Interview 3: "A Real Lab Program"

Marianne Raynaud explains how she managed to create an effective "Lab Program" that students would enjoy and find beneficial. She gives concrete explains of the type of materials she used and the objectives she set. She explains how this lab program enabled her to have tutorials i.e. one-to-one sessions with all her students on a regular basis.

Laura Lerner: You explained last time your students work independently for 55 minutes in lab every single week. You seemed to imply they were so motivated that they even came on time, but didn’t they ever get tired of doing these lab exercises on their own?

Marianne Raynaud: I knew from the start if I didn’t have an "interesting", "motivating" lab program, the attention level of the students would inevitably wane. They might even take off their headphones and start chatting in French with their neighbors. And that would have put an end to the whole organization of tutorials during the lab session!

Laura Lerner: So how did you manage at the beginning before the tutorials became a real tradition?

The idea of privacy and individual attention

Marianne Raynaud: I explained to the students the idea of privacy, and I
said each student would be given individual attention, but only on the condition that the others kept themselves busy on their own. A colleague in another lab had already told me, "What is important is not the lab in itself but rather what you put on while using the lab”. He was perfectly right. You can have a beautiful, ultra modern, high tech lab, but if the teaching materials are uninteresting the students will soon be bored and find little interest in having lab sessions.

Making the tapes - A frantic race!

Laura Lerner: Did you buy methods or did have a preference for home made sound documents?

Marianne Raynaud: At the beginning I must admit making the tapes was a frantic race every single week to prepare 55 minutes of “oral work”. We had all the oral documents we needed (some were from methods and others were “home made” by our team). But it still took over 3 hours to come up with the finished product and accessories. We had to put all the exercises onto a 30-minute audiocassette. Then we had to come up with a hand written transparency that would give the students step-by-step explanations and specifying numbers on the students’ personal counters corresponding to the different exercises. The use of specific number-references was in case the students wanted to rewind and repeat an exercise. A student might also go fast forward and skip certain exercises, if for instance he had had a tutorial and had time left over only for the most essential exercises.

Laura Lerner: How much time in all did you spend on making the tapes?

Marianne Raynaud: It easily took some 8 hours to come up with a 30 minute tape and I had to do one each week for each of the three years! That amounted to 24 hours a week just preparing tapes!

A logical progression?

Laura Lerner: Was there a logical progression for instance with the least difficult exercises at the start as a warm up and the most difficult ones at the end for those most capable?

Marianne Raynaud: This progression has been suggested to me, and it might have been a very logical way to proceed, but I have never wanted to change my own concept so I have always remained faithful to my original idea.

Laura Lerner: And what exactly was this idea?

Marianne Raynaud: The deal was that all the students whatever their level had to be able to reach the end of the tape in 55 minutes. Nothing would be optional. That is the idea behind French engineering school courses as regards the scientific subjects. Students have to do all the courses. In English I didn’t want to say to the slow ones, "Listen here, you only need to do parts 1 to 3; only those parts will be on the exams (oral or written)". The simple reason for this was that the others (with a better level) would have complained saying, "So why do we need to do all of the program when the others need only do certain parts?" The unique exception concerned those doing tutorials. On the day of their tutorial they could skip the first 15 minutes, which they had prepared at home, but didn’t need to repeat in lab.

The planning of a 30-minute cassette

Laura Lerner: How did you plan a 30-minute cassette?

Marianne Raynaud: The general layout of each cassette (representing one session of lab work) was set up so that it would be challenging for everyone. In fact the lab program became so difficult that the weakest students would even show up ahead of time to make sure they would be able to complete it…

Here’s how to purchase Marianne’s digital resource book.