“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Back in the fourth century Saint Augustine defined education as “a process of posing problems and seeking answers through conversation”

As we are immersed in the COVID-19 crisis, we realize that education remains more than ever the art of posing the right questions.

Let me compare education to bricolage.In the words of Seymour Papert, “bricolage is a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing, playing around”. Since the beginning of this major crisis, teachers have learned to take risks, change their practices and innovate in the classroom.

A lot has been written about teachers’ (lack of) motivation before this crisis. For a moment, we believed that all this was about using the right technology. But learning is not about technology. More than ever, learning has to do with the way we we live together, we engage into conversation together.

This echoes Martha Nussbaum’s work in her book Not for profit about global citizenship. For her, the global problems we need to solve question our capacity to come together and cooperate in ways we have not before. When schools reopen, it will be up to the whole education community to develop new strategies to make students global citizens.


Nicolo di Pietro, The Saint Augustine Taken to School by Saint Monica, Pinacoteca Vatican

Nicolo di Pietro, The Saint Augustine Taken to School by Saint Monica, Pinacoteca Vatican

What did we learn during the past two months? A lot of questions came to our mind: How to continue teaching “as before”? How to do it without a physical place common to the teacher and his students but with the same protagonists? How to respond to an exceptional situation with the same quality? With what skills, what training, what goals?

Physical space had disappeared; Students came back home; Heads of schools had become invisible; Parents had become more visible; Time had lengthened: the day no longer had clear boundaries between work and leisure.

But the teacher remains the only one in charge of his class; Classroom assistance remains mandatory; All children have the right to be in class; A class has a schedule; Class hours allow children to acquire knowledge and skills by following a well established curriculum

We also know that schools are very difficult to substitute as a physical space.


Reality is stubborn.

After 10 weeks of closure, we realize that:

- Schools means also daily basic care

- School closures deepen education inequalities

- Connecting with children outside school is a key problem


The digital revolution was not ready in school.

We certainly have the technical means to turn our schools digital. We can give a distance learning course by videoconference to students staying at home. We can use a virtual class which reproduces the functioning of the class with a shared screen and a chat tool for the pupils.

But none of these solutions has been thought of as a replacement for physical school. In fact, nothing was as ready as we thought. Nothing has ever been thought of on a large scale so that children no longer have to go to school.


Less is more

Today with digital, you have to learn to do less, better, shorter.

Learning does not consist in seeing your students in full screen. Imagine a teacher 50 centimeters away from each of his students, feeling their breath, blowing in their face!

Learning is first and foremost the art of distance, the art of knowing how to use pedagogical supports wisely and to animate the discussion on subjects that require a specific approach and address challenging issues!

In a visioconference, the teacher scrolls through a powerpoint presentation – prepared in advance – by moving from one slide to another according to the time allotted for the lesson. It is therefore an imported pedagogy.

The particularity of a lesson on the contrary is that it is part of a dynamic process. Students need to know more at the end than at the beginning. They all go from point a to point b. We must therefore ensure that this progression takes place.


What should educational continuity look like when there is no school?

  • To a motivated, respected teacher who is capable of animating a distance course in an intuitive way by not reproducing the traditional model of the course “one against many” but of the course “each with everyone”;
  • To mobilized and united families pooling digital resources and educational attention;
  • To children who seize the chance to learn with others in an interactive way;
  • To an education system that accepts to assess differently;
  • To digital solutions that are designed by and with teacher to replicate an innovative educational experience, not a pale copy of a shared workspace specific to companies’ meetings.


The importance of social learning

Learning is nowadays increasingly seen as a mix of formal and informal experiences. What we call “social learning” refers to the degree of interaction between learners of different levels of competence. Learning from the others, learning with the others are fundamental elements of the learning experience and essential for students to get full ownership of what they learn.

But we will all agree that concentration on tasks, quality of dialog between students and teachers, students mental health, are essential indicators to design successful (and pleasant) learning paths.

This is what I call the “Art of interaction” i.e. the capacity of teachers and students to engage into a continuous and granular conversation about learning.


 How do we move forward?

Do you remember Mary Poppins? How many teachers dream to have her magical powers when they face a sleepy classroom at a distance on a gloomy Monday morning!

The success and sustainability of innovative online learning solutions rely on the capacity to engage learners in a continuous way, over a course period or over a school year. More committed learners means more interactions, more knowledge.

One of teacher’s main challenge is to propose learning experiences that allow genuine student engagement.

In a classroom, the learning process is usually driven by the teacher. The teacher designs the lesson, defines the learning objectives, is in charge of student assessment. Often the result is a top down process that leaves a number of students “off the road”.

There is no magical solution to raise student engagement. Alternative school models haven’t proved significantly more efficient than “traditional” ones. A democratic school for instance where students have an equal say than teachers is no guarantee of student engagement.

The success depends on the degree of ownership that can be gained at the student level, i.e. if they are fully part of the learning process. Participation is a critical point in the classroom daily routine.


Participation in the classroom

Roger Hart wrote: “Only through direct participation can children develop a genuine appreciation of democracy and a sense of their own competence and responsibility to participate.”

Fully participatory classrooms are the one that are built in interaction and embed participation whatever the topic, the moment, the setting. The pedagogical concept behind interaction has therefore to be very refined and it has nothing to do with technology.

I will argue that the bricoleur-teacher stimulates creativity in the classroom in a much more powerful and sustainable way than through the use of technology alone. Our teacher-bricoleur knows  the importance of teacher-student relationships, confirmed by John Hattie  to explain student achievement. Classroom discussion, reciprocal teaching, jigsaw method, feedback intervention are some of the techniques and tools with the highest probability of success while online and digital tools have among the lowest.

Jim Groom, in his evocation of The Glass Bees, reminds us that “teaching and learning are not done by technology, but rather people thinking and working together”.


The role of technology

Far from establishing a distance, digital solutions can help bridge a gap between less and more participatory students, enabling the teacher to dedicate more time to those who need it most.

Far from dissimulating the human side of education, technology helps respond to basic needs, making the teacher a mentor and the student an actor of his own learning.

This is where digital technology should make a difference in the classroom and contribute to:

  • Increase the enjoyment and emotional connection that teachers have with students
  • Enhance peer interactions;
  • Decrease the level of aggressive relationships
  • Prevent misbehaviour in daily routine
  • Ensure maximum time is spent in learning activities
  • Facilitate group activities so that learning opportunities are maximized.
  • Expand participation and learning through feedback to students
  • Improve teachers’ responsiveness to students’ needs;


A few tips for distance learning: Less is more

- Do as usual! Prepare your lesson before giving it on a virutal platform

- Each online lesson should last a maximum of 30’

- Avoid reinventing content

- Do not confuse your learners with an overambitious use of third party tools and services

- Use a regular pattern of communication to help establish a sense of community

- Maintain student attention during content delivery

- Extend the life of a lesson beyond its final assessment

- Set clear and measurable learning outcomes

- Use carefully positioned quizzes to pause your learners and prompt reflection

- Use additional platforms to support your teaching where the central plaform’s functionality falls short

- Encourage learners to engage in authentic tasks

- Direct social dynamics by highlighting selected contributions

- Develop your students as autonomous learners by asking them to continue the work at home

-Use a provocative question to wake up the class and extend a live debate after class in a discussion forum

(adapted from MOOC Design Patterns Project, Warburton and Mor, 2015)


Towards a new school project

Schools won’t be the same after this crisis. A lot has been learned about our limitations and resilience when faced with the urgency to teach and learn.

Students will go back to school but school will have to rethink their project.

I will suggest 10 criteria that could characterize a new school project

1. Innovative learning experience

A school project should foster student’s ability to learn how to learn and develop as a human being.

2. Participatory Method

A school project should recognize the unique capacity of children to engage with essential problems in their community and lead the change by bringing new solutions.

3. Creativity 

A school project should enhance students’ creativity, make them think differently, unveiling their talents and helping each of them to take the best of them.

4. Teacher’s role

A school project need to be designed from the perspective of the teacher rather than using him as a mere instrument for projects that have been designed neither with him nor for him. Teachers should be directly involved in project’s monitoring and evaluation.

5. Knowledge activation

A school project is not so much about the quantity of knowledge it deals with but about the opportunities provided to students to activate knowledge in real-life situations.

6. Digital transformation

Schools must be prepared to operate continously on two dimensions: in the physical space and at a distance. Different strategies must coexist but the main principles of education for all remain.

7. Behaviour change

A school project is a transformation tool enabling behavioral changes on a number of issues. Students as individuals and in groups should be empowered to investigate a problem, design solutions, take actions and evaluate them.

8. Families’ involvement

A school project has to be inclusive and take into account multiple learning spaces, thus strengthening family participation in the learning process. The intergenerational dimension of learning is essential to social and family cohesion.

9. Community impact

A school project should have a transformative, multiplying and long-lasting impact in the surrounding community involving local actors in a shared learning experience.

10. Contribution to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

A school project should consider all SDGs starting with climate change as a transversal priority for the whole learning process and should directly contribute to the goals’ achievements.


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

“The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing”. In this time of changes, we realize more than ever that teaching is and remains a two way thing!

Schools’ future has to be designed by all of us.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Subscribe now

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers