University teachers in the digital age: adapt or die


The days of the university professor who gives the master lesson are over. It can be dangerous to have analog teachers, blind to the changes that happen in their environment and disconnected from reality. Especially when the professionals of the future are in their hands and they should have the digital capabilities developed when they finish their studies.

The changes come fast and there are many educators who have been caught by the gap, not only the digital one, but the generational one. And it is not a matter of age, as many point out as to the new generations that are born digital, but it is an element of attitude, of wanting to evolve with the society that surrounds us, of curiosity, of pursuing, improving and learning, of vocation .

Teaching must adapt to changes. The fact of being present in the student environment is basic, for example, in social networks: how will a teacher motivate a student if he does not know his world, his customs and his way of communicating?

Teachers should encourage the proactivity of their students towards digital mutation, change the teaching processes towards digital and, more importantly, forget many of the teaching paradigms that were being exercised and that no longer make sense.

Meet the digital youth

You cannot teach digital young people regardless of their characteristics. A university teacher who prepares people of the future cannot ignore the idiosyncrasy of the networked society.

Collective intelligence, cooperation without borders or virtual work are tools of the students’ daily life, in all sectors. Why not learn using these values, implementing these new human relationships that will be your future work and personal?

Competencies, change, creativity and innovation are going to be fixed elements in their future, they must work from childhood and, of course, throughout their academic life. The problem goes through teachers who do not see it.

Obsolete content

In many careers there is an accumulation of obsolete content and the teacher must evolve and prepare material according to the society in which we live. A serious problem for universities is what to do with all those teachers who do not recycle and whose subjects are meaningless.

In the public university, most of these professors are civil servants, they cannot be dispensed with or forced to convert digitally. For more inri, the hiring of new personnel does not contemplate the new models, so that public universities are becoming obsolete in form and content, they are reaching the digital divide without reacting or evolving.

It is not a matter of forcing teachers to recycle, surely it will involve motivation and training of trainers, elements in which the institutions are working, but that perhaps it is necessary to reinforce, accelerate and encourage to obtain better results.

Changes in teaching

Students locate the information when they need it, they have a device in their pocket with which to look for a doubt at any time. Why then does the teacher have to offer them content that they can find themselves? The work is that of mentor, guide to investigate and decide the necessary elements, accompanying students in their interest and deepening individually according to their needs, helping to generate criteria. A more active than passive task.

This aspect, far from being novel, has been known since the mid-twentieth century. The basic levels of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning already predict it.

The knowledge (theory) and the understanding and application of these theoretical contents (problem solving and practical sessions) are levels that digital technology already provides without the need for a teacher-wise to provide them. However, complex levels of learning, analysis and synthesis of knowledge, and innovation are not substitutable for technology.

For young people, social networks and messaging systems are very important spaces for socialization, meeting, exchange and knowledge. Young people feel incomplete without the Internet and without social networks. Everything happens in social networks and what does not happen in them, is managed there.

Should or should not be teachers in networks? As Professor Josep María Duart says in his editorial Internet, Social Networks and Education , “teachers have the challenge of being permeable to the changes that occur in the communicative environment and the social uses of the Network. The true transformation is found in the educational dynamic, in the educational process that takes place in the classroom and, today more and more, outside of it ”.

If you really want to motivate and reach students you will have to understand their environment and adapt the teaching to it.

Do we continue with face-to-face tutoring?

Clearly, if students can be reached at any time, the teacher must be willing to do so. It makes no sense to close communication with the student outside the classroom: why not solve issues on the Internet, in discussion groups, and even on WhatsApp?

Is it necessary to wait until Tuesday at 12, tutoring schedule, to solve a doubt? Are face-to-face tutoring necessary? They should not disappear, but they can be replaced by other forms of communication supported by technology. The “fear” of the teacher to lose their privacy is actually fear of the unknown, lack of knowledge in the use of technologies. However, there is a solution: the teacher can adapt, renew, migrate to the digital world.

Personal brand

Today’s teacher has high potential in his own brand; It no longer depends solely on the scientific journals where you publish, but the fact of sharing your research in a particular way or through groups of researchers benefits your digital identity when building a reputation.

Although many do not like the concept of personal brand applied to teachers, the truth is that social networks give a great projection to professionals, it is their academic brand. The presence on the Internet is not a recommendation, but an obligation.

Achieving a digital identity requires effort and dedication, but, above all, the ability to differentiate and provide added value in a context where information is abundant and where opportunities for innovative and curious teachers also multiply. Naturally, the teacher who adapts to technology becomes a social-digital being.

His public profile becomes his personal brand, his digital reputation and what the Network says about him will be as significant as his curriculum.

In some universities they are already promoting the personal brand of the star teachers , it is a rising value for the university and it is exploited. Within the positioning strategies of universities in the international rankings, teachers with an academic brand are being valued because they help their entity improve their reputation and scientific visibility.

A matter of attitude

It is not a matter of age but of attitude, of wanting to evolve with society, of curiosity, of pursuing, improving and learning, of vocation. A teacher of the 21st century must be attentive to these networks, he must know who is who in his sector and must present himself to the digital world, he cannot remain hidden in his classroom or laboratory.

Se exige al docente que presente unas habilidades en comunicación digital que todo el mundo no está dispuesto a implementar. Es difícil que un docente que lleva media vida en la universidad asimile qué es la marca académica y la implicación de su huella digital. Lo que se espera del docente es que, además de las habilidades propias de su área de conocimiento, esté al día de los avances en comunicación digital, pedagogía y relaciones interpersonales.

Not only must you be in the networks and know the new technological trends, but you must also know how to manage your digital skills, position your personal brand and your research, generate networks of contacts in the sector and know how to encourage and motivate students in your ecosystem. The task is really not simple, especially when it evolves every day and what is useful for a course will surely be obsolete the next.

When the online and the physical merge in the learning environment, when the teacher achieves the balance between his classroom self and his digital self, when it becomes accessible to students causing the ideal space for teaching regardless of whether the space is Physical or virtual is when we can say that the teacher has mutated digitally.

We hope that the selection of personnel in the near future takes into account the digital aspect of the teacher, not only the academic, research and management. That is to say, that the fingerprint is taken into account and professionals are valued as teachers also from this perspective, not only in terms of their profile on the Network but also to the connections with the sector, to their position as a researcher, to Positioning of your research … The absence of digital branding will be an indication of the absence of digital skills, essential in a teacher of the 21st century.

Author Bios: Marga Cabrera is a Professor,Jose-Luis Poza-Lujan is Deputy Director of Communication of the Higher Technical School of Computer Engineering and Nuria Lloret Romero is a University Professor all at the Polytechnic University of Valencia