Education from childhood to university is a complex archipelago. Yet often it seems as if there is only one category when it comes to teachers. In reality, very specific skillsets are needed to teach in every school. Some are common, but many are quite different. Failing to draw a distinction between the skills necessary for a primary school and those needed for a secondary school is therefore a mistake. This is the basic premise for talking about the digital skills that teachers acquired and used during the COVID-19 health emergency.
Primary school teachers, for example, are trained to know how to manage the class group, foster peer interaction and relationships, stimulate learning by proposing teaching activities that engage pupils so they can build the knowledge process together. As a rule of thumb, the more children are involved, the more they learn, experiment and delve deeper. In essence, much of what pupils acquire depends on their relationships with teachers and peers.
Here, as we all know, is where the COVID threw everything out of kilter. Distance learning clearly cannot replace all that, though it has undermined an educational model based on relationships and empathy.
Teachers scrambled to develop skills to manage lessons at a distance during the emergency. Given that the starting levels in terms of computer use and platforms were dramatically different, teachers made a herculean effort to compensate the scarce support from training courses. Nevertheless, IT skills constitute an important asset for any teacher, an added value that today can and must complement in-person teaching, supplementing rather than substituting it.
First of all because children, and even more so young people, are digitally immersed, and often have better IT skills or intuition than their teachers. Therefore, ignoring this aspect in the learning process would be a mistake. At the same time, while pupils often have good computer skills, they lack the ability to use them as a source of learning and knowledge. They lose their bearings in the myriad of information available on the internet, potentially drifting in dangerous directions. Pupils often lack the coordinates to discover that they have all the technical and computer skills to explore new ways of learning and creating.
This is precisely where teachers play a fundamental role in educating them. Distance learning has forced teachers to train themselves in the use of information and communication techniques, while pupils have discovered that the PC can also be used to study. Even with all the limitations that this emergency experience had, it nevertheless spurred a positive acceleration of a process of change in our schools.
Teachers can now explore new ways of ‘blended’ learning, between face-to-face and online teaching, to encourage the active involvement of students at a computer level.
The key to success in a learning process has always been the non-passive nature of pupils, their involvement in the co-construction of the learning process. This means that, also in the digital sense, the students must be guided by the teacher towards a leading role which highlights the IT skills they have or can acquire, in the interests of informed knowledge.
According to Pier Cesare Rivoltella, professor of Education and Learning Technologies at the Università Cattolica, there are now two scenarios, after the two phases of emergency remote teaching and emergency blended solution (i.e. a situation in which different teaching methods have been considered. Either back to face-to-face, a return to traditional face-to-face teaching (which would, however, mean throwing away “a great opportunity to systemise what has been learned in recent months”), or the more desirable onlife technology teaching, in which technology represents “a normal dimension of teaching practice“, “finally breaking down the indissoluble relationship between lesson time, teacher and discipline” and thinking “of blended solutions as normal solutions to be adopted”, for example by recording lessons or hosting guest lecturers at a distance.
In this regard, the teacher can and should also be flexible and open to collaborations with other professional worlds, for example in making a video, or studying the graphic design of a class newspaper, or in building a video game. This is done either by attending training courses or by inviting experts to the school so that students can try out new operational strategies.
The same applies to the technologies chosen to be integrated into face-to-face teaching. CNR head researcher Paolo Landri explained that we must move from digital by force to digital by choice. “Nowadays, turnkey systems are the preferred choice, where everything is already done and dusted. However, these platforms should be better designed and improved in a contextual way”, explained Landri. “Teachers in particular have a duty to use the platforms best suited to the educational issues they face”.
Old and new skills for teachers
Educator Philippe Perrenoud identifies ten core competencies of the teacher:
- Organise/plan learning situations
- Direct learning situations
- Conceive and develop means for differentiating
- Involving pupils in their learning and work
- Develop teamwork
- Participate in school management
- Inform and involve parents
- Use new technologies
- Address the duties and ethical dilemmas of the profession
- Manage ongoing education
Bearing in mind that identifying “post-COVID” competencies does not mean resetting the previous ones to zero, one of the main challenges for teachers (and therefore the skills to be worked on) can only be to become more capable in using new technologies as a tool at the service of other competencies, focusing on flexibility and transversality.
“It doesn’t take much: only the courage to think beyond the standards and to overcome the temptation to restore the status quo“, Rivoltella concludes. “We will thus say goodbye to a season of great experimentation, the best viaticum for a future we should not fear”.