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Time to move to competency-based continuing professional development

Author: Tracy Immel, Education Technology Debate

Often, the word competency and skill are used interchangeably. While they are related, they are not the same. A competency is a demonstrated ability to perform a particular job or task. A competency includes skills, but also behaviours and the ability to apply those skills in order to perform a job or task. For example, a teacher may know how to use a computer and productivity software (skill), but may not know how to use those skills to increase collaboration and critical thinking in their students (competency).

“Through the ongoing and effective use of technology in the schooling process, students have the opportunity to acquire important technology capabilities. The key individual in helping students develop those capabilities is the classroom teacher. The teacher is responsible for establishing the classroom environment and preparing the learning opportunities that facilitate students’ use of technology to learn, and communicate. Consequently, it is critical that all classroom teachers are prepared to provide their students with these opportunities.” (UNESCO)

Continuing professional development in the teaching profession has always been a priority: after all, how can one expect to create a classroom full of life-long learners if one isn’t a life-long learner oneself? However, the way professional development has traditionally been structured can be ineffective and expensive at best, and a waste of time at worst. Unless a teacher understands the requirements, or competencies, necessary to perform their job as well as which competencies they are lacking, effective professional development with lasting impact is not attainable.

Other challenges to effective professional development of ICT integration:

  • Many teachers are aware that they should integrate ICT into their teaching practices, but are uncertain as to what that actually means. While brain science, teaching strategies and classroom management are part of most formal teacher preparatory curriculums, the integration of ICT into teaching and learning is not broadly offered outside of technology oriented courses.

  • The absence of a common internationally recognized standard in the area of ICT integration, as well as training based on those standards, prevents having a consistent method to measure whether teachers are effectively using technology to achieve desired student outcomes.

  • A “one size fits all” training approach fails to meet the needs of individuals. Teachers within one school will have very different needs with regards to ICT training. While some may have never used a computer, others may be using multiple devices and applications to achieve desired outcomes.

  • Mandating training which is not relevant to a teacher. Buy-in by the learner, including the assessment and planning of their development goals, decreases teacher resistance to training and increases the likelihood that what is presented actually results in a change in their teaching strategies.

In 2008 UNESCO, in partnership with Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, and ISTE, formalized the UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for Teachers (ICT-CFT) with an aim to measure the ICT proficiency of teachers against a common international standard and to aid in their professional development. Governments everywhere are striving to improve student outcomes and meet the challenges of preparing a 21st Century workforce for a global, knowledge-based economy. The UNESCO Competency Framework for Teachers is a response to these challenges.

Objectives of the Framework:

  • Create a common core syllabus that can be used to develop learning materials sharable at a global level

  • Provide a basic set of qualifications that allows teachers to integrate ICT into their teaching

  • Extend teachers’ professional development to advance their skills in pedagogy, collaboration, and school innovation using ICTs

  • Harmonize different views and vocabulary regarding the uses of ICTs in teacher education

The UNESCO ICT-CFT helps ensure continuity of competencies across teacher populations and geographies. For example, in Ireland, teachers have taken a self-assessment written to the UNESCO ICT-CFT standards in order to better understand what professional development resources and support they need. Countries like Mexico, Russia, and Australia are using the UNESCO ICT-CFT as the foundational competency framework on which they will build future ICT Continuing Professional Development offerings.

How Competency Based Professional Development is Different

In closing, effective competency-based professional development includes the following components:

  1. Adoption of a common set of competency standards defined by role. A computer science teacher may require different competencies contained in the ICT-CFT than a 3rd grade literacy teacher.

  2. Teachers identify areas where they need competency improvement.

  3. A rich and varied set of aligned resources is provided to teachers to fill those competency gaps which could include job shadowing, classes, workshops, or eLearning.

  4. Improved teacher competencies are verified through assessments, observation, or portfolio work.

  5. Peer support or mentoring is offered to help teachers carry forward ICT use to the classroom.

  6. Teacher competency development is refined and iterated in a continuous-improvement cycle.

This is competency-based professional development. The difference is that teacher’s build their competencies where needed, so there is no need to study what they already know. Emphasis is on application, performance and understanding, not simply on the recall of knowledge. With time to focus on new challenges, teachers can work toward enabling both themselves and students with the technical skills, knowledge and attitudes needed for success in life and the 21st Century workplace.