though, the pandemic accelerated digital transformation among teachers across the board, forcing them to adapt quickly to the changing environmental and educational context.

More specifically, over the past year, teachers have adopted digital technologies that enable them to communicate with students outside the traditional classroom. For example, the study found that 60% of the 3,000 teachers surveyed used virtual classroom technologies frequently, at least once every three days. Social media and text messages were also exploited for educational purposes. Access issues did play a role in the extent to which teachers could take advantage of digital technologies. In Albania, for example, the uptake of synchronous video was not as prevalent as it was in other countries due to internet availability and issues related to bandwidth. This said, the pandemic and the resulting lockdown compelled the delivery of relevant digital training to teachers, which, in turn, led to an increased positive perception of their digital skills.

The study showed that teachers rated themselves highly in terms of their professional engagement (area 1) and in their ability to facilitate learner digital competence (area 6). The study also found that teachers identified weaknesses in their ability to empower students to learn independently (area 5) and in their ability to use digital tools for assessment purposes (area 4). If used appropriately, the data gathered can contribute to laying a foundation for digital training programmes that will empower educational ecosystems to face the future with confidence. Indeed, moving forward requires all actors at all levels of the ecosystem to be involved, e.g., parents, students, educators, administrators and policy makers. In the words of Stanley, ‘let’s make this survey a basis for change’.

Meeting skills needs and filling skills gaps when resources are limited

With limited resources and time constraints, delivering the best training development involves peer learning and targeted CPD or continuous professional development. This training should take into account the fact that teachers have different levels of capability in different areas. A one-size-fits-all approach to CPD is not effective. Capitalising on the existing digital skills among teaching colleagues can lead to positive learning outcomes. Peer learning often occurs spontaneously, but if it is incentivised and if formal recognition is afforded to those who participate, the entire educational ecosystem will benefit. As Stanley puts it, ‘teachers will feel much more encouraged in their learning and it will be less of a lonely struggle’. Moreover, when schools decide on a digital strategy and determine their priorities according to their specific needs, more progress can be achieved. Involving the community and families is equally important. For example, parents also need support in acquiring the digital skills necessary to help children with online learning.

Currently, these recommendations are non-binding since policy has not yet caught up with the rapid digital transformation brought on by the pandemic. In any case, the laudable initiatives taken by teachers and schools to face learning challenges guarantee that the future of teaching is digital, and that blended learning is here to stay with teachers leading the way.


More information on Pilot of Needs Analysis Tool for Digital Competences 2020 can be found here.

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