September 12, 2011

Bringing Out the Best in Broccoli

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

As a teacher, it is perfectly legitimate to ask why CIFAD (Centre d’innovation en formation à distance) was created. Why add another name to the list of organizations and networks dedicated to the development of information technology in education? Here’s a little parable to illustrate the place of CIFAD in a teacher’s task.

For teachers, mastering a new way of teaching, often in a very short time, is like having to eat a cup of raw broccoli every day; it’s supposed to be beneficial but not necessarily something one does willingly. Yet, teachers are constantly looking for new ways to teach and motivate students to learn, which is the case of Sophie.

Sophie at 25 is passionate about teaching biology and advocates behaviorism. She teaches a group of thirty students in orderly rows facing a green chalkboard with chalk which are her principal tools of the trade. When she has the time, she tries to find options to improve her course, but she often lacks the time!

At 35 Sophie has become a cognitivist. She teaches her group of fifteen students and uses a data projector connected to a computer to present course content which has been greatly adapted and enlarged over the years. Some students take notes with their laptops. With the support of a colleague, she uses the Internet for research, but hasn’t abandoned her reference library.

At 45 Sophie’s classroom has emptied over the years. Ironically, she has become a social constructivist. Her group’s ten face-to-face students sit at random in the classroom and converse using phones while listening to music. She opens her computer, turns on the projector and interactive whiteboard and connects to a browser while greeting the ten distance learning students whose virtual classroom has just opened online. With the support of an ICT specialist, Sophie is still teaching biology.

Today, Sophie is part of the team of CIFAD specialists and experiments with pedagogical approaches supported by distance learning to create a common learning environment for a group of students located in the Magdalen Islands and all around the Gaspe Peninsula.

In fifteen years, Sophie will be getting ready to retire. She will have tried a number of pedagogical approaches and lived through several academic reforms. She will have gone from whiteboard to overhead projector, from television and VHS player to computer, Internet, interactive whiteboard, virtual classroom and distance learning. Thanks to her colleagues at CIFAD, she can aspire to contributing to the development of a virtual environment where the students of her successors will have the chance to study bones displayed in the galleries of paleontology and comparative anatomy at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris!

Like raw broccoli, integrating technology into teaching has at times been distasteful for Sophie. With the help of her peers and the resources at CIFAD, however, Sophie has made her career into a hearty soup with seasonings such as collaboration, educational support and recognition. The broccoli suddenly takes on an excellent taste. CIFAD has been an incubator for ideas for Sophie and enabled her to develop a very personal way of teaching to make her mark.

What then is CIFAD’s raison d’être? It will enable the Cégep de Matane and the Cégep de Gaspé to collaborate on research and development and to create a brain trust for passionate participants in their respective fields to find innovative solutions to pedagogical challenges.

CIFAD’s web site is under construction. E-mail us at to be among our first visitors!

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