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Published April 27, 2018 | Multidisciplinary

From the French Side: Focus on Active Learning and Distance Teaching

As another term – and academic year – draws to a close, we wish to present you with a selection of the articles and real-life stories prepared by our francophone colleagues between October 2017 and April 2018. These contributions clearly reflect 2 approaches currently at the center of many a teacher’s interests and practices: active learning and distance teaching.

Active Learning

Challenges and Tips to Overcome Them

In « L'apprentissage actif, une question de risques... calculés » : réflexions à partir d’un article paru dans Pédagogie collégiale, Catherine Rhéaume summarizes Louis Normand’s article on the benefits and challenges of active learning published in Pédagogie collégiale, while adding thoughts and reflexions in regard to her own teaching practices. She observes that if and when she resorts to more traditional teaching practices, such as lecturing, this is often due to a lack of available class time to spend on active strategies, which tend to be more time-consuming. The article then presents 4 techniques that can easily and quickly be implemented, without having to rethink an entire teaching sequence. In conclusion, the author observes that although having a dedicated active learning classroom is definitely an advantage, it is by no means indispensable to getting students more actively involved in their learning.

Getting the Most out of an Active Learning Classroom

Nicole Lanctôt, a Nursing teacher at Cégep de Granby, generously shares 7 activities she uses with her students in her college’s active learning classroom (ALC). Her Real-Life Story, Apprendre et surprendre grâce à la CLAAC, emphasizes on the importance of eliciting students’ creativity and leadership. Her classes are also infused with humour and surprise elements to keep students engaged and motivated. She uses the interactive whiteboard for activities such as crosswords and concept mapping, clickers for formative exam revision, and laptops for collaborative online exercises. Active learning needn’t always involve technology, and Nicole also gets her students to produce crafts and act out sketches to help them assimilate complex concepts and theories. This facilitates the co-construction of knowledge and insight. The story contains several videos [in French] documenting Nicole’s activities and teaching strategies.

One of Cégep de Granby’s active learning classrooms.

Blending Project-Based and Active Learning Strategies

Another teacher using Cégep de Granby’s ALC is Rémi Robert. In Un cours de philosophie spécialement conçu pour les étudiants de Tremplin DEC, the Philosophy teacher relies on the principles of project-based learning to encourage students in a springboard program to actively develop critical thinking skills, structuring work methods, and a clear engagement toward a specific study path. After each class, students write a journal entry, hosted on OneDrive. The fact that all of the students’ work is available in the cloud allows Rémi to provide everyone with feedback within 48 hours. He also uses infographics to hone presentation skills, Excel to make students more aware of their use of time, and Sketchnote to help them take notes more efficiently. These diversified teaching strategies free up class time for the teacher to hold 20-minute student conferences, every other week. This allows for a more personalized approach, which has a positive impact on students success.

Can Students Be Active Learners… Remotely?

Finally, Catherine Rhéaume’s article Avec un grand R: L'apprentissage actif hors de la classe, est-ce possible? reflects certain experts’ desire to facilitate active learning strategies in a distance teaching context. More specifically, Elizabeth S. Charles (Dawson College), Nathaniel Lasry (John Abbott College) and Kevin Lento (Vanier College) have designed an online platform called DALITE to support peer instruction in a distance teaching context. To achieve this, DALITE allows teachers to create multiple-choice questions. After selecting an answer option, students are invited to justify their choice in a free-form text format. The added value of DALITE lies in the following step: before finding out if their answer choice is correct, students are confronted with the (anonymized) justifications of their peers. After consulting these, they get another chance to reconsider their answer. This process is very similar to peer learning in a classroom, but allows for asynchronous interaction. It can also be integrated with Moodle.

Distance Teaching

There was a lot of interest in field of distance learning from the French side with articles describing innovative technical approaches.

Distance teaching

There’s Always a First Time

In Ma première expérience en formation à distance en tant que nouvelle enseignante, Eang-Nay Theam,  from Cégep de Baie-Comeau, presents the perspective of a new teacher who in the fall of 2017 gives the same French literature course to 2 groups, one online and one on campus. She quickly realised that the activities proposed to both groups could not be the same. The strategies that she used to engage online students include getting students to chat, to give the thumbs up or thumbs down sign to show if they understood, and getting students to write on the shared interactive board.

Inspiration for Online Courses

For inspiration, teachers who are developing or who need to improve an online course could consult Une banque d'activités d'enseignement-apprentissage à distance mises en oeuvre par des enseignants de l'Université Laval. Catherine Rhéaume, Profweb editor, tells us about this bank of 11 activities that were actually implemented in class by University Laval teachers. Several if not all of the activities could be adapted for online or in class college level courses.  From writing a blog, creating a documentary, proposing problem-based learning activities to developing a HyFlex course, you will find a wide variety of inspirational practices.

As part of  Distance Learning Week organised by the  FADIO (formation à distance interordre Bas-Saint-Laurent Gaspésie-îles-de-la-Madeleine), Catherine attended a round table on dynamic practices in the interactive classroom. In the article that summarises the discussions, Catherine presents an example of both a synchronous and an asynchronous online course. It seems that more and more college programs are being offered online which can be challenging for teachers; however the participants at the round table discussion agreed that distance education has a lot of potential and that to try it is to adopt it!

Online Computer Course

Nancy Bluteau and Annie Bouchard teach computer courses to science students at the Collège d’Alma. At one point they realised that even though the students were succeeding they weren’t engaged and weren’t really paying attention during lectures. In the practice lab however, there was a flurry of questions.  In the article Un cours d'informatique asynchrone pour favoriser l'autonomie des étudiants en sciences de la nature the authors explain how they turned to blended learning to encourage students to take charge of their learning.

Segment of a video capsule (in French) created for the online computer course for science students. Annie Bouchard explains how to insert a description or page number.

e-Learning Emergency Communication Skills

The Cégep de Rivière-du-Loup, where Kathie Duhamel teaches, is carrying out a distance learning project with the Cégep de Gaspé. A blended learning approach with some of the courses having been moved online is used in the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care program for a group of students in Gaspé. In the article Enseigner la communication aidante à distance we learn how a course in medical emergency communication skills can be given online using YouTube, TurboNote, various tools from the CCDMD as well as various websites.

All of these articles from the French side offered great insights when it comes to creating engaging learning activities. By providing many options for the students, from active learning to e-learning, these teachers are transforming the learning environment.

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