Transforming teaching and learning for the 21st Century

Developing digital competence

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digital-competenceThis is my first in a series of posts, related to 21st century skills.  In my post  21st century skills-how competent are your students?, I explained how the recently amended Spanish education law (LOMCE) specifies 7 key competencies students need to develop.  These key competences are closely related to 21st century skills, life skills or soft skills (depending on the terminology you prefer.)  The first competence up is digital competence

We live in an increasingly digital world which is changing the way we work, learn, communicate, and participate in society.  As educators we have an obligation to ensure our students have the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to be successful in a modern, digital society.  

Being digitally competent is more than being able to use the latest smart phone or computer software — it is about being able to use such digital technologies in a critical, collaborative and creative way. (The European Digital Competence Framework for Citizens)

In this post I will look at the key areas related to digital competence, identified by the European framework and then look at some activities/tools we can use to help our learners become competent in these areas.

The European framework identifies 5 key areas which are considered necessary to be a successful digital citizen.  

  1.  Information:

Identify, locate, retrieve, store and analyse digital information, judging its relevance and purpose.

Our students should be made aware of the wide range of strategies for searching for information.  When I imposed a “No Google/Wikipedia day”, my students were at a complete loss as to how to find the information they needed.  Even their “googling” skills are quite rudimentary. They also need to be able to filter and compare the information they receive, cross-checking its validity.  We need to make them aware that all the information out there is not reliable.  You can find some great resources for teaching Critical Evaluation at Katy Shrock’s Guide to Everything including a list of bogus sites to demonstrate to students that they can’t believe everything they read online.

Once they find their reliable information they need to know how to store it.  Apart from saving and retrieving information on a hard drive/ pendrive, there are a wealth of social bookmarking tools out there that students can use (depending on the age of your students). Some tools I use/ have used are Pearltrees, Pinterest, Symbaloo and Evernote (more than just a bookmarking tool) Listly is great for making lists of absolutely anything and sharing them e.g Digital Citizenship resources for Elem and up.  I find that a lot of my students don’t even know how to use the basic bookmarking tools within their browsers.   

  1. Communication:

Communicate in digital environments, share resources,  link with others and collaborate through digital tools, interact with and participate in communities and networks, demonstrate cross cultural awareness.

Our students need to know how to use different digital tools to communicate, share resources, images etc. on online collaboration platforms.  Often our students knowledge of sharing resources is limited to posting images or videos on social media platforms.  When sharing online, they need to be aware of copyright issues, netiquette (being aware of cultural differences) and know the protocol when/if they discover inappropriate online behaviour.  They also need to be aware of their digital footprint and know how to protect their digital reputation.  Just as we insist in class on correct procedures and appropriate behaviour, it is our job as educators to ensure that our students are doing this online too. Common issues such as cyberbullying need to be addressed and revisited regularly.  

  1. Content creation:

Create  and edit new content (from word processing to images and video) ; integrate and re-elaborate previous knowledge and content; produce creative expressions, media outputs and programming; deal with and apply intellectual property rights and licences

Students should be exposed to a variety of digital tools used for editing, modifying, refining and creating content.  They should be familiar with copyright and the different licences (creative commons, public domain…) It is also expected that a competent digital citizen will understand some of the basic principles of programming (ouch!)

  1. Safety:

Personal protection, data protection, digital identity protection, security measures, safe and sustainable use.

Students should understand online threats and risks, know how to protect devices using antivirus and updating software. They should know about different privacy settings and the information they can share. They should demonstrate a balanced attitude regarding time spent online and offline and be aware of the associated health risks.  Environmental issues should also be considered.

  1. Problem solving:

Identify digital needs and resources, make informed decisions on most appropriate digital tools according to the purpose or need, solve conceptual problems through digital means, creatively use technologies, solve technical problems, update own and others’ competence.

To be competent in problem solving, students need to be willing to experiment and show a positive attitude to emerging digital technologies.  We, as educators, need to help our students feel confident enough to achieve this.  A needs analysis at the beginning of the school year can provide invaluable information for the teacher and help students to set objectives.

So, how can we help our students become digitally competent?

Over the past few years I have been experimenting with new technologies to enhance teaching and learning and try to ensure my students leave, better digital citizens. Not everything I’ve tried has been successful but here are some of the things which have had positive results.  Most of the activities/tools contribute to developing more than one of the areas discussed above.


I make lots of quizzes for my students using Google Forms.  Now you can even set them up to autograde, which saves you lots of time, and the results are sent directly to students’ email accounts. You can embed image and video which makes them much more engaging for students. Some of the things I have used them for is to  practise grammar and work on digital citizenship.  I like to use Powtoon to create my videos as the free version is really good (see my blog post Using Powtoon to enhance teaching and learning) Students have also created their own quizzes (see Digital cross cultural exchange below)

Short presentations

Every term we do at least one short presentation using a variety of presentation tools (Google Slides, Prezi, Haiku Deck, PowerPoint)  Great for developing information skills (searching for and filtering information) communication skills and content creation skills.


I won’t talk too much about using a wiki here as I wrote a blog post about it recently.  I am a huge wiki fan as they are great for so many things.  Students develop information, communication, content creation and problem solving skills whilst putting into pratice their knowledge of safety issues.  If you are interested in finding out more about how you can use a wiki to benefit teaching and learning, take a look at our wiki or read my blog post Learning and teaching with a wiki.

Create a video

There are so many (free) video creation tools available now and most of them are really simple to use. At the moment we are using iMovie to create trailers for different genres of film. My students are loving it for lots of reasons, they get to bring their banned mobile devices into class and go into the forest around school to record scenes… I’m loving it because they’re developing their skills in all 5 areas mentioned above! 

Cross cultural digital exchange

For the past two years my fourth year class has connected with a school in the UK (We’re in Spain) to do a  Cross cultural digital exchange.  We use Edmodo as our platform for chatting, posting videos, presentations, quizzes, and ebooks we create. We also use Skype to meet up once a term for a “live chat”.  I won’t say too much more (I have a blog post planned for this) apart from it is a great way to develop all 5 areas in digital competence.

Create a website

Students have used Weebly for education to create their own websites, developing all 5 skill areas.  They have created some great sites about Fashion, Gaming, Sports… and been really engaged with this project. Again, I won’t say too much more as this is worthy of its own blog post some time.

Create e-books

Just like video creation tools, there are a plethora of tools to create e-books.  I have found the simplest way, however, is to use Google Slides and save the presentation as a PDF document and use Pixteller  or Canva to create a more sophisticated cover. Last year, my students created a comic strips in and then we collated all the comic strips and made them into an e-book which we posted on our wiki.

Collaborative writing

Google Drive is my new best friend.  I have experimented with it a lot over the past couple of years.  As I said, I’ve used Forms for making quizzes and also for needs analysis/self assessment purposes, Slides for presentations and e-books and Docs has been great for collaborative writing tasks.  Again, depending on the activity,  using Docs can help students develop all 5 areas. The only drawback is if students don’t have a google account, they appear as anonymous so it isn’t obvious who has contributed, and I don’t think there is any way around this (correct me if I’m mistaken…)

Showcasing work

We often showcase classwork for other students, teachers and parents to see. We have used tools such as Padlet and Thinglink to present work. If the exercise is done in their notebook the audience is usually only the teacher, if students use web 2.0 tools to present their work their audience instantly expands.  Having a bigger audience can improve the quality of work produced in some cases and students become used to using different media. If you have a school/department/class wiki or blog this is a great place for embedding all your links and showcasing all your work together. On our wiki we have a page called “Our work” where all the good stuff goes…

Websites and apps for learning English

Studying and practising English on digital devices has had a positive result with a lot of students. We use Quizlet a lot for practising vocabulary.  I also recommend different apps and websites on our Wiki that students can use for further practise.

There’s so much stuff out there which can help our students (and us!) become more digitally competent.   Don’t be afraid to let students take the lead if they know more than you,  it is not only our students who need a growth mindset regarding technology, we, as educators, do too. 

The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn’t think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential.
Steve Ballmer, CEO Microsoft 2000-2014

Please share any activities that you use to develop digital competence, in the comments section below…

My former colleague and good friend Jo Budden recently gave a talk Helping learners survive – and thrive – in the digital world at the British Council conference Teaching for Success. A must watch for any educator working with young learners/teens.

You can find a lot of great resources and ideas for using technology at Nik Peachey’s Nik’s QuickShout or Nik’s Learning Technology Blog 

And some great resources on digital citizenship at


Common framework for digital competence for teachers: INTEF

The European Digital framework for citizens


Author: lisajwood

I am an English language coach and Neurolanguage Coach® I current teach adolescents and adults. My areas of interest include brain-friendly learning, flipped learning, student-centred learning and promoting lifelong learning skills. I am also a keen advocate of using new technologies to facilitate the learning process.

One thought on “Developing digital competence

  1. Pingback: Google like a pro: 12 top tips | ACEnglishteacher

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