By: Nicolas Albouze
E-Learn Magazine: Could you briefly present Paris Descartes University to our readers?
Fréderic Dardel: Paris Descartes University is part of the COMUE Sorbonne Paris Cite. We mainly teach careers related to the health sector (medicine, pharmacy, etc.), but we hope to introduce other subjects like literature and languages.
ELM: French Universities are renowned for showing certain ambivalence on the role that professors play, especially those who also do research on the side. Do you think this has a negative or positive impact on pedagogy?
FD: I don’t think that this problem is tied specifically to the professor-researcher. On the contrary, professors are mainly assessed on the basis of their research activity and the development of their career depends on their publications. This leads to a paradox: although both activities are fundamental, research-related issues take precedence over pedagogical ones.
We have taken a number of steps within the University to lessen this. For example, we often organize tours around various faculties to propose pedagogical “snacks.” The objective is to address teaching-related issues amongst professors and learning engineers over a meal—a voluntary and informal setting. These kind of encounters allow us to take stock of how much interaction takes place in courses, the possibility of combining disciplines, pedagogical innovation and even new assessment formats.
Another initiative that we make available to professor-researchers is to take some “research leave,” which they dedicate to developing innovative projects as well as improving pedagogy.
These measures tend to increase our professors’ performance and the quality of teaching in general.
ELM: What are your greatest challenges for the next few years?
FD: University education in France must be open to all. However, we have no means of early-stage selection. This causes us to have a failure rate that is too high in various disciplines. For example, for the second year of medicine, we only have 500 vacancies but more than 2,500 registered students. And in law school, close to 60% of students repeat their first year.
I believe the source of this problem is mainly that there is no previous preparation in secondary school and so first-year students start with false ideas about their degree that do not correspond to what it ends up being.
We have taken certain measures to respond to this. For example, some second- and third-year students visit schools to talk about their degrees and their university experience. In this way, we develop a communication strategy that allows applicants to quickly identify if the career and study methodology that they plan to choose suits them.
Nonetheless, the greatest challenge is students coming from unconventional courses. For the last three years, all medicine graduates came from a scientific baccalaureate course. For this reason, our duty and responsibility was to seek alternatives for students who fail and yet have the will to study. We have put forward innovative proposals, such as direct enrollment to the second year, the offer of a supplementary year for students to have the possibility of catching up and parallel streams (often unknown) that offer students professional possibilities that are more aligned with their expectations.
We have implemented tools so professors can view their course in different ways. The use of platforms is fundamental and must be an extension of the course instead of a mere duplication. All in all, the principle of the inverted class correlates positively with many concerns of professors and students alike: both roles receive more flexibility in regards to time, absences become less of a problem and course content is permanently available.
Our desire at the University is to encourage innovative careers, especially double degrees that cover a broad array of topics and reach superior levels of knowledge compared to those of a single discipline.
ELM: In regards to digital technology, what new developments do you plan to implement at Paris Descartes University?
FD: We are under the impression that some of our students share course content in a non-controlled manner, which causes the quality of said content to be highly varied. Because of this, we would like to standardize the digitization of content in a similar format to that of an ePub (eBook format).
I am also sure that collaborative work allows students to assimilate information better. Therefore, we will seek tools to strengthen this facet of education.
Finally, I hope to change assessment methods so that they are more in line with current reality. In fact, it is possible that we will soon be able to administer exams over the internet. The objective here is to allow students to search for information and maintain their critical sense on everything they find. When they move on to being active members of culture, this type of competence will be demanded, and is currently being taught very little or not at all.
ELM: What would you say to foreign students to encourage them to study at Paris Descartes University?
FD: Our desire at the University is to encourage innovative careers, especially double degrees that cover a broad array of topics and reach superior levels of knowledge compared to those of a single discipline. Also, thanks to the Betencourt Foundation, we now have updated and competent simulation tools so that students can apply theory in an immediate manner. Last but not least, Paris remains the most beautiful city in the world.
The Paris Descartes University is a perfect example of a school in transition. As they implement new technology to address student, faculty, and government demands, they provide valuable insight into the real-world value of education technology.
*Interviewed: Fréderic Dardel, President of Paris Descartes University
Photo by: ®F. Poletti