Scientific projects

Areas of focus for the team's work

The overall aim of the research conducted by the team is to characterise educational or training organisations to shed light upon their determinants and assess their effectiveness, or to predict and measure their effects. We will examine the tools and behaviours implemented by teachers through teaching situations in order to organise study conditions, on the one hand, and the activities developed by the pupils to achieve the work and tasks assigned by the teacher, on the other. These contexts will be the main focal areas in which the specific subjects of our research will be drawn out. Our work thus generally has a two-fold approach. The first focus is on the pupils, with the aim of improving study and training conditions. The second focus is on teacher training, with the aim of better understanding needs. This research also has a dual perspective: descriptive and explanatory research on current realities on the ground, as well as the study of possibilities introduced through experimentation with situations deriving from the research.

More specifically, the Gestepro team is engaged in research aiming to investigate the role of semiotic or material instruments (graphic intermediaries, artifacts) used in the work of teachers and pupils. This is considered from the point of view of teaching-learning processes at work. These studies are carried out at different stages in the general education curriculum (primary, middle and high school), as well as higher education and also vocational training. This work also involves several areas of science education (physical sciences, life and earth sciences) and technology teaching (technology in middle schools, the science of information and communication technology in high schools) and several specialist areas of professional training in universities (e.g. the training of professionally-orientated undergraduate and Masters students in electrical engineering or the training of architects and/or designers). Most of this research is also the subject of scientific cooperation as part of regional, national and/or international research projects.

Teaching and learning phenomena are viewed through the staging and development of objects of knowledge or, more specifically, the construction and handling of artifacts. There is a tension which springs from the relationship between the objects handled and the construction of meanings concerning these objects. This can shed light on the strategies developed by teachers when organising their teaching, as well as those developed by pupils to organise their activities in the context of the tools proposed. Specialised symbolic languages often play a decisive and dominant role in this process. From this perspective, the conditions for the organisation of teaching situations, especially when they call for materials, machines or devices to be brought to the fore, can have a direct impact on the effectiveness of the teaching-learning process.

As an entry point, the team's work places specific emphasis on the analysis of study conditions, in particular the factors affecting the knowledge appropriation process. These include the way content is structured, the level of development of instructions, the complexity of the tasks, the way statements are formulated, the ease with which pupils can understand the tools and the degree of congruity of documents. Examining the appropriation process goes hand in hand with questioning the process of transmission and, therefore, the role of the teacher. This entry point can be considered in terms of the study of the teacher's professional actions or in terms of the study of the interactions formed in the classroom between teachers, pupils and knowledge. Here, the teacher plays the role of a conductor who is given a score written by other individuals and is in charge of setting this score to music. The third type of study goes beyond a descriptive and explanatory stance to adopt a more predictive stance, proposing work derived from a form of didactic engineering. The idea here is to study the way in which transmission and appropriation of a specific type of knowledge is organised. The impact of a change in one of the active factors in this organisation can be observed in relation to this particular form of organisation and to the overall economy of the system. The elaboration of teaching devices which put new modalities or different arrangements of this organisation to the test falls within this category. These new initiatives include distance learning, the use of remote resources, models, software simulation, etc.

These studies lead to empirical experiments, the results of which are processed quantitatively and qualitatively. In doing this, we favour the structuring of tasks as a way of analysing teaching situations.

  •  This includes the tasks that the pupils must complete, as well as the tasks entrusted to the teacher (both categories are necessarily different and distinct). These tasks have various meanings within the process of didactic transposition. Firstly, the specific organisation of the knowledge they exhibit (an expression of the logic of the discipline). Secondly, their organisation and transcription for educational purposes (expression of the logic of the teacher). Thirdly, the educational institution's perception of the modes of acquiring such knowledge (an expression of the logic of learning). Instead of reinforcing each other, or coming together, these three approaches are often competing. Thus, the tasks given to pupils are often beset with contradictions or conflicts between what the institution advises, what the teacher does to comply with the requirements and the pupils' understanding of what the institution and the teacher expect of them. Analysing the tasks at work on these different levels, as well as the actual activities associated with them, are of interest in drawing out these elements of competition and looking at the organisation of education in a different way.

  • This activity is part of a study of the implementation of a task by the subject. Analysing this activity brings out the distance between the prescribed task and the task actually performed. In this sense, it allows us to question the effectiveness of the organisational methods proposed, distinguishing between their immediate effects (which are not, specifically, permanent in character) and their medium and long-term effects (the sustainable development of a form of representation, overcoming barriers, knowledge retention, transfer effects, etc.).

This experimental approach allows us to characterise discontinuities, inconsistencies, misunderstandings, breakdowns and barriers. We thus encounter different tasks which take radically different forms even when operating adjacently. The task prescribed by the teacher, for example, is certainly a different task from the one perceived by the pupil and, finally, the actual task that will be self-assigned. Similarly, the activity of the subject is not necessarily deployed to perform the task, but is part of the interaction between the protagonists and the social environment of the educational situation. In fact, it is more a question of defining an analytical framework to look at the way this type of situation works.

The intersection of these two levels of analysis, task and activity, allows us to characterise the interactions between three concurrent kinds of logic, which can also be competing or conflicting: the logic of the discipline, the logic of the teacher and the logic of the pupil. In fact, we are really only interested in the tension between these different kinds of logics in the classroom. We are trying to observe and analyse the effects produced by this tension. The task appears as a concentrated expression of a whole set of values, models, elements of theories and knowledge that underpin the corpus of knowledge to which we are referring and identify a single teacher from the population of teaching staff as a whole. Task analysis is thus significant for the implementation of an education programme in the particular context of a specific class. It is also significant for the activities it induces among the pupils. The transition to a consideration of real-life experience involves implementing an analysis of pupil activity. The way pupils understand the task, the way they organise their activities and direct their actions, what they take into account and what they do not even see... These considerations often allow us to better understand why and in what ways the learning processes drawn upon do not produce the desired effects. From this perspective, we can identify the difficulties faced by pupils. These are both intrinsic (linked to the knowledge) and extrinsic (linked to the tools). We can examine the way these are handled - the strategies adopted and the planning of various actions. The intersection between task and activity thus allows us to instantiate the pupil activities within the characteristic elements of the tasks. We can thus evaluate the difficulties encountered by the pupil and identify which of these are inherent to the context (the formulation of the task and the conditions for completing it, the organisation of study conditions, etc.) and which of these are caused by obstacles embedded in the very content of the learning in question.

The team's contribution to the development of research group thematics

The knowledge transmission/appropriation process

The study of the process of transmission/appropriation of knowledge, competence or skills is central to the work carried out by the Gestepro team. For us, this is centred upon scientific, technological and vocational knowledge within the field of education in particular, through an analysis of the activities of teachers and pupils and the interactions they generate.

In particular, this orientation implies an enhancement of our knowledge of the processes of transmission and acquisition of scientific, technological or vocational knowledge, firstly, through the analysis of tasks and their status (prescribed, perceived, actual...) and, secondly, the activities that these tasks generate in the subjects in question. This includes examining the links and dynamics induced in the light of the effectiveness of the processes involved: the effectiveness of a learning tool and the impact of situations on the organisation of teaching.

The idea is also to examine to what extent the instrumentation of activities in this teaching generates a specificity of the teaching-learning process for these disciplines.

Professionalism and professionalisation of teaching, education and training professions

The work of teachers can be characterised through cross analysis of the activities (of pupils and teachers), on the one hand, and the tasks (for, or produced by, the teacher; for, or self-assigned by, the pupil...), on the other. In this characterisation, we examine teachers' strategies and the organisational methods they design, develop and implement. We also look at effectiveness, which can be measured through pupil commitment, the completion of the proposed tasks or the learning achieved by the pupils. The results of this analysis have direct implications for the characterisation of teacher professionalism, as well as implications for professional teacher training organisations.

The relationship between the progress of the research conducted by the team and the organisation of initial and continuing professional training for teachers in the subject areas in question results from a construct expressed in the models of the Masters concerned.

Educational and/or training institutions

An analysis of the relationship between task and activity in the context of scientific, technological and vocational teaching allows us to question the breakdown of academic disciplines, their interdependence and also their degree of independence. Often, ideological distinctions between academic disciplines as they are organised - for example, the distinction between physical and chemical sciences, life and earth sciences, technology or even the role of academic guidance based on the performance of students in general school subjects, strongly determine the choice of career paths available to children. These are increasingly being questioned in the context of educational policies.

This teaching is poorly adapted to the current context, as evidenced by the predominance of major societal debates on issues related to the development of science and technology, the disaffection of scientific, technological or professional studies, permanent shifts in the relationship between diplomas, qualifications and employment, etc. This teaching is also subject to more or less chaotic developments that demonstrate an unprecedented crisis. This manifests itself in the very low number of candidates and hesitation in curricula which oscillate between references to 'hard' academic knowledge, deemed inaccessible, and education aimed more at understanding societal issues arising from the development of science and technology. Through, for example, an analysis of changes in this teaching, such as 'hands-on' operation, the integrated teaching of science and technology, the investigation, project or competence-based approach... the whole concept of educational institutions is being examined, both in relation to institutions based on academic disciplines or curricular organisations.

The team's work contributes to analysing the development of educational institutions, especially in terms of the continuities and discontinuities that characterise pupils' educational pathways. For example, our contributions to the study of the impact of gender in the analysis of learning situations provide a unique perspective on how the school, studied through the interactions between the teacher, pupils and knowledge, creates differentiations on a social, gendered and cultural level... These observations can illuminate choices made in terms of the directions and organisation of teacher training institutions.

Team goals

The three research programmes currently underway are guiding the research of our team members. Much of this work is carried out in collaboration with teams external to the ADEF research group, in the context of cooperative projects on a national and international level.

  • Role of graphic intermediaries in structuring scientific and technological thinking through educational activities: building meanings based on academic tasks necessarily exceeds the implementation of (educational) techniques for completing the task. Structured symbolic languages (diagrams, drawings, plans, organigrams, flowcharts, etc.) can be used as aids for structuring activities, but their use in teaching may, under certain conditions, be identified as a barrier to learning. An artifact-based approach, with issues linked to instruments (with the corollaries instrumentation and instrumentalisation) provides the elements of a conceptual framework being built for these particular situations

  • The role of teaching tools (pedagogical materials, textbooks, maquettes, reduced models, computer simulations, etc.) in the teaching and learning process in science and technology education: scientific, technological and vocational teaching often draws upon teaching devices intended to represent an external reality in the classroom. The development of these devices is based on more or less explicit choices about the references used, the constraints selected and the knowledge brought to the fore. Analysing these choices allows us to put together observation grids for situations arising from the use of these tools in a classroom and approach the issue of performance, either from a descriptive and explanatory perspective or from a predictive and remedial perspective. In this sense, the idea is either to analyse the impact of existing tools, or to design new devices through a form of didactic engineering.

  • Development of knowledge for teaching based on social practices: the constant reference to practices in vocational education, as well as in some dimensions of technological and scientific education, is examined based on the description of these practices. The choices made in terms of the description methodologies, preferred organisations and descriptors employed have a direct impact on the implementation of these practices in textual form - the way they take shape in reference tools for teaching and, subsequently, in the process of developing tasks given to pupils. The researchers involved in this programme propose an analysis of the process of didactic transposition at work, particularly through epistemological delimitations and didactic organisations established in the knowledge transmission and appropriation process.

Scientific activities

Publication policy

Scientific Publications

The Gestepro team's publishing activities have developed significantly during this contract, especially with regard to publications in international journals and, in particular, the English-speaking world, along with works published by major English-language scientific publishers. This result is linked, on the one hand, to the originality of the approach developed in terms of research into scientific, technological or vocational education and, on the other, an improvement in the team's skills in writing articles for such publications. Working with an established translator has made a significant contribution to the qualitative and quantitative improvement of publications. Nevertheless, French-language publications have not been forgotten and team members continue to publish articles in major French-language scientific journals within the field.

This effort should be continued with a view to significantly improving the team's international reputation and developing the dissemination of its work within the international community of research into scientific, technological and vocational education. We need to rise to the real challenge of continuing our efforts to disseminate our work based on the original approach developed by the team.

Policy on the development and dissemination of research results

The team is involved in several activities to draw upon and disseminate research results: (i) Provence University's cultural space (ESCUP) organises sessions for scientific presentations to be made to middle and high school pupils. Several team members are involved in designing, setting up and running these events; (ii) participation in 'hands-on' initiatives and 'integrated science and technology teaching', in collaboration with the Academy of Sciences (the team is part of a project to create a regional resource centre on the initiative of the Academy of Sciences in the context of a major loan); (iii) participation in collections of work on teaching, textbooks, teaching and training resources or books designed to make subjects accessible to primary and middle school pupils, in collaboration with publishers (Scéren, Delagrave, Nathan, Hachette, etc.) or producers (Jeulin, Technologie Service, etc.); (iv) participation in networks and professional associations of teachers in relevant disciplines (Pagestec, union of physicists, European society for technology education, etc.) involving contributions to the organisation of events such as summer schools, seminars or conferences open to a wide audience of teachers.

Development policy for projects, agreements, national and international relations

Participation in the federal research organisation SFERE Provence

The team's commitment to the project for collaboration within educational research organised at a regional level provides a first level of collaboration with research teams dealing with similar themes. In particular, this includes issues related to the dissemination of scientific knowledge or the role of artefacts in the knowledge transmission and acquisition process. It also covers issues related to the role of the norms, symbols and language procedures involved in these processes. Finally, it considers the social dimensions related to a high or low valuation of educational knowledge organised in scientific, technological or vocational teaching.

Participation in networks

The team wishes to extend and strengthen its scientific collaborations within national networks (ARDIST, Visa, International Conference on Scientific and Technical Culture), both on a European and international level (World Council Associations for Technology Education, Pupils Attitude Towards Technology, International Design and Technology Association, Primary Technology Education, International Organisation for Science and Technology Education, Réseau Francophone de Robotique Pédagogique, Mediterranean Network of Scientific and Technological Education, etc.).

This participation in numerous networks boosts establishment to establishment collaboration in the context of agreements or research protocols, including the mobility of researchers or students. This remains relatively limited, since the majority of these individuals exercise a profession and find it difficult to get the time off from their professional obligations.

The team is also very involved in support networks for the development of scientific, technological and vocational teaching in southern countries, particularly in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Support is given for the establishment of research laboratories and in structuring courses at Masters and doctorate level (including through joint supervision). The team's goal is to strengthen this support, making it more structured and increasingly more reliable in the context of major international projects (UNESCO, World Bank, AUF, etc.). With this in mind, we envisage the creation of a UNESCO Chair.

Involvement in projects

Our research conducted in the fields of science, technology and vocational education, according to these specific approaches (including the understanding of teaching and learning in these areas through the process of analysing the activities of teachers, pupils and their interactions) translates into a strong commitment to several international projects, including European programmes (for example the Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development). We currently have two projects submitted to the European Union:

  • The DPCoP project (University Training Network as a tool for the Development of Common Practices in Teacher Training for the Vocational sector): the challenge is to create a common higher education space in the region to favour the least valued and more vulnerable areas as well as to organise teacher training in the technological and vocational sectors. The aim is to increase the level of culture and qualifications among the active population, in the medium and long term, and to reduce social inequalities by boosting the quality of education in the region and combating the isolation of certain groups through forging networks between different institutions involved in the development of vocational training.

  • Project proposed in the context of the Alfa programmes. Requested budget: €985,000. Project coordinated by Provence University (IUFM and UMR ADEF). Partners: Polytechnic Institute - Higher School of Education, Porto (Portugal); Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Av. Honorio Delgado 430, Urb. Ingeniería, S.M.P. Lima – Peru; Universidad Pedagógica de El Salvador, Diagonal Dr. Arturo Romero y 25 Avenida Norte. San Salvador. El Salvador; Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, Chili; Universidad Nacional de rio Negro, Belgrano 526 Viedma Río Negro 8500, Argentina
  • Projet PISTE (Providing Innovations in Science and Technology Education): The aim of this project is to promote, increase and strengthen science and technology teaching in Europe, using research conducted by different partners. This enhanced through innovation in terms of teaching methods and teacher training to implement these methods. According with the Rocard’s report (2007), it is clear that developing science and technology education (STE) for all is a real challenge for European Union if we consider the global aims of competitiveness, scientific renewal, equal access and democratisation of studies’ access. Reinforcing innovation, scientific research and development potential suppose a massive generalisation of science and technology education. Indeed, these both educations must be considered as complementary through the specific studied objects, the diversity of methods and approaches, and the different offered ways to understand our relations with our contemporary world. In this project, we examine this question of relationships between science and technology education and the possible complementarities as implemented at school, for the general education levels.

Project submitted in the context of the EU's FP7 programme. Requested budget: €2,150,000. Project coordinated by Provence University (IUFM and the ADEF research group). Partners: Institut National de Recherche Pédagogique (France), KaHo Sint-Lieven (Belgium), Arteveldehogeschool Ghent University College (Belgium), Maine University (France), Technische Universität Braunschweig (Germany), University of Koblenz-Landau (Germany), University of Patras (Greece), Università Statale di Milano-Bicocca (Italy), Linköpings Universitet CETIS (Sweden), Tel-Aviv University (Israel), Birmingham City University (England), Universitad de Barcelona (Spain), University of Jyvaskyla (Finland), University of Glasgow (Scotland).

Research supervision

Supervision of students is currently a weak point for the team, due to the departure of two out of the three professors on the team. We need to recruit two new professors as soon as possible (one specialising in vocational education, the other in the teaching of materials science). Eventually, we will need to recruit professors specialising in the teaching of life and earth sciences and information and communication technology.

Developing our supervision skills also means that our current lecturers should be able to progress to being research directors as quickly as possible. Four of them are likely to do so within a reasonably short timeframe; the other four should be able to consider such a perspective towards the end of the next quadrennium. To overcome this supervision deficit within the team, a system of co-management has been set up to involve the four lecturers who are close to qualifying as research directors. Not only does this co-management process introduce a quantitative approach to supervision, but it also aims to develop and strengthen the collegiate nature of this activity, so that highly individualised monitoring can take place with controlled guidance in terms of the directions of the research.

Receiving doctoral students

The fourteen theses currently underway should be completed by the beginning of the next contract (2012-2015). The team is very much in demand when it comes to developing co-supervision with foreign universities. Our position in this regard is currently somewhat cautious, but it would be very desirable to strengthen this dimension, with a view to boosting our partnerships.

Receiving research Masters students

Better monitoring of students on Masters 1 and 2 courses, especially with a narrower framework when it comes to the choice of research topics, is a condition for improving the quality of research projects. Masters pathways with a specialisation in the teaching, education and training Professions should be developed in a complementary manner, with pooled resources. Masters studies carried out within the education sciences department should allow us to improve the quality of and specification guidelines for students' research projects. This includes projects rooted in the work of the team, that of the research group or, more generally, developed in the context of the study of scientific, technological and vocational teaching.