In general, the current epoch suggests us to consider novel and more complex approaches to learning and implementing the student-centred and digitally supported learning practices. This has also been incentivized by the Declarations issued in Bologna and Berlin (Brauer, 2020). For instance, several studies have concluded that effective integration of advanced digital technologies push teaching and learning towards the constructivist pedagogical paradigm and student-centred practices (Becker, 2000; Becker, 2001; Becker & Ravitz, 1999; Dexter, Anderson, & Becker, 1999; Matzen & Edmunds, 2007; Palak & Walls, 2009; Ravitz, Becker, & Wong, 2000). Moreover, educational provisions in VET are often already based on student-centred practices by nature. Still, these interactive, student-centred teaching strategies for learning require critical and constructive evaluation in order to move towards better implementations. The provided projects and experiments can help us with the review.
DigCompEdu — Examples of Applications from Europe
DigCompEdu has already been or will be integrated in training courses and guidelines for teachers in many European countries, for example in Germany, Portugal, Croatia and Spain (Caena & Redecker, 2019). It is expected that in the upcoming years, more guidance documents will refer to this extensive set of pan-European recommendations. Competence frameworks are often primarily targeted in national, regional, local authorities and stakeholders who are responsible for designing and implementation of guidelines, practices, and curricula (Caena & Redecker, 2019). DigCompEdu has already proved its worth in practice as a valuable tool. It serves teachers in daily work, empowering them as developers of their own work. In the following chapter we aim to discuss some examples of previous development initiatives and already established practices.
The Importance of Digital Skills in the Lives of Young People
Related to the digital skills of youth (12-17-year-olds), the ySKILLS project reported on a research on experts in the educational sector and the labour market conducted in six European countries: Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Poland and Portugal (Donoso et al. 2020). The report discussed the skills that youth need in the 21st century and the role of digital skills education in formal, informal and non-formal learning settings. The interviews (n=34) were carried out in April and May 2020. The key findings showed that the provision of programmes, tools and resources to support the development of digital skills varies greatly across and within countries.
Indiduals’ access to skills development differs greatly depending on a wide range of factors including individual (e.g., age or gender), socio-economic (e.g., having or lacking access to internet at home or to high quality education), political (e.g., local, or national policies to promote the development of digital skills) and even geographical factors (e.g., poor connectivity due to one’s location). In addition, educational and labour market experts had the common idea that the development of digital skills and the promotion of digital literacy is not a task that only concerns the formal educational system, e.g., the importance of working collaboratively across different sectors should be recognised. Another interesting finding from this research was that different experts seemed to share a similar understanding and considered the same set of basic skills as particularly important for young people to acquire. That comprised aspects as varied as operational skills, critical literacy and even an ethical dimension.
Furthermore, based on the DigComp 2.0 aspects the great majority of experts considered the top-5 digital skills for children to possess: the Capacity to Evaluate data, Information and Digital content, Browsing, Searching and Filtering data, Information and Digital content, Collaborating and Interacting through digital technologies, Managing digital identity, and Engaging in citizenship through digital technologies (Donoso et al., 2020). In general, the experts from different countries and across different sectors agreed that digital skills and digital literacy will continue to occupy an increasingly important role in people’s lives and especially in working life. In the near future, digital technologies will be used for work, but also to perform a wider range of everyday activities (e.g., communication, online shopping, e-government, e-health, leisure, etc.). In addition, the experts agreed that the workforce in their country was not sufficiently digitally skilled, and there also can be strong differences within countries and across different (economic) sectors. This concerns not only young people but also adults, especially the elderly (Donoso et al., 2020).
The Check-In questionnaire as a Tool to Measure Digital Competence
Lucas, Dorotea & Piedades’ study (2021) analyzes the contribution of in-service training to the development of the digital competence level of a group of teachers in Portugal. The study used DigCompEdu as a guiding document and the self-assessment tool developed from this framework, the Check-In questionnaire, to measure improvement pre- and post-training. The Check-In tool provides a statement for each of the 22 competences proposed in DigCompEdu (Lucas et al., 2021). Each of these statements present five response options and teachers select the one that best reflects their practice. The total score is mapped according to the six proficiency levels in DigCompEdu.
Three in-service training actions were offered to the development of the digital competence for a selected group of teachers. Teachers with low digital competence level were selected to the study and the areas most in need of training were identified. Those areas from DigCompEdu were Digital Resources, Teaching and Learning, and Evaluation. Training sessions included face-to-face teaching and guidance, and a Facebook group was also created to enable exchange of information, experiences and to ask questions. Each session was led by two trainers, with experience in in-service training for pedagogical use of digital technologies assisted by a teacher from the school cluster where the training was held. The sessions focused on practice and had a strong emphasis on applicability in the classroom context. After training sessions and new assessment, the results showed that competence level increased in all areas and competences worked (Lucas, Dorotea & Piedade, 2021).
Previous SELFIE Studies
The European Commission gathered information about the use of digital technologies in upper secondary VET institutions in countries that have signed the Convention on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2021). According to aggregated data from SELFIE users, VET teachers in upper secondary education use digital technologies slightly more than general education teachers (see SELFIE explained in more details in Chapter 5). However, not all VET teachers use digital technologies in their teaching (estimated at 34%), and a large proportion of them do not use them as a tool to improve the quality of their teaching. For instance, 66 % of VET teachers incorporate digital technologies in their daily practice to engage students during their lessons, and an almost similar share use it to assist student in developing their soft skills, by fostering creativity (64 %) or by facilitating collaboration (58 %), or to tailor their teaching to students’ needs (62 %). Moreover, only 56 % of VET teachers use digital technologies for assessment purposes, or as part of cross-curricular projects (52 %). The results also showed significant age-related differences, with younger VET teachers more active to use digital tools and resources in their teaching than older peers.
Based on the evidence collected by OECD (2021), the reason why many VET teachers don’t apply and build upon the digital skills and competences is that they gained included lack of confidence and negative attitudes to change, or they do not feel confident enough to use digital technologies. Furthermore, according to SELFIE data, around 25 % of upper secondary VET teachers reported lacking confidence in their abilities to use digital technologies for classroom teaching or for providing feedback to students. This percentage varied across countries (e.g. 45 % of Slovenian VET teachers) and VET teacher age profiles (e.g. 47 % of those aged 60+ compared to 24 % of those aged 30 to 39). For example, around 82 % of VET teachers aged 30 to 39 feel confident preparing lessons using digital technologies, and 76 % of them feel confident using technology in class teaching, whereas those figures reduce to 59 % and 53 % of VET respectively for VET teachers over 60 (OECD, 2021).
In summary, data from the SELFIE tool suggested that upper secondary VET teachers should get the support they need to integrate new technology into VET (OECD, 2021). Pedagogical innovations usually need systematic efforts from employers, and particularly VET leaders. For example, only 52 % of VET teachers reported having received support from school leaders for trying out new ways of teaching with digital technologies, and 45 % of teachers said that school leaders had discussed with them their professional development needs for teaching with digital technologies. Moreover, 51 % of teachers agreed that school leaders had supported them in sharing experiences within their school about teaching with digital technologies, and only 31 % of teachers reported having had time to explore how to improve their teaching with digital technologies. (OECD, 2021.)
Castaño-Muñoz, Weikert Garcia et al. (2021) examined the digital capacity of Spanish primary and secondary schools using the SELFIE tool. The data was collected in early 2020, just before the school closures in Spain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. SELFIE questionnaires collected views of school leaders, teachers and students on eight different key areas of digital capacity: leadership, collaboration and networking, infrastructure and equipment, continuing professional development, supports and resources, implementation in the classroom, assessment practices, and student digital competence. The data was collected by SELFIE questionnaires in 492 schools in three educational levels, from altogether 26303 responses, consisting of school leaders (n=1721), teachers (n=7934), and students (n=16 648).
Castaño-Muñoz, Weikert Garcia et al. (2021) found out, in general, that the first steps of the digitalisation process have already been completed, therefore areas such as supportive uses of the internet for preparation of lessons and existence of basic infrastructure obtain high scores. The best-valued areas by school leaders and teachers were Supports and Resources and Infrastructure and Equipment. The areas related to leadership of the schools to promote digitalization and opportunities for continuous professional development in the use of digital technologies by teachers, also showed good results. For example, the existence of adequate infrastructure to be used for innovative teaching and learning in the school and the existence of internet connection were the items with higher scores. Although internet access was valued high in general, it was more valued by teachers and school leaders than by students. Moreover, regarding students’ digital competence, the study also revealed positive aspects: the development of responsible and safe use of technology was present at all education levels. On the other hand, there were two aspects that were less developed: the recognition of sources, and the ability to judge the quality of information found online.
The findings also showed that teachers can apply digital technologies by adapting the teaching process to students. However, it is interesting that the use of virtual learning environments has not been fully widespread. The findings brought up the concern of collaborative uses of digital technologies, or its application in innovative assessment procedures. The areas with lower averages, and therefore with more room for improvement by school leaders and teachers, were Assessment Practices and Collaboration and Networking. The data showed that Assessment Practices was the area with the lowest scores. This indicates that it is necessary to deepen the usefulness of digital technologies to facilitate a personalised and formative assessment that includes relevant and timely feedback. The most common practice was to use digital technologies to assess students’ skills. Similarly, the use of technology for peer assessment, that implies interaction between students, was shown as a particularly weak level.
Collaboration and Networking was one of the areas with lower scores and therefore with highest room for improvement. The use of digital technology for students’ collaboration obtained a low average score by teachers and school leaders. According to Castaño-Muñoz and Weikert Garcia et al. (2021), the low experience of digital technology can have a direct effect on remote learning situations when the use of technologies is very relevant for collaboration and the promotion of this type of activity can develop teamwork and self-regulation, skills that are very important in distance education. In addition, an exchange of experiences of schools with their community and environment would allow them to obtain more and better information on how to be up to date with the use of technology in education.
Castaño-Muñoz, Weikert Garcia et al. (2021) brought up the concern of continuous professional development (CPD) of teachers. The teachers had a worse perception than school leaders about the support received from the school to participate in CPD. The items referred to the perceived support to internal discussion about CPD needs and activities to exchange experiences with other teachers had lower scores. The sharing experiences has been detected as a key approach for effective integration of digital technologies and students’ digital competence development. According to teachers’ answers, the most useful CPD activities were, learning from the other teachers and in-house training sessions organised by the school.
The survey also included some additional questions. One of them was about the barriers that inhibit the use of digital technologies in the school. There was consensus with school leaders and teachers in all education levels that teachers’ lack of time was the most important barrier. It was followed by the lack of funding and the bad adequacy of the equipment in the school. In addition, school leaders identified teachers’ lack of digital competence was one of the biggest barriers. The lack of digital competence of students was not seen as a remarkable barrier in any education level.
The relationship between students’ digital competence acquisition, teaching practices, and teacher professional learning activities were relevant to both teachers and students. Castaño Muñoz, Vuorikari et al. (2021) found out in their study that the use of digital technologies for teacher collaboration can have great potential and importance, both for teachers and learners. They used data collected from SELFIE tool during the first year of its use (October 2018–July 2019) throughout Europe. In their study focus was on the responses of teachers (n=59452), as they constituted information about participation in professional learning and what happens in the classrooms in terms of teaching practices and students’ digital competence acquisition.
When examining the data, Castaño Muñoz, Vuorikari et al. (2021) noticed that all the proposed teaching practices using digital technologies, as well as ´tailoring teaching to the needs of students´ had a positive effect on students’ digital competence acquisition as perceived by teachers. The results also showed that the most related teaching practice to the acquisition of students’ digital competence was the use of digital technologies in implementing cross-curricular projects. Moreover, in order to obtain quality cross-curricular projects, there should be more teachers´ participation in professional networks. These findings suggested that the importance of teachers’ participating in professional learning activities that focus on the pedagogical use of digital technologies, as well as teacher networks that promote teacher collaboration, had proven useful.
The digital capacity of educational institutions through SELFIE has also been surveyed in Italy. Bocconi et al. (2020) conducted the research on the Italian general and vocational school leaders’, teachers’ and students’ perception of their school’s digital competence and different levels of use of digital technology. The data was collected between September and October 2017, from altogether 31 912 participants, consisting of school leaders (n=1 507), teachers (n=5690) and students (n=24 715) from 201 Italian schools.
The findings showed variance in the school leaders’, teachers’, and students’ perception of concerning the SELFIE areas (Leadership and Governance practices, Teaching and Learning practices, Professional Development, Assessment practices, Content and Curricula, Collaboration and Networking, and Infrastructure). Concerning the area of Teaching and Learning Practices, all the three actors felt very positive about it. For example, as many as 59 % of the school leaders and students perceived positively the use of digital technologies, respectively to actively involve students. In comparison, teachers´ perception of this aspect was more cautious (45%) than those of school leaders and students. Moreover, quite few teachers had positive perception involvement in the development of the school’s digital strategy (27 %). The school leaders had a positive impression about Professional Development. Most of them stated that their school provided strategies to promote in-house professional development opportunities (64 %) and external professional development opportunities (74 %) consistently.
All the three actors were critical about the Assessment Practices area (only 30 % of the school leaders, 32 % of the teachers, and 32 % of the students had positive responses). In particular, the existing differences emerged concerning using digital technologies for self- and peer-assessment (19 % School Leaders, 25 % Teachers, 32 % Students). However, even when the school leaders (29 %) and the teachers (36 %) were quite critical about the item Students use digital technologies to document their learning, 47 % of the students expressed that they use digital technologies to document their learning. Overall, 64 % of school leaders, teachers and students agreed that their school reached positive levels in fostering students’ learning to use information critically.
Bocconi et al. (2020) also found out in their research the differences among the three actors´ perceptions emerged concerning Infrastructure, Leadership and Governance, and Collaboration and Networking areas. For example, both school leaders and students agreed that their school reached positive levels in fostering students’ learning to behave safely and responsible (67 % School leaders, 65 % Students). Furthermore, there was variation in opinions regarding the use of virtual learning environments. 45 % of students and 32 % of school leaders expressed positive perspectives, but only 18 % of teachers considered the use of virtual learning environments consistently.
Concerning Leadership and Governance, it was especially the students, of whom 52 % expressed a positive perspective that teachers choose the technologies they need consistently (52 %), and digital technologies are used to make learning more effective (59 %). Regarding the participants’ responses, there were clear differences within the three actors concerning the area Collaboration and Networking. For example, regarding the item Teachers participate in professional online networks, teachers provided the 20 % of positive responses and school leaders provided the 36 % of positive responses. Concerning the other item Use of different communication tools within and beyond the school community, teachers provided the 54 % of positive responses, school leaders provided the 66 % of positive responses and students provided the 47 % of positive responses. (Bocconi et al. 2020.)
COVID-19 pandemic — The Challenging Catalyst for the Digitalisation in VET
COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges to learning in VET as well as in other levels of learning. One group that was facing challenges even before lock downs were VET students at risk, for example students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, migrants, and learners with disabilities and special education needs (Cedefop, 2020). Many vulnerable learners do not even have access to digital devices and/or web access at home. The crisis has shown that vulnerable learners are less likely to be involved in distance learning procedures which may eventually lead them to drop out from their VET programmes (Cedefop, 2020). According to Cedefop’s report (2020), ambassadors in seven European countries (Germany, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the UK) were determined that countries are aiming to ensure learning continuity for all VET learners and apprentices during COVID-19 pandemic.
The actions (Cedefop, 2020, p. 4) for that were:
- facilitating access to digital devices; internet connection; translating guidelines into different languages spoken by ethnic minorities and refugees, as well as hearing impaired students;
- providing individualised support and distance tutoring; developing learners’ digital skills;
- supporting VET teachers and trainers through online training modules on digital skills and e-learning pedagogies and by providing them with free digital devices.
These initiatives have been taken at different policy levels, some of them at national level and others at regional, local or institutional level.
Practical and work-based learning are crucial for the success of vocational education because they play a central role in the alignment between education (OECD, 2021) and VET institutions train many of those professions that formed the backbone of economic and social life during COVID-19 pandemic from the health sector to the retail sector (OECD, 2020). One big challenge that was brought up in the report was the continuation of the work-based component of VET programmes (Cedefop, 2020).
Practical aspects are harder to deliver effectively due to lack of access to tools, materials and/or equipment. During COVID-19 pandemic many companies were temporarily shut down, which made internships harder to continue for VET students. In all these seven countries, VET and apprenticeships were incorporating online platforms to facilitate learning and assessment. Some of them were also exploring options for innovative, digital pedagogical approaches such as simulators or augmented/virtual reality to train practical skills (Cedefop, 2020). These new innovative technologies can be used to facilitate school-based delivery of practical learning but in the longer term, also improve the effectiveness of face-to-face and online learning in VET (OECD, 2021).
For distance learning, VET teachers and trainers were facing challenges with access to equipment and internet connection but also lack of digital skills and competences to make use of platforms, lack of experience in creating digital teaching content as well as on e-learning and effective pedagogies on distance learning in VET (Cedefop, 2020). Teachers and trainers also brought up concerns over privacy issues, copyright, and data protection. While it is important to support teachers and trainers on developing digital pedagogical skills, their wellbeing should not be forgotten. Teachers and trainers have been struggling to meet the new demands to move into virtual classrooms and workplaces and come up with effective teaching methods online in such a short notice. Autonomy-supportive leadership in VET schools might have an important role in teacher and trainers’ wellbeing. When teachers perceive their leaders to be autonomy-supportive, they have reported greater capacity to navigate through common challenges at work (Collie, Bostwick & Martin, 2019). That is important also with navigating the challenges caused by COVID-19 pandemic. Autonomy-supportive leadership may include taking teachers and trainers’ input in the decision-making processes, understanding their needs and addressing the challenges in distance learning provision and retaining open dialogue (Cedefop, 2020).
ILO-UNESCO-World Bank Survey, for providers of initial and continuing technical and vocational education and training (TVET) policymakers and social partners from around the world, was conducted in spring 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey (ILO, 2021) collected data from 1353 respondents in 126 countries. As it has become clear, national lockdowns and TVET centres’ closures affected the continuity of TVET. Distance learning alternatives were exploited but, according to the survey, at that point they could not replace the quality of face-to-face classes and were especially affected in work-based learning and acquisition of practical skills. According to the survey results, leaders, trainers, and learners were not sufficiently prepared for a sudden transition to remote learning and were lacking the necessary skills and infrastructure needed in distance teaching and learning. In many countries, trainers and especially learners were facing challenges such as lack of access to the internet or the number of digital devices available. The lack of effective distance learning platforms and the quality of pedagogical resources to support remote instructions especially on a national scale were also hindering the transition to remote learning. Lack of staff capacity to support distance learning through quality pedagogical resources also came up in the survey: the ability to operate in online learning platforms efficiently and to develop pedagogical resources for remote teaching and learning purposes. Many countries reported difficulties in student engagement during remote learning but also lack of motivation of teachers and managers due to the heavier workload caused by sudden transition to distance learning. Most respondents also indicated that certifying exams and assessment were postponed or in some cases even cancelled. However, in some cases assessments were carried out virtually.
As well as Cedefop’s (2020) report from European countries, ILO-UNESCO-World Bank survey (2021) results show that the delivery of work-based learning, including apprenticeships, faced serious disruption during COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns. Even though these challenges and negative impacts are often highlighted, the crisis has also accelerated the transition towards the digitalization that was already underway. The importance of developing digital skills has become clear and efforts have been made to strengthen them. (ILO, 2021.) COVID-19 has brought some key challenges to light in VET but also underlined the benefits of the use of digital technologies in education (OECD, 2021). All in all, it seems that COVID-19 pandemic and school closures have worked as catalysts for the digitalisation process of schools (Cedefop, 2020). VET teachers and leaders had to be creative to ensure continuity of teaching during closures and they found alternative ways of teaching and learning using technology and provided alternative opportunities for practical learning at schools (OECD, 2020). For VET teachers it is important to have opportunities to keep their skills up to date with workplace activities and apply new technologies for teaching and learning (OECD, 2021).
Key Elements that Helped to Adapt in Challenges in Finland
A recent report by the International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (UNESCOUNEVOC, 2021) examined how TVET was organised in Finland during COVID-19 pandemic. During spring 2020 TVET institutions were closed, and face-to-face learning was disrupted. Overall TVET providers reported that transition to distance learning was successful even though it happened in a very tight schedule. According to The Finnish Association for the Development of Vocational Education and Training (AMKE, 2020) the staff and students adopted the increased use of digital and online solutions quickly and teachers supported each other by sharing advice and materials on online learning. The transition was easier for those TVET providers that had used more digital solutions also prior to COVID-19 pandemic. In Finland, digital skills have been emphasised by the Finnish National Agency for Education and TVET providers have been encouraged to develop digitalization strategies since 2010. That has facilitated the development of distance and online learning solutions in recent years (UNESCOUNEVOC, 2021).
In general, TVET providers were able to maintain regular contact with students and they estimated that the majority of students coped well with distance learning (AMKE, 2020). However, based on The Finnish Evaluation Centre (2020) survey, teaching and guiding staff thought that supporting students’ sense of community, supporting students’ wellbeing and interaction with students were shown to be especially difficult during COVID-19 pandemic. Finnish teachers also felt an increase in their workload with more time spent on planning, adapting new digital tools, and increased amount of individual, written feedback. Also based on students’ responses there were some challenges with the lack of feedback and adequate support. Distance learning was also more challenging for students who needed special support. Graduation has been mostly ensured timely for most students.
In Finnish TVET, students’ skills and competences are usually demonstrated and assessed in practical tasks in authentic work situations by a teacher with a working life representative. During COVID-19 pandemic, students were also allowed to demonstrate their competence by practical tasks similar to authentic work situations if authentic work situations were not possible to arrange (UNESCO-UNEVOC, 2021). Whether students were able to continue work-based learning varied on different learning sectors: technology and service industry were the ones that suffered most from the crisis (AMKE, 2020). About one third of the students in the Finnish Evaluation Centre (2020) survey reported being in work-based learning during COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020 and for 80 % of them work-based learning was still possible to continue during lockdowns.
Based on experiences from school closures during COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, Finnish TVET system stands with UN Secretary-General’ Policy Brief (United Nations, 2020) message that it is necessary to ensure education systems are more flexible, equitable and inclusive in the future. There were valuable lessons learnt during school closures and to identify best practices of countries to improve the resilience of education systems worldwide is important. Key elements that helped to adapt in challenges of COVID-19 pandemic in Finland were: high degree of flexibility and autonomy in educational system, personal competency development plans for each student, TVET as a mixture of school-based, work-based and online-based learning and modular structure of studies for reskilling and upskilling. Also competency-based approach is an important factor: it is learning and acquired knowledge, skills and competences that count, not a study credit per se, and assessment is continuous with no standardised national examinations. In Finland, teaching is also a highly respected profession and teachers have a long educational background. They take active part in in-service training and, as mentioned before, digital skills have been one of the focus areas in professional development (UNESCO-UNEVOC, 2021).
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