Introduction

To this date, the European framework DigCompEdu (Ferrari, 2013; Redecker, 2017) is arguably the most comprehensive and well-researched policy effort to identify digital competencies for education. What makes the framework especially valuable for Higher Education is its emphasis on professional engagement as well as the integration of learner and teacher perspectives (Aagaard & Lund, 2020), emphasising the construction of knowledge, the adequacy of assessment methods and promoting an active learning approach. To this extent, DigCompEdu has developed 22 of so-called ‘elementary competencies’, which are organised in six domains. In addition, the model defines corresponding developmental trajectories, such as, for example, the journey from newcomer to explorer, from expert to digital leader (see graphic below). For a deeper insight on how DigCompEdu relates to other well-known frameworks to meet 21st century challenges, I recommend the recent publication by Caena and Redecker (2019).

The model is set out as an ambitious guideline to inform national institutions to implement high-quality educational programs to foster digital competence. In order to avoid misunderstandings in applying such frameworks, this brief blog entry highlights pragmatic aspects on how to understand and implement DigCompEdu.


The relation between guidelines and norms

The delicate issue with proposing transnational frameworks lies in the challenge to find common standards, but not to prescribe policies. The constituting motivation to use transnational frameworks lies in the internationalisation of standards, the intention to cooperate with other European institutions of higher learning and to align educational programs in terms of academic quality. It is understood that local and national contexts and norms, by their very nature, vary and diverge.

The Council of Europe correspondingly concludes that there is no single definition of digital citizenship. It is argued, that in multilingual and multicultural world frameworks are necessarily descriptive rather than prescriptive. Digital citizen rights are understood as dealing with values that differ from one place to another. However, it is concluded that “While there is no single definition of digital citizenship, there is an emerging consensus around the idea that digital citizenship in an educational context is a transversal dimension that involves the values, skills, attitudes, knowledge and critical understanding which citizens require in the digital era.“(Council of Europe, 2017, p. 23).

Governing institutions, taking on the role of policy developers, deal with the ethics and standards of a policy framework, the funding and evaluation as well as facilitating training and providing appropriate resources. Frau-Meigs, Velez and Flores (2017) call this the ‘developing model’ which is rooted in meaning and values and deals with the levels of engagement and empowerment of social actors (Council of Europe, 2017, p.32). Since the congruence between transnational guidelines and national norms are mutually developed and agreed upon, they are based on democratic consensus. It is vital for sustainable success that guidelines are implemented in cooperation with all relevant social actors as multi-stakeholder initiatives and are not imposed top-down. Such an attempt would violate the spirit of frameworks which are designed to empower and engage social actors, not to restrict them, their creativity or hinder their responsibility to provide for local and regional educational needs.

In this respect, DigCompEdu is a hybrid construct that (a) integrates existing competency networks and (b) opens up to new input by inviting international expert stakeholder to refine, correct and validate the existing conceptual models (Caena & Redecker, p. 362). The overarching idea of DigCompEdu is therefore not a narrowing standardisation into a one-size-fits-all model, but to empower a plethora of culturally diverse life-worlds while professionalising their social actors with competencies to participate and cooperate within a fast-evolving technological environment.


On the ground level: Mapping GLOs and SLOs

On the level of local schools and universities, the central problem is how to translate the general, more abstract guidelines and how to implement them in a local context. How can we translate the universal recommendations of DigCompEdu on macro-level into contextualised and pedagogically-informed learning activities on micro-level?

A transparent and workable solution is to differentiate between general learning outcomes (GLOs) and specific learning outcomes (SLOs). For example, the idea of using information responsibly in the cluster of media literacy could translate, in situ, into workshops for aspiring young journalists of the local online school newspaper. Indeed, almost all individual and social activities can be mapped to competencies and their level of digital proficiency in DigCompEdu as long as they involve digital media and/ or data. Further examples are the analysis of training data from sports or the local institutionalisation of responsible discourse practices between learners and faculty. To practice media literacy, my students (all preschool teachers) created educational exercises on the problem of ‘fake news’ for learners of different age groups.

It is the subsequent task of academic quality developers at schools and universities to develop, supervise, and streamline the implementation of competencies as well as to share best practices. The mapping of GLOs and SLOs can serve as a transparent approach to validate, audit and peer review the implementation of standards.


Adding digital system design and digital policy-making competencies in Higher Ed

When I discussed DigCompEdu as well as the educational mission statement (Bildungsauftrag) of the federal states of Germany with students, many issues arose that appeared neither covered by DigCompEdu nor by the federal educational mission statements.

Among the topics were, e.g., persisting gender inequality in STEM subjects and IT-related jobs, the distortion of public and political discourse by filter bubbles and the loss of the public sphere (Habermas), including fake news, conspiracy theories and political propaganda, the failing of schools and parents in the socialisation of their children in the context of a media-influenced childhood, the emergence of a digital feudal society (featuring Google, Apple, Facebook, Alibaba and Amazon as our digital overlords), or the challenge by the world’s first ‘digital dictatorship’ in China (Foreign Correspondent, 2018) – all of which are social and societal phenomena of profound impact.

The competencies described in DigCompEdu appear to address the competency development at primary and secondary school levels whereby issues of human rights, civil rights, privacy rights, children’s and women’s rights, minority rights, consumer rights (contrasted against a background of social and political justice) represent topics for students in higher education.

A comprehensive description of this advanced cluster of digital challenges could be labelled as ‘competencies for system design and policy making‘, entailing the competencies required to design, co-create, test, evaluate, analyse, critique, manage, develop, amend (or discontinue, if necessary) systems and policies. My suggestion is to handle the competencies listed in DigCompEdu for the primary and secondary school level while adding ‘system design and policy making competencies’ for higher ed. This notion is echoed in systematic reviews. Petterson (2018) e.g., writes that “It can be concluded that digital competence might not benefit from being regarded as an isolated phenomenon on the level of single actors.” (Pettersson, p. 1005).

Some example topics for complex meta-competencies are, e.g., Smart City Development, Digital Governance & Government, Digital Rights, Public Cybersecurity, Advanced and sustainable manufacturing, Technology Assessment, Digital Discourse Analysis, Digital Technology & Healthcare, Digital Business & Marketing, Sustainable Eco Systems Management etc.

Transnational frameworks are open to specific local adaptation. Education developers should not regard DigCompEdu as a normative rulebook, which it is not. New creative and innovative projects can build on DigCompEdu. It also becomes clear, that meta-competences are currently not part of the overall concept. It is argued that, given the new realities of society 4.0, such overarching competencies need to be included in future drafts (Illustration by the author).

Digital competence, meta-competence and the question of mandatory digital education

A highly relevant example for competences evolving on system level are the competences needed to design and manage digital learning environments (LMS/ VLE). Such complex abilities stretch beyond the current DigCompEdu-clusters, be it ‘organisational communication’ or ‘digital CPD’. They could, in theory, be included in the competence clusters of ‘professional collaboration’ (1.2 in DigCompEdu). However, since such capabilities extend to the design of Digital Resources (cluster 2), Teaching and Learning (cluster 3), Assessment (cluster 4) as well as Empowering Learners (cluster 5), such ‘system design and policy making competences‘ would be better framed as a separate level of superimposed, higher-order meta-competency.

Meta-competencies are competences on system level that are required to facilitate the acquisition of all other social and personal competencies as currently defined in DigCompEdu (see graphic below). Since systems require internal regulation by policy and practice, system- and policy-design competences belong together. Or as Caena and Redecker write “It is teachers’ responsibility to set up environments and opportunities for deep learning experiences that can uncover and boost pupils’ capacities. Teachers are called on to be activators of meaningful learning, not just facilitators, being creative in choosing from a wide palette of strategies to be mixed and adjusted to context and learner. ” (Caena & Redecker, p. 357) Learning happens from the inside-out (by teachers in their role as activators) and from the outside-in (teachers in their role as social facilitators and designers of Blended Learning environments).

The DigCompEdu digital competence framework (Redecker, 2017)

Regarding the question of providing a comprehensive digital foundation for all learners, I do agree with my students that new mandatory subjects need to be offered at all school levels, assisting young learners to deal with the complexities and ubiquitous nature of the digital world. Without extraordinary efforts to develop digital competencies, many learners will struggle connecting to society and economy 4.0. Others may attempt to exercise digital competencies on a personal level but will ultimately fail (a) once they find themselves trapped in monopolised data markets whose dynamics are based on the exclusion of personal digital autonomy and sovereignty (Pasquale, 2016) or (b) once they start working in educational settings that do not support digital cooperation backed by people-centered design policies. If learners do not acquire a solid foundation in socio-digital competencies at school, it is most likely they will passively live on a digital surface that others have created for them. To a significant extent, this has already happened (see Darhos & Braithwhite, 2017; Hindman, 2018).


The key-role of transfer skills

A philosophical argument regarding the epistemological conundrum of digital progress has been put forward by Felix Stalder, who mentions the ‘doubled hermeneutics’, in German ‘doppelte Hermeneutik’ (Stalder, 2018) of digital culture: social sciences are creating the very conditions they are set out to investigate and measure.

This insight has several consequences. The first realisation is, that there is no such thing like an ‘objective’ reality that can or should be measured independently from observers by traditional means (e.g., what do we mean by academic achievement?). Since we create technology for the very world we live in, technology needs to be evaluated by the merits of its social, political, economic and ecological effects. Technology does not exist independently of social context. A comprehensive measure of individual growth and social development is, in this light, the congruence or dissonance between desired outcomes and de facto results, rather than the empirical description of a (however framed) status quo.

Scientific validity proves in the ability to reproduce defined results, given a testable hypothesis under an empirical study design. The strength of international frameworks such as DigCompEdu derives from the understanding that we are interested in meta-contextual transfer competencies. We are interested in how learners are capable to apply digital competencies across contexts and situations, otherwise there would be no need for a European or in fact any other international or global framework. Transnational frameworks imply the ubiquitous validity and function of competencies. In practice, this means that we have to ensure that learners are capable of applying these competencies across contexts, varying situations, different problem settings, applications and divergent teams (e.g., via case studies and case simulations) – supporting a constructivist paradigm of applied science.

Project Affiliation: I worked as an invited expert in a workgroup of the EU-Commission’s Joint Research Center (Seville) in 2017 for the development of the DigCompEdu self-assessment tool (see the EU Science Hub). At the University of Oldenburg’s Medienfaktur, we currently use DigCompEdu as our official framework for the development of digital competences.

Literature

Aagaard, T., & Lund, A. (2020). Digital agency in higher education: Transforming teaching and learning. New York, NY: Routledge

Caena, F. & Redecker, C. (2019). Aligning teacher competence frameworks to 21st century challenges: The case for the European Digital Competence Framework for Educators (Digcompedu). European Journal of Education. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1111/ejed.12345

Council of Europe (2017) DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION Volume 1. Overview and new perspectives. Retrieved from https://rm.coe.int/prems-187117-gbr-2511-digital-citizenship-literature-review-8432-web-1/168077bc6a

Drahos, P., & Braithwaite, J. (2017). Information feudalism: Who owns the knowledge economy? London : Routledge

Ferrari, A. (2013). DigComp: a framework for developing and understanding digital competence in Europe, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

Foreign Correspondent (2018). Leave no dark corner. Retrieved from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-18/china-social-credit-a-model-citizen-in-a-digital-dictatorship/1020027

Frau-Meigs D., Velez I. & Flores J. (eds) (2017), European public policies on media and information literacies in comparative perspective. Abingdon: Routledge.

Hindman, M. (2018). The internet trap: How the digital economy builds monopolies and undermines democracy. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press

Pasquale, F. (2016). The black box society: The secret algorithms behind money and information. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Pettersson, F. (2017). On the issues of digital competence in educational contexts – a review of literature. Education and Information Technologies, Vol. 23, Issue 3, pp 1005–1021

Redecker, C. (2017). European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators: DigCompEdu. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/publication/eur-scientific-and-technical-research-reports/european-framework-digital-competence-educators-digcompedu

Stalder, F. (2018). HERAUSFORDERUNGEN DER DIGITALITÄT JENSEITS DER TECHNOLOGIE. Retrieved from https://hochschulforumdigitalisierung.de/de/blog/herausforderungen-der-digitalitaet-jenseits-der-technologie-felix-stalder


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