Digital transitions pervade every aspect of our lives, but some university teachers still appear reluctant to develop their digital competences. For Barbara Bruschi and Manuela Repetto, it is urgent to rethink teaching practices and methods.
University teachers must acquire effective digital competences to improve the quality of their courses and student learning. But starting from this key assumption, the concept of digital competence requires much deeper reflection.
Since the outset of the Covid-19 crisis, almost all university teachers have acquired more digital skills, such as delivering online lessons through a videoconferencing system or uploading learning resources to a learning management system. This is already remarkable progress. Nevertheless, we cannot consider that with this we have now reached a satisfactory - or final - destination.
Becoming digitally fluent is not sufficient if technologies are not integrated in a pedagogical manner. Neither should teachers be satisfied with merely becoming digitally literate and using media and channels that their students are comfortable with. Instead, each university teacher, according to their own sense of responsibility and foresight, should consider technology-enhanced learning as a great opportunity for their students – and develop a vision of how technology can be used in teaching. For each teacher, this vision should encompass a reflection on how to innovate in teaching their discipline, as well as their methods and tools used to teach. In the same way that teachers update contents from their discipline and upgrade their courses every year, they should ponder whether their teaching methods are adequate, which pedagogical approaches inspire their teaching methods, and the meaningfulness of learning processes and outcomes.
In general, universities represent the final stage of formal education before students will enter in the world of work. This world is increasingly characterised by uncertainty and continuous transformation. In this scenario, teachers have individual accountability - towards their institutions, as well as a collective responsibility - as part of the academic community - to adequately prepare students for their future workplace. University teachers have a unique characteristic that distinguishes them from teachers in other educational sectors: the dual role that they play, as both researchers and teachers, is part of their DNA. These two roles don’t act separately, they are intertwined: research can be useful for teaching and can inform it. The discipline taught by a university teacher usually reflects the subject area of their research. Thus, university teachers also teach the state-of-art of research in their field.
Furthermore, the way that researchers think allows them to adopt a scientific approach, which could be integrated into and elevate their teaching. As in any research project, the design and delivery of an effective course involves a needs analysis, planning of adequate teaching activities - also supported by technology, adoption of reliable methods to deliver the course, building an engaging learning environment and developing tools to rigorously monitor and assess students’ learning outcomes. Universities play a pivotal role in the promotion of this mindset among their teachers and in the creation of a culture that bridges teaching and research. For these reasons, developing digital competence is just a first step towards innovation.
Note: In March 2023, EUA published the report “Digitally competent teachers,” which summarises the findings of the related 2022 Learning & Teaching Thematic Peer Group.
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All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.