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A new institutional culture for the successful digital training of university teaching staff
man personal computer online meeting

The UOC has analysed the current research in Spain on teachers' digital skills, looking at 740 studies covered in 13 systematic reviews. (Photo: Allison Shelley for EDUimages)

Agustín López

A UOC study has conducted an analysis of research in Spain on teacher digital competence, based on 740 studies in 13 systematic reviews

The researchers advocate promoting an institutional culture that prioritizes the development of these skills

The speed of digital transformation in social and professional life means that digital training for university teaching staff is urgently needed, both for their work responsibilities and to help students become digitally competent. The global COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this process with the expansion of virtual and hybrid education models. In this context, a new study published in open access by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) has analysed the research in Spain on teacher digital competence, based on a synthesis of 740 studies included in 13 systematic reviews.

This new study concludes that training and assessment of in this area is not enough, but instead that the creation of a suitable institutional culture is necessary: "As digitization and blended formats in higher education continue to grow in scale, scope and importance, it's essential to complement the training and assessment of teachers' digital competencies with an institutional culture that prioritizes the development of these skills", explained Mitchell Peters, postdoctoral researcher at the UOC and the lead author of the study. The other authors were Amal Elasri Ejjaberi and María Jesús Martínez Argüelles, members of the Faculty of Economics and Business and researchers in the Management and Learning (MeL) group, and Sergi Fabregues, a member of the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences and researcher in the Gender and ICT (GenTIC) group. 

To that end, universities "must strategically promote the development of these skills through an integrated and ecological perspective, bearing in mind that training is just one facet in a broader systems-based approach", emphasized Mitchell Peters.


A priority area in strategic plans

The first step in this institutional process is to "design clear objectives formulated in documents and strategic plans which value and support the development of these digital competencies in all areas of the institution", pointed out the researcher. This would make it a "priority area" which would have to be fostered with other areas of teachers' development, such as research. "The institution's strategic planning could also include input and participation by teachers to ensure that they understand and experience how their institution values digital training for faculty, in a similar way to how their institution values research", said Mitchell Peters


Remedying an underlying problem

This institutional strategy seeks to resolve what the UOC researchers consider to be an "underlying problem" in the training of university teaching staff, which goes beyond digital competencies. "To teach at university, you don't need to have specific training as a teacher. You simply have to be a specialist in your subject. So, if this training is not there in general terms, it also doesn't exist for digital competencies", said María Jesús Martínez Argüelles. 

In addition, according to the researchers, on the bachelor's degree programmes where this training is provided, such as Teacher Training, there are courses "specifically for ICT competencies, but this does not represent real training in digital competencies".


Ignorance of technological tools and their pedagogical use

Apart from structural failings, the researchers pointed to specific shortcomings among university teaching staff, including a lack of knowledge of the "technological tools available and, above all, of the pedagogical uses" with which they could reinforce their teaching strategies. They pointed out that "it's not enough" to invest heavily in technological devices and in technological software (a virtual campus, videoconferencing tools, etc.). "Having those tools is obviously a prerequisite, but it's also necessary to know how to use them based on pedagogical criteria, making the most of them to ensure that students engage in learning processes that are meaningful and more motivating", explained Amal Elasri Ejjaberi.


Continuous updating of content

Given these shortcomings and in the context of the university's institutional strategy, formal digital training should take place through courses, workshops, conferences, etc., which would have to be "updated continuously". "This has been an area in which the UOC has led the way, as we saw during the pandemic, when it organized initiatives including the webinars and the decalogue produced by the Edul@b research group to support the university community both at the UOC and at other institutions", said the researcher.


Formal assessment and incentives

A key factor to support this training is the formal assessment of the development of these competencies by means of formal accreditation and assessment, which the researcher said should be carried out "in the same way as research is accredited through quality agencies (ANECA, ACU, etc.)". Mitchell Peters believes that it is very important for "university management teams to establish appropriate incentives that encourage teaching staff to achieve digital teaching competency in their professional careers". 

The UOC seeks to improve in these areas, and through the Edul@b group, which leads digital teacher training at the institution, it is part of the international Erasmus+ DIGI-PROF project. One of the objectives of this initiative is to support higher education institutions in the design and implementation of a transparent assessment system for online learning and the recognition of its results. 


Support for informal technological leaders

One of the challenges of this training is that the baseline is not uniform between centres, or between the teaching staff in each centre. However, most of them have specifically trained teaching staff who people turn to in the event of any difficulties that may arise in the implementation of digital competency in the classroom. In this context, the researchers highlighted the importance of "support, encouragement and recognition for these informal leaders who have an influence over their peers, but who don't yet hold formal leadership positions (i.e., they are not directors, vice presidents, etc.)" to foster this culture around digital training.


Promoting communities of practice 

Another important factor in the mechanism necessary to build an appropriate institutional culture in this area is the creation of spaces for communities of practice and to exchange effective practices. An example of these communities is UOC2theFuture, a UOC initiative for sharing and discussing innovation in online teaching and learning, organized by the eLearning Innovation Center (eLinC) and promoted by the Office of the Vice President for Teaching and Learning at the UOC. "We need to support horizontal communities of practice so that teachers can share effective practices within their own faculties and disciplines, as well as across the institution", said the researcher.

In this area the UOC is also part of the international Erasmus+ project Empower Competences for Onlife Learning in HE (ECOLHE), to study how e-learning is applied in different countries and share practices for improvement in various aspects, such as teaching digital competency in higher education, validating teaching competencies and teachers' online strategies.


Improving future research

The conclusions of the study also contain some recommendations for future research in the area of digital training for teaching staff. They highlight the need to carry out studies that "reorient away from basic forms of research, driven by teacher and student self-perceptions" and point to the need to increase the size of the samples and the use of qualitative or mixed methods, i.e., case studies, ethnographies or in-depth studies. They also discuss the possibility of opening up to new ideas and approaches from other social sciences outside the usual realm of educational technology, which is where most of the current research in this field takes place.


This UOC research supports Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, Quality Education.

Reference article:

Peters, M.; Elasri Ejjaberi, A.; Martínez, J.; Fabregues, S. (2022). "Teacher digital competence development in higher education: Overview of systematic reviews". Australasian Journal of Educational Technology38 (3), 122-139.



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UOC experts

Mitchell Peters

Mitchell Peters

UOC PhD within the programme in Education and ICT (e-Learning)

Amal Elasri-Ejjaberi

Amal Elasri-Ejjaberi

A researcher with the MeL group and member of the Faculty of Economics and Business Studies at the UOC

María-Jesús Martínez-Argüelles

María-Jesús Martínez-Argüelles

A researcher with the MeL group and member of the Faculty of Economics and Business Studies at the UOC

Photograph of Sergi Fàbregues Feijóo

Sergi Fàbregues Feijóo

Expert in: Qualitative and mixed research methods; research quality assurance; use of ICT in primary and secondary education; gender inequalities.

Knowledge area: Research methods in the social sciences.

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