FOSTERING DIGITAL COMPETENCIES IN A REGIONAL CONTEXT
The concept of digital competencies includes the notion of digital literacy, the skill to use digital contents, as well as information and communication technologies to efficiently and effectively communicate. Additionally, digital competencies ease the access to information and a more knowledgeable digital media consumption and interaction, fostering the production of knowledge and new digital products. Also, digital competencies promote a better understanding of new solutions for problems in multiple areas, e.g. big data, computational biology, smart cities, artificial intelligence and cyber security, etc. Higher education institutions have a special responsibility in this regard and, as the training in digital competencies is increasingly ubiquitous across all levels of instruction, universities of applied sciences are in a privileged position to promote those competencies across all ages, and to the community in general. This must be done in collaboration with schools and local institutions, including the training of teachers, the involvement of parents, and offering a diversity of informal training as well as formal degrees for distinct groups in the context of a lifelong learning approach.
The Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition policy of European Commission aims to “bring together Member States, companies, social partners, non-profit organisations and education providers, who take action to tackle the lack of digital skills in Europe.” This policy seeks to promote digital skills for all; for the labour force; for ICT professionals; and in education. In this context, this paper presents the experience of a small higher education institution, in a sparsely populated area in the south of Portugal, promoting digital competences at different levels. They range from free open initiatives to young students from kindergarten to high school, to formal training at higher education bachelor and master courses, as well as teacher training and including older population in the context of a senior university programme,.
All the activities emphasise active learning strategies, including hands-on guided computer laboratory activities. In this line, the institution is also partner in a national programme for the promotion of digital competencies. This includes teacher training in the use of problem based learning (PBL) in Information and communications technology higher education degrees. The study cycle using PBL is in the area of electronics and computers and encompasses a large set of systems that are also included in the growing area of Internet of Things.
As a whole, the outcome of all the initiatives has been extremely positive as attested by the high levels of participation. Besides more specific digital competencies, the several activities have allowed the promotion of group work, computational thinking, and communications skills for distinct target groups across all ages. This is especially relevant as these are important and required skills not only for the workplace, but also for daily life.