How do we develop ourselves and lead our schools with knowledge-based methods? For several years now, the Tampere Research Center for Information and Media (TRIM) has been conducting a study on the progress of digitalisation in comprehensive schools. There are online self-assessment tools available for pupils in comprehensive school grades 2, 5, and 8, and for general upper secondary school grade 1, as well as for teachers and principals. All users of these tools obtain personal feedback about their digital profiles immediately; when five teachers from one school have provided their answers, the system produces a digital profile for the school so that the principal and teachers together may study it and assess any possible development needs. The information concerning all schools in a certain municipality is offered to the director of education of that municipality, thereby making possible knowledge-based decisions on e.g. resource allocation and competence development.
The project Comprehensive Schools in the Digital Age (2017–2018) studied learning and teaching practices from the viewpoint of digitalisation: the use of digital technologies in educational institutions, the institutions’ readiness to make use of such technologies, their use of new learning materials and learning environments, and the standard of digital competences. The project Comprehensive Schools in the Digital Age was a part of the implementation of the Government Plan for Analysis, Assessment and Research for 2016, and it was carried out jointly by Turku University Research Unit for the Sociology of Education (RUSE) and the Tampere Research Center for Information and Media (TRIM), under the University of Tampere, with TRIM as the project coordinator.
Increasingly often, schools have a common vision of digitalisation, and its realisation is supported in work communities. In the overall planning of education, digitalisation is taken into consideration in a more goal-oriented manner than earlier. The goals of digital strategies are evaluated in schools slightly more frequently than before, and they are often taken into account in teachers’ personal development targets. However, issues still remain that need to be developed further; we see them especially in regular quality assessments of digital online and learning environments.
Digital competences of teachers have improved
Digital competences of teachers improved over the years of the study. This development of competences was aided by teachers’ active everyday use of digital services and software, supplementary training on digital subjects, and teachers’ confidence in their own teaching skills. According to the study, a good mastery of digital skills is more common among young teachers (under 40) and male teachers than among female teachers and more aged teachers. The researchers recommend targeting supplementary training more equally and focusing on teachers over 40 years of age. It is also recommended to pay attention to the competences of special needs teachers when planning supplementary training.
Improvement needed in pupils’ digital competences and the use of digital materials
Over the years under review, no changes occurred in the digital competences of pupils. The test results indicating pupils’ skills remained satisfactory, at best, in all measured areas. In their report, the researchers recommend long-term monitoring and assessment of pupils’ competences. The methods used in learning in schools are still largely focused on books, notebooks and handouts, leaving few opportunities for the increasing of digital skills. This study indicates that pupils’ active roles as users of information and communications technologies (ICT), emphasised in the extensive competence goals of the national core curriculum, have not as yet been completely realised in practice. Teachers use digital tools and other software as well as digital learning materials in their teaching more extensively than before, but no similar development has been detected to take place among pupils. During class, the primary users of technologies are teachers even though pupils in their early years at school already have a great deal of experience in e.g. the production of digital contents of different kinds. In their answers, pupils estimate the use of digital resources in teaching to be much lower than what the teachers indicate in their answers. According to the results, pupils’ digital competences are strongly connected to a diverse use of digital technologies.
Recommendations on the basis of the study
A specific tutor system should be developed for school principals and directors. The system would help principals in drafting strategies and monitoring these as well as in encountering the many other challenges they face when change-managing their schools.
Tutor-teacher activities should be further improved to support teachers’ technological and pedagogical competences; tutor-teacher activities should be established as a standard form of schoolwork development.
Pupils still show a significant lack of tools skills and a deficient mastery of the basics of ICT. There is every reason for schools to address these issues seriously, making sure pupils can gain a sufficient understanding of tools so that they can apply their skills to different digital applications and productions.
There is reason to consider intensifying the teaching of digital skills and basic ICT so that the equality of education could be realised in these key skills and competences as well.
The collection of reliable data and knowledge-based management are there to support the development of schools. Therefore, the long-term monitoring of the digitalisation process in schools is important from the viewpoints of pupils, teachers and principals alike. In that way, we will be able to ensure the realisation of equality for pupils both within municipalities and in the different parts of Finland.
Research Director Jarmo Viteli, University of Tampere, Tampere Research Center for Information and Media, TRIM, tel. 0500 731237, firstname.lastname(at)tuni.fi