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324 Int. J. Cont. Engineering Education and Life-Long Learning, Vol. 20, Nos.

3/4/5, 2010

An e-competence profile for teachers in higher education Andra Belliger* and David Krieger
Institut fr Kommunikationsforschung (IKF), Morgartenstrasse 7, CH-6003 Luzern, Switzerland Email: Email: *Corresponding author
Abstract: Competence is normally ascribed to individuals as a qualification on the basis of the requirements of role definitions and job profiles. Competence, however, can also be ascribed to organisations. Educational institutions, for example, have the competence to certify, a competence that individual teachers do not have. In addition to this, competence is increasingly being ascribed to technologies. Automated knowledge management and e-learning systems are competent to evaluate the relevance and quality of information, to assess skills, interpret learning preferences, suggest learning paths and even to assist in decision making. This raises the question of how the complex interaction of human individuals, organisational processes and structures, and intelligent technologies can lead to a new understanding of the competence profile of teachers in higher education. The Actor Network Theory offers a model of hybrid, network-based forms of social order that can be used to define competence as a quality equally distributed among individuals, organisations and technologies, and which is not ascribable to any one of these alone. Keywords: e-competence; new media competence; e-learning; knowledge management; Web 2.0; organisational strategies; standards and levels of e-competence; education; teachers; teaching skills. Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Belliger, A. and Krieger, D. (2010) An e-competence profile for teachers in higher education, Int. J. Cont. Engineering Education and Life-Long Learning, Vol. 20, Nos. 3/4/5, pp.324336. Biographical notes: Andra Belliger is Director of Learning Services of the Teachers Training University of Central Switzerland Lucerne and Co-Director of the Institute for Communication Research IKF Lucerne, Switzerland. She is also Director of the Master Programs in Educational Technology and E-Learning and Knowledge Management offered by those institutions. She has published widely on new media, e-learning, knowledge management, Actor-Network-Theory and social communication. David Krieger is Director of the Center for E-Learning of the Teachers Training University of Central Switzerland Lucerne and Co-Director of the Institute for Communication Research Lucerne, Switzerland. He is an expert in the area of new media and social communication with special focus on systems theory, semiotics and intercultural communication.

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An e-competence profile for teachers in higher education


Educational takes place in hybrid, network-based organisations

Digital media play an important role in almost every area of society in business, politics, art, science and education. The small e can be found everywhere e-business, e-government, e-health, e-learning, etc. The thesis that digital media are not qualitatively new, but merely a quicker, more efficient and cheaper extension of traditional media, fails to take account of the fact that the integration of human beings into technologies and complex, network-based organisations has brought forth a global knowledge and information society and has changed social life and working practices in all areas. New and fundamentally different competencies and abilities are being demanded by employers and new skills are becoming a condition for success in all professions. McLuhan (1964) pointed out that the medium is the message and that significant changes in forms of communication bring with them significant changes in society, culture, forms of social interaction and institutions. In a society that consists not of human beings, but of communications (Luhmann, 1995), the dominant forms of communication influence all areas of social activity and demand that individuals change and adapt. Digital media and automated information and communication systems have changed not only the way in which organisations function, but also the meaning of competence itself. Competence is normally ascribed to individuals as a qualification on the basis of the requirements of role definitions and job profiles. Competence is generally considered to consist of knowledge, skills, motivation and experience, that is properties that an individual demonstrably has or can acquire. With regard to teaching staff in educational institutions, traditional pedagogical competencies have been extended to include e-competencies. A recent study of the European Union (Dondi et al., 2006, p.24) offers a typical list of such e-competencies: Ability to match students learning needs with e-learning models. Ability to take into account students learning needs to select appropriate learning resources and media. Ability to use the internet as a learning resource. Ability to provide all the necessary administrative support for the different aspects of e-learning. Ability to select the suitable medium for the learning programme. Ability to design the adequate e-learning reference materials. Ability to prepare real-time session. Ability to schedule a virtual session. Ability to design consistent online monitoring and evaluation tools. Ability to adopt a learner-centric/learner-based approach. Ability to deliver and manage a real-time online session. Ability to deliver and manage a virtual session. Ability to manage virtual classroom tools effectively.


A. Belliger and D. Krieger Ability to provide learners with technological expertise. Ability to use consistent and coherent online monitoring and evaluation tests. Ability to retrieve relevant evaluation data from the available online evaluation devices.

It is obvious that this conception of competence still is largely oriented toward individual teachers and not to the complex organisational and technological systems in which education actually takes place. Is it sufficient to still speak of competence as a qualification of teachers alone and to attempt to address the problem of optimising education by extending individual skill expectations? In fact competence has organisational as well as personal aspects. In this context, competence often means certification, authorisation, jurisdiction, rights, position and responsibility. Competence plays an important role in defining strategies, initiating and steering processes, allocating resources, hiring, training, change management and incentive programmes. In addition to this, organisations have competencies that individuals do not; for example, the educational institution has the competence to certify, whereas the individual instructor does not. Companies have unique competencies in research and development, production, marketing, etc. According to the above cited Study of the European Union (Schneckenberg and Wildt, 2006, p.33): A meaningful definition of the competence term can only be reached, when it is applied to, and embedded into, a specific context. In the case of our eCompetence research this context is set by the conditions in which educational processes in higher education take place. These considerations lead to the question: what concept of competence is able to describe competencies of not only a complex network involving individual knowledge and skills, but also organisational structures and processes as well as technologies? With the advent of digital communication and the global knowledge society, responsibility for competence management has become distributed throughout personal, organisational and technological domains. Successful competence management demands that the individual attempts to integrate many different kinds of resources into a network that is at once personal, organisational and technological. The individual no longer stands alone, as it were, stripped of technological devices and organisational attributes, having only psychological qualities such as knowledge, motivation and experience to offer. What use are such qualities independent of complex technologies, institutions, social structures and much more? According to proponents of Actor Network Theory (Callon, 1986a; Callon, 1986b; Latour, 1986; Latour, 1987; Latour, 1990; Callon, 1991; Law, 1992), social actors should be considered as hybrid networks consisting of human beings, non-human artefacts, technologies, institutions and much more. John Law (1992, p.4) writes:
people are who they are because they are a patterned network of heterogeneous materials. If you took away my computer, my colleagues, my office, my books, my desk, my telephone I wouldnt be a sociologist writing papers, delivering lectures, and producing knowledge. Id be something quite other. So the analytical question is this. Is an agent an agent primarily because he or she inhabits a body that carries knowledge, skills, values, and all the rest? Or is an agent an agent because he or she inhabits a set of elements (including, of course, a body) that stretches out into the network of materials, somatic and otherwise, that surrounds each body? social agents are never located in bodies and bodies alone, but rather an actor is a patterned network of heterogeneous relations, or an effect produced by such a network.

An e-competence profile for teachers in higher education


The integration of practically all human activities into automated information and communication systems, the emergence of network phenomena (Barabsi, 2002; Barney, 2004), of context steering in complex, self-organising systems (Willke, 1989), of decentralised decision making and development oriented management (Klimecki et al., 1994) direct attention to the dynamic, unforeseeable, self-organising participation of all actors and, away from top down, hierarchically structured organisations. A new type of social and organisational structure is becoming apparent. Organisations of all kinds, companies, associations, schools and universities, public service administrations, hospitals, etc. are taking on new forms. As the proponents of Actor Network Theory have pointed out, cooperative action, organisation and social life in general can most adequately be described as consisting of hybrid networks. What appears as the basic unit of society is a complex texture of different actor networks dynamically interacting and continually redefining social roles and traditional competence profiles. What is an actor network? Actors are not only human individuals, but also entities, machines, technologies and natural environments. The basic concepts in which such actor networks are analysed are: programme, interessement, translation and enrolment (Belliger and Krieger, 2006). Interessement, according to Callon (1986a, pp.207208), refers to actions by which an entity attempts to impose and stabilise the identity of other actors it defines through its problematization. That is to say, every actor has its programme or goals. On the basis of its programme, an actor attempts to integrate as many other actors into its network as it can in order to insure that it can attain its goals. Interessement requires enrolment, that is the marshalling of an array of supports, entities, mediators and props in order to succeed. This in turn calls for translation, that is the redefinition or re-identification of already available or given identities and programmes for the purposes of the actor network that is attempting to organise itself. Despite a language that suggests manipulation and persuasion, it is important to note that Actor Network Theory insists upon a generalised symmetry (Callon, 1986a) according to which intentional concepts usually applied only to humans also describe the networking activities of non-human actors. Actor networks are self-organising and not the result of one dominant actor imposing its will upon others. A technological artefact is not a neutral instrument in the hands of human beings, but also imposes its programme upon humans. The process of negotiating different programmes into a functioning actor network is a complex process of self-organising communication. In certain networks, the context is set by non-human agencies. A computer, for example, enrols people into users and translates many factors in the environment to fit its programme. Ergonomics can mean quite the opposite of what usually is supposed, namely that human beings adapt themselves to computer-like forms of thought, feeling and behaviour and not the other way around. The automobile, home appliances, smart phones, electricity and many other technologies have, each in its own way, done the same. By means of the concepts of interessement, enrolment and translation, it becomes possible to describe and analyse the emergence of communication systems in a way that is not bound by traditional dichotomies such as human/machine, individual/organisation and subject/object. Actor networks are heterogeneous, hybrid and scalable, that is they consist of various types of actors, who themselves consist of various actors every actor is also a network and they can vary in size from small to very large, depending on the programmes they are involved in. A final important factor is that actor networks are self-organising


A. Belliger and D. Krieger

communication systems and thus bound by the conditions making communication at any time possible. In a digital society this means that digital media influence network organisation. With regard to competence, our thesis is that it is the actor network that is competent. Since individuals can only act effectively as a network, competence is a quality that must be ascribed to actor networks and therefore a description of competence should be based upon the characteristics typical for an actor network. A competency profile for teachers in higher education describes those characteristics that make such an actor network viable in the educational system. Typical actors in the educational system are: teachers, students, infrastructures (buildings, transport, communication and information), technologies, information resources, colleagues, finances, administration, certification procedures and regulations, etc. A competence profile for an actor network whose programme is teaching in higher education would include the ability to enrol such actors and to translate their different programmes. In order to do this, the teaching actor network would need to organise itself within the context of a society largely determined by digital media. Recalling McLuhan, it is the media that is the message and therefore it is the characteristics of new media communication that determine the conditions under which actor networks in todays society organise themselves. The typical characteristics which make up the basis of any actor network that can be considered competent today are: virtuality, modularity, automation, variability and networking (Manowich, 2002). Virtuality is the competence to act independent from time and place. Digital communication virtualises educational activities for all actors to the extent that learning is no longer confined to traditional time/space parameters. The virtual actor network is active everywhere that relevant decisions are made and related to each other. Since this occurs in real time worldwide, the virtual actor network operates in cyber space. The virtualising of organisational structures brings with it the digitalising of personal identity and transforms the question of organisational inclusion/exclusion into a question of identity management. The inclusion or exclusion of actors in a network, that is traditional issues of matriculation, access, eligibility in an educational situation, as well as distribution of roles, the teacher role, the student role, the role of the administrator, etc., are determined by access to digital information and decision making. Digital identities take the place of physical persons. One physical person can have a variety of digital identities, which can act in different roles simultaneously. Virtuality is therefore a competence that any educational actor network must have. Modularity is the competence to act multifunctionally on different scales. An actor network consists of various actors, who themselves consist of actors and so on, in the macro as well as the micro dimensions. Each actor can be involved in different networks at the same time. Each actor can be a module in a larger network. The network is arbitrarily scalable and can at one moment be visible in one individual, for example a teacher in a classroom using a computer and a projector to present slides for a lecture. Or the network can at the next moment extend to include an international association of experts in a particular discipline, a publisher, a library, a university, many different students from all over the world, etc. All these actors can at the same time play decisive roles in other more or less extended networks which may or may not intersect with each other. Automation is the competence to delegate the acquisition of information, the evaluation of knowledge, communication and decision making to technical actors and vice versa, to integrate technical actors into a network and to coordinate activities with

An e-competence profile for teachers in higher education


them. As already noted, the computer has made users out of human beings, and human beings have come to think and deal with information in a similar way to computers. In complex systems, the demand for functionality reduces levels of freedom dramatically. Cooperation with technical actors has changed human actors. Traditional psychological competencies like knowledge, skills, motivation and experience must more and more be seen to be the shared attributes of a hybrid human-technological symbiosis which functions to the extent that it is automated. Variability is the competence to change and innovate in all areas by means of actively supporting creativity, complexity, indeterminability and the forces of self-organisation. An actor network must be able to adapt itself quickly to a complex, quickly changing environment. This means that it must be able to quickly develop new strategies and forms of action. It must be willing to increase internal complexity, to operate with soft boundaries, with shifting centres and peripheries, and with a variety of goals and identities. Networking is the competence to distinguish and maintain organisational integrity and efficiency primarily on the basis of the intensity and the quality of communication within the network. An example is the Open Content and Open Courseware of MIT in Boston. An educational institution that makes its learning content publically accessible can maintain its unique excellence only if what counts is primarily the quality of its communication and not the content communicated. The quality of educational communication does not consist of lecture manuscripts and associated documents. The unique selling point of an educational actor network is not what is said, but how and with whom communication occurs. For the virtual actor network in the international educational system, it is not proprietary knowledge, but the knowledge network that counts. Access to and competence in the participation in a highly selective and exclusive knowledge network is more important for career selection than traditional certification. Effective action in a global knowledge society depends on the ability to log into knowledge networks, share and acquire information, and coordinate activities within peer communities. The decisive educational competence is to make oneself a hub in relevant networks. What do these competencies of an actor network mean for a competence profile for teachers in higher education? Despite embeddedness in hybrid networks, human individuals appear for the most part as the primary actors and the networks they rely upon usually remain in the background. The above-mentioned network competencies can thus appear as individually ascribable skills and be interpreted as a traditional competence profile for teachers. It is not a coincidence that these competencies correspond to the recommendations for media competency recently made by the New Media Literacy Project of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program. The NML Whitepaper (Jenkins et al., 2006) lists a series of basic competencies that all can be derived from the network characteristics of present day social organisations. These competencies are: Play Performance Simulation Appropriation Multitasking


A. Belliger and D. Krieger Distributed cognition Collective intelligence Judgement Transmedia navigation Networking Negotiation.

1.1 Play, game-based teaching and learning

As a competence that a teacher in higher education today and in the future should have, play refers to the ability: 1 to correctly grasp complex and constantly changing parameters of acting, to react quickly to unexpected events, to take intelligent risks, to construct and test hypotheses, and to make decisions collaboratively and to acquire knowledge, to develop and test problem-solving strategies, to take on challenges and seek to meet them cooperatively, as well as to make decisions and act under the pressure of high expectations and limited time.

Play is a form of behaviour that arises when actors attempt cooperatively or competitively to attain set goals according to prescribed rules. In actor networks that are determined by digital culture, where virtuality, modularity, variability, automation and networking are decisive competencies, actors must enrol other actors and translate them into programmes in such a way that the network is able to quickly understand and react to changing parameters of action and unexpected events. Actors must be able to take intelligent and informed risks, collaboratively define problems and solutions strategies, as well as be able to make collective decisions. In an educational setting this calls for virtual collaborative learning, operating in complex learning environments and applying the advantages of play such as high motivation, intensity of experience, concentration, attention and emersion for teaching and learning purposes. The boundaries between play and the seriousness of real life become blurred. One speaks in this context of serious games (Serious Games Initiative, These developments indicate that the virtual school operates increasingly in an area where traditional differences between formal and informal learning, work time and free time are no longer applicable.

1.2 Simulation
As a competence that can be ascribed to teachers in higher education, simulation means the ability: 1 2 3 to analyse as precisely as possible and to model real-world situations so that acting on and within the model leads to reliable predictions of real-world effects; to practice and rehearse cognitive and psychomotoric abilities and to configure and restructure knowledge so that problems can be investigated from different perspectives.

An e-competence profile for teachers in higher education


Simulation, as opposed to the fictive world of play, depends for its effectiveness upon an exact analysis of real-world conditions and an emphasis upon experimentation instead of goal-directed, competitive action. Present-day computing power allows the modelling of complex real-world situations in many areas such as finance, transportation, communication, energy, urban planning, defence, product development and testing and, of course, for research in the natural and social sciences. Simulations are also more and more being used to develop psychomotoric skills, for example, in surgical operation simulators, and flight simulators are well known. As a competence essential to educational actor networks, simulation is the ability to construct and apply models that can be used as learning environments. It is the ability to configure information and knowledge so that it can be examined from different perspectives and applied to a variety of different situations.

1.3 Performance
Performance refers to the ability: 1 2 to convincingly and effectively take on virtual identities and roles and to put them to work in a variety of different settings and for different purposes and to successfully manage many different forms of authorisation, access to information and permissions to activate functions on the basis of virtual identities.

The concept of performance is common in socialisation theory and in communication pragmatics. In these disciplines, performance means the ability to internalise and convincingly initiate and sustain social interaction. In a digital culture, performance implies the ability to effectively participate in virtual interaction by means of digital identities. The ability to invent and take on virtual identities, to understand and correctly implement a variety of different kinds of authorisations and access privileges, as well as limitations on access to information, is a key competence not only in an e-society, but also in educational networks. Educational actor networks are more and more made up of real and virtual actors and identities. Performing with virtual identities is a useful way to gain and test knowledge. Different learning situations can be experienced from different points of view. In any single situation, a learners and teachers can take on and play out a much wider variety of roles than in traditional educational settings and thus have a richer, more differentiated learning experience.

1.4 Appropriation and media production

As a competence that teachers in higher education should have, appropriation and media production refer to the ability: 1 2 to access and transform data of all kinds, to recombine, scale, convert, reformat and re-appropriate media objects for educational purposes and to adapt information for different purposes and publish this information across a variety of media.


A. Belliger and D. Krieger

The problem of information overload has created a situation in which selection, modification and application of information takes precedence over the production of new information. A key competency in a digital network culture is the ability to appropriate and use available information for a specific programme. What pejoratively is referred to as cut-and-paste is becoming a valuable skill in educational actor networks. Teaching and learning require the ability to use information that is available in different media and different formats by reconfiguring, recombining, modifying and republishing in other media and in other formats for purposes that were possibly not even thought of as the information was first produced. From the perspective of Actor Network Theory, appropriation is a form of translation and enrolment in which media become actors contributing to the success of the programme.

1.5 Multitasking
In the context of teaching within virtual, modular, variable, automatic and networked educational contexts, multitasking refers to the ability: 1 2 3 4 to quickly scan and monitor different informational environments, flows and formats in different media; to select relevant information; to transfer this information to a variety of devices and memory technologies and to hold this information ready for use and for quick call up from a variety of devices.

In traditional educational settings, emphasis is laid upon focusing attention upon limited channels and messages and excluding all other information as distraction. When students at the same time listen to a lecture, take notes, surf the internet, blog, exchange SMS und send emails, then this would normally call for disciplinary measures. In a digital culture such multitasking does not necessarily mean that students and teachers must lose focus on learning. On the contrary, what is going on is a useful, perhaps necessary, scanning of different informational channels and a way of reducing information complexity by applying different criteria of relevance. Multitasking means that an actor network maximises the availability of information coming in from the environment by increasing the channels in which information is communicated. At the same time, the network enrols more actors involved in transmitting, storing and using information, while at the same time reducing the complexity of the information at any time being processed. The ability to keep a variety of information devices which process different information in different ways ready for quick call up all at the same time is a key competence for an educational actor network in a digital culture.

1.6 Distributed cognition and collective intelligence

As a core competence for educational actor networks, distributed cognition and collective intelligence refer to the ability: 1 2 to understand and experience knowledge, cognition, decision making and acting as specific characteristics of a network; to interact together with automated information and communication systems;

An e-competence profile for teachers in higher education 3 4 to participate constructively in knowledge communities and to collaboratively define and solve problems.


An actor network in the global knowledge society must be able to experience the production, distribution, application and evaluation of information as activities of the entire network and as a cooperative endeavour involving human beings, organisations and technologies equally. The ability to delegate responsibility to technological actors and to allow oneself to be instrumentalised by them, and vice versa, is a central competence in the digital society. Distributed cognition and collective intelligence are typical features of actor networks in education as well. Educational settings are increasingly becoming socio-technical networks in which learning is as well an organisational as a psychological event. Neither the definition of problems, nor the setting of goals, nor the finding of solutions and the development of products are easily ascribable to individuals, but are increasingly distributed among all actors in the network. This is, by the way, one reason why property rights and copyright are so problematic in the digital society. The ability to integrate, that is to enrol, the right actors into the network and to translate their activities into serving common goals is a key competence without which teaching and learning will not able to take advantage of the potential of digital culture.

1.7 Judgement
Judgement refers to the ability: 1 2 to correctly evaluate the meaning, value, usefulness, quality and reliability of information and to understand the different conditions surrounding and determining the production of various forms of information and media objects.

Informational overload has put the ability to select and apply information to new situations above the ability to produce new information. This in turn implies the ability to evaluate the relevance, reliability and potential of different forms of information. Distributed cognition and collective intelligence cannot function if the ability to judge and evaluate the quality of information is lacking. Judgement is a key competence of educational actor networks. It includes the ability to understand the conditions influencing the production and distribution of information. Different media and different formats influence information. The same information means something else in a different media or a different format. Self-directed learning and problem-based teaching will be successful only to the extent that all actors involved in the network are competent to judge the quality of information, compare media and formats, and analyse the conditions surrounding the production and distribution of information. Wikipedia, for example, demonstrates not only distributed cognition and collective intelligence, but also the dependence of these important network phenomena on judgement and evaluation competencies.


A. Belliger and D. Krieger

1.8 Transmedia navigation

As a competence that actor networks in higher education should have, transmedia navigation refers to the ability: 1 2 to follow information in different media, to compare media, to design and present media objects in different formats and media and to understand how different media and formats have different influences.

Without the ability to navigate across a variety of different media, channels and formats, it would be impossible to judge and evaluate the quality of information and thus achieve the potential for distributed cognition and collective intelligence that actor networks need. Information tends to break up into perspectives and fragments that appear in different media and different formats. The whole picture is a puzzle that must be put together by being able to follow information through media and formats and influence how information in a network flows. In educational networks, this refers to the competence to assign information to specific media and to mix media appropriate to specific information. This applies not only to media production, but also to media consumption. Transmedia navigation is the competence to strategically use media and formats for educational purposes.

1.9 Networking and negotiation

Networking has already been discussed as a key competence of actor networks. In the educational system, networking has become a key to success and refers to the ability: 1 2 3 to find and combine relevant information in many different forms of knowledge communities; to use it collaborative; which implies the ability and to understand and adapt to different cultures of communication and knowledge and to respect their customs, norms and traditions.

The global knowledge society is a multicultural society. Transcultural communication is the ability to effectively exchange ideas and information in different normative contexts. Networks may have soft boundaries, but they do include and exclude actors on the basis of normative expectations and prescriptions. The flexibility required to move from involvement in one network into involvement in another is an important competence in society made up scalable, overlapping and intersecting actor networks. Digital culture is radically pluralist and fragmented. Actors participate simultaneously in different networks at different levels and can communicate effectively only if they are constantly negotiating roles and functions within and among quickly changing networks. Negotiation of actor roles and network programmes implies the ability to easily drop old identities, transform roles and take on new functions. In an educational actor network teaching staff finds itself changing roles from instructor to tutor to coach to mentor in a series of transformations that at each turn need to be renegotiated among all participating actors. Networking is the competence to build and participate in actor networks.

An e-competence profile for teachers in higher education



A competence profile for teachers in higher education in a digital culture where competence is a quality that is not merely psychological, but organisational and technological as well, can be described from the point of view of Actor Network Theory. Competence is a network quality. The traditional listing of personal competences, even e-competencies for teaching staff, must take account of the emergence of digital culture and the accompanying transformation of what competence means. Following this lead, a competence profile for teachers in higher education includes characteristics of the network as a whole. Actor networks are hybrid constellations of human beings, organisations and technologies. They are virtual, modular, automated and variable. It is the network that is competent and not the individual. An individual teacher in an educational actor network is required to embody network competencies such as play, simulation, performance, appropriation and media production, multitasking, distributed cognition and collective intelligence, judgement of informational quality, transmedia navigation, networking and negotiation.

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