[This article was originally published in French by Hélène Paumier. Translation : EPALE France]
What are the levers for digital inclusion?
This question was put to training professionals by the EPALE France team during the period of lockdown that affected Europe and the world for several weeks. With distance learning becoming essential in all support and training measures, how can we avoid accentuating the digital divide?
Over one week, a “Mentimeter” space was made available to training professionals, allowing them to freely testify about their experiences.
Consultation on technical, material, social and situational changes in favour of inclusion. One might think that everything has already been said on social networks, blogs, and specialized journals during the lockdown and digital experimentation for a large number of users.
However, feedback from the EPALE consultation shows that what might be considered as generalities bring up facts, recommendations and more questions, to continue on the path towards broader inclusion.
Associations (AF-MP, EGGS ECHO) shared proposals to promote greater inclusion, such as fun activities, access to free private clouds, immersive virtual reality solutions and submitting "e-proposals". That everyone, regardless of their culture, age and abilities, can learn to use inclusive applications.
We also note, from the feedback, that communication is at the heart of all actions. Digital applications demonstrate the need for communication that is adapted not only to the people communicating, but above all through the tools used. Although the lockdown resulted in an increase in autonomy for some, like Solène, from a private structure, we can also note the difficulties that distance communication (through digital tools) represents when the user does not master social codes (language and behavioural in particular).
Although Jérôme, a teacher, takes a radical stance, commenting that teaching can only be done face to face, digital tools have in fact made it possible to maintain a link (pedagogical or otherwise) that has been very precious in many situations.
Using digital tools may have been difficult for the teachers themselves (like Stella, a teacher at the Reims University Hospital, explains). The multiplication of available tools has undoubtedly favoured this. Where professional structures were not already engaged in encouraging and supporting digital practices, we fully agree that it may have been difficult for teachers and trainers to learn how to use these tools on the job, in record time, and come out with fully effective teaching materials. However, participants in the survey often indicated that from the beginning of the next school year, or when future training programmes are launched, sequences will be offered remotely. Like the example of Pierre-François Descheerder from the IUT of Béthune, many teachers seem convinced of the value of using digital technology to complement (and sometimes even more) their face-to-face teaching.
While this often increases the time required to prepare content, it can be seen as an investment for the future. This is what Christelle explains, as an independent working in the social field. Some types of learning are not particularly compatible with distance learning. But, while there are improvements to be made, distance learning is a very good prospect for the future. For inclusion to be widespread, positive and effective, we will have to look at the conditions in which learners find themselves when they are learning remotely.
Both in terms of training and working from home, we seem to have turned a corner. Our current practices allow us to step back from the pressure of technology development or from a particular situation such as COVID19. We experimented, sometimes in spite of ourselves. However, we have come out with experience to reuse in future practices to promote the development of training and inclusion.
Tools, techniques and processes
The tools chosen during this period of training and distance learning depend mainly on the teaching methods, the digital habits of the structure and the experience of the trainers and teachers. Beyond the specificities of the structures, the feedback shows the willingness of teachers and training organisations to achieve the learning objectives as best possible and to maintain contact with learners. We therefore have a whole range of tools available to achieve these different objectives: "course content", "maintaining the link with the group or the learner", "individualised support" or "encouraging intra-group exchanges". Some tools can be combined or serve different purposes such as providing content while getting the group to react and identifying learners with difficulties.
For example, Zoom and Microsoft Teams software are often used to bring learners together and facilitate a session in the form of a virtual classroom.
Moodle is the preferred tool for allowing learners to access courses independently according to their availability. However, this tool usually needs to be designed in advance and to be already in use by the learners. Most often, Moodle is already part of hybrid approaches with structured content designed to meet pedagogical needs. Implementation is difficult in crisis and emergency situations, but people have become more aware of multimodal approaches.
Given the difficulty for learners to remain engaged, “open badges” were cited as an interesting response to improve commitment and recognition. The same applies to the use of e-portfolios. The aim here is to get the learner to participate as much as possible, and to maintain his or her interest and commitment to the training.
Among the feedback given by respondents, one category of digital tools stands out. Teacher training and the sharing of experiences. While the difficulty of adapting teaching to distance learning was underlined on several occasions, many resources and tools for knowledge sharing were cited as levers, including:
- Digital collaborative pack: http://loicmartin.me/valise-numerique-et-teletravail/
- Digital educational pack: http://loicmartin.me/valise-numerique-pedagogique/
- Shared training materials: http://didac-ressources.eu/2020/
Some professionals have gone further, setting up online simulation platforms. Some more technical issues were shared: a hosting provider that failed in a school or the change of operating system to rethink in depth the use of digital.
Finally, many contributions spoke of the success of pedagogical continuity. Continuity in teaching and learning requires mixing tools in order to best adapt to the needs of the learners. The respondents highlighted the need to adapt tools and techniques and learning methods to allow each learner to find their place. However, regardless of the variety of tools and their adaptation, learners need to have access to them, particularly technically, geographically and economically.
It is interesting to note that the contributions show that the trainers, tutors and coaches remain sceptical of the use of the tools, saying that they really need to be adapted to their pedagogical objectives. They also highlight the need for training in the use of these tools.
The various responses to the survey insist on the barriers to digital access. The most vulnerable or those who do not master the social codes, problems of ADSL in rural areas, lack of training, lack of resources for computers or internet access; these are all limits to accessing digital tools.
It is essential that we meet these conditions to avoid creating digital exclusion.
Respondents spoke of the necessary conditions for supporting the public. In certain situations, faced with possible barriers, the use of the telephone or consumer applications will be indispensable tools to reassure isolated people.
The barriers to access to digital presence must be removed in order to overcome the difficulties of digitally illiterate audiences. Indeed, distance learning can put people in difficulty when they do not master the social codes, thus creating a lack of spontaneity when using tools.
There are solutions. For example, it is better to use webinars than live connections. It is undoubtedly necessary to explore the use of "off-line" connections to avoid the stress of confronting others live, using an unfamiliar tool.
One of the other key conditions is training:
- Training of teachers and other trainers. Although digital tools have been on the ESPE programme for 3 years, lifelong training for teachers needs to be reinforced. Trainers and teachers need simple training in digital tools (online marking, collecting documents, creating questionnaires, etc.).
- Training of learners: using simple tools (diary and correspondence books, for example), training in collaborative tools.
There is also a need to reflect on learning methods and the role of trainer/trainee interactivity. First of all, it is necessary to prepare cultural adaptation to e-learning. Motivating and capturing attention are goals to be pursued. The complete autonomy of learners with machines is an illusion. There are tools to help people who would otherwise give up. Moodle would appear to be an appropriate tool for this.
There is also a need to reflect on the reliance on proprietary software and formats, protection and respect for digital privacy. This is one of the conditions of free access.
Finally, issues of recognition and pedagogy are among the conditions for success. The DIGCOMP or C2i2 standards are certification levers. Trainers and teachers also need to create problem situations to discourage mindless use of tools. This will mean changing the way we teach. What is done at a distance must be rethought as such. Pedagogical renewal is another condition for success.
The perspectives set out in the various contributions should be seen in the light of the analysis of the health crisis, the constraints and the opportunities generated. The proposals refer to several registers. Some are operational, validating the possibilities of a more hybrid approach to training, introducing new methods (digitalisation of the offer, introduction of remote modules, videoconferences, chats, forums, creation of avatars, reduction in the size of keyboards by interactive TVs, etc.) others refer to a new way of designing spaces of communication and, more broadly, question the trainer's approach and their ability to present knowledge in order to make it both accessible and appropriable by everyone, everywhere. This implies new ways of looking at cooperative processes and self-help in building knowledge. We also perceive a broadening of the reflection to more ethical and relational dimensions. This brings up the philosophy of “Care”: concern for others and the necessary benevolence that can compensate for the possible coldness of digital tools. There are also clear-cut, controversial positions that are likely to persist: between the enthusiasm generated by the surprises of the lockdown (increased autonomy and mutual aid, building a different face-to-face pedagogy, continuing to interact in a dynamic of collective solidarity, etc.) as well as doubt, and even radical scepticism (digital pedagogy is an illusion, etc.). These prospects depend on progress in terms of ease of access and use for all, which is not yet the case.
Article written by Roseline LE SQUERE, André CHAUVET, David LOPEZ, Thierry ARDOUIN and Hélène PAUMIER