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  • 1. An Educational Web Environment based on themetaphor of the electronic schoolbagChristian Martel (*)(**) & Laurence Vignollet (*)(*) Equipe Systèmes Communicants, Université de Savoie, 73011 Chambéry, France(**) Savoie R&D, 73376 Le Bourget-du-Lac, FranceRésumé: L’environnement éducatif présenté dans ce papier est développé dans le cadre d’un projet ambitieuxappelé “ Cartable Electronique®”. Nous montrons combien cette métaphore est utile pour expliquer, concevoir etdévelopper de nouveaux services éducatifs. Nous tentons de faire une analyse des bénéfices liés à l’utilisation ducartable électronique à partir des bilans des expérimentations menées dans les collèges et à l’Université de Savoie.Nous concluons enfin cet article par des réflexions prospectives sur notre projet.Abstract : The Educational environment presented here is being developed in the context of an ambitious projectcalled “Cartable Electronique®” project (“electronic schoolbag”). We will show how this metaphor is very usefulto explain, design and construct new educational services. We will also attempt to analyse the benefits of the use ofour electronic schoolbag through the description of experiments carried out with schoolchildren and with universitystudents. Finally, we will address the future prospects for our project.1. Introduction.Begun in 1999, the “Cartable Electronique®” project combines the efforts and resources of the Universityof Savoie “Systèmes Communicants” laboratory and “TICE” team, the Savoie General Council “SavoieR&D” and the National Education Institutions rectoral and departmental services. They work jointly onthe definition, design and creation of new educational services intended first of all for schoolchildren anduniversity students, but also for all of the players in the field of education (teachers, administrators,sociocultural partners, etc.) and the families.The ambition of our project is to contribute to the development of new educational practices introducinginformation and communication technologies in the educational area, from school to university. For theschoolchildren, one of the objectives is also to increase the links between the institution and the childrensfamilies, and between the institution and its traditional sociocultural partners. For the students, we arewitnessing a mutation of education practices: students have quite different learning curricula, with amixture of distance and traditional teaching. We have to take into account the different needs of eachindividual, their various backgrounds and the variety of courses they follow. Moreover, during the courseof their scholarship, the student belongs to different communities: institutional, cultural, sports,organizational, etc.We have to offer a unique environment letting children and students organise their mobility. The new
  • 2. education tools have to address this, allowing the creation of multiple communities, giving users thepower to introduce and assign roles to participants. The electronic schoolbag is the cornerstone of all theeducational activities, from school to university.The Electronic Schoolbag project (“Cartable Electronique®”) is supported by the French NationalEducation Ministry and by the Technology Executive, the Savoie General Council, the University ofSavoie and the Caisse des dépôts et consignation.2. The metaphorThe metaphor of the "electronic schoolbag" is inspired by the debate that reigns in France on the weight ofthe schoolbags of the schoolboys/schoolgirls. Since many years, with each school re-entry, this weight allalone crystallizes with him all the criticisms towards the school institution. Are the programs tooambitious, the school rhythms little adapted to the children and the teenagers, the handbooks too heavyand too many? The schoolbag is the object of common resentment, and some of the questions the Frenchsociety asks regards to its school accumulate in this object.In this context, it was trying to benefit from this situation to offer to the object another future: to becomethe means by which Information and Communication Technologies are introduced into the school and thesymbol of their utility within the school framework. These technologies, applied to the schoolbag, can atthe same time neutralize criticisms most virulent on this object and on these technologies themselves.Its transportability?Untransportable because of its excessive weight? It is enough to dematerialize it, and the question doesnot arise any more.Its capacity?Does this object contain plethoric things, excessive, with possibly contestable learning utility as of thehandbooks whose teachers say the difficulty they have to use them with the detriment of the really usefulthings which "in any event" do not hold in a schoolbag? It is not necessary to worry about: a schoolreport, a correspondence notebook, an encyclopaedia, a dictionary, an address notebook, documents underwriting, exercises ready to use, one or two pages of a followed story, a laboratory of physics, a museumand the works of art it gathers, a symphony and its transcription, some bedside books and the map ofFrance with its rivers and its mountains, etc. It can all contain, and much more still.Its accessibility?Is this object the trace of a immutable school time, rythmed by the division of the discipline and of thelabour which reigns in particular in the junior schools? It is enough to make it everywhere available, atany moment, without particular difficulty, in class, in the library, the house? This locality recoveredallows the returns, the experience and knowledge confrontation, and the memory game.Its opening?Is this object the symbol of the distance which exists between the school and the external world? It isenough to place it in the centre of a vast communication network which articulates the school with itsvarious interlocutors and the family in her various organized forms.Its persistency?Is this object the symbol of the adult desire to see the schoolboy/schoolgirl acquiring quickly allknowledge? It is enough to enrich it gradually, at the rhythm of the trainings carried out in class and apartfrom the class. Nothing irremediable occurs: all can always be re-examined, revised, be revisited.
  • 3. Conversely, can Communication and Information Technologies also take benefits from this meeting withthe schoolbag?Their pedagogical utility?Are they useful for teaching, educating, trainings? Insofar as they can simplify the diffusion of theeducational contents, their treatment and their use by the teachers and the pupils, these technologies arecompletely adapted to the increasing request of the individualisation of the work expressed by theeducational actors. The schoolbag in its electronic form allows a work of proximity which would requireto be achieved by traditional ways, by means much more significant.Can they contribute to improve operationality of school?Accent put on the services brought to the pupils, to the teachers and to their families makes it possible toclearly locate the handles of introduction of technologies of information and communication within theschool framework. To improve the school life, access for all to information, reinforcement of links of theeducational community, contribution to team work, objectives on which most of the school communityagree with, and which pains sometimes with being reached within a traditional framework, are reachedthanks to the flexibility offered by Communication and Information technologies.The frontier of metaphor resides in user intension. It is particularly the case of the desk metaphor, which iswell-formed only for tertiary workers.It can fell of the frightening traps. Thus, pure and simple assimilation of the electronic schoolbag to acomputer, appears to us to be a mistake. It is necessary to prevent it, if the question of access simplified tothe contents must be solved. Indeed, teaching utility of a computer is problematic because of thecomplexity of its implementation and its very great interactive richness. The face to face teaching rests onelementary acts and on some simple gestures, to indicate, alert, insist which do not drown knowledge fishin mediatization disorder.3. The environmentD. Kaplan in [3] points out that in the United States, E-learning companies and Universities have placedtheir trust in the quality of content delivered to students. Today there are doubts about the relevance of thischoice. Even in Europe, some experiences of giving a priori built content are not so convincing.Our point of view is quite the opposite. Indeed, who knows of a teacher who will use a single manual thewhole year with a class? Also, University teachers always personalize the courses they find on the Webfor instance, and never use them as found. Editors have to modify their way of building manuals, andconsequently, their economic model before we should generalize the use of electronic manuals. Anotherpoint of view is to use the Web as a source of content, and to consider the teacher as a guide in thisinexhaustible source of information: a guide who locates the resources, and who teaches how to use them.At the beginning of our project, we defined the educational web environment with no content, but withcollaboration functionalities: priority was given to the face to face teaching support, improving exchanges,sharing and communication between teachers and students/children after the courses.3.1 Functional descriptionThe electronic schoolbag is the cornerstone of all the educational activities. In our Educational WebEnvironment, the electronic schoolbag is central. It contains personal belongings (figure 1) such as:
  • 4. • Simple documents of any type (doc, pdf, ps, xls, html, xml, …), • Structured documents: photo album, annotated links, news, questionnaires, short cuts, … • Documents from services: personal school reports, attached documents received by emails, … • Any other files.Only the user can put his/her “things” in his/her electronic schoolbag. However, someone could want tosend a file to him/her. He can do it via email, but it takes time and he may have quota limitations.Moreover, if the file is a structured document, it will lose its structure. We have introduced a newmetaphor: the “pigeonhole” (“casier” in French). Anyone can send any file to anyone elses pigeonhole: itis optimised, the user has no size constraint, and the structure of the object is maintained. Then thepigeonhole owner is free to cut and paste the file in his/her schoolbag.The electronic schoolbag also gives access to adapted and personal services like WebMail, address book,personal diary. These services interoperate with the electronic schoolbag in the sense that any documentproduced by or associated with a service can be stored in the electronic schoolbag (attached document ofan email, personal school report, …). Figure 1: Example of “things” in an electronic schoolbagThe electronic schoolbag is the private space of the user. But a user moves in several communities: thegroup of his/her class, the group of users with whom he works on a project, a talk, the ones with whom
  • 5. he/she shares passions, etc.Our environment allows the creation by users of groups: instutional ones (the class, the group of all theteachers, …), organisational ones or thematic ones. Nearly all the institutional groups can be createdautomatically, regarding to the data stored in the electronic directory of the establishment (usually inLDAP1 format).Group users can have different roles. In the current version, they can have one of the three predefinedroles: manager, moderator or member, giving to him/her different rights.The group manager can also establish the group policy, choosing policy attributes: • Public (in opposition to Private): Information will be accessible by non-members, • Open (in opposition to Closed): Everybody can subscribe to the group, and a member is free to leave the group, • Can be reached (in opposition to can not be reached): non-members can send documents to the group.Finally, each group has a virtual space called “workspace” (“Atelier” in French), in which members canstore any file, use collaborative tools: Chat, Forum, Collaborative Editor.3.2 Technical description We use Zope (Zope Object Publishing Environment) [9] to build the working environment. Zope is anopen source framework for building web applications, initially developed by Digital Creation. Instead ofpublishing HTML files, Zope publishes objects which are able to publish themselves. Zope is multi-platform and extendable. A very active community works to improve the available components, calledproducts. The Zope server plays the role of a Web server, everything is an object, from document to methods. Itcontains an object oriented database, it runs as an ORB (Object Request Broker), a plain text searchengine is proposed, and the administration is done via the Web. One of the distinguishing features of this framework is the availability to define local roles associatedwith each object. We mainly use these local roles to organize the CSCW: it is the basis of the regulation inthe shared workspaces. Local roles give an API to the regulation of the collaborative work. We want to extend them, to allowusers to define self-position to their own activity and to others group participants. We also want to proposea way to define hierarchical places in the group.4. The experimentsToday, this platform is being experimented in the University of Savoie (http://www.univ-savoie.fr) withmore than 5000 students and teachers and in junior schools (K-12) with 150 children and teachers(http://www.cartable-electronique.org). These experiments allow us to present results.The few sets of services proposed in the experimental platform are currently in real and intensive use (100000 LDAP hits per month for environment connection alone). The volume of document exchange andstorage is also very high. The electronic “notice board” has replaced the mural one. Many thematic groupshave been created by end-users.1 LDAP : Lightweight Directory Access Protocol
  • 6. The main results after one year of experimentation in junior schools are listed below: • The children appreciate the facility to communicate information to all the class. • Children and teachers have mentioned that some work has become easier to carry out. For instance, the availability in the work space of the class of the documents used in the children’s talks is a great improvement. • They all regret the small number of interactions with the families, on both sides (no information sent from the school to the parents, nor requests from the families). • The teachers want to suppress some paper documents, such as the homework notebook and correspondence notebook (which ensures the liaison between the school and the family). • The teachers need to improve their interactivity with the children. • The teachers have proposed to become more involved in the design of the services of the environment.After a one-year experience with more than 5000 students, teachers and administrators from theUniversity of Savoie expressed other remarks and expectations: • The main added value unanimously recognised is, for every kind of user, the possible creation of communities. Users have the power to introduce and assign roles to participants. However, in the current version, they can only choose between three roles (manager, moderator, member) and few group policies. We are making an effort to improve these functionalities. • If the current environment is not dedicated to e-learning, the metaphor used and technology employed facilitate the integration of existing platforms or learning objects or learning services. For example, a request for integration of the Ulysse platform [8] was formulated by teachers at the University (Ulysse allows the creation of training courses and their accessibility via the Internet). This integration has now been carried out, but its effective use in a course remains for the moment under study: the principal question being of course to integrate the use of such tools into a renovated pedagogy. • Users appreciate the integration of existing administrative services inside the education Web Environment; however, they want any internal services to be included (e.g. the Intranet of the University of Savoies research board). They want the education Web environment to become the single access point to all internal information, pedagogic and administrative ones.Conclusions and prospectsOur project addresses many research problem areas, from many fields: education, sociology, computerscience, … From the methodology point of view, we work with end-users in the definition, design andcreation phases and through experiments. Usage specialists observe and give feedback which is taken intoaccount in the successive versions.The current success of the use of the Educational Web Environment developed reinforces the choices wehave made, particularly the flexibility offered in the personalization of the environment and in lettingusers create communities and define the organization of the work in these communities.On the technical side, the implementation choices, using the Zope framework, have led to an open sourceWeb platform, easy to install, maintain and extend. Moreover, it allows easy integration of orinteroperability with existing resources and platforms.This project introduces new challenges:
  • 7. • Is the electronic schoolbag an object of equality? The question of the electronic schoolbags accessibility to all will obviously end up arising in a society concerned with the equality of opportunity offered to its children and conscious of the risk of differential computer numeracy. Achieving this goal will depend on many economic factors like the conviction of the educational players that the Internet and the services found therein have a real utility and that they meet needs which are not currently being satisfied. It poses especially the problems of the definition of National Education establishment information systems, oriented towards services to teachers, pupils and their families; of the permanent connection of these establishments to the Internet; of their equipment with work stations permanently accessible to the people who attend them; of the teamwork of teachers, keen to build a coherent methodological environment for their pupils, with useful assistance and references; and of a simplified circulation of information between the various players in education concerned with pupils academic success. • The activity around the standards of metadata associated with resources (cf IMS [4] and LOM [6]) shows the importance of the provision of content compared to the provision of services accompanying traditional pedagogy. The schoolbag of a child/student gives him/her access to other "references" than the content: planning events, house duties, methodologies of work, evaluations... The current standards do not take into account certain specificities related to these references. More generally, no standard of educational services exchanges exists, facilitating their interoperability. But this addresses an important problem: the respect of privacy [7]. • The evaluation of the impact of the use of such environments on learning is quite empirical [3]. It remains to be refined [1]. • At this time, the electronic schoolbag is being used only in the context of the educational establishment. We want to consider other contexts. For instance, in the library context, the children/students could have specific services. This would lead to more personalisation and adaptation of this object. Finally, what would the use of this object be out of context?References1. G. Chabert, "le cartable électronique expérimenté : un autre regard sur les usages", XIIIème Congrès Inforcom Les recherches en Information et Communication et leurs perspectives : Histoire, Objet, pouvoir et méthodes Marseille Palais du Pharo, October 2002, to be published.2. Groupe "e-Education" de la FING, "Electroniques, Virtuels, Numeriques : l’élève, le prof et leur cartable dans l’école de demain", rapport de synthèse sous la direction de Daniel Kaplan, avec le concours de Shahira Dalifard, February 2002.3. D. Kaplan, "Le cartable électronique est une métaphore", la Fing, December 2001.4. IMS : Instructional Management Systems, http://www.imsglobal.org.5. A. Large, J. Beheshti, T. Rahman, "Design Criteria for Childrens Web Portals: the Users Speak Out", in the Journal of the American society for information science and technology, 52(2), 2002, pp. 79-94.6. LOM : (Learning Objets Metadata), http://ltsc.ieee.org/wg12/index.html.7. Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P), W3C Initiative, http://www.w3.org/P3P.8. “Ulysse, le serveur multimedia de formations de l’Université Bordeaux 1, http://www.ulysse.u- bordeaux.fr.9. Zope Object Publishing Environment, www.zope.org <http://www.zope.org>.