Teachers Become Online Specialists in Southern France

Article excerpt

Your invitation seemed directed our way: "European readers are urged to report on their situation'[1]. Your timing was good too, for the teachers published a thick brochure about the High School Database Project at the end of June, 1987 [2]. Such a coincidence deserved to be acted upon. . .


In 1982, the Direction des Bibliotheques et Musees pour l'Information Scientifique et Technique (DBMIST) created seven regional units of the URFIST (Unit(! Regionale pour la Formation et la promotion de l'Information Scientifique et Technique). Each unit, consisting of a university lecturer and a librarian, one in "soft" and the other in "hard" sciences, was assigned the task of demystifying online research by means of demonstrations, initiations and hands-on training seminars. This teaching was and is still free to all members of the French educational system, teachers, students and librarians, and the DBMIST continues to foot the bill.

In 1983, we [3] gave a demonstration for the director of the Regional Center of Pedagogical Documentation (CRDP). He wanted to find out whether high school students in the AlpesMaritimes and the Var could master online techniques and whether they would derive any advantage from such an experience. We had to start from scratch, for no high school teachers or documentalists were searching online in Nice, or even in France at the time. The URFIST was asked to train and follow up a number of teachers and documentalists who would then be turned loose to teach online searching to some of their students.


The CRDP found funding ($21,500) for the first year from the DBMIST, the DIXIT (Commission on Communication and Scientific and Technical Information) and the CNDP (National Centre for Pedagogical Documentation) and $16,500 for the second year from the DBMIST). Teachers volunteered from two high schools, 14 from Estienne d'Orves in Nice and 13 from Saint Exupery in Saint Raphael. Two online services generously provided access to a restricted number of databases at a reduced price. Nevertheless each session cost from 1,000 to 1,500 Francs ($170 to $250), which had a paralyzing effect on the teachers (but not the students) at the beginning.


The goals of the operation included: teachers were to master the basic techniques of online searching; impart this knowledge to the students; and work out with them the value of the new technology for high schools. Together they could judge the documentary value and educational advantages of online systems, estimate the usefulness of professional databases in high schools, and suggest areas where more appropriate content for this age level might be found.


At the outset, teachers of "hard' sciences were taught the command language QUESTEL to search Pascal, which is a huge multidisciplinary scientific database. The intellectual level of the citations, especially in mathematics and in chemistry, was a bit over the students' heads, so later on other QUESTEL files were explained such as History of Sciences and Reshus (health sciences) in Francis, Ecothek (environment, ecology, climate etc.) as well as Bird (children, adolescents and medicine) on G.CAM, another language similar to BRS. Their online research on Ecothek complemented geographical excursions. Generally they searched for citations for their own class projects, but sometimes they helped other classes not involved in database studies.


In the "soft" sciences, the original command language was G.CAM because Agora, or the Agence France Presse in full text was mounted only on G.CAM at the time. To my surprise, the teachers were soon demanding bibliographical files, and were taught QUESTEL for Francis, a multidisciplinary database containing over 20 files. Economics teachers also asked for Isis, a general economics bank, on G.CAM. Fulltext news agency files like Agora were good direct sources of information for economics and social sciences, but some difficulty was experienced in obtaining the original documents in bibliographical files like Isis or Francis. …