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call for projects e-FRAN


Digital technology serving education

Within the framework of the Investments for the Future 2 programme (PIA) led by the Commissariat-General for Investment, the e-FRAN (areas for training, research and digital animation) call for projects has chosen two project teams from the Inria Bordeaux Sud-Ouest centre: Potioc and Flowers. Here there are no gadgets, but real digital tools to improve the students' knowledge and increase their motivation.

“Digital excellence to further educational excellence”

“Digital excellence to further educational excellence”. This is how Jean-Marc Monteil, French special advisor for digital technology and former director of education, defines the ambition of the e-FRAN call for projects. Being among the 22 structures selected, the Potioc and Flowers project teams from the Inria Bordeaux Sud-Ouest centre - in collaboration with their partners - are tasked with reinventing digital technology in class via the e.Tac and Perseverons projects. “Until now, digital technology at school came down to tablets, interactive whiteboards or possibly MOOCs” , Martin Hachet, head of the Potioc project team, explains.In order to differentiate themselves from this, the researchers have worked on augmented objects. And so came the idea of the first prototype: a round table where digital and physical objects cohabit, enabling the secondary-school students to work together. When the students place objects on this table, it will make links between them appear and will suggest content related to these objects (videos, sounds, etc.). “With the e.Tac project, backed by the University of Lorraine, the aim is to create a hybrid environment combining the physical world and digital technology in order to encourage group work. We want to provide new tools that can contribute to improving the acquisition of knowledge but also skills, such as the structuring of the students' thought” , he specifies. This innovative and motivating interface enables the teenagers to co-construct knowledge by getting physically involved in the task. “Our research project is to demonstrate that hybrid systems and tangible interfaces are true levers for collaborative learning” , Martin Hachet continues. Moreover, the first version of the table will be presented next January in Lorraine for the initial tests with the project's partners.

Robots in order to learn better

Other project team selected : Flowers, with the Perseverons project, backed by the University of Bordeaux. The idea is to develop digital tools for all of the students and, more specifically, for sixth-form students in difficulty. The Bordeaux team, led by Pierre-Yves Oudeyer, has developed robotic kits in order to make digital concepts more accessible through experiments such as algorithms, networks, etc. “The robotic kits contain equipment and software to build the robot - but not only that. An educational booklet containing activities is provided to make it easier to get started with the equipment and to guide the teachers” , the team leader specifies. The programming of the robot to carry out a task, for example, gives a tangible dimension to digital concepts that are sometimes quite abstract for students aged between 15 and 18. As they are getting physically involved in a truly concrete project, their motivation for learning the digital sciences increases greatly as a result.

Contributions from e-FRAN

In order to develop these different tools, the Potioc and Flowers teams have worked hand in hand with partner teachers in particular. Between brainstorming sessions and collective participation, e-FRAN has encouraged the co-design of the educational tools to result in pertinent approaches aimed at the students and their teachers. The interactive table by the Potioc project team, moreover, stems from a participative design process in order to involve the teaching staff but also the secondary-school pupils. This prototype will be used as a basis for discussion with the stakeholders based on scientific assessments carried outin situ. Martin Hachet explains: “The tools are tested in the classroom, which makes it possible to assess the impact of these approaches on the targeted skills and to validate them.”

Other component of e-FRAN: user assessment of the tools. Indeed, teachers and students must regularly answer a questionnaire on the usability of these objects in class. “Thanks to e-FRAN, we have access to large-scale experiments, in partnership with local education authorities and schools” , Pierre-Yves Oudeyer explains.

To successfully carry out these missions, the amount allocated by e-FRAN (just over a million Euros for all of the partners of each consortium) has enabled the recruitment of a PhD student and an engineer on e.Tac and the funding of a thesis on Perseverons.

The initiative also encourages a wide dissemination of these tools through, for example, business creation. Something Martin Hachet has already considered: “We would like the tools we are going to develop to be useful for the greatest number of people in order to improve learning processes”. Creation of a start-up? Collaboration with a company? “We haven't decided yet. However we would like to be part of a scheme so that the project can be widely available in classrooms”, Martin Hachet concludes.

Keywords: Education