Connected teachers in a disconnected classroom

Two interesting surveys taken by teachers in France were published in the past few weeks. The MGEN survey showed that 1 out of 4 French teachers are under 35, that 76% have a Facebook account and 85% are connected to it at least once a day. Young teachers are among the most connected social groups in the French population.  One of the most interesting findings of a survey taken by 15,000 teachers by the French association of textbook publishers, Savoir Livre, was that more mature teachers were making more use of digital textbooks in the classroom. It also reveals that French classrooms remain largely disconnected due to lack of broadband infrastructure and digital resources.

On one hand, a growing number of teachers get digital in their daily lives at school (but not in the classroom), and on the other hand the most mature ones (with more than 10 years of experience) use digital resources in the classroom. These diverging trends are interesting as they may reveal a gap between the way teachers view digital practices for their own use and for use in the classroom. The younger teachers will consider digital tools for private use and not for classroom practice. This may be linked to another result of the Savoir Livre survey – the lack of specific teachers’ training on digital practices. A teacher that goes on Facebook is not necessarily a trained teacher!

School remains a disconnected place where teachers use smartphones and connect to Facebook, and prevent students from doing it. School is, in fact, the only place where young people can’t freely exercise their digital abilities. “Smartphones have to be turned off”.

© 2013

© 2013

There are good reasons for schools to ban phones in classrooms. Students may text with the phones, go on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and disengage from what they are supposed to be doing and listening to in the classroom. Stéphane Cassereau, director of the IRT in Nantes, writes about this “smartphone plague” in his blog. He also comments on the paradox of having teachers banning smartphones in class while using them during teachers’ meetings!

For sure, smartphones can have an undesired effect in the classroom, but no more than a computer or a tablet. Jody Passanisi and Shara Peters write an interesting article about it in Education Week, and argue that the paradoxical attitude of teachers about smartphones is that “the smartphone carries with it the burden of the education community’s anxiety about technology”.

Our Open Education Challenge entrepreneurs are developing smartphone applications for use in the classroom that will contribute to this debate and hopefully reduce teachers’ anxiety about technology.

Who is ready to give up power?

What does it take to create a genuine European ecosystem of entrepreneurship in education?

First, the shared conviction that all European countries, despite or thanks to their cultural diversity, face the same educative challenges; second, that European innovators and entrepreneurs are able to understand the common trends and bring tailor made solutions; third, that European policymakers are convinced that innovation in education must open up to new actors located at the periphery of the education systems; and fourth, that investors contribute to the creation of a socially responsible marketplace driven by customers’ expectations and conditioned by social inclusion challenges.

The Open Education Challenge brings concrete answers to the above question. The startups that were selected to join the European incubator are experiencing a unique immersion in European educative realities. Instead of proposing a traditional incubation process located in a single place, the OEC proposes an ambitious tour of European capitals to get acquainted with different realities and meet experts from all fields and all cultures. It is built on a simple hypothesis: education is the answer everywhere (and the answer differs).

After Helsinki and a discovery of “a model of excellence” that is now questioned from the inside (see my previous article), the OEC landed in Paris, occupied a floor at Numa (one of the symbols of the new French entrepreneurship spirit),  and created a vibrant dialogue between innovators, textbook publishers, higher education professors, communication specialists, human resources managers, investment bankers, education policymakers… All in one place as a symbol of an innovation process that progressively blurs the frontiers that once defined education as sanctuary preserved from real life influences.

contruct and deconstruct

The programme tells the whole story of what innovation in education may mean. Edouard Husson, former director of ESCP Europe, introduced the main challenge in his masterclass: innovation in education is in the hands of early adopters that still have to overcome the resistance of the system itself. The paradox of change, in the words of George Haddad, who introduced our first evening session, is that innovators must always be ready to “deconstruct” their beliefs and go back to the values that condition changes in education: love, desire, audacity. Successive workshops highlighted the need to go beyond “simple” convictions. Technology is NOT the solution but a fantastic facilitator to change the relationships and map new power forces within the classroom.

Power is perhaps the main issue. Are textbook publishers ready to give up their power – and their market shares – to let teachers develop and share open education resources and use new cooperative learning tools? Are universities ready to give up their power in certifying / validating students’ skills and competences and let new learning hubs and learning platforms take over this task – and corresponding business? Are companies ready to give up their power in centralising all the learning experiences that could take place within a company and recognise / promote other options taken freely by the employees – like MOOCs, for instance? Are families ready to give up their power in deciding what is a good learning experience for their children and let them contribute to the design of a more personalised path?

All these questions are not theoretical. They are at the core of the innovations proposed by the Open Education Challenge startups and many others.

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