“How to make the advent of digital in schools real and widespread?” This is what Bruno Grossi, Executive Director of Econocom Group, asked in an Op-ed back in October 2014. But could the solution for bridging the gap between digital as we know and use it in our private lives and classroom practices be by capitalising on those everyday, minor initiatives so many teachers take? Well, that’s what Bruno Devauchelle, lecturer and researcher and co-founder of Café pédagogique, thinks.
After teaching at a technical college, Bruno Devauchelle became a lecturer then EdTech Project Manager at the Lyon Catholic University and associate professor in the Media Engineering Department of the University of Poitiers. He is also a member of the Techné laboratory for digital technologies for education. He is co-founder and current chairman of the Café pédagogique, where he writes a weekly column on digital. Bruno Devauchelle is also the author of a number of articles and books – including Multimédiatiser l’école ? (“Making schools multimedia”) which was published by Hachette Education in 2015 – and publishes regular articles on his blog, Veille et Analyse TICE.
experimental Uses vs. orindary uses
What are the advantages of using digital tools in the classroom?
Before I answer this question, I must point out the difference between two main categories: innovative uses – experimental uses, and ordinary everyday uses. Everyday uses are often overlooked by the media, despite the fact that they’re fundamental drivers of change for teachers: many of them have partly changed the way they work with digital tools.
Before the advent of digital tools, we had to make do with textbooks, print-outs and overhead projectors in the classroom. So the first ordinary use we can mention is just improving teaching materials, whether it’s visual media shown in class, paper handouts or material posted on the various sharing platforms, both internal and external ones.
The second advantage is enhancing sources of information. Teachers are no longer limited to using the school’s resource centre or their own document database. Having a much bigger teaching resource centre means they can, if they wish and have the opportunity, add to their lesson content.
The third advantage that we’ve noticed in ordinary practices and that’s much more common than you’d think, is teachers adopting a communication culture whereby they switch back and forward between email, social media, digital working environments and other tools.
For the more experimental teachers, on the other hand, a lot of new things are happening. The first of these aren’t really new. For example, all teacher-pupil/parent communication, which used to be done on paper, is now done differently with the new communication means and cooperation between remote classes or using social media to increase interactivity and interaction, either within the class or with third-party contributors. Another major advantage thanks to digital is that you can get the students to make images, text or other class material. For a long time now, teachers have been getting classes to do presentations or research, but with digital, this has taken on a whole new dimension.
Every now and then, some more unusual tools emerge. At the moment for example, we’re hearing a lot about mind mapping. It’s not that recent, but it’s starting to take off now, for the moment with innovative teachers, but eventually it will spread to others.
breaking away from “chalk-and-talk”
You can go even further with computer-assisted teaching – and that’s an understatement. There are Webdocs, multimedia applications, the flipped classroom and videos: digital tools mean teachers can break away from the traditional “chalk-and-talk” model.
The limits of digital lie not so much in the technical aspects – although this can be an issue – but in the school institution itself.
When an art teacher has an hour of lessons a week at a secondary school, he or she has to give the lesson during that hour-long slot and can’t have a longer class. In these circumstances, how are they supposed to implement lasting strategies for incorporating digital, for example by doing research or retouching a picture? Whether it’s done with pencil and paper or a computer, one hour isn’t enough time go into more detail. In this respect, the school system is almost incompatible with the potential of digital. So it’s all about after-class work: the more conscientious students progress outside the classroom while the others unfortunately don’t. So that’s one of the drawbacks of using digital when it’s not properly coordinated: some pupils aren’t self-sufficient enough in the learning process.
COPING with uncertainty and the unexpected
Does the level of digital adoption by teachers depend on their age?
It’s not so much a question of age but of state of mind. When a teacher realises that a class isn’t learning, they can either conclude that the students are hopeless and there’s nothing to be done, or they realise that they need to change the way they do things. If they do this, they’re sure to succeed.
You need to have this ability to improve your content on the one hand and adapt to the students on the other, so they can do their very best.
“You have to learn how to deal with uncertainty and unexpected things in class and then invent the right solutions… That’s how you bring about innovation.”
“INNOVATION ONLY WORKS IF IT’S SHARED BY EVERYONE”
Naturally, 80% to 90% of teachers try to improve their teaching methods. But we don’t necessarily see all these little improvements they make every day. If schools valued and promoted these minor initiatives more, then more teachers would appropriate digital.
“We always show best practices, but we should also sometimes use little things as an example. When a teacher uses a video in class for the very first time – looks for a video, prepares it and shows it in class – that’s a milestone.”
TRAINING THAT MATCHES CLASSROOM rEalitY
What advice would you give to a school head to help them deploy digital tools?
Training is important, but you have to be careful what sort of training you give. This often boils down to a day’s training where the instructor tells you what to do, whereas training – particularly digital training – is also about putting what you learn into practice. There’s a danger training a teacher in places where the equipment is really powerful, because when they go back to school, they might say “it doesn’t work here.” So ideally you have to combine training at other venues, to show the full extent of the possibilities, with on-site training in the school to show a more real-life, everyday classroom situation.
bridging the gap between “in school” and “outside school”
A major change is underway: on the one hand, pupils and teachers are really-well equipped; on the other hand, schools are under-resourced. There’s a real problem in terms of on-site support for pupils, to help them learn new ways of doing things, and for teachers, who need reassurance.
“You have to reconcile “in school” with “outside school,” for teachers and students. This doesn’t mean one should be subordinate to the other, but just that you need to bridge a gap between the two.”
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