Eric Dronneau: Breaking down barriers to personalize learning in France

We don’t need no education….Hey! Teachers! Leave those kids alone.”

In 1979, Pink Floyd’s provocative song lyrics from ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ echoed through radios and televisions around the world. Questioning the structure of formal education systems and the role teacher’s play.

Fast-forward almost 40 years, Eric Dronneau, a philosophy teacher at Jean XXIII Private College in Les Herbiers, France, has worked relentlessly to break down the barriers between him and his pupils – flipping the classroom so students are now at the center, not the teacher.

“When I started my career two decades ago, there was a clear disconnect between teachers and students. Teachers were a dictator-like figure, hoarding and only imparting knowledge when they felt it was the right. Meanwhile, students were anxious and stressed, often afraid to ask questions and busily trying to write down notes that captured what a teacher said.”

“Education is as much about freedom of expression as it is about retaining information. Students need autonomy to be curious, explore ideas and learn in a way that is natural and engaging for them. The old teacher-student dynamic prevented this from happening.”

Part of Microsoft’s Innovative Educator Program, Eric believes technology empowers students with the freedom to learn at their own pace, find information through a range of different sources, as well as work together with their classmates.

“Whether its democracy, business or community, collaboration skills are fundamental to our society – so it makes sense for this to be a central part of the classroom. Teachers are now working beside their students, rather than in front of them, providing meaningful, tailored tuition where it’s needed most.”

Setting the learning scene
Introducing Microsoft Teams in 2017, Eric lead the charge in creating more than 1,000 teams – 400 for teachers and 600 for students across various courses – to foster better collaboration and create a more level learning environment.

In Eric’s classes, students start with a broad group discussion on Teams, which allows each student to freely express themselves as well as capture and store their peer’s contributions. This technique allows for quieter students, who don’t normally speak-up in class, to participate and have their opinions heard.

“It’s natural for students to sit next to friends in class, and a lot of time gets wasted forcing collaboration through different seating arrangements. But Teams enables students to work more closely together, no matter where they sit, helping form meaningful social bonds,” says Eric.

“I teach philosophy, so I don’t subscribe to teachers needing all the answers. By giving students the power to determine and then discuss a topic of their choice, they become ‘actors’ rather than ‘observers.’ They are more inclined to collaborate with multiple people and sources to find what they are looking forward – with technology being the driving tool.”

Feedback to flourish
Eric strongly believes providing constructive feedback is one of the most important and underestimated factors of teaching and learning. Feeling it was unfair and counterproductive to assess students only after an assignment was complete, Eric – who is the school’s Microsoft Office 365 Administrator – advocated for students to work in OneNote Class Notebooks where teachers can interact and provide real-time feedback.

“Learning is an ongoing journey, not a final destination. So it is important educators are actively involved in the process, constructively coaching, rather than being idle and only sharing feedback at the end. Using OneNote, we created different working groups where some students research and find philosophical texts, and then another group reworks and augments this information into a thesis. Coinciding with this, teachers can leave comments, guide the project in the right direction, and observe how each student works together.”

Understanding that learning also occurs outside the classroom walls, Eric uses the end-to-end assignment management function in Teams so he can move effortlessly between various classes to feedback and grade documents from creation to presentation. “The digital tools used at work are the same we use at home, so it is important students are fluent in this way of working,” he says. “Thanks to OneNote, teachers can easily exchange information with either a single or group of students in a much more targeted way.”

Sharing is caring
With more than 700 students, Eric recognized the need for teachers to track student’s development not just in a class, but also across other classes and over their entire time at college.

“Personalization is not an empty word. We understand no two students are the same and they learn and grow differently. We needed to homogenize our teaching practices and IT systems to give us visibility and transparency to make tailored learning a reality.”

To achieve this, Eric created a SharePoint recording and cataloguing each student’s development. The database helps build personalized lesson plans to support specific student weaknesses so they can then acquire the appropriate skills.

“Through data capture and analytics, we’re able to measure students’ results over time and then identify ways to tailor teaching programs so no student gets left behind – we’re basically able to quantify each student’s development,” he said. “Having this insight in the cloud also means teachers can access this data at anytime from anywhere. Most importantly, this is not linked to a single person, but retained by the college in the event of teacher absence of even departure.

When asked about technology’s role in the classroom, Eric’s advice to other educators is, “To remember digital tools should not be put at the centre of pedagogy, but at its service. There are plenty of free digital resources and courses available, which teachers can learn best practices from other innovative educators and mentors in getting the best learning outcomes from technology.”

“There’s a lot of discussion around what the jobs of the future will look like, and while teaching tactics have changed, the role of the teacher is fundamentally the same – to empower students with the skills and confidence to live their life to its full potential and have a positive impact on society.”

Inspired by Eric Dronneau using technology to personalize learning programs? Why not join our community and become a Microsoft Innovative Educator? For more information on how Microsoft is helping today’s youth get ready for the future, visit our new Digital Skills website.

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