In the Indre department in central France, five secondary junior schools applied to join the digital classroom programme launched by François Hollande in May 2015 as part of the French government’s digital education plan. Supported by the departmental council and the Local Education Authority, they are among the pioneering schools which, in the 2015-2016 academic year, gradually supplied all their year 8 pupils with tablets. In terms of solutions, the department chose Windows 10, installed on Archos tablets thanks to Econocom Group’s expertise.
Christophe Courtemanche, Deputy Managing Director of Services at the Departmental Council in charge of secondary junior schools, told us about his schools’ digital experience.
In 2015, five schools in Indre applied to join the programme launched by the French Ministry of Education: Saint-Exupéry (Eguzon), Rosa Parks (Châteauroux), Diderot (Issoudun), Jean Moulin de Saint-Gaultier and Hervé Faye (Saint-Benoît-du-Sault). After the Ministry considered and approved their applications, they were also obtained the backing of the departmental council, which was essential for the project to run successfully. The aim was to roll out, as of the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year, tablets for all the year 8 classes.
tight deadlines and very specific requirements
To select the service providers and solutions they wanted to work with, the department launched an invitation to tender in accordance with the French government’s Reference for Access to Teaching Resources via Mobile Equipment (CARMO), a set of guidelines and recommendations published by the Ministry of Education concerning digital projects for schools, particularly in terms of technical requirements (hardware and software).
“Of all the projects submitted, Econocom’s was the most comprehensive, from both a technical and economic standpoint,” explains Christophe Courtemanche. After the tender was launched in August 2015, Econocom was therefore chosen for its proposal including the supply of tablets running Windows 10, integration and configuration of software solutions and applying patches after the pilot phases.
The project was subsequently launched very quickly. “In September 2015, we had a meeting with all the school heads and the Local Education Authority to plan the first roll-out for the end of the year,” says Courtemanche. The Collège Saint-Exupéry in Eguzon was the ‘guinea pig’ school.”
incorporating the PROJECT into the existing architecture
The solution chosen by the department included the Archos devices, running Windows 10. “We tend to focus on the tablet,” says Courtemanche. “But in our experience, that’s not the most difficult thing to deploy. The crux of the project, from a technical point of view, is software management and integrating the hardware in the existing architecture.”
Thus, Wizzbe, a centralised Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution was chosen to manage the devices and apps: content archiving and security, resource organisation, email communication, etc. Basically, Wizzbe is what enables teachers to give students an exercise to do or collect papers at the end of the class, for example.
A total of three people were involved in the project in the department, working with the Local Education Authority’s IT and Finance Directors. As Wizzbe allows the tablets to be managed remotely, there was no need to have technical contacts at each school: the teams worked directly with the school staff.
The service provided by Econocom also included assisting the teachers in using the tablets and Wizzbe. There was also a free Windows 10 training session offered by Microsoft which was available on request; any schools that required it were put in touch with the network of Microsoft Ambassadors.
endless educational possibilities
The 2015/2016 academic year was devoted to troubleshooting, as the department’s aim was to fine-tune the solution before widespread roll-out. After Saint-Exupéry in Eguzon, the five other schools received their Windows 10 tablets in the 2016 academic year. Whilst for the moment they’re being used only on school premises, within a few weeks each individual pupil will have his/her own device and will thus be able to use it for homework.
At Saint-Exupéry, it’s mainly the science and maths teachers who have been experimenting with the technology. “A number of sessions have been organised and the teachers were very satisfied with it,” says Courtemanche. “Of course, there’s still room for improvement.”
And the possible uses of tablets are endless: “Pupils can browse on the Internet and do research in class,” Courtemanche continues. “The teacher can set an exercise to the whole class and receive the answers on his/her tablet. It can also be used to share texts, photos or videos and save any work started so it can be resumed later.”
Tablets also make it easier to work outside the classroom: children can use them whilst on a field trip and then work on the project again at home or back in class. It also facilitates communication: the teacher can see at any time what the students are doing on their tablets, help them by interacting remotely on the tablet or share their work on the video projector. So what’s the biggest advantage of the tablets? According to Christophe Courtemanche, “It’s the interactivity between the teachers’ instructions and the pupils’ work.”
satisfied teachers and engaged pupils
In Eguzon, the teaching staff are enthusiastic. “There are a few issues that need to be ironed out, but they find the tablets have lived up to expectations and allow them to develop new teaching methods,” explains Christophe Courtemanche. The pupils, meanwhile, were very quick to adopt the tablets: “They’re used to this type of device, so they weren’t phased by using it.”
As for parents, their main concerns were about secure browsing. In Indre, this is watertight: the security policy is determined by the Ministry, and all the schools and their partners must configure the equipment in compliance with these restrictions.
While it’s too early for an overall verdict on the deployment, feedback from other departments has shown that, for this project, which required prompt responses and very fast deployments, they all came across similar problems. “You mustn’t underestimate the time it takes to develop the IT architecture: it’s long and complicated. If you think it’s just a question of deploying tablets, you’re very much mistaken!” warns Courtemanche.
The next step? “Continue fine-tuning the solution with Econocom, so we can roll out the second batch of tablets for pupils who went into year 8 in September 2016. The aim is for them to use the devices as much as possible, so we can make any new adjustments for the 2017-2018 academic year.”
By September 2017, the department’s five pioneer schools will reach 100% deployment, because years 7 and 8 will be equipped then, whilst years 9 and 10 were already supplied in the 2015/2016 school year.
Meanwhile, in 2016, seven other schools in the department also made their first forays into digital by adopting the Ministry of Education’s mobile class project, i.e. implementing equipment at schools for shared use. There’s no doubt about it: with Econocom, digital in schools in Indre is happening NOW!