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Time to Move to Competency-Based Continuing Professional Development

Tracy Immel

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 behaviors 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.

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8 Responses to “Time to Move to Competency-Based Continuing Professional Development”

  1. In Australia, competency-based training has been cornerstone of most training programs recognized by the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) founded in 1995. ( http://www.aqf.edu.au/ ) I fully agree that the skills required by a Computer science teacher are different from those of a 3rd grade Literacy teacher. My main concern with the UNESCO ICT-CFT is that it highlights (once again) the commonly held mistaken belief that the "Art" of teaching can be reduced to a finite series of competency-based outcomes that may only be used to placate administrators, policy makers and educational financiers.

  2. Hi Tracy,

    Thank you for the overview of the UNESCO ICT – CFT and initiating this timely debate on a need to shift towards an ICT competency based framework in Teacher Development. There is a need for a common language and harmonization of views on ICT use in Teacher Education – particularly to avoid wastage in education systems where teachers receive variants of the same ICT professional development programmes and to address the more particular needs of teacher self- directed professional development for ICT use in their practice.

    There are the issues raised by Thomas of reducing the competency agenda to a set of ‘competency-based outcomes' or 'performance standards’ or ‘tick boxes’ for accountability purposes. This would be contrary to the transformative vision for ICT use in teaching and learning that the UNESCO ICT-CFT framework aims to promote via the continuum of technology literacy, knowledge deepening and knowledge creation approaches.

    Let me continue this discussion in my next comments…

    Mary Hooker

  3. Hi Tracy,

    There are also issues of essential conditions necessary to leverage the different levels of technology use in professional development and practice. In my organization GESCI (www.gesci.org) we are working in developing country contexts and we ask how flexible is the ICT-CFT for application in under-resourced education systems?

    Miao (UNESCO Bangkok/Paris, 2010) believes that ICT competency standards should not be taken as mandatory in developing countries without sufficient e-readiness. He also considers that the policy environment and other enabling factors are more critical than ICT competency in operationalizing knowledge deepening and knowledge creation approaches. Miao advocates that the focus should be on “strengthening the national capacity in localizing the ICT-CFT or indeed developing their own ICT competency standards for teachers”.

    Still more reflections in my next comment…

    Mary Hooker

  4. Hi Tracy,

    Localization or modification of competencies is reflected in the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) National Educational Standards for Teachers (NETS) (2007) where it is clarified that the rubrics for beginner, developing, proficient and transformative competency levels “can be modified or expanded to meet national, state/ province, district, school, teacher preparation or other program needs” (p11).

    In GESCI our strategy is in line with the focus on localizing the ICT-CFT framework as a foundation for working with partners in ICT teacher capacity building programmes and for building in parallel enabling policy environments and regulatory frameworks.

    Mary Hooker

    International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) (2007) National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers: Second Edition, Washington, DC, ISTE

    Miao, F (2010) ICT Competency Standards for Teachers and Institutional Strategy for Teacher Training on ICT Pedagogical Integration [Online], available at: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EDUCATION/Reso… retrieved 20 July 2011

  5. Núria de Salvador

    Hello, and thank you for the interesting article.

    In our small team we have been working on teacher competencies for the last two years, and the way I have come to see them, ICT is, just one of these competencies (in our framework, number 6/9).

    All the others are increasingly influenced by ICT, though. Assessment, for example will change a lot the moment we can count on apps that helps us to analize discourse (I just learnt there is a big European project funded by EAC that will try to do that :-) ). On the one hand, any teachers' competence on how to fairly assess her pupils goes far beyond any application and on the other ICT has completely changed the perspective on what to assess and how.

    From the prespective of a secondary teacher and teacher trainer, I am a bit worried because I see much literature and discussion on ICT competencies for teachers, and less reflection on the other competencies; in the end ICT is just a tool.

    All in all, counting on a framework of 9 competencies that help me organize my research and my practice both with my pupils and as a consultant helps me a lot. Of course, the specific things we need to know depend on context, curriculum, area, and so on, but competencies I think remain the same.

    In case you are interested, you can see what we are doing here http://siglo22.net/enred/ (in Spanish).

  6. Antoine MIAN

    In Côte d'ivoire, competency-based training in teacher education is not yet a reality

  7. Tracy — Great to see an effort to put some structure around the teachers' professional development. Teaching is a soft skill that's challenging (at best) to try to break down into specific skills and competencies. I have a love-hate relationship with competencies, and have blogged about them on a couple of occasions. Most recently, in "Learn or Die" I closed with this reminder:

    "Here’s the bottom line:

    * You can be competent, but unprepared.
    * You can be competent, but unable to adapt.
    * You can be competent, but unspectacular.
    * You can be competent, but unable to innovate or create.
    * You can be competent, and still fail.

    Time to rethink competency. Time to be agile. Time to transform the culture of your association into one that celebrates learning agility — for you, your staff, your volunteer leadership, your members, and your constituencies."

    You can find the full post here: http://alearning.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/learn-o

    Not saying the fight isn't worth it… but competency only goes so far.

    • Michael Massey

      hi, ellen,

      many thanks for your interesting post. it seems to me that you're blurring the line between competency acquisition and more demanding agile abilities and execution. it seems, also, that competencies imply a basic skills/performance level that is more mass-oriented whereas agility implies talents and advanced skills that are more individualized. e.g., a competency might be "basic supervision" of specific work or process flow, say, managing the time that fukushima workers are allowed to work in the presence of high radiation. one level of agility in that situation might be described as, say, planning the emergency shutdown of reactor 4. more simply, an educational system might require 95% competency in adding positive decimal numbers whereas agility might require converting both positive and negative fractions and decimals to the other form (decimals and fractions). another competency might be selling the features of a product. one associated agile process might, therefore, be leading a cross-functional team to re-design the features of that product. best, michael/cambridge, mass USA


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