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#Newsletter 10 - RACINE ParisTech: still going strong after 12 years

racine paristech

Interview with Valérie Camel and Geneviève David, co-leaders of RACINE ParisTech and lecturers at AgroParisTech, Xavier Kestelyn, Vice President for Education & Student Services at Arts et Métiers.

 

What is RACINE ParisTech?

VC: RACINE is a network that organises activities to support and train teaching staff and help them further develop their teaching practices. It is led by ParisTech, with CentraleSupélec and Télécom Paris as partners.

GD: We organise continuing professional development on teaching and learning, in the form of short workshops. The workshop topics are chosen based on feedback obtained through staff surveys. Last year, in light of the health crisis, we ran online workshops and offered sessions on remote teaching.

XK: RACINE covers the three key elements of any class or course:planning, delivery, and evaluation.

 

How does RACINE ParisTech differ from other training programmes?

VC: First and foremost in terms of our audience – everyone who takes part in our workshops teaches in one of the engineering schools in the network. Between them, the schools cover the entire spectrum of scientific disciplines, and the teaching methods and practices we cover have to be suited to students in these different disciplines. This means we are catering to a much wider audience than some organisations. Also, in terms of teaching philosophy, there is a strong emphasis on interdisciplinarity, group work, and project-based and experience-based learning. The schools in the network share some common ground, but one of the things that makes our workshops so valuable is that we have staff from different schools, with different backgrounds and subject specialisms. This creates a melting pot where people can come together and exchange ideas and knowledge, irrespective of which engineering school they teach in and what theyteach. Finally, another factor that sets RACINE apart is its long history and extensive expertise.

GD: Our team of instructors is very diverse as it includes learning designers, educational advisors and teachers trained in curriculum design. Every workshop is led by two instructors, each with a different background, meaning that participants benefit from a broad range of approaches. The RACINE member schools belong to different groups and universities, which has expanded both our own network and the individual networks of our recruiters, providing them with fresh sources of inspiration and new perspectives.

XK: The RACINE instructors all know each other and have been working together for a long time. Having this core team allows us to guarantee a high level of quality and consistency. All our sessions are very much geared towards practical skills and their application. Participants find it especially helpful to talk to colleagues from other engineering schools who are facing the same kind of challenges.

 

What type of training do academic staff in the network require?

VC: The needs of our academic staff are reflected in the three broad sections of our training catalogue: how to design courses and materials, how to deliver content and organise activities, and how to assess students’ learning. And of course each person has different requirements – some of our most regular participants are highly experienced professionals, but we also work with early-career staff and lecturers on temporary contracts who are looking for training in all three areas. Recently, due to the Covid-19 crisis, there’s been a lot of interest in remote teaching as many staff have had to rethink and adapt their teaching practices.

GD: In response, we organised a new workshop on how to design courses that would be delivered either completely online or in a hybrid format, i.e. partly online and partly face-to-face.

XK : Training requirements are fairly predictable, and this is reflected in the sessions we offer. The questions staff want answered are things like: How do I link classroom learning to the real world? How do I maintain the same level of quality and student interaction when teaching remotely? What can I do to keep students motivated when it’s getting harder and harder to retain their attention? How do I set clear goals so my students know what I expect of them?

 

What type of training do you provide?

VC: Our workshops run for 3–4 hours, or sometimes for a whole day. This format gives participants plenty of time to engage and get to grips with the content. We design sessions based on the axiom that “teachers teach the way they were taught”, meaning that we apply whatever method we’re teaching ourselves, so that participants experience it from the learner’s point of view. This helps them understand the method and see the kind of difficulties that their students might encounter. This process of experiential learning and reflection is what makes our workshops so effective. Another highlight for participants is the chance to share ideas with colleagues. Even when we had to run workshops remotely, we set up small groups to facilitate this kind of discussion. We put staff from different schools together to encourage interaction and creativity and bring people into contact with new ideas and practices.

GD : Staff realise that they are not alone, which reassures them. They come to understand that developing skills is an ongoing process and that they will continue to learn throughout their career.

 

RACINE was set up 12 years ago. How would you sum up the journey so far? What changes do you foresee?

VC : It’s been very positive! We’re especially proud to have such a strong team of instructors, some of whom have been with us since the beginning. The popularity of our workshops also gives us reason to celebrate – we’ve trained around 100 members of staff each year, and that number is increasing all the time, especially since the Covid outbreak and thanks to the new sessions we’ve added to our catalogue. As for the road ahead, we’re developing webinars and are planning to make more use of hybrid formats with mixed in-person and online attendance, so that staff at campuses outside of Paris can benefit too. We’re also planning Level 2 workshops based on feedback from staff who attended our Level 1 sessions. And we’re using a dedicated training platform that offers various materials and resources, which may be extended to include a discussion forum in the near future.

XK : The RACINE training workshops now occupy the bulk of the Arts et Métiers teacher training catalogue, offering highquality training on a wide range of topics. This must be maintained, but to reflect the schools’ current needs, we’d also like to see new sessions on topics such as how to promote the value of the French engineering education system, welcoming international students, multiculturalism and diversity, and so on.
 

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