A teacher with a moustache stands up in front of the class, his back to the blackboard, his hands covered with chalk, before row upon row of pupils hanging on his every word… The traditional, chalk-and-talk, linear unilateral classroom model is about to be turned upside down.
School today cannot shape tomorrow’s brains without incorporating the technological revolution society is going through. More than that, it should be at the forefront of the changes driven by digital, as it can be a major ally to help rethink the way schools are run and better fulfil their role of providing education, instruction and equal opportunities for children. Digital is shaping future talents.
“WE WENT DIGITAL NEARLY TEN YEARS AGO”
We went to Aix en Provence where we met Hélène Melgar, Head of the Lycée général et technologique Sainte Marie, and her staff. With video-projectors, touch tablets and network infrastructures, the school has clearly made the digital transition. Teachers, technicians and students – everyone is very enthusiastic about the new teaching methods that have come with the introduction of these new tools. Melgar says:
“We went digital nearly ten years ago. Because we teach both general lessons and technology, it seemed natural to be a precursor in this field. We couldn’t do anything without our network infrastructure. We now have 24 rooms with 24 video-projectors, 300 students and as many tablets to teach the curriculum. Our year 10s have tablets in the classrooms. The senior secondary school students can have one in return for a financial contribution of €20 a month. By the time they’ve graduated they will have paid for the tablet in full. Each student can follow the school curriculum with their tablet, for all the subjects.”
Behind her rectangular glasses and shock of blond hair lies a real passion for sharing, the very essence of teaching – a vocation which, nowadays is fulfilled using a tablet:
“From timetables to recording absences and marking homework, everything is computerised. We want the children to move with the times and use digital tools for learning.”
This method is a way of pushing back the walls of the school establishment and defining a whole new set of individual and collective rules.
“Digital for All, Now” as embodied by the Lycée Sainte-Marie is in line with “connectivism:” this new learning theory developed by teacher Georges Siemens and dubbed ‘a learning theory for the digital age,’ is based on the idea that learning occurs through connections within networks. This revolutionary theory follows on from behaviourism (teaching based on observation), cognitivism (emphasises human cognition or intelligence as a special endowment enabling man to develop intellectually) and constructivism, a theory that humans generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas. Thus, the use of tablets as teaching tools is a structural evolution in education.
“THE STUDENTS HAVE COMPLETELY TAKEN TO IT – EVEN WHEN OUTSIDE SCHOOL”
These different learning theories are not mutually contradictory, but on the contrary, complement each other. Olivier Mavenel, who teaches Economic and social sciences to year 11, says:
“Lessons are much more interactive and engaging for students. We still steer them in the right direction and offer assistance, but it makes the students more autonomous and enthusiastic. Tablets help students lacking in self-confidence have more confidence in their abilities: with just a few simple applications, they can do amazing things.
What’s really surprising is how involved and committed they are. With a year 10 class we launched our own website. The students have completely taken to it – even when outside school,
and for a teacher, that’s really motivating. It also means we’re more in tune with the students because they already use tablets and digital tools at home. They belong to a generation where everything’s instant. We have the tools we need to help them progress. It’s completely changed the way they see exams, for example: we do quizzes now. They give the answer almost immediately, and they have a thirst for knowledge that they didn’t have before.
It does however mean more preparation work for us and there are a few technical issues that need to be addressed. Network and Internet access and passwords need to be simpler to make the teaching run more smoothly. But, on the other hand, there’s less distance between us and the students and we create learning synergies. We’re all moving forwards together!”
“ERGONOMICS IS THE KEY”
Isabelle Gassier, the logistics, law and transport teacher, agrees:
“The iPad is ideal for the subjects I teach. I was initially not too keen on the idea of sharing all my lessons via Dropbox. But it’s actually much more dynamic and interactive. And they really do go through the lessons when they’re at home.”
Students no longer see homework as a chore. Could this lead to a seamless in/out of classroom learning experience? Very likely. They students have really taken on board the world of work today – and tomorrow – which requires keeping abreast of things and having permanent access to documents.
Isabelle Gassier believes the key to these new teaching methods lies in harmonising the learning experience across all disciplines and in the ergonomics of digital tools such as applications. Just as there used to be with traditional textbooks, there needs to be a standard format:
“Ultimately, all the teachers should be able to work the same way and harmonise their methods: all the applications should work the same way so that there’s nothing holding back the child’s learning. And digital makes that possible. But we need to streamline the processes and not get bogged down in a mass passwords or applications that work differently.
Ergonomics is the key. The tablets not only make it easier for us to give lessons but to organise and monitor students’ progress. Everyone becomes proactive in class, and the students are much happier.”
“I GREW UP IN CHINA, AND TEACHERS ALL HAD INTERACTIVE WHITEBOARDS. BUT HERE, EVERYONE HAS THEIR OWN TABLET”
From the point of view of the students themselves, this new learning method is a godsend. Hugo, Year 11, says: “My handwriting is terrible, but with the tablet, I can write just as well as anyone else. And I learn much faster because I organise my lessons better and more easily. I grew up in China, and teachers all had interactive whiteboards. But here, everyone has their own tablet. Also – and people don’t really dare to say this, but it means we take part in class in a whole new way. We don’t just note down what the teacher says. We participate, we act, and at the end of the day we can consult the day’s lessons via Evernote or the class’ Dropbox account.” And they no longer complain about putting the extra hours in: the tablet provides the simplicity and instantaneousness that their generation needs.
Maxime, another year 11 student, says:
“We’re really lucky to have this equipment. I already had a tablet at home but I used it mostly for entertainment. Then I started using it to revise for my exams last year, and my sister asked me to help her revise for her Baccalauréat. The tablet has tuned unto an office. What’s more, everything is faster, even for learning, despite what you might think. In class we share the interactive whiteboard via Airplay and take it in turns to present our assignment: we’re just as active in class as the teacher is.”
So is the digital classroom as idyllic as it sounds? Not quite: Isabelle Gassier admits that “If there’s one complaint I have, it’s the time we waste inputting passwords and the odd problems with the Wi-Fi. But then, there are far worse problems teachers could come across, wouldn’t you say?”
The Lycée Sainte-Marie is thus a shining example of ‘Digital for All, Now:’ the school has created a stimulating environment for both staff and students, who are playing an increasingly important role in the curriculum and are making it their own. The school’s teaching programme is now all about dedication, team spirit and project management, thanks to digital technology. Thanks to strong support from the head and staff, the Lycée Sainte-Marie has established itself as a prototype of the new-generation school that is preparing its students for the key positions in tomorrow’s economy.
“HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE IDEAL SCHOOL?” WHAT THE PUPILS SAY
Jenifer: What would be great is if we could join in the lessons of other schools all over the world – that our community and the work we do weren’t limited to these four walls. We could work with English, Chinese, Australian students. We’d have real responsibilities, we wouldn’t be working just to learn. But for that to work, everyone would need to have the same tools.”
Hugo: “In the ideal school, paper would be sacred and would only be used very occasionally. We’d do everything with digital tools connected to our brains to get the most out of our abilities. Nothing would be lost between an idea and putting it into practice. I can’t wait for that time!”
Marie: “I would like us to be able to go anywhere we wanted with our tablets, so we could find the ideal environment to work in. We could walk around museums, scientific centres, etc. We wouldn’t need to sit at a desk to learn. I could revise my history in the Louvre and learn geography whilst hiking in the mountains. And the tablets of the future would record it all for us. They’d be like assistants for “field work.”
Pierre: “We would all have the same chances of doing well because the digital tools would be so powerful and personalised that they could help us improve in our weaker subjects. We’d work faster and better. That way we wouldn’t be stressed, we’d work as a team and there would be no marks: we’d all be the best!”