Reflecting on digital education in Europe’s knowledge societies
by Martin Debattista 3CL Research Associate 8-minute read
The Education Committee of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU has presented a working paper entitled “Digital education in Europe’s knowledge societies”.
The paper identifies four topics that play a vital role in digital education and should be explored further in the context of global digital competition: content, multipliers, infrastructures and knowledge basis. These have to be viewed within social and cultural contexts and not just technological innovation on its own.
“Connected education is centred around individuals and citizens who can develop their personality and skills confidently, freely and responsibly,” the paper states. “Especially in these times, it is important for us to foster a culture of togetherness, sharing, renewal and openness for new forms of exchange, participation and cooperation between educational institutions and different national education systems while respecting Member States’ competences with regard to education. This requires openness to developing and trialling innovative teaching and learning formats and to evaluating them in terms of pedagogical and educational objectives and enhancing employability while ensuring compliance with data protection rules. Learning, teaching, continuing education and the link between supply and demand should all be considered from a digital point of view spanning different education sectors.”
The paper invites readers from EU Member States to reflect on four key questions. We’re posting our views here on the issues raised by these important questions.
1) How can discussion of connected education topics be stimulated across Europe?
3CL: The paper itself emphasises that connected learning is “centred around individuals and citizens who can develop their personality and skills confidently, freely and responsibly.” This puts the onus of responsibility on individual citizens to maximise the opportunities afforded by digital technologies and become engaged, independent learners. It also identifies that the relevant authorities – from policy-makers to education institutions – have a responsibility confidence in citizens to use technology meaningfully. By associating tech with personal empowerment, technologies in turn need to be easily accessible to the learner – in legal terms, in technical terms and in financial terms. These in turn will encourage the requisite openness and ‘sharing frame of mind’ envisioned in the paper. Putting the learner at the centre of the discussion rather than technology or the institutions is vital in stimulating some much-needed critical thinking about future directions for education.
2) Which European initiatives can play a role in strengthening European education cooperation in order to achieve the required degree of interoperability and a possible linking of existing platforms, among other objectives?
3CL: The European Union has consistently taken initiatives that promote cooperation, interoperability and openness, and not exclusively in the education sector. The creation of the Digital Single Market, though developing at a slower rate than the non-digital Single Market, is the framework that promotes initiatives in this direction at the regulatory and technological level. In education we find OpenAire, Europe’s hub for the open communication of science research; the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC); and projects partly-funded by the Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ programmes. The latter co-funds eTwinning, a platform for school staff “to communicate, collaborate, develop projects, share and, in short, feel and be part of the most exciting learning community in Europe”. The European Schoolnet is a non-profit network of 34 European Ministries of Education which aims to bring innovation in teaching and learning to stakeholders like Ministries of Education, schools, teachers, researchers, and industry partners.
3) How can digital technologies help reduce educational barriers and close the digital divide in Europe? How can we ensure that these technologies are used in a way that is pedagogically meaningful?
3CL: Historically speaking there are two digital divides. The original one was between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in terms of access to technology – those who had a computer and access to the internet at home, and those who did not. The rapid pace of technology proliferation, improvement in hardware specifications and affordability meant that today’s digital divide does not necessarily infer to a lack of technology, but increasingly the distinction between those who use technology effectively and reap the benefit, and those who do not and not only miss on the opportunity but also suffer the consequences, such as falling victim to malware, fake news and identity theft, to mention a few. This picture is illustrated by DESI, the Digital Economy and Society Index published by the European Commission.
Initiatives at European and member state level, and international cooperation in general, have tried to address the two types of digital divides. The European Commission’s Digital Competence Frameworks 2.0 for citizens, educators and workers define the basic digital competences for a 21st century individual to thrive. The DigCompEdu is the specific framework meant for educators and starts to address the issue of training educators in the use of digital technologies to become better educators, as opposed to super-users of technology. The goal of DEL4ALL, our flagship Horizon 2020 project, is “to transform European research and innovation initiatives in the area of digital enhanced learning”. One way of operationalising the project is to facilitate the practical implementation of DigCompEdu and other digital education models.
4) How can digital technologies contribute to improving learning and teaching and to enhancing employability? What form of European cooperation is desirable? How can we ensure that these technologies are used in a way that is pedagogically meaningful?
3CL: Scientific research validates claims that technology does contribute to education if it is well-planned, implemented strategically and if educators and the end users receive the necessary training and support. The issue is not how much money is spent on technology but on the affordances of the technology – the specific ways it benefits the student, the educator and the education manager in a specific socio-cultural context.
The New Europass with its e-portfolio, launched in July 2020, is an example of how digital technology may enhance employability by making it easier to share qualifications and competences. Blockchain technology is already proving to be a game-changer in terms of accreditation and credentialing, with 3CL being heavily involved in the pioneering of blockchain-based credentials in the Maltese education system.
The Creative Commons Licencing Framework is an important contributor to digital education as it provides the tool to make fair use of the immense resources freely available on the internet, making it easier for creative work to be appreciated, shared and used online. Together with Open Source Software, Open Educational Resources and Open Access Publishing, these four initiatives are definitely contributing to “togetherness, sharing, renewal and openness” mentioned in the paper by the German Presidency.