The story of SELFIE: from conceptual framework to practical tool

 “It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.” (Steve Jobs)

When, as a school community, you use the SELFIE tool, we hope it will meet your needs and expectations: easy to set-up, straightforward to use and powerful in terms of how it presents a map of your school’s digital capability.

SELFIE, as you now experience it, is the result of several years of work by the European Commission and a team of education experts from across Europe. SELFIE is underpinned by the Framework for Digitally Competent Educational Organisations, published by the Commission in late 2015.

We worked on the development of this framework from June 2014 to September 2015. Desk research included an extensive trawl of relevant literature. We identified 15 existing frameworks and analysed them to elicit their key features. We designed and put out for consultation two iterations of a first draft with the assistance of an expert group.

So, how then did the framework for organisations turn out? In all, seven key areas were identified:

  1. Teaching and Learning Practices;
  2. Assessment Practices;
  3. Content and Curricula;
  4. Networking and Collaboration;
  5. Professional Development;
  6. Leadership and Governance Practices and
  7. Infrastructure.

You can already see here the foundations for SELFIE. An eighth area was also provided for to allow sector-specific items to be added, for example items relevant for higher education or vocational education; the framework is intended to be flexible enough to be applied in any educational sector. In addition to SELFIE, it also provided an input to the design of the new ‘Digital Transformation and Capability’ pillar of the HEInnovate tool used by higher education institutions.

The seven areas of the framework were further expanded into 15 sub-elements, and these in turn gave rise to a total of 74 statements called ‘Descriptors’. All aspects of digital capability are potentially encompassed in these 74 statements.

Design brief

Designing a digital capability self-assessment tool to be used in schools started from these 74 descriptors. From the outset, the design brief envisaged that school leaders, teachers and students would all take part in the self-reflection. This would allow for a 360-degree view of the school’s digital capability, but the SELFIE team faced a number of questions that needed to be addressed before work on the tool could start:

  • How many of the 74 statements are really relevant in a schools context?
  • Of those to be selected, which ones are more relevant to school leaders, to teachers and to students respectively?
  • How should we re-word and represent the statements in order to form the basis of meaningful questions for the three groups (leaders, teachers, students)?
  • When building the self-assessment tool, can some questionnaire items be mandatory and others optional?
  • Could the design of the tool allow a school to add some items to the questionnaire that are specific to its own situation?

To answer these questions, we launched a comprehensive survey involving 5,000 school leaders and teachers early in 2017. This was in effect an early prototype for SELFIE. When we analysed the results, a clearer picture emerged and we were able to build a working version of SELFIE; this version was piloted in 650 schools across Europe in late 2017. The outcome of the pilot provided a level of confidence to progress to the final build and release of SELFIE as you now see it.

From descriptor to SELFIE question

To give you some idea of the complexity of the challenge, here is an example of how one statement from the framework for organisations was adapted from prototype to the working version of SELFIE:

  • Thematic area of the framework: Teaching and Learning Practices
  • Sub-element within this area: A rethinking of roles and pedagogical approaches takes place
  • Statement/descriptor: Collaboration and group work is expected

The Descriptor in more detail:

As learning is a social process, the organisation encourages and expects collaboration and group work, supported in many cases by digital tools and platforms. This fosters the abilities of staff and students to think and work both independently and with others, enabling them to consider a plurality of perspectives.

The Framework presents key concepts in quite a formal way.

Let’s see now the transformation of this concept from framework to SELFIE, and how with the help and feedback of many school leaders, teachers and students it was possible to converge on a set of statements that are clear, simplified, appropriate to the different groups and suitable for use in a questionnaire format.

So if we take the example above, inter-related statements were first considered for school leaders, teachers and students:

  • (School) expects learners to use learning technologies for collaboration and group work. (Statement for school leaders)
  • When I am teaching I use learning technologies in and/or beyond class to enable collaboration and group work. (Statement for teachers)                                              
  • (School) expects me to use learning technologies for collaborating with other students and teachers. (Statement for students)

How the statement was then refined for the SELFIE pilot:

For the SELFIE pilot, these statements had been further refined:

  • It is part of our digital strategy that students collaborate using digital technologies. (Statement for school leaders)
  • As a teacher I use digital technologies to help students collaborate with each other. (Statement for teachers)                                    
  • In my school we use digital technologies to work in teams or groups. (Statement for students)

How this was finally elaborated for the current working SELFIE tool:

  • Our teachers use digital technologies to facilitate student collaboration. (Statement for school leaders)
  • I use digital technologies to facilitate student collaboration. (Statement for teachers)                                    
  • In our school, we use technology for group work. (Statement for students)

You can see the subtle shift in language, moving from the formal to the usable.

Of course the responses to statements like these are not simply yes or no, and in addition to refining the text, work was also proceeding on how to provide a graduated five-point scale ranging from ‘We do not do this’ to ‘We do this in line with best practice’.  

As the text of the statements was refined, so too was the scale and the precise meaning of each scale point, becoming in the final version:

  1. Strongly disagree – We do not do this / In my experience, this is not true at all
  2. Disagree
  3. Slightly agree
  4. Agree
  5. Strongly agree – We do this really well / In my experience, this is very true

In parallel, the SELFIE team was working on the design, and testing the look-and-feel of the tool in order to ensure a high degree of usability and a good user experience. The SELFIE webpages which describe what the tool is and how it works also needed to be presented attractively and with clarity.

And, if all this was not enough, work was also proceeding on the translation of SELFIE to 24 European languages, again with the support of teachers and research organisations in the respective countries.

All of this was indeed a lot of hard work by the core development team at the Commission, reaching out to the many school leaders, teachers and students who commented and advised on the evolving versions. In developing the first release of SELFIE the team has set the bar high, addressed many of the challenges and arrived at a solution that we hope will be of great benefit to schools.

About the author: Jim, a member of the team which developed SELFIE, is former head of the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dublin. Jim has played an active role in educational policy development, implementation and evaluation in Ireland and at European level.