Monthly Archives: November 2015

#EdTech: digital resources anytime, everywhere is possible!

Econocom 27 Nov 2015

After spending almost 17 years teaching in several different countries, Christophe Rhein now works for teachers’ network Canopé in Corrèze in south-west France as an instructor and consultant for deploying digital tools. After regularly encountering problem with Wi-Fi at schools where tablets were used, he came up with the idea of rolling out Bibliobox, a little device whereby students can access digital files without needing an Internet connection.





Whist more and more schools are supplying teachers and students with digital tools, the lack of reliable infrastructure – in particular a Wi-Fi connection – is still a major stumbling block.


>>> Also on our blog: Notre Dame Les Oiseaux school talks about its table project deployed by Econocom <<<



This is what Christophe Rhein has found in the course of his job with the Canopé network, for which he regularly talks to teachers about the various digital-related problems they come across. In an interview with LudoMag, Rhein explained:


“The big problem with mass tablet deployments is Wi-Fi. Even in schools where there’s fibre optic broadband, when you’ve got 400 tablets used at the same time, the infrastructure sometimes struggles to cope.”


So he started looking into alternative solutions, and found Bibliobox. A variant of PirateBox, developed by a network of librarians, it’s a small electronic device that can be configured as a local server. The teacher chooses the teaching resources and shares them with students via a Wi-Fi router, without the need for an Internet connection – all for just €35.





Christophe Rhein gave the example of a class of students studying for a freight driver diploma. As they often have to revise their highway code whilst on the move – i.e. driving around, the students up to now worked with paper exercise books which the teacher then marked.


With the Bibliobox, they can now log on, via a tablet, to a bank of questions to help them revise. For the project, Christophe Rhein also provided a Raspberry_Pi, a nano-computer, and installed an online learning platform (Moodle) on it whereby the teacher can access students’ homework.





A similar problem was experienced by the Institut français of Nigeria in Abuja. This centre, which promotes France’s linguistic and cultural activity in Nigeria, planned to build up its digital library and train its teachers in digital skills – but they had a very poor Internet connection. So Christophe Rhein came up with the idea of compiling a library of over 3,000 works in the public domain – i.e. free in digital format – and making them available to the users. To do this, he used Calibre, an open-source eBook management program, to export the entire library and then turned it into a shared website on the Bibliobox. Although it took over forty hours to wipe the metadata from the various books, the hardware costs are practically non-existent, and the 3,000 books can now be read on a smartphone.


Christophe Rhein’s story is further proof that teachers can also be true digital makers: aware of the advantages of digital for learning, they are instruments of their school’s transformation and, as such, are promoting our Digital for All, NOW movement.



Further reading:


=> Find out about other exciting digital education initiatives, such as twictation, or dictations in 140 characters, and twittclasses, where “twitteachers” use Twitter to teach.

#Twittclasses, #Twiterature, #FrenchTeach: teaching in the digital age

Econocom 25 Nov 2015

Just as François Hollande’s digital education plan is being deployed at French schools, a number of schoolteachers and other education professionals are using digital tools. On Twitter, there are more and dedicated education hashtags, showing a strong desire to bring teaching into the digital age. In addition to the twictation – a dictation on 140 characters, a number of other innovative online education projects have been launched: we had a look at some of them…


Aside from large-scale projects such as Viaéduc, known as “Facebook for teachers,” or Canopé, a support network for teachers in France, an ever-growing number of teachers are communicating via the social networks, particularly on Twitter. Totally unfazed by their increasingly-connected students, these teachers are constantly coming up with innovative, creative ideas to help them learn.



EDUCATION 2.0 WITH #twittclasses


Twittclasses, or classes in which Twitter is used for classwork, are increasingly widespread in France: there are currently over 600, from primary school through to higher education.


Teachers hold regular “Twittconseils”, or class council meetings via Twitter during which teachers can discuss students’ progress and organise future collaborations. Their motto is a famous quotation from Henry Ford:


“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”


During the #twittconseil 2014-2015, a number of projects and hashtags were launched or continued, including a number of fun new teaching methods, such as along similar lines to twictations.


With #devinombre, for example, primary school children have to guess integers or decimals.

 “How many right angles intersect d1?”

#geometwitt, meanwhile, helps students resolve geometry problems.

“In my school, there are laptops and tablets”


With #Dansmonécole, primary schoolchildren can share their everyday school life by taking a photo of their school and commenting it.


Of course, teaching with Twitter doesn’t stop at primary school level: with the “Institute of Comparative Twitterature,” French journalist Jean-Michel Le Blanc and French-Canadian poet and teacher Pierre-Paul Pleau have set their students a challenge: to publish  stories, thoughts or poems of no more than 140 characters, on a certain theme, genre and stylistic literary device (comparison, alliteration, etc.). This year, a network of French-speaking schools called Refer is organising a competition based on the same concept for 5 to 18-year-olds: contestants have to produce a work of literature in tweet form, either individually or as a class project, using a series of mandatory words.



DO YOU SPEAK #FrenchTeach?


Régis Doucet, a digital strategy expert, set up #FrenchTeach to bring together members of the education community who are open to digital technologies and promote the various initiatives that have been implemented in the French-speaking world.


One such example is #Edmuslive, a project dreamed up by Nicolas Olivier. To share his experiences of teaching with tablets and ICT, this music teacher organises regular live hangouts, real-time video discussions that can then be watched on Youtube. During the sessions, Olivier covers subjects such as how to create a musical project using a tablet, using digital technology for musical education, and teaching through games.


Another resource available on the social media, @Nipédu, a podcast dedicated to digital education. Run by three twittos – schoolteacher Régis Forgione, training consultant Fabien Hobart, and education inspector, Nicolas Durupt – it covers virtual reality, the flipped classroom and applications for tablets.


Even more outlandish is #DéfiDrone which tries to make learning more engaging by using drones, from kindergarten to post-graduate level. The idea is simple and involves helping students acquire skills and knowledge by getting them to work with drones and then sharing their experiences on the dedicated tumblr account. The aim to teach children to programme, cooperate, code and collaborate.



The “twitt-teachers” have really grasped the potential benefits of digital technology for teaching and have appropriated the tools. The rather encouraging results of their experiments confirm once more that the digital school isn’t for tomorrow, but now!



Find out about other innovative initiatives by digital makers in the field of education:

– Shona Whyte: using new technologies to make language learning-easier

– Nicolas Prono: using digital to help children with learning difficulties

Yves Le Saout: using tablets to develop new teaching approaches at secondary schools

Shona Whyte: using new technologies to make language learning easier

Econocom 19 Nov 2015

Shona Whyte is Senior Lecturer at the Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis where she teaches English and language teaching. In charge of the English course of the new French Masters in Teacher Training , this Doctor of Linguistics is very much involved in training future teachers.  


Where research is concerned, with the iTILT and then the iTILT 2 projects, Shona Whyte became interested in the use of digital tools, and in particular, interactive whiteboards, for teaching foreign languages.


How can you help teachers appropriate these new technologies? What are the advantages in terms of teaching methods? What obstacles need to be overcome? Shona Whyte answered these questions and more.





Tell us about the iTILT and iTILT 2 projects.


iTILT (Interactive Technologies in Language Teaching) was set up to facilitate incorporating new technologies into language teaching. It’s a pan-European project involving seven countries – France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Wales and Turkey – and concerns a wide range of teaching: primary and secondary school, professional training and higher education.


We first looked into using interactive whiteboards because when we started the project back in 2009/10, interactive whiteboards were becoming very popular: in England, nearly all schools had them.


For iTILT, we trained teachers in how to use them and filmed the sessions with interactive whiteboards in classes of different levels. Using these recordings, we created a website with over 250 videos, all accompanied by descriptions of the lessons or comments from the teachers. That way, education professionals can see what they can do and how they can use the technology in class.


“One of the things that puts people off adopting new technologies is the lack of concrete examples. You can read a book about it and think it could be useful but, without any actual examples, it’s difficult to get started.”


In addition to this project, I published a book called Implementing and Researching Technological Innovation in Language Teaching. This involved following for almost a year the nine teachers who were part of the French part of the iTILT project – four at primary school, two at junior secondary, two in senior secondary and one at university – to try and understand what factors influenced adoption – or not – of the digital tools.


“The technologies are interesting but you should focus on the person rather than the technique. Just as each person has a different approach to teaching a foreign language, they also have different ways of incorporating technology into their teaching”


One thing we noticed is that you can’t say that an interactive whiteboard will help language learning directly: it’s always mediated by whoever’s using it – i.e. the teacher, and the teacher will always use it according to their ideas, their project, their objectives and their perception of the tool.


With iTILT 2, we work on other tools apart from interactive whiteboards. They’re not as widely used in France as other European countries and some studies show that it’s more useful at primary school level than at secondary school. So we looked into other, more mobile technologies: tablets, video conferencing and telephones. But we always film the sessions and used a similar system, except for two things. The first is that we try to train people more in teaching methods and less in how to use the tool and the technical aspects.


“We noticed that sometimes, disappointing results for example, ways of using the boards that weren’t particularly interactive were more due to a misunderstanding of the methods to use or the purpose of the teaching, than from an incorrect use of the tool itself.”


We also use a task-based approach: rather than memorising lists of vocabulary or learning grammatical rules by heart, we try to use languages in a context that’s as realistic as possible, by thinking up real-life situations in which our students might have to use a foreign language.  The other main difference is that we encourage more interaction between teachers in different countries via an online platform.





In your experience, what makes teachers adopt digital tools more easily?


When I wrote my book, at the beginning and the end of the iTILT project, I got the nine French teachers I was monitoring to complete a questionnaire on how they viewed their skills and how useful they thought the technology was. Based on this, I identified three profiles. Three teachers took part in most of the activities in the project but didn’t do more than we asked of them. Another group was more involved: they made a lot of progress in using the interactive whiteboard, but less in terms of their approach to teaching. The last group, meanwhile, drastically changed their teaching methods.


“The teachers who progressed with the digital tool started questioning their teaching methods. They saw the projects and the interactive whiteboards as an opportunity to develop and change their approach.”


A very good example is one of the teachers in a special education class at primary school. For the project, she asked students to draw their English lessons. When she looked at the drawings, she realised that she took up the most room in the class whilst her students drew themselves as really small. This led her to the conclusion that she was too present and she changed her way of teaching so that she took a backseat to the interactive whiteboard.



What sort of things can you do with the digital tools?


To go back to this last example, what this teacher liked about the interactive whiteboard is that it grabs all the students’ attention at once. On the whole, primary and junior secondary school teachers said that’s the main advantage of the tool: as it’s very big, colourful and bright, it attracts all the students’ attention.


In language classes, we often work in small groups, away from the board. With the interactive whiteboard, you can begin a task and, when it’s completed, it’s easy to take over the class again because you can focus very quickly on a task.


With interactive whiteboards, you can display images and add multimedia files easily. It’s completely different from just showing a PowerPoint presentation where the slides go in a specific order that’s defined from the outset, and doesn’t take into account the students’ reactions. When you’re working with an interactive whiteboard, you can add an extra page, make notes on the side, go back and watch something again, etc. If we have a brainstorming session in class, we can save the files and export them as a PDF file, so it’s not lost like an ordinary board that you wipe. A lot of teachers have also pointed out the fact that you can keep a record of students’ contributions. That’s really important as it lets students know that their comments are taken on board: we don’t just listen to them and then forget all about it.





How did the students respond?


The classes of future teachers have grasped the advantages I’ve just described. In younger classes, the students find it more difficult to say what they like: sometimes it’s the colours, or the fact that the text is easier to read. It looks nicer and that’s something they really respond to.


The most useful feedback we’ve had is from junior and senior secondary schools. The teenagers were very clear about the fact that they like screens and they’re happy to have them in the classroom. Others said it was easier for them to keep up with what’s happening in class. With interactive whiteboards, they know that if they don’t manage to make a note of everything, it doesn’t matter because the teacher can put the class notes on the school’s digital workspace. And that’s a relief for them.  And we had the same feedback from universities. Digital tools allow students to focus more on the content in lectures because they don’t have to take notes.



What sort of difficulties have you come across?


There are always technical problems. We often waste time plugging in cables and getting rid of software bugs.


“For teachers, it’s very frustrating working on software that only works half the time!”


We haven’t really found a way to resolve this; we wish we had the resources for proper technical backup. All we’ve come up with so far is to tell the teachers to work together as a network. With interactive whiteboards, there’s also the problem of licence fees: it’s difficult to get schools to subscribe to or buy software licences.



What other projects are you working on?


SoNetTESocial Networks in Teacher Education – is a project that’s just coming to an end but was very interesting. It involved setting up international study groups to get teachers from different countries and different subjects to work together: languages, science, maths, education. We created online courses, which is another way of using technologies for education!



Read our other interviews with digital makers in education:

Nicolas Prono: using digital to help children with learning difficulties

Yves Le Saout: using tablets to develop new teaching approaches at secondary schools

Yves Le Saout: using tablets to develop new teaching approaches at secondary schools

Econocom 17 Nov 2015

Yves Le Saout is the Headmaster of Notre-Dame « Les Oiseaux », a group of schools in the Yvelines on the outskirts of Paris, with almost 3,000 students, from nursery school through to higher education. In 2014, the school decided to supply some of its senior school classes – science and management – and one junior school class with iPads as a way of experimenting with new teaching practices.


Did the deployment run smoothly? How did teachers and students get on to the tablets? What advice could one give to a school that’s planning a similar project? We found out from Yves Le Saout.



USING digital TO DEVELOP innovaTIVe, crEative, collaborative TEACHING METHODS


Why did you switch to digital tools?


When we started experimenting with digital, the aim was to develop new approaches to teaching.


“Whilst traditional lecture-style, chalk-and-talk teaching shouldn’t be scrapped altogether, it doesn’t necessarily work with all classes. Other teaching methods allow students to learn more effectively whilst preparing them for their future careers, particularly where collaborative work is concerned.”


We went to a number of events on digital in education where we heard presentations from teachers who’d already embarked on a digital project, and that inspired us to start our own project. We decided to roll out the technology for two very specific classes: technology classes, because we can finance the experiment with the French education tax – and a class of Year 7 students who have Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), i.e. dyscalculia, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, for whom tablets can considerably facilitate the learning process.


>>> Also on our blog: Nicolas Prono: using digital to help children with learning difficulties  <<<


In total, around thirty Year 7 students and almost 80 science and technology students were supplied with iPads.


What sort of teaching methods have you implemented using the tablets?


For the science classes, students have an hour’s technology classes (biotechnology or physics and chemistry) in a foreign language once a week, and have to complete a technology project and then present it in French and English.

Presenting an experimental protocol in a foreign language can be difficult for students. With the tablets, they can film themselves describing the protocol in English; that way, they feel less self-conscious and more confident. They can then send the video to the science teacher, who will watch it with the English teacher, who’ll assess the student’s use of English.


“With digital tools, we can evaluate students’ progress in speaking English and using sophisticated scientific vocabulary.”


Of course, that’s not the only example. We’ve set up a Google Drive for the teaching staff to exchange information with each other and with students. I see a lot of examples of use of digital technology in this shared space. Students carry their tablets around in their satchel and can use them for all their lessons: science, languages, history & geography – even maths, because there are loads of apps that help explain mathematical concepts using simulations and thus making it seem less abstract – like Geogebra.





How did the teachers get on with using the tablets?


They got used to them very quickly. Staff were given training so they could learn about the many possibilities the technology offers. That’s one of the advantages of going through a company like Econocom, because the package they offer includes the equipment and training. What’s more, the teachers interacted a lot and talked about the different ways of using the equipment. We held regular meetings with the school IT Manager to help familiarise staff with the various apps available for the tablet and look at how to use them for educational purposes.


Were the students impressed?


Our main concern was that they would use the tablets more for recreational purposes than schoolwork. But year 12 and 13 students have really adopted them as a learning tool, so haven’t had any awkward situations to deal with and it hasn’t disrupted our usual classroom routine.


Year 7 students, however, immediately started playing with the tablets: taking photos, filming each other, etc., so we had to spend a lot of time showing them how to use it and making sure they understood the limits and their duties, particularly where image rights are concerned. So we taught them how to use the tablets responsibly and appropriately.


And what about the parents?


Parents of year 12 and 13 students have noted how enthusiastic their children are and, more importantly, the progress most of them have made. It was a bit more complicated with the year 7 class, though: why iPads and not an Android device? Why this particular class instead of another? What are the dangers? What happens if a child breaks one?

This year will be the second year we’ve experimented with Year 7, so we’ll have plenty of time to address all these questions with parents.





So what’s the verdict on this experiment?


On the whole, it’s been pretty positive, although you mustn’t forget that a tablet is just a tool: it doesn’t work miracles. For example, it can help maintain students’ motivation, but it won’t increase it. That’s what we’ve observed with teachers of year 12 and 13 technology students: those who at some point lose interest because of difficulties they’ve had with the more traditional teaching methods tend to stay motivated when using tablets. But tablets can’t spark interest in students if they’re not motivated in the first place. There may be a brief period of enthusiasm because of the novelty factor, but that’s not enough… And in some ways, that’s a good thing!


“Tablets boost students’ learning, consolidate their skills and empower them. They can stop students losing interest but the teacher still has to make the same amount of effort to motivate them in the first place!”


Are you planning to roll out tablets for other classes?


The school does plan to supply all classes with tablets in the medium term. But first, we really want to consolidate what we’ve already implemented and learn from this initial experiment. And there are still a number of issues we need to address. For example, at the moment the school doesn’t charge people for the tablets. But if we go ahead with mass deployment, we’ll have to think about asking the parents for a financial contribution.


What advice would you give to schools that are planning on taking the plunge?


Your main priority should be helping staff get used to the new technology.


“Teachers need to spend time familiarising themselves with the tool via training and by talking to their colleagues about what works and what doesn’t, what difference it makes to their teaching practices.”


It’s also important to carry out a financial analysis. Before rolling out the tablets, the first thing we did was consolidate our Internet connections. The school didn’t have fibre optic broadband and, considering how big it is, there was no way we could extend Internet access without a reliable network. So we took out a lease contract for a secure, dedicated fibre optic connection for the school.

And one last thing I’d like to say: it’s a time-consuming experience, but very exciting!



Behind the scenes of open innovation with Pôle emploi!

Econocom 17 Nov 2015

Open innovation isn’t just for large private-sector groups: in September 2014, Pôle emploi, France’s national employment agency, opened a lab, a dedicated co-innovation space. Since then, a number of projects have been launched, such as the Emploi Store, a dedicated digital job-seeking platform.

On Thursday 5th November 2015, the Pôle emploi Lab held the final of its “mobility challenge,” a hackathon started in June 2015 which had creative directors, developers and data scientists developing digital projects to facilitate career mobility for job seekers. The winner gets €5,000 and a three-week incubation session with the Lab. We took this opportunity to check out this unique digital venue.


>>> Also on our blog: Pole emploi: working hard to digitalise job searching <<<


Located along the lively Ourcq Canal in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, the Pôle emploi Lab looks more like a space such as NUMA than a branch of Pôle emploi, with its bright colours and contemporary decor. Everything is designed to foster exchanges and creativity: this “accelerator of solutions” was set up precisely with the aim of turning conventional ways of thinking upside down. During the Lab sessions, participants – including Pôle emploi advisors, recruiters, startups, jobseekers, even sociologists – are encouraged to collaborate on a range of different subjects.





No one comes here to do their everyday job”, explains Loïc Remaud, Head of the Lab. “We’re here to share our ideas, experiences and beliefs.” During the sessions, anyone can take the floor without people necessarily knowing who is who: as far as these innovation specialists are concerned, it’s the combination of everyone’s input on a subject that makes collaboration so rewarding.


Basically, the Lab offers three types of services. The first is “flash co-design”, an ideation experience consisting of a series of workshops with up to 60 people and lasting between half a day to three days.

Another service provided is project acceleration. For 8 to 10 weeks, the Lab focuses on a particular project, involving all the stakeholders. That’s how the Emploi Store came about: the Lab team got a comprehensive view of the needs of future users, employees and recruiters, and then passed them on to IT. Without this flexibility and agility, the same project would have taken several months.

The Lab is also an incubator. In March 2014, Pôle emploi set up a collaborative platform for 53,000 employees. Since then, 3,300 ideas have been submitted and over 1,000 practices shared. Challenges are also regularly launched via the platform, nationally, regionally and locally. One such challenge in February 2015 was “Would you like to be an intrapreneur?  A jury then selected two Pôle emploi agents and gave them the opportunity to develop in the Lab the ideas they’d submitted to the platform.



THE AIM: STIMULATING collective intelligence


The Lab is also used to think about the Pôle emploi 2020 strategic plan, “Innovating for employment, together.” Employees and users work on understanding and deploying the project and defining what Pôle emploi will be in a few years, in terms of organisation and user experience. To improve the everyday job of its advisors, “irritants” have been identified, or certain points that need to be improved in order for them to provide a better service. Participants also build models to illustrate what the agency might be like in the future.


Proof that you can initiate innovation with few resources and a lot of creativity!




Two of the five members of the Lab team have been trained to manage the groups of participants and help them co-create in a fun, intensive atmosphere. Thanks to an effective method, everything is geared towards boosting creativity: the background music, the layout of the workspace, etc. The Lab also occasionally invites a “graphic facilitator” who does illustrations of what is discussed during the sessions.


Illustrations by Nicolas Caruso


And it works! During the final of the #Challenge PE, the demonstration was extremely convincing. During the finalists’ pitches, a wealth of good ideas were submitted, but the winning one was Nsight. To support their application concept based on candidates’ knowledge and skills, the two innovators who came up with the idea were given a cheque for €5,000 and three weeks’ incubation at the Lab.


With its Lab, Pôle emploi has updated its image and boosted collective intelligence – an essential element in a fast-changing world in which organisations constantly have to reinvent themselves. Businesses have grasped this, and more and more of them are opening up to the ecosystem and implementing new practices: read our other interviews with CDOs and Innovation managers and find out how  companies like BCPE, Renault, Pernod Ricard and SEB  are managing their transformation.

A field trip to Mars? With digital, anything’s possible!

Econocom 13 Nov 2015

Taking a class on a field trip to Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China or Yosemite National Park without leaving the classroom? This is what Expeditions Pioneer offers: this pilot programme developed by Google can take users on virtual tours of over 100 places, ranging from monuments to ocean beds and Mars.



The way it works is fairly simple: using cardboard viewers – a cardboard kit which can be either purchased or made in class, with a smartphone inserted in the back – the class can go on virtual tours with 360° views. The teacher, meanwhile, acts as a tour guide and can add comments to photos.









Jennie Choi, an English teacher at an elementary school in Chicago, recently took her class on a tour of Verona to see the setting of Romeo and Juliet. The six-grade students were thus able to explore the façades of ancient buildings, including the one known as “Juliet’s House” and the tomb where the fictional character could have been buried. And all this was done without crossing the Atlantic: the class explored the Italian city using Google Expeditions and their cardboard viewers, whilst Choi guided them around the city using a special app designed for teachers.


In an age when students are used to having instant access to information using effective digital tools, just lecturing them isn’t enough to engage them, Choi explained to the New York Times. This immersive experience with the virtual reality headsets helped the class understand Shakespeare’s work.



Chichen ITza, manhattan oR THE MOON: JUST ONE CLICK AWAY


The 360° views enjoyed by students are produced by assembling Google Street View photographs and 3D images from a 16-camera virtual reality rig.


The Expeditions Pioneer programme is currently being launched in the US, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. The web giant is also planning to launch kits including the Cardboard viewer, Asus smartphones, a tablet for the teacher to run the tour and a router that allows Expeditions to run without an Internet connection.


So what next? There are plans to deploy the project in other countries and offer new services, such as helping students find out about future careers by showing them a virtual day in the life of a vet or a computer scientist, and working with Michelle Obama on her Reach Higher initiative by taking students on virtual college tours.



Further reading:

Nicolas Prono: using digital to help children with learning difficulties

– Dictation in the digital age

The Futuroscope pilot high school

Ludwine Probst: breaking down barriers by learning about the digital culture

Nicolas Prono: Using digital to help children with learning difficulties

Econocom 12 Nov 2015

Nicolas Prono is a schoolteacher. Seven years ago, he began specialising in learning difficulties. Having obtained a degree in special education, he went to work at an Institut thérapeutique, éducatif et pédagogique (schools in France for children with psychological and behavioural problems). To facilitate the learning process for students and help them overcome their frustration, the school used digital tools. Later, in a classe pour l’inclusion scolaire (school for children with disabilities), Prono worked with touch screens to help Down syndrome children learn to write. Tablets are ideal for children with fine motor skill problems: it’s much easier to learn to write with their finger than to handle a pen.


Since the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year, Nicolas Prono has been a member of the Alpes de Haute-Provence’s local mobile teaching team (a system in France whereby a team of mobile teachers with multimedia equipment and teaching materials travel around to schools in remote rural areas to offer support to students and staffEd).  It’s his job to offer onsite support to disabled students with laptops and tablets.


So how can digital tools help students with learning difficulties? Nicolas Prono told us about his profession and explained how digital technology can facilitate inclusion in education.




Tell us about your job

Nicolas Prono: With the mobile teaching team, we travel to schools using a vehicle provided by the departmental council and help teachers in remote rural areas. As I specialise in teaching students with disabilities, I work mainly with students supplied with digital equipment by the local council as part of a French government scheme. It’s my job to help them use these tools on a daily basis.


Most of the students I work with are dyslexic. For them, having a computer or tablet is a huge advantage as it allows them to join a “normal” class. But I also deal with pupils in unités localisées pour l’inclusion scolaire (ULIS), dedicated units within schools for students with learning difficulties or communication disabilities (such as autism). They are monitored by a coordinator who ensures that their particular educational needs are met. So, for example, when they can’t keep up with their lessons, they have extra coaching from the ULIS.


This morning, for example, I was at the ULIS in a small secondary junior school seeing a pupil who’s been given a laptop with speech synthesis software. I showed him how it works, helped him set it up, we did some tests and generally I helped him get the hang of it.



What sort of equipment do the students have?


It’s mostly laptops and tablets, depending on the student’s abilities, but also on factors such as their means of transport. For example, it’s not easy for a junior secondary student to carry a heavy laptop around in their satchel, and then there’s the issue of battery life. So some students prefer using tablets, as they’re lighter and better-suited to their uses.


“It’s still a problem for students to get used to being different from everyone else, and getting a laptop draws attention to them. Tablets, on the other hand, are more discreet, so the student doesn’t stand out as much.”


We’re lucky in our area as there are interactive whiteboards in nearly all the schools. They’re part of the standard equipment, and not just provided for special education. But we do find they’re very useful for facilitating the learning process. With interactive whiteboards, you can save any work done on the screen and then turn it into a podcast. That way, students who miss classes because they have their therapy sessions can catch up with their course work just by checking out the podcast on the school’s IT system.





What sort of help do you give the students?


Most of the time, it involves training and follow-up for the equipment. This isn’t always required though; some students already have occupational therapists or healthcare professionals to help them use the hardware, in which case, my role is minimal.


I also liaise between the teachers and therapists: we think about how to incorporate the equipment the students are used to in the classroom. We always try and get the students to become as familiar as possible with the devices. For example, they have to know how to scan a page of their textbook by themselves and use optical character recognition (OCR) software to enlarge the text or get their PC or tablet to read it. These are things that some students can do easily and which make their lives much easier.


For a dyslexic child who has difficulty reading and has to do some research in the school library media centre, it’s a great help being able to scan the back cover of a book with a tablet and have the synopsis read to him by OCR: he won’t have to spend ages deciphering the writing.


Little perks like this help the students on a daily basis and allow them to focus on their classwork.


“Digital empowers students: it boosts their self-esteem, which is very important for these students who often feel insecure and shunned. With a PC or tablet, they don’t have to ask a classmate to read an instruction or repeat what the teacher said.”





What sort of problems do you come across the most often and how can digital tools help overcome them?


A lot of the students I work with have specific learning difficulties (SpLD): dyslexia, dyscalculia or dysphasia. Digital is essential for helping them to read instructions, for example.


There are also writing aids, such as voice synthesizers on tablets or laptops. Students can dictate a text and the computer writes it out, which is really helpful. But it doesn’t work for dictations!


How long have these types of digital tools been used?


Dictation software has been around for over ten years and been widespread for seven or eight. The major advantage nowadays is that this software is now directly integrated into the operating systems, Windows and Mac OS. It hardly needs any configuration. It used to take ages: you would have to read the text to the student for the software to be able to adapt to their voice. Now, the student can start using it straight away, without having to set it up.


However, it doesn’t work with speech problems as the software struggles to interpret the voices of students who have difficulty expressing themselves. Also, with a tablet, it doesn’t work offline, so relies on having a stable, effective Internet connection. When there are problems with Wi-Fi coverage – or a complete lack of Wi-Fi – in schools, it’s difficult getting dictation software to work.


Where speech synthesis is concerned, i.e. using a machine to produce human speech, it’s not only extremely effective now but it works offline. Consequently, as soon as the student receives a digital document, he can have it read to him, which is really important.


“Students working on the classics can download them for free in digital format and have their tablet read them to them. I’ve met parents who were really relieved that they no longer have to read to their 14-year-old dyslexic child. It’s not easy for the students either: 14-year-olds don’t like being read to!”





How do the teachers cope with digital?


It’s not always easy for teachers to make the digital transition, so part of my job involves assisting them in class. I don’t do any training as such but come into class with the teachers to see how they can incorporate the digitals tools into their everyday practices.


“You need to show teachers that digital tools won’t add to or replace their existing tools or methods but will open up new possibilities and offer a different approach to students with special needs.”


Teachers are sometimes afraid of losing control of their student. That’s why it’s easier for them to work with tablets: when students use laptops, the screen creates a barrier between them and the teacher. Whereas with a tablet, it’s different and the teacher can see what the student’s doing and be sure that they’re playing attention.


Nicolas Prono’s experiences have strengthened our conviction that schools should, more than ever, incorporate digital practices. In October 2014, we campaigned for mass deployment of digital technology in schools to offer students greater access to knowledge and support the teaching staff. In 2015, this need is more urgent than ever: in schools, digital can really make a difference. So, teachers, staff, parents, we need to act, NOW!



Further reading:

Dictation in the digital age

The Futuroscope pilot high school

Ludwine Probst: breaking down barriers by learning about the digital culture

Florent Souillot, Madrigall: “Digital affects every aspect of the publishing industry”

Econocom 3 Nov 2015

After reading Comparative Literature and obtaining a Masters in Publishing Management, Florent Souillot joined French publishing group Flammarion. Six years later, Flammarion was bought out by Madrigall, the parent company of brands such as Gallimard, Denoël, J’ai Lu, Folio, Casterman and POL. Souillot is now in charge of digital development for France’s third largest publishing group which includes not only publishing houses but bookshops and distributors in the field of general literature, comic books and the humanities.


How can digital modernise a sector that’s still firmly rooted in the paper tradition? What opportunities should be seized? How are the group’s publishing houses managing the digital transition? We found out from Florent Souillot…


digital IN publishing: a multi-faceted role


What’s your role with Madrigall Group?


Florent Souillot: I report to the Director of Digital Strategy and work on a number of projects, both in-house, with the daily running of the publishing companies, and externally with various partners (publishers, bookshops, writers, public authorities and collective organisations). For example, we’re the interface between the publisher and the other players in the book world for all digital-related matters. We also work with the National Publishers’ Union to inform people and ensure a regular flow of information in the ecosystem of the various players in the book chain.


Internally, meanwhile, we assist publishers with various digital issues: we help set up procedures for documenting and structuring content, distributing it for promotional or commercial purposes, circulating information, and we help publishers with editorial projects when they’re devised for digital formats. Basically, we’re there to make sure everything runs smoothly across the whole chain, because digital is part of an overall movement which affects the very foundations of a publisher’s job: their relationship with the authors, designing and marketing projects, the contractual and legal framework, etc. There are issues of copyright and royalties, information in catalogues, structuring content, distribution, re-using and archiving…As you can see, it’s extremely diverse!


“You have to distinguish between what’s contextual and commercial in the short-term and the challenges of digital, i.e. new ways of publishing based on disintermediation, straight from the writer to the reader.



digital: AN opportunitY TO RETHINK THE WHOLE valUE CHAIN


64% of large French have created a dedicated digital position; is it the same in publishing?


There are very few dedicated digital roles and publishers are trying to update their job and skills by introducing aspects of digital into their everyday routine. A professional qualification has actually been created in conjunction with the National Publishers’ Union and training organisations to formalise these digital skills. There’s a real learning curve with digital and considerable training requirements, so it’s essential for publishers to step up their skills and keep modernising the profession through digital.

Digital is often linked to editorial and copyright responsibilities; it’s challenging the role of publishing houses. The most active areas of development are the commercial aspects, from marketing to distribution.


Publishing is a profession that’s not very well known by the outside world and is a very diverse one: a lot of different jobs are involved in producing a book: legal, production, marketing, editorial, etc. Digital leads us to reconsider the question of value and the nature of everyone’s role: what it really contributes, its purpose, etc.



How do people view the digital revolution within your company?


I’m rather wary of the term “digital revolution” as it implies a total upheaval of everyone’s role, or even a depersonalised movement, whereas the development of digital publishing is governed by a logic that isn’t revolutionary, and the change in pace it involves (technical innovation, legal instability, commercial uncertainty, etc.) should prompt the people involved to take a stand.


Digital is a question of opportunities: that’s what people need to understand, and it’s the publisher’s job to invest some time in it now, or at least take the necessary measures to ensure the future of the company. It will allow us to rethink our profession, publish our authors’ works to an even wider readership, have new business opportunities and find out where our added value lies. The perception of digital depends on how developed the various editorial areas segments are and the role they play in the process of producing and distributing books. For some publishers, digital is just as much a part of their everyday routine as paper is, whilst for others, it doesn’t yet provide the right conditions for their profession. In that respect, I do think we’ve taken an important step in that we’re no longer at a stage where there’s complete misunderstanding or conflict between two separate worlds. We know that we have a role to play, that we do things that others don’t. It’s about making quality books, whatever the format, and digital, in certain conditions, can increase the potential readership.





What products can you offer thanks to digital?


We offer standard digital format books (ePub, PDF, etc.),as well as interactive reading apps, products that allow you to browse between books and multimedia content, websites with editorial content, etc. We contact communities for certain genres directly, or via online booksellers for general public or lending books to local communities.

The Atlases by Autrement are a good example of a product that was designed specifically for a digital format: for printed books, you can now buy digital versions of the book, build up a map library, browse the various content via a layout designed for tablets, there’s an interactive table of contents, use an HD zoom, run text searches and personalise your reading environment.


carthothèque des éditions Autrement

Interface of the map library for tablets


There’s still too much instability and uncertainty around digital reading, particularly where the intermediary players are concerned, i.e. the conditions for distributing and publishing content. Without the necessary technical and commercial interoperability to ensure cross-channel sales and content, there’s no point creating innovative products, because the products won’t have a readership or an economic model.


At the moment, people read electronic formats because it’s handy, instant and ideally suited to avid readers or “captive” audiences (genre literature, for example). You can load lots of books onto an e-book reader, carry them around, read them, make notes, underline passages, etc. The offering has expanded considerably over the past few years. But there’s still progress to be made in terms of uses and content, because it’s something very new where standardising reading formats are concerned, the reading software and tools, etc. It’s difficult to lend, swap or give someone an e-book. These are basic uses but they depend on the way the content is distributed and concerns the whole chain.


We’ve identified the obstacles, but the drivers too. For example, a lab has just been set up in Paris called the European Digital Reading Lab (EDR, hosted by Cap Digital), to activate these drivers and find solutions to address the issues of content interoperability and accessibility. The idea is to create the right conditions for publishing projects that run on all operating systems and devise an agnostic tool that is optimised for the readers’ digital uses whilst also protecting copyright. But digital won’t be widespread until all this has been implemented.


“Although digital – despite a steady progression – is still negligible in terms of revenue, it is strategic for everything else: digital affects every aspect of the industry.”


In France we have a very specific, regulated, standardised book market: it’s very much affected by our political, historical, legal, industrial and commercial context. Digital can’t ignore this context, particularly when the solutions require a collective contribution (authors, bookshops, libraries, publishers, etc.).


In the States, growth in e-publishing products has slowed down – actually fallen slightly. In France, the sector is experiencing straight-line growth – in smaller proportions, maybe –but it’s continuing to rise steadily.



What initiatives in other countries could French publishers draw their inspiration from?


We get inspiration from the progress in terms of web standardisation: we’re a member of consortiums such as the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum, the trade and standards organisation for the digital publishing industry, Ed) and we take part in various workshops during which the future standards for producing and distributing content are drafted. A lot of companies are also members of Readium, which is part of the IDPF.


Another interesting example is the Tolino consortium in Germany for a self-publishing portal: this came about as a collective solution to the issue of the monopoly of content distribution. This is an issue that doesn’t only affect digital but printed books too. Tolino is the result of a joint effort from booksellers and a telecom operator to challenge the traditional e-book providers: it’s proof that a nationwide initiative can result in a viable alternative, and that’s why I think we can take inspiration from this project.



What advice would you give to other publishers embarking on the digital transformation?


First of all I’d say that they mustn’t see digital as some abstract thing that doesn’t concern them and that they can delegate to other people.

The first thing is to realise that its concerns all publishers, now, but that doesn’t stop you from having different answers in different situations and you mustn’t throw yourself into it and expect immediate profit. It’s better to plan ahead now rather than have to go back and deal with problems that will inevitably arise.

You should also beware of pat answers: everyone has an opinion about digital. Some people say it’s useless, that it’ll be the death of printed publishing. Rather than have pre-conceived ideas, ask the right questions and see how uses and the balance of power are changing.


“You have to understand that digital means asking fundamental questions about the industry: it’s no longer a question of short-term or direct commercial opportunities, but more of guaranteeing long-term sustainability. And that’s an argument that publishers can understand because publishing is an industry where projects take a long time to develop.”




Read our other interviews with digital and innovation experts:

Nicolai Gerard: digital acceleration officer at Groupe SEB: the key is not being afraid to try and fail

Antonia McCahon, CDO for Pernod-Ricard: digital is a part of everything we do

Experimenting to take advantages of digital opportunities interview with Pierre-Philippe Cormeraie, Head of Innovation for BPCE Group

Patrick Hoffstetter, CDO at Renault: you have to get all your staff involved in the digital transformation

Sandrine Godefroy, CDO at Econocom: the digital transformation is an infinite playing field

Digital transformation: the main drivers and obstacles

Econocom 2 Nov 2015

Optimising productivity, creating new offerings, boosting growth: what prompts large organisations to deploy their digital transformation?


This was one of the questions Econocom, SIA Partners and Ifop asked in their 2015 Digital Practices Survey. The survey, one of the most extensive of its kind ever conducted in France, was conducted by interviewing over 400 decision-makers from 330 companies with over 500 employees.  The findings enabled the three organisations to draw up a map of digital transformation practices in France which revealed that French companies are at a crossroads: motivated, and yet faced with a number of obstacles that are often difficult to overcome.


>>> Are you an observer, facilitator, planner or conqueror? Find out about the four digital profiles identified by our Survey of Digital Practices. <<<



USING digital TO Optimise processES AND innovATE!


Whist increasing revenue and cutting costs are often cited as the main drivers for making the digital transition, a need to update the company’s image is also a common factor.


Innovation and a way of devising new offerings and purchasing modes are often mentioned by “conqueror” profiles, i.e. companies with a mature digital transformation. One such company is banking group BPCE. As Pierre-Philippe Cormeraie, the group’s Innovation Director, explained in September, they focused on open innovation and collaborative innovation:


 “The key to our strategy? Innovation isn’t the preserve of just a few people, it’s everyone’s business: every business line and every company must innovate! The point is to facilitate innovation everywhere.”


Other digitally-advanced companies often apply the test & learn philosophy. Nicolai Gérard, Digital Acceleration Officer at Group SEB, is a firm believer in this approach:


“The challenge is adapting to our culture, our processes, to the implications of digital and in particular, the need for speed and agility. The term “Test & Learn” has become a bit hackneyed in discussions about digital. And yet it’s a real challenge: not many companies have in their DNA this idea of testing pilots, over several months or even weeks, then scrapping the idea if it doesn’t succeed. The key is not being afraid to try and fail!”


Only 26% of companies with more than 500 employees say that HR is a real digital transformation driver – which is surprising considering the potential human resources benefits of digital. Some companies, however, such as SNCF, the French national railways, have grasped this and decided to replace its old, complex tool with a more flexible cloud-based solution. The aim of this deployment was to improve the company’s agility and focus more on the end-user experience (UX design).


Companies making their first foray into the digital transformation have inevitably come up against various stumbling blocks: security issues and resistance to change are common problems, whilst HR-related issues such as lack of skills or organisational problems are also frequently cited.


But at the top of the list of obstacles are a lack of financial resources and low ROI – which prove that digital is still seen as a source of additional costs rather than an investment.


Bruno Grossi, Executive Director of Econocom Group, observed:


“Digital is revolutionising our everyday lives and radically changing our habits, and yet there’s still too big a gap between digital practices in organisations and in our private lives. Our survey confirms that there are a number of improvements companies need to make in order to meet their employees’ and clients’ expectations and demands.”


Digital offers infinite possibilities to boost companies’ growth and breathe new life into the economy. The sooner companies realise this and embark on their digital revolution, the better, so that “Digital for All, Now” can become a reality.



Further reading:

#Digitaltransfo: employees are better-equipped but there’s still a long way to go

#digitaltransformation: what kind of digital player is your company?

Digital transformation: what governance have companies put in place?