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IMPLEMENTING PBL ONLINE AS A COLLABORATIVE LEARNING STRATEGY FOR TEACHERS: THE COLE

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To use a Problem-Based-Learning (PBL) approach in an online context requires a major paradigm shift as well as using tools that were not designed specifically for such a student-driven, process-centred pedagogical paradigm. This becomes a problem when online resources and systems are used for supporting in-service teacher in their pursuit of furthering their education. Although the current theories of learning and teaching may represent the content of such courses, the online strategies used often conflict with the theory. In an attempt to study the formal implementation of PBL as a social-constructivist pedagogical approach, into an online learning environment as a means to provide the tools for e-learning that would be closer in design to the current thinking on the very nature of learning, a prototype of a Collaborative Online Learning Environment (COLE) has been developed and is in the process of being tested with small groups. Preliminary results show that although many technical difficulties remain to be solved, using the environment does show evidence of some effect on beliefs about personal theories of learning.
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IMPLEMENTING PBL ONLINE AS A COLLABORATIVE LEARNING
STRATEGY FOR TEACHERS: THE COLE
ABSTRACT
To use a Problem-Based-Learning (PBL) approach in
an online context requires a major paradigm shift as
well as using tools that were not designed specifically
for such a student-driven, process-centred
pedagogical paradigm. This becomes a problem
when online resources and systems are used for
supporting in-service teacher in their pursuit of
furthering their education. Although the current
theories of learning and teaching may represent the
content of such courses, the online strategies used
often conflict with the theory. In an attempt to study
the formal implementation of PBL as a social-
constructivist pedagogical approach, into an online
learning environment as a means to provide the tools
for e-learning that would be closer in design to the
current thinking on the very nature of learning, a
prototype of a Collaborative Online Learning
Environment (COLE) has been developed and is in
the process of being tested with small groups.
Preliminary results show that although many
technical difficulties remain to be solved, using the
environment does show evidence of some effect on
beliefs about personal theories of learning.
KEYWORDS
Collaborative learning; collaborative knowledge
construction; human-computer-interaction; problem-
based learning
INTRODUCTION
With a clear trend towards expressing educational
objectives in the school systems more along the lines
of competency development than of traditional
knowledge or basic skills acquisition, we can now see
some instructors and teachers promoting
collaboration and problem solving as both skills to be
learned in school as well as very powerful strategies
for learning. The difficulty lies in that for many, this
still implies an important, if not difficult, paradigm
shift. To this, can be added the artificial separation of
human knowledge into isolated disciplines or
domains in order to facilitate the structuring, planning
and “delivery” of curriculum in schools of every kind.
In reaction to such reasoning, some professional
university faculties like medicine and engineering
have been adopting problem based learning (PBL)
not as a strategy to “deliver individual courses, but
more as a total approach to implementing entire
programs in order to prepare the students to
eventually be able to deal with real life professional
situations. In these types of programs, PBL becomes
a means by which many traditionally distinct
disciplines can be studied and explored in an
integrated manner by the learners in order to attempt
to solve real or realistic problems [1]
As in most cases, in any human activity, solving
problems tends to be a process involving many
individuals. They will either share the problem or
individually have complimentary knowledge, skills or
resources required to solve the problem. The same
applies to learners involved in problem solving
situations whether it is explicitly required or simply
perceived as a means to insure success by all
participants. PBL, by its very nature therefore invites
collaboration and is almost always intended and used
as a collaborative learning technique.
With the potential for breaking down barriers
between disciplines and fostering higher-level
thinking and collaboration, PBL is being used very
successfully in some pre-service teacher education
programs [2]. This has then been noted to have some
impact on changing attitudes within some groups in
these programs, towards the representation of what
learning is and what the role of the teacher should be.
Although the trend for many in-service programs for
teachers is to go online to better serve the larger
community, PBL seems to be more difficult to
implement as the context and the support is not
generally conducive to such an endeavour.
On the other hand, when PBL is used in class, in a
face-to-face context, students will collaborate during
whatever time is normally allotted. The available time
is usually quite insufficient and the work will
continue outside of class using whatever
communications methods are available to them [3].
The Internet with its powerful communication and
document sharing tools is already being used by
many students to maintain the working as well as the
social relationship outside the traditional academic
setting. [4].
What this study attempts to look at is the formal
implementation of PBL or at the very least, some
form of a deeply rooted social-constructivist
pedagogical approach into an online learning
environment as a means to provide the tools for e-
learning that would be closer in design, to the current
thinking on the very nature of learning. More
specifically, in this initial stage, a Collaborative
Online Learning Environment (COLE) has been
designed from this very specific perspective and a
prototype has been produced with the objective to
explore the potential as well as the factors that could
affect the formal use of such a strategy online.
OBJECTIVE: DESIGNING THE COLE TO
MEET BOTH PBL REQUIREMENTS AND
HCHI REQUIREMENTS
The COLE was designed with a clear intent to meet
both the particular requirements of problem based
learning as well as to meet the specific needs of the
learners involved in a human-computer-human
interaction (HCHI) situation.
Before the process of constructing a computer based
structure to implement PBL can be initiated, the
central idea of “problem” needs to be defined in such
a manner as to clearly identify it’s elements and it’s
structure. Simple questions revolving around what
constitutes a problem, or, how a problem is different
from a task need to be addressed. The popular
literature tends to define the concept of “problem” as
a hurdle or an obstacle inhibiting the attainment of an
objective. This implies that there would be an
objective and that this objective is different to the
current situation or context. Thus, a definition of
“problem” would have to include the clear
identification of the difference between a current
situation and an objective. The greater the difference
would mean the greater the problem. Although this
difference represents the obstacle, there are other
factors that would be implied such as the resources
that could be instrumental in bridging the distance or
overcoming the obstacle. Such resources could vary
tremendously in nature. They could be, for example,
physical, financial, or human. Probably the most
important factor would be the knowledge base
required to make use of all other resources for the
purpose of solving the problem. A significant
consideration here is that the relationship between
these resources and the problem is an inverse one in
the sense that the more relevant resources are present
and accessible, the less important the problem
becomes. Thus, in an attempt to formalize the
identification of the elements of a problem and their
relationships, the following equation is proposed:
!
Pr oblem =
Objective " CurrentSituation
Knowledge + resources
With these elements identified, PBL can be
articulated as a pedagogical approach designed to
foster the development of certain competencies.
Students operating in such a paradigm would learn to
accurately assess the difference between a given
current situation and an objective, or even to
elaborate on such an objective. Once this has been
defined, the learners are then prompted to construct,
negotiate and apply the knowledge and resources
necessary to overcome the difference thus reaching
the objective.
The concept of “learning environment was first
selected to reflect the notion that the learner would
drive the process and the activities and therefore
needed a space and the resources required to
accomplish the tasks. To create this environment for
an online context, the open-source Moodle platform
was chosen to produce the prototype that would
include a workspace for the learner as well as a
specific set of tools or plug-ins carefully selected to
not only facilitate the tasks but also to foster certain
activities such as negotiation of meanings and co-
construction of knowledge. This also meant that
many tools are specifically excluded, as they will
either not foster collaboration or could promote a
content-centred approach.
With a computer based learning environment, the
interface design has to take into account not only
issues of functionalities but most importantly, the
design has to address issues of HCHI. Using the
simple model set out by Desjardins, Lacasse & lair
[5] [6] four types of interactions can be identified
allowing issues to be addressed and tools chosen for
each.
The first level of interaction is simply the user-
computer interaction. Here, the users have to be able to
understand and use the available functions and tools
with ease. This implies that the user-interface has to be
very clear, simple to use and any navigation kept to a
minimum. In a learner-driven situation, the interface
cannot predict what the user will want to use and when,
therefore these functions are to be accessible at all times.
Further, in order to support the principles of a learner-
driven, process-centered approach, the greater part of the
interface is dedicated to a workspace for the user. The
functions are then displayed around the workspace,
organized according to the three remain type of
interaction:
Interacting with others: This section called
“Communications” includes computer-mediated-
communication tools, both asynchronous and
synchronous, such as a basic mail service, a text-based
live chat and a peer-to-peer videoconferencing system
allowing a maximum of four users per virtual meeting
space. Some limitations are imposed to foster
collaboration. For example, there is only one chat room
for any given course in order to foster open
communication amongst all members of the same
cohort. Limiting the videoconferencing to four
participants per meeting space is set to provide a forum
where small groups or teams collaborating on a specific
task can hold meeting in as close to a face-to-face
fashion as possible. It should be mentioned that the
system that was chosen for this prototype is the open
source OpenMeetings and that it does allow many such
private meetings to occur simultaneously. This
particular videoconferencing system also includes a
shared whiteboard on which any of the participants can
draw or write on much like on a white board in an office
or classroom. The only limitation is that only the
“moderatorcan write, but anyone can take on this role,
one at a time.
Interacting with information: The resources in this
section are selected and adapted to both facilitate
access to information in general and most importantly
to produce, share and co-construct information in a
collaborative manner. For instance, this section
contains the actual course outline or syllabus and this
is also where instances of problems are found as
video-cases. Each of these video-cases contains in
turn, contextual information, video clips and general
questions to initiate the reflection and discussions
around the problem. As concepts and ideas emerge
from the students, a Wiki becomes the central
location where the students define these and this is
also where this knowledge is negotiated. Since the
Wiki is shared amongst all participants in a cohort,
the language is collectively developed and
understood. Although there are other tools available
to generate and share texts in the environment, this
one represents the principal negotiated repository of
the collective knowledge.
Using information processing tools: This section
offers the text editors, spreadsheets and concept
mapping tools used by the students to help them in
the process of generating new information. In the
spirit of open source software, a link to OpenOffice is
provided here for the students.
In addition to the three main sections mentioned, a
Time Management section was added in order to
provide the students with a means to organise their
time as well as to coordinate the group work
schedule. This is basically a calendar with agenda
functionalities added. This also allows the facilitator
to put in some deadlines or specific instances. The
learners themselves can add or modify their personal
work schedule.
Figure 1
Sample screen capture of the COLE showing a partial discussion from the forum and an OpenMeeting
videoconferencing window open.
METHODOLOGY
Thirty-six student volunteers in two sections of a
general science curriculum course were invited to
participate in a pilot test of the COLE. The students
were enrolled in a one-year post-degree professional
program in education. The students worked within
pairs in each section of the course and were
physically separated from each other in adjacent
rooms. The pilot tests were conducted in two
subsequent periods of the course and constituted a
total of approximately two hours of engagement with
the environment over the course of the two periods.
Prior to interacting within the environment the
students were asked to produce two concept maps [7]
illustrating their preconceived notions regarding
‘argumentationon one map and ‘online learningon
the other. At the conclusion of the second session of
collaborating in the environment, the pre-service
teachers were asked to repeat the production of both
concept maps to illustrate their changed
understandings as a consequence of their experiences.
The students used an electronic concept mapping
application to produce all of the concept maps. In the
intervening time between the two periods the students
were asked to complete an online survey which asked
a series of questions designed to measure attitudes
towards online learning and to collect some basic
demographic information such as age, gender, and
experience with online environments.
During the in-class use of the COLE, several pairs of
pre-service teachers were video recorded as they were
collaborating with their colleagues through the
affordances provided in the environment. At the
conclusion of the case study viewing a brief full-class
debriefing session was held and video recorded for
each of the course sections. Finally, a focus group of
eight students was convened. The students in the
focus group were asked to participate in a discussion
devised to identify a series of constructs and elements
related to the construction and use of online
environments. The constructs and the elements were
used by the students to produce independent repertory
grids [8] [9]. The focus group session was video
recorded and subsequently transcribed. The multiple
data collection techniques were used in order to
triangulate the data.
Analysis of the data is being carried out with a variety
of methodologies. The concept maps drawn by the
students were compared to each other primarily to
determine what, if any, effects the interaction with
and within the COLE environment had on student
understanding of argumentation and online learning.
The video recordings were analyzed for specific
examples of COLE affordance employment.
Naturalistic methodologies [10] were used as patterns
regarding online environment usage were expected to
emerge from the data. Codes, categories and themes
for a content analysis were negotiated among the
members of the case study team [11] through a series
of extended discussion sessions
FINDINGS:
In this very initial exploration of the first version of
the prototype, even in such an early stage of
prototypical development, many indicators were
noted. However since the analysis of all data
streams is incomplete at the time of this writing, the
findings reported here come from an analysis of the
debriefing session video and the two concept maps
completed by the students.
Debriefing session video extracts
Extract 1
S1: Same exact experience online as in the
classroom?
S2: But if you integrate the chat and the forum
you can match the experience. I can talk to
R... whether its here or whether I’m on a
computer and he’s on a computer.
S3: It’s never going to be identical. It’s just like
two classes, it’s like your class and ours. The
dynamics are going to be different with
everything but you can try to get them as
close to the same experience as possible.
You need to give them the same knowledge
and as close to the same experience as
possible.
The former set of quotations identities that the
multimedia communications package is important.
Although these subjects recognize that there are some
limitations, synchronous communications are critical
to the concept of collaboration. In this particular
extract, remnants of the traditional representation of
teaching and learning remain, thus illustrating clearly
the basic difficulties to be overcome.
Extract 2
S4: If you construct it and you on the other end
won’t necessarily construct the same one
right. You are actually able to show me by
constructing that question that you have
taken the knowledge and everything that we
have done over the course and you are able
to apply it.
S3: Not necessarily. I think you are making an
assumption. If I have to come up with
construct a calculus question I can tell you
right now, honestly it will be the simplest
question you could ever have. It will be page
one of the textbook. Here you go.
S4: How is that any different from asking in
science to construct a question and solve an
independent investigation? How is that any
different where you find a similar
mathematical situation where you ask the
question and you are actually helping drive
your own learning through the same
situation? How is that any different? Why
separate the ideas of math from science?
In the light of their experiences of negotiating
meanings and collaborating to construct definitions,
when considering the problem of assessment, the
subjects are faced with the dilemma of assessing this
collaboratively constructed knowledge with old
individualistic paradigms thus showing evidence that
their concept of knowledge is challenged.
CONCEPTUAL CHANGES AS DISPLAYED IN
PRE- AND POST-CONCEPT MAPS
In the concept maps produced by the participants
before and after the experimental use of the COLE,
frustration with some technical issues that were
experienced is obvious. The technology itself seems
not to have raised any additional concerns in the post-
test. On the subject of the social communication
within online contexts, the post-test concept maps
show a very slight increase in the number of subjects
adding comments relating to communication and
collaboration, despite the technical difficulties that
occurred during the trials.
A slight increase in the number of references to types
of resources available as well as the depth of
descriptions around the functions available were
found in the post-test concept maps. One interesting
note is the new mention of knowledge in the post-test
as opposed to the strict concept of information
presented in the pre-test. Finally, the concept and use
of the Wiki was mentioned only in the post-test
concept maps thus showing some evidence of some
increased awareness as to this tool’s potential.
CONCLUSION
The prototype of this COLE was constructed in a
relatively short time using the Moodle platform and
many open source plugins were used. The central idea
was to attempt to produce an online learning
environment that would actually be solidly based in
learner-driven process-centered paradigm with a
clearly social-constructivist perspective. The
prototype, presently used in trials, has been shown to
offer good potential to support a problem based
learning approach as users, in a very short time, have
shown some awareness of difference and of change.
What remains to be examined, thus outstanding as the
principal focus of this research, is the question: Can
the use of PBL set in a Collaborative Online
Learning Environment, deeply rooted in a social-
constructivist perspective, have any effect on
teacher’s individual representation of learning and
maybe “pedagogy”?
REFERENCES:
[1] McPhee, A. (2002). “Problem-based learning in
initial teacher education: taking the agenda forward »
Journal of Educational Enquiry, Vol. 3, No. 1, p 60 -
78
[2] Desjardins, F., (2000), «Exploiter les TIC comme
extensions de l'intellect dans une approche
constructiviste» in M. Théberge, Former à la
profession enseignante, Montréal : Éditions Logiques,
pp 133 – 162
[3] Donnelly, R. (2004). Online learning in teacher
education: Enhanced with a problem-based learning
approach. AACE Journal, 12(2), 236-247.
[4] Geelan, D. & Taylor, P. (2001). Embodying our
values in our teaching practices: Building open and
critical disclosure through computer mediated
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[5] Desjardins, F. J., Lacasse, R., & Bélair, L. M.,
(2001) «Toward a definition of four orders of
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Computers and advanced technology in education:
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[6] Desjardins, F.J., (2005) « La représentation par
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In spite of profound changes in society, real reforms regarding the focus of education or the methods used have been slow to take hold in educational systems around the world particularly regarding the use of technology for teacher professional learning purposes. The present study is a case study based on the pilot use of a single Problem-based Learning Object (PBLO) with 36 pre-service teacher candidates in a science education curriculum methods course. The PBLO, set within a Collaborative Online Learning Environment, was used to instigate discourse between pairs of users. Among other tasks, the teacher candidates were asked to create two sets (pre and post) of concept maps. The differences between the two concept maps were analyzed. The results, although not statistically significant, demonstrated that the developed tools are useable by students, and it further suggests that investigation with larger samples over a longer period of time is warranted. Problem In spite of profound, rapid changes in society, real reforms regarding the focus of education or the methods used have been slow to take hold in educational systems around the world (Fullan & Miles 1992). The ways we work, live and play have all gone through important transformations in the past generation. Employers, governments and institutions have all realized that society requires education systems to provide a wide variety of learning experiences for students. For example, The Conference Board of Canada, in a short document titled "Employability Skills 2000+", outlined the types of competencies that should be expected of graduates of Canadian school systems. The desired abilities are: 1) academic skills such as communication, thinking, and learning, 2) personal management skills that include "a positive attitude toward change", and finally, 3) teamwork skills (Conference Board of Canada 2000, 2006). The emphasis on communication within teams and thinking/learning indicate that the critical skills required of citizens is profoundly different than just a few short decades ago. A few years earlier, Goldman-Seagall (1998) suggested that schools should be transformed into places where rich, ill-defined, 'real-world' problems can be examined using emerging technologies as a way of re-instilling motivation for learning. Added to this, in the rapidly expanding realm of E-Learning, Siemens (2009) recently noted examples of online courses moving from a content-centered approach towards "socialization as information objects." On the other hand, in spite of these advances, complex abilities related to the many faceted aspects of the mastery of technology remain one of the important barriers for users in the context of online learning (Martin 2006; Pettenati, Cigognini, Mangione & Guerin 2009). This study endeavours to respond to these demands by examining the effects of problem-based online learning when combined with video case structures on the professional development of teachers. Online environments that aim to bring real-world problems to classrooms hold the promise of enabling teachers to restructure their thinking about the nature of knowledge and consequently consider changing their teaching practices. By modifying and transferring theoretical constructs about learning developed in face-to-face environments to an online environment, the research team attempted to determine whether the concept of problem-based learning (PBL) can be achieved online with the use of a different type of learning object and whether the use of such would present certain barriers, such as the IT skills required from the learners.
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Describes the use of computer-mediated communication to develop a cooperative learning community among students in a Web-based distance education unit for practicing science and mathematics educators in Australia and Pacific Rim countries. Discusses use of the social constructivist and constructionist conceptions of teaching and learning. (Author/LRW)
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This study evaluated concept maps spontaneously constructed by applicants (N = 502) in a medical school entrance examination. In all, 36 maps were produced. Concept maps were evaluated for content of relevant terms and for the number of interrelationships indicated. The aim was to determine whether including relevant ideas on a concept map is related to the learning of those ideas. Because concept maps are effective tools for making the structure of knowledge explicit, it was hypothesized that the quality and content of spontaneously made maps would be related to improvement in the comprehension of text material. Understanding was assessed in terms of success in essay-type tasks designed to measure the ability to define, explain, and apply statistical knowledge. The results indicated that merely including the relevant concepts in a map has little effect on the comprehension of those concepts, whereas the extent and complexity of concept maps plays a powerful role in the understanding of scientific texts.
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This paper describes the initial stages of an attempt to profile competencies related to the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in an educational setting, along distinct dimensions. Items were selected and adapted from existing literature, and an initial classification yielded four orders of competency. This was then submitted to judges for validation and a subsequent questionnaire was administered to 19 teachers. A first look at the results has shown that competency levels are low and a further correlation analysis of the results has shown that 4 orders of competency can be clearly identified.
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This paper describes research undertaken for the design of an Online Learning (OL) Module using a Problem-based Learning (PBL) approach in an in-service teacher training course, namely, a Postgraduate Diploma in Third Level Learning and Teaching. This qualification is offered to lecturers from a range of higher education institutions in the Republic of Ireland. Therefore, the 'students' who enter upon this module are Faculty or academic staff currently lecturing in Higher Education who are taking this module part-time. They are hitherto referred to as participants. This module is one of eight offered on the Postgraduate Diploma. Attendance for the module is for three hours per week for a duration of ten weeks. Online participation is negotiated with the participants in their PBL group. This PG Diploma is entirely voluntary and only lecturers who are keen to implement novel pedagogical approaches in their own subject disciplines apply for a place on the modules. The aim of the OL/PBL module is to enable the participants to become aware of the practicalities of developing, delivering, supporting and evaluating an online course in their own subject discipline; but the key to their success is by using the principles of PBL to share valuable information with their colleagues from a variety of other disciplines.
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Problem-based learning (PBL) is not new; in one form or another, it has been around for considerable time. Indeed, as Menon (1997) points out, it may be seen as originating with Dewey at the turn of the century. In this article I examine definitions of PBL, and some of the challenges and problems it presents. I look at the evolution of PBL, and some of the applications of this methodology - together with some of the detailed research which has been undertaken in this field. I also discuss the current United Kingdom models of initial teacher education, outline possible uses of PBL in this area, and describe research carried out in the University of Glasgow. Finally, I provide some discussion about the applicability of PBL in the area of initial teacher education.
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In our chapter in the first edition of this Handbook (see record 1994-98625-005), we presented two tables that summarized our positions, first, on the axiomatic nature of paradigms (the paradigms we considered at that time were positivism, postpositivism, critical theory, and constructivism, p. 109, Table 6.1); and second, on the issues we believed were most fundamental to differentiating the four paradigms (p. 112, Table 6.2). These tables are reproduced here as a way of reminding our readers of our previous statements. The axioms defined the ontological, epistemological, and methodological bases for both established and emergent paradigms. The issues most often in contention that we examined were inquiry aim, nature of knowledge, the way knowledge is accumulated, goodness (rigor and validity) or quality criteria, values, ethics, voice, training, accommodation, and hegemony. An examination of these two tables will reacquaint the reader with our original Handbook treatment. Since publication of that chapter, at least one set of authors, J. Heron and P. Reason, have elaborated on our tables to include the participatory/cooperative paradigm (Heron, 1996; Heron & Reason, 1997, pp. 289-290). Thus, in addition to the paradigms of positivism, postpositivism, critical theory, and constructivism, we add the participatory paradigm in the present chapter (this is an excellent example, we might add, of the hermeneutic elaboration so embedded in our own view, constructivism). Our aim here is to extend the analysis further by building on Heron and Reason's additions and by rearranging the issues to reflect current thought. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
A manual for the repertory grid
  • G Feixas
  • J M C Alvarez
Feixas, G. & Alvarez, J.M.C. (2000). A manual for the repertory grid. Retrieved June 1,2003, from http://www.terapiacognitiva.net/record/pag/contents.h tm.
«Exploiter les TIC comme extensions de l'intellect dans une approche constructiviste» in M. Théberge, Former à la profession enseignante
  • F Desjardins
Desjardins, F., (2000), «Exploiter les TIC comme extensions de l'intellect dans une approche constructiviste» in M. Théberge, Former à la profession enseignante, Montréal : Éditions Logiques, pp 133 – 162