Mission (im)possible

Designing a self-reflection tool for schools across Europe

When we published the European Framework for Digitally Competent Educational Organisations (DigCompOrg) we were pleased as we managed to deliver a framework which could be applied to any educational institution, from primary schools to universities. The framework sets out what an organisation needs to look at in order to embed technologies in teaching and learning, including assessment, teacher training and infrastructure.

The framework was developed in cooperation with the EU’s working group on digital education (network of ministries and organisations working on digital technology and education) who identified the need for such a conceptual model in order to have a common language and understanding of organisational approaches to digital change. The group were keen to go a step further and have a practical tool that schools could use to assess their level of digital maturity.

From DigCompOrg to SELFIE

With my own experience as a teacher, school leader, teacher trainer and education researcher I had a number of concerns. I was fully aware of the huge diversity of education systems and school settings across the EU (for more on this see the Eurydice report on the structure of European education systems).

But on the other hand, I knew from my PhD research on creativity, that what seems at first hand impossible can be possible if you work on the problem formulation. Indeed, instead of trying to design something for the ´average´ European school, which doesn´t exist (see this inspiring TED talk about the myth of average) our goal should be to design something that could be useful for the whole spectrum of schools, to design for the extremes: from small to big schools, from schools that have just started with digital technologies to the digitally advanced…

Also, being aware of the different settings and needs of schools across Europe, we were also aware of all that schools have in common and shared challenges they face.

So, what could have looked like mission impossible started to look possible when we applied the following design principles:

  • Acknowledge diversity, build on common ground: from the outset we wanted to develop the SELFIE questionnaires in a modular way to allow for customisation. At the basis are what we call ‘core’ questions that are the same for all schools using SELFIE. The second group of questions are optional, so schools can select and include in their self-reflection exercise any or all questions from this list. Then, and this is a key feature of SELFIE, we give the options for schools to write their own questions, up to eight, to suit their own context and needs. Finally, we have a set of questions for vocational schools.
  • Give ownership to the school communities: school leaders, teachers and students know best their setting and needs and they should have full control and ownership of the self-reflection process. So, in SELFIE, school communities decide when to do it, whom to involve and what to do with the results. Each school has full control over its results and data, which can be used as basis for reflective dialogue and planning.
  • Design a tool for schools with schools: from the outset we followed a participatory design involving educational experts, policy makers and 5,000 school leaders, teachers and students in the early design of the tool. This first iteration was tested in 650 schools in 14 countries. To develop the full version of the tool we gathered and analysed feedback from the pilot phases including:
  • 67 000 questionnaires and 14000 comments from schools
  • findings from 28 case studies with pilot schools and 14 country reports
  • the outcomes of a workshop with 50 teachers, experts and policy makers
  • usability tests with students, teachers and school leaders
  • Understand the present, set a vision for the future: schools are dynamic organisations in constant flux – every school year there are new students, teachers, school leaders, settings… So there is a need for self-reflection that is done on regular (e.g. yearly) basis in order to see where the school stands in the use of technologies for learning and teaching and planning for improvement. Regular self-reflection and dialogue are key elements for building a shared vision for the school.

What SELFIE offers to schools, is a chance to start this journey of reflective dialogue to build a vision for learning in the digital age that involves the views and participation of the school community as a whole. And although for many schools embedding digital technologies into learning and teaching might seem like a tough challenge, using the SELFIE tool, we hope, can help in a practical way towards this goal.

About the author: Panagiotis Kampylis, PhD is the SELFIE Project leader in the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission. He contributes to research and policy support in the field of learning and skills for the digital age. Follow Pan @pankampylis.