Understanding social and cultural aspects of teachers’ digital competencies


Many European governments, including Norway, have ambitious educational policies regarding digitalisation. Many businesses and policymakers pay great attention to the use of digital technologies in education in order to meet the future demands for a competent and qualified workforce. Among researchers and policymakers, there is a general consensus that the professional teacher is a key figure for the successful implementation of digital technologies in schools. Many expectations have been placed upon professional teachers regarding the implementation and use of digital technologies. The professional teacher is, to a certain degree, supposed to independently decide how digital technologies should be used in the classroom. This paper discusses what the concept of a ‘professional digitally competent teacher’ may mean in the context of schools. It also argues the need for a greater understanding of professional digital competence, one which takes into consideration various social and cultural aspects with regard to technology, schools and the teaching profession. In unpacking the social and cultural conditions for implementing technology in a professional teaching context, I will draw on concepts from the constructivist understanding of technology, namely, the ‘domestication of technology’.


Muchos gobiernos europeos, incluido el de Noruega, tienen políticas educativas ambiciosas en materia de digitalización. Muchas empresas y responsables políticos prestan gran atención al uso de las tecnologías digitales en la educación para satisfacer la futura demanda de una mano de obra competente y cualificada. Entre los investigadores y los legisladores, existe un consenso general al considerar a los docentes profesionales como una figura clave para la aplicación con éxito de las TIC en la escuela, en lo referente a su implementación y su uso, y se han depositado muchas expectativas en ellos. Se supone que el docente profesional debe, hasta cierto punto, decidir de manera autónoma cómo se han de utilizar estas tecnologías digitales en el aula. Este artículo analiza lo que puede significar el concepto de «docente profesional digitalmente competente» en el contexto de la escuela. También argumenta sobre la necesidad de una mejor interpretación de la competencia digital profesional, que tenga en cuenta diversos aspectos sociales y culturales en relación con la tecnología, las escuelas y la profesión docente. Al analizar las condiciones sociales y culturales para implementar la tecnología en un contexto de enseñanza profesional, nos basaremos en el enfoque constructivista de la tecnología, en concreto, la «domesticación de la tecnología».


Cultural values, digital competence, digitalisation, domestication of technology, moral economy, social conditions, teacher professional competence, technology adaption


Valores culturales, competencia digital, digitalización, domesticación tecnológica, economía ética, condiciones sociales, competencia profesional docente, adaptación tecnológica


In a relatively short period of time, the role of the teacher has undergone a dramatic change. The expectations placed on schools have increased, because knowledge and digital competence have gained more importance in the development of society. In the public debate in Norway, one element that has been particularly emphasised is the huge impact that new digital technologies have had on all aspects of civil and professional society and that schools must be able to prepare students for the digital professional lives they have ahead of them. Such technology deterministic arguments have been articulated by politicians and school leaders and are supported by technology experts and the commercial computer industry at large (Egea, 2014; Hammond, 2014). Although it is difficult to find explicit claims of technological determinism, the view persists in many everyday accounts of digital technologies (Selwyn, 2012). The slow changes and adaptions to technology in schools have often been explained by teachers’ tendencies to have a reactionary attitude towards using digital technologies and towards changing their teaching practices. Such claims have, to some extent, found support by research that reveals there is a gap between the technology available for education and teachers’ actual use of technology in the classroom (Cuban, 2001; Jurica & Webb, 2016; Selwyn, 2010; Wachira & Keengwe, 2011; Winner, 2009). Research has also indicated that teacher training is too slow in responding to technological developments and fails to provide pre-service teachers with the necessary digital competence for integrating technology into their future professional contexts (Elstad & Christophersen, 2017; Instefjord & Munthe, 2017).

There is a general consensus in the research community and among policymakers that teachers’ digital competence refers to their skills, knowledge, and attitudes towards using digital technology. It is clear that these issues are important for understanding how technology is adapted and used in schools. In addition, I will argue that a teacher’s competence in translating the use of technology between different contexts which also takes into account the social and cultural aspects of digital technology is of equal importance.

The aim of this paper is therefore to examine the social and cultural conditions needed to implement digital technologies in the classroom and to explore what knowledge and competencies are required of the professional teacher. In order to address these issues, I will explore the phenomenon of ‘digitalisation’ and its connection to schools, teaching and digital competence. To unpack the contextual conditions required for implementing technology in teaching practices and schools, I will draw on the theoretical concept from the constructivist understanding of technology, the ‘domestication of technology’ approach (Berker, Hartmann, Punie, & Ward, 2006; Silverstone & Hirsch, 1992). In the discourse surrounding digital competence and the use of technology in schools, which to a large extent have been focused on the potential technology has for enhance learning (Oliver, 2011; Selwyn, 2012), the domestication perspective represents an alternative conceptual framework for understanding the social and cultural aspects regarding the implementation and adaption of technology in schools.

Digitalisation and new competencies

The technological imperative in education is connected to the more general development and digitalisation of society and the need for new competencies. Rationalisation is often the most obvious motivation for digitalisation, at least in the initial stages. Workers and workflows can be replaced with digital technologies, either with ATMs and mobile payment solutions within the financial sector, or with robots within the classical industrial production sector, such as the car industry. Rationalisation, however, only represents one side of digitalisation. The other side is about innovation, new products, new services, and new cultures. The digital society has changed the industrial society’s mode of production towards innovation, new products, new lifestyles, and even new business models (Tapscott & Williams, 2006). It has been claimed that the crucial institutions in these new dynamics are the educational institutions, which play a completely new role in the ‘knowledge society’ than they did in the previous industrial society. Such claims has ideological underpinnings which implicitly understands knowledge as a productive force (Friesen, 2008). Although schools and universities look largely the same, both on the inside and on the outside, their function and role have nevertheless changed. The late modern society is characterised by a profound socio-cultural change, not merely a technological shift. In the discourse surrounding knowledge, competencies and digitalisation, education is emphasised as some of the most important premises for the development of society (Egea, 2014). This includes acknowledging a clear linkage between the use of digital technology in the classroom at micro level and social structures of society such as global economics, as well as political and cultural institutions at macro level (Selwyn, 2010). With that background, the term ‘digital competence’ is highly political, reflecting the beliefs and assumptions regarding the kinds of competencies that are needed for the future societies (Ilomäki, Paavola, Lakkala, & Kantosalo, 2016).

Professional digital competencies

Rapid technological developments and changes put great demands on the professional teacher. These demands are not only in relation to adopting the new digital technologies as they are introduced and made