InfoLuminis: Interview with Anne-Marie Chartier.

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Interview in which Anne-Marie Chartier historicises and reflects upon the relationship between cultural changes linked with information and communication technologies and the educational practices of reading and writing.

Anticipating the International Conference for Teachers (Jornadas Internacionales para Docentes in Spanish) of Buenos Aires Book Fair 2014, we have interviewed Anne-Marie Chartier* who, on Friday 25th April at 2 p.m., will be giving a lecture entitled “Between Hope and Fear: The Uncertainty of Educators over the Evolution of Reading”

anne-maria-chartier-web*Anne-Marie Chartier is assistant professor of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy in Science Education. She was teacher at the Normal School of Versailles, associate teacher at the University Institutes of Teacher Training (IUFM in Spanish) and then worked as teacher and researcher at the National Institute of Pedagogical Research (INRP in Spanish) in the department of History of Education where she conducted research in the history of reading and its introduction into schools as part of basic education in the 17th and 19th centuries, with the aim of confronting theories and practices. Lately, she has published L´école et la lecture obligatoire (Retz, 2007). Many of her works and articles have been published in Spanish, particularly: Enseñar a leer y escribir, Una aproximación histórica (in English: Teaching to Read and Write. A Historical Approach. Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2004) together with Jean Hébrard; Discursos sobre la lectura 1880-1980 y La lectura de un siglo a otro (in English: Discourse on Reading 1880-1980, Reading from one Century to Another. Gedisa, 1994 and 2000). She was editor-in-chief of Recherche et Formation magazine (INRP).

Now we invite you to read this brief interview in which Anne-Marie Chartier historicises and reflects upon the relationship between cultural changes linked with information and communication technologies and the educational practices of reading and writing.

– Gabriel Latorre: – In the context of the irruption and development of information and communication technologies in the last decades, regarding the new habits and practices which take root socially through the use of these technologies, what are your views on the cultural changes between generations and their impact on teaching and learning methods?

– Anne-Marie Chartier:-Not all cultural changes have an impact on learning and teaching methods. For example, migration from the countryside to urban life, the democratisation of holidays and the possibilities of travelling, the reduction in the average number of family members or the disaffection from religion have all had a great impact on social life; but no direct impact on teaching and learning methods. However, the height of popular press in the 19th century, the advent of the radio in the 1920s; the arrival of television in the 1960s, these are all changes that have altered the relationship between adults and children. That’s why the flow of information and knowledge which has entered into the space and time of leisure has affected teaching and learning methods.

On the other hand, educators have fought doggedly against television and have also condemned newspapers for their sensationalist practices of “putting blood into letters” to attract customer-readers to the events they presented.

Educators saw television as a fierce competitor because T.V. was considered a “parallel school”: no obligations, no disciplinary measures. Those characteristics suggested that it was possible to learn by just pressing a button and watching.

Today school faces the competition of laptops connected to the Internet, as well as tools such as tablets and smart phones. This is a phenomenon that also changes education (it “revolutionises” education according to its advocates). However, any change in the technology of transmission of information and communication has always forced teachers to redefine their role. In fact, many teachers think their work is short-circuited by the presence of machines, which would be more effective to spread the knowledge of which teachers used to be authorised guardians and mediators.

Somehow “communication devices” demand that all teachers reinvent their practices much more urgently than ministers and activists from the most convincing movements of pedagogical innovation suggest.

-GL:- Then are there any tensions in teaching between the dynamics of the new media that deal with audiovisual language and the logic of writing that prevails in formal education?

-AMC:- The dynamics of the media is driven by the market’s logic by which hardware manufacturers are forced to invent new products all the time in order to develop tools that become old, out of date, obsolete quickly; in that way, they force users to buy new equipment. In view of the constant use of technological products, we can celebrate that human beings wear out slowly; most of them don’t even improve their command of technology with age unless they are assisted by expert users and not beginners. But the market of writing is also very dynamic. When I’m on the underground, between Paris and the suburbs, I see people around me who read from the screen of their laptops, mobile phones (on which they also write a lot) and devices of new electronic books. That’s why it’s not true that the new media consist of TV only, or that the relationship with the media is just through image and voice as main languages. By contrast, the media restore an essential role of reading and writing.

However, I agree on the fact that the new media work with many languages since they give access to image, music, video, encoded data, writing. Personally, I see this as a possibility rather than a danger in itself.

When Gutenberg invented the printing press, he revolutionised the spread of writing through printing, but this progress had a price: the loss of colour and images in texts. Those who read illustrated colour books and manuscripts had to be content with black and white pages. In that sense, I think the invention of the printing press was viewed as a loss.

Today we witness how the new means of scientific and educational communication have mastered the use of tools such as PowerPoint, video, which combine schemes of image editing and orality. But the problem is still the introduction into school of these new means of communication and, especially, their introduction into exam devices, assessment. For instance, calculators were accepted after a long struggle. Laptops are expected to be incorporated more quickly, but this means that the usual definition of exam can’t be based exclusively on the memory and intelligence of the student, but also on the access to databases, online information, etc. Something different must be thought of, which is not easy.

For the time being, the great advantage of the logic of writing is that it’s much cheaper in terms of the energy of the materials and the time it takes since it only follows the logic of a discourse, which is linear and needs nothing else but itself. When we want to carry out an assessment or control, this logic is always available and doesn’t crash, that’s why it holds and keeps on growing in schools.

-GL:- What aspects of teacher training do you think should be dealt with first and foremost?

-AMC:- Current teacher training doesn’t pose the same problems as that of teachers of the future. These teachers will be born long after the Internet; they will be familiar with the new tools and will use them effortlessly with their students. Today we are asking a generation of teachers to learn to use a number of tools that they never used when they were students. For example, the digital whiteboard provides excellent facilities for the management of the classroom, checking on the steps of work, writing and recording the output of children and the project carried out, etc.

The problem is that to be able to use digital whiteboards, other practices and habits should be dismantled. This doesn’t happen spontaneously. Even if you are agile enough when it comes to the actions required by these new tools and faster to learn than the changes taking place in the educational system, the condition to dismantle old habits is that the new ones make life easier. For example: the photocopier was implemented as soon as it got to schools. However, the implementation of a pedagogy of free text, individual and collective writing (even a newspaper in class, for instance) is more difficult to carry out pedagogically. The photocopier provides technical assistance, not pedagogical thinking. It doesn’t solve the problems of inequality between children or the difficulties in improving a text which has been rewritten successively, it doesn’t democratise the access to the written word: it only allows you to make copies instantly.

Similarly, using computers and tablets with students changes significantly work areas, the organisation of activities, cooperation between children, etc. But this use doesn’t define a pedagogy.

Curently, only teachers who use these tools daily are ready to use them “daily” in class: Are they better educators because of this? I don’t think so, but what is certain is that they are going to create new ways of working in class which will have important consequences for the school landscape. We have seen this in the past.

In 1860, teachers also had to learn to organise work with young children when the blackboard and the exercise book arrived in every classroom and quill pens went out of use. Till then only older students were provided with tables. With the arrival of exercise books and dip pens, even beginners started writing their first letters while learning to read. In order to work on their exercise book and write, it was necessary that every student had a table. This was the beginning of the class as we know it: with desks lined up in rows, the blackboard in front of the students, so they can copy what the teacher writes. Many people think that this model of class “has always existed”, but that wasn’t true in all cases!

The establishment of this organisation stirred up every educational habit, but, in just one generation, these new ways were adopted worldwide because they made teachers’ lives easier and improved educational results in reading.

In 1880, no one remembered anymore how everything might have been “before”. I think the youngest generation of teachers is perfectly able to do this and maybe even faster. Before 2015, I’m sure no one will remember well how everything was “before.”