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Conferences and Publications:

  • "Videoconferencing as an expression trigger" in the Franco German book published under the direction of Wolfgang Bufe and Hans W.Giessen , l'Harmattan edit. Paris 2005.

  • Guest lecturer at Virtual Educa 2007,Sao Jose dos Campos and State University of Campinas , Brazil,June 2007, with a lecture on "Training teachers in the use of multimedia languages: some experiments within a blended larning context".

  • Review of the book "Strategies for Sustainable Open and Distance Learning (Andrea Hope and Patrick Guiton (Editors) for Quarterly Review of Distance Education(Nova Southeastern Univ) Vol 8,Number 1, 2007

  • June 2008 (16/06/08) : responding to an invitation from the Federal Chamber of Deputies (Brasilia) and from CNC/SENAC, a plenary lecture on " Some Scenarios for Distance Education in Latin America " The papers from this international seminar Education in the 21st century ,examples of success are being translated and published in book form (Spring 2009). An interview on the same subject has been published in Boletím técnico do SENAC ,vol 34, May-August 2008.

  • July 2008: Keynote speech at the International Congress on computers for Education , UNED, Madrid on Internet.2.00 ,the issue for education.

  • July 2008: closing speech in the third International Congress on Learning Styles , Cáceres , Spain.

    Chapter on :"The Future of Technologies in Education: a confused vision , a succession of ups and downs" in the volume Educational Applications and New Languages for TICs ,Lantec Unicamp,Campinas , Brasil with support from CAPES (Brazil) and the Ministry of Education of Spain.

Some ethical concerns in ed-tech consultancy across borders
Educational Technology Research and Development   Go
Jenny Johnson Interviews François Marchessou
Association for Educational Communincations and Technology   Go

Some ethical concerns in ed-tech consultancy across borders
François Marchessou

For many years, this department (1) has been involved  in consultancy and training projects  aimed at implementing  technology-based solutions  in a number of emerging countries that are attempting to address some of  their most pressing quantitative and qualitative higher education needs.

When we refer to emerging countries, we mean those nations that possess  a multi-tiered social  structure ,where industrial or post-industrial sectors operated by  highly trained  staff, coexist with large underdeveloped  areas in which basic educational health and other social services  are not being adequately provided. We are not talking about absolute general poverty but we have in mind nations where per capita incomes range roughly from $ 2,000-8,000 per person per year . Allowing for important social and regional differences,Brazil, Argentina,Colombia,Mexico and South Africa would fit into that category.

The requests we receive,generally come from Ministry of Education policy planners or from university administrators who firmly believe that carefully designed programs based on a rational use  of technology,will make it possible  to diversify their country’s educational offer and help bridge some of the most obvious development gaps.We could add here that this view is widely shared by the think tanks at the main sources of funding such as the World Bank, the European Union etc..

In our capacity as consultants,although we have no direct economic links with the hardware and software suppliers,we still have to confront  a number  of ethical issues some of which can be stated clearly  to our partners while the others remain as unvoiced ( though very real) concerns  that can  only be raised once a mutually trustful climate has been created.

The first contention would fit into the traditional criticism that we stand as representatives of the ever greedier rich North trying to foist its technology onto the impoverished South, thereby increasing  the financial burden and mimetic  intellectual submissiveness of the nations involved.This is a point which may have derived part of its relevance as an angry response to some of the arrogant,technocratic,”behavioristic” solutions that were put forward by some of our predecessors in the 60es and 70es but the truth is that there is little evidence of that happening now ,at least in the educational field .

In the past ten years in fact,the consultancy buzzwords  have been sustainable technologies,contextualization, small ad-hoc solutions,empowerment etc..This does not mean however that we will no longer hear the vocal, strident criticism against the looming “technocratization of society through “that is being voiced  on campuses ,in conferences and in some of the media .....those statements whose philosophical and ideological sources can be traced to a wide variety of  books and articles, those of Jacques Ellul,Alain Finkelkraut,Neil Postman,Ivan Illich among others,with echoes of the anti WTOmovement surfacing here and there...

The ethical dilemmas we are confronted with today as educational consultants overseas,are of a more subtle nature and could be roughly summarized in three pairs of alternatives:


1- Connectivity vs.Exclusion:
The prevailing opinion among planners and administrators is that the “wiring” of PC-equipped  classrooms subsequently connected to the Internet via a satellite network and /or an optical fiber backbone ,will spontaneously produce the quantum leap that will enable underprivileged students to have full access to a formal education and to the culturally stimulating resources  that cannot be found in their favelas or townships

This is echoed by politicians who, through a combination of well-timed flair and genuine conviction,will regularly come up with such slogans  as “We will solve the problems you are facing by providing every school with a satellite dish ,computers and the Internet  within two or three years!” One of the most recent examples of this  is to be found in the incumbent party’s platform  in Mexico’s Spring 2,000 presidential race.

The ethical dilemmas that external consultants have to face when those forceful assertions are being made by the inviting authorities, will trigger a soul-searching   process  and  such questions as :” Should I tell them their technocratic approach is bound to fail ?
      “Should I recommend a gradual approach and install the equipment only when they’ve informed the general public and trained the teachers involved?”
       “Should I suggest they launch a number  of regionally limited ,culturally contextualized experiments that would make it possible to test the technology ,get some useful feedback and 
involve the community living around the school/college?

Politeness and a sense of timing when confronted with the feeling of urgency expressed  by politicians on the campaign trail,make it difficult to ask those questions  openly, even in cultures  where dissent is accepted and considered constructive.This requires a tactful approach and a well-documented presentation of educational case studies from First World countries  where an overwhelming top-down , exclusively technological approach, has proved counterproductive.

The truth is that it would be inherently dishonest to make the claim that connecting classes, a school system the WWWeb or to any network ,actually means integrating ,ie.bridging the social and educational gaps  that affect a nation’s development.

It would be more relevant to describe the benefits that will accrue for specific target groups from a carefully managed introduction of on-line educational sequences  and raise the caveat  that the students whose schools  are not connected or who do not belong to those target groups,may actually face a measure of  social exclusion  since scarce financial resources and much of the teachers’ energy  will be exclusively devoted to ensuring that the on-line showcase programme actually works or is seen to be working.

We should remember, that in terms of working conditions ,we cannot base a consultant’s policy on the assumptions that would be taken for granted in North America,Western Europe
or Japan where subsidies ,if properly asked for,will eventually reach all the schools that have submitted a credible application.Where funding depends on  foreign aid-based government money,getting the sums requested will mean that  other applications are going to remain unanswered until the next pluriannual development plan comes into being.In such a case,the ethical approach would be to recommend and help  install several reasonably sized and carefully planned  pilot experiments similar to the Zimbabwe project described by Jan Visser in a recent issue of ETR & D(2) instead of one spectacular “mega project”.In that case, the equipment was minimal (one Internet-connected PC in each teacher-training college) but it was technically and financially sustainable ,there were two trained, motivated teacher-facilitators in each college and the community at large was  informed and supportive.

2-Access vs. Excess:
 In the social and cultural contexts where our consultancy takes place,most of our partners connect technology with the notions of upgrading,progress, catching up with the first world etc..
 It is then important for them to convince the community in which they live, that the new,on-line/off-line media  are not reserved for an already privileged elite but instead that they are progressively being made accessible to those who were previously excluded.
 In practical terms, this means that the educational projects we are building, have to be described and shown to be working, on the communication channels most commonly used by the community at large. In the countries of Latin America we have in mind,this means local and/or national television.The wide success and strong impact of Brazil’s national teacher-training program Um Salto para O Futuro was that for several years,it was shown live  across the country,  in the late afternoon ,on one of the main open TV channels.Although it is now broadcast on a specialized satellite-based educational network(Telescola)the reputation  and the credibility remain.
 At a time when the media are disseminating information about computers and the Web,stressing almost exclusively such technical features as the huge amounts of data that can be transmitted,the speed of the various interactions etc,.the ethical concern among educators should be to present an alternative view that would counterbalance  the impression left on the public:while the media display an excess  of often  counterproductive, uncontrolled information about technology and the educational miracles it promises to bring about overnight,a responsible concern should lead us to present a more realistic view,of what can actually be achieved ,while showing how most people  can actually access those technologies:through existing radio and TV channels,through local cable networks (in Argentina for instance),through the school computers after hours etc..
Putting real access before excess,also means that a careful painstaking job has to be carried out, warning partners about the disappointments they could face.
  In a recent article  entitled Internet and the domination of people’s minds,the French thinker  Lucien Sfez(3) agrees that the Internet is a vital , worldwide tool for information search and retrieval  but he adds:

"The inequality of knowledge cannot be overturned  and transformed by the sheer virtues of Internet into a general equality. An Indonesian  or Nigerian scientist without libraries,specialized assistants and technical facilities, will not,although he has an access to the Internet,reach the same level as a research worker at MIT.The reason is that information is not knowledge.In order to find the relevant piece of information,it is essential to possess the prior knowledge that will make it possible to ask the right informative questions.The absence of a hierarchy is a delusion:you may very well call a famous expert at the Pasteur Institute by his first name on the Internet and yet remain in the third class category of research”.(4)      

For the well meaning expert from abroad who helps bring technological solutions to teaching and training problems, the dialogue  with local partners should follow a twofold upstream process:

  -first show the actual, concrete modes of  access to relevant information through the “excess”of unchecked material provided  by the media and the Web.

  -insist on the need to integrate  the information thus  obtained through technology  within a coherent knowledge building process which involves complex human interactions and exchanges inside  the local  cultural  context.

3-Transience vs.permanence:
  The advent of the  Internet  raises other ethical  concerns in the dialogue  with colleagues from emerging countries.For them ( and for many of us as well), technology means progress and successive discoveries  and developments (print, radio,film,educational TV,multimedia etc...) are considered  as permanent assets  which are here to stay in the evolution towards  better learning  processes.

  There is also a de facto  linking of the medium with the message  so that many people spontaneously believe that everything that comes through the new medium  is as valid and permanent as the  traditional printed word.Quite normally they use the same approach with the Internet when it  becomes available and soon lose a great deal of time and energy.

  In  our meetings as consultants,we should make it clear to our partners that,although the Internet is based on solid,permanent technology(ie.computers connected to a world-wide telecommunications network),much of the information provided is in fact of a transient nature and is not meant to last more than a few  days or weeks.

  The first impulse for many educators  when they gain access to the Internet,is to consider most of the informative material  and dialogues that appear on the computer screen with the same respect as the pages of a book.There are two reasons for this:

    - first it comes in written format  and the tendency is to overvalue the written word.

    - second: it comes through  a  sophisticated  technological medium, presumably produced and validated by the “masters of technology” one of the advanced nations of the rich North.
This is where the  linguistic distinctions made by Walter Ong in his epoch-making Orality and Literacy (5) can help clarify things.According to him,large proportions of the spoken material we hear on television are not spontaneous orality, but what he calls secondary orality, in fact a script displayed on a teleprompter and read aloud by the presenters.In the case of  the  Internet  exchanges,we have almost the opposite according to Lucien Sfez who provides the following analysis:

Although writing does play a part in the sending and receiving of on-screen electronic messages,the conditions that make it possible to send them,should in fact be categorized as orality.As a matter of fact the practice is an oral   one inasmuch as the message (whether it is a request for information or the transmission of information in an interactive form ),has more in common with a conversation between two partners who have their own code of exchange than with  a text designed to be read by all people with institutionally designed rules ( of grammar,syntax and semantics) that are as anonymous and imperative as language rules. At the same time this (Internet) practice is also a written one because the “private conversation” is recorded in the memory  of the medium itself ,the computer,where it remains  as a resource that can be retrieved by anybody(6).

We have  in the past 35 years seen many enthusiastic expectations about the forthcoming miracles come to grief whenever the successive waves of technological media failed to deliver any dramatic improvements to the never-ending educational crises which affect First,Second and Third World.If experience is to be of any use,we could base an ethical approach to consultancy on a few  guidelines:

    -make sure through discussions that may take a long time,that your partners perceive clearly the full dimension of the educational problem at hand with its social,cultural and economic dimensions.
    -in the presentation of the technologies,insist on the various requirements they entail if quantitative and qualitative change is to be achieved.In addition to the building of human resources through training sessions etc..this calls for an in-depth streamlining of operational procedures and a lengthy process of information towards the community at large.
    -show your partners how to expect different things from the off-line mass media such as TV which helps create collective contextualized bonds in societies affected by brutal changes and the Internet with its fast-paced transient nature which  tends to foster individualistic aspirations(7)

    -help your colleagues realize that although information is vital,being informed through the Web,does not really mean that one has acquired real knowledge  with its operational,transferable qualities.This is where the educator’s mediation remains indispensable,thereby allaying the fears some teachers have of losing their jobs or at least their social image...

 Finally we could suggest they meditate upon Lucien Sfez’s analysis of the Internet as....."a way station between the general and the universal:generality is not universality but the addition of x.numbers of individuals,whether those individuals are objects,abstractions or human beings.Generality does  not claim to be the whole but rather the greater number"(8)
 Once  this clarification process has been launched,educational technology’s real benefits will slowly but truly come into their own.

      (c)François Marchessou,Sept 2,000

François Marchessou ,is the head of OAVUP et the University of Poitiers and also works in the teacher-training unit (IUFM) at Poitiers and is involved in several European and extra-European consultancy projects.
He can be reached at <>

(1)oavup,95 avenue du recteur Pineau,86022-Poitiers-France.
(2) Educational Technology,Research and Development,Vol 47,Number 3,1999.
(3)Lucien Sfez is a professor at Paris I,Panthéon-Sorbonne University.He is the author,among other books of Critique de la Communication,Paris,Seuil publ,1992.
(4) Sfez, Lucien,Internet et la Domination desEsprits,p50-54 in Manière de Voir,a special issue of Le Monde Diplomatique,Nr 52,July-Aug 2,000.
(5)ONG,Walter,Orality and Literacy,the Technologizing of the Word,Routledge ,London & New York,1982,continually reprinted.
(7)Wolton,Dominique,Internet et Après,une théorie critique des nouveaux medias Flammarion, Paris 1999 also available in Spanish Internet y Despuès,Gedisa,Madrid,2,000.
(8)Sfez, op.cit

Jenny Johnson Interviews François Marchessou
Association for Educational Communincations and Technology

Johnson: How did you become interested in the field of educational technology?

Marchessou: (Original interest in Ed.Tech): I have to go back many years to the days when I was finishing college at Poitiers University in France. I had a small part-time job in the English dept. library and I was asked to look after the record collection and some of the early open-reel tape recorders. I ended up copying Macbeth or Winston Churchill's Wartime speeches onto the tapes and doing a lot of tinkering with the new equipment that was so exciting for students who had spent their childhood in impoverished, technology-starved Europe. I then spent two years in US Universities (at Brandeis and the University of Iowa) on the Fulbright, going back to France doing my military service in the language dept. of an army college and eventually being appointed language laboratory director. From the language laboratory, we moved into video (in 69-70), then felt we had to become acquainted with communication studies and this led us naturally to the broader field of educational technology.

Johnson: What is your philosophy of education/teaching?

Marchessou: Regarding my views on education and teaching, I believe this is a diversified multidirectional process which cannot be restricted to the student-teacher-institution relationship. Many inputs from traditional learning come into play and they have to be activated according to the highly diversified needs of the present day students who cannot be socially "pigeon-holed" as they were in my own collegiate days.

The new (and not-so-new) technologies lend themselves to the creation of ad-hoc, flexible alliances that enable those students to master their won learning processes while the teacher's role is progressively becoming more creative.

This has been my own experience here at Poitiers with the progressive introduction of "open", self-access multimedia sessions within the traditional lecture-based "contact" pattern. I believe this is the trend in our so-called developed countries and it would not be possible without a balanced, carefully thought-out alliance of multimedia, off-satellite TV, ISDN, etc. . .

This does not mean that the introduction of the technologies within existing frameworks is an easy process. I have personally seen how hard it is to establish a working Internet exchange between a given high school in the US and a high school in Poitiers although there is plenty of equipment as well as high speed connecting networks in both countries with politicians claiming the schools in their constituencies are now in tune with the world . . .

There are still a lot of administrative and psychological blocks that have to be overcome. This calls for a great deal of patience and well honed negotiating skills.

Johnson: How did you become involved in the field internationally?

Marchessou: Insofar as my own involvement in international cooperation is concerned, we can trace it back to 1973-74 and the organization of conferences and seminars on audio-visual communication within francophone universities under the auspices of AUPELF (the Association of French-speaking Universities).

I thus had the opportunity of working with Jean Cloutier, the then energetic and visionary director of the A-V center at the University of Montreal. This led to exchange projects and to publications that attracted some attention and I was asked to provide some consultancy work in Algeria, Egypt, Argentina, etc . . .

Then (1988) came the European projects when I was elected to the board of the educational channel that was being created at the initiative of the European Space Agency in order to use some of the transponder facilities on the experimental Olympus satellite.

I realized then that I had a theoretical and a tourist's knowledge of Europe outside France and that it did take a great deal of time and persuasion to get colleagues who were geographically close but culturally different to get things done.

I must say that the situation has changed a lot over the past ten years and we have been helped by the European union's repeated calls for proposals with strong educational technology components. I will just name a few acronyms here such as COMETT, DELTA, LINGUA, LEONARDO, TEMPUS, SOCRATES because they stand as landmarks in the history of Ed-tech networking.

Johnson: Describe a few of the projects/settings that you have fostered and are fostering around the world?

Marchessou: At present, this dept. (OAVUP) is mainly involved in three different areas:

-In Europe we are fully involved as a full-fledged member of a Telematics program called SELECT which is sponsored by Directorate General XIII of the European Union: this is a major R and D project which involves the development of a Learner Manager software that will enable company executives to download on their office workstations especially designed multimedia modules for advanced self-instruction in English, French or Portuguese. The project is led by Italy's largest multimedia company GIUNTI and partners include the University of Wolverhampton, the Open University of Portugal and a major industrial group. Outside Europe, we are doing some consultancy work in Mexico and Patagonia (on a EU-sponsored project for distance education). We are also working in close connection with a new university at la Matanza on the outskirts of Buenos Aires with a view to setting up a multimedia center and teaching dept. with a graduate program in educational technology that will be fully accredited in Argentina as well as in France

-In Brazil we are working with a number of universities (Brasilia, etc.) within their Ed. Tech and distance education curricula.

>-In Africa, we are mostly involved in Mozambique since there is a long-standing connection between the two main universities and Poitiers: this ranges from field consultancy in French and educational technology to preliminary support for a major AIDS project.

-In the United States, our present home base is the AWTY International School in Houston where we organize training sessions with an Ed. Tech orientation for language teachers.

Johnson: Tell us about your involvement in Ed. Tech professional associations such as AECT and FIGNA.

Marchessou: This is a fairly superficial survey of our main overseas activities which represent over 50% of OAVUPO's turnover and help finance our graduate degree course in educational technology. On a personal basis, I am trying to maintain an acceptable degree of involvement in such professional Ed. Tech associations as AECT in the US, and ATENA in France or more recently ABT in Brazil.

I wish there were more Europeans active in AECT for scientific as well as for operational reasons. There is now a great deal of inter-European project networking in Ed-Tech but I am afraid the level of joint research with the US has nothing to do with what I can observe on a daily basis within my own university between medical departments, chemistry or physics labs with their counterparts in America.

The Intl. Division of AECT and such publications as ET. R and D can and do help abridge the gap. I wish there were more initiatives but this would raise the issue of funding or joint operations. We should perhaps explore such positive avenues as World Bank distance ed. projects, put some pressure on our respective politicians, examine if the National Foundations in the US and the various European agencies could launch some parallel proposals etc...