With the spread of the Internet, information has become more accessible than ever.
Everything is accessible, everywhere, and teachers can help open the door for their
students to new knowledge all over the world. But at the same time, classroom teachers are
struggling to navigate between students needs and expectations and their obligations
surrounding programs and curriculums.
The feelings of many teachers are reflected by Nicole, a Grade 7 teacher. "There
are so many things to teach that I dont have the time to cover, so for me, computers
are something I dont really have time for. They can be used to further investigate a
subject or as a reward."
THINK ABOUT LEARNING
New teachers who pass through From Chalk to Mouse, offered by the French-language
faculty of education at the University of Ottawa, will have a radically different
understanding of technologys role in education. The program provides a new way to
face the challenge of learning, and therefore teaching.
François Desjardins, one of the initiators of the program in co-operation with
French-language school boards of eastern Ontario, and financially supported by a Ministry
of Education and Training grant, has succeeded in providing several classes with computers
and E-mates, a computer for children developed by Apple. The faculty realized, however,
that supplying all those computers would prove useless without giving the proper training
to current teachers and teacher candidates. Hence the idea to centre the approach on
This is nothing new. But this time, the intention was to allow a real transfer of
knowledge between what is learned in university and what is learned as a practising
teacher, and especially to ensure the acquisition of complex skills required to become a
To do this, we needed to de-construct preconceived ideas conveyed by teacher
- if I know how to present my subject, students will understand
- students who do not understand are not making the effort to understand
- if I like what I teach, Ill be able to make the students like it too
- a good teacher is someone who knows how to make sure students listen to him/her and who
knows how to discipline a classroom.
The challenge for many professors involved in this program was to allow teacher
candidates to understand how they were learning, why they had some difficulties or
learning blocks and then decide what means were best suited to construct their own
knowledge. This constructivist approach was used to confront candidates with their own
limits and resources, which meant starting with themselves, their own experience and
preoccupations. This is the first step of the program: the learner is at the core of the
Then we allowed them to construct new learning by re-adjusting the way we taught.
Michelle Bourassa, learning and teaching professor: "I used to cover all the topics I
wanted to cover, all within the constructivist approach, and in only 40 hours, by talking
as fast as I could to say as much as possible. I relied solely on their own reflection
through various assignments to allow each and every one of them to assimilate the course
However, to adapt to the From Chalk to Mouse program, she had to change her methods
and simply shut up.
Bourassa realized that when she was not talking, her students had no choice but to seek
solutions to problems they were facing they had to think and solve them. Finally
the learning was real. They were doing, searching, discovering, analyzing, comparing.
"I only had to guide them throughout their reflection," says Bourassa. This is
the second step, where the teacher is essentially a guide for the learner.
LEARNING THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
In order for students to really understand that teaching is a profession helping to
learn, de-constructing some preconceived ideas or constructing new principles was not
enough. We needed to learn from experience. Within courses taught by professors involved
in the program Jean-Claude Boyer, math didactics; François Desjardins and Michelle
Bourassa, learning and teaching; as well as Marielle Simon and myself, evaluation
we created an integrated learning environment with the technology course offered by
Desjardins at its core.
Teacher candidates had to prepare, in a multimedia format, teaching guides on various
themes, for example, difficult students how to plan and manage learning;
students-at-risk integrated learning in math and language.
Various software was used to create the guides, including Hyperstudio in which videos,
pictures, graphics, tables and text could be incorporated. The guide allowed students to
surf by checking boxes, and construct their own type of learning of a specific topic by
making choices on the theme.
This type of work required the teacher candidate to find multilinear links between
concepts that facilitated moving back and forth between conceptual maps. This method
helped the visual type of learners (with the use of videos, pictures) and the auditory
type of learners (a continued text), and to vary strategies in order to make sure the
netsurfer remained interested and able to find the essential knowledge.
At the end of the school year, candidates exchanged these guides, which became
resources to help them in the future.
In what way is this constructivist? Here is what Benoît, a teacher candidate, had to
say: "We basically had to solve technical problems to create our multimedia guides.
We needed to start all over three times because the software would not accept our data.
But then, if the computer was a student and I was planning a course, I would have to make
sure the student understood what I want. Ill have to make sure the student can solve
the problems with the guidelines Im giving and adjust them consequently. I guess
this is what you had in mind with the program."
It is obvious that Benoît will never perceive teaching the way he used to. There was a
real transfer of knowledge.
A superintendent of an eastern Ontario school board sent us a letter following a series
of interviews with teacher candidates from our program. She saw a considerable difference
in their ability to express themselves, in the ownership of teaching skills, and
especially in the way they see their role with the students. This confirms our approach
and our beliefs in the way we see teacher education.
Next year, no one knows if the program will continue. Professors, teacher candidates,
associate teachers and superintendents are convinced that we are on to something in the
field of teacher education. We only hope decision-makers see it that way too.
Louise Bélair teaches evaluation and assessment in the French-language teacher
education program at the University of Ottawa, and is the author of the recently-published
Lévaluation dans lécole.