Cyber-profs to the Rescue

An indispensable French-language instructional resource

by Jean-François Dugas

FRONT ROW (FROM LEFT): Carine Golden, OCT; Angela Luca, OCT; Lyne Lussier, OCT ∕ SECOND ROW: Michel Démoré, Laurentian University’s co-ordinator of the alternative Bachelor of Education (French-language); Anita Laprairie, OCT; Solange Marleau, OCT; Nathalie Normandin, OCT ∕ THIRD ROW: Fabienne Couillard-Stevens, OCT; Josée Lamontagne, OCT  ∕ BACK ROW: Diane Lataille-Démoré, associate professor at Laurentian University’s école des sciences de l’éducation; Nadia Lamothe, OCT; and Karim Bandali, OCT

News of spread like wildfire. In no time flat, the high volume of traffic led to an upgrade in the web site’s format. is a success for both the site administrators and the teachers who take advantage of it.

“The site gives us all the information we need. It’s practical and fast, and the data comes from a reliable source,” says Gisèle Lachance, OCT, speaking of Lachance is in her second year of teaching Junior Kindergarten and kindergarten at école élémentaire catholique Saint-Nicolas in Milton. She is not alone in her praise. Indeed, many teachers have used the site’s French-language resources and now find them indispensable.

For the past three years, teachers in Ontario and other Canadian provinces – indeed in French-speaking countries around the world – have been consulting to improve their professional practice. A kind of virtual academic video library, available free, the resource is highly prized by teachers, especially those new to the profession who are looking for practical tips.

Lachance was not the type of user the creators had in mind when they designed Indeed, the site was developed for students at Laurentian University’s école des sciences de l’éducation in Sudbury, particularly for students in the web-based teacher education program (Baccalauréat en éducation alternatif).

This part-time program, spaced out over two years, is based almost entirely on information and communication technology. “The experience of many of our students taking online courses was related to teaching. Some had done supply work or had secured teaching contracts, while others had no such experience. This meant that different students had different realities,” explains Michel Démoré, co-ordinator of the alternative Bachelor of Education program and father of the Cyber-profs project.

To make up for inequities in the backgrounds of students in the program, Démoré and his spouse, Diane Lataille-Démoré, who also teaches at Laurentian’s education faculty, developed the site with the help of Thierry Karsenti, the Canada Research Chair in Information and Communication Technology in Education.


“We simply wanted to make videos to help situate the course within the program and to use the opportunity to provide information about the theme of each course. That’s how it all started,” recalls Démoré.

The early videos were relatively modest, generally consisting of interviews with teachers or presentations of course syllabi.

“Initially, the content was a lot drier,” says Démoré. “Then we saw the potential to revamp the videos and enhance them with actual classroom situations. It was at that point that we went beyond our original mandate, which was to give students a better understanding of the content of each course. We wanted to surpass this initial objective and focus more on classroom teaching strategies.”

Something real in the classroom

“We realized that something was missing in the distance education program,” adds Karsenti. “Our surveys and investigations clearly showed that distance students were lacking examples, that is, they weren’t getting the equivalent of practical classroom experience. They had no access to various perspectives, examples or models.”

The threesome had a clear desire to meet the needs of future teachers, and with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Education, they were able to give themselves entirely to the project. They wanted to avoid presenting a utopian version of any particular theme via scripts played by actors, as was done in the videos once popular in the United States.

“When a video is too slick, you sacrifice authenticity and credibility and can’t show viewers the many things that are possible,” says Lataille-Démoré.

Her spouse adds, “We wanted to film teachers with only a year or two of experience so we could show that, even for beginners, it’s quite possible to produce excellent lessons and apply teaching strategies in a highly effective way.”

They hit the bull’s eye.

Marie-Josée Boucher, OCT, teaches kindergarten and Junior Kindergarten at école élémentaire et secondaire publique L’Équinoxe in Pembroke, on the Ontario side of the Ottawa Valley. She has joined the ranks of teachers who have welcomed the resource.

“When I started viewing the videos, I was very interested in the interaction between the teachers and real students,” she says. “I’ve always been curious about what is done in other classrooms, including how they are physically laid out. These videos bring in a number of elements of reality, even if this is not the primary purpose of the lessons.”

Marie-Josée Boucher, OCT, teaches Junior and Senior Kindergarten at L’Équinoxe Elementary and Secondary Public School in Pembroke.

Design and content

Three years after its launch, is packed with 100 or so thematic videos of every type that lend themselves to teaching all levels, from preschool to Grade 9. And they have the advantage of being free.

“The site offers a variety of videos grouped by theme, including first day at school, teaching strategies, teaching in a francophone minority setting, teaching various subjects such as French, math, science and so forth,” explains Lataille-Démoré.

This classification by theme has turned out to be an important plus for Gisèle Lachance. She says, “I like the fact that the videos are separated into different blocks. Browsing is easy and it facilitates learning. You don’t have to read your way through endless pages.”

The first themes are the work of Karsenti, who cherished the idea of creating online instructive videos that were free and accessible to everyone. “I chose the themes of the first 10 videos and we then surveyed future teachers or teachers who had just started their careers.”

It’s a fabulous resource. We offer 100 or so video clips that can be accessed by anyone online at any time of the day or night.

Respondents to targeted surveys were asked to describe their needs and voice their opinions so that deficiencies in their professional education could be identified. Once the responses were compiled, the next step was to determine how to produce a video that would address students’ needs.

Both Lataille-Démoré and Karsenti suggested various themes. Démoré, bolstered by his 40 years of experience in education, played a role similar to that of an orchestra conductor managing exchanges among the players.

“Filming in the classroom is very complicated. Not only do you need a code of ethics, but you also need authorization from the boards, principals, teachers and all the parents. As someone who is well known in education, Démoré can open doors,” says Karsenti.

Démoré says, “I meet a large number of teachers in my role as program supervisor. I sit in on lessons and have opportunities to observe exceptional teachers. I can then approach them about shooting videos in their classrooms.”

When it comes to filming, the team enjoys the services of Denis Aubé, an outstanding cameraman who was a finalist for the Prix Gémeaux, awarded annually in Québec to the best television productions. The polished look of the videos is thanks to Aubé.

Inspired by YouTube

Visitors to the web site can choose from 13 themes, each featuring numerous videos. Classifying lessons in this manner is especially helpful for browsing, and the familiar technology makes it easier to pass along tips and tricks.

“We chose YouTube technology because it’s a well-known site,” says Karsenti.

Browsers can see a lesson overview in the form of a one-minute trailer similar to a movie preview. If they like the excerpt they can then view the video, which lasts from five to 25 minutes.

As well, the site offers interviews with prominent people in education, for example, Paul-André Durocher, the bishop in charge of catechesis for religious education, and Lise Paiement, a cultural facilitation specialist. Lataille-Démoré, who has been in education for 24 years, also appears in the videos.

A popular site

The Cyber-profs site has attracted more than 1.2 million hits.

Says Demoré: “Anyone can take advantage of it. We have visitors from all over the world.”

Although most traffic comes from French Canada, there are hits from France, Belgium, the Seychelles and other countries. The French Ministry of Education has even added a link to its own site.

“It’s a fabulous resource. We offer 100 or so video clips that can be accessed by anyone online at any time of the day or night,” Karsenti points out.

This video captures the mixed emotions in both parents and children on the very first day of school and shows how Anita Laprairie, OCT, encourages a positive experience for all involved.

This video on classroom management and preschool routines shows how Asmaa Aryb, OCT, uses a homemade traffic-light system to deter certain classroom behaviours.

Practical and preferred lessons

Teachers will tell you that the site’s worldwide popularity is due to its practical concepts, which can easily be transferred to the classroom.

For example, a video on classroom management and preschool routines shows how Asmaa Aryb, OCT, a teacher at école élémentaire L’Héritage in St. Catharines, uses a homemade traffic-light system to deter certain classroom behaviours. The system uses clothespins – one per student – and three disposable plastic dinner plates – green, yellow and red.

At the start of the school day, all the clothespins are clipped to the rim of the green “congratulations” plate. A student who does something wrong must move a pin to the yellow plate. After a short discussion and a change in behaviour, the pin can be put back on the green plate. The red plate is used to mark aggressive behaviour or trips to the principal’s office. The system helps students understand their responsibilities, says Aryb.

It’s fantastic having a view of reality and not only seeing how children act but listening to teachers talk about their experiences and give examples and advice to help us succeed.

This same traffic light system is reproduced in the students’ daily agenda books so parents can be kept aware of their children’s behaviour.

This is precisely the type of teaching strategy that appeals to Jocelyne Dignard-Saleh, OCT, a Grade 2 teacher at école élémentaire catholique Sainte-Madeleine in Toronto. “The beauty of the site is that it provides ideas and practices that we can apply. It’s an excellent resource,” she says.

The beginning of a new school year provides eloquent examples of mixed emotions in adults as well as in children who are left at school for the very first time.

“Our first-day-of-school video is a world first. I think we’re unique in showing children coming to school for the first time in their lives. We managed to capture this on video. Parents can be seen crying. This wasn’t intentional, but that’s what happened,” says Karsenti.

These two themes – classroom management and first day of school – attract a large number of hits to the site, particularly from new teachers.

“Last year when I entered the profession, the videos on classroom management and daily routines really helped me in my Grade 2 class. This year I’m still finding some good video clips for the preschool level,” says Lachance.

Diane Lataille-Démoré and Michel Démoré developed the site to compliment the what the students were learning in the part-time web-based teacher education program (Baccalauréat en éducation alternatif) at Laurentian University’s école des sciences de l’éducation.

A priceless resource for new teachers

Although Cyber-profs was designed for all teachers, it targets beginning teachers in particular. The site aims to be a source of comfort and a resource they can use to calm their fears before they enter the classroom.

Such was the case for Theodora Nicolita, OCT, who found out this summer that she would be starting her career in a Junior Kindergarten class at école élémentaire Carrefour des Jeunes in Brampton.

“I was especially interested in the videos on Junior Kindergarten. I wondered in particular about what would happen on the first day of school for JK students. There was a video clip that showed me what to expect.

“It’s fantastic having a view of reality and not only seeing how children act but listening to teachers talk about their experiences and give examples and advice to help us succeed. This was a new experience for me,” says Nicolita.

Marie-Josée Boucher admits that she revisited the site before the start of this school year so she could do a better job of welcoming her Junior Kindergarten and kindergarten students. And she has made a promise to herself to go back to it again if she ever realizes her dream of teaching in the Intermediate division – especially since the site is a quick tool for teachers snowed under with work.

“I want to teach in the Intermediate division some day. I will definitely consult the site to get an idea of how to interact with students at that level. Teachers don’t have a lot of free time. Given a choice between reading a book and looking at videos, I feel that Cyber-profs is more relevant.”

Karen Sidey, OCT, consulted videos on classroom management, teaching strategies, learning through play and other resources. “I had never taught and was barely out of university. I wanted to get to know the new terminology and various classroom approaches.”

Now teaching kindergarten at école Immaculée-Conception in St. Catharines, Sidey says, “Cyber-profs is a tool I can always refer to. I recommend it to all new teachers. You learn from others and come away with a lot of ideas. It’s an outstanding resource.”