Assets based community participation and place making

Authors: Kate Miller, Ronald McIntyre & Gary McKenna.

This paper discusses how processes of community development and community education tend to be dominated by a deficit discourse that is influenced by neoliberal political and economic forces. It provides an example of how a community outreach programme can turn the tide on these processes by implementing assets based approaches to place making and working with young people. Assets based approaches value the resources that exist in the community and build on the strengths and affordances of communities. We identify that there are a parallels between deficit models of community development and deficit or ‘banking models’ of education. We argue that a strong assets based approach that emphasises and values the experience of community members is an effective way to empower communities to make positive change.

Introduction

This paper arises from an Erasmus + project funded to share innovative practice of assets based approaches to community participation and develop collaborations across Higher Education Institutions and community groups across Europe. The University of the West of Scotland, in collaboration with our partners at Laurea University of Applied Sciences in Finland, University of Bologna in Italy, University of Maribor in Slovenia and The University of Southern Denmark have been working with community stakeholder groups that are implementing assets based approaches to working with communities. The work done by our community partners emphasises the importance of valuing the lived experiences of community members and also valuing community places and how these are made.

All of our partners have found that implementing an assets based approach is often working in opposition to a dominant narrative in community development and neoliberal policy discourses that emphasises a widely deficit view of communities. This deficit view extends beyond the purely economic aspects of community life. We argue that this deficit view of communities if not challenged can lead to the implementation of practices that accentuates the negative aspects of communities and can further disempower community members hindering the process of making positive change.

What we call a deficit model of place has been challenged on a number of levels, from the tendency to treat economic inclusion in the neoliberal economy as a proxy for inclusion more generally, and in particular from those working within participatory approaches to community development (Macintyre 2016; Shaw & Mayo 2016). There is a parallel between deficit models of community development and deficit or ‘banking models’ of education. Deficit models have been challenged with educators emphasising the need to move from viewing education as a matter of pouring knowledge in, to one recognising people as experts in their own lives.

Deficit Models of Place

This paper focuses on the UK, specifically Scotland, while Scotland has a degree of political autonomy within the UK as a devolved nation, political discourses within the “Public Sphere” are shaped at the UK level (e.g. Mooney & Scott 2016). As one of the first countries to industrialise, the UK then became one of the first to deindustrialise, the communities, which had built up around those industries suffered the loss of these jobs (Harvey 2006). Many of these industries were based in the West of Scotland, in Glasgow and its surrounding area.

The sense that these places were “left behind” as the economy moved on was further developed through the structure of programmes aimed at supporting the economic regeneration of these areas. These policies came to the fore in the UK under the Labour Government of Blair in 1997 through its work on Social Exclusion/Inclusion. Levitas et al. (2007) identified three main themes within social exclusion, the first theme relates to lack of resources, the second looks at social cultural aspects, and has been called the moral underclass discourse (MUD), the third embraced by Labour was the social integration discourse. It suggested that poverty in these communities was not so much a material problem relating to a lack of resources but a social one.

Deficit models of Education

Freire (2007) argued that mainstream education operates using the ‘banking model’ where learners are considered to be empty vessels and educators the providers of knowledge. Many young people in these ‘left behind’ communities struggle to succeed in mainstream education. In some places community outreach organisations (NGOs) are developing in order to provide alternative educational spaces that young people can access and where they can participate in dialogical and creative activities in ways that most mainstream educational contexts are not able to support.

Giroux (2005) argues that there is no such thing as a neutral educational process. Education either operates as a means to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ”the practice of freedom,” the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. Freire always viewed history as possibility, ”recognizing that History is time filled with possibility and not inexorably determined,” (Freire 2000, 26). Communities change through place making processes that are connected to political and economic processes. It is important to draw attention to pedagogical practices that can empower communities to make positive change.

Place Making Through Arts Outreach

Below we provide an extract from an interview with a practitioner from an arts outreach programme situated in a community that has suffered effects of deindustrialisation. It illustrates how engagement that draws on the resources of the local community can challenge deficit models of communities and empower community members to make positive changes.

Researcher: How might thinking about your community identity help with your professional practice?

Community worker: A lot of the people we see will maybe have quite a low opinion of themselves, of their communities; their perception of the community might be that they are not the best place to be. I would actually completely turn that on its head. I do not see it that way at all. I see everywhere as an opportunity to be amazing places and I would really encourage folk (people) to think about where they are in those terms, because I think that these are communities that have got long histories of amazing people that have achieved incredible things that have been formally recognised… You know, that is where working with young people is an incredible thing because we can turn that on its head and say: well did you know that this is where the first edition of Robert Burns’ poems was published? You know which is an international and universal book that everybody knows you know “Auld Lang Syne” (meaning times long past). These songs were all published in this town. People think this town has a heavy industries background and it does, but it actually had a creative industries before it had a heavy industries background…We are about to move into a former school which we have taken on as a transfer and that school had two Nobel Peace Prize winners come out of it. The only school anywhere that had two Nobel Peace Prize winners out of it – I mean that is an incredible fact in itself .., it is not a coincidence.

Researcher: Is it about the potential of the community?

Community worker: It is about recognising the potential and it is about understanding where it came from and it is also about the whole thing about the potential of it becoming alive again, or well, it has always been alive and it has always been here. So it is about recognising that and then giving that place opportunity to think about it in those terms going forward and having no parameters at all – it is up to you. It is over to you guys actually you can decide how this goes, you have got that empowerment to take it forward (he is talking about the young people).

Researcher: What opportunities does this open or indeed close off for you as a practitioner?

Community worker: Speaking personally I think the amazing thing that we have done is some fantastic pieces of work with a community facing aspect. The Council and the Government had offered money for our participatory budgeting programme …and the young people were able to secure funding to run a small gallery space in the Burns Mall – which is the local shopping centre… That all came about from a family engagement workshop that I was running with families, a visual art workshop. .. the kids themselves secured the funds to make this happen….we had a gallery preview the way you would have in any gallery. The local press came along and gave us two pages. It was great publicity mothers and fathers; grandparents; and brothers and sisters all came to see it. We sold work and one of the young people created a book and we sold the whole edition and it was really exciting stuff. Drawings and paintings and a digital offer [we showed] all kinds of art. We had fashion and we had other pieces of work as well. So that was an example of how we could look at our community in a positive light and through our professionalism and through our practice we were able to engage with families. We have incredible opportunities to do that kind of a thing on a national scale. I would actually like to see it happening on an international scale. I think we should be having artists and musicians coming to see us from around the world because I think that suddenly becomes again about putting our place on a global map. We are a wee (small) town near to Glasgow and sometimes kids come here and this is the biggest place they have been to. They have never been to Glasgow….but it is about blowing all that out of the water and saying we are actually a town in Europe in the world and I think it is really crucial that we celebrate that. We always have been and we always will be – so why do we not just run with that? Instead of deciding that we have to think that we have to go somewhere else to be a creative person and we have to be somewhere else to be important.

Fig.1. Centerstage wall of strengths-based art produced by local youths as a way of giving them a voice.
Fig.2. Centerstage paper mache tree for pinning the leaves containing young children’s strengths and statements of what they have learned.

Towards a More Radical Approach to Assets Based Community Development

This paper suggests a strong parallel between deficit models in education and approaches to local economic development; this can be traced from the political rhetoric to how this is articulated through policy and practice on the ground. In both we see a tendency to treat people and places as “left behind”, as missing something, this something might be tangible assets such as modern school buildings or it might be intangible like confidence or social capital. We offer an alternative assets based approach, as implemented by the specific arts outreach programme discussed above, as a way of resisting dominant narratives (Negt, Kluge, ([1993] 2016) that treat places which have not been folded into neoliberal capitalism as left behind, and therefore lacking something. It resists a reading from ABCD light, where ideas around assets as commodities become folded into neoliberalism either through support to exploit them or through questions around how and why people are not exploiting them, which itself fits into a deficit model of place. We suggest a deeper more radical engagement with ABCD. This draws on our own work on participatory action research and design (Macintyre 2016), and our engagement with inclusive pedagogies in adult education (Cannell & Macintyre 2017). These approaches reject deficit models of education emphasising the need to recognise people as experts in their own lives and their own communities.

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the funding from the Erasmus + programme which made the project ‘Designing Collaborative Educational Resources (COERS) for Assets Based Community Participation (ABCP) across Europe’ (Assets com) (ref. 2016-1-UK01-KA203-024403) on which this paper is based possible. We would also like to acknowledge the work of our colleagues in our partner Higher Education Institutions and all of the community stakeholders participating in the project.

Authors

Kate Miller, The University of the West of Scotland, Lecturer in Education, PHD, kate.miller(at)uws.ac.uk

Ronald McIntyre, The Open University, Designer, Executive Masters in Business Studies, ronald.macintyre(at)open.ac.uk

Gary McKenna, The University of the West of Scotland, Research Fellow, PhD, gary.mckenna(at)uws.ac.uk


Cannell P. & Macintyre R. (2017). Free open online resources in workplace and community settings – a case study on overcoming barriers, Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 19(1), pp. 111–122.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage, Rowman & Littlefield: London.

Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Continuum: London.

Freire, P. (2006). [1970] ”The banking model of education”. In Provenzo, Eugene F. Critical issues in education: an anthology of readings. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. pp. 105–117.

Freire, P. (2007). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Giroux, H. (2005). Border Crossings: Cultural Workers and the Politics of Education, Routledge.

Harvey D. (2006). Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Economic Development, Verso: London.

Levitas R., Pantazis C., Fahmy E., Gordon D., Lloyd E., & Patsios D. (2007). The Multidimensional analysis of social exclusion Project Report by Bristol Institute of Public Affairs for the Department of Communities and Local Government, http://roar.uel.ac.uk/1781/1/multidimensional.pdf last accessed 27th of August 2015.

Macintyre R. (2016). Approaching Participatory Design in ”Citizen Science”. In Design for Learning: 5th International Conference designing new learning ecologies, 18th -20th of May, Copenhagen. http://oro.open.ac.uk/id/eprint/46337

Mooney, G. & Scott, G. (2016). Welfare, equality and social justice: Scottish independence and the dominant imaginings of the ’New’ Scotland. Ethics and Social Welfare, 10(3) pp. 239–251.

Negt O. & Kluge A. ([1993] 2016) Public Sphere of Experience: Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proleterian Public Sphere. Verso: London.

Paton, K., McCall, V. & Mooney, G. (2017). Place revisited: Class, stigma, urban restructuring in the case of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games. Sociological Review, 65(4) pp. 578–594.

Shaw M. & Mayo M. (2016) Class Inequality and community development, Policy Press: Bristol.

No 4/2018 Abstracts

Editorial: Regional development requires participation and utilisation of the diversity of regions and regional developers

Jouni Koski, Ph.D., President, Managing Director, Laurea University of Applied Sciences

If the decision to construct a network of universities across the whole country was a significant one for regional development, then so also was the decision made over a quarter of a century ago to strengthen the higher education sector through universities of applied sciences which serve different areas of economic life. Regional development was further boosted with legislation that added the task of regional development to the duties of universities of applied sciences, in addition to the tasks of education and RDI (research, development and innovation). At the same time, or perhaps precisely because of this regional development task, the pedagogy of universities of applied sciences has seen impressive development. In contrast to how things were before, pedagogy is no longer a school’s internal matter, but it has become a shared issue for the region and the partnering organisations operating in it. A form of pedagogy has developed which integrates universities of applied science with society and with their region and which strengthens participation and partnership and regional development. In this way, new foundations have been laid down for further advancing regional development in Finland, which reached the grand age of 101 on 6 December 2018.

Although Finland is not large in population, it does cover a large area. In order to develop well, our country’s varied, unique regions require diversity, which is one of the strengths of our dual university system – also when considered from the regional perspective. Different kinds of regional development methods and models have been developed in different parts of the country, and a number of these will be presented in this theme issue. In the future, the role of universities of applied science in regional renewal and vitalisation may become more and more significant, and this requires the continual development of regional development methods and models. In this process, the open sharing and international benchmarking of different regional development methods and models are, without doubt, key factors for moving forward. Similarly, increasing the participation of local citizens in the development of their residential areas and living environments will certainly bring more effective solutions to regional and social problems because they are based on residents’ knowledge of their conditions and needs.

Universities of applied sciences have a significant role as developers of methods and processes for supporting civil participation. Through their pedagogic development, universities of applied sciences have become strong joint developers that know how to use diverse methods to engage citizens, businesses, communities and university students in joint development work. In this way, the objectives can include a good life for Finnish people, integration, and also, for example, the strengthening of regional vitality. When seeking to develop things, participation is of immeasurable value, whether it involves individuals or whole communities and organisations. I would like to return to consider again that significant decision to add the task of regional development alongside the universities of applied sciences’ tasks of education and RDI. If this decision had not been made, the involvement and participation of universities of applied sciences in regional development would not be at the level that it is today.

The strength of the pedagogy of universities of applied sciences for regional development is founded on participation, in which the involvement of students plays a central role. When university students, who are accumulating professional expertise, participate in regional development work together with employees, and when the learning takes place in cooperation with regional partners, the result is a huge and powerful contribution to development. The 145,000 students and around 10,000 experts at universities of applied sciences are a significant resource for the regional development of our country. It is excellent that we are learning all the time to make better use of this resource in our society.

 

Students as circular economy accelerators

Marketta Virta, M.A., Engineer, Project Assistant, Turku University of Applied Sciences
Sonja Lankiniemi, MBA, M.Sc.(Econ.), Project Specialist, Project Manager, Turku University of Applied Sciences

Students influence the development of their area already during their studies. In Turku University of Applied Sciences (TUAS), the students are strongly involved in RDI activities from the beginning of the studies. Students have been an important asset e.g. in the development of Topinpuisto, circular economy hub located in Southwest Finland. Topinpuisto develops the value chains of circular economy and accelerates the transition to circular economy in Turku and in Southwest Finland.
Among other things, students have researched the opportunities of a circular economy to create a new business.

At TUAS, students are not seen as clients but as partners. Student-business cooperation is beneficial for students, companies and their regions. Students can deepen and develop their expertise and companies can take steps towards a more sustainable future. When participating in RDI, students have an impact on their region even before their graduation and promote, for example, the realization of carbon neutrality and circular economy.

Keywords: circular economy, project study environment, RDI activities, technology

 

Technological innovations in the developing of villages

Marika Ahlavuo, Science Producer, Cultural Producer, The Research Institute of Modeling and Measuring for the Built Environment (MeMo), Aalto University 
Sami Alho, Project Manager, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences, SeAMK
Matti Kurkela, 3D-studio Manager, Lic.Tech., M.A., Aalto University
Jussi-Matti Kallio, Project Manager, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences, SeAMK
Hannu Hyyppä, Professor, Dr. Tech., Docent, Aalto University

At Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences (known as SeAMK), the School of Business and Culture, together with the School of Food and Agriculture, have carried out jointly with Aalto University various demos, projects and exhibitions centering on the theme of virtuality. This article focuses on the work applied in collaboration with SeAMK that has made headways and created joint ventures related to a Virtual Village Project and to two Master level theses in the field of digitalisation and virtual reality. New technology was used in a particular 3D virtual reality project (the so-called ’Virtuaalikylät 3D Liiverissä’ project) that was a joint effort with the villages of Southern Ostrobothnia and their active inhabitants. In the article, we examine from a 3D and technical innovations perspective how the cultural and knowledge resources present in the villages could be enhanced through virtual technology. As an important result from the co-operation between SeAMK and Aalto University, we have been able to predict future trends in the possibilities offered through the use of 3D virtual reality in assisting the development of villages.

Keywords: regional development, 3D, virtuality, cooperation, inclusion, culture, food and agriculture

 

Unique cooperation to boost regional development

Tuula Rajander, M.Ed., M.A., Planning Officer, Kajaani University of Applied Sciences

This article considers universities of applied sciences as a regional developer in sparsely populated areas such as Kainuu region. The joint problem of these areas is a lack of workforce, which obstructs economic development. Education is one of the most efficient ways to affect the supply of workforce.

Universities of applied sciences are part of the brand and attraction of their regions. Student recruiting brings more young people and people of working age to the area. Graduated students also like to stay in the area where they have studied. Digitalization of education has facilitated student-recruiting challenges of the UASes in sparsely populated areas.

From the student-recruiting point of view, it is important that UASes specialize in their own strong lines and subjects. The chosen lines should also match the general focus areas of the region. Focus areas in Kainuu region are innovations of technology and mining industry, bioeconomy, wellbeing and health. Corresponding strengths of Kajaani UAS are production systems, game and measurement applications, adventure activities, intelligent home care and business potential.

Keywords: continuous learning, developing of regions, lack of workforce, sparsely populated areas, student recruiting

 

Participative development in Lahti, Finland

Mirja Kälviäinen, Principal Lecturer, Institute of Design, Lahti University of Applied Sciences
Sara Ikävalko, Lecturer, Institute of Design, Lahti University of Applied Sciences
Kati Kumpulainen, RDI Specialist, Institute of Design, Lahti University of Applied Sciences

New digital native generations set new requirements for the city services and environments. In the City as a Service for Young Citizen project, young adults from 16 to 30 years of age have been participating in a mosaic of explorative user research methods to produce a rich picture of the possible use and needs of services by young citizens. The exploration-based methods have included user workshops, self-reporting design probes and theme-based material produced by users. The results have provided user empathy for envisioning service experiments to be tested in real user contexts and environments in the city of Lahti and with an ecosystem of local service providers. The participative user information and real life participatory experiments have produced evidence for the need of special service solutions for young citizen. These should be crossing the physical, face-to-face and digital realms and aligning with young users’ special requirements for authenticity and anonymity.

Keywords: design, participation, service design, young citizen, user driven research, experimentation

 

Co-creating urban art in Leppävaara with local volunteers

Martta Pirttioja, MSc, Environmental Designer, City of Espoo

In August this year, a colourful piece of art appeared on the wooden wall of the Galleria shopping centre’s parking area in northern Leppävaara. The artwork, was inspired by alder leaves, was co-created by multiple actors: active residents in the neighbourhood, the City of Espoo, the owner of the property and the Laurea University of Applied Sciences.

The project is an example of the work of the Environmental Design team which was established in April 2018 under a cross-administrative development program ‘Participatory Espoo’. The team’s principal task is to function as an easily approachable representative of the city and to boost the projects the inhabitants or other actors want to further. The ultimate goal is a network of active inhabitants, local businesses as well as third- and fourth-sector actors working together to create an Espoo they like. In an ideal case, the city’s role would be to enable these projects and to work as an equal partner.

Keywords: servicedesign, urbandesign, laureauas, Espoo, involvement

 

Youth, active part in development within different living areas

Jukka Piippo, PhD, Nurse specialized in psychiatry, Psychotherapist in specialist level, Principal Lecturer within Mental health, Arcada University of Applied Sciences

PAD – Positive Attitude Development project was a joint project between Arcada University of Applied Sciences and Tallinn University. The main aim with the project was to increase possibilities for young and young adults with mental health problems to get access to labor market within defined areas in the countries. This was done by decreasing stigma and influence attitudes towards mental health to become better. The main activities during the project were face-to-face meetings with citizens and employers. At the meetings, panel discussions were organized, in which issues concerning mental health problems were discussed between employers, professionals, members of target group and educational instances. One of important points during the project was when experts-by-experience become involved at the project. Their participation lead to many significant and positive developments of the projects activities.

Keywords: mental health, youth, cooperation, Helsinki, Tallinn, health and welfare

 

Assets based community participation and place making

Kate Miller, The University of the West of Scotland, Lecturer in Education, PHD
Ronald McIntyre, The Open University, Designer, Executive Masters in Business Studies
Gary McKenna, The University of the West of Scotland, Research Fellow, PhD

This paper discusses how processes of community development and community education tend to be dominated by a deficit discourse that is influenced by neoliberal political and economic forces. It provides an example of how a community outreach programme can turn the tide on these processes by implementing assets based approaches to place making and working with young people. Assets based approaches value the resources that exist in the community and build on the strengths and affordances of communities. We identify that there are a parallels between deficit models of community development and deficit or ‘banking models’ of education. We argue that a strong assets based approach that emphasises and values the experience of community members is an effective way to empower communities to make positive change.

Keywords: assets based approaches, community empowerment, critical pedagogy, education, place making

 

Creative Campus Arabia – Design Changes Cities

Tiina Laurila M.Sc., M.A., Project Producer, Metropolia UAS
Petra Lassenius, M.A., Project Manager, Metropolia UAS
Päivi Keränen, M.A., Project Manager, Metropolia UAS

This article presents how design discipline can contribute to the city and campus development. Two projects are introduced: Live Baltic Campus project (2015–2018) brought together city planners, government representatives, campus developers and stakeholders in utilizing the campuses of the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki and 5 partner universities in Turku, Uppsala, Stockholm, Riga and Tartu as labs and developing them as innovation hubs. Creative Campus Arabia Project (2016–2018) focused on identifying stakeholders, vitalizing the neighborhood and providing services like a planned coworking space and XR Centre, new networks that support creative fields and the Arabia-Toukola area in Helsinki. At the same time the new XR Design degree program was founded by Design and Media Degree Program. Collaboration between educational institutes is also part of the development towards digitalization where technology-based solutions are utilized in designing future cities.

Keywords: campus development, city development, design

 

3D City models and virtuality as tools in regional development

Juho-Pekka Virtanen,  M.F.A., Doctoral Student, Aalto University
Kaisa Jaalama, Doctoral Student, M.Sc. (Admin.), Aalto University
Arttu Julin, M.Sc. (Tech.), Doctoral Student, Aalto University
Matti Kurkela, Lic.Tech., M.A., Studio Manager, Aalto University
Mikko Maksimainen, Dr.Sc. (Tech.), Research Professor, Aalto University 
Matti T. Vaaja, Dr.Sc. (Tech.), Professor, Aalto University
Hannu Hyyppä, Professor, Dr.Sc. (Tech.), Associate Professor, Aalto University

The development of 3D city models is progressing towards an interactive, smart digital twin of the urban environment. This allows the stakeholders of the urban environment to obtain information concerning the functions, planned changes and infrastructure. In addition to receiving data, citizens, officials and commercial actors can also communicate their own needs and actions, either via direct participatory actions, or indirectly, by accumulation of data to various services. Future 3D city models offer a multitude of benefits for cities, citizens and business.

Keywords: 3D, city model, urban environment, digital twin, engineering, geospatial data

 

Can a university of applied sciences contribute to regional development in the archipelago?

Rasmus Karlsson, M.Pol.Sc., Project Manager, Novia University of Applied Sciences

Can a university of applied sciences contribute to regional development in the archipelago? Novia UAS is involved in several regional development projects in the archipelago between Finland and Sweden. All these projects connect to local entrepreneurship. Regional development projects have a long history in the archipelago. Projects that are considered failures, or not leading to change for the better on a local level, might lead to distrust in project efficiency and lower interest in future project participation from the local community. Mapping local level needs and wishes in the application phase is important to make sure sufficient funds are allocated.

A university of applied sciences has a role as project partner not bound by municipal borders, providing a professional project organization, a wide network of contacts on different levels of the society including financing frameworks, and professional knowledge in a variety of subjects.

Keywords: regional development, archipelago, interreg, project leadership

 

Stakeholder informed curriculum development in the Central Baltic Area

Sanna-Mari Renfors, PhD, Researching Principal Lecturer, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences

This article presents a case of international curriculum development in higher tourism education in the Central Baltic Area. The aim of the curriculum is to provide an aligned and relevant skillset for the area to grow as a coherent and competitive tourism destination. In practice, the curriculum aligns higher tourism education with the needs of the tourism industry and the labour market in Finland, Estonia, and Latvia into a new, joint curriculum and a study programme. As Europeanisation enables cooperation between the higher education institutions in a broader geographical context, the curriculum is designed and delivered by four universities situated in three countries in cooperation with the tourism industry.

Keywords: tourism industry, regional development, curriculum development, Central Baltic Area

 

Does international cooperation enhance local social innovation?

Susanne Jungerstam, D.Pol.Sc., Principal Lecturer, Novia University of Social Sciences
Annika Wentjärvi, M.Soc.Sc., Research Manager, Novia University of Social Sciences

International cooperation and interprofessional work are both expected to enhance social innovation. Social innovation, in turn, is often expected to be locally developed in close cooperation with end users, organisations and stakeholders. In the BSR Interreg-project Social Empowerment in Rural Areas (SEMPRE), the aim has been to combine the elements of international and interprofessional cooperation and social innovation in a regional and local context. The aim of the article was to discuss both opportunities and challenges that the project encountered, primarily focussing on international and interprofessional competences. The main findings include both positive experiences of good practices and learning across borders, and challenges related to project activities primarily related to the development of both interprofessional and international communication competences, as well as to the project format of developing local social innovation in an international setting.

Keywords: social innovation, interprofessional, international cooperation, project, social services

 

Efficiency in maritime business both in Satakunta, Finland, and in Southern Africa

Teija Järvenpää, B.Eng.,  Project Researcher, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Nina Savela, M.Pol.Sc., Project Researcher, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Minna Keinänen-Toivola, D.Phil., Research Manager, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences

The changing environment, rapid development of technology and climate change will increase pressure to produce multiskilled personnel in Satakunta, Finland. The efficient maritime cluster in Satakunta constitutes of knowledge, energy efficiency and export actions. Maritime training in Satakunta dates back to 1880 and today, digitalization is emphasized in maritime training. Energy efficient solutions, developed in shipbuilding and port operations in Rauma, generate new business opportunities. The maritime cluster in Satakunta is strongly export-orientated. For example, in Southern Africa, potentials for SMEs include the maritime industry, cleantech, and opportunities in the circular economy. The sector’s eagerness to grow opens up possibilities for job creation and SME growth. This increases international recognition, enables the exchange of ideas, and the development of technologies. Know-how, digitalization and environmental friendliness are uprising accelerating trends in the maritime cluster in Satakunta as well as in export markets.

Keywords: maritime cluster, energy efficiency, export, Satakunta, Southern Africa, technology

 

The challenge of producing information that promotes regional welfare

Erkki Saari, MAdSc, DSocSc, RDI Senior Lecturer (social services), Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Leena Viinamäki, DSocSc, Principal Lecturer (social services), Lapland University of Applied Sciences

When we think about the role of higher education institutions as producers of information that promotes the welfare of those living in the various regions of the country, we take as our starting point the drawing up of welfare reports that are intended to be part of the welfare management of municipalities. Political decisions based on information provided by welfare reports can influence the polarisation of the country, e.g. whether its regions differentiate in terms of migration gain or loss or well-off and disadvantaged populations. In order to make justifiable political decisions concerning welfare, there is a need for statistical data that describes the welfare of the areas and the view and experience information of the authorities and of the population about the welfare of the population and the functionality of welfare services it can use. However, the welfare reports intended to be drawn up by municipalities should be replaced by regional welfare reports containing the above-mentioned information and drawn up by researcher groups formed by the higher education institutions responsible for the education in health care and social services, the Centres of Excellence in Social Welfare and the research institutions operating in different regions.

Keywords: regional development, welfare barometer, welfare account, welfare report, service system, social services, health care

 

Regional development and future knowledge in municipalities

Jaana Laitio, Degree Programme in Customer-Oriented Development in Social Service Work, Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Saara Jäämies,Degree Programme in Service Innovation and Design , Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Sanna Juvonen, Master of Education, Senior Lecturer, Laurea University of Applied Sciences

In the future, the population of the world centralizes more and more in cities. The development of urban areas has a major impact on sustainable development of the European Union and its citizens from the economical, ecological, and social point of view. At the same time, urban areas are places where different challenges, inequalities, unemployment and poverty are concentrated. The development of municipal and urban areas and the skills of employees working there need to be ensured in a changing environment. The key challenges and at the same time competences of experts in the future municipalities are to work with digital services and to strengthen the inclusion of residents, as well as to promote human-centered work in changing environment.

Key words: public sector, municipality, employee, future, competence, Social Service Degree Programme, Degree Programme in Service Innovation and Design

UAS Journal Workshop in the EAPRIL 2018 Conference

In the workshop ”International Collaboration Promoting Publishing Practice-oriented Articles in Higher Education”, given by Jaana Lamberg, Ilkka Väänänen, Mervi Friman and Mauri Kantola from the UAS Journal, there was discussion on what a good PBR (practice-based research) article is from the author’s, referee’s and reader’s perspectives. We also received theme ideas for the next international issue both in this workshop and in the session earlier today. The discussion was very active in both spoken and written form, as via the Padlet platform.

UAS Journal at the EAPRIL 2018 Conference

Members of the UAS Journal editorial board and the editor-in-chief gave a presentation in the EAPRIL 2018 conference in Portorož – Piran, Slovenia.

Ilkka Väänänen, Mervi Friman and Mauri Kantola gave a presentation ”The impact of the publication activities of practice-based research”. After the presentation, there was interesting discussion e.g. on the significance of national (mother tongue) publishing versus international publishing. The participants perceived it is important to share ideas internationally.

The Evolvement of an Online Learning Network of Experts

Authors: Minna Scheinin & Mauri Kantola.

Introduction

The purpose of the present article is to discuss the characteristics of an online learning network of experts. Further, the article discusses how to create a social community and interaction between people who share the same interest topics and the concerns attached to them. Expert groups often evolve within a project and work well through the lifecycle of the project. However, it is generally experienced that a group of experts is often dispersed at the end of the project. The participants easily lose interest towards collaboration when the funding is finished and the formal structure of the collaboration comes to its end. Can we find any personal characteristics of the participants or features of an expert group, which could support the cooperation to outlive the time span of a project? These are the main focus areas of the present article.

Background and Framework

The study is carried out within the framework of the Finnish project eAMK, the aim of which is among other things to develop a mutual digital study tray for all universities of applied sciences (UASs). The eAMK project has largely discussed the future visions of a national study offering together with the visions of the future learning ecosystems (Scheinin 2017). This is ”a golden age for universities to redefine their role in the environment of ubiquitous knowledge and intelligence” (Mulgan 2018, 175). In order to reach the project aim, ie. a flexible national online study tray of all Finnish UASes, it is crucial that the participants of the project work well together and are able to mutually understand the importance of national cooperation. These matters can be looked at by mirroring the discussions about Higher Education development on several levels. The top-down approach starts from the ideas for the future by the European Union. The fact that digitalization enables us to easily share knowledge and experiences has led to the discussions about the role and structure of HE institutions. The focus on teaching is shifting towards learning: who is teaching and where does learning take place, who is responsible for learning and what is the role of the institutions? The EU renewed agenda for higher education (COM 2017) lists three priorities for action:

  • Promoting excellence in skills development
  • Ensuring higher education institutions to be able to contribute to innovations
  • Supporting effective and efficient higher education systems

All these are crucial focus areas when learning is going to online and the institutions aim to offer high-quality online courses for the students.

OECD introduces the concept of networks within higher education on the basis of the strength of cooperation. From the looser typed of cooperation towards the more structured or intensive, they are listed as network, collaboration, alliance and merger (Williams, 2017, p.4).

Figure 1. The Summary of Concept of Networks on the basis of the Strength of the cooperation.

This approach is valuable to understand for the present eAMK project. As we are acting nationally towards a mutual online study offering, we need to understand the importance of the level our cooperation and if it has the potential to be intensified. In Finland, the universities of applied sciences are very autonomous and self-regulating as far as the structure and curricula are concerned. Therefore, it is not always a straightforward matter to unify practices or collaborate across the institutions. The structures and the funding systems do not support flexibility.

The Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture launched a vision for Higher Education in Finland 2030 (OKM 2018). This vision emphasizes a strong and multifaceted higher education as a change agent in the society and business structure, better ability to foresee, react and innovate. All this supports the brave initiatives to act differently and to find new paths for designing learning. This is where we understand that the national effort for the online study tray finds its rationale on the ministerial level. Finally, the concept of cooperation and networks is important not only by giving a framework for the different structural models for HEIs. It also covers another crucial point, namely how strategic networks are built and how they operate. Kantola et al. (2011, p. 185) argue that discussions about strategic networks are not only the in interest of the organizations but also of individuals. This means that it is justified to focus also on people, not only on structures. Cooperation is also noticed in several learning and strategic approaches of the HEIs, for example the innovation pedagogy developed at Turku University of Applied Sciences (Konst et al. 2018).

What has been said above, is summarized in a Figure 2 as follows:

Figure 2. Modelling new Practice for Higher Education to contribute to Innovations.

Reading from right to left, in order to contribute to innovations, HEIs should look at their strategic networks as well as the people who operate. How people operate in an expert group can be studied with the help of the model called Communities of Practice (COI). This will be focused on in the next chapter.

Expert group as a community of practice

Communities of practice (COI) is one model of an environment, in which a group of ”people share a concern, a set of problems or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on ongoing basis “ (Wenger et al. 2002). Such communities also foster mutual trial and understanding about the facts that tie together the participants (Palonen et al. 2017, p. 54). In the principals for cultivating COI Wenger brings the following elements into discussion: COIs are organic and the design elements should be catalysts for the evolution. The participation can occur on different levels and for different reasons. All live communities have a coordinator. In dynamic communities both private and public connections take place. What is important for the communities to thrive is that they deliver value for the organization, as well as for the teams and members of the community. Successful communities bring both new ideas as well as familiar topics into discussion. Finally, the communities also have a rhythm similarly as other everyday life (Wenger 2002, pp. 49‒64). We use the model of COI for further develop the evolving learning network of experts.

Method

The present study was carried out within the eAMK project. The aim of the project, the mutual learning platform, was opened in August 2018 under the name of CampusOnline.fi. It is based on the concept of the summer portal of the UASs, which has been organized for three summers. In the autumn 2018, a total of 68 courses were provided. The teachers of these courses, together with the project participants, are members of the evolving learning expert group studied here. These members are in different phases of their professional development in e-learning: less experienced teachers as well as experienced e-learning teachers, who acted as coaches and mentors within the group. All teachers were trained with a series of webinars concentrating on the good quality of e-learning. After the webinars, a two-day F2F seminar was organized, where the course materials were discussed and peer-assessed on a practical level in smaller groups. At this point, we carried out a questionnaire about the characteristics of the learning group of experts, which we considered had been evolved. The questionnaire was sent to 100 participants of the seminar and we received 44 answers.

Results

The aim of the questionnaire intervention was to study the characteristics of a learning network of experts and how such groups evolve digitally. We were also interested in the lifecycle of digital groups, when such consortia are built around a project and whether an expert group can outlive the life span of a project.

We studied what kind of people we had in the group with regard to how they experience themselves as undertaking new tasks. We found out that the participants are always enthusiastic about finding new ways of acting. They like to try out new things and the uncertainty does not seem to have an effect on their motivation and activity. The participants also experienced that the expert group is a good learning path for the professional development and a good learning forum, as the participants are in different phases in digitalization and carrying out online courses. We also found out that the participants are interested in the matters, from which they do not benefit themselves. They are willing to act across the institutional boarders in order to gain mutual benefit.

We asked an open question: what is needed for the expert group to have the potential to outlive the time span of the project? The answers were grouped under five main headings:

  1. Strategic management ‒ the activity becomes a part of the normal activities within all UASs.
  2. Resources – teachers’ resources to participate in the development nationally
  3. Clear aims and an action plan for the activity – a responsible party for the group
  4. Contacts – contacts both online and F2F
  5. Environment – a user-friendly platform

To summarize, certain characteristics of the participants, such as enthusiasm and openness for new things are prevalent in the present expertise group. The participants are also apt to work for mutual benefit. We also found out that certain characteristics of the group seem to be crucial if we expect the group to outlive the time span of the project itself. Such characteristics are, for example, strategic management, clear aims and responsibility of the group, as well as a user-friendly environment. These features coincide partly with the principles for cultivating COIs. The results provide a framework to further study these principles and how they are prevalent in the group that continues to grow during the project.

Conclusion and further studies

To answer to our main question in the beginning of this article, we think that it is possible to find characteristics of the participants or features of an expert group, which support the cooperation to outlive the time span of a project. The eAMK project has developed a loose e-learning community of experts in UASs and the network has grown through webinars and seminars carried out in the eAMK project. We have also found some characteristics that can help to further study the Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice and how the experts group will outlive the project.

The Future results may help us to understand what kind of challenges are involved in the cooperation of HIEs. As we know that the drivers for the change come from the surrounding society, the modelling of a new practice for HIE is necessary. Strategic networks are needed as well as communication and new kind of communities of practice. These can help the support HEI for innovations while keeping mind that it is people who make the connections, not the structures.

Authors

Minna Scheinin, Lic. Phil., MA(ODE), Head of Future Learning Design, Turku University of Applied Sciences, minna.scheinin(at)turkuamk.fi

Mauri Kantola, MA, Senior Advisor, Turku University of Applied Sciences, mauri.kantola(at)turkuamk.fi


COM (2017). Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. https://ec.europa.eu/education/sites/education/files/he-com-2017-247_en.pdf. Retrieved 25. August 2018.

Kantola, M., Kettunen, J. & Helmi, S. (2010). Strategic regional networks in higher education. In Regional Innovation Systems and Sustainable Development: Emerging Technologies. Information Science Reference. Hershey and New York.

Konst, T. & Kairisto-Mertanen L. (2018). Innovation Pedagogy. Preparing Higher Education Institutions for Future Challenges. Suomen yliopistopaino – Juvenes Print. Tampere.

Mulgan, Geoff (2018). Big Mind, How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

OKM (2018). Korkeakoulutuksen ja –tutkimuksen visio 2030, http://minedu.fi/korkeakoulutuksen-ja-tutkimuksen-visio-2030. Retrieved 26 January 2018.

Ordóñez de Pablos, P., Lee, W.B. & Zhao, Jingyuan (eds.) (2010). Regional Innovation Systems and Sustainable Development: Emerging Technologies. Information Science Reference. Hershey and New York.

Palonen, T., Lehtinen, E. & Hakkarainen K. (2017). Asiantuntijuuden kehittyminen ja tieteenalan jäseneksi kasvaminen. Teoksessa: Murtonen, M. Opettajana yliopistolla. Korkeakoulupedagogiikan perusteet. Vastapaino. Tampere.

Scheinin, M., Kantola, M. & Simola, S. (2017). Yhteisen opintotarjonnan kehittäminen ammatillisia rajoja rikkovaksi avoimeksi verkkotutkinnoksi – mahdollisuuksia ja haasteita. http://www.eamk.fi/fi/digipolytys/yhteisen-opintotarjonnan-kehittaminen
Retrieved 30 April 2018.

Wenger,E., McDermott,R. &Snyder, W.M. (2002). A Guide to Managing Knowledge. Cultivating Communities of Practice. Harvard Business School Press. Boston. Massaschussetts.

Williams, J. (2017) Public Policies for Collaboration, Alliance, and Merger among higher Education Institutions, OECD Working Paper No 160 – forthcoming; https://minedu.fi/documents/1410845/4177242/EDU-WKP-2017-9.pdf/e3d72fd4-fcae-41d4-b8eb-87760435fa4d/EDU-WKP-2017-9.pdf.pdf. Retrieved 26.9.2018.

No 3/2018 Abstracts

Editorial: A step towards the future

Turo Kilpeläinen, President, Lahti University of Applied Sciences

Digitisation has not only changed consumer behaviour but also the tried and tested methods of many sectors. And it goes without saying that, if it has not already done so, this shift will make an impact on the traditional structure of many higher education institutes (HEIs) Finland, in particular, has experienced the reality of demographic development alongside urbanisation processes and an ever-increasing sustainability gap in public sector funding.

As such, Finnish HEIs must carefully consider how to best go forward with the task of using public funding to generate the expertise and experts required by society. We must also think long and hard about the future role and purpose of HEIs from the perspective of both the individual and society as a whole.

It is generally accepted that HE students are mainly focussed on developing the knowledge and expertise necessary to secure their dream job. And when thinking about young students, the pressing questions are how and at what stage of their institution-based learning journey are they able to take what they have learned and apply it in the wider context of building a life of their own. In an era when it takes a just a second for a super computer to calculate the answers to a millennium’s worth of maths homework for every child in the world, we are going to need new ways of sparking their motivation to learn.

Currently, HEIs are primarily organised around the goal of completing degree-level qualifications. The paradigm shift we are experiencing, however, challenges us to make education more flexible, open, and accessible. In practice, this means we may need to tear down the foundations of the entire HE system. Not only should individual study modules be viable solutions for students pursuing a degree, but for professionals working towards CPD and job-seekers developing their expertise profile, too.

The impact of an increasingly flexible approach to higher education will inevitably bear fruit in terms of HE admissions. Indeed, courses and programmes will be opened up to everyone seeking to update their expertise. Students in Higher Education are increasingly diverse in terms of their background. Consequently, greater flexibility may mean that students are able to tailor the content of the study modules they take or their whole study plans in order to benefit from the expertise of leaders in their fields, both here in Finland and the rest of the world. In this model, the competencies that students develop are not limited by the education available at the institute they are attending. Instead, they can take advantage of a global pool of knowledge and expertise.

Predicting the future is difficult, though. When considering the impact of societal change, we may take the view that the expectations held by the state, regions, stakeholders in working life, and students in relation to HEIs will all change. That being said, we must also assume that the expectations of these actors will not necessarily be the same. The role of digitisation in facilitating accessibility and a completely new form of instruction would appear to be vitally important.

Consequently, this publication seeks to consider concrete examples of the ways in which digital developments are making an impact on teaching and learning at universities of applied sciences. The themes covered include digital competence among students, teachers’ digital pedagogical expertise, pedagogical approaches, raising the profile of universities of applied sciences, and a wide range of practical examples of learning environments and digital tools. The premise behind all this is a desire to meet the needs for expertise in professional life.

As a group of universities of applied sciences and one university, we have taken a courageous step towards the future with the development of the “eAMK” network (an e-resource for universities of applied sciences). The bringing together of HEIs in this way will hopefully foster a permanent community of expertise that transcends institutional borders. Indeed, glinting on the horizon is a new kind of network-based operational model for the entire HE sector.

 

It is all about the future digital competence

Marja Kopeli, M.A., Faculty Coordinator, Savonia University of Applied Sciences

As a part of eAMK project four universities of applied sciences (HAMK, Humak, KAMK and Savonia) made in November 2017 a Webropol inquiry for students concerning their digital skills. In the questionnaire there were 48 claims and with them the students estimated their digital skills and also estimated the importance of mentioned skills.

According to the survey the students have good skills to study in digital learning environments chosen by their home university. The UAS orientation services seem to work quite well from this point of view. Instead the students seem to need more training to lead their identity in digital world and also to gain, use and create information in digital environments. Overall the students estimated their skills lower than the importance in 80 percent of the claims.

When planning degree programme curricula the future orientation should be in an important role, also in digital skills point of view.

Co-configurative approach to digital literacies in higher education

Olli Vesterinen, Ph.D. (Ed.), Principal Lecturer, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences
Sara Sintonen, Adjunct Professor, Senior Lecturer, University of Helsinki
Heikki Kynäslahti, Adjunct Professor, Senior Lecturer, University of Helsinki
Yutaro Ohashi, Associate Professor, Nippon Institute of Technology

Digital literacy is crucial in higher education sector as well as in future work. Higher education institutions can prepare students for the world of work better if the developing of digital competences is acknowledged. Interventions in formal education are urgently needed, and more attention should be given to teacher training and in-service training in order to narrow the digital divide gap (Kaarakainen, Kivinen & Vainio 2017). The article discusses five points of digital literacy: 1. to self-evaluate or to test? (evidence) 2. perspectives (such as identity) 3. participation (agency) 4. dynamic in terms of time (development) 5. individual vs. team (peer-learning). All this connects with the digital pedagogical practices. A co-configurative approach has been developed to look beyond traditional tool-based self-evaluations, which have been the current narrative in the research on digital literacy.

The compliance of teaching and guiding with digipedagogy

Eija Heikkinen, Ph.D. (Sc.), Development Director (Education), Kajaani University of Applied Sciences

Working life requires collaboration between universities, businesses and stakeholders. Students, teachers and staff need opportunities to learn how to connect with each other to create and develop new operating models, products and services. An open business culture requires a proactive attitude towards goal-oriented collaborative development activities and allows the staff members of companies and universities to make mistakes.
The pedagogical approach of Kajaani University of Applied Sciences (KAMK) is called cKAMK, where C describes the concepts of connect, create and coach. Teachers and students work in teams and use project learning methods to solve problems or to develop new products and services collaboratively. In coaching, the teacher is the expert who guides students to find the information they need. The students are responsible for learning and active participants in their work. In addition, KAMK develops a digipedagogical approach and has created a staff competence development model, which includes digital tools for the model’s connect, create and coach functions. This article describes the cKAMK approach.

A Teacher’s Role in the Midst of Digital Change

Tarmo Alastalo, M.Eng., Certified Business Coach, Senior Lecturer, Karelia UAS
Maarit Ignatius, M.A., Coordinator, Blended pedagogy, Karelia UAS

Karelia University of Applied Sciences promotes the creation of flexible study and learning opportunities and the diversification of year-round education by supporting the development of the personnel’s digital skills, change of working methods and the transforming role of a teacher. According to the strategy of Karelia UAS (2017–2020), the implementation of each study unit should form a pedagogically coherent whole that suits the learning environments used.

The objective of this systematic development of learning and study processes is both a functional and pedagogical change aiming at emphasising the student’s role in the learning process and the development of more individualised learning and study processes. The goal of the development cycles is not only to enhance the digital pedagogical skills of the teacher, but also to create new tools for the long-term guidance, counselling, teaching and evaluation of the student. One of the tools used in the development of the digital pedagogical change and in the change of the teacher’s role is the SAMR model by R.R. Puentedura (http://hippasus.com/blog/).

Online implementations by the support and assistance of eAMK project 

Kati Mäenpää, M.Ed., Senior Lecturer, Guidance Counsellor, Oulu University of Applied Sciences, Ph.D. Student, University of Oulu
Päivi Tervasoff, M.Soc.Sc., Senior Lecturer (Social services), Special Education Vocational Teacher, Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Päivi Rautio, M.H.S., Lecturer, Work Guidance Instructor (STOry), Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Minna Manninen, M.H.S., Senior Lecturer, Head of Midwifery Education, Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Satu Rainto, M.Sc. (Health Care), Senior Lecturer, Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Jukka Kurttila, M.Ed., Senior Lecturer, Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Juha Alakulppi, M.Ed., Senior Lecturer, Psychotherapist, Authorised Sexologist, Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Minna Perälä, M.H.S., Senior Lecturer (Midwifery and Health Care), Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Marja Kinisjärvi, M.H.S., Senior Lecturer (Midwifery), Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Henna Alakulju, M.Ed., Study Affairs Planning Officer (Student Services), Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Jukka Savilampi, M.A., Senior Lecturer, Oulu University of Applied Sciences

A team of health and social care teachers planned a new online course (Violence against woman and domestic violence, 5 CU) to a Finnish university of applied sciences shared digital course offering, Campus Online portal. The course was planned and constructed by the support and assistance of eAMK project and its training programme. This article describes a pedagogical example of the course planning process, online implementations and co-operation. It highlights the possibilities of improving or building up new high quality online education in network, with support of a higher education professionals and working life co-operation partners.

Digital competences in the social and health care education

Anna-Leena Eklund, M.H.S., Specially Trained Nurse, Lecturer (Nursing), Kajaani University of Applied Sciences
Taneli Rantaharju, M.Sc. (Tech.), Senior Lecturer, Study Programme Coordinator in intelligent systems, Kajaani University of Applied Sciences
Heli Ylitalo, M.H.S., Lecturer (Health and Wellbeing), Kainuu Vocational College

Reforms in social and healthcare structures and functions due to digitalisation are instituting a demand for change in healthcare provision and training. The aim of the DIGIOS project (1.3.2017–31.5.2019) implemented jointly by Kajaani University of Applied Sciences, Kainuu Vocational College and Kainuu Joint Municipal Social and Healthcare Authority is to develop competence in electronic health services and health technology in the region.

The project has created a multi-purpose scalable learning environment in which modern technology- assisted nursing interventions and principles can be practised. The learning environment enables cooperation between the project partners as well as the opportunity to practise multi-professional nursing. As well as nursing and healthcare, the beneficiary of the project is the engineering degree. The results of this joint development initiative are highly applicable in advanced engineering studies, in which the students gain in depth knowledge of health, wellbeing and sports technologies, among others. In addition to teaching, the learning environment will be used in supplementary training and induction for social and healthcare sector and information technology staff.

How to do things right? Blended learning in teaching ethical decision-making in health and social sciences

Soile Juujärvi, D.Pol.Sc., Principal Lecturer, Laurea University of Applied Sciences

In health and social care, ethical competence is one of the core competences that is increasingly studied through E-learning. Dilemma discussions have previously been found to be the most effective method for advancing ethical decision-making. This paper introduces a pedagogical model for professional ethics course based on blended learning. Classroom teaching was combined with dilemma discussions on the digital platform. Students solved real-life ethical problems by applying professional codes, values and ethical theories. Integrated face-to-face and virtual learning engaged students in shared learning process. Threated asynchronous dilemma discussions were important for exploring theoretical knowledge. The role of the teacher was to facilitate learning and provide an example for critical discussion. The model is recommended as a highly motivating method for ethics education.

Creating a change – how does online degree education look like in the eyes of a student?

Ilona Laakkonen, M.A., eLearning Specialist, JAMK University of Applied Sciences

In 2015, we launched an online BBA programme at JAMK School of Business. Our students are motivated and have experiences from the world of work, but face the challenge of allocating their time between work, family life and studies. The past years have been an era of continuous pedagogical development and transformation for our staff. Have we succeeded? How to improve in the following years? This paper reflects these questions in the light of the student feedback and proposes present and future solutions for some of the problems common in adult online education: workload and rhythm; learning assignments and course structure; presence and social interaction. We still have room for improvement, but student responses indicate that hard work also pays off.

Distance education works well in immigrants learning of Finnish language

Kukka-Maaria Raatikainen, M.A., Senior Lecturer (Finnish and Communication), Savonia University of Applied Sciences
Anne Karuaho, M.A., Lecturer (Communication), Savonia University of Applied Sciences

Web pedagogy in learning Finnish language seems to be an effective way of learning at least when the immigrant cannot participate in traditional teaching. In Savonia University of Applied Sciences, we have developed seven courses in Finnish language and during 2018–2019 those courses will be held online. During the summer 2018, an experiment of web course in Finnish language not tied to time nor place took place in Savonia. Feedback has been mainly good: the participants felt that they have learnt many new things especially about idioms and some certain structures in Finnish. Some participants nevertheless felt that, there were not enough materials about oral language or theory about difficult subjects. It is obvious that we have to offer flexible solutions in Finnish language courses in the future also.

Immigrants getting ready for higher education studies online

Tiina Hirard, M.A., Senior Lecturer, Turku University of Applied Sciences
Heidi Stenberg, M.Ed., Project Director SIMHE-Metropolia, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

This article deals with the higher education preparatory program for immigrants and its online implementation that will be carried out by nine Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences. The main objective of the online implementation is to add to the availability and accessibility of the preparatory program on the national level. Furthermore, studying online develops digital skills that are essential in today’s higher education studies and that are thus considered both as objectives and contents of the preparatory program. The pedagogical approach of the online implementation is based on co-teaching, collaborative construction of knowledge as well between students and teachers as among students, activating learning and teaching methods and continuous assessment and guidance. The online implementation can be seen not only as a new way of implementing the preparatory program but also as a new kind of cooperation and sharing know-how between higher education institutes.

Thesis process in the digital era

Merja Koikkalainen, Ph.D., Principal Lecturer, Master’s Degree Unit, Lapland University of Applied Sciences
Marika Kunnari, D.H.S., Principal Lecturer, Master’s Degree Unit, Lapland University of Applied Sciences
Soili Mäkimurto-Koivumaa, Ph.D., Principal Lecturer, Master’s Degree Unit, Lapland University of Applied Sciences

In autumn 2017, Lapland UAS launched a new multidisciplinary Master’s degree programme, Service Management in Digital Era, which is completed entirely online. The programme was designed to meet the challenges of rapidly changing working life. The multidisciplinary MONT thesis process, developed previously at Lapland UAS, was adopted for the programme’s thesis process. Most importantly, the MONT process is interdisciplinary and close to working life. MONT theses are written in small multidisciplinary groups. In an online thesis process, the students’ own activeness and responsibility throughout the process are vital. The MONT process, which is done online, is constructed such that a thesis is completed over the course of 18 months. Small thesis groups write articles on their individual development task, and students in each thematic group also compile a joint knowledge base connected to their theme as a co-creation project. Based on student feedback, satisfaction with the MONT project is connected to multidisciplinary work and the broad analysis it facilitates. Areas in need of improvement include specifying the schedule of the overall process right at the beginning of studies.

Increase personal relevance with learning diaries

Minna Jukka, D. Sc. (Econ.), M.Sc. (Tech.), Project Manager DaaS – Open Data as a Service, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences

Increasing digital teaching creates a need for new kinds of interaction and personal relevance with the studies. One option is self-reflection of learning by writing a learning diary that supports the forming of personal insights helping to understand and remember. Reviewing over 40 learning diary instructions suggests the best learning diary instructions are tailored to each course, and clearly outline the goals of the diary, the teacher’s expectations and its evaluation. Guiding questions are also included: what I want to learn, what I learned, what was left unclear, what this new knowledge means to me, and what thoughts it aroused. With virtual courses, and especially with adult learners, the learning diary instructions were more detailed, suggesting that self-directedness of the studies needs more detailed guidance. Therefore, the new era of digital teaching needs good guidance in learning diaries.

Master’s Students as the Developers of Communication Skills

Mervi Varhelahti, D.Ed., M.A., M.Sc. (Econ. & Bus.Adm.), Senior Lecturer, Turku University of Applied Sciences
Mirjamaija Mikkilä-Erdmann, D.Ed., Professor, University of Turku, Department of Teacher Education

Changes in the world of work are posing new challenges in orientation in higher educational institutions. This study focuses on the development of adult students’ communication skills ‒ especially media choice ‒ in Master’s studies in universities of applied sciences in Finland. The approach used in this study is mixed method, combining a framework of digital communication skills to the media synchronicity theory as theoretical background. Results suggest that a stronger link to working life orientation could be achieved with a varied choice of digital communications tools in learning.

How to Learn Use of ICT Tools while Learning in Student Projects

Anu Kurvinen, M.BA., Senior Lecture, Saimaa University of Applied Sciences
Pasi Juvonen, D.Sc., Senior Lecturer, Head Coach, Saimaa University of Applied Sciences

Change in digitalization has been rapid. Future working life will need employees who are skilled in different areas. While educating the next generation professionals, we are teaching them capabilities to take over new ways of increasing their knowledge. There is plenty of information available. Thus, one has to be able to think critically, have skills to synthesize and put the information into action in a wise way. This article presents an example of learning environment where ICT tools are learnt in conjunction with student cooperative’s business projects. Since 2009 we have been developing a new learning environment combining studying content knowledge (theory) learning by doing (practice), and employing dialogue in knowledge sharing, knowledge creation and reflection. Adopting and learning to use ICT tools is not depending on the availability of the ICT tools or applications anymore. It’s rather a question to learn how to better utilize the free to use tools available on the market, and harnessing them in the student projects. The article presents pedagogical choices that according to our experiences are increasing the readiness of adopting ICT tools and utilizing them alongside learning business.

Profiling in the virtual world of education

Ritva Kosonen, L.Phil., Principal lecturer, Saimaa University of Applied Sciences
Taina Sjöholm, M.A., Senior Lecturer, Novia University of Applied Sciences

International evaluations show that Finland’s university system is still fragmented and profiles are minimal. A weakness is also that the universities of applied sciences in Finland cooperate only to a limited extent.

The eAMK project acknowledges the importance of profiling. In the autumn of 2018, the project sent a request to all universities of applied sciences asking on which areas of education the university wants to focus considering online studies.

Two of the universities expressed their desire to profile themselves in one area of education, four wanted to profile themselves in two different areas of education. For the rest (15) the wishes were divided into several areas of education. At this stage of the project, it would be challenging to try to create a clear profile of online studies for each of the universities of applied sciences.

In the long term, we should aim to improve cooperation in those areas that provide synergy effects. The work within the eAMK project has come to a good start and we look forward to a wide variety of activities in the future.

Practitioner researchers’ current and future visions of education & learning

Authors: Marcelo Giglio, Mauri Kantola, Mervi Friman, Inneke Berghmans & Manuel Peixoto.

In this Special Issue The European Association for Practitioner Research on Improving Learning (EAPRIL) joins forces with the Journal of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS Journal) to highlight practitioner-researchers’ visions of future education and learning. This is the second special issue reported by EAPRIL and UAS journal (see https://uasjournal.fi/arkisto/eapril/). EAPRIL and UAS Journal both focus on research and development in education. That is, on the one hand, UAS Journal focuses on the fields of practice-oriented higher education in Finland since 2011 and, on the other hand, EAPRIL focuses on practice-based research and bridging research and practice with the aim to improve learning, both in education and organisations.

From the point of view of the higher education research, the classification proposed by Teichler (1996) may serve a good basis to analyse the themes of the articles included in this special issue. As of the beginning of the millennium, Teichler’s classification proved to be an important model for structuring higher education research (Ahola & Hoffman 2012). In addition to the classification itself, Teichler’s four areas of research have thought to include links to the different knowledge interests in various fields of science.

Teichler (1996) has argued that research on the challenges in our demanding higher educational system has an integrative task on two important stages: firstly, it aims to stimulate the use of theories, paradigms and methods of the various disciplines, and secondly to integrate knowledge concepts in different disciplines. He has pointed out that if research on higher education tries to draw from single disciplines, paradigms and spheres of higher educational research, this might be only appropriate for a minority of themes. It could also lead to artificially narrowing the scope of the subject, which is not suitable for striking the balance between theoretical insight and a sufficiently complex understanding of the object of analysis (Teichler 1996). In this sense, the Teichlerian framework (Teichler 1996, 2000, 2003) also suits our purposes when studying the included articles of our special issue, as this special issue aims for a multidimensional approach, covering various paradigms and settings.

In this issue, the pedagogical research has been popular among authors. These themes have included questions that have otherwise also sparked plenty of discussion in the public platform. Workplace orientation towards the future of students, including workplace relations and employment, has not been a particularly common topic in this edition. The classification of the articles presents clearly the profile of EAPRIL, which promotes practice-based research on learning issues in the context of initial, formal, lifelong and organisational learning. EAPRIL’s mission is to bring together persons who are interested in the connections and reflections between research and practice. (https://www.eapril.org).

* * *

Last year, EAPRIL hosted its 12th annual conference under the theme ‘Inspired by the visions of future education and learning’ in Hämeenlinna, Finland, at the Häme University of Applied Sciences in close cooperation with the Federation of Universities of Applied Sciences (FUAS). This EAPRIL 2017 Conference proved to be a rich space for creative, innovative and reflexive exchanges between delegates. It has inspired the EAPRIL Executive Board to call for papers on this important topic, looking from the past to the present, but also anticipating the future visions of education and learning based on current views and expertise. This particular focus complies with the contemporary need of the world and, consequently, with the current need of all the levels of education and training. Starting this millennium, UNESCO promoted a humanistic vision of learning based on principles as respect for life, the human dignity, the cultural diversities, the social justice and international solidarity presented. It was reported in the two landmark publications by UNESCO ‘Learning to Be’ (Faure et al. 1972) and ‘Learning: The Treasure Within’ (Delors et al. 1996). Between 2010 and 2016 several informal and formal meetings of UNESCO served as platform opportunities to reflect and present frameworks for competencies and learning objectives for Education for Sustainable Development, Global Citizenship Education on the future of education and skills programmed by OECD. Some of the conclusions were that education needs to aim at interdisciplinary learning and students’ competencies to solve problems through multiple lenses considering an uncertain and volatile world. The publication ’The Future of Education and Skills 2030’ (OECD 2018) offers a shared vision on the advice as need for new solutions in a rapidly changing world; need for broader education goals with individual and collective well-being; learner agency – navigating through a complex and uncertain world – ; need for a broad set of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values in action; competencies to transform our society and shape our future; and design principles for moving toward an eco-systemic change. Giglio (2014) identifies five dimensions of educational and institutional creativity and innovation:

  • the purpose of the change as a challenge to the future,
  • the reaction to change by actors,
  • the creative action to improve the roles and skills of the actors,
  • the social interaction between individuals and partnerships, and
  • the forms of contribution to the future.

In this international context the contributions of this EAPRIL – UAS Journal Special Issue address practice-based research as a form of inquiry, to share visions, ideas and solutions that inspire the presence and future of education, while acknowledging historical-cultural backgrounds. In fact, different contributions and discussions organised at the EAPRIL 2017 Conference illustrate how our professional experiences and research are situated in this evolutional world. Step by step, we face new opportunities for human advancement in the future of education. Creating and following-up on these opportunities entail uncertain and unpredicted creativity and innovation of education and learning. However, current research can help to understand, reflect and anticipate some of these problems and/or to provide some tools and methods to improve learning. Looking back at the past years, we can sense the speediness of change experienced today. How can we consider this in the future of education and learning? How can we utilise current practitioner research as a doorway to the future? The universities of applied science have definitely a crucial role to serve in educational research. However, which designs, methods, tools and ideas are pivotal? What are (or should be) the roles of educators, developers and employees in evolutionary forms of thinking and acting of students and employees in a continued evolution of technologies?

Knowledge, working, research, teaching, and learning are never exhaustive and always evolutionary. Consequently, a future vision on education and learning cannot be but a part of the current and professional thinking and acting of educational practitioners and researchers.

This EAPRIL – UAS Journal Special Issue hopes to contribute to the development of education, curiosity, imagination, creativity and innovation by presenting ideas, perspectives and values of our contributors. Both ‘study cases’ and ‘research results’ are presented in this Special Issue, matching our aim to bridge practice and research. Both will demonstrate the important role of practice-based research as a form of inquiry, of creating and sharing visions, dreams, new ideas and innovative solutions, all with the aim to inspire both contemporary and future educational developments, while acknowledging historical-cultural backgrounds.

It was a pleasure to edit the articles of this Special Issue, which invited us to reflect and to (re)think our own understanding of education, today and tomorrow, generating new ideas on living, working, learning, teaching and research. We hope these articles can plant some seeds for new educational developments, covering our foremost aim of improving learning for the future.

Authors

Marcelo Giglio, HEP-BEJUNE, Switzerland & University of Neuchâtel
Mauri Kantola, Turku University of Applied Sciences, Finland
Mervi Friman, Häme University of Applied Sciences, Finland
Inneke Berghmans, University of Leuven/EAPRIL Project manager, Belgium
Manuel Peixoto, EAPRIL Board, Portugal


Ahola, S., & Hoffman, D. M. (2012). Higher education research in Finland – Emerging structures and contemporary issues. Jyväskylä: Jyväskylä University Press. Referred 21 May 2018: https://ktl.jyu.fi/julkaisut/julkaisuluettelo/julkaisut/2012/d103

Delors, J., Al Mufti, I., Amagi, I., Carneiro, R., Chung, F., Geremek, B., Gorham, W., Kornhauser, A., Manley, M., Padron Quero, M., Savane, M.-A., Singh, K., Stavenhagen, R., Won Suhr, M. & Nanzhao, Z. (1996). The treasure within. Report to UNESCO of the international commission on education for the twenty first century. UNESCO Publishing. Referred 25 June 2018: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0010/001095/109590eo.pdf

Faure, E., Herrera, F., Kaddoura, A.-R., Lopes, H., Petrovsky, A. V., Rahnema, M. & Champion Ward, F. (1972). Learning to be. The world of education today and tomorrow. UNESCO. Referred 25 June 2018: http://www.unesco.org/education/pdf/15_60.pdf

Giglio, M. (2014). Five dimensions to study teacher education change for improving musical creative learning. Journal for Educators, Teachers, & Trainers 5 (1), 80–89. Referred 21 May 2018: http://jett.labosfor.com/index.php/jett/article/view/172

OECD, (2018). The Future of Education and Skills 2030. Referred 25 June 2018: http://www.oecd.org/education/2030/E2030%20Position%20Paper%20(05.04.2018).pdf

Teichler, U. (1996). Comparative higher education studies: Potentials and limits. Higher Education 32 (4), 431–465. Referred 21 May 2018: http://euroac.ffri.hr/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Teichler1996-1.pdf

Teichler, U. (2000). Higher education research and its institutional basis. In S. Schwarz and U. Teichler (eds.), The institutional basis of higher education research – Experiences and perspectives. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. 13–24.

Teichler, U. (2003). The future of higher education and the future of higher education research. Tertiary Education and Management, 9, 171–185.

Insights of brain research in education – music practice and embodiment to enhance learning

Author: Minna Huotilainen.

Abstract

Recent developments in brain research methodology allow the use of neuroscientific methods in natural learning situations in order to monitor learning while it happens, which makes neuroscience a relevant tool for educational sciences.

The paper discusses the role of neuroscience in understanding learning, shows how the variations in the learner’s physiological status can be measured, and discusses their effect on learning.

Two important lines of neuroscientific research in education are discussed in more detail. First, the benefits of using music in learning are presented from the brain development and plasticity point of view. Second, studies on the use of embodied learning methods are presented, highlighting the role of physical activity, craft and design activities in developing embodied cognitive capacities.

Finally, future trends of neuroscience in learning are presented, drafting a future where neuroscience has an empowering role in the everyday lives of learners. Understanding individual learning and physiological states may change the way that we organize learning.

Introduction

The decade of the brain, the 1990’s, was the advent of neuroscientific methodologies in a large scale. Funding invested in the development of accurate and usable, non-invasive and precise neuroscientific measurement instruments, devices, systems, and methodologies paid off, and multi-channel electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements, magnetoencephalography (MEG) with whole-head systems, structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI, fMRI) and navigated transcranial magnetic brain stimulation (NBS and TMS) became possible in hundreds and later in thousands of research laboratories around the world.

After the decade of the brain, the neuroscientific devices have taken two opposite paths of development. First, laboratories are investing in more and more accurate devices, including higher magnetic field strengths in MRI and fMRI, very large number of electrodes in EEG and hundreds of channels in MEG, and combinations of adjacent or even simultaneous measurements with different methods. This high-precision line of development makes the results far greater in temporal and/or spatial accuracy and can thus reveal new details of brain structure and function. It should be noted, however, that this development is restricted solely to laboratory settings. For this reason, the second path of device and method development has taken the opposite turn. With a very fast preparation, mobile and affordable devices based often on EEG or other physiological electric signal recorded from skin surface with electrodes or light, offer the possibility to move to the locations of natural environments, schools, day-care centers, work places or even outside, and study real-life events. With this natural-environment path, the temporal and spatial accuracy of the experiment usually cannot be as good as in the laboratory setting, but this is compensated by the natural environment, natural stimulation, and larger amounts of data collected easily from large groups of people even simultaneously and for extended periods of time, sometimes even by the participants themselves.

Both of these development paths, extreme accuracy in laboratory settings and maximal naturalness in real-life settings, are important for learning research. In laboratory settings, the brain indices of key cognitive processes such as perception, attention, memory, and learning can be accurately studied in isolation and basing the studies on the large amount of prior data collected from the same processes in earlier research. Such studies can reveal phenomena that could not be observed without accurate neuroscientific data. An example of studies in both paths, with high relevance for understanding learning, are presented here.

A good example of laboratory-based studies crucial for understanding learning is that of Näätänen et al. (1993). They studied the process of learning to perceive a complex sound (fast mini-melody) and to detect minor changes in the sound (Näätänen et al., 1993). In the first experiment, they gave their fourteen participants a test of detection accuracy asking them to press the button every time they observed a change in the sound. The test was performed three times after being passively exposed to the sounds for 30, 60, and 90 minutes. Five participants could perform the task adequately, while two participants could not detect the changes in the sounds. Interestingly, seven participants learned to detect the changes during the experiment (their performance in detection improved from the beginning to the end of the experiment). In their second experiment, they tested fourteen new participants only once after being passively exposed to the sounds for 90 minutes.

This laboratory-based experiment yielded several interesting and important results. First, the brain responses of the three groups of performers in the first experiment differed drastically from each other. Those five participants who could perform the task already in the initial test showed fast and clear brain responses to the changes, while the brain responses of those who learned to detect the changes improved step by step. Importantly, their brain responses showed increases prior to the learning being evident in their performance, highlighting the possibilities of neuroscience to detect skills that have not yet materialized in the behavior of the learner. Further, no improvement was seen in the brain responses of the participants of the second experiment which involved only passive exposure, highlighting the importance of testing and the power of attentive listening in learning.

A good example of maximal naturalness in real-life learning situations is that of Leinikka et al. (2016). We studied the physiological responses of artists and art students while they were drawing and forming clay in a studio. Here, data from 30 participants were collected during the actual process of drawing and forming, while wearing portable sensors (Faros, Mega Electronics, Finland) capable of recording the full electrocardiogram and accelerometers (Actigraph, GENEActiv, Finland) on their both wrists for hand movement detection. In a quasi-controlled situation, the participants performed three different given tasks (copying based on a photo of a cup, designing a cup, and free improvisation). The cardiac activity measures, especially those reflecting the activity of the autonomous nervous system, showed interesting connections to both the material and to the task that the participants were performing. Working with the clay was physically more demanding than drawing, which was reflected in several heart-rate variability (HRV) parameters. The greatest amount of free mental resources was observed in the design and improvisation tasks in fast drawing compared to any other task. The results suggest that free improvisation involving drawing fast, improvised works, seems to be the most effective way of freeing mental resources. The HRV effects were consistent with the participants’ own views of physical and mental stress. This study shows that even demanding learning tasks related to creative work can be studied with physiological methods in conditions that greatly resemble natural learning situations.

The two experiments above are presented in order to highlight the possibilities of neuroscientific and physiological measurements in understanding learning processes. A good knowledge of the brain indices of memory, attention and perception in laboratory-based settings allows researchers to move away from laboratories and to study learning in real-life situations. Results from physiological studies highlight the importance of building motivation, states of flow, collaboration, and goal-directed actions in learning, and the importance of the awareness of the physiological state of the learner (see below). Such studies also show the harmfulness of poor learning environments, including acoustic and visual noise, for learning (see below). For the first time in history, we now have the tools to monitor learning while it happens, and to see how the brain reacts to different types of learning environments, learning methods, and physiological conditions. This makes neuroscience a relevant tool for educational sciences.

Below I will present some examples and the most relevant approaches from neurosciences to education and learning.

Neuroscience of learning environments

Learning environments have important physical and mental characteristics that give boundary conditions for learning. Studying distractions caused by sudden sounds in the environment have shown that surprising, unpredictable sounds make learning less efficient. Every time a sound starts in the environment, even when the learner is not paying attention to it or does not feel distracted by the sound, the auditory system will invest some resources in analyzing the sound acoustic properties. These analysis processes are partially unconscious and have developed in order for the auditory system to be able to detect potential dangers in the environment.

The most distracting background sound stimulus in learning situations is intelligible speech. Speech that can be understood will load the phonetic loop of the brain, which is also needed in reading, writing, and speaking. In contrast, unintelligible babble does not load the phonetic loop.

Interestingly, listening to background music during learning may be beneficial for some learners. In most studies, listening to fast and pleasant music prior to learning has been shown to enhance learning and performance in cognitive tests, while results from studies researching the effects of listening to music while learning are more mixed.

Acoustic characteristics of learning spaces affect learning. Long reverberation times and high background noise levels decrease speech intelligibility and increase the effort needed to achieve learning.

Also visual noise in learning environments can be disturbing to learning. Observing movement especially in the peripheral areas of the visual field gives rise to distractions. Such problems are far fewer in smaller rooms and smaller group sizes.

The key importance of the physiological state for learning

The physiological state can be defined as a combination of the operating modes of the physiological systems in the human body, including the autonomous and central nervous systems and especially the hypothalamus-pituitary-axis, the hormonal systems, the cardiac and blood circulation systems, breathing, and muscle movements including blinking. Most typically, these systems follow the emotional state and physical activity of the individual, optimizing the mental and physical performance for each condition.

The cardiac system is a fast-reacting system that reflects the presence of both physical stressors like movement and physical activity, and mental stressors like fear or anxiety. The activity of the cardiac system is most typically investigated by recording the electro-cardiogram (ECG), an electric signal originating from the heart muscle and nerves that accurately depicts the fast and slow regulatory changes in the activity of the heart. For example, the heart-rate variability (HRV) is the natural fluctuation in the beat-to-beat (R-R) intervals of the heart. It reflects the current activity status of the sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomous nervous system. Increased mental stress leads to decreased HRV, which is a sign of the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and a decrease in the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. This is typically associated with faster heart rate, higher muscular tension, faster breathing, and feeling tense, irritated and/or restless. Generally, short-term increase in HRV is associated with relaxation, openness and positive mental efforts, while long-term high levels of HRV are related to good health. Previous studies (Cinaz et al., 2013) have shown that several time- and frequency-domain HRV measures are relevant in tracking the interaction between cognitive and physiological processes. It should be noted that while levels of physiological arousal and stress are highly correlated with these physiological signals, there is no measure of the direction of the emotional valence, i.e. is the learner experiencing positive or negative emotions.

The variations in the learner’s physiological status are highly important in characterizing the learning. States of flow are the most optimal physiological states of learning, and feelings of fear, threat or other strong negative emotions, as well as low-activity negative emotions like boredom are not boosting or enabling learning. It is important to note that these can be measured and recognized, both in individual learners and in groups of learners, with non-intrusive, low-cost devices, and this information can be used to guide learning. Specifically, choosing the learning methods, environments, groups, goals and tasks of learning could be directly based on the physiological data of the learners. Such data could be empowering to the learners and guide them in understanding and optimizing their own learning.

Maestro, music, please! How could music enhance learning?

The benefits of using music in learning have been shown both from the brain development and plasticity point of view, showing benefits of long-term practicing to play a musical instrument or to sing, but also in terms of short-term benefits altering one’s physiological state by listening to carefully chosen music.

Several studies have shown the long-term benefits of learning music: the musician’s brain in terms of cortical and subcortical capacity, connections, both in structure and function, are used as an example of learning benefits of music activities. Adult musicians’ brains show changes that seem beneficial both in young and old age. Long-term cognitive benefits of music learning have been shown in small children (Hyde et al., 2009; Putkinen et al., 2014a), school-aged children (Putkinen et al., 2014b), and hearing-impaired children (Torppa et al., 2014a, 2014b). Minor deficiencies in language processing have been shown to be alleviated with group music activities (Kraus et al., 2015; Overy et al., 2000; 2003). All in all, learning to sing and play a musical instrument has plastic effects on the brain that make it easier to learn other things.

Music is very fast in changing the physiological state. Already after some dozens of seconds of listening to music, physiological changes in bodily functions can be measured. Thus, carefully chosen music is a potential tool for changing the physiological state towards a more optimal state for learning. Many learners practically know how to use music to help their learning: they listen to their favorite, fast, energizing music before doing their homework to motivate themselves, or reduce stress by listening to calming, pleasant music (Saarikallio et al., 2013). Conscious use of music prior to or even during learning may help some learners, but it can also be distracting. It is important to note that the effects of music vary largely across individuals according to their distractability and history of music listening. Individuals with musical training are more often distracted by background music during learning than others, while individuals with attentional problems seem to benefit from background music more often than other learners.

Embodied learning occurs in the brain with the help of the body

Embodied cognition can be defined as a dependency and shaping of human cognition by its interaction with its environment by using the body (Johnson, 1987; 2007; Lakoff & Johnson, 1999; Noë, 2004; 2009). Action and perception appear as key methods in knowledge formation, creativity, and learning. Hence, neuroscientific research related to embodiment and motor activities demonstrate how motor processes are connected to cognitive functions (Borghia & Cimattic, 2010; Rizzolatti & Craighero, 2004). Embodied cognition is reflected in the research paradigms and research designs of cognitive science, when researchers study the human-environment system as well as the situated and embodied nature of human cognition (Hari & Kujala, 2009).

Craft and design activities are complex brain activities that allow part of our cognitive capacities to be located in an embodied space, between the brain and the hands, and between brains and hands of groups of people. Utilizing craft and design as learning methods is making use of embodied capabilities of the learners.

Physical activity during learning and as a lifestyle have been shown to affect learning capabilities and especially memory functions. Interventions of physical activity are shown to increase learning results both in school children and in the elderly. Increase of physical activity was also shown to increase the volume of the hippocampus and enhance memory functions.

Several neuroscientific studies presented above and elsewhere reflect the importance of the active use of the body, in crafts, in design, and in physical activity in general, for the optimisation of learning. The applications of this knowledge, however, are not straightforward and need pedagogical development in order to succeed. Potential caveats include auditory and visual distraction when physical movement is not relevant or guided.

Future use of neuroscience in learning and education

The future use of neuroscience in understanding learning include research at several levels. First, highly accurate simulations of learning events, occurring in brain research laboratories with precision instruments, offer new insight into the details of learning processes. Second, experiments in natural conditions in schools, day-care centers, universities and work places will help us understand a holistic view of learning, taking into account different learning methods, learning spaces and inter-individual differences in a much more detailed fashion than ever before. In the future, it is possible that schools want to utilize such measurements when planning large-scale changes like changes of learning environments, or when aiming at solving problems in learning. Third, neuroscientific measurements may become a normal part of the daily lives of learners. We can compare this development to the treatment of diabetes: currently, the measurement of blood sugar level is something that diabetic individuals do every day, even though some decades ago it was not possible to get such information so quickly. In the future, each learner may want to have information on his/her brain activity, physiological status, and learning in order to optimize learning efforts and outcomes. Solutions for making the measurement easy and the data analysis automatic are becoming more and more efficient. It is just a matter of time when we have such devices and possibilities for every learner.

Understanding individual learning and physiological states may change the way that we think about learning and how we organize it. This information may profoundly change the way that we understand what learning actually is. Such changes will also demand large-scale changes in schools and in education, in their environments and how the whole educational system is organized.

Author

Minna Huotilainen, D.Sc., Professor of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland


Borghia, M. & Cimattic, F. (2010) Embodied cognition and beyond, Neuropsychologia, 48, pp. 763–773.

Cinaz, B., La Marca, R., Arnrich, B., & Tröster, G. (2010). Monitoring of mental workload levels, In Proceedings of IADIS eHealth conference.

Hari, R & Kujala M. M.(2009). Brain Basis of Human Social Interaction: From Concepts to Brain Imaging, Physiological Reviews. Vol 89, pp. 453–479.

Hyde, K. L., Lerch, J., Norton, A., Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Evans, A. C., & Schlaug, G. (2009). Musical training shapes structural brain development. The Journal of Neuroscience, 29(10), 3019–3025. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5118-08.2009

Johnson, M. (1987). The body in the mind, Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Johnson, M. (2007). The meaning of the body, Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Kraus, N. & Strait, D.L. (2015). Emergence of biological markers of musicianship with school-based music instruction. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1337, 163–169.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought, New York: Basic Books.

Leinikka, M., Huotilainen, M., Seitamaa-Hakkarainen, P., Groth, C., Rankanen, M., & Mäkelä, M. (2016). Physiological measurements of drawing and forming activities. Proceedings of DRS2016: Design+ Research+ Society-Future-Focused Thinking.

Näätänen, R., Schröger, E., Karakas, S., Tervaniemi, M., & Paavilainen, P. (1993). Development of a memory trace for a complex sound in the human brain. Neuroreport: An International Journal for the Rapid Communication of Research in Neuroscience.

Noë, A. (2004). Action in Perception. Cambridge: The MIT press.

Noë, A. (2009). Out of our heads, New York: Hill and Wang.

Overy, K. (2000). Dyslexia, temporal processing and music: The potential of music as an early learning aid for dyslexic children. Psychology of music, 28(2), 218–229.

Overy, K. (2003). Dyslexia and music. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 999(1), 497–505.

Putkinen, V., Tervaniemi, M., Saarikivi, K., de Vent, N., & Huotilainen, M. (2014). Investigating the effects of musical training on functional brain development with a novel Melodic MMN paradigm. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 110, 8–15. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2014.01.007

Putkinen, V., Tervaniemi, M., Saarikivi, K., Ojala, P., & Huotilainen, M. (2014). Enhanced development of auditory change detection in musically trained school-aged children: a longitudinal event-related potential study. Developmental Science, 17(2), 282–297. https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12109

Putkinen, V., Saarikivi, K., Tervaniemi, M. (2013). Do informal musical activities shape auditory skill development in preschool-age children? Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 572.  doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00572

Rizzolatti, G., & Craighero, L. (2004). The mirror-neuron system. Annual Reviews of Neuroscience, 27: 169–192.

Saarikallio, S., Nieminen, S., & Brattico, E. (2013). Affective reactions to musical stimuli reflect emotional use of music in everyday life. Musicae Scientiae, 17(1), 27–39.

Torppa, R., Faulkner, A., Huotilainen, M., Järvikivi, J., Lipsanen, J., Laasonen, M., & Vainio, M. (2014a). The perception of prosody and associated auditory cues in early-implanted children: the role of auditory working memory and musical activities. International Journal of Audiology, 53(3), 182–191.

Torppa, R., Huotilainen, M., Leminen, M., Lipsanen, J., & Tervaniemi, M. (2014b). Interplay between singing and cortical processing of music: a longitudinal study in children with cochlear implants. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1389.

Risk Competence Training Intervention with Airport Security Professionals

Authors: Ab Bertholet, Nienke Nieveen & Birgit Pepin.

Abstract

Risk decisions by professionals in safety and security regularly appear to be made more irrationally and biased than effectively and efficiently. A sector where fallacies in risk decision making constitute a key issue for management is airport security. In this article we present the results of an exploratory mixed methods study regarding the question: How and to what extent can we train professionals, in order to help them make smarter risk decisions? This study is designed as a controlled experiment, after qualitative preliminary phases with interviews and document analysis. The main conclusion is that the workshops we offered to airport security agents had a positive effect on the awareness and risk decisions of the intervention group. Next to the awareness effect, the intervention group showed less biased self-evaluation and was capable of identifying individual, collective and organisational points for improvement. We mute that these results should only be considered as first indications of effect. As the experiment was embedded in the normal working day of the security agents, the context variables entirely could not be controlled. With a combination of quantitative and qualitative data we tried to compensate this as much as possible.

1 Introduction

Risk management is a critical task in the fields of safety and security. This is the daily work of many thousands of professionals in healthcare and rehabilitation, child welfare, transport, industry, the police and fire services, events management, and prevention of terrorism. The decisions on risk are aimed at increasing safety and security, and at limiting potential damage. For some professions risk management is core business, but most often it is a secondary responsibility. In daily practice however, risk decisions made by professionals in various sectors regularly appear to be made more irrationally and biased than effectively and efficiently. In this article, we present a generic process model of biased risk decision making by professionals in safety and security management, derived from scientific literature and empirical practice. It provides generic insights into a general problem with human factors in risk management practice.

In this study we are concentrating on the example of security checks at the international airport of Amsterdam, in the form of a randomised controlled experiment with a risk competence training. The focus is on effective learning of risk decision making skills. The central question of the experiment was: How and to what extent can we train professionals, in order to help them make smarter (i.e. more rational, effective and efficient) risk decisions? In the subsequent sections, we describe the preliminary study, the design of the training and the experiment, and we present the results of the study. Finally, the effect of the intervention is discussed.

2 Process Model of Biased Risk Decision Making

Over past decades proof of mental obstacles and reflexes that hinder rational (risk) decision making can be found in numerous studies on this topic. Although the issue is well-known and support tools (e.g. protocols and checklists) are available, in daily practice all kinds of professionals are making risk decisions that are unsatisfactory, i.e. partly or entirely ineffective or inefficient (Bertholet, 2016a, 2016b). The main sources of bias found in the literature are insufficient numeracy and risk literacy. Increasing the professionals’ theoretical knowledge by teaching reckoning and clear thinking is no conclusive remedy for professional practice and cognitive biases cannot be cured on a cognitive level only (Kahneman, 2011). Specific risk competence training is even more important (Gigerenzer, 2003, 2015).

Our concept of risk competence including a process model of biased risk decision making (as displayed in Figure 1) is based on a theoretical and empirical literature review (Bertholet, 2016b).

Figure 1. Process model with indicators of Risk Competence and biases (Bertholet, 2016b, 2017).

From common risk management models, we focus on the two critical phases where fallacies lurk: 1. the analysis or judgement phase, and 2. the decision-making phase. In the safety and security domain, there are two main methods of risk analysis: calculation and estimation. Both methods can be distorted by mental patterns and fallacies in the human brain. The extent to which professionals are able to apply available methods and instruments of risk assessment we call risk intelligence (Evans, 2012). On the basis of their risk analysis, professional risk managers take a risk decision whether or not to implement a particular intervention. Biases also occur within the risk decision itself. If professionals react effectively and efficiently, then they are said to have a high level of risk skill.

In the model, we consider Risk Intelligence (RI) as the indicator of risk analysis and Risk Skill (RS) as the indicator of risk decision making. The product of both indicators we call Risk Competence (RC), which is the overall indicator for risk management: RC = RI x RS. (Evans, 2012; Gigerenzer, & Martignon, 2015; Bertholet, 2016b). Based on field interviews and the literature (Kahneman, 2011; Gigerenzer, 2003; Dobelli, 2011, 2012; Bertholet, 2016b, 2017), we selected eleven biases for our study that we regarded as most relevant for safety and security practice. To illustrate the process model, cartoons of all eleven biases were designed and are presented in an animated 9-minute video: https://youtu.be/4rWPppdJ3YQ. The eleven biases are clustered into three groups.

Calculation biases

Numbers and percentages appear to express a risk in a quantitative and precise manner. In practice, professionals find it hard to grasp the precise meaning of chance, probability and other quantitative data. Paulos (1988), Kahneman, & Tversky (1979), Gigerenzer (2003), and Kahneman (2011) have been writing for decades about ‘innumeracy’, caused by cognitive illusion. Conditional and extremely small probabilities, statistical argumentation and causality biases cause the biggest problems in ‘reckoning with risk’ (Gigerenzer, 2003).

Estimation biases

Risks that cannot be calculated must be estimated. That is for example often the case with social safety (Gigerenzer, 2003; Dobelli 2011, 2012). In risk analysis, professionals often seek confirmation of risks they are already aware. The danger is that in focusing on a single risk profile, they may miss the bigger picture. This is known as confirmation bias. Authority bias occurs when a professional, who is either higher in the hierarchy, or more experienced, is not corrected by colleagues despite their superior analysis. It is assumed that the authority’s analysis is more accurate. The overconfidence effect is the mirror image of authority bias. Even experienced professionals can sometimes wrongly assume that they are correct. They may overvalue their own capacities, or the probability of success of a project, and they may underestimate the risks involved. Availability bias in the analysis phase causes professionals to trust readily available information about risk rather than to be aware of less visible data.

Decision biases

Because of biases, fallacies, thinking errors or distortions, which appear in the analysis phase, optimal and rational judgements can no longer be made during the decision phase. Apart from this, also in the decision phase biases lurk when it comes to determine whether the risk analysis suggests intervention and if so, which one (Gigerenzer, 2003; Dobelli 2011, 2012). At this point, confirmation bias of a second type can arise. When a professional’s assessments are endorsed, greater and more dangerous risks may be ignored. In the decision phase, we can also see a fallacy, which we call availability bias of the second type. Professionals tend not to choose the best intervention or therapy or policy; they choose the remedy they already know, the one that is at the forefront in their mind. Hindsight bias is a fallacy exhibited by more than just professionals. It may also affect public opinion, the media and politicians more deeply. Subsequently, it is easy to conclude that something else should have happened or that action should have been taken earlier.

3 Study with airport security agents: Context analysis

A sector where fallacies in risk analysis and decision making constitute a key issue for management, is airport security. In the control of passengers and hand luggage in civil aviation, security agents are deployed to prevent persons or objects on board which may endanger the safety on board airplanes. Agents make risk decisions about passengers and luggage items, by classifying persons, behaviour, situations and objects as safe, suspicious or dangerous. Their critical operational tasks in risk decision making are displayed in Figure 5. The quality indicators of the airport security operation are measured by inspections and by sampling. Samples are dangerous or otherwise prohibited items carried by so called ‘mysterious guests’ on their body or in their hand luggage, which must then be intercepted by the security agents.

Improving security agents’ performance in risk decision making could make a significant contribution to the security of the airport. Although there is a focus on avoiding fallacies during the agents’ initial training and afterwards in periodic training, the problem of fallacies in the process of decision making often remains. Hence, human factors in airport security are considered a systematic, thus predictable weak link (Kahneman, & Tversky, 1979; Gigerenzer, 2003; Ariely, 2008; Kahneman, 2011; Dobelli, 2011, 2012). This is why we set up our study at the request of an airport security company.

First, we investigated the context and the target group of security professionals via observation, and interviews, and document analysis (e.g. manuals, working instructions, procedures, training materials). Based on the findings of the preliminary study we transferred the generic model (Figure 1) into an empirical model for the specific professional domain of the airport security agent, by ranking the biases by relevance. We identified confirmation, availability, authority, overconfidence and hindsight bias as crucial fallacies. For security agents in the analysis phase the focus was on estimation, more than on calculation. Furthermore, particular preconditions and stress factors apply to the decision-making process, such as time and peak pressure. What the critical professional tasks had in common was that they had been carried out according to established procedures, and that meta-level vigilance of agents was required to watch simultaneously specific indicators for deviant of suspicious behaviour (Figure 3). These included for example luggage that did not seem to fit the specific passenger or a passenger who seemed to be extremely hurried, curious or otherwise behaved differently.

4 Training intervention design

This section describes the design of the training intervention, including its objectives, the underlying training concepts, and corresponding features. The intervention focused on two goals for the short term, set jointly by the security company and the research team: (a) agents performing better at selected critical professional tasks and (b) defining performance norms for agents’ performance. The specific learning goals of the training intervention for the security agents were: (a) to acquire knowledge of common fallacies in assessing risks and making risk decisions; (b) to recognise and be aware of these errors in their own work and behaviour; (c) to explore opportunities to avoid or reduce fallacies in the context of their own work.

Conceptual dimensions

The design of the intervention was based on four concepts regarding vocational learning, respectively learning in general: competence based learning (Mulder, 2000), self-responsible learning (Schön, 1983; Zimmerman, 1989), collaborative learning (Vygotsky, 1997) and concrete learning (Hattie, 2009; De Bruyckere, Kirschner, & Hulshof, 2015).

Competence-based learning refers to the European Qualifications Framework for Life Long Learning (European Commission, n.d.), where competences are regarded as a third qualification area, next to knowledge and skills. For risk decision making in general and therefore also for the security checks at airports, awareness of fallacies and cognitive biases is essential. Both competence-based learning and self-responsible learning require awareness of the bias effect of human intuition and perception. The theoretical dimension of self-responsible learning focuses on self-regulation, the professionalising effect on the individual (Schön, 1983; Vygotsky, 1997). Professionals who want to improve their work performance must be able to reflect on their professionalism. ’Reflective practitioners’ (Schön, 1983), can evaluate their own actions at a metacognitive level and have a picture of the path that brings them to the level of the professionals that they would like to be. Self-constructs such as self-esteem and self-efficacy are important indicators in this context, which we used as a measure of the professionals’ self-image (Bandura, 1977; Zimmerman, 1989; Judge, & Bono, 2001; Ryan, & Deci, 2009). Where scores on an assignment or a test can be considered as an external measure of risk competence, self-scores by professionals themselves can be an internal mirror image. For that reason, we asked security agents to score their own self-esteem and self-efficacy (Table 2). Self-esteem refers to the more general ratings for the professional’s performance level and stage of professional development. Self-efficacy is the belief in someone’s own capacity to succeed at specific tasks (ibid).

Collaborative learning in strong partnership with others offers opportunities to achieve better results compared to individual learning, as long as applicable design principles are respected (Valcke, 2010; Johnson, & Johnson, 2009; Hattie, 2009). The instructional principle of ‘concrete learning’ (Hattie, 2009; De Bruyckere, Kirschner, & Hulshof, 2015) claims a better learning achievement when working with realistic cases and training materials from practice, rather than with academic and theoretical exercises. This means that agents needed to recognise and acknowledge assignments and case studies as originating from and relevant to their daily work. For the dimensions of competence-based and collaborative learning, authentic rather than academic content might have had a positive effect mainly on the motivation of the agents (Ryan, & Deci, 2009). Specific choices in the intervention design (e.g. visualisation as an instructional strategy, group assignments as a metacognitive reflection strategy) were based on insights of concrete learning as well (Hattie, 2009; Gigerenzer, 2015; Kirschner, 2017).

A teaching strategy that is built on spaced learning, repetition, cyclical training of the right way of thinking and decision making, can ensure retention and securing the learning achievement. Training in groups can also lead to more active and metacognitive processing (Hattie, 2009; De Bruyckere, Kirschner, & Hulshof, 2015; Johnson, & Johnson, 1999). We used these principles in the instructional strategies and methods, as well as in the production of all the training materials: Figures 2, 3 and 4.

Content of the intervention

The training offered to an intervention group of about sixty agents consisted of two workshop sessions and an extensive training of four weeks, with one risk decision to be responded to by the participants every weekday. An intervention group and a control group both completed a pre-test and a post-test.

From the preliminary study, we compiled an inventory of problematic risk decisions as they occurred in the daily practice of the airport. Based on this inventory, we developed the training material: 50 test items around mini-cases, each with one realistic risk decision from daily practice. In addition, the biases from the generic process model were visualized in cartoons (Figure 2) and the ‘suspicious indicators’ were transformed into pictograms (Figure 3). We changed the traditional way of knowledge transfer in the form of written or spoken text by visual transfer media containing the essential points (Figures 2, 3).

We transferred the eleven cognitive biases from the generic process model (Figure 1) into cartoons, which define the respective fallacies – symbolically, exemplarily and in an instantly recognisable manner, straighter than written text can do. Figure 2 is an example of this (Confirmation bias Type I). In risk analysis, safety and security professionals often look for confirmation of risks they are already aware of. The danger is that in focusing on a single risk profile they may miss the bigger picture. This is known as confirmation bias (Dobelli, 2011). It occurs in all kinds of profiling activities, from police surveillance to intelligence and security services. It is not a theoretical concept, but the metaphor in the drawing should help the professionals recognising the situation and apply it in their own practice. In the training session, we discussed the situation in the cartoon with the agents and asked them to apply it to their own daily practice: “What kind of risks in the bigger picture do my colleagues and I overlook, by focusing on common risks that are more likely to occur?”

Figure 2. Confirmation bias Type I in the analyses phase (MYRAAAB, 2016)

We replaced the signs of specific suspicious behaviour or situations at the airport by icons, which should provide a mental shortcut, in order to help the agents recognising the situations. A visual stimulus can lead to a risk decision response via a shorter route (Gigerenzer, 2015).

Figure 3. Visualisation of indicators of deviant behaviour or dangerous intentions (MYRAAAB, 2016).

For the extensive training part with daily test items, we took photos of the security operation at the airport, along with the suspicious indicators: screenshots of the X-ray scanner and security scan, and photographs of hand luggage. For privacy reasons, we did not use any pictures of real passengers. Instead, students played the roles of passengers, and with photos from the public domain (Google) we were able to create a wide variety of ‘passengers’ as well as realistic test questions.

During the first workshop, conceptual knowledge was introduced in the form of cartoons of selected fallacies. No underlying theory was offered, we drew attention to the fallacy embodied in the cartoons. Then the agents were invited to link to their own practice and their own behaviour, in group assignments. The assignments focused on finding individual and collective answers to some key questions about awareness, responsibility, signalling, limiting conditions, professional reflection and teamwork. As a final group assignment in the second workshop, the agents were asked to optimise the airport security filter by redesign.

5. Design of the mixed methods study

Figure 5 shows the five phases of the study, with preliminary study (1), pre- (2) and post-test (5), intensive (3) and extensive (4) training. The training interventions (3 and 4) were offered to the intervention group only, the tests (2 and 5) were performed by both the intervention and the control group. In our mixed methods study we also used triangulation, in order to obtain more balanced indications of the intervention effects (Creswell, 2013).

Figure 4. Phases of the study.

Interviews and context analysis

First we carried out a preliminary study (1), in the form of interviews, document analysis and observation of the security operation at one of the departure terminals of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. With twenty-one iterative, semi-structured interview sessions with employees and managers of the airport security company, sampling all operational and management levels, we collected facts and opinions on working procedures, performance indicators, judgement and decision making, workplace optimisation. The interviews (30–60 minutes each) were recorded and analysed with respect to selected topics: (reported) key factors for success and critical competences; professional attitude; specific tasks, judgements and decisions; personal and team biases. With these key topics, in combination with information on working routines and procedures from document analysis (e.g. manuals and in company training materials), we selected the biases most likely to occur at the airport security check. This selection we used both for creating test items and workshop materials. We also made a study of the procedures and work instructions, the key performance indicators and the service level agreement between the airport and the security company. At the end of the preliminary study, we identified four professional operations, which were confirmed by the respondents as critical tasks, covering the complete process of judgement and risk decision making by the security agents (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Critical professional operations of airport security agents

Randomised controlled experiment

The experiment (Figure 4) was designed as a randomised controlled trial, with intervention and control groups, pre- and post-tests. For this study we drew a random sample of 10 percent of all security agents from the security company (n=120). This sample of 120 employees we assigned randomly to an intervention group and a control group (n=60/60). Prior to the training intervention, we developed two similar tests with nine specific (part 1) and six general risk decision items (part 2), as pre- and post-test. Part 3 of the tests consisted of questions on self-constructs (self-esteem and self-efficacy) and background variables. Intervention (IG) and control groups (CG) were both put to the pre- and post-test. Only the intervention group was offered an intensive and an extensive training in between the two tests, the control group did not receive any specific treatment (Figure 5). The intensive first part of the training intervention was offered to the agents of the IG in groups of 10 to 15 people, in a standard training room at the airport. The agents were taking part in two workshops of three hours each, with a short interval of less than two weeks. All workshops were led by the same two trainers from Utrecht University of Applied Sciences. After the workshops, we offered an extensive training to the agents of the IG. They received one test item per day via email, on weekdays, for a period of four weeks. Test items were similar to the nine specific risk decisions of the pre- and post-tests. In total the IG agents were asked to respond to 20 email items. We collected qualitative data from the interviews (Figure 4, step 1) and from the workshop sessions (Figure 4, step 3). During the sessions the members of the intervention group shared their professional opinions, both orally and written, both individually and in small groups.

6 Findings

In this section, we present the quantitative and qualitative results of the experiment.

Quantitative results

Table 1 shows descriptive statistics of the research groups, as well as the results of a number of independent t-tests on differences between the control group and the intervention group. The (categories of) variables are:

  1. Background characteristics: gender (fraction of males), age (in years), function (fraction agents vs team leaders), country of birth (fraction Netherlands – NLD vs other);
  2. Education and work experience: education level (ascending levels of Dutch intermediate vocational education; fraction mbo2, mbo3, mbo4 vs others) and work experience (in years).

There were no significant differences between the two research groups; this was an expected result of a randomised allocation of participants among the intervention and control groups. The intervention group contained more men (64% vs 51%) and more agents were native Dutch (i.c. born in The Netherlands: 75% vs 64%). Differences in average age (≈ 34 years) and position (≈ 75% agents vs ≈ 25% team leaders) were small. Professionals in the intervention group were higher educated and more experienced (+ .41 year on ≈ 6.5 years of experience in average).

Table 1. Comparison of Intervention and Control Group based on Post-test Results.

In Table 2 the two groups after the post-test are compared:

  1. Scores on the post-test: average number of correct answers to the specific risk decisions (airport security, 9 items) and general risk decisions (6 items), and the total of both categories (15 items).
  2. SEf is the indicator of professionals’ self-efficacy in the three categories (specific and general test items, and the total of both). Respondents estimated their own competence after completing the post-test. The fourth indicator of self-efficacy we used was a yes/no response to the question whether the agent felt she was making better risk decisions than she did two months earlier during the pre-test.
  3. Two indicators of self-esteem (SEst): self-positioning compared with colleagues (scale from low 1 to high 10), self-assessment on level of professional development (% 0–100).

Post-test scores on the risk decisions test did not show any significant differences between the research groups. Control group members had a higher score on specific airport risk decisions, and on the total of the post-test. The intervention group members’ score was higher at general risk decisions. All agents had a higher percentage of correct answers to the specific airport risk decisions (≈ 7.5 of 9 = 83%), compared with general risk decisions (≈ 2.8 of 6 = 47%). Significant differences occurred in the self-construct scores. In both groups, the self-efficacy scores were substantially overestimating the test scores on general risk decisions, the overestimation by control group members was almost twice as high as that of the intervention group members. Self-efficacy at specific airport risk decisions was almost accurate in both groups. The self-esteem scores (scale 1–10 position compared to colleagues and stage in professional development on a 0–100%-scale) were higher in the control group. Intervention group members were about 15 month younger, higher educated, more experienced (all in Table 1) and had a more modest self-esteem (Table 2).

Table 2. Comparison of Intervention and Control Group based on Post-test Results.

Significance on 10%, 5% and 1% level (*p<.10, **p<.05, ***p<.01)

Extensive training 1-item test

After the workshop sessions, the intervention group (valid n = 35) underwent extensive training for four weeks, with a daily 1-item test on weekdays. In that period, each participant received twenty questions in total (Figure 4). Of the 700 items that were deployed in this way, we received 381 correct answers (72%) of a tot al of 527 replies. On average, every agent answered 15 of the 20 questions, of which 11 (73%) answers were correct. That score was somewhat higher than the average 10 correct answers (68%) that the intervention group gave on the post-test. The 1-item tests consisted only of specific airport risk decisions.

Table 3. Effect of Intervention ‘Security Performance’ on Intervention Group.

Significance on 10%, 5% and 1% level (*p<.10, **p<.05, ***p<.01)

Table 3 shows the effect of the intervention on the intervention group: there was a significant difference (.949) between the total test scores of post-test (10.25) and pre-test (9.30). The effect size, expressed as Cohen’s d, is .5. This measure indicates to what extend the training intervention has ‘made a difference’, by comparing the standardised means of pre-test and post-test of the intervention group. An effect size of .5 is usually regarded as a small to medium size effect of an intervention. According to Hattie (2009) .5 can be considered a medium to high effect, for educational interventions in particular. Due to too many missing values in the pre-test data of the control group, a valid difference in differences [(post-test minus pre-test of IG = .949) – (post-test minus pre-test of CG)] analysis was not possible.

Finally, the valid N in this study is smaller than expected. This was partly caused by operational issues: agents who were scheduled, but could not participate in the workshop sessions, for various reasons. No-shows are an issue too in the pre- and post-tests, as we saw in the extensive training of the 1-item test. The operational planning of the security company is a very complicated process. Furthermore, the energy level and motivation of an agent varied, depending on whether the 3-hour training was attended at the start of the working day or at the end of a night shift. As far as the quantitative part is concerned, we can conclude that the statistical evidence might be less strong than intended in an experimental design of a randomised controlled trial. The fact that we conducted our study in the practice of a running airport business is certainly the main reason for that conclusion.

Qualitative analysis

In the workshop sessions, we collected information on how agents reflect on their daily tasks, what problems they experienced with risk decision making and what kind of solutions they would suggest. Agents wrote their opinions and solutions on big sheets of paper, which were collected and analysed afterwards. In Tables 4–7 we summarise the most important topics and most frequent answers. Table 4 shows the most common answers to the question what agents do to be and stay sharp at their job, and what they need from others.

Table 4. How to stay sharp at the job?
What did the agents do to stay sharp?What did agents say they need from others?
Do not be distracted and think for yourselfYou must be able to count on colleagues, with support, collegiality and involvement; both co-workers and executives
Take responsibility for a healthy lifestyle (rest, sleep, nutrition etc.)Positive and also constructive feedback, given in a sympathetic way
Be honest with yourself and colleagues, if you actually know that you are not sharp and fit with circumstancesGood briefings and good planning / team layout / compliance with times / rest periods
Incorporate recreation moments and humourPleasant working environment

Reflection on the professional’s responsibilities at work indicates what they feel responsible for. Table 5 shows a summary of individual and collective input from the workshops.

Table 5. Feeling responsible at the job.
What did agents feel responsible for?What did agents not feel responsible for?
Safety of colleagues and passengersPassenger flow
Intercepting prohibited itemsOperation of equipment
For yourself: commitment, motivation, quality of your work, arriving on time, staying respectful etc.Failure and mistakes of others outside the team

Table 6 shows what fallacies frequently occurred in daily practice, according to the participants of the workshops.

Table 6. Fallacies in daily practice.
What mistakes did the agents recognize in themselves and / or with their colleagues?What typical examples did they share?
Focus on one item or subject (confirmation bias)Focusing on a bottle with liquid from the X-ray scan; missing other suspicious contents of a bag
Making all types of assumptions (availability bias)Colleagues from the security company do not need to be checked
Long-term work experience that can lead to automatism / routine leading to incorrect assessment / risk decision; (overconfidence bias, authority bias)Knowing for sure that families from a certain country are no risk at all
Being influenced by available information in the news and social media (availability bias)After an attack abroad focus too much on the modus operandi of the perpetrators of that incident
Blaming others for missing a sample test; particularly by team leaders and executives (hindsight bias) Commenting on a colleague missing a test sample at the X-ray scan: “How could you miss it? This is obvious to everyone!”

What professionals think actors at three levels (individual, team, company) could do to prevent fallacies and biased risk decision making, is displayed in table 7.

Table 7. Prevention of fallacies.
What could agents do themselves?What could the team do?What could the company do?
Take time to step back to assess the luggage / situation and see the complete picture Give feedback, motivate and coach each otherGood communication and information
In case of doubt: check (again)Talk to each other, give feedback, both positive and criticalProvide clear working procedures and refresh (keep them alive)
Accept help and ask for it if you are not sureActively point out risks and possible consequences to each otherEnsure good briefings and agreements on how information reaches everyone
Keep alert, curious and (self) criticalContinue training, motivating and keep remembering and refreshing good practice as a team
Keep your background information updated (on attacks for example)Give a colleague a break (after he or she missed a test sample, for example)
Communicate clearly (with passengers, with colleagues)

7 Conclusion

The study aimed to find an answer to the question: How and to what extent can we train professionals, in order to help them make smarter (i.e. more rational, effective and efficient) risk decisions? The main short-term goal of the intervention was to achieve a higher level of risk competence. The quantitative results showed a positive effect (.5) of the training intervention on the intervention group, which can be considered as a medium or high effect for an educational intervention (Hattie, 2009). This indicates that the complete intervention (workshops and tests) contributed to more awareness in the process of judgement and decision-making, and improved risk decisions by the security agents. The self-esteem and self-efficacy scores indicate that agents in the intervention group showed a more moderate, less biased self-evaluation. From the qualitative results, we conclude that agents were able to identify individual, collective and organisational points for improvement.

The intervention had a positive effect on the intervention group (Table 3; d = .5). Although this effect could not be purified by a difference-in-difference analysis. Even though there was no significant difference between intervention and control groups, the scores on general and specific test items at the post-test (Table 2; ≈2.8 and ≈7.5) can be used by the security company as an indication of an agent’s average risk competence. For setting standard values, the tests may provide anchors, as for the use in the recruitment and selection process of new agents in the future. However, they still need to be validated by replication.

The results indicate points of reference to expect that training such as this can be productive in various ways. Awareness can be considered as the first step on the road to better performance, and it may be assumed that awareness has been improved, both at the test scores and on self-esteem and self-efficacy. Even when intervention group self-efficacy and self-esteem scores appear to have decreased after the intervention, this could still mean that the agents were more conscious of their incompetence regarding biases.

The importance of good workplace conditions and encouraging leadership came up in all workshops, both in individual contributions and group discussions. This is an important perspective for the mid- and long-term success of a risk competence program. Where the process model (Figure 1) has proved to be adequate for evaluation of the risk management process itself, factors of organisational and managerial culture should be considered in a broader sense, since they may determine the circumstances under which judgement and risk decision making happens.

8 Discussion

Kahneman is not very optimistic about the possibility of improving people’s risk decision making competence. Gigerenzer on the other hand is convinced of educational strategies (like visualisation and heuristics) that are likely to lead to advanced risk competence (Bond, 2009; Kahneman, 2011; Gigerenzer, 2015).

In this study, the focus was on the design and testing of a training intervention for a specific professional setting. The scale of the experiment may be increased later, possibly in a modified setting. The quantitative results were modest. The effectiveness of the training in terms of statistical evidence and validity is not easy to demonstrate. Effectiveness could also be affected because the intervention was dependent on the operational planning of the security company and the airport. Sickness absence was one of the factors that caused complications, next to position, function or shift change of participants. In addition, there may have been variables outside our model and design, which therefore are not taken into account. As with many educational interventions, a Hawthorne effect could have occurred: participants in an experiment respond differently due to the fact that they are aware it is an experiment (De Bruyckere, Kirschner and Hulshof, 2015). In this case, this could be applicable to the intervention group, as well as to the control group. Furthermore, during the workshops we noticed that not all agents felt free to give their true opinion. Whether they were right or not, some agents expressed fear that their contribution to the sessions would be taken into account by the management, in one way or another.

Supporting a program of risk competence would benefit from improved internal communication. This starts by announcing a program and its backgrounds, and ends with communicating the achievements. Many agents were unaware of the training they were sent to, with consequences for their attitude at the start of the training intervention. Explaining the rationale and the meaning of a training intervention to participants before it starts, will make a big difference. It is also recommended to share the results of the experiment with the participants and the works council.

Cartoons and illustrations by MYRAAAB: Myra Beckers (myraaa.com) and Ab Bertholet.

Authors

Ab Bertholet, M.Sc., Lecturer, Researcher, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences (HU); Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), The Netherlands
Nienke Nieveen, PhD, Associate Professor, Netherlands Institute for Curriculum Development (SLO); Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), The Netherlands
Birgit Pepin, PhD, Professor of Mathematics/STEM Education, Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), The Netherlands


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Excellence in Teaching and Learning and how it is manifested in three countries

Author: Sharon Lierse.

Abstract

Excellence in education is a topic of global interest. Universities are in competition for the highest quality of research and top students. They are also ranked against each other in global university rankings. Moreover, universities have an increasingly important role in preparing students for the next generation workforce and lifelong learning; a responsibility that is undergoing significant transformation. Another indicator of excellence in education is the Programme for International Student Assessment better known as the PISA tests. The purpose of the research is to compare, and contrast Australian, South Korean and Finnish tertiary educational institutions in what is are characteristics of excellent teaching. Factors such as teaching philosophies, cultural influences and the role of the arts will be investigated. Through investigating these educational philosophies and practices will gain a greater understanding of what drives different countries to achieve excellence in learning and teaching.

Introduction

Excellence in higher education and how this is identified and measured is of global interest. Countries promote their universities and are in competition for the best students (Yedkevich, Altbach & Rumbley, 2016). There are also external organizations such as the Times Higher Education which rank universities against each other (Baker, 2017; Times, 2017). These global rankings have a great impact on how teaching and learning is conducted at universities and what is considered important for educating the future generation. Countries which have excellent universities are known for what these institutions do, but not how excellence is taught, achieved, and what is valued by students and lecturers in the process.

Another indicator of excellence in education is the Programme for International Student Assessment, better known as the PISA tests (OECD, 2017). This international test is given to a cross-section of students in The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries when they are aged fifteen. The PISA tests have highlighted how educational systems impact learning and teaching and how this may flow onto the quality of education in the tertiary sector. The PISA tests have shown that two countries which have consistently ranked highly are South Korea and Finland. They are vastly different in their geographic location, language, cultural practices and attitudes to education. In contrast, Australia is a Western country situated in Asia, which has ranked quite well in the tertiary global rankings and PISA. The aim of the research is to compare and contrast perceptions of excellence between these three select countries, and what can be learnt from them. In an increasingly globalised community, understanding what is valued between countries and how excellence is achieved may increase one’s understanding of society, and how to address current themes and issues within the education system. The key questions asked in the study are the following:

  1. What is excellence and success?
  2. How is competition regarded in the learning process?
  3. Is there a connection between excellence and altruism, empathy and equity in learning and teaching?
  4. Are there specific subjects or disciplines connected to excellence?

Data will be collected through surveys and interviews as well as investigating philosophies, culture and curricula. Themes of excellence, success and competition will be the focus as well as what is valued in society. Grounded theory will also be employed as an inductive theoretical approach after analysing the various forms of data.

Definitions

What is Excellence?

To achieve excellence, one first has to know what the term ‘excellence’ means. The difficulty with the term is that humans can identify excellence but when describing of verbalising what components are excellent or why, it becomes challenging. For a term widely used, finding a definition is difficult. The Collins English Dictionary (1979) defines ‘excellence’ as both a noun and a verb: “the state or quality of excelling or being exceptionally good; extreme merit; superiority” and “an action, characteristic, etc., in which a person excels” (p. 531). The Latin translation for excellence is ‘uirtus’ which look very similar to the word ‘virtue’. This is based on Plato’s philosophy that ‘excellence is virtue’. Hence, to be good at a task may have also been virtuous in its moral quality. For the purpose of the paper, excellence is defined as “exceptionally good and of superior quality”.

What is Success?

The term ‘success’ is often interchanged with ‘excellence’. The word ‘success’ stems from the Latin root ‘successus’, which means an outcome. The Collins English Dictionary (1979) defines ‘success’ as, “The favourable outcome of something attempted” (p. 1521). It was also described when a task has been completed and it becomes “obsolete”. ‘Excellence’ and ‘success’ are often interchanged but to be successful at a task does not necessarily imply that the quality is good, or of virtue. There is not necessarily a causal relationship between being excellence and success. Success here is when the task has been achieved and does not require further work.

What is Competition?

Competition occurs in many fields including sport, music and education. The premise of competition is that there will be a winner and loser with the individuals or groups pitted against each other. It has been defined as “rivalry”, or “the struggle between individuals of the same or different species” (Collins, 1979, p. 322).

Literature Review

There has been research into excellence in teaching at the tertiary level from a range of perspectives. To clarify, there has been a range of terms and definitions depending on philosophical understandings, geographic location and culture. Terms such as ‘outstanding’, ‘excellent’ and ‘successful’ are interchanged as well as ‘tertiary’, ‘university’ and ‘college’. ‘Lecturing’ and ‘teaching’ have also been interchanged (Andrews, Garriso & Magnusson, 1996; Cosh, 1999; Gibbs, 2006; Sherman et al., 1987; Yair, 2008). For the purpose of this study, ‘excellence’, ‘tertiary’ and ‘teaching’ will be used.

Historically, the topic of excellence has been research for over century in which one of the first publications was published in 1917 in The Journal of Educational Research (Breed, 1927). The characteristics identified were personal qualities, organization of the subject matter, knowledge, skill, university co-operation and professional development. Similar characteristics were found in studies by Brookfield (1990), Finkel (2000), Metcalfe and Game (2006), Weimar (1997); and Yair (2008). There was a discussion of whether excellence was a quality which was innate (Gosling & Hannan, 2007; Polanyi, 1966; Weimar, 1997; Yair, 2008) or whether it were techniques and skills which can be taught (Kane, Sandretto & Heath, 2004). The personality of the teacher was rated highly in some studies which traits such as approachability, passion and enthusiasm were at times considered more important than skills (Bain, 2004; Bain, 2012; Bentley-Davies, 2010; Boonshaft, 2010; Feldman, 1988; Gladwell, 2009; Lawler, Chen & Venso, 2007; Moore & Kuol, 2007; Saroyan & Amundsen, 2001). However, as students progressed though the higher levels of academia, skill and expertise were increasingly considered important (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1986; Chi, Glaser & Farr, 1998).

There are also excellent teachers who were focused on inspiring and transforming lives despite the bureaucracy and structure of the system. They may not necessarily be good administrators and therefore may miss out on recognition they duly deserve through not filling out the paperwork for promotions (Dunkin & Precians, 1992; Jones, 2010; Palmer & Collins, 2006; Skelton, 2005; Yair, 2008). They would work around policies and procedures in order to evoke the changes they considered necessary (Robinson, 2009). Some have also questioned the status quo and consequently become disruptors to the system.

A quality of excellent teachers was their ability to reflect (Brookfield, 1995; Cosh, 1999; Cowan, 2006; McAlphine & Westin, 2000; Schön, 1983). Reflection could come in many forms such critically reflecting their own practice to further improve their own teaching. Another form was to show understanding through empathy. This empathetic response would help students with their most pressing needs and in improving their learning. Other qualities are equity in which the concept of student bias or favouritism is negated to achieve the desired results.

At a systemic and national level, key cities throughout history have been known for excellence and advancing society. They have shown common traits of nurturing talent including those considered outsiders and having an altruistic attitude towards achievement (Weiner, 2016). Here, the strive for excellence was not competitive for individual gain, but rather collaborative for the greater good of humanity. The importance of altruism and empathy, and a more holistic approach to learning has been investigated (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2003; Sahlberg, 2015; Stephan & Finlay, 1999). Ironically, it is the countries that are known for excelling in global rankings which also have a strong philosophical educational foundation, value empathy and equality in education.

Methodology

The two methodologies used for the study were thematic analysis and grounded theory (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Charmaz, 2000; Charmaz, 2002; Glaser, 1998; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). These were selected as they were the most suitable for categorising cross-cultural information and for positing a new understanding of why excellence has developed in select countries. Data was collected through surveys, interviews, monographs and journal articles. Surveys have been used at select universities in South Korea and Australia to ascertain what are the characteristics of excellence. Themes such as lecturing styles, learning preferences and cultural influences were investigated. Following this was a series of interviews with academics and post-graduate researchers. Information on Finland was acquired through publications monographs, journals and papers at educational conferences. This was due to the focus on the country after being number one in the world in the PISA results. The data collected has been compared and contrasted to identify trends and themes.

Australia

Australia is situated in the Asia-Pacific and is the smallest continent on earth. Although an island, it is the sixth largest country and is known for its large cities found on its perimeter. There are approximately 25 million people living in a country comprising six States and two Territories. It is a young country, colonised by the British in the eighteenth century and based on Western cultural traditions. English is the spoken language, but there are over a hundred foreign languages spoken by migrants as well as Indigenous languages from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Australia, in its Western cultural development has relied on Britain, and more recently to the United States of America. Politically, Australia has strong ties with Britain, the United States of America, and more recently China due its geographic proximity, trade, and number of migrants Australia. Australia is a multi-cultural society with a highly regarded university system. An increasingly expanding and significant component of the higher education market are international students.

The education philosophy is similar to Britain’s due to its religious, historical and cultural foundations, however, it is difficult to identify. It is based on Plato‘s notion of an ideal curriculum where subjects are required to be studied to be a good citizen. Education is curriculum focused and regulated.

There is inbuilt competition in the education system in Australia. During school, the national tests such as the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy, better known as NAPLAN, tests students in year three, five, seven and nine. The score that students receive is whether they have met the required standards and where they are in relation to other students in their year level (https://www.nap.edu.au/results-and-reports/how-to-interpret). In their final year of schooling, they are given a mark for each subject, which is then standardised to be ranked against other students in their State or Territory. An issue with the peer ranking system is the amount of stress and anxiety it creates.

A study was conducted at an Australian university in 2014 to investigate the characteristics of outstanding university lecturers (Lierse, 2016). There was an anonymous survey sent to 70 students enrolled in the Graduate Certificate of University Learning and Teaching where they identified characteristics. From this, fourteen participated in semi-structured interviews, and five lecturers who were identified as outstanding were interviewed, as well. The five characteristics discovered from the study were; expertise, holistic approach to learning, engaging the student, open door policy and ambitious altruists. It was the last characteristic ‘ambitious altruists’ which was of surprise and interest. The study found that outstanding lecturers were ambitious and had purpose in their work. Ambition was from an altruistic foundation in which their students came first, rather than for their own ego. Their practices were often unconventional and they would often be criticised to the point of being isolated from their peers. As a result, many of these lecturers sacrificed their own career paths for the academy (Lierse, 2016, p. 9).

Their ambition was beyond ego and was for the good of humanity rather than for personal gain (Butler-Bowden, 2007). These lecturers would sometime sacrifice their own career paths or even jobs for their altruistic pursuits (Palmer, 1998).

South Korea

South Korea or the Republic of Korea is a country situated in East Asia with a population of approximately 51 million people. The country has had a turbulent political history with its neighbours, North Korea, China and Japan. It is known for its manufacturing as well as its education system. The language spoken is Korean.

South Korea’s education system came under the international spotlight after the students received high results in the PISA tests (OECD, 2017). Consequently, many educational researchers have visited South Korea to gain an understanding of the teaching system. What they discovered was the high value placed on rigorous learning and educational achievement (Ripley, 2013). One aspect of their system was the after-hours tutoring culture known as Hagwon.

A survey and a series of interview questions were designed to discover why South Korea had one of the best educational systems and how they perceived excellence. The research proposal went through ethics at the university and was approved. The survey was sent to lecturers and post-graduate students at a university in South Korea.

The second part of the research were interview questions for South Korean lecturers and post-graduate students who had a degree of English fluency. The questions were designed to trigger conversation and were semi-structured. The topics range from their own background, teaching styles and what is considered excellent. There were interview questions for university lecturers. The data was coded and interviews analysed to determine what the trends are in South Korea in relation to what is considered excellent.

The results revealed how much emphasis is placed on education and to do well. The pressure to succeed was from the family as well as society and it was not unusual for students to spend long hours studying. There was a clear progression from doing well at school to then go to a good university to then gain a good job. This was the key to success which would then make one happy. One respondent discussed how, “Many parents believe that it is the short cut to success.” Another respondent stated, “To have a successful life it is money, best university, good job, people to envy you is successful.” Lecturers were highly regarded and respected and any form of teaching was still seen as a good career choice.

Competition is a feature of the South Korean education system. Students are tested often and are ranked in class. From an early age, students know that they have to work hard and the end goal is to be accepted into a top university. “I think the education atmosphere is so competitive in South Korea…Students study very hard. Their motivation is very high, but sometimes their motivation is performance oriented. And they [are] influenced by other students because they compare each other.” Competition is a key factor in student achievement in South Korean education system. There is also a respect for the teachers and education.

Finland

Finland is a sovereign state in Northern Europe situated between Western countries and Russia. It has a relatively small population of five-and-a-half million people and is known for its cold winters. The language spoken is Finnish.

Finland has been featured in the media due to their PISA test results in which they have been ranked number one in the world. Even though this was a test in secondary schools, it reflected how excellence in teaching was practised in the university system to produce such impressive outcomes. A reason for this is that Finland has undergone a transformation in their society which has focussed on education. Sahlberg (2015) discussed how: “Diplomacy, cooperation, problem solving, and seeking consensus have thus become hallmarks of contemporary Finnish culture” (p. 17). Their system is based on the Aristotelian philosophy where ones’ purpose is to have a good and noble life. There is a focus on social skills, empathy and leadership (p. 199). There is surprisingly very little testing in schools. Finland only selects the best applicants to be a school teacher in which the minimum requirement to work in schools is a Master’s Degree. Due to their success of their education system, many teachers from different countries have visited Finland and observed teaching in schools to better understand the secret to their success. Sahlberg (2015) commented “Many teachers and administrators who have visited Finnish schools…are often stuck in the middle of excellence versus equity quandaries due to external demands and regulations in their own countries” (p. 66). The Finnish example of educational excellence has worked in Finland. This would be due to the congruence of support by the government, educational system and their society. However, this would be difficult to be replicated in other countries due to the complexity of cultural systems and understandings.

Discussion

The three countries are different in their geographically, linguistically and politically and their education systems are based on a philosophical foundation.

How excellence, success, perfection and failure are defined varies between countries which in turn impacts the teaching and learning in schools and universities. The role of competition in education is a driving factor in South Korea, and to an increasing extent in Australia, but is viewed negatively in Finland in favour of cooperation. The overriding philosophy in Finland is based on Aristotle’s of living to have a good and virtuous life. South Korean’s educational philosophy is based on Confucius in which there is an “I” with “self”, “others” and the universe and learning is a life-long process. Australia’s philosophy has been adopted from the United Kingdom and is based on Plato in which excellence is a virtue and a range of subjects are required in order to achieve this.

The results revealed that the philosophy and its beliefs of a country have a strong impact on education. The countries which excel in education during the formal academic schooling and for life-long learning have strong philosophical foundations, especially in the role of arts but also how education is practised varied widely. The other dimension of excellence, which has been explored, are the roles of empathy, equity and altruism. How a society can be sustained for life-long learning without their members working to their own potential, helping others and for the greater good of the community.

South Korea and Finland have excelled in PISA tests to the surprise of many countries. They are not known for their population size or being a dominant force in large global companies although they are global leaders in many niche industries. Politically, they have both been under constant threat from neighbouring countries and have a long history of warfare and being invaded. Finland has the global superpower Russia to the East and Sweden to the West, and they only received independence in 1917. South Korea is under constant threat from North Korea, has been invaded by Japan, and has the superpower China as a neighbour. Both countries do not have enough man power in their military to fight against neighbouring countries so have to exert their power in other ways. They cannot rely on primary resources such as farming and mining due to the land so they rely on themselves. Both of these countries have invested heavily in human capital in education to ensure that they will have a prosperous future.

To show their independence and autonomy, they have maintained their language and culture, which has been manifested through the arts. It is also the arts where they can learn their language and history through music, dance, art and drama. These also reinforce their patriotism, worthiness and sense of belonging. To remain relevant on a global level, it is these activities that bind these groups together, strengthen their loyalty to one another, and help to create empathy between each other. The arts form the fabric of their society and what it means to be part of the society.

Both South Korea and Finland show a great respect for the arts, especially Western art music. Their standard of performers is world class and there are opportunities for students at the school level to learn and music. This honour, respect and practice of the arts results in a high level of sophistication, development of emotions and empathy. These results were unexpected and the connection of excellence with empathy with the arts and through the arts is an area for future research.

Conclusion

The paper discusses how countries which are known for academic excellence have very strong philosophical foundations. However, it is the way excellence is practiced which differs widely and is often contradictory in its approaches. The research has shown that the role of the arts play an important role in the connection to excellence in education which is an area for future research. It is these new combinations of factors which may hold the key for sustained educational excellence throughout the life-span.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank the Australia-Korea Foundation through the Australia-Korea Foundation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for support in the “Teaching Excellence in South Korea and Australia: A Comparison” project.

Author

Dr Sharon Lierse, Lecturer in Education, Charles Darwin University, Melbourne, Australia


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How to facilitate development of soft skills in business studies? Description of a Portuguese and a Finnish pilot

Authors: Susana Bastos, Kai Schleutker & Liliana Azevedo.

Abstract

Latest research indicates that business graduates are expected to possess soft skills in addition to their substance related hard skills. In working environments, soft skills are needed for communication and adaptation, as well as for employability reasons. For higher education institutes this means an increasing challenge.
Even if the need of soft skills is widely acknowledged, new efforts to build appropriate learning environments are needed continuously. Soft skills have been highlighted in social care and nursing education, whereas in business fields they have received less attention.

In this article, two learning environments for business studies at Universities of applied sciences are presented. The ISCAP (Porto) model bases on Business simulation, whereas the TUAS (Turku) model involves team-based learning. These learning environments have been designed particularly for fostering soft skills of the graduates, and thus implementing the idea of skills-based curriculum.

Background for the piloting of learning environments in business education at ISCAP and TUAS

European Commission enhances (EC 2017) the Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) to modernise their pedagogical methods in order to produce competencies and skills that are needed in the 21st century to cope with the increasing international competition. This statement (EC 2017) and multiple studies (e.g. McKinsey 2015; OECD 2016; WEF 2016) indicate that in addition to substance skills, HEI graduates are expected to possess soft skills (a.k.a. transversal skills) such as communication skills, team working skills, self-management skills and analytical skills.

At HEIs, this raises many questions. How should these intentions be implemented in business studies? What kinds of learning environments will help to form personal skills? In business faculties and degree programs, there are great diversities of specialisations – what kinds of personal skills will be needed in each of them?

The mission of universities of applied sciences is to act as innovators and dynamic actors in their own areas. In this article, we present two learning environments intended to cope better with the needs of the companies and produce soft skills. In the Polytechnic of Porto, Porto Accounting and Business School (ISCAP), the so-called Business Simulator bases on real tasks, feedback in real time, and in a new assessment methodology. At BisnesAkatemia in Turku University of Applied Sciences (TUAS), the team-based learning method and external assignments from companies are used as elements of learning environments.

Descriptions of the ISCAP and TUAS pilots

The Origin of ISCAP Model of Simulator of Business Environment

The Model of Simulator of Business Environment that supports learning is oriented to the development of some competencies that the students need in order to be prepared for the labour market.

The resource to the strategy of games/simulation of companies in certain curricular units may be useful. The SBE Model was created with the purpose that the complete training of competencies requires an availability of this Model that assures to the student a multifaceted participation, as an intervener agent in the process of conception, development and maintenance of the business reality (Rey 2002; Roldão 2003).

This Model of technological basis must propitiate a space of learning, based on the simulation of the organisational environment typical of an entity provided with an advanced management profile involving the student in the application of the knowledge that is emerging in a multi and inter-disciplinary form throughout the course.

The particularity of the skills training process that the Model is oriented to, shapes the teaching methodology and the assessment system itself, which is built on a dynamic basis primarily interested in the progressive effects of the expected change in students, but it is also concerned with the verification of the skills acquired having in consideration their final academic certification.

This practice of education and training has the fundamental purpose of linking theory to practice. Therefore, it requires turning the experience of training into professional experience, in which the passive and receiver role of the student gives place to an active role ‒ he is part of the process. (Azevedo 2012.)

Table 1. Skills to develop in students (adapted from Oliveira, L. 2018).
Vocational skillsTechnical skills
Critical and analytical thinkingUse, with efficiency, of the communication and information technologies
Oral and written communicationBusiness decision modelling
Decision-makingRisk analysis
Continuous learningProject management
Group workAccounting in several branches
Professional behaviour (ethics and attitudes)Negotiation
LeadershipResources management
EntrepreneurshipSales
Foreign languageCreation of the business plan
Economic and financial analysis

The origin of TUAS BisnesAkatemia (BA) model

When asked from graduated, employers and business experts, it is widely agreed that the most prominent elements of business competencies are soft skills such as entrepreneurial mindset, communication and team-working skills, whereas profession related skills are mostly considered necessary but not crucial (Lehtinen 2006; Kotila 2012; Schleutker 2017). Some business environments, such as accounting and theory of law, might appreciate preciseness and by-the-book-knowledge, whereas in other business fields, such as entrepreneurship and marketing, the professional expertise mostly consists of personal dynamics and skills in communication, adaptation and innovation (Schleutker 2017).

This need of personal skills and the increasing diversity of working environments should be considered in curriculum planning. Even business learning environments should increasingly support development of personal competencies and skills.

For these reasons, the TUAS Business degree programme has been piloting an alternative learning environment called BisnesAkatemia (BA), which implements a skills-based curriculum instead of a mere substance-based curriculum.

To reach skills-based learning, personalised learning processes and adequate learning environments are needed (Sawyer 2006; Raiker 2009). Some fundamental conditions for personalised learning are individually-set goals, reflection of learning processes and meaningful learning assignments (Sawyer 2006). The BA learning environment aims to comprehend and facilitate these processes.

In the pedagogical aspect, the BA model includes features from several learning philosophies and methods. It is built partly on classical elements of Team Based Learning (Michaelsen 2006) and Senge´s Personal Mastery and Learning organization (Senge 2006), as well as recent inspirations from Innovation Pedagogy (Kettunen & al. 2013). The learning environment in BA involves fundamentally assignments from external organizations and companies, following the idea of Experiential Learning by John Dewey (Miettinen 2001). In order to achieve personalised learning and to reinforce soft skills, the students will need self-reflective and self-regulative skills (Zimmermann & Schunk 2011; Winne 2011).

Implementation

ISCAP Model of Business Simulation Project (BSP)

In the BSP model, the main pedagogical change of the teaching-learning process in business and accounting lies in creating the same pivot environment, which is available along all courses and personalised for each student. It is supported by real technological tools, coordinating the theoretical knowledge progressively acquired, in order to form comprehensive professional competencies (Roldão 2003).

The Model must be adopted, not only in the curricular units of Business Simulation Project (BSP), but also in all other curricular units framed in business sciences. These need a pivot environment to ensure the extent of knowledge to action in a common context, properly completed and evaluated.

BSP has as main goals (Oliveira 2003, 2018) targeting training to the most demanding and highest paid market demand. It aims to prepare professionals for more specialised functions, encourage the development of new skills; stimulate the capacity to structure, research and reorganise information in an integrated environment, and train and promote group and cooperative work. Further, it aims to enable the ability to make decisions, enrich communication skills, consolidate professional, personal and ethical attitudes, promote the electronic portfolio as the student’s curriculum essence, create and develop all the bureaucratic activities of a company in a systemic perspective and in a process-based approach, and continuously assess technical and behavioural performance. All this is supported by the Business Environment Simulator.

These BSP curricular units are optional. Students have the right to choose what suits them better and contributes to develop their personal competencies. They enter BSP in the last year and they can achieve 180 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) in two semesters. These are learning environments allowing them to appropriate knowledge acquired in previous curricular units (Bastos 2016; Soares 2011). BSP are the first European curricular units to have a Certificate of Quality within ISO 9001:2015 and they are also recognised by the Portuguese Order of Certified Accountants as replacing the internship by the quality of its learning-teaching process.

TUAS BisnesAkatemia

The students enter the BA phase after having finished basic studies in business. They can gain 100‒120 ECTS in the BA learning environment, i.e. nearly 50 percent of their studies. These 100‒120 ECTS consist of smaller study units (5‒10 ECTS) representing main business topics such as enterprise planning & development, marketing operations, communication, organising events, innovative skills and domestic & international networking. The tray of study units is presented in table 2.

Table 2. Contents of studies in BA 2nd and 3rd year. (ECTS – European Credit Transfer System; ICT – Information and Communication Technologies. Created by Schleutker, K. 2018.)
Study unitsStudy units 5 ECTSStudy units 5-15 ECTS
2nd year3rd year
Enterprise developing operationsStart-up enterprise
Develop an enterprise
Business Value through ICT
Marketing and sales operationsBusiness to business sales
Productisation
Product & Service Innovations
Digital marketing
Modern Marketing and Selling
Innovative operationsOrganising events
Tools for innovating
Innovative business models
NetworkingDomestic international networking
International networking
---

At the end of the first year, business students enter the BA phase, where they will form their own 15‒20 person cooperative in order to conduct real-life business assignments with external organizations and companies. The division into the BA cooperatives is facilitated by interviews and tests in order to form a well-working team. One of the most important ones is the Belbin team role test (2018), which indicates what kinds of abilities and roles each one might bring to the team.

The following step is to organise the cooperative into a well-working team, capable of marketing, selling and carrying out real-life projects for customer companies and organizations. The tasks and goals of the projects typically relate to market and customer research, organising events, design and creation of websites and diverse Business-to-business or Business-to-customer customerships. This phase is indicative in many ways. It will show, how well the teaming process has proceeded and it also indicates to which grade the team possesses a shared vision, i.e. is it a team or just a group of students. Additionally, this phase shows whether there are sales-skilled students who take initiatives in the team. In a well-working team, there are the individuals who start to lead and who start to take actions. This is not something that can be counted on advance for sure.

In this kind of learning environment, the teachers´ role is very far from the role of the so-called traditional teachers. The teacher performing with a team is called a ‘coach’, and each team will have their named coach for the whole second and third year. Consequently, lectures are given only exceptionally in cases where a lecture is considered the best way of learning. Instead, teachers have an important role as facilitators of the team. In the starting period of BA, it is very much about facilitating a positive team spirit and constructive relationships between team members and encouraging to personalised learning and formation of individual soft skills.

In table 3, the main features of the learning environments BSP and Ba are presented.

Table 3. Main elements of learning environments in BSP and BA. (BA – BisnesAkatemia; BSP – Business Simulation Programme; CU – Curricular Unit. Created by Schleutker, K., Bastos, S. 2018.)
DescriptionISCAP BSPISCAP (next stage)TUAS BA
PurposeLearning instrument to be made available at the PSE at the end of the courseLearning instrument to be made available in the various CUs of the business sciences, along the courseLearning environment to support development of personal skills
ContextElectronic database and multimedia roomElectronic databaseStudent cooperative
Organizing PrincipleSystemic integrationSegmentationRecruiting process
Represented objectGlobal market in electronic and physical formatCompany / organization in electronic formatReal business operations with organizations and companies
Logical organization of phenomenaBy processBy eventBy decisions of team
Documentary formatElectronic and physicalElectronicElectronic
Type of interactionIntra and inter companiesDoes not existIntra team, inter client companies
Responsibility for organization and planningTeacher of the PSC CUCourse DirectionCurriculum planned by teachers; Operations planned by students
Student organizationIn groupIndividualIn group
Evaluation modelContinuousContinuousPortfolio assessment

Assessment practices

ISCAP

Assessment is interpreted as a process of systematic collection of information to measure the students’ progress (self and peer evaluation) (Albrecht 1994; Albrecht & Sack 2000). It is continuous. Every class is evaluated – the teacher corrects all the tasks done by the groups. As there are two classes in a week, the teacher evaluates the first, so that in the second the students have the feedback in the system, in “real time”. This enables the student to understand and correct the mistakes. This feedback in registered in the system (Simulator). When the student opens his work session, he has access to it. This process allows the student to follow his teaching-learning progress (examples in figures below).

Figure 1. Assessment of a session with observations of the teacher/ students.

 

Figure 2. Assessment display with the grades of the group and the students (F – Assiduity and Punctuality; C – Behaviour; T – Team work; E – Number of the company; A – Assiduity; G – Percentage in a basis of 100% of the grade obtained by the group; P – Punctual, the assessment of the physical files (twice in a semester); R – Management Report; AOR – Individual oral presentation assessment).

Teachers have an important role in this assessment process. They guide the students through their learning process.

The assessment of the degree of competencies acquired in the frequency of the curricular units based on the BSP Model follows an evaluation system supported in the feedback and in the obligation of execution, by the student, of the planned tasks, personally, and monitored by the teacher, in all the working sessions (Luckesi 2003).

Assessment is continuous, with feedback; with the complement of behavioral performance evaluation; based on a strong ethical component and in the attitudes of all participants; with the support of the electronic media involved; including those of the agents implicated, in charge of the student (Alarcão & Gil 2004; Costa & Candeias 2010; Raiker 2009).

TUAS

In order to facilitate personalised learning, the assessment is individual and well argumented for the student (Sawyer 2006; Raiker 2009). Thus, all assessment is based on an individual portfolio, in which the student describes the finished assignments, their main results and key learning notes. The student adds lessons learnt from books and articles during the study units. Thus reflection of own experiences, thoughts and development has been raised in a crucial role in the assessment. For many students, this can be quite demanding, especially for those ones not used to report and assess their own person and activity.

For the assessor, this kind of portfolio gives rather multiple bases to assessment. It makes visible the profession-related real-life tasks that the student has carried out. It also expresses what the student himself considers having learned. The level on which the student can combine the literature (theory) to what he has done (praxis) gives a good insight on the development of the student´s personal skills. In addition, it demonstrates in a clear way how well the theory is assimilated and adapted.

Regarding reporting and assessment of the development of personal skills (team working skills, communication skills, self-management skills, etc.), they are included in most plans of implementations and thus considered by the students when producing the portfolios.

Reflection: Positive outcomes

BSP – ISCAP

The students consider BSP as an active learning environment, which raises their motivation. The use of the electronic portfolio enables construction of the student’s curriculum in a way that is visible and informative for the student himself. In addition, the learning process is supported by an organizational environment of high systemic complexity, which is very close to authentic working life conditions. As a third positive outcome, the BSP provides immediate feedback and decision-oriented information, which enables improve the student´s learning.

BA – TUAS

The students favour the BA learning environment, primarily because most students seem to like the way of learning by doing. In addition, many students seem to like working in team.

As a positive outcome, students get experience of real-life assignments already during studies, which is appreciated by employers (Lehtinen 2006; Kotila 2012; Mourshed 2014). The learning environment enables holistic learning, where students have an option to develop both substance skills and their soft skills.

Students appreciate authentic assignments given by external companies as well – even if they might be more challenging than theoretical assignments. Moreover, the BA method including goal-oriented work teams and authentic tasks often provokes an uncomfort zone in individual students. Thus, it creates a need to learn and it motivates effectively personalized learning (Sawyer 2006; Raiker 2009) and the development of personal skills.

Challenges experienced

BSP – ISCAP

The teacher has a role of permanent support to the student, as it is a ”relationship of peers”, and must, using new pedagogies and information and communication technologies suitable to the program content, instil in the student job autonomy and decision making, among other aspects. Thus, the curricular structure should be reconsidered and must rely on the basic formation of competencies, and must conceive education “always” adopting interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary and a systemic basis (Bastos 2016).

As methods and pedagogies pointed so that change happens, emphasis is on active learning methods, group work, ”learning by doing”, and the motivation of the student by placing him in the centre of this whole process.
Thus, the assessment should be formative and not merely forming, having the need to assess the School and the teachers, ”rewarding the most efficient” (Alarcão 2004).

BA – TUAS

Given that most students have a 12 years’ experience in structured and often teacher-guided way of studies, the change in student mindset demands effort. It seems that they are often more inclined to ‘teach-me’ more than ‘I-learn’.

Thus, the BA method is appropriate for students with self-steering abilities, but it seems not to suite all students.

Dynamics in teams varies according to persons and their characters, whereby some groups never become a real team. Others might have good chemistry of persons but the members will not step out their comfort zone. Finally there are the ones having both team and progress spirit, and consequently will get results.

In order to enhance learning of soft skills, it is important to mention those in the description of the study units, so that the students are aware of them. However, the assessment of these might be a challenge, since it should focus on personal behaviour in addition to the portfolio. Even giving constructive feedback to each student regarding these skills is demanding.

The coach’s role in this kind of learning environment is critical since it requires skills both in business and pedagogy.

Future considerations: both models

Considering the increasing need of skills such as team work, innovation and adaptation (Mourshed 2014; OECD 2016; WEF 2016), business students should possess these kinds of skills in order to proceed and give added value in the labour market. Therefore learning environments should be designed in a way enabling personalised learning and formation of these kinds of person-related skills.

As stated in this article, one of the main challenges regarding new learning environments is students´ mindset and their attitude towards them. They might assume a passive role if they have hesitations about the significance of the skills to be learned. Therefore it is highly important, that the whole faculty or even the whole University is engaged to the learning environment which is proposed.

At TUAS, all faculties will step by step adapt Innovative Pedagogy, the corner stones of which are Team working skills, innovative skills, networking skills and communication skills. These skills will starting from 2018 be embedded in all curricula in each faculty.

Considering future research, it is necessary to identify appropriate methods for assessing personal development and especially the formation of soft skills as well.

Conclusions of BSP and BA

Most involved parts in business life agree that business competencies comprehend increasingly personal skills such as communication, innovation and teamwork. Thus, one challenge in the higher education is to create learning environments that enable the formation of personal development. In this process, known as personalised learning, the student is expected to take an active role. One of the main challenges is whether students are willing/prepared to take the active role needed in personalised learning. Thus, the coaches’ feedback and assessment must be continuous and constructive.

The description and comparison presented in this article confirm that many possibilities are available in order to facilitate personalised learning the formation of soft skills. Most of the students get inspired of new learning methods, mostly because these models give them an option to learn in a more diverse way. The teamwork included in the learning environments is apt to increase team working skills, as well as communication skills. Assignments given directly by companies, or closely related to companies, will give the students more skills regarding adaptation, flexibility and decision making. In order to develop students’ soft skills, further study is needed on the impact of the learning environments upon the students´ abilities and skills.

Authors

Susana Bastos, Senior Lecturer, Porto Accounting and Business School (ISCAP), Polytechnic Institute of Porto (IPP), Centre for Organizational and Social Studies of P. Porto (CEOS.PP), Portugal
Kai Schleutker, Lecturer, Team coach (Innovative Entrepreneurship & Digital Marketing),
University of Applied Sciences of Turku – Faculty of Business and Engineering
Liliana Azevedo, PhD (Ed.) (Didactics and Technology of Education), Expandindústria, Portugal


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Exploring the concept of a semi-permeable curriculum: Mixed audience masterclasses in teacher education

Authors: Bregje de Vries, Ilona Schouwenaars, Martine Derks & Wim Folker.

Abstract

Vocational education needs to find ways to constantly update curricula to raise professionals who can face new theories and practices. In this paper, a multiple case study is presented which explores how mixed audience masterclasses can contribute to a semi-permeable curriculum defined as ‘an open-ended core curriculum with a firm base in evergreen content around which flexible elements about new content can evolve’. Six masterclasses on innovative topics in which pre- and in-service teachers learned collaboratively, were designed and evaluated. Positive findings on the educators’, teachers’ and students’ awareness of, experiences with, and appreciations of the masterclasses indicate the potential of mixed audience masterclasses. Several conditions under which they can become successful emerged, such as administrative support, and explicit design of mixed audience interactions. It is concluded that improvement of the design and implementation of the mixed audience masterclasses could further contribute to realizing a semi-permeable curriculum that offers new professional topics to teachers in all stages of their career.

Introduction to the problem

Because of education constantly changing, teacher education is in constant need of renewing its curriculum to prepare its students for emerging practices (Barnes & Solomon, 2014; Burstow & Maguire, 2014). Teacher education is not the only field facing this need. Shay (2016) explains that higher education in general is confronted with a ‘cross-fire of expectations’ to keep up with change. Through the years, this cross-fire has been mentioned in many domains, such as medical education, finance, and computer sciences (e.g., Churchill, Bowser & Preece, 2016; Jones, Higgs, De Angelis & Prideaux, 2001; Russell, 2007). It raises the question how vocational education curricula can be made more flexible in order to be able to adjust in time to new ideas and practices in the work fields. In other words, the question is what vocational education curricula should look like to be future sensitive and easily adaptable?

Due to the rapid developments in professional domains, vocational education has been confronted with yet another question: how it can contribute to the professional development of in-service professionals. In case of the educational field, the question is how teacher education institutes can contribute to the need for continuing professional development of in-service teachers working in schools. Bachelor and master degrees in vocational education and teacher education have become starting certificates rather than diplomas that last forever. In order to keep up with innovations and improvements, it is deemed necessary that in-service teachers participate in professional development programs that address both individual and organizational needs, and offer a variety of flexible activities to facilitate theory-practice discourses (e.g. Burstow & Maguire, 2014; Garet et al., 2001). Teacher education seems to hold many good cards to provide such programs: they have the network and the expertise. And over the past years, several developments in teacher education already contributed to the professional development of in-service teachers. For instance, schools and teacher education institutes have built school-university networks in which they prepare pre-service teachers and conduct research together (e.g. Baumfield & Butterworth, 2007; Benade, Hubbard & Lamb, 2017; Smith & Ulvik, 2014). This collaboration has increased awareness of a need for professional development of in-service teachers. Therefore, teacher education institutes increasingly feel responsible for offering professional development programs for in-service teachers as well.

In this paper, the central question addressed is how the teacher education curriculum can become more flexible in its structure and content in order to become future sensitive and easily adaptable to emerging theories and practices, and provide up to date programs for both pre-service and in-service teachers. To answer this question, we introduce the concept of a semi-permeable curriculum, and explore how it can contribute to teacher education in particular, and vocational education in general.

Theoretical background

In general, educational designers have frequently suggested that design products should be flexible and adaptable for sustainable implementation. Brown (2009) argues that so-called Adaptive Instructional Materials (AIM) have three characteristics: (1) they consist of building blocks; (2) the building blocks consist of reusable resources and actively support customization; and (3) materials are easily accessible. Brown concludes that “the three characteristics taken together optimally support different modes of use by being sufficiently open-ended to accommodate flexible use, yet sufficiently constrained to provide coherence and meaning with respect to its intended uses (p. 32).” Further, as Barab and Luehmann (2003) put it: “The core challenge is not to design some “correct” version of curricula or assessment that will be implemented “wholecloth” by willing teachers, but to develop flexible support structures that facilitate local adaptation and ownership of each curriculum” (p. 456). Many case studies have been conducted which illustrate that educational renewal is positively supported by design products that allow teachers and educators to make local adaptations (e.g., De Vries, Schouwenaars & Stokhof, 2017; Linn et al., 2003; Squire et al., 2003).

Additional to the micro level of curriculum design there is a well-expressed need to create flexibility at the meso level of higher education curricula that concerns the entire curriculum instead of one subject or school year (Van den Akker, 2013). In earlier years, many pleas and efforts to make higher education curricula flexible at meso level can be found. For instance, as early as 1986 Van Eijl argued that “more flexibility allows for a faster updating of the curriculum, better accessibility of the courses to different groups of students and a better adjustment to developments in the labour market and the needs of society” (p. 450). The solution explored ever since is modular programming, and designers of modular curricula have been in search of the ideal scope of modules to optimize their function as building blocks (Lucena, 2003; Snyder, Herer & Moore, 2011). Moreover, educational designers have explored ways to enlarge the flexibility of such a modular system in an online repository (Churchill, Bowser & Preece, 2016; Cook & Dupras, 2003), and have developed software that produces dynamic routings to address differentiated needs (Snyder, Herer & Moore, 2011). The belief is that modularization supports an external orientation towards the work field (e.g., Hubbal & Burt, 2004; Nieuwenhuis, 1993). In addition, it is expected to promote interdisciplinarity by combining modules from different domains in larger units (Hubbal & Burt, 2004; Lucena, 2003). The flexibility and adaptability at the school level have been given vivid names such as ‘living curriculum’ (Churchill, Bowser & Preece, 2016), and ‘dynamic curriculum’ (Derks, 2016; Hughes & Tan, 2012) to express its ambition to become future sensitive and adaptable to changes in the work field and society on the one hand, and needs of different groups of learners and stakeholders on the other.

Besides creating modular programs, it is suggested that embedding close encounters of theory and practice is a key issue to increase future sensitivity and flexibility at the meso level of curriculum design. Palonen et al. (2014) suggest to put so-called ‘knowledge practices’ at the center of learning. Likewise, Grossman et al. (2009) put a stake in the ground for letting teacher education evolve around ‘core practices’ which represent current issues of professional behavior from the work field around which creativity, adaptive expertise and metacognition are demanded to solve a problem and develop professional skills. Others have suggested to make vocational education research-based to improve the research-practice nexus by implementing authentic research projects within curricula (e.g., Vereijken et al., 2017; Van der Rijst, 2017). All the suggestions in general lead to the creation of regional school-university networks and communities of practice in which teachers in all stages of their careers come together with teacher educators and researchers in projects and programs. As a result, initial and post-initial professional development become intertwined (e.g., Derks, 2016; Timmermans, 2012). Lifelong learning has been mentioned as a framework (e.g., Iredale, 2018). Moreover, dialogue is often viewed to be an essential part of continuing professional development because in interaction professionals with different backgrounds can explicate and share their knowledge and questions and learn with and from each other (e.g., Crafton & Kaiser, 2011).

In this paper, we seek to build on those early efforts to make curricula more future-sensitive at higher levels of curriculum design by introducing the concept of a semi-permeable curriculum, defined as ‘an open-ended core curriculum with a firm base in evergreen content and timeless competencies, around which flexible elements about new content can evolve’ (De Vries, 2016). A semi-permeable curriculum provides an open-ended format at the meso level of curriculum design. It consists of a fixed backbone, surrounded by varying options around innovative knowledge practices. The modular system is taken as a starting point for building dynamic and differing routings for groups of learners. Some modules are obligatory and in fixed order whereas others are a matter of choice through which any kind of student, being a pre-service student or an in-service teacher, can deepen or broaden his/her knowledge and skills. At the meso level of curriculum design a semi-permeable curriculum gains strength by being able to include including varying work formats ranging from lectures to collaborative design and research projects. The variety improves the freedom of choice people have to work and learn in ever-changing settings and groupings. Overall, a semi-permeable curriculum strives to provide both freedom in the structure as well as the offered content and work formats.

Mixed audience masterclasses can be considered as one work format that could help turn a curriculum into a semi-permeable one. We define mixed audience masterclasses as ‘small groups of learners with mixed backgrounds gathering around authentic situations and experiences that are reflected upon by an expert, and a community of fellow learners (cf. Atkinson, Watermeyer & Delamont, 2013; Doherty, 2007). They could contribute to the semi-permeability of a curriculum because they can easily and radically change their content, and connect theory with practice by inviting experts and learners with different backgrounds to come together. Furthermore, they do not radically need to change the structure of the curriculum since fixed time slots can be reserved for the masterclasses. This makes them easily implementable from an organizational perspective. Finally, because they are rather isolated from the core curriculum on basic competencies, they can be planned in such a way that they become accessible for both students as well as in-service teachers.

Hardly any evidence can be found in the research literature on processes and effects of mixed audience work formats, but some case studies have reported positive experiences. For instance, Roback (2003) concludes: “I hadn’t anticipated (but was excited to see) the improved quality of interaction in class sections resulting from a mixed audience. I found that class questions operated on many different levels, all of which enhanced the learning atmosphere in the class” (p. 10). Similarly, Godfrey (1998) concludes that differences in prior knowledge and expectations of mixed audiences gave students a variety of experiences but at the same time demands explicit attention. Both case studies take place in other domains than teacher education, a statistics course and a software engineering course respectively, on which we seek to build with the present study.

In the remainder of this paper, an explorative study on mixed audience masterclasses in the educational field is presented which seeks to answer the following research questions: (1) How does the design of the masterclasses invite a learning dialogue between audiences? (intended curriculum); (2) To what extent can a learning dialogue between audiences be observed during the masterclasses (implemented curriculum)? (3) How do participants appreciate the mixed audience in the masterclasses? (attained curriculum).

Methods

Design of the study

The study was organized as a multiple case study of six masterclasses in two subsequent years and ran from 2015 until 2017. The study took place at a teacher education institute for primary education in the Netherlands. As the institute is located at a university of applied sciences, it collaborates with primary schools in its region in a university-school network. A significant part of its curriculum takes place at the workplace, and practice-based research is conducted within the network by teachers, students and with the support from experts and researchers. The mixed masterclasses are offered to the schools present in the network and invite their in-service teachers to join pre-service teacher students at the teacher institute. The six mixed masterclasses were part of a larger list of masterclasses that were not mixed. Pre-service teacher students could choose from the whole list, whereas in-service teachers could only subscribe to the mixed audience masterclasses. The masterclasses consisted of two or three meetings of two hours each. In between, the participants worked on a practical assignment.

Participants

Three groups of participants were involved in the masterclasses: (1) teacher educators, hereafter called ‘educators’, who designed and gave the masterclasses, often in collaboration with experts from research institutes or consultancy; (2) pre-service student teachers in their first or second year, hereafter called ‘students’; and (3) in-service teachers with varying years of experience, hereafter called ‘teachers’. The teachers could be mentors of students, but not necessarily of the students who participated in the masterclasses. Table 1 gives an overview of types and numbers of participants.

Table 1: Overview of (subscribed and) present participants in the 6 masterclasses
Masterclass Students Teachers Total 
Total (114) 91 (29) 15 (143) 106 
MC 1 Urban education (22) 9  (5) 3 (27) 12 
MC 2 Talented (9) 8 (8) 3 (14) 11 
MC 3 Values in teaching (19) 16 (3) 3 (22) 19 
MC 4 Bilingual education (20) 19 (3) 3 (23) 22 
MC 5 Programming with kids (13) 13 (3) 1 (16) 14 
MC 6 Urban Education (31) 26 (7) 2 (38) 28 

Students had to follow two masterclasses as part of their bachelor program, and subscribed through the regular student administration system. Teachers enrolled in as much mixed audience masterclasses they wanted as part of their personal development programs. All students and teachers participating in this study participated in one masterclass only. As Table 1 shows more students than teachers enrolled. This could be explained by the fact that participation was obligatory for students whereas teachers voluntarily subscribed. In addition, the numbers of students and teachers dropped significantly after subscription. In case of the teachers the small number affected the mixed nature of the masterclasses.

Instruments and procedure

Data were collected during all meetings of all six masterclasses with a mix of quantitative and qualitative instruments: collection of design products, interviews, observations, and a short questionnaire. Before the start of the masterclass, design products were collected (e.g., setup, powerpoints), and interviews with the coordinating educators were held to collect expectations and background information on the design. During the meetings, an observation protocol was used by which we collected information on (1) number, type and location of participants by drawing a map of how they were seated in the classroom, (2) the lesson structure by noting the time and the (sub)activity, and (3) interaction patterns by noting who was talking to whom about what. At the closure of the last meeting, a questionnaire was used to measure if students (N=78, 13 missing) and teachers (N=14, 1 missing) had been aware of the mixed nature, and how they experienced and appreciated it. Items were formulated as five-scale Likert items, and measured three constructs: awareness of, experience with, and appreciation of (6 items per construct). After the last meeting short semi-structured interviews with an approximate length of fifteen minutes were held with some volunteering students (N=5) and teachers (N=13) in separate small groups to ask about their opinions in more detail. The interview protocol addressed their experience with a mixed audience, their appreciation of the mixed audience in terms of what it contributed to a mixed audience interaction and their learning, and their evaluation of the setup of the masterclass in light of supporting mixed audience interaction. In the weeks after the masterclass, final semi-structured interviews with the coordinating educators (N=6; approx. length 30‒60 minutes) were held to reflect on the mixed nature of the masterclasses.

Data-analysis

The data were stored digitally. All interviews were transcribed. Analysis took place in four steps. First, the designs were analyzed for their overall structure and explicit activities/moments aimed at (mixed audience) interaction. Then, the observations were analyzed by segmenting the observed dialogue in the masterclass into dialogue patterns with a beginning, middle and end, and summarizing for all the segments if an IRF pattern (e.g., question-answer-feedback) or an IDRF pattern (dialogue comprising more extended discussion) occurred. Furthermore, the speakers in the segments were coded as either educators, students or teachers to see if and when interaction between mixed audiences took place. Next, the questionnaire data were stored in SPSS and descriptive analysis was conducted summarizing the participants’ scores on the constructs by calculating means and standard deviations. Third, the interview segments were coded and categorized as saying something related to awareness/expectation, experiences/perceptions of what happened, and appreciations. Taken together, the data gave an overview of the design and implementation of each masterclass. Finally, the within-case analyses were synthesized in a cross-case summary of findings on the design, the interaction, and the awareness, experiences and appreciations as expressed by the participants. In the next section, we report the main findings from this cross-case analysis, illustrated by excerpts taken from the individual masterclasses.

Results

We report on the outcomes of the study in three parts. First, we present findings on the designs and expectations of the educators. Then, we present findings on the meetings of the masterclasses both from the observations and reported experiences from the interviews and questionnaire. Thirdly, we present the participants reflections by reporting on their appreciations of the masterclasses as expressed in the questionnaire and interviews.

Intended curriculum: Designs and expectations

The masterclasses were designed by mixed teams of educators, experts and reseachers. The general starting point for all masterclasses was to design a masterclass that inspired by presenting new theory and practice, provided room for gaining new experiences in the practical assignment, and encouraged reflective dialogue on those experiences. All the masterclasses focused on presenting new information in the first meeting, collecting experiences between the first and the second meeting, and reflective dialogue on experiences in the second and third meetings. The design products illustrate this general setup. The powerpoints of the first meeting are extensive, provide new theories and practical examples, and aim at short dialogues between educators/experts and the participants. In the second and third meetings, the powerpoints are limited in size, mainly show procedural information, and more frequently aim at encouraging dialogue between the participants. The worksheets and products that the participants bring with them are put more central. Overall, the design products reveal their focus on interactivity by explicitly encouraging collaboration between participants, for instance: ‘discuss with your neighbour’, ‘work together with someone who has the same idea’, ‘form groups of three for discussing a case’, and ‘think-pair-share’. The examples show that although the focus is on interactivity, the educators did not explicity design mixed interactions between students and teachers. From analyzing the design products, one can not derive that we have entered a mixed audience masterclass. Only in one case, the sheets reveal an exercise in the first meeting aimed at making explicit the differences between the participants with respect to their prior knowledge and expectations.

Although the design products and materials do not reveal the mixed nature of the audience, we know from the interviews with the coordinating educators that they were well aware of the mixed nature, and expressed mixed feelings about it. For example:

“Difficult, such a diverse audience. First year students of whom I do not know what brings them here. Are they interested, are they gifted themselves, what are the questions they have. [ …] I need to look for ‘somewhere inbetween’ teachers with practical experiences, and first year students who just got acquainted with the topic. We struggled with this in the design of the masterclass. I will make that explicit at the start of the masterclass. I do think it is a positive thing, a richness encouraging an open mind. Getting to know different cases.” [ MC1]

“I had very positive expectations, an interesting starting point to let students and teachers meet […] It did not change the content of the masterclass, I did think again about the work formats, and that not all teachers would go sit together. That it will really mix.” [MC3]

Some first experiences led to incidental adjustments in the design of next meeting(s). For instance, MC2 added theoretical input in the second meeting based on expressed needs of participants, MC1 adjusted the home assignment for two participants who wanted to do the assignment in an informal learning environment, and MC1 and MC4 adjusted the content to specific prior knowledge and questions of the teachers.

Implemented curriculum: Interaction processes

In most meetings the classroom is organized in small groups. Only in MC3 the participants are seated as in a bus, and in MC4 and MC5 they sit in a square. At the start of the first meetings, most educators explicitly invite the participants to mix as they get seated. As it turns out, however, most students and teachers seat themselves in non-mixed groups. In the following meetings, the educators do not address mixed seats again at the start. During these follow-up meetings, the participants do mix during group discussions, as far as this is possible given the low number of teachers present in most masterclasses.

Most educators explicitly pay attention to the mixed audience at the beginning of the first meeting. The educator of MC1 mentions the challenge she felt to address different kinds of participants with one masterclass. Most educators start the masterclass with getting to know each other: who is present, what is their background and what are their expectations for this masterclass. In most masterclasses, getting to know each other is a short exercise in which not even all participants tell their stories. In MC1 and MC4, more extensive activities take place in the form of a quiz that makes visible different thoughts and backgrounds of participants. The educators emphasize the equality of all input and backgrounds.

In relation to the general setup, all masterclasses run as planned. The first meeting puts an accent on inspiring and informing, and the next meeting(s) on sharing experiences and reflective dialogues. All meetings are highly interactive taking the form of plenary questioning and answering, and group discussions. Most often, the dialogue is started by the educator(s) with a question or statement, to which the participants react. Although the participants also start to react on each other’s input, overall the initiating and mediating role of the educator(s) remains strong, dialogues remain rather short after which new input is provided by the educator(s). Most dialogues follow a classical IRF pattern in which the educator initiates, the participants respond, the educator gives feedback on the response, and moves on to the next question or topic. To a lesser extent, IDRF patterns emerged in which whole group discussions occured in a more extensive way. In the second and third meetings, IDRF pattters have been observed more often than in the first meeting. The following observation excerpt illustrates an IDRF pattern occurring in MC6 when the whole group discusses the meaning and appearance of ‘underwater behaviour’ from a socio-dynamic perspective. E is one of the educators, T1 is a teacher and S1234 are students:

“E asks to mention underwater behaviour of children they know of.
T1 answers; S1 and S2 also provide an answer.
S1 and S2 explain they do not fully understand the question.
E explains and rephrases: which behaviour do chilren sometimes show which is not conform the values of the classroom, but is left unspoken.
S1 mentions quick glances and mimics of children.
S3 asks: what do you do, how do you talk about it with your children?
S4 adds: is it necessary to discuss such behaviours?
T1: in my experience each group has implicit rules, you see it, but you cannot get a grip on it
S3: but I think you should make it explicit and discuss it, because it is often negative behaviour. But then again, we just concluded a few minutes ago that we should ignore negative behaviour?
E refines: sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t, sometimes you get back to it later
S1: we sometimes address such things by role playing, without names or so, and ask the children: how does this feel for you.”
[MC6]

The excerpt illustrates a discussion in which the educator initiated the topic, but after that the teacher and students start discussing the topic amongst each other, building on each other’s thoughts and experiences. In the second and third meetings, IDRF patters occurred frequently in smaller settings. In those meetings, small group discussions dominated the meeting. In the first meeting, the students did not bring in experiences since often they didn’t have any yet. This changed in the follow up meetings: by the assignment the students have gained some early experiences that they can reflect on. The educators noticed the impact of the students having collected fresh experiences. As one educator put it:

“During the second meeting knowledge sharing was central. And although this occurred to be complicated in the first meeting, this time they really entered a conversation with each other. The students felt more secure. Teachers and students started sharing knowledge with each other.” [MC4]

Summarized, it was observed that in all meetings interactivity was frequent. The interactivity changed after the first meeting, since the participants started working in groups more. But overall, the presence of the educator(s) was dominant in IRF patterns although some examples of IDRF were observed as well. The educators reflected on the interactivity in the masterclasses as being hard work, needing many interventions to maintain the conversation, and address both groups of participants:

“I planned sharing knowledge in small groups. This needed intervention from my side, because all the teachers sat together. In the plenary discussion that followed they dominated the conversation by sharing ‘how it went at their school’. Then I explicitly asked the students: how do you perceive all this, how do you experience it at your school? This intervention was really necessary, to help students take their part because teachers tend to react quickly on each other’s situations and students get forgotten.” [MC2]

The opposite of teachers dominating the conversation was also observed. In some cases the teachers withdrew from the conversation because they were too aware of the differences in experience between them and the students, and did not want to take too much space at the cost of the students. Even more, some teachers felt responsible for the students’ learning (rather than for their own!). Both teachers and educators confirmed this observation in the interviews:

“I noticed that teachers found it interesting, but at the same time were holding back, as if they thought let the students think for a while. A real dissapointment. They kept holding on to the tutor-student relationship.” [educator, MC2]

“The first meeting I felt awkward. Inclined to tell a lot, but then you think no let the students provide input first, because they are still learning. So I kept silent at that moment.” [teacher, MC3]

“It is so much fun to notice that students develop their ideas, even if I think that they might not work that well in practice. I do not say that on prupose, because I think they need to experience it themselves and see why it does or doesn’t work.” [teacher, MC5]

Attained curriculum: Awareness and appreciations

When designing the masterclasses, the educators were very much aware of the mixed audience, being in favor of creating such a rich learning environment, but also feeling anxious at the same time if and how to satisfy all the participants. To what extent and how were the students and teachers aware of the mixed nature of the masterclasses, and experienced and appreciated it? In general, the participants were moderately aware of the mixed audience during the meetings (M=2.91, SD=0.41). The extent to which they experience the mixed nature is also rather moderate (M=3.20, SD=0.40). The dominating finding here is that the number of teachers present was so low that many participants indicated they did not always experience a mixed audience. Unless this low presence of teachers, the questionnaire and interviews indicate that the participants do appreciate (the thought of) the mixed nature (M=3.23, SD=0.38). Both students and teachers explain that they learn from each other:

“Students talk about they think, teachers share experiences. I recognize from their stories they have different contact with parents, real contact that I cannot have yet as a student teacher. I can finetune my own experience by what I have heard.” [student, MC1]

“Students say we can simply do it like this, we can solve this. By experience I know that things run differently, but I do like it, a fresh view on the matter.” [teacher MC3]

Although both groups appreciate the mixed audience, they perceive different gains: students say they hear new things, and can collect real examples by hearing the examples from teachers while teachers explained that they become more aware of the knowledge and experience they have collected during the years. One of the educators confirmed this finding from the questionnaire as follows:

“I think it is really nice for students to hear so many stories from practice, to hear what experienced teachers struggle with. That there will be challenges no matter how experienced a teacher you are. At the other side, I think it is really nice for teachers to see where they come from, to become aware of what they can do already. And the importance to keep developing your skills.” [educator, MC1]

Although both students and teachers perceive knowledge gains, the interviews revealed that for some students the level of the masterclass was too high, whereas some teachers felt there was more in it for the students than for them because much information was not new to them. This finding shows the importance of addressing the participants in the right ‘zone of proximal development’ to really contribute to professional development at any stage. It can also explain for the fact that teachers sometimes stayed in their role of being a tutor, as we have indicated above.

Conclusion and reflection

In this paper, we posed the following research questions: (1) How does the design of the masterclasses invite a learning dialogue between audiences? (intentional curriculum); (2) To what extent can a learning dialogue between audiences be observed during the masterclasses (implemented curriculum)? (3) How do participants appreciate the mixed audience character of the masterclasses? (attained curriculum). By answering the questions we hope to gain first insight in if and how mixed audience masterclasses could possibly contribute to building a semi-permeable curriculum, which we defined as a future sensitive curriculum that can easily manipulate flexible elements around a fixed core curriculum, seeks the intertwinement of theory and practice, and provides a learning environment for professionals at all stages of their careers. In an answer to the first question, we saw that the design products and materials revealed a focus on interactivity and dialogical learning in either whole class or small group discussions. At the same time, the awareness of a mixed audience was not explicitly taken into account in the designs, which did not specify the different backgrounds of the participants for instance. The intended curriculum, therefore, was not pervaded with a mixed audience yet. What did we see in the implemented curriculum? In answer to the second research question, we conclude that most of the masterclasses addressed the mixed audience to a certain extent. We saw that the start of the first meeting in many cases was used to get to know each other in some way, and to express different backgrounds, experiences and questions in the group. But in several masterclasses this was a rather short exercise, in which not all participants were invited or took the chance to express themselves. In only two masterclasses an effective work format such as a quiz was implemented to make visible the mixed audience. Furthermore, we saw that the interactivity in the masterclasses was high, but the mixed character low for several reasons: the participants did not mix up physically by sitting next to each other or in mixed groups, and much of the dialogue was initiated and maintained by the educator(s) in short IRF patterns. In some cases, especially in the second and third meetings, we did find mixed IDRF conversations in which the participants co-constructed the dialogue from their different backgrounds, and educators took less dominant roles. However, we also noticed that at such “mixed moments”, their roles as tutors in the larger school-university network now sometimes prevented the teachers to put their own needs before the students’ ones even while they were not the mentors of the students participating in the masterclass. Overall, for the time being we conclude that the mixed audience masterclasses were positively evaluated by all the participants. The educators believed in the concept, and teachers and students appreciated the idea although they also indicated to be only moderately aware of the fact that there was a mixed audience.

The pitfall of this study is coming with its explorative nature. We have tried to explore and discover the merits of a new work format, mixed audience masterclasses, which seeks to combine already existing collaboration in a school-university network with fresh ideas about learning together. Being used to being the tutors of students in the workplace, we now invited the tutors to become learners themselves together with pre-service students! We saw that many of the teachers who subscribed dropped out before the masterclasses had even started. Maybe becoming a student amongst students contributed to their dropping out? The teachers who did participate confirmed they had to overcome some feelings of ‘being misplaced’ when they entered the classroom filled with groups of students. Their first inclination was to either return to their cars, or enter the classroom and team up with the few faces they recognized as “being teachers just like me”. Another simple reason that could explain for the dropouts is the back office of the teacher institute, not being used to facilitating subscriptions from outside the institute. The teachers who did show up all explained they subscribed early in the school year, received one confirmation email from the institute, and then never heard from it again. This puts rather high demands on people’s awareness of approaching data, and a sense of urgence. The teacher institute also struggled with the internal registration of students choosing from many options, which could explain for the students who subscribed but never showed up. All in all, the low number of teachers in the masterclasses hampered the exploration of mixing up audiences. The present study indicates the format is promising, but follow-up evaluations are necessary to look for its benefits more extensively. In next cycles of design and evaluation, the outcomes of this study further suggest that the participants’ awareness of the mixed nature of the masterclasses could be raised in order to make the participants more responsible for the process of learning with and from each other. At the same time, the awareness should be fed by explicit elements in the design of the masterclasses. The outcomes suggest that educators should be supported to define design principles for working with mixed audiences, which translate into work formats that explicitly address and use existing differences between participants when it comes to backgrounds and experiences, questions and needs. A design tool such as Van den Akker’s (2003) spider web, which guides micro designing of lesson structures and materials, could be helpful. The spider web discerns nine design issues that need to be addressed in any design: goals, content, activities, teacher role, sources/materials, grouping, context, time allocations, and ways of assessment and feedback. Some of these issues have appeared to be important to realize an effective mixed audience learning environment. For instance, we saw that people do not mix naturally. In the design, interventions to fysically mix audiences should be present (context, grouping). In addition, articulating prior knowledge and learning needs should be part of the design of a mixed audience masterclass, and dialogue activities could guide the constructive comparison and complementarity of the knowledge and questions present. This implies interventions related to content and activities, and should affect the role of the educator (guiding and following the discussion rather than instructing and dominating it) as well as help teachers and students to become equal partners in learning.

As a final reflection, we would like to address the main question raised in this paper, if and how mixed audience masterclasses contribute to a semi-permeable curriculum. We think that our first experiences with the mixed audience masterclasses positively support the expectation that they could contribute to future sensitivity, an improved theory-practice nexus, and lifelong learning. At this stage, educators, teachers and students favor the mixed setting, and recognize several benefits of the encounter. The educational field is full of innovations that need to be introduced and explored by any teacher no matter in which stage of career development (s)he is, and the masterclasses provide room for that in the curriculum. The presented study shows the potential of putting pre- and in-service teachers together around such themes in easy to adapt masterclasses. At the same time, it also reveals several conditions in both the organization and design of the mixed audience masterclasses that are necessary to create new relationships between the mixed audiences for the benefit of all. With the masterclasses we have only begun to see how mixed audience formats, of which a masterclass is only one possibility, could contribute to a flexible and future sensitive professional learning program that starts with initial education but is implemented across all stages of teachers’ careers’.

Practical implications

Now we get back where we started. Almost any profession nowadays deals with rapidly evolving new theories, practices, techniques and strategies. Raising professionals for the future is a design problem recognized by many faculties of (higher) vocational education. As we have argued before, the demands on vocational education are diverse and high, and since we often cannot foretell what will be needed in a profession in the (near) future exactly, curriculum design has to become as flexible as possible to be able to adapt just in time and continuously. In this light, others have presented solutions under the heading of ‘modularization’ (Lucena, 2003; Snyder, Herer & Moore, 2011), ‘living curriculum’ (Churchill, Bowser & Preece, 2016), or dynamic curriculum (Derks, 2016; Hughes & Tan, 2012). The presentation of the concept of a semi-permeable curriculum in this paper seeks to contribute to this quest. Finally, by emphasizing that curricular puzzles need to be worked out at all levels of curriculum design, from nano and micro lessons to meso and macro structures, we suggest that across all those levels, the concept of semi-permeability could be further explored to give further expression to the fact that some parts in a professional field remain evergreen and should be seen as part of a core curriculum, whereas other parts of the curriculum will be fed and constituted by recent developments in either theory or practice that are deemed important in the near future, and may become evergreen elements in time. We hope the concept inspires educational designers and educators to embrace the quest for balance between old and new. Moreover, we hope it inspires many professionals in each stage of their career to embrace lifelong learning and enter the semi-permeable curriculum to learn together.

Authors

Bregje de Vries, PhD, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), The Netherlands
Ilona Schouwenaars, M.Sc., University of Applied Sciences Arnhem en Nijmegen (HAN), The Netherlands
Martine Derks, M.Sc., University of Applied Sciences Arnhem en Nijmegen (HAN), The Netherlands
Wim Folker, M.Sc., Director of SKPCPO Delta, Arnhem, The Netherlands


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Methods and Tools to Improve Collaborative Lifelong Learning

Authors: Rebecca Eliahoo, Marcelo Giglio & Loes van Wessum.

Abstract

This paper describes a three-stage method for teachers and researchers to collaborate and co-create ideas for future practice, to improve collaborative lifelong learning. Using a thematic network group, practitioner-researchers and practitioners associated with the European Association for Practitioner Research on Improving Learning (EAPRIL) came to a shared understanding of possible teacher actions, methods and tools which can be used to improve collaborative lifelong learning processes and support the professional development of teachers.

Three case studies are given as examples of developing lifelong learning processes through collaboration. The EAPRIL thematic network group borrow and adapt the concept of ‘‘interthinking’’ (Littleton & Mercer, 2013) as a process of investigating collaborative talk in the pursuit of collective intellectual endeavour. The focus was on collaboration, as this can have positive effects of social interaction for learning (Littleton, Miell & Faulkner, 2004). “Of all the conditions that feed deep learning, collaboration is at the heart of them” (Fullan, Quinn & McEachen, 2018, p. 97).

Roundtable discussions were held in an international ‘interthinking’ group’ to collate practitioners’ perspectives on ways of encouraging and supporting creative collaborations and lifelong learning for staff and students. Following this, a call was sent out for international case studies which form part of this article.

Introduction

Practitioners from one of EAPRIL’s¹ thematic networks (https://eapril.org/node/16) worked together to gather examples of professional experiences, ideas, educational visions, methods, tools and/or results of research. The question we asked ourselves was: how to improve collaborative lifelong learning for the future of education? These professional insights formed part of an international roundtable workshop which collated practitioners’ case studies and instructive examples.

Part of the roles of Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) is to encourage creative practices and educational research. Richardson and Placier (2001) consider that teachers can change practice by learning, development, socialization, growth, improvement, implementation of education with new or different visions, cognitive and affective change, and studies. In this sense, our international ’interthinking group’, was largely drawn from UAS institutions within the context of the EAPRIL Conference in November of 2017 in Häme University of Applied Sciences, Hämeenlinna, Finland.

The thematic network group felt that it was important to build collaborative relationships both internally and externally, even to the extent of encouraging schools, and other educational institutions, to plan ways of incorporating collaborative skills alongside discipline-specific competences, for both staff and students.

  1. The ‘inter-thinking group’ used a three-stage method which involved:
  2. The leaders of the thematic network pose questions within a roundtable workshop where interthinking groups collate their answers.
  3. Members of each interthinking group share and collate their answers in a plenary session.
  4. The plenary group co-create a shared understanding through a Cloud-based shared document.

The thematic network group leaders and one member of the interthinking group use the shared understanding to write this article and to include three international case studies focusing on collaborative lifelong learning.

Interthinking group Stage 1

The interthinking group was asked to arrange their roundtable discussions so that each table, comprising three to six members in the same room, was made up of people from different countries. They were asked to focus on exploring the ways in which each country introduces new forms of thinking and acting to improve collaborative learning and lifelong learning in education for all. Participants were asked to focus on three topics:

a) Given any recent educational reforms in your country, what is the role of Universities of Applied Sciences in encouraging creative practice and educational research on collaborative competencies and lifelong learning?

b) Identify any new approaches to teaching quality improvement. This includes teacher actions and research perspectives within your context/level of education, instruction, or vocational training.

c) From these discussions, please write down any new teacher actions and research perspectives you have highlighted in your group.

Interthinking group Stage 2

Each table was asked to appoint a chair who would take notes and share their group’s ideas and observations in a plenary. The thematic network group leaders helped facilitate these discussions.

Interthinking group Stage 3

During the plenary, each chair summarised their group’s comments whilst the thematic network leaders wrote these down in a shared document. As the document was projected on a screen, it could be checked immediately and amended in real time.

The thematic group leaders used the data selected during the interthinking group session to write this article. They invited members of the interthinking group to contribute case studies to add to the article. One of the members accepted and together this article was written.

We begin by reporting on the findings of the interthinking groups’ roundtable discussions from the EAPRIL conference; then we present the more in-depth cases which provide instructive examples of collaborative lifelong learning. Each case is structured in the same way highlighting their context, methods and tools, contribution and implications; and finally, we discuss our conclusions.

Interthinking groups’ roundtable findings

Methods and tools used by Universities of Applied Sciences to encourage creative practice and educational research on collaborative competencies and lifelong learning

In general, for schools, colleges and universities, the interthinking groups reported that one of the ways in which UAS encourage collaborative competences and lifelong learning, would include peer review and observations in classrooms. This could take the form of ‘Learning Walks’, where teachers allow colleagues to observe their classrooms on an informal and non-judgemental basis. The interthinking groups described this peer evaluation as a form of learning, citing other examples such as structured professional discussions between teachers; the creation of personal teaching logs, vlogs (a blog in which postings are primarily in video form) and diaries which can capture important aspects of classroom practice; regular informal meetings and networking, so that teachers share best practices across contexts and institutions; and lifelong career support through mentoring and/or coaching.

Several people suggested ‘intervision’ or ‘action learning’ (McGill & Brockbank 2004), a peer coaching activity which aims to develop professional expertise and help colleagues gain insight into their work problems (see Case Study 2). Practitioners of ‘intervision’ or ‘action learning’ claim that it can bring a practical understanding of theory, as well as contributing towards a collaborative culture where people feel collectively responsible for their organisation and its performance.

Whether it’s through informal learning over a cup of coffee; or through supported experiments, action research or student co-creation, it was felt that collaboration remains an important part of the professional development of educators and students (see Case Study 3).

However, teacher collaboration is a means to achieve an end. The interthinking groups stressed that space must be made for a research-based and scholarly approach in order to help define goals and shed light on outcomes and sustain visions of education’s future. Otherwise, collaboration can become a content-less waste of time. Teachers must feel that collaboration helps them teach and integrate into a professional learning community or community of practice (Wenger, 1998), instead of feeling forced to collaborate and experiencing loss of autonomy. Collaboration only works within a climate of openness and trust, as demonstrated in Case Study 1 (Van Grieken, Meredith, Packer & Kyndt, 2017).

Participants in the ‘interthinking’ groups were contacted after the EAPRIL 2017 Conference and asked if they would like to contribute more in-depth case studies, three of which are presented later in this article.

Professional learning communities as a form of collaborative and lifelong learning

Over the last few decades, the language of collaboration and collegiality has shifted more towards the terminology of ‘professional learning communities’ or ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger, 1998) which comprise different types of institutions or organizations coming together in the interest of a shared enterprise or purpose.

This is illustrated by Little’s research (2006) focusing on community and professional development as foundations for learning-centred schools. She argued that when schools systematically support professional learning, they are more likely to be effective with students. Little’s paper (2006) examines a selective sample of research, looking for the ways in which investment in teachers’ professional learning in North American schools might have an effect on students’ learning.

Little (2006) concluded that schools exhibiting a high level of success with students tend to have working environments that are also conducive to teacher learning:

In these schools, teacher learning arises out of close involvement with students and their work; shared responsibility for student progress; access to new knowledge about learning and teaching; sensibly organized time; access to the expertise of colleagues inside and outside the school; focused and timely feedback on individual performance and on aspects of classroom or school practice; and an overall ethos in which teacher learning is valued and professional community cultivated. (p. 23)

In professional learning communities (PLCs), professionals collaborate on improving student learning and share the responsibility for all students to learn (Lomos, Hofman & Bosker, 2011). This collaboration also contributes to the professional development of the teachers (Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace & Thomas, 2006; Vescio, Ross & Adams, 2008). If teachers focus on changing their instructional practices, PLCs are successful in improving student achievement (Supovitz, 2002).

Many elements identified by the interthinking groups also appeared in the following three case studies.

Case study 1: Collaboration between an English UAS and community colleges for innovative curriculum design

Context

This case study relates to an innovative initial teacher education course in the UK, which was re-designed by Rebecca Eliahoo in her role as UAS programme leader, in collaboration with course leaders from eight different community colleges. The aim was to improve in-service, part-time courses, for example, by correcting over-assessment and employing a greater variety of assessment for learning methods. The courses offered professional qualifications for teachers in the Lifelong Learning Sector, which has several definitions in the UK, but is generally understood to cover education for students over 16 years of age, as well as adult and community education. This case study is empirical in nature as it deals with the gathering of information through direct personal and professional experience and concerns research applied to a specific group of UK teacher educators.

Method and tools

The course leaders from each college met regularly at the University for professional development workshops facilitated by the UAS programme leader, using Cloud technology to share ideas, resources and draft modules. Module leaders from all the colleges were also invited to assignment writing seminars, research days and cross moderation meetings, where they were provided with discussion materials and resources to discuss ways of improving practice and re-designing the curriculum.

New module leaders and course leaders were given written and oral guidance on their role and offered mentoring, as well as opportunities to collaborate with more experienced practitioners on marking and moderation.

Contribution

This collegial involvement (Little 1990) provided a benign environment for colleagues from different institutions to exchange practice, design assessments and share resources. The University-college teacher education consortium also jointly won two research bids. For example, two of the colleges worked together to create free resources to help teachers support their learners’ literacy and literacy (see link: http://supportingliteracyandesol.blogspot.co.uk/).

The UAS and colleges’ investment in their lecturers’ time together resulted firstly, in the development of closely bound groups with high levels of trust in each other’s professionalism (Van Grieken, Meredith, Packer, Kyndt, 2017) and with ‘collectively held beliefs, ideas and intentions’ (Little 1990); and secondly, their collaborative work had a positive impact on teacher trainees and ultimately their learners. However, it took a couple of years to embed these collegial working practices, building sufficient trust between colleagues from different institutions.

For example, the emphasis of the courses shifted towards inquiry learning and critical thinking within an ethical framework. Going back to first principles in teacher education, it was felt that assessment of trainee teachers had to be rooted in practice. Course assessments were therefore linked directly to observed teaching practice, so that these were spread throughout the course. Different educational learning theories were actively modelled by module leaders during course delivery; and trainee teachers were asked to evaluate the impact of their teaching on their own learners.

Collaborative and inquiry learning, which exemplified the notion of teaching as action research, were used throughout the courses through supported experiments (Petty, 2017) and then in action research projects, so that the teacher trainees could engage critically with educational literature. Supported experiments involve teachers in experimenting with their teaching, changing something important and reflecting on this in the light of learner and colleague feedback. The assessed research project focused on researching an aspect of subject specialist practice.

Module leaders, who were also tutors and mentors, were asked to audio-record professional discussions with teacher trainees and these were particularly effective for vocational and Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) teacher trainees, non-graduates and those with dyslexia. The piloting of audio recording professional discussions had shown that teacher trainees could identify their strengths and areas for development more critically within a dialogue, rather than in an essay.

The design of valid and innovative assessment methods was a direct result of the grass-roots curriculum development and ideas creation which had emanated from the UAS and college practitioners’ collaborations.

Implications

This case shows the crucial role of Universities of Applied Science in supporting the professional development of colleagues from different types of institutions who are also teaching Higher Education courses; as well as the richness and diversity of design ideas and resources which can be garnered from teachers who are not based in Universities.

Case study 2: School leader development programme created through UAS and primary schools’ collaboration

Context

This case study relates to a two-year innovative school leader development programme in the Netherlands led by Loes van Wessum in which nine principals of primary schools (from three school boards) collaborated with five advisors from the UAS. Three of the UAS advisors had pedagogical expertise and two – including the project leader – had expertise in educational change, CPD and leadership.

The focus of the programme was to help principals to develop an analytical culture which could stimulate professionals to work with an inquiry habit of mind within primary schools. In Dutch schools, data are available, but teachers and principals don’t use them very often as information to improve student learning (Schildkamp & Lai, 2013). Three school boards turned to a UAS for help so that schools could develop their capacity to enhance data driven teaching. In line with developing professional learning communities, data driven teaching can also be used as a professional development strategy. Principals were stimulated to use leadership practices which could contribute to the development of PLC’s.

Methods and tools

Principals collaborated with advisors on two intertwined topics: enhancing their learning results in maths and language through collaboratively analyzing and reflecting on these results within school; and enhancing the inquiry habits of minds of teachers by using new forms of leadership practices.

Developing an inquiry habit of mind can be described as a habit of using inquiry and reflection to think about where you are, where you are going, and how you will get there; and then turning around and rethinking the whole process to see how well it is working, before making adjustments (Earl & Katz, 2006). It involves teachers thinking about what they can do to contribute to student learning, acting on it and checking the effects of their instructional practices on students’ learning.

UAS advisors took the role of ‘critical friend’ on the understanding that they would be encouraged to speak truthfully, but constructively, about weaknesses, problems or emotionally charged issues. Principals collaborated with each other on the same topics in three workshops each year using an ‘intervision’ or ‘action learning’ peer coaching approach (McGill and Brockbank 2004).

These workshops were facilitated by the project leader, UAS advisors and a senior researcher. The preparation of the workshops also included the central office administrators from the three boards, who were participating in the workshops. One unexpected result was that these office administrators also started to collaborate within the bounds of the innovative leadership programme.

At the end of each workshop, principals completed learning reports in which they answered two questions about their learning outcomes (‘what did you learn in this workshop?’) and their learning activities (‘what contributed to this?’).

Contribution

Analysis of all the learner reports showed that principals expanded their practical and theoretical knowledge base; reflected on their roles and underlying assumptions; and learned to experiment with new leadership practices. They mentioned collaboration with both the advisors and other principals as the most important learning activity.

In the first year of the programme, principals collaborated through storytelling and sharing ideas, as well as asking and providing each other with assistance in the form of giving suggestions. In the second (ongoing) year, the programme will also use deeper forms of collaboration (Van Grieken, Dochy, Raes & Kyndt, 2015), such as sharing and analyzing data together, reflective dialogue (in which an analysis is made before giving suggestions to solve the problem) and providing aid and assistance.

Implications

Principals’ professional development can be stimulated if it focuses on teachers’ learning and school improvement.  Principals’ learning processes can also be enhanced through the development of explicit collaborative reflection, which can help them in several ways. Firstly, to realize how leadership practices can contribute to teachers’ learning and school development; and secondly, reflection can help them to widen deliberately their repertoire of leadership practices (Ericsson, 2006).  This UAS-school collaboration helped them to become aware of their own tacit knowledge and mental models (Senge, 1990) and in becoming more aware of their own mindsets, they felt able to question them.

As mentioned by the EAPRIL interthinking group, the combination of formal and informal learning activities which contribute to teachers’ learning and school improvement, together with peers and experts, seems to be a fruitful approach for enhancing principals’ professional development.

Case study  3: Group creation & innovation method: professional and collaborative visions of the assessment of cross-curricular competencies

Context

This case study relates to an innovative method of practitioner research in Switzerland, which was designed by Marcelo Giglio in his position as head of research project (UAS HEP-BEJUNE), and in collaboration with Céline Miserez Caperos (HEP-BEJUNE), Régine Roulet (Heads of teachers’ continuing education programmes), Christiane Droz Giglio (Department of Education, canton of Neuchâtel) and thirteen different community colleges.

This case study is illustrated by a dynamic method of co-creation, innovation and co-diffusion of groups among different actors: collaboration and networking between different positions of primary school, teacher education and educational research. The objective is to improve ways of thinking and acting on assessment for learning as part of the prescribed cross-curricular competencies which form part of the new curricula of Switzerland: PER (Plan d’études romand) which apply to school pupils up to the age of 16.

The Swiss canton of Neuchâtel proposed assessment for learning progression with competency expectations across multiple developmental stages, ages and grade levels in primary schools. It isn’t easy for teachers when they have to categorise and organize progression by subject area and by cross-curricular competencies (such as creativity, collaboration and reflection). Children are expected to learn these skills as they progress through their education by using assessed portfolios. Furthermore, these collaborative, lifelong learning skills are always evolving towards the future; are never exhaustive; and need to be assessed.

We can define assessment for learning as a process of collecting and interpreting evidence for use by pupils and their teachers to decide where learners are in their learning progression, where they need to go and how best to get there (Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall & Wiliam, 2007; Broadfoot, Daugherty, Gardner, Harlen, James & Stobart, 2002). How can teachers learn and develop new forms of assessment for learning in class? In particular, how can teachers assess learning progression on cross-curricular competencies in terms of creativity, collaboration, communication and reflection?

Methods and tools

This case study relates to a three-phase method of Group creation & innovation carried out since 2013 in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. The goals of this project are:

  • To improve the practices of assessment for learning in primary schools.
  • To increase the quality of teachers’ advisors in assessment for learning progression by portfolios.
  • To enhance the scenarios of teacher education and workplace internships on assessment for collaborative lifelong learning.

Cross-curricular competencies and skills require new teaching actions that focus on collaborative learning progression. This means that pupils could be committed to verbalizing, drawing, writing or presenting a plan, model or theory in the form of a schema, using different ways of thinking, acting and interacting creatively and reflectively in class. Such competences can also benefit their lifelong learning habits.

Indeed, it is necessary that pupils learn to self-evaluate, distinguish and compare their point of view about their own learning progress with the teacher’s (Giglio & Rothenbühler, 2014). This is a challenge for the future of education and learning: to train pupils in lifelong learning, using what is available in today’s world, so that they can adapt to an unknown new world, in ways that are collaborative, creative and reflexive, as well as in ways which encourage deep learning (Fullan, Quinn & McEachen, 2018).

In terms of collaborative learning, social and cultural skills, as well as competencies, can be considered as important as different school subjects. They require both teachers and pupils to use different assessment for learning approaches (Tessaro, Gerard & Giglio, 2017).

Phase 1 – Collaboration as the driver for creativity:

The first phase of this Group creation & innovation method was inspired by R. Keith Sawyer’s study of ‘group genius’ (2007) which considers collaboration to be the driver for creativity. Rather than concentrating on an individual’s capacity to develop creative ideas, Sawyer’s studies focused on innovations emerging from the dynamic of a group.

Each Group creation & innovation comprises six members with different educational professions and institutional roles:

  • teacher,
  • teachers’ student,
  • teacher mentor,
  • teacher advisor,
  • teacher educator, and
  • researcher

The researchers coordinate 90-minute collaborative sessions which aim to provide favourable conditions so that each group member can think about their shared current good practices, on the one hand; and about the future of education and learning, on the other hand. This is not only from their own educational profession and position, but also in a collaborative situation from the point of view of other educational professions and roles.

From each other’s current experiences, each group member contributes, in a creative and innovative way, to professional development and teacher training. In addition, this type of collaboration between teacher educators, teachers’ students, practitioners and researchers is an activity that can trigger what Engeström describes as Expansive Learning (1999). It is by analysing new situations that these education professionals can create and innovate tools, try them out, consolidate them and come up with a new and improved step-by-step educational contribution. This work can help develop new, future uses, creative and perhaps innovative teaching practices, as part of a collective work geared towards education and learning in the future. All these Group creation & innovation sessions were recorded, transcribed and analysed by researchers.

Phase 2 – Sharing, compiling and consolidating collaborative visions in a professional community:

The second meetings are for researchers to present examples of future visions of assessment for learning progression to each working group of teachers’ advisors or to teacher educators. The aim is to collaborate towards a compilation and consolidation of these visions of future education. Each separate 90-minute session was recorded, transcribed and analysed by researchers.

Phase 3 – Co-dissemination and enriching to other colleagues:

The third phase of this Group creation & innovation method is for these visions, as well as the research results, to be shared and enhanced with other colleagues in another session. This is implemented by every team formed of a researcher, or a teachers’ advisor or a teacher educator separately.

Examples of future visions of assessment for learning progression are separately presented to each working group (teachers’ advisors and teacher educators) by the researchers, to consolidate these visions of future education.

Lastly, these visions, as well as the research results, are co-disseminated to other colleagues. This is implemented by every team formed of a researcher, a teachers’ advisor and a teacher educator.

During these co-dissemination approaches, teams use the following approach:

  1. Introduction of the objective of the session;
  2. Presentation of the project’s theoretical and methodological aspects and researchers’ results;
  3. Audio recording of participants’ discussions and noting pathways for proposed visions of future education, especially assessment for learning progression;
  4. Sharing of these creative and innovative visions of education;
  5. Selection and analysis of data (recorded discussions, documents and researchers’ notes).

Contribution

In the content of the participants’ discussions, we can identify the challenges of collaboration between different institutions (schools, minister and UAS-teacher education) and between different educational roles to improve evaluation in the present and in the future of education. Among these challenges, there is only some coherence between the usual field practices and the tools needed to assess learning progression on cross-curricular competencies in terms of creativity, collaboration, communication and reflection. These competencies are constantly evolving in the face of an unknown future. Evaluation tools must be open to the uncertain future of society and education. In addition, the pupil’s place in the assessment for learning process is very important for their collaborative lifelong learning in terms of creativity, collaboration and communication. We are currently studying the actions of teachers by supporting, coaching and advising pupils in their learning or self-regulated learning.

Implications

The Group creation & innovation process allows members of the teaching profession to create a collective group of reflections and analyses, in order to produce certain lines of action and perspectives which are based on the results of the study. These documents and recordings are used by the researchers to witness and supervise new research objects with practitioners from most of these groups of educational professions.

What do these three collaborative lifelong learning cases demonstrate in terms of methods, tools and contribution to professional development?

These three international instructive examples were used as short case studies which showed firstly, that for collaboration to be effective, it requires time to build up trust between participants, as trust and group cohesion are building blocks for innovation. A prerequisite of effective collaboration is the identification of goals and/or aims which should be clearly articulated. The cases highlighted the roles of peer mentoring and coaching which can be powerful tools for group integration and sustainability. Importantly, in all the cases, collaboration between different types of institutions (for instance schools and UAS; colleges and UAS) stimulated positive pedagogical changes that also helped change individuals’ professional mindsets.

Clearly, evaluations of collaborative learning (for example, learner reports) can also contribute to widening the repertoire of pedagogical and leadership practices. Indeed, collaborative learning can be a driver for creativity through triggering expansive learning (Engeström 1999), thereby enabling practitioners, teachers, teacher educators and students to create, experiment with and review new teaching practices.

In all three cases, the ultimate goal was to enhance the assessment performance of teachers or teacher trainees which contributes to students’ learning, especially where this helps develop students’ capabilities to assess their own learning (Hattie, 2009; Dewitt, 2017).

Within schools, research shows that teachers have the greatest impact on students’ learning (Hattie, 2003; Mourshed, Chijioke, & Barber, 2010) followed by the impact of school principals (Leithwood, Harris & Hopkins,  2008). School principals and teacher educators have an important, if indirect, impact on students’ learning because they can enhance teachers’ professional development (Robinson 2007).

In the cases presented above, a systematic and sustainable approach was used. We believe that stimulating the professional development of the secondary contributors towards student learning – teacher educators and principals – as well as focussing on the professional development of teachers and teacher trainees will have a greater influence on learning. This is because school principals and teacher educators would be enabled to facilitate better quality and more targeted professional development for teachers and teacher trainees who, in turn, can enhance student learning.

The cases also show that inter-organizational professional collaboration between teacher educators or principals can benefit from the participation of UAS colleagues in the role of critical friends. When collaboration concerning authentic problem solving is used as deliberate practice for professional development, for example, by setting and reflecting on learning goals or using assessment performance instruments like learner reports, it enhances the cognitive, emotional, motivational and behavioural learning of teacher educators and principals. This is comparable with effective features of professional development programs for teachers (Darling-Hammond, Hyler &  Gardner, 2017).

Deeper forms of collaboration as joint work (Van Grieken, et.al.,2015) contribute to professional development of teacher educators and principals. But context also matters. Collaboration contributes to and depends on the development of professional capital (Fullan & Hargreaves, 2012) through sharing and creating knowledge and beliefs as well as mutual trust and respect.

Conclusion

We now return to the initial question posed to the interthinking group: how to improve collaborative lifelong learning for the future of education and learning? Answers came from the participants who were asked to work in roundtable interthinking groups comprising educators from different countries, including Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. The principal examples of effective practice that they discussed, based on their own practical experiences, were:

  • The use of video to capture and reflect on one’s own teaching, which participants felt it was relatively easy to set up and which has the potential to enhance teachers’ own learning.
  • Collaboration and networking were effective where school and college leaders provided time for such activities.
  • Students were given a real-world task which was a joint assignment. One example asked students to go through a cycle identifying what the problem was and what research questions there were. Lastly, the students were asked to cooperate and discuss progress with their supervisor and groups of peers. This made them communicate with their peers, tutors, and a real-world assignment holder before the work was assessed by tutors.
  • Another example cited used student groups to tackle a real-world task, with the best assignment being sent to the client as a finished project.
  • Some participants wanted to use ‘ill-defined problems’ in order to provoke discussion and argument around these problems, before being in a position to reach a consensus.

The participants of the interthinking’ group not only came from different countries, but also from a variety of disciplines. They therefore had different theoretical backgrounds and different methodological approaches to learning in their own disciplines.

Researchers in collaborative learning (Littleton, Miell & Faulkner, 2004) highlight the need to discuss the different facets of interaction, within which lie the important roles of conflict, planning, negotiation, exploratory talk and professional dialogue.

The group also highlighted the difficulties which arise in the act of collaboration itself. For example, lack of time – even with online meetings. As social beings, teachers may prefer to collaborate face to face, even when the goals are not very clear. Participants felt that it was important to avoid situations when it’s easier just to muddle along on your own.

The group agreed, however, that without reflection on the experiences of collaboration and networking, there would be no educational benefit. A research-based and/or scholarly approach needs to be taken and actions should represent more than just being ‘a good idea’.

¹ European Association for Practitioner Research on Improving Learning

Acknowledgements

With thanks to members of the EAPRIL Cloud 3 ‘interthinking’ group at the Hämeenlinna Conference in November 2017.

With thanks to the National Education Association in the USA for permission to cite from Little’s Professional Community and Professional Development in the Learning-Centered School.

With thanks to members of the Service de l’enseignement obligatoire (SEO) du Département de l’éducation et de la famille, Canton et république de Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

Glossary  
Adviser Educational developer 
Lecturer Teacher working in a Further Education college or a Higher Education Institution 
Principal Head teacher of a school 
Pupil A person, especially a child at school, who is being taught 
Student A person who is learning at a college or university 
Teacher School teacher 
Teacher trainee In-service or pre-service teacher in training 

Authors

Dr Rebecca Eliahoo, PhD,  Educational consultant
Dr Marcelo Giglio, PhD, Professor, Head of research projects, HEP-BEJUNE, Switzerland & University of Neuchâtel
Dr Loes van Wessum, PhD, Associate professor Leadership in Education, Windesheim UAS, The Netherlands


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ePortfolios as a way to empower students and bridge them to future work places

Authors: Marja Laurikainen & Irma Kunnari.

Abstract

Rapid changes in the world of work due to globalization and digitalization have transformed higher education and students’ lifelong learning, career management skills and digital competences have become more important. These skills and competences need to be strengthened in authentic settings by engaging students and making their evidence of competences transparent with ePortfolios. In this paper, the authors describe and summarize research done in five European countries and six higher education institutions on three different perspectives (student, employer, teacher) on ePortfolios. The results show that the benefits of ePortfolios need to be made clear for students and the use of ePortfolios needs to be embedded into curriculum to make it systematic and meaningful, not just some extra work. This requires new kind of collaboration between teachers but also students need to take ownership of their learning process and involve other stakeholders to their assessment, i.e. peers, representatives from the world of work. Nonetheless, from the employer interviews it is evident that ePortfolios, if done properly and with thought, can make competences and skills more visible and thus, create better matches in the recruitment processes.

Introduction and theoretical background

The critical points of the quality of learning in competence-based education are the assessment and guidance practices. However, if competence assessment is done by using traditional methods in individual basis and within the school environment, it fails to both motivate the students and to create constructive alignment of the desired competences (Biggs & Tang 2007). In addition, the assessment practices should support the development of competence-based education (Koenen, Dochy, & Berghmans 2015) as well as the 21st century skills (Voogt et al. 2013), which are crucial in the rapidly changing world of work. The globalization and digitalization have transformed studying and working environments, and students’ lifelong learning, career management skills and digital competences need to be strengthened by engaging students to be more involved in their own learning and assessment processes in higher education.

Inspiring assessment and guidance practices, like peer assessment, collaborative digital assessment, and creating evidence of competences in real life settings are still not comprehensively used in higher education (e.g. Medland 2016). Further, the use of multimodal assessments seems to be limited (Connor 2012). Creativity and innovation are needed to under-stand what the evidence of competences is in real life settings and how students can document and make their skills transparent with digital tools. The need to have a digital professional profile has been recognized, but it is evident that there is still a lack of guidance and skills to create that, both from the students’ and teachers’ point of view.

Digital portfolios have a dual meaning – they can be used as a workspace for learning and reflection process making it more transparent and inspiring, and as a showcase being the inventory of all evidence/artifacts of skills and competences (Barrett 2010). With ePortfolios, assessment is not just assessment of learning or assessment for learning, but also assessment as learning. Thus, ePortfolios are used in self and peer assessing, giving feedback, co-creating evidence of competences in shared platforms and utilizing different digital applications. This is likely to increase the students’ feeling of competence, relatedness and autonomy, which are fundamental for creating motivation and wellbeing in learning (Kunnari & Lipponen 2010; Ryan & Deci 2000). In addition, ePortfolio as a story and positive digital identity development (branding) enables students’ choice and personalization, further helping them to find their voice and passions (Friedman 2006).

In this paper, the authors analyze all the data and outcomes collected from one case study (Yin 2009) in “Empowering Eportfolio Process (EEP)” research and development project funded by the European Union, where five European countries (FI, DK, BE, PT, IE) and altogether six higher education institutes (HEIs) participated. Based on the research done in the project, this paper aims to establish a common understanding of ePortfolios and find out what the key elements and challenges in the process of using ePortfolios in higher education are. Not only that, but also how to develop the use of ePortfolios to empower and motivate students in their own learning process and how to improve their employability, and skills related to that. Thus, in this case ePortfolios and the learning and assessment processes related to them are investigated from three different perspectives (student, employer, teacher/educational institution) in order to find elements to empower and engage students.

In the framework of this paper, the authors understand ePortfolios based on the following definition of ePortfolios:

“ePortfolios are student-owned digital working and learning spaces for collecting, creating, sharing, collaborating, reflecting learning and competences, as well as storing assessment and evaluation. They are platforms for students to follow and be engaged in their personal and career development, and actively interact with learning communities and different stakeholders of the learning process.” (Kunnari & Laurikainen 2017.)

This definition highlights the dynamic nature of ePortfolios and students’ ownership, but also how connected the creation of them is to other stakeholders. To develop the use of ePortfolios it was needed to hear all the voices, students’ and teachers’, but also to study and raise the awareness in the world of work. In the current labor market, finding open positions and jobs as well as the recruitment processes are evolving through digitalization. Social networking and online presence help to connect with potential employers, and companies are increasingly following potential employees’ online presence. Indeed, there are less traditional résumés, virtual ePortfolios or résumés are easy to build (technically) and manage because one can access them from anywhere and anytime (Forbes 2011).

The aims of the research of three perspectives on ePortfolio are described below. The methodological approaches in all three are presented in the chapter Methodology.

The aim of the research done on students’ ePortfolio process was to investigate the assessment and guidance processes as well as ePortfolio environments and tools available in participating countries. In addition, the career learning and motivating or engaging aspects of the process were investigated. Ultimately, the research aimed to give an understanding on how students’ competences versus assessment practices are constructively aligned in order to create empowerment for students and what kind of tools can support this the most efficient way.

The research on employers’ perspective aimed to reveal how students’ competences and the needs of the world of work meet. In addition, it aimed to find out what kind of digital portfolios the representatives of various organizations want to see when they are recruiting a new employee and the specific things they assess from the (digital) portfolio. Educational institutions are only starting to understand the meaning of ePortfolios or online presence. Thus, educational processes do not yet fully support the building of the skills and competences needed for this new kind of job hunting. The research on employers’ expectations on digital portfolios was made to improve the ePortfolio process within educational institutions as well as to raise the awareness of employers of the benefits of ePortfolios.

The third and final research aimed to investigate teachers’ guidance processes related to ePortfolios and how ePortfolios are implemented in different participating HEIs. Further, it aimed to describe how ePortfolio processes are integrated into curriculum and how sustainable those processes are, how the assessment processes are organized, and what the structures for good utilization of ePortfolios in the learning infrastructure are.

Methodology

The data for this article was collected from one case study (Yin, 2009) “Empowering Eportfolio Process (EEP)” research and development project where five European countries (FI, DK, BE, PT, IE) and altogether six higher education institutes (HEIs) participated. All of the HEIs are in different stages of implementing ePortfolios and use them in very different contexts. Two of the HEIs represent initial teacher training, one HEI is starting to integrate ePortfolios in the context of health and welfare education. On the other hand, one HEI focuses on the aspects of adult/continuing education, career guidance and recognition of prior learning, and one HEI represents the point of view of an educational development unit, which promotes the quality of academic education and supports continuing education and other forms of lifelong learning. In addition, one HEI represents both professional teacher training and bachelor level education, in this case especially in the fields of business administration and bioeconomy.

The research was done by teams of 1‒4 researchers who are experienced in different aspects of educational development (digital, pedagogical and curriculum development) as well as implementation of ePortfolios in higher education. The research was conducted between autumn 2016 and spring 2018 in the participating HEIs. During this time, the research teams communicated and collaborated through digital platforms as well as meetings in events on ePortfolios (seminars) which provided opportunities to discuss the findings and draw up common recommendations.

Data was collected in a small-scale field research on three perspectives of the ePortfolio process – from students’, employers’ and teachers’/higher education institutes’ point of view. Firstly, a desk research was made to map the current situation related to national policies, strategies and recommendations, existing practices and models in participating HEIs (and beyond) related to ePortfolios. These were collected into a digital publication “Collection of Engaging Practices in ePortfolio Process” (Kunnari & Laurikainen 2017), which was a starting point for the research on the three perspectives.

For all three studies, there was a unified framework for data collection and analyzing. However, the data collection in each country was implemented in a way that served the purposes and specific circumstances of that specific HEI and country the best possible way. Thus, the methods (e.g. surveys, interviews, literature research, and focus groups) and samples vary but still follow the same overall framework. In addition, in all HEIs participating in this research there were internal pilot activities, which fed data collection and analyzing process.

Methods in investigating students’ perspective

Due to different stages and situations in ePortfolio implementation in each country and participating HEI, the samples used to this research vary in size, degree programme, degree cycle and phase of the studies. The average size of the sample was n=19 and mainly from BA level students. The average response percentage was 35. The country specific information is provided in Table 1.

Table 1. The sample used to investigate students’ perspective on ePortfolios
(Kunnari, Laurikainen, & Torseke 2017; Korhonen, Ruhalahti, & Torseke 2017; Poulsen & Dimsits 2017; Devaere, Martens & Van den Bergh 2017; Van Eylen, & Deketelaere 2018; Pires, Rodrigues & Pessoa 2018; Choistealbha 2018).
 FINLANDDENMARKBELGIUM 1BELGIUM 2PORTUGALIRELAND
ePortfolio stage:
emerging/
existing
Existing in some programmes and teacher training, Emerging in othersExisting but only in the application/ entrance phaseExisting/
Emerging
EmergingExisting in some courses/ programmesExisting
Sample
Number of studentsn=18 (10 BA, 8 Teacher training students)n=15n=13n=18n=16 (13 for interviews, 3 for narratives)n=32
Study programmesSustainable Development & Professional Teacher TrainingDigital technologies in VET-programmesMedical SchoolMedical Laboratory Technology (MLT)Different programmes, diversity of profiles (criteria of having been in learning situation using digital media in the previous school year or being enrolled in different courses at IPSEducation Studies
Bachelor/Master/PhD/ continuing education/ otherBA & Professional Teacher TrainingContinuing education/adult educationTwo BA groups, 1 MA groupBABA/MABA
Study year2nd year (BA), 1-year teacher studentsThree classes of the same programme, two classes completed in autumn 2016 and one in sprint 2017Three different student groups; 3rd yearthree groups of students for interviews (diverse profiles), three Master students for narrative writing1st to 4th grade, During work placement – i.e. when they were beginning to utilise the ePortfolio
Response rateN/A, targeted survey 33% (15 /48 respondents)46% (6/20 BA; 7/8 MA) 35% (18/52)N/A, targeted survey27% (32/120)

For investigating the students’ perspectives on ePortfolios there was a co-designed overall structure of themes and questions that was used in each participating country, however, the methods were applied based on the situation in each country. The common framework included four themes: 1) Students’ experiences and perspectives on ePortfolios, 2) Identification of the personal dimensions that facilitate students’ engagement in the ePortfolio process, 3) General competences and digital competences developed by students in the ePortfolio process (example: European Commission Framework, 2016: e.g. information and data literacy; communication and collaboration; digital content creation; safety and problem solving), and 4) The learning environments and organizational dimensions that support students in the ePortfolio process (engaging contextual conditions).

The methods of data collection and analysis as well as the content of the study from each country are introduced in Table 2.

Table 2. The methodology used to investigate students’ perspective on ePortfolios
(Kunnari, Laurikainen, & Torseke 2017; Korhonen, Ruhalahti, & Torseke 2017; Poulsen & Dimsits 2017; Devaere, Martens & Van den Bergh 2017; Van Eylen, & Deketelaere 2018; Pires, Rodrigues & Pessoa 2018; Choistealbha 2018)
 FINLANDDENMARKBELGIUM 1BELGIUM 2PORTUGALIRELAND
Method
Qualitative/
quantitative
QualitativeQualitativeQualitativeQualitativeQualitativeQuantitative/ qualitative
ToolOnline questionnaire to a student focus group (GoogleForm)Online surveyOnline questionnaireOnline questionnaire (LimeSurvey)group interviews and narratives written by studentsOnline survey (SurveyMonkey)
Distribution channelFilled in during guidance sessionBy emailBy emailBy emailPersonal contact
Content
QuestionsDiscussion of the common themes and their sub-questions described above; In addition, specific questions for teacher students about the role of ePortfolios in becoming professional teachers, user experiences, benefits/challenges while creating ePortfolios, support for facilitation, ePortfolios in assessment.Ten open questions, statements on: challenges and possibilities of ePortfolio, competences needed to create an ePortfolio, definition of the concept “ePortfolio”.Open questions; BAs experience of their nursing internship during 2015 and 2016 summer and their patientcare internship in December 2016; MAs had no previous experience in ePortfoliosDiscussion of the common themes and their sub-questions described aboveDiscussion of the common themes and their sub-questions described aboveThe research question “What are students’ perspectives of the benefits and challenges of using ePortfolios?” guided the research: Discussion of the common themes and their sub-questions described above
Analysis
MethodCollected, compiled and analysed with the focus on emerging ePortfolio use and what needs to be addressed and taken into accountFocus on meaning-making, statements of the respondents’ about how to understand/make sense of ePortfolios (concept, learning space)Driven by two aspects: collecting the broad variety of answers due to the exploratory focus of this study and the frequency of answers givenThe responses were further outlined by frequency diagrams and by descriptive analysisQualitative content analysis Thematically in line with the survey questions

Methods in investigating employers’ perspective

The research was implemented in a case study format. Again, there was a common framework and themes to investigate through individual or group thematic interviews with employers, representatives of career services, recruitment companies and other organizations. The themes to discuss were existing recruitment settings, the benefit of ePortfolios in these processes and how employers see their role in supporting the creation of ePortfolios of students, what kind of mutually benefitting collaboration there could be.

There were altogether twelve diversified cases from the participating countries: Finland with five case studies, Denmark with one, Belgium with three, Portugal and Ireland with two cases each. The cases came from the field of medical services, education, universities’ alumni and career services, human resources and recruitment services, project coordination offices, creative industries and digital services.

Methods in investigating teachers’ perspective

The participating HEIs were asked to collect data from their organizations related to teachers’ guidance practices in the ePortfolio process, how they are implemented, is the process integrated into curriculum and how sustainable it is, how the assessment is organized and what the structures for good utilization of ePortfolios in the learning infrastructure are. The research teams in participating HEIs utilized existing materials, discussed them with teachers and others involved in ePortfolio process, and based on these, drew a framework image of their organizational context related to ePortfolios.

During a seminar in Belgium in February 2018, the research teams had a wider discussion on the similarities and differences between each HEI’s context, and based on the discussions they further developed their own frameworks. A consensus was reached that it is very challenging to describe one frame that fits all HEIs due to differences in e.g. structures, programmes and digital environments. However, each HEI can present their own framework and highlight the good practices in it and thus, there is a collection of good practices that others can utilize depending on their own context.

Results of the analysis on three perspectives on ePortfolios

The methods and results from the field research in five countries on three different ePortfolio perspectives (student, teacher, employer) were reported in a structured summary by the participating HEIs. In addition, the preliminary results were presented in poster sessions during three different seminars: in Portugal in March 2017, in Ireland in September 2017 and in Belgium in February 2018. A common qualitative analysis of the findings was made based on both the summaries and the poster sessions. The following three sub-parts describe the findings from each perspective.

Students’ ePortfolio process and development of digital competence

What is evident from this research is that the use of ePortfolios is still emerging only in these six participating HEIs. There are some good examples in singular courses and study programmes but in general, the understanding of ePortfolios is not sufficient, with both students and teachers.
The students had a general positive and engaged attitude towards the use of ePortfolios but the benefits were not completely clear nor the possibilities. They could see how ePortfolios can support their personal and professional development and give transparency to the learning process, which correspond to the previous study related to students’ adaptation to ePortfolios by Lopez-Fernandez (2009). However, this study demonstrated the diversity of students’ experiences related to the use of ePortfolios as well as different conceptions about the process and the tools: not all of them were familiar with the definition of ePortfolio and thus understood it in several different ways. Nonetheless, generally it was seen “as an online student-owned learning space, based on technological and digital tools, that can store and share their reflections, learning outcomes, achievements and evidence of competences, by using non-traditional resources — such as blogs, CV’s, web pages and LinkedIn profiles.” (Kunnari, Laurikainen, Pires & Rodrigues 2017).

The findings showed that two types of digital competences are needed in the ePortfolio process: in the creation of ePortfolio (technical) and in compiling the ePortfolio (editing). In addition, in order to create content for the ePortfolio, students need transferable skills (e.g. reflection, collaboration, communication, organization and visualization). The study also revealed that students perceive their digital competences from intermediate to high level; however, even though they may be competent in using digital tools and apps in their leisure time and socializing purposes, they may not be aware of digital solutions in the learning context. This means that before starting to use ePortfolios, they need preparation and support in their digital skills. (Kunnari, Laurikainen & Torseke 2017).

Another issue students emphasized is that ePortfolio creation and development need to be integrated into curriculum throughout the studies, i.e. there needs to be time allocated for this as well as other resources such as teachers’ guidance. Eportfolio should be in the core of the learning process in collaboration with peers, employers and other stakeholders.

Competence transparency and its innovativeness – Employers’ perspective

In participating HEIs’ contexts, ePortfolios are mainly used as a learning space during the studies where students collect evidence of their skills and competences and utilize self- and peer-assessment to reflect their own learning. In many cases, the connection to life after graduation, i.e. when seeking for an employment and/or further studies, was lacking or not very evident. This corresponds to a more general challenge in Europe, which the European Union has recognized in its modernization agendas i.e. the models and intensity of cooperation between universities and businesses are scattered (European Union 2018). Nonetheless, ePortfolios can increase the potential for matching successfully the skilled future employees with the companies that are recruiting.

What is it then that the employers value in ePortfolios? The findings illustrated in Figure 1. are summarized in three main points: 1) concise and formulated personal evidence of competences, 2) selection of evidence or materials, and 3) person behind the CV.

Figure 1. Summarized findings from the employers’ interviews.

The employers emphasized that ePortfolios need to be well structured and all the main information should be available in an understandable format with a quick look. They also highlighted that if they want to go deeper into something very specific, they should be able to find more details behind links. Thus, the structure and navigation should be carefully thought in order to make it simple and logical but having different layers of information. Another important issue the employers pointed out is that some crucial information e.g. work experience should be opened up in more detail to the reader. It means that instead of using just titles (place, position), one should explain more what the specific roles and tasks were, in what kind of networks one operated, etc.

This leads to the next point, which is selection. The employers accentuated that the content of ePortfolio should match the specific position or work profile, i.e. one should select from all the materials the ones that are relevant evidence of competences for a specific work position they are applying. In addition, it is beneficial to think about what kind of other material can support this specific application process – perhaps something from the leisure time activities e.g. voluntary work or maybe evidence of personal characteristics. In any case, the materials one selects should highlight the person behind the ePortfolio, which leads to the third point the employers pointed out.

Employers are mostly looking for the right kind of persons to fit to their working community, having the right kind of attitude and the way of working. Thus, it is important that they see the person behind the ePortfolio and all the selected evidence. Moreover, not only the person but also their dreams, visions, motivation, and what drives them further. As Dan Schawbel said in his blog on Forbes: “Job seeker passion has become the deciding factor in employment” (Forbes 2011)

Employers receive amounts of applications from equally educated and qualified people. This means that one needs to stand out from the mass and this can be done with cleverly planned and visually implemented ePortfolio where all the relevant information is available and also other supportive evidence to demonstrate e.g. transferable skills that are increasingly important for employability but in a much more flexible and visual way than mere CV.

Teachers’ engaging assessment and guidance processes

As has been stated before, the findings of the analysis on teachers’ processes reveal that ePortfolio as a learning space exists, although not systematically, but the second phase i.e. showcase ePortfolio is still rather challenging for many universities (see figure 2.). As the whole connection with the world of work, also the showcase ePortfolio process needs to be developed and requires new kind of thinking from the teachers and the educational organizations in how they understand their role in the surrounding society. In addition, students need to see the benefit of ePortfolios from the lifelong learning perspective, i.e. how they can utilize their ePortfolio after graduation as a tool to find their first employment and later on to build their professional identity and career aspirations.

Figure 2. Simple illustration of an ePortfolio process in higher education institution.

The foundation for a successful use of ePortfolios as an essential part of learning processes is that it is embedded to curriculum. This means that ePortfolio process is in the structures and there is allocated time and resources to develop it. However, in order to establish the use of ePortfolio systematically in the entire programme (and organizational) level and throughout the studies requires that teachers collaborate with each other and plan the ePortfolio process together. Thus, at first teachers (or at least most of them) need to see the benefit of ePortfolios. Further, teachers need to realize how ePortfolios can support student-centered and competence-based education, continuous guidance and assessment processes and how students themselves should take the role in these processes and ownership of their own learning.

As in student-centered education in general, the role of a teacher shifts more towards a facilitator of learning and building of competences; this is the case with ePortfolios as well. Students need to have the ownership of their ePortfolios and freedom to build them the best way for their own purposes and goals. First, teachers need to justify the benefits and purpose of ePortfolios to students and then give them space for creativity in demonstrating the competences, collaborating with their peers and others as well as networking with the world of work. However, sometimes the structures of HEIs do not support the building of students’ ownership.

Many HEIs use standardized ePortfolio platforms that do not leave much space for students’ creativity. There are some good tailored examples of platforms (e.g. in IE with Mahara) that are structured but give some possibilities for students to modify the layout of their ePortfolios. Nonetheless, certain space for creativity motivates and engages students more and thus, builds up the ownership of their ePortfolios. Further, the ideal situation would be that students could choose their ePortfolio platform or tool themselves. Another issue, which could be solved with students’ own choice of ePortfolio is related to the ideology of lifelong learning; in many cases if the HEI has its own ePortfolio platform, the students lose their access to it after they graduate. They can only download the content but cannot edit it anymore. This is a problem when thinking about the whole purpose of ePortfolio as a tool to demonstrate personal and professional growth, especially in transition phases in life such as from education to employment. (e.g. Cejudo 2012; Vuojärvi 2013; Fiedler 2012)

In the creation of the showcase ePortfolio, the role of a teacher is crucial, as students do not always have a clear view of how to demonstrate their strengths – if they can first even identify them. In addition, sometimes students do not have a full understanding of the world of work and its requirements. Teachers need to encourage students to be innovative with feedforward and support the peer cooperation between students so that they can benefit from other points of view and further develop their own ideas and evidence of competences. (Kunnari, Laurikainen, Pires & Rodrigues 2017).

Conclusions and discussion

The results from the research on three perspectives (student, employer, teacher) on ePortfolios show that there already are good ePortfolio practices in Europe but mostly they are isolated islands within higher education institutions, not systematically implemented in programme (not to even mention institutional) level throughout the studies. The following conclusions and recommendations arise from the findings:

1) Understanding the benefits of ePortfolios:

  • Teachers need to understand how ePortfolios can support students’ employability by making their skills and competences visible and transparent.
  • Teachers need to highlight the lifelong learning perspective of ePortfolio and students need to understand how ePortfolio serves them in different situations in their lives. If they find the process meaningful and they are empowered and engaged during the ePortfolio process, this should happen automatically.

2) Embedding ePortfolios into curriculum and normal educational structures within the institution:

  • Time and resource allocation for students to create ePortfolios and for teachers to facilitate and guide the process,
  • Collaboration between teachers to implement the use of ePortfolios in the entire programme level
  • Teachers need to understand assessment as a continuous process where students take an active role

3) Freedom and ownership of students:

  • Teachers need to support the ownership of students in the ePortfolio process and give space for students’ creativity, collaboration with their peers and networking with world of work.

4) Skills needed

  • Two types of digital skills are needed: technical skills to establish ePortfolio and editing skills to compile the content for ePortfolio
  • In addition, certain transferable skills are needed and developed during the ePortfolio process (e.g. reflection, collaboration, communication, organization and visualization).

5) Clear formulation of the content of ePortfolio

  • Concise and well-formulated personal evidence of competences
  • Simple and clear structure (easily browsed, more detailed information available behind links)
  • Selection of evidence to match the specific work profile the employer is looking for
  • Selecting the evidence is probably the most difficult part in building up the ePortfolio. Perhaps one should have a “meta ePortfolio” with many kinds of information and select the most suitable evidence to a showcase ePortfolio that suits the specific situation or purpose.

6) Show personality

  • Employers emphasized that they want to see the person behind the CV
  • Show your interests, dreams, goals, passion and motivation in order to stand out from the mass of applicants

Even though this research was done in higher education context, these recommendations can be transferred to any level of education (with perhaps some adjustments in lower levels). The future generation, the digital natives are used to operating in digital environments from their first years of education and digital appearance is a norm to them. In addition, the digitalization of the world of work, and the whole society, requires new kind of digital management and presentation of competences and personal identity. It is easy to foresee that ePortfolio will be a common tool to be used in education (and beyond) in the future where the presence in digital networks and social media and digital branding is probably a skill one needs to learn very early on in life.

Authors

Marja Laurikainen, M.BA., Education Development Specialist (Global Education), Häme University of Applied Sciences
Irma Kunnari, M.Ed., PhD Fellow, Principal Lecturer (Global Education and Research), Häme University of Applied Sciences


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MOOCs in the continuing vocational training – what motivates employees in MOOCs?

Authors: Merja Drake & Päivi Rajaorko.

Abstract

Our aim with this study was to find out how Universities of Applied Sciences (UASs) could respond to the training needs of the world of work and the workforce by offering MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). We found out that MOOCs are a suitable method for updating knowledge, and an easy way to participate in continuing vocational training. Working students considered MOOCs as a good way to learning new skills in their chosen field, and the major motivation for participating in them was a desire to gain knowledge and skills they needed in their job.

Our research focus was on two particular MOOCs, namely Sustainable Energy Solutions and Almost Zero Building. These topics are new EU level directives in the energy and building sector, and therefore create pressure to train professionals in the field.

We used the action research method, and the research data consisted of Moodle analytics, student feedback, questionnaire data and interviews with both students and employers. As an analysis matrix we used the student-teacher dialectical framework within self-determination theory.

Introduction and the key concepts

The world of work is in transition. The skills, qualifications and knowledge required in the world of work are changing rapidly, which requires a continuous training of the employees. The continuing vocational training at Universities of Applied Sciences (UASs) is often too slow to meet the needs of the fast changing industrial sectors. The aim of this study is to find out how Universities of Applied Sciences (UASs) could take into consideration the sudden training needs of the world of work and workforce by offering a transparent form of continuing vocational training i.e. massive open online courses (MOOCs). New skills are required in the building and energy sector due to the new European Union directives on the energy performance of buildings, which creates pressure to educate energy and building sector professionals throughout Finland. The MOOCs we examined have developed to fill this continuing vocational training gap. Most of the MOOC participants were employees from the building and energy sector, and they were the target group of our study.

Our research questions were: What motivates employees in MOOCs? What kind of a continuing education method is a MOOC, in the viewpoint of the employees and employers? The key concepts of our study were continuing vocational training, MOOC, motivation and student-teacher dialectical framework.

Continuing vocational training is defined by EU Commission (2011) as follows: “A training process or activity which has as its primary objective the acquisition of new competences or the development and improvement of existing ones, and which is financed at least partly by the enterprises for their employees, who either have a working contract or who benefit directly from their work for the enterprise, such as unpaid family workers and casual workers. The training processes or activities must be planned in advance and must be organised or supported with the special goal of learning.”

MOOCs “are courses designed for large numbers of participants, that can be accessed by anyone anywhere as long as they have an internet connection, are open to everyone without entry qualifications, and offer a full/complete course experience online for free” (OpenupEd, 2015). Various types of MOOCs have been suggested, depending on the learning approach in the course. Examples of these are xMOOCs, cMOOCs and sMOOCs. xMOOCs tend to have a more traditional teacher-centred learning approach with content presented through short video lectures and learning tested through quizzes. cMOOCs emphasise creation, creativity, autonomy, and social networked learning. (Siemens, 2012; Clow, 2013.) sMOOCs stress intercreativity to work towards collective intelligence (Acedo & Cano, 2016; Brouns et al., 2015). Even though numbers are high for enrolment into MOOCs, the average MOOC completion rates are low. Number of reasons has been suggested for student drop-out e.g. lack of time, starting late, unrealistic expectations, course difficulty and lack of support, feelings of isolation and the lack of interactivity, insufficient background knowledge, lack of digital or learning skills, and earlier bad experiences (Khalil & Ebner, 2014; Onah, Sinclair & Boyatt, 2014). However, it should be realized that completion rate is not a relevant metric to measure student engagement in MOOCs (Hew, 2016). Nor does it mean that MOOCs are ineffective (Rai & Chunrao, 2016). Students may e.g. be only interested in particular topics or materials (Wang & Baker, 2014).

Motivation is contextual and it alters in different situations, based on an individual’s understanding of his or her abilities. Motivation concerns aspects of activation and intention like energy, direction, persistence and equifinality. (Deci & Ryan, 2000.) Motivation is a force that energises and directs behaviour (Reeve, 2009). Factors like future economic benefit, development of professional identity, challenge and achievement might influence students´ motivation to learn (Yuan & Bowel, 2013). Motivation to participate in MOOCs is one of the most important factors that may prevent students from completing a MOOC (Khalil and Ebner, 2014). In addition, the level of student engagement can influence student retention (Hew, 2016; Xiong et al., 2015). Motivation is significantly predictive of student course engagement. In turn, engagement is a strong predictor of retention. If students are not engaged, motivated or committed enough, they might drop out even before the first assignment is due (de Freitas, Morgan and Gibson, 2015). Accordingly, our first research question was: What motivates employees in MOOCs?

The main focus on the majority of research on MOOCs has concerned university or further education courses (Bayne and Ross, 2014; de Freitas, Morgan and Gibson, 2015; Hew, 2016; Macleod, Haywood, Woodgate & Alkhatnai, 2015; Veletsianos, Collier & Schneider, 2015). So far, there have only been a few studies on the use of MOOCs in continuing vocational training. According to Wulf, Blohm, Brenner & Leimeister (2014) MOOCs are suitable for vocational target groups because of their independence of place and time. This being so, in our second research question we wanted to consider what kind of continuing vocational training methods MOOCs are, from the viewpoint of employees and employers.

Background theory

Our background theory is based on self-determination theory (SDT). We wanted to find out what motivates our target group in MOOCs, and SDT focuses on the relationship between the students’ motivation and the learning environment that in this case was a MOOC. We were especially interested in the student-teacher dialectical framework within self-determination theory because it gave a relevant matrix for our research data evaluation. Even though the framework uses the viewpoint of classroom affordances, we wanted to test how it is applicable in a MOOC environment.

SDT differentiates between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsically motivated people inherently seek out new challenges, are keen to learn and exercise their capacities and explore different matters. People who have extrinsic motivation perform an activity in order to obtain some outcome separated from the activity itself. (Ryan & Deci, 2000). According to Niemiec & Ryan (2009) students tend to learn better and are more creative when intrinsically motivated, particularly on tasks requiring conceptual understanding.

Figure 1 shows a dialectical relationship between student motivation and the learning environment from a SDT perspective. The high level of student motivation and engagement arises both from inherent and acquired sources of motivation. Students’ inherent sources of motivation include intrinsic motivation and three psychological needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness. Competence refers to a person’s ability to deal adequately with a task. Autonomy is the feeling that one has power over one’s own behaviour, for example over one’s own learning activities. Relatedness refers to the need to both feel like a part of a group and to feel connected to others in the same group (Ryan and Deci, 2000). Students’ acquired sources of motivation include self-endorsed values, intrinsic goals and personal aspirations that are internalised through cultural experience and self-reflections, and vary from student to student. In addition, they include students’ different individual orientations and their cause and effect relationship. (Reeve, 2012.)

Figure 1. Student-teacher dialectical framework within self-determination theory.

Educational practices that support a student’s satisfaction of autonomy, competence and relatedness are associated with greater intrinsic motivation and autonomous types of extrinsic motivation. Both the teacher’s orientation and specific aspects of learning tasks are perceived as autonomy. The student’s competence can be supported by introducing learning activities that are optimally challenging and allow students to test and to expand their capabilities. Students will only engage and personally value activities they can understand and master. (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009.) Every learning environment has specific external features, such as learning goals and structures, different types of materials and assignments, rewards and feedback systems (Reeve, 2012). It is important that students are provided with the appropriate tools and feedback to promote success and feelings of efficacy, thus providing relevant information on how to master the tasks at hand. (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009).

Other learning environment influences are interpersonal relationships, including e.g. those with teachers, peers and study-related groups, like workplaces and communities as well as social and cultural forces, such as values and learning climate. External events and interpersonal relationships provide students with opportunities, hindrances and an overall climate in which their self-motivation grows. The important factor in the learning environment is the quality of the teacher’s motivating style, whether it is autonomy supportive or controlling. (Reeve, 2012.)

Research method and data

We followed the steps of the action research cycle (Tripp, 2003). In action research, there are following basic steps in the cycle of action: 1. Identification of the problem area, 2. Collection and organization of data 3. Interpretation of data 4. Action based on data 5. Reflection (Ferrance, 2000). Action research is a collaborative and self-critical enquiry for teachers (Hult & Lennug, 1980; McKernan, 1991). Fischer (2001) claims that it is a natural part of exploring effective ways of teaching. In action research, it is important to have collaboration between the researcher, informants and other parties of the research (Ferrance, 2000).

Firstly, we realized that due to the new EU directives in energy and building sector there is an educational gap. We started a project in which we developed the MOOCs as a network of teachers, senior lectures and online pedagogy and educational technology experts from ten Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences. We had industry-related company representatives also participating in the planning process. We planned and designed the MOOC contents, and created two pilot MOOCs into Moodle platform, namely Nearly zero-energy buildings and Sustainable energy solutions which both have different sub-courses (MOOC modules) worth 1‒3 credits that can be separable studied.

Our MOOCs are very similar to xMOOCs. They include video lectures, reading materials, and the videos are available as pdf files. Evaluation consists of automatically evaluated multiple choice quizzes, short answer questions where participants are asked to answer in one or two words or numbers, written reports and some peer reviewing tasks. There is no starting date nor a deadline for submitting assignments. In each module, there is a discussion forum where participants can ask questions.

Secondly, we tested the courses and then marketed them. Into our research, we collected data on four MOOC modules: 1) Energy efficiency of buildings, 2) Energy efficiency calculation, 3) Energy efficiency requirements, and 4) Solar energy. After the students had completed these modules, we collected the statistics on their progress from Moodle (n = 157), including performance measures. We then studied the course feedback (n = 38), and distributed a questionnaire to the students. However, only 17 of the 157 students answered the questionnaire.

Eventually, we interviewed twelve fulltime or part-time employees and seven employer representatives from the energy and building sector companies, whose employees participated in one of the four MOOC modules. For the interview, we chose participants among those employee participants who had a company email address. We recorded the interviews and transcribed them afterwards.

Finally, we analysed the collected data using the Student-teacher dialectical framework within self-determination theory. We specifically looked for factors that represented different aspects of students’ motivation i.e. autonomy, competence and relatedness as well as learning environment features. As the answers to the questionnaire, as well as comments given as part of the course feedback, were very similar to what we learned from the interviews, we have therefore chosen to combine these results for reporting purposes.

Results

In Table 1, we present each course module’s participant percentages of performance measures taken from Moodle. The numbers in each section represent the number of students. The total number of students mentioned in Table 1 is the number of registered participants in a module by the time of our Moodle analytics (15.8.2017). The total number of registered participants to all four modules was 157 by that time.

The data shows that there are only few participants who have gone through all the material and completed all the assignments. The number of those who have not yet even opened the first page is 58 percent (64 out of 110 participants) in module 1 (Energy efficiency of buildings), 45 percent (21 out of 46 participants) in module 2 (Energy efficiency calculation), 65 percent (13 out of 20 participants) in module 3 (Energy efficiency requirements), and 56 percent (76 out of 134 participants) in module 4 (Solar energy). The conclusion is that motivation to complete the course varies, between the extremes of either studying the whole course, or dropping out without ever starting it. Some students just browse the material and skip from one site and assignment to another, without any intention of completing the course.

Table 1. Performance measure of MOOC modules, number of students
Module01‒20 %21‒40 %41‒60%61‒80%81‒99 %1Total
16414262120110
221125331146
31315100020
4763962407134

Our first research question was: What motivates employees in MOOCs?

Even though the figures show that most of the students did not finalise the course, it does not mean that they have no motivation to study. The motivation of our interviewees (employees) for participating in MOOCs arises from the desire to learn and deepen their knowledge. They mentioned that one of the reasons for their participation was that the course contents are relevant to their present or future work, for which reason they want to develop their knowledge and skills. Some have a general interest in the energy field. However, some interviewees showed personal interest in the course topics. They need the information at home or during their leisure time. Interviewees also mentioned that they want to share the knowledge with their colleagues and customers. However, interviewees picked just the information relevant to them and that is one reason why there was no need to complete the course.

HS2M: I enrolled to gain new information, because the world is changing rapidly and I need to stay up to date on developments.
HS4M: This interests both me and others who make inquiries, and so I need to be up to date.
HS7M: It gives me background information and know-how for my research primarily, but I also have a general interest in the topic.
HS5F: I have always been interested in developing myself, and this course seemed topical, so I decided to participate.

When it comes to student autonomy, independent learning is a very important factor for employees. All interviewees (employees) felt competent enough to study by themselves. We identified several components supporting their autonomy such as free timetables, studying at their own pace, the power to decide what materials to study and what not to study, and the possibility to do the assignments, watch videos and read the material as many times as they wanted.

HS1M: I really liked this way of studying, because I was able to study whenever I had the time.
HS2M: In my opinion, it’s good that the timetable is flexible so that it is not compulsory to study certain materials at a given time. I like being able to choose my study pace.
HS11F: I would not expect that in a free course there would be somebody there to guide you all the time. At the workplace, you must be self-directed, if you cannot perform independently, things do not work. So it’s good that this is a self-directed course.

The data shows that students with a high level of autonomy want to set the learning outcomes on their own, and the learning outcomes are related to their intrinsic goals. We asked, “How will you benefit from the knowledge and skills you gained from the course?” Most of them answered, ”In my present work.”, “I want to search for new working possibilities. I hope I can use the knowledge to my benefit in my future workplace.”

We discovered some aspects that narrowed their autonomy, such as lack of instructions or insufficient instructions, unclear course structure, nobody to ask for technical or other help, inadequate skills for using the learning platform, and the fact that the course material was not always available when students would have had time to study. All the respondents mentioned that lack of time slowed the progress of studying, or blocked it completely.

Interviewees considered the material mostly useful and relevant to their present or future work. However, some estimated that the content was not challenging enough, and that was their reason for not continuing the course. Some interviewees (employees) mentioned that they were already familiar with the course content and would therefore like to have had more profound information. That may be considered as a competence factor, but it also relates to classroom affordances, as the content did not challenge them enough. Anyhow, this was one reason why some students were not motivated to continue studying.

HS6F: I browsed some of the course content and did some assignments. Nevertheless, as there was nothing new for me, I was not motivated to continue.

The attitude towards using video as learning material was contradictional: interviewees (employees) either liked them or considered them difficult to watch at work or monotonous. Those who liked them said it was an easy way to get information, that videos make learning more alive and were easy to use. Some interviewees said that it is useful to have the videos in text-format as a PDF file as well, as it made reviewing the video easier. Two interviewees (employees) said that it would have been nice to have some podcasts as learning material. It would have then been possible to listen to the podcasts anywhere, i.e. on the way to work.

HS3M: The strength of the video lectures is that you can stop it and rewind backwards if you need to check something.
HS4M: First I watched the video then read the text, as it is easier that way to recall the content.
HS6F: I found the video material difficult to watch. I prefer text. At work, when the phone rings, it is difficult to watch videos intensively.
HS5F: I like reading more. Concentration may be disturbed when listening, but it depends on the person of course and how the subject/matter is presented.

Opinions towards the assignments also varied: some interviewees (employees) liked multiple-choice quizzes, as they were easy to fill out, a good way to rehearse the content and test understanding. Some found them useless and preferred assignments where more independent information retrieval is necessary. Short answer questions were good in one interviewee’s opinion, providing that the expected answer format was made clear. Some interviewees preferred multiple small assignments instead of one or two larger ones, as they are easier to finish when time is limited. One interviewee stressed that in the world of work, they do not write essays – they write reports and abstracts, and therefore the same terminology should be used in the courses. Some mentioned that the assignments did not serve their needs; hence they did not complete them.

HS9F: I learn better when I have to find the information by myself. On the other hand, I do not prefer very large assignments; I prefer smaller ones even though I have to make several of them.
HS10M: Sometimes, the assignment did not serve my interest or needs in the best possible way.

Nearly all interviewees (employees) liked the fact that there was no timetable for returning assignments. One said that when studying among other things such as work, timetables would have helped to complete the course sooner. Timetables would have been useful, for example, if students complete the assignment by a specific date, they can then participate in a particular session as a “reward”. Nonetheless, if such timetables existed, they should not be used as a condition to participate in the course.

Having adequate study skills is crucial to being able to successfully complete one’s studies. Online learning requires self-directed learning competence. Nearly all interviewees (employees) had previous experience in online learning. Not all had the same level of technical competence, but they learned quickly how to use the learning platform. The data show that all participating students had sufficient ability to complete the courses.

Regarding relatedness, it seems that MOOCs are suitable for those who have strong autonomy. A majority of the students mentioned that they had no need to be connected with other students. Some interviewees (employees) claimed that interaction was not needed between the other students, but interaction with the teacher would have been desirable in some cases, e.g. live online video sessions.

HS2M: For a strong-minded person like me, it is better to study on my own. I don’t need the presence of a teacher nor other students.
HS4M: I did not need any interaction and was not interested in participating in the discussions. It probably depends on the character of the person.
HS10M: I did not miss interaction with the other students, but more with the educators.
HS10M: Maybe there could be a discussion forum to ask questions and get answers and instructions.
HS7M: I would have expected more online video sessions.

A majority of the interviewees (employees) said they did not need any certification from the studies. One mentioned that when having a permanent job, there is no need for a certificate. Interviewees’ only motivation is to learn and gain the information needed. That is a kind of sign of a participant’s intrinsic goals and motivation. Only one hoped that courses are credited so that it would be possible to gain a degree out of them.

HS10M: I do not need the certificate at the moment. I participate only to get the knowledge.
HS11F: Not necessarily. If someone asks what I have learned, I can say that I now know these and these matters. If you have a certificate, and you later forget most of what you have learned, what use is the certificate then?
HS8M: These kinds of courses should be credited so that you could do them in your own order along with work and little by little gain a degree out of them. So that you do not always have to be a student at an institution in order to get a degree. However, it was not my intention to participate in this course because of credits. To get information was the main reason.

Our second research question was: What kind of a continuing vocational training method is a MOOC, in the viewpoint of the employees and employers?

The employers we interviewed had a positive attitude towards the continuing vocational training of employees. Some of them had external educational partners, such as universities, consulting companies or vocational training institutions. Companies are increasingly investing in online training because they consider it an easy way to train employees, especially in situations where employees´ work is decentralised. However, interviewees (employers) said that they were not familiar with MOOCs – both with the word and the study method. One of the interviewees (employers) mentioned looking for training possibilities from the website of the online course company Coursera, but was not aware of MOOCs. The interviewee (employer) suggested that it would be useful to have one website where information is collected, e.g. several continuing vocational training courses offered by different training institutions, organised by theme or sector area.

Although the meaning of the word “MOOC” was unclear, their opinions on MOOCs as a method of continuing vocational training were positive. One advantage of online learning that was mentioned is that it can be done anywhere, meaning there is no need to travel to training events, e.g. from northern Finland to the southern part of Finland. Another made the point that MOOCs are a good way to advance in one’s career. Only one felt that the traditional face-to-face method is better.

HS8M: This is a great idea. Whatever the subject, if you want to learn and to gain knowledge, it is a great idea. It is possible to do everything at your own pace and in whichever way you want. This gives many people good possibilities for advancement in their careers.
HS10M: Maybe it would be appropriate for some types of training, but I think that a conventional training method is better, as it enables interaction and networking.

Discussion

The aim of our study was to find out how Universities of Applied Sciences could respond to the training needs of the world of work and the workforce by offering MOOCs. Firstly, we were interested in our target group’s motivation in MOOCs. The student-teacher dialectic framework within self-determination theory (SDT) offered a very interesting matrix for our data analysis and helped us to discover our target group’s relationship between the students’ motivation and the MOOC learning environment. For most of the students in our research, the motivation to participate in MOOCs was mostly intrinsic and based on personal aspirations. Their motivation arises from the desire to learn new knowledge and skills needed in their work, to develop themselves or even get a better job. These results are similar to Yuan and Bowel (2013) who discovered that future economic benefits and development of personal and professional identity might influence students’ motivation to learn.

The completion rates of different course modules varied considerably. That result is very similar to other MOOC related studies (Khalil & Ebner, 2014; Onah, Sinclair & Boyatt, 2014). However, that relates not necessarily to the students´ motivation. As Deci and Ryan (2000) claimed the motivation alters in different situations, and is based on each individual´s abilities and intrinsic human needs i.e. competence, relatedness and autonomy. Hew (2016) stressed that completion rate is not even a relevant metric to measure student engagement in MOOCs. According to Wang and Baker (2014) students might be interested only in particular topics or materials. Belander and Thornton (2013) identified gaining an understanding of the subject matter with no particular expectation for completion as one of the factors affecting students’ motivation in MOOCs.

In the student-teacher dialectic framework within SDT, the learning environment has specific external features, such as learning goals and enriched materials and assignments (Reeve, 2012). Niemiec and Ryan (2009) also stressed that challenging enough assignments and the way learning tasks are introduced have an effect on intrinsic motivation. It seems that in a MOOC environment, at least in this research study, the students decide on these features themselves, and they arise from the students’ own intrinsic goals. Students wanted to set their learning goals by themselves, and they learned just what was necessary to them. Their primary goal was not complete the courses.

Independent learning seems to be a very important factor for the working students. It supports their autonomy and possibilities flexible study schedules and studying at own pace. It also gives students the power to decide what materials to study and what not to study as well as possibility to do the assignments, watch videos and read the material as many times as they want. Also Wulf et al. (2014) consider MOOCs being suitable for vocational target groups due to independence of place and time.

Students mentioned some aspects that narrowed their autonomy and slowed down their study progress or stopped it completely. Among the factors that restricted autonomy were lack of instructions or insufficient instructions, unclear course structure, not having access to technical or other help related to the course, and the fact that the course material was not always available when students would have had time to study. These results are also very consistent with previous MOOC studies. In student-teacher dialectic framework, these are learning environment factors affecting students’ motivation. When offering MOOCs for working students there need to be good study instructions, clear course structure, technical help available and course material ready when course starts. Otherwise, there might be a risk that these students stop studying.

All our interviewees’ jobs were somehow related to the course modules’ content matter. They had competence enough to start studying. Some felt, however, that the content was too basic. They expected to gain deeper information about the subject. Because the intrinsic goals and personal aspirations were not met, these students did not have enough interest to continue their studies. In MOOCs that are targeted to students who are working and are supposed to have diverse prior knowledge on the course content, the materials and assignments should be versatile and multi-level in order for the course to meet the needs of various participants. Otherwise, these students’ psychological need for competence might suffer.

Diverse and sufficiently challenging learning activities can enable students to achieve their learning outcomes without the presence of teachers. That is also, what the student-teacher dialectic framework requires. In addition, good instructions for studying and a forum to ask questions will help the students to study by themselves. Videos and podcasts enrich learning and make it more interesting. When it comes to the external events by the framework, the rewards for the students in our research come from the self-set learning outcomes and the feedback from the employer and the customers.

In student-teacher dialectical framework, the relationship with the teacher and the peers is relevant (Reeve, 2012). In this study, the psychological need of relatedness did not play a very significant role. Therefore, it seems that employees in our research preferred xMOOCs instead of e.g. sMOOCs. The reason could be that the students were more autonomy-oriented in their studying. Instead, we found the relationship with other workers in the company and other work-related groups, e.g. the students’ customers, to be more important. Therefore, we suggest that these relationships are supported more in a MOOC learning context in continuing vocational training.

Neither the employers nor the students were very familiar with MOOC as a word, but they considered MOOCs as a practical and flexible way to learn new skills, competences and gain knowledge needed in the world of work. One advantage of online learning is that it can be accessed anywhere; hence, there is no need to travel to the training events. One participant suggested that if it were possible to earn study credits for MOOCs, one could gradually study towards a degree while studying alongside work.

MOOCs seem to be a good model for continuing vocational training, especially for those who do not need so much relatedness. MOOCs offer possibilities for working individuals to gain new competencies as well as to develop and improve existing skills of the employees as the definition of continuing vocational training (EU Commission, 2011) suggest. Companies are investing more in online training. For companies, MOOCs are an easy way to train employees, especially in situations where employees’ work is decentralised. More information about MOOCs would however be needed. A platform where companies and employees would find several continuing vocational training MOOC courses would be necessary. For MOOCs that are targeted to working students, the materials and assignments should be versatile and multi-level in order for the course to meet the needs of a wide variety of participants, with a diverse range of prior knowledge. In addition to all above mentioned, when Universities of Applied Sciences (UASs) are planning to offer MOOCs for continuing vocational training, the needs of companies should be taken into account, and workplaces should be regarded as learning environments.

Authors

Merja Drake, PhD, Principal Lecturer, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences
Päivi Rajaorko, M.Ed., Project Manager, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences


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Team-Based Learning: Engaging learners & creating team accountability

Authors: Joy de Vries, Simon Tweddell & Rebecca McCarter.

Abstract

Team-based Learning (TBL) is a new teaching strategy that may take small group learning to a new level of effectiveness. TBL shifts the focus from content delivery by teachers to the application of course content by student teams. Teams work on authentic problems, make collaborative decisions, and develop problem-solving skills required in their future workplace. Prior to redesigning the MPharm programme according to TBL principles, several pilots were set up to research how students responded to this new way of teaching. One pilot focussed on the introduction of TBL as a phenomena and aimed to find out if and how TBL engaged students, how students were held accountable by their teams, and more importantly how that affected their lifeworld. Ashworth’s lifeworld contingencies provided the theoretical framework as it ranges from students’ selfhood, embodiment and social interactions to their ability to carry out tasks they are committed to and regard as essential (Ashworth, 2003).

Problem context

Findings in educational research identified collaboration as an effective social process of knowledge building that requires students working as interdependent teams towards a clear objective resulting in a well-defined final product, consensus, or decision (Wright et al., 2013). The educational practice of our MPharm programme however, still relied heavily on information transmission or content delivery to learners. As practitioners we were challenged to redesign activities requiring collaborative decision making within authentic scenarios. This study helped us to research how TBL would be received by our students and if redesign of the curriculum would ensure learner engagement and accountability.

Theoritical embedding

The student-centred instructional strategy Team-based Learning is firmly grounded within constructivist theory (Hrynchak and Batty, 2012). In constructivist learning theory, the role of teachers shifts from ‘transmitters’ of knowledge to ’facilitators’ of learning (Kaufman, 2003). In TBL students learn how to work collaboratively in teams solving authentic problems related to their future workplace. By creating a setting that facilitates learning how to make collaborative decisions, despite differing opinions, and then justify and defend the team decision, previous research suggests that this method of learning and teaching may help prepare graduates better for the modern workplace (Currey et al., 2015)

In TBL students work in permanent teams of 5‒7 members.They are given advanced assignments to complete before class. The Readiness Assurance Process consists of an individual assessment followed by a team assessment, to incentivise preparation and attendance and, along with peer evaluation, to develop team accountability. Both assessments are summative. Afterwards instructors give targeted feedback based on these test results. The majority of time in class is spent on application activities designed to develop problem-solving, collaborative decision-making, and promote learning through elaboration, discussion and debate. Figure 1 represents a typical teaching pattern of a TBL module.

 

Figure 1. Typical teaching pattern in a TBL module.

Earlier research shows that in TBL students learn how to work collaboratively in teams solving authentic problems and as a result, they report a high level of engagement in TBL modules (Levine et al., 2004; Chung et al., 2009). If and how the introduction to TBL affects student’s lifeworld however, remains unknown.

According to Ashworth the lifeworld is a central concept within phenomenological psychology and seen as an essential structure which is fundamental to all human experience (Ashworth, 2003). The seven contingencies are used to describe the lifeworld as explained in table 1.

Table 1. The lifeworld contingencies as explained by Ashworth.
Life World contingencies
SelfhoodWhat does the situation mean for the social identity; the person’s sense of agency and the feeling of their own presence and voice?
Sociality How does the situation affect the relation with others?
EmbodimentHow does the situation relate to feelings about their own bodies, including gender, emotions and disabilities?
Temporality How is their sense of time, duration and biography affected?
Spatiality How is their picture of geography of the places they need to go to and act within affected by the situation?
Project How does the situation relate to their ability to carry out the tasks they are committed to and which they regards as essential to their life?
Discourse What sort of terms, educational, social, commercial, ethical etc. are deployed to describe- and thence to live- the situation?

Question

How do students’ lived experiences of Team-Based Learning when introduced to it for the first time, affect the contingencies of their lifeworld.

Methods

The methodological orientation is towards phenomenology in which philosophical principles are used to study the way a phenomenon appears to our consciousness. Any experience or event that presents itself to our consciousness can be studied by phenomenology because it does not matter whether the phenomenon is real, imagined, empirically measurable or subjectively felt. If we are aware of it, it is part of our consciousness and therefore part of our world (van Manen, 2014). Phenomena are always someone’s lived experiences, hence data are considered subjective and personal (van Manen, 2014).

The pilot involved final year students taking one module of the undergraduate MPharm programme. Student teams were provided with authentic patient case-based application exercises and asked to make a collaborative decision to justify this to other teams. Facilitators drew out discussion, facilitated debate, and optimised deep approaches to learning.

Data collection

Participants

Following ethical approval, five students in their early twenties (3 male, 2 female) from a cohort of 88 volunteered to take part in an interview or focus group, designed to elicit the lived experiences of students who were introduced to TBL for the first time. In this study a convenience sample was used; the entire cohort was invited to participate and five participants volunteered to take part in the study. The five students were from different teams. Students were given the choice of which data collection method they preferred.

Instruments

Two students elected for individual interview and three for focus group using identical semi-structured questions. Data were transcribed verbatim and subjected to interpretative analysis. Students were given a participants’ number to ensure anonymity and results were only used once for research purposes.

Data analysis

Team members listed their own biases prior to data analysis and researchers first individually coded the data on a line-by-line basis using the life world contingencies as a template. Open codes were discussed and the coding structure was compared against transcripts and existing literature, until a deeper understanding was reached. Ashworth’s lifeworld contingencies provided the theoretical framework for analysis (Ashworth, 2003). Data analysis revealed two main themes: engagement and accountability. Subthemes related to contingencies in students’ lifeworld (see table 2).

Results

Students spoke about all seven life world contingencies when exposed to TBL for the first time. As a team students seemed to be engaged and committed to carry out tasks (project). They felt that contributing to the team effort in an engaging way helped their learning (selfhood). Students believed that they benefited from collaborative discussions and felt teamwork enhanced their collaborative skills (sociality). Students held strong opinions on those who were not engaged and did not contribute (discourse). Students also believed that they benefited from being held accountable indicating a shift in their motivation from not being motivated to prepare for classes, to wanting to be prepared prior to attending class (selfhood, embodiment). Suggestions for improvement were related to application sessions during which they believed time could be managed better (temporality). Students indicated that the reduction of the number of people during those sessions would be an improvement (spatiality, embodiment) and help their learning within the given setting.

Table 2. Students’ quotes organised by Ashworth’s lifeworld contingencies (focus group P1, P2 & P3, interviews P4& P5).
Lifeworld contingencies Engagement Accountability
Selfhood"The team test when you’ve and every one in your group has pulled their weight in the team discussion this has a lot more impact." (P2)"Sometimes with lectures you’d just leave it last minute; you can’t do that with this you have to keep the work constant." (P3)
Sociality "It’s good, we have our ups and downs. I mean to be honest in our group four of us have got really similar thinking and one has a different method of thinking but we find our way around it." (P4)"Sometimes if there’s no driving force and no one to take that first step then sometimes the group just lingers around and stagnates, asking each other ‘ shall we do this, shall we do that’ sometimes you need someone to say let’s choose this otherwise it’s never going to get done." (P2)
Embodiment"If you don’t contribute anything you're not really learning how to work in a team." (P4)."If someone’s just sat there then there’s no point of them being there because they’re not a team member then at the end of the day." (P5)
Temporality "Because sometimes people in your group don’t understand what you’re trying to explain, so therefore you have to go into a lot more detail." (P1)"I think the person in charge needs to be stricter with time." (P5)
Spatiality "Because in a really big class, sometimes voices get lost and don’t get heard. We have 18 groups and it gets to a point when there’s too much conversation in that room." (P5)"As a team I think that a lot of the things you can’t understand individually comes out during the group sessions." (P1)
Project "So this is good in a way that you get to hear other people’s way of thinking, and your own, and better your own knowledge." (P3) "Like now I know everything that I learned yesterday but if I had to go for a normal exam, half of the stuff would be gone by now. Because you’re doing it as you go along and you’ve had that chance to think about it, it makes a lot more sense." (P4)
Discourse "Sometimes when you argue for five minutes, with regards to answer you tend not to forget that argument. After that you don’t forget the discussion because it’s so vibrant." (P2)"Then you argue the fact that this is right, and then someone else will say no this is it. But then you’ll argue and discuss together to come to a compromise or come to combined answer or agreement. I’ve noticed the advantage of that." (P3)

Conclusions

The students’ lived experience suggests that TBL was well received and seems to affect their lifeworld in a positive way. This new way of teaching seemed to enhance students’ engagement and accountability and as a result positively affected their selfhood and relationships with others. Students felt motivated to come to class prepared and experienced the value of learning how to work in teams, listening to others, and contributing to a team effort. TBL takes a constructivist approach and seems to have great potential as an active learning and teaching strategy in higher education.

Authors

Joy de Vries,  M.Sc., Educational scientist/faculty developer, TBL Academie, The Netherlands
Simon Tweddell, , EdD, Senior Lecturer in Pharmacy Practice, Bradford School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences, University of Bradford, The United Kingdom
Rebecca McCarter, B.Sc., Educational Development Consultant, Centre for Educational Development, University of Bradford, The United Kingdom


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Enhancing the involvement of children with low socio-economic background at preschool

Authors: Hannelore De Greve, Jo Van de Weghe, Lien De Coninck & Jan Van de Wiele.

Abstract

In search to contribute to the closure of the performance gap between children with low SES-background and children with middle or high SES-background, our teacher training institute, Karel de Grote University College Antwerp (Belgium) developed a didactical approach, that heightens the involvement of preschoolers with low SES-background. In this approach, preschool teachers discover what children would like to experience and learn at school and adapt their activities towards these interests. The research we present addresses two questions: 1) How can we discover what children with low SES-background would like to do and learn at school? and 2) Does our didactical approach make a difference in involvement in preschoolers with low SES-background? Using design-based research, we developed a format for an exploratory activity as an answer to the first question. Switching replications helped us in determining the positive effect of the exploratory activity on the involvement of children with low SES-background.

Problem context

In Flanders (Belgium), as in other European countries, children from families with low socio-economic-status (SES) are having difficulties to perform in school at the same level as their peers with middle or high SES (Poesen-Vandeputte & Nicaise, 2010). There is no coincidence in the fact that PISA, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, examines not only what students know in science, reading and mathematics, but also analyze the equity in education. In 2015 (and before) PISA finds that socio-economic status is linked to significant differences in performance in most countries. Belgium is known as a ‘poor student’ in this perspective, as the impact of social background and immigrant status on performance appears to be above average (OECD, 2015).

Already in preschool, there is a struggle to get children with low SES involved in activities offered by preschool teachers. In a search to contribute to the closure of this performance gap our teacher training institute, based in the super-diverse city of Antwerp (Vertovec, 2007), developed a didactical approach for preschool teachers, in order to heighten the involvement of children with low SES-background. In this approach preschool teachers try to discover the interests of children, investigate what a certain topic evokes in them, what they would like to experience and learn at school. With these insights, the teacher thinks up and adapts the educational activities towards the experiences and interests of every child in class.

As most preschool teachers have a different SES-background, they do not have a clear understanding of the life of people with a low SES-background. When they are preparing class activities, it is quite logical that they use their own frame of reference. By doing so they often miss opportunities to address the interests of children with low SES. What teachers offer them in class is poorly connected to their real life experiences and knowledge (Roose, Pulinx & Van Avermaet, 2014). We all know that learning is cumulative. Therefore, it is necessary that teachers have insight in the prior learning of pupils so they can build up new knowledge, skills and experiences (De Corte, 1996; Gagné, 1968). Next to that, we advocate the ideas of experiential education which state that children will be involved (and learn more and deeper) when they show intrinsic motivation; when they learn about things they want to learn about (Laevers, Jackers, Menu & Moons, 2014). According to these two principles and inspired by the open framework curriculum as described by Hohmann and Weikart (1995) and the emergent curriculum (Jones, Evans & Rencken, 2001) our teacher training institute elaborated a roadmap for preschool teachers with the aim of carrying out a program that is tailored to the experiences, needs and interests of the children in their class. We named it the roadmap for experiential educational practice.

Roadmap for experiential educational practice

The roadmap starts with choosing a theme together with the children. Through observation and conversation, the teacher discovers which topics are popular. Which themes are coming forward throughout the spontaneous play of children? What are they talking about to each other? What topics are coming up in the morning circle talk? Etc. Most of the time these themes refer to the real-life-experiences of the children, for example the birth of a baby brother, a huge exhibition of Lego® in the city, snow during winter, a mum who is afraid of spiders, etc. Based on these observations the teacher selects one or more themes, which he/she presents to the children for voting. The decision about what theme they will learn about in the following weeks is made together.

In the second step, the teacher prepares and introduces an exploratory activity of the theme together with the children, where they try to find the answer to the following questions:

  • What is the meaning of the theme for the children in our class?
  • What does this theme evokes in them (feelings, spontaneous reactions, …)
  • What do they already know and what are their experiences with the theme
  • What do the children want to learn about the theme? What questions do they have?
  • What do the children want to do, experience, try out, … in the context of the theme?

Based on the input of children in the second step the teacher prepares a temporary plan for the coming two (or more) weeks. This plan consists of a fair amount of educational activities customized towards the learning interests and needs of the children in the class. The particularity of this plan is that it is temporary and that it does not fill the whole schedule. There are open spaces left that can only be filled in after a few days working on the theme. Throughout careful observation, conversation with the children and reflection the teacher adjusts and completes the plan according to the involvement, interests and needs of the children. This means that the teacher does not know how a theme will end, because he/she is trying to follow the children’s initiatives. For example: while working, playing and learning around the theme ‘police’ the children show fascination for the fact that some policemen ride horses. When the teacher is sensitive towards this signal he/she can start preparing activities where the children can learn more about riding horses and horses in general. In this way, the theme ‘police’ ends up with a complete different focus than the teacher could have imagined before.

Research questions

Since 2010, we ask student-teachers to use our roadmap for experiential practice during their internships. From their experience, we learned a lot about the applicability and the usefulness of the roadmap and we had to admit that there was room for improvement, especially in addressing children with low SES. Next to that, we felt the need to make our didactical approach more evidence-based (Davies, 1999). For years we passed along our enthusiastic beliefs in the experiential way of working with young children, but we never investigated its actual effectiveness. A new research proposal was born.

During our practice-based research, we addressed two research questions:

  1. How can we improve step 2 of our roadmap (exploratory activity), in order to better understand what children with low SES-background would like to experience and learn at school?
  2. Does step 2 of our roadmap (exploratory activity) influence the involvement of preschoolers with low SES-background?

For reasons of reliable and valid research we narrowed our focus in both research questions on one step of the plan, namely exploring a theme (for example ‘my house’, ‘spiders’, …) together with children. Because of the aim for inclusive didactics, we also studied the effect of this step on the involvement of preschoolers with middle or high SES.

Methodology

As for the first research question, we used design-based research (DBR) to optimize the format of the exploratory activity with 4- to 5-year-olds. This approach bridges the gap between research and educational practice and is used for the development and refinement of didactical tools (Schoenfeld, 2009). In DBR, research is done in cooperation with practitioners in authentic contexts (Reeves, 2006). As for that, eight experienced teachers (teaching in our super-diverse city) tried out the exploration of a theme together with their children and helped us consider what works, when we try to find out what children with low SES want to learn about. We gathered data in three iterative cycles and used multiple data gathering instruments: video recordings, reflection forms, semi-structured interviews and in-depth group discussions. All data were transcribed and then analyzed by an open and double coding process in search for patterns, relations and factors for success. The conclusion of this process was a clearly described format of the exploratory activity with 4- to 5-year-old children, which has been proven effective. This means that a preschool teacher can get a reasonable understanding of what the theme evolves in children with low SES, what it means for them and what they would like to experience and learn about it.

As for the second research question, we used the model of switching replication (Shadish, Cook & Campbell, 2002) in eleven classes to measure whether the new format of the exploratory activity resulted in higher involvement of the children. In switching replications, respondents are alternately assigned to the control and the experimental group. The major advantage of this method is that there is no need to control for nuisance variables, such as teacher characteristics. So when a first group of teachers (A) was asked to explore a fixed theme together with their children and adjust their activities towards the input of the children, the other group (B) was asked to simply prepare activities within the fixed theme (without the exploratory activity as starting point). On a later moment, with a new fixed theme, group A represented the control group and did not execute the exploratory activity and the former control group (B) did. The design started with a baseline measurement within the theme ‘spiders’. ‘Christmas’, ‘chairs’, ‘my house’ and ‘music’ were the following themes (cf. figure 1). Although imposed themes are not in line with the first step of the roadmap, we needed to assure that as much variables as possible were constant and not interfering in the measured involvement. After all the focus of our research question was step 2 and not the roadmap as a whole.

Figure 1. Design switching replications.

All classes were working on the same theme in fixed weeks. During these weeks, we measured the involvement in eleven classes, applying the Leuven Involvement Scale for Young Children (Laevers, Depondt, Nijsmans & Stroobants, 2008). High involvement is a state in which the child is completely absorbed by an activity; operating to your full capabilities; it is challenging and therefore you show concentration, creativity, precision, energy and persistence (Laevers, Jackers, Menu & Moons (2014). This means that observing high involvement is to see somebody developing and learning. The Leuven Involvement Scale for Young Children defines five levels of involvement, starting from complete absence of involvement (1), to mainly continuous activity without signals for involvement (3), ending with the highest possible involvement (5). In the scanning procedure, you set a score for involve after observing a child for a few minutes (Laevers & Laurijssen, 2001; Van Heddegem, Gadeyne, Vandenberghe, Laevers & Van Damme, 2004). For reasons of reliability we observed each child twice during a theme (2×4 scannings) during morning or afternoon (Laevers, Depondt, Nijsmans & Stroobants, 2008). The average of these eight scores was used as an estimation of involvement of that child according to the theme-activities.

We analyzed the data from 119 children using a mixed model design, with ‘condition’ and ‘socio-economic status’ as predictors and ‘involvement’ as dependent variable. This multi-level model takes into account that children (level 1) are nested in classes (level 2), which implies that those observations are not independent.

At the end of every theme, the preschool teachers were interviewed to give more insight in factors that potentially influenced the observed involvement. In addition, the interviews provided some kind of follow-up for the participants in order to optimize the operationalization of the experimental condition.

Results

The core finding for the first research question was the idea to have different phases in exploring the theme with children (cf. figure 2).

Figure 2. Phases in exploring a theme together with children.

Our format, developed through design-based research, starts with a phase of pre-teaching for low-SES children whose contribution to exploring activities normally is low or even lacking. For teachers it is difficult to find out what the themes mean for those children and what they would like to experience and learn. By giving them a head start in a small group, they are more activated and come up with some input and ideas. When the teacher explicitly refers to their input during the plenary exploration (phase 2) with the whole group, the well-being and involvement of these children increases. Because of that they also dare to speak more than they are used to. In interaction with the teacher and the other children they deepen their own ideas and comment on ideas of others. The plenary exploration that should be recognizable for the pre-teaching group, results in a brainstorm of ideas that the teacher uses to prepare a week plan (cf. figure 3).

 

Figure 3. Brainstorm as a result of the plenary exploration (theme ‘bicycles’).

During the theme, it turned out to be very interesting to further explore the chosen theme with the children. In a third phase a limited part of the theme (a specific interest) is broadened or deepened together with the children, resulting in more ideas for activities for the coming days. A successful method for phase 3 is setting up a new corner together with the children.

In our research for example, a teacher followed the input of a child that had never showered before, because she only has a bathtub at home. Another child came up with the idea of building a shower in the classroom. Together with a small group of children, they thought about what they would need to build a shower, what accessories they would need, what steps they would follow, etc. For some children it is easier to think along when the brainstorm is about a more delineated subject and some children need more time to come up with ideas or need to be immersed in a theme before they can start making plans.

In figure 4, we present the final format as the answer to our first research question: How can we improve step 2 of our roadmap (exploratory activity), in order to better understand what children with low SES-background would like to experience and learn at school?

 

Figure 4. Format exploratory activity.

Next to the phasing, we also found five didactical guidelines in exploring a theme together with children:

  1. Before you expect children to bring in ideas, give them a strong impression about the theme. Bring some materials with you, show them a video clip, take them out for an excursion, etc.
  2. Combine conversation with playing and doing. You can get insights in what the children want and need by listening to them, but also by observing them carefully. Instead of talking about what music they like, put them on a stage with a microphone and look what they bring to you. Instead of asking what happens in a hospital according to them, give them a Playmobil® hospital and observe their spontaneous play.
  3. Support children in formulating their ideas. For example during a theme exploration about volcanoes, a girl said “Little rocks are flying”. As a reaction to the teachers question: “What do the rocks look like?”, she says “orange, with fire”. The teacher verifies “Do you mean that lava stones are coming out of the volcano when it is erupting?”.
  4. Visualize the ideas of the children and mark the ideas when you have fulfilled them. For example, you can place all ideas on a green blackboard and move them to a red blackboard when accomplished. Use this in a conversation with your children: maybe they have more ideas to fill the green blackboard again; maybe they are not interested anymore in some items on the green blackboard. Doing a re- and preview with your children is recommended: thinking about what you have done and what you still want to do, empowers them in sharing ideas, taking initiative, etc.
  5. Emphasize that these ideas are their ideas. We saw how children were really proud and involved when they knew that they came up with the idea for this particular activity. They feel acknowledged. In doing so children experience that their ideas are really taken into account, which leads to more ideas the next time you explore a theme with them. This observation can be linked to the idea of epistemic agency in Knowledge Building theory (Scardamalia, 2000; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006). Teachers turn agency over to the children so that children can take responsibility in their own learning process.

Although it was not the focus of our research, teachers tentatively stated that children with low SES more often came up with things they wanted to do, try out, explore and experience, while children with high SES were more likely to come up with specific questions they want answers for. In trying to understand reality, it seems that children with low SES are more relying on their senses and children with high SES are more likely to approach reality in a cognitive way. Of course, these statements are premature findings that need to be investigated more in depth in the future.

We set up a quasi-experimental design to find an answer to the second research question: Does step 2 of our roadmap (exploratory activity) influence the involvement of preschoolers with low SES-background? The idea behind this research question is that we believe that learning activities in our Flemish preschools are not connected enough with the perspective of children with low SES. With our exploratory activity, we help teachers to get connected with this perspective and we ask them to address specific learning interests and needs of these children in their preparation for activities. The question is whether this results in a higher involvement of the children with low SES and hence in more and deeper learning effects. If we can prove this, we have something that can help us to bridge (or maybe even to prevent) the performance gap between children with low SES and the others.

In analyzing the data (3081 individual involvement scores; 523 average involvement scores), we found promising results. Exploring a theme together with children, following the instructions of the provided format, leads to significant higher involvement, both for children with low as for children with middle or high SES, F (1, 441.789) =8.99, p = 0.003. Interesting to know is that we also detected a general difference in involvement between children with low SES-background and the other children (F (1, 245.357) = 4.559, p = 0.034). This confirms our initial research problem stating that there is a challenge for low SES-children in Flemish education. To sum up, we found significant main effects for socio-economic status and condition (with or without exploratory activity), but did not find a significant interaction effect between these predictors. As we aspire an inclusive approach, this was the best result we could hope for. Both children with low SES and children with middle or high SES are benefiting from a teacher that prepares activities based upon an exploration of the theme together with them.

To end with, we would like to share a last outcome, though it was not the focus of our research. Comparing 60 boys to 59 girls, we could not find a significant difference in involvement according to gender. As we often experience that our primary education is more directed towards girls, we think it is hopeful that this appears not to be the case for early childhood education.

Conclusion & discussion

Society is confronted with an increase of socio-economic differences and education faces many challenges in this perspective. Because education towards children until they are six years old is crucial for the social, emotional and cognitive development and could be the lever to reverse the negative impact on children living in vulnerable contexts (Roose, Pulinx & Van Avermaet, 2014), we should extend research on this topic and make new findings accessible for all.

In this research study, we examined our didactical approach towards education for young children. Building upon the ideas of experiential education, open framework and emergent curriculum we developed a roadmap for preschool teachers that they can use to let children participate in deciding what they want to learn and what they want to do and experience at school. Two questions came up: 1) How can we know what children with low SES-background want to learn and experience? and 2) If we offer activities based upon the ideas of all the children in our classes (low, middle and high SES), will the children be more involved?

In answering the first question, we can give preschool teachers guidance in how to gain more insight in what a theme means for children with low SES-background and what they want to learn about. As for this ‘format’ (illustrated more thoroughly above), we need to emphasize that this only works with 4- to-5-year-old children. In our follow-up research we are developing a format for the youngest children in Flemish education, who are 2.5 to 3 years old. Preliminary results suggest again a multi-phased design, where in depth observation of play plays a very important role.

Finding a significant effect of the exploration of the theme together with children on their involvement in class is very important. This means we can use this didactical approach to enhance learning in preschool, both for children with low SES and for children with middle or high SES. Of course, we also wonder whether this approach could work in primary, secondary and even higher education. We believe that education should make more use of the intrinsic motivation to learn about reality, the urge to explore – something every person initially holds. It is a way of empowering people in their learning process and even in the way they want to lead their lives.

At the end of this article, we would like to point out that doing research together with practitioners is very enriching for both parties. We could experience the fact that design-based-research bridges the gap between educational research and practice. Together, as colleagues, we examined the obtained data, we discussed and suggested preliminary answers on our research question. Based on those answers they went back to their classrooms to try out a new format. This practice was again the starting point for a new cycle in the design-based-research set-up. The teachers, involved in our research, were praising the beneficial effects of the participation in this project. Reasons for this were the acknowledgement of their expertise, the chances to share ideas and experiences with peers and researchers and the opportunity to reflect upon their every-day-practice in a more profound way. Participating in this research meant a profound and sustainable way of professionalization for these preschool teachers.

Authors

Hannelore De Greve, M.Sc. (Ed.), Teacher educator, Karel de Grote University College, Belgium
Jo Van de Weghe, M.Sc. (Ed.), Teacher educator, Karel de Grote University College, Belgium
Lien De Coninck, M.Sc. (Ed.), Teacher educator, Karel de Grote University College, Belgium
Jan Van de Wiele, M.Sc. (Ed.), Teacher educator, Karel de Grote University College, Belgium


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Changing paradigms: moving higher education into the 21st century

Author: Zarina Charlesworth.

Abstract

Institutes of higher education can no longer pretend that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will not impact the way that learning is viewed, and education delivered. This article looks at changes in education from the perspective of students, educators, administrators complemented by practitioner action research in the classroom. In answer to the question of how to induce 21st century change in higher education, a meta-interpretation (Weed, 2005) of six related research studies carried out over the period 2014‒2017 was conducted. This in turn has allowed for a comprehensive analysis and the identification of key change-related findings that cut across the afore-mentioned stakeholder groups. A framework for change is put forth for administrators and examples for innovative classroom practice are provided for educators.

Introduction

It is clear that what is frequently described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Schwab, 2016) is having an impact not only in more traditional industries but in education as well. In 2012, digital technology was identified as one of the five key drivers of change taking place in education with one report going so far as to say “Campuses will remain, but digital technologies will transform the way education is delivered and accessed, and the way value is created by higher education providers, public and private alike” (Ernest & Young, 2012, p. 4). Three years later it was said that “the impact of technology on education delivery remains sub-optimal […and contributions] to teaching and learning have yet to be fully realised and exploited” yet, “it is vital that teachers become active agents for change” (OECD, 2015, p. 4). Educators today are faced with a world in mutation and it behoves us to tailor the learning experience so as to provide our higher education students with the competencies and knowledge that they will need as they move into the work force. As much as this is an exciting time, change can also be difficult and confusing, sometimes missing the overview necessary to move ahead and in turn often lacking coordination. A transition, first mentioned by King from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” (1993), is clearly underway, however, the opportunities afforded by technology add a level of complexity to the educational reality that has not yet sufficiently been taken into account (Jörg, Davis, & Nickmans, 2007; Reigeluth, Beatty, & Myers, 2017). The ongoing change in practices “will mean that more emphasis is placed on the teaching processes being situated as active ‘co-learning’ experiences [and that the] adoption of a more scholarly and reflective approach to teaching practice is clearly a logical strategy to help achieve this shift (Conole & Alevizou, 2010, p. 21).

The vision of the future of education held by those involved in the studies referred to is one full of hope and enthusiasm as we enter an age of unlimited possibilities where learning starts at an early age and goes on throughout one’s life. It is an exciting time, but we have a long way to go. The use of technology certainly does, however, afford educators, the possibility to add value to the learning experience (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2013; Howland, Jonassen, & Marra, 2012; Jonassen, 1996). Surprisingly, and despite all the resources available to educators, there has been relatively limited change in course delivery in higher education. What are the barriers and drivers to this paradigm change? Perhaps a better understanding of these issues will allow us to move forward with conviction and enthusiasm into a 21st century that is already well under way allowing the higher education community to become proactive in the shaping of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Abu Mezied, 2016).

This article examines the nature of change in education through a meta-interpretation of a series of selected studies taken from two practice-based action research projects (2014‒2016 & 2016‒2017) carried out at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland. The reason for this type of interpretation being to provide the whole picture as we are looking at a paradigm change and not just a snapshot of innovative classroom practice. A paradigm change does not necessarily mean starting completely afresh, however. The research presented here is firmly anchored in existing theory, which provides the guiding thread linking all the studies in this meta-interpretation together and shows how one can move from the past into the future without having to make any kind of break.

The paper closes with the key findings of this analysis and a discussion of how to meet some of the challenges faced. Examples, based on the action research, are provided for the easy integration of technology in the classroom that may be of interest to educators. The conclusions drawn here are based on and aimed primarily at higher education providers but may be applied in general.

Theoretical background

Self-regulation

The research referred to in this article draws on two main bodies of literature to link together the series of studies referred to in this meta-interpretation. The point of departure and the pivot for all the studies conducted was the concept of self-regulation. In Zimmerman’s (1989) words, “self-regulated learning strategies are actions and processes directed at acquiring information or skill that involves agency, purpose, and instrumentality perceptions by learners” (p. 329). This process, first introduced by Bandura (1986, 1991), is seen to be subject to the impact of personal, environmental and behavioural influences. These influences may vary in strength depending on the learning situation. For example, a group project conducted across countries with different time zones may be subject more to environmental influences than would a project conducted at a local level. Today the environmental influence is of particular importance as it relates not only to the physical environment but to the virtual as well.

The idea of self-regulation was later taken up by Nicol and MacFarlane-Dick who see it as “manifested in the active monitoring and regulation of a number of different learning processes: e.g. the setting of, and orientation towards, learning goals; the strategies used to achieve goals; the management of resources; the effort exerted; reactions to external feedback; the products produced.” (2006, p. 199). Adding to this, the work of other researchers (Pintrich, 2004; Winters, Greene, & Costich, 2008; Zumbrunn, Tadlock, & Roberts, 2011) emphasizes the role of directed learning through its active construction and purposeful engagement. The management of learning thus takes on new proportions which in turn rely more than ever on the development of self-regulation processes.

In today’s ‘educational ecosystem’ (Cristol, 2014) higher education students are faced with an unprecedented amount of information, a need to sift through, select and share it as well as use it to further their knowledge. Zimmerman saw the process of self-regulation as going through three phases (Zimmerman, 2000). This was later taken up by Dabbagh and Kitsantas and then revisited by Charlesworth & Sarrasin taking technological advances into account. Table 1 presents a comparison of these frameworks (Charlesworth & Sarrasin, 2014).

Table 1. A Comparison of Frameworks.
 Zimmerman (2000)Dabbagh and Kitsantas (2012)Charlesworth and Sarrasin (2014)
PhaseStageLevel
1ForethoughtPersonal information managementOrganization and searching
2Performance or volitional controlSocial interaction and collaborationInformation exchange
3Self-reflectionInformation aggregation and managementCo-creation and co-construction of knowledge

The link between the levels shown in Table 1 and the competencies that higher education is called upon to develop in 21st century graduates, including those of critical-thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration, (World_Economic_Forum, 2015) is clear.

Organization and searching skills can be linked to both the organization of study as well as to information literacy. Higher education students today need support in the search for information and especially in the validation of what information is reliable, a role both the institute as well as its educators need to fill. In terms of information exchange students are generally quite capable yet often default to more basic types of exchange through the institute’s learning management platform (LMS), Dropbox, WhatsApp, etc. But when called upon to go past simple exchange and delve into the co-creation and co-construction of knowledge which technology easily allows one to do “few students naturally do this well” (Zumbrunn et al., 2011, p. 4). These skills and competencies rely heavily on collaboration. Related literature that has taken this up (De Corte, 2012; Järvelä, Näykki, Laru, & Luokkanen, 2007; Lee & Tsai, 2011; Leinonen, Järvelä, & Häkkinen, 2005; Li, Ingram-El Helou, & Gillet, 2012), suggests that educators giving support for individual learning through the use of structured collaboration will encourage students to develop strategies that allow for the co-creation and co-construction of knowledge.

Change Management

Clearly the onus for learning is increasingly on the students themselves and in each of the afore-mentioned levels they are expected to perform. It is in the third level, however, that the idea of a paradigm change comes to fruition as it is here that the educator has a large role to play. A role which goes far past just adapting one’s course syllabus but calls into question what learning in the 21st century really is and calls on the educator to examine his/her educational practice. This in turn leads us to the idea of change. To better understand the mechanisms of change, the second body of literature referred to in this article is that of change management (Kotter, 1995; Lewin, 1958; Quinn, Amer, & Lonie, 2012). The foundations for organizational change were embraced by management / industry some twenty years ago. These have since been taken up in education with a framework put forth by Quinn et al. (2012). This framework is shown in order that conclusions can be drawn not just about what changes might be pertinent but how to have such change embraced by educators.

There is little published research on change management in higher education that looks at the principal stakeholders: students and educators. Faculty developers as change agents have been looked at (Dawson, Mighty, & Britnell, 2010) as have academic support centres (Diamond, 2005). “Unfortunately, much of what is at the disposition of the educators comes from instructional designers and support personal whose time in the classroom is often limited and may be overly “tool” oriented” (Charlesworth & Sarrasin, 2017a, p. 7376). As pointed out by Kirkwood & Price (2013) educator’s questions are often concerned with the use of a particular tool or technology rather than with the more creative “How can I enable my students to achieve the desired or necessary learning outcomes?” or “What forms of participation or practice are enabled for learning?” (p. 332). The question remains of how to engender this kind of change.

Using Lewin (1958) as the starting point with his three-step: unfreezing, moving, refreezing description of organisational change, together with Kotter’s 8-step model (1995), Quinn et al. (2012) came up with three related phases for driving change in education as shown below:

Phase 1: Setting the stage in order to “break open the shell of complacency” (Lewin, 1958, p. 211) through actions which encourage change.

Phase 2: Making change happen means allowing change to happen through “empowering of others to act on the vision through encouraging risk-taking, and non-traditional ideas, activities, and actions” (Kotter, 1995, p. 3).

Phase 3: Making it stick where actions involving systems and structures emphasize the commitment of the institute.

Clearly the relationship between evolving student needs and managing change at the level of the institute is complex. The question that this paper looks to answer is, how, taking the various stakeholders and their perspectives into account, can one hope to drive change.

Methodological orientation & procedures

Rather than present research findings from one or more isolated studies, this article provides a meta-interpretation (Weed, 2005) of related research studies conducted over the period 2014‒2017. What is proposed here is to synthesize the results of these studies in order to look at how best to move change forward in higher education and this at levels from the student through to the administration.

The synthesis of research, both quantitative and qualitative, has taken on increasing importance over the past twenty years. Going from a focus on the synthesis of quantitative studies, frequently through the use of a meta-analysis, the methodological literature now describes any number of ways for synthesizing all data types. There seems to be some consensus that despite the variety of methods referred to, there should always be an element of structured synthesis. A distinction can, however, be made based on “the extent to which the various methods aim to test, explore, or generate theories and the extent to which they interpret evidence from the included studies” (Snilstveit et al. 2012, p. 414).

It is of importance to note that “the re-interpretation of original research is not a valid way to proceed” (Weed, 2005, paragraph 36). Where more traditional research synthesis and review tended to rely on a summary of findings, the narrative approach to synthesis aims to generate new insight allowing for a more holistic approach. The approach taken in this paper is that of Secondary Analysis of Primary Data as defined by Weed (2005) where the original interpretations are considered to be the raw data for the secondary analysis.

As mentioned by Weed (2005), and in the tradition of qualitative research, the terms validity and reliability are not appropriate in this type of analysis. This is not, however, to refute their importance but to redefine them accordingly. In the case of this current work, ‘research quality’ the term used by Weed (2005) and seen as “referring to ensuring the quality and integrity of the meta-interpretation approach” (paragraph 37) is particularly well suited. Guaranteeing this quality calls for a selection of the studies to be included and for transparent nature of the process where all studies referred to are available for the reader to access.

The six studies referred to in this analysis were carried out between 2014 and 2017 and called on a range of methods including: the use of student focus groups (2 having n=17 participants); faculty interviews (n=5; n= 16); administrator interviews (n=9); faculty workshops (20 having n=252 participants) with a follow-up questionnaire (n=39); and finally two revised courses (BA students and Continuing Education students) which each went through three action research iterations as well as allowing for a quantitative component (BA students n=85) and a virtual community analysis (Continuing Education students n=95).

The choice of these six studies was dictated by the fact that they were all part of two related research projects carried out in the same university allowing a coherent and holistic approach to the issue.

As suggested by Weed (2005 paragraph 43), this type of interpretation calls for:

  • A focus on meaning in context;
  • Interpretations are the raw data for synthesis;
  • An iterative approach to the sampling of studies for synthesis.

This approach allows for a more comprehensive approach to the findings. Accordingly, the selected studies have, in the first instance, been grouped by context before proceeding to the final analysis.

Results

The interpretations for each of the studies included in the meta-interpretation are considered to be the raw data or the “primary subject for secondary analysis” (Weed, 2005, paragraph 35). A total of six studies have been included in this analysis. A compilation of the original interpretations is shown below in Table 2. Once again, the object is not to reinterpret neither to summarize but to provide, through further analysis, an interpretation that goes beyond that of each individual study, rather like making a collage of photos and as the whole picture emerges being able to see something new.

Table 2. Compiled Studies 2014‒2017: Reported findings.

Changing paradigms, largely due to digitalization, are going on all around us. Whether educators are inclined to go the route of technology enhanced learning becomes a moot point because technology, whether in the classroom or not, is now ubiquitous. Its impact has been to change the teacher-student dynamic, to alter the time-distance relationship and to give students unlimited access to all the knowledge they could desire, calling on educators to add real value or be shunned by their students. All of the research presented here has been subject to a meta-interpretation highlighting barriers and drivers to this paradigm change.

The findings reported in Table 2 confirm the impact of technology on course delivery today. Even though innovation in the classroom does not necessarily call for the use of technology it clearly needs to be considered in any course redesign.

Table 3 is a recompilation of the findings shown in Table 2 by stakeholder group and divided into barriers and drivers to classroom innovation.

Table 3. Barriers & Drivers to innovation in the higher education classroom.
Stakeholder groupBarriersDrivers
StudentsDigital native ≠ Digital learner
Feeling a loss of control in a non-traditional classroom
Resistance to change
Expecting teachers to add value
Asynchronous time-distance relationship seen as positive
Appreaciate being involved in the learning process
FacultyUnclear on changing role of educator
Relatively low level of digital fluency
Insufficient time available to embrace change
Use of technology is motivating & created a dynamic classroom
Clear benefits for collaboration & networking beyond the classroom with student involvement
AdminA number of campuses over a large distance
Insufficient communication from the top down
Overall vision not clear to educators
A teacher training department
A certain level of support for innovation-related projects
Support for conferences

Going past just a synthesis by category of stakeholder but to a cross-stakeholder synthesis it becomes clear that there are interacting relationships worth highlighting, allowing us to identify key findings. Key findings risk remaining just that if measures are not taken in response to them. At the end of the day, what is shown in these studies is that there is uncertainty, confusion, resistance, and a certain passivism on the part of both students and teachers. To move this forward, the administrators have a certain responsibility and through the principles of change management, as experienced and described previously, there is a clear path to follow. Here we turn to Quinn et al.’s (2012) framework for change suggesting that the findings be addressed in a manner so as to make the most impact.

Setting the stage – where complacency is no longer accepted

Key finding #1: Both students and educators are novices in the use of technology for learning
For example, students, despite their digital native status do not really know how to use technology for learning. Many educators get put off by the idea of digital natives, worried that they might not be able to keep up. What they do not realize is that although students are often tech-savvy they are no further up the learning curve than the educators themselves in terms of how best to use technology in the classroom. This translates into an excellent opportunity for educator-student collaboration and even co-creation as they discover together what can be done. If educators are encouraged to take on this challenge without fear of recrimination or the possible consequences of negative student evaluations the stage will be set to go further.

Key finding #2: Innovation-related projects and conferences call for more than lip service
Clearly the instauration of innovation-related projects and conferences is a good start, yet it is not sufficient for the institute to applaud these events rather real involvement, time allocation for those involved, publicity for the outcomes and follow-up could make much more of an impact.

Making change happen – giving substance to vision

Key finding #3: A need to close the gap between institutional vision and what is happening on the ground
Clearly there is a gap between what those in administration see as the vision for the future of the institute and what is communicated, or not, to the educators. A real effort is called for to close the gaps in perception of where to next.

Key finding #4: There is a real need for scaffolding and institutional support
The need for scaffolding in their own learning on the part of the educators involved is not to be underestimated. Educators are being pulled in many directions with often more than just teaching commitments. It is insufficient to tell educators that they have permission to go ahead and make changes without providing the required support. Support that should go beyond the possibility of seeing a pedagogical advisor or taking a course but support that brings together discipline champions with those searching for new solutions and gives educators the time and space needed to experiment.

Making it stick – where systems and structures are impacted

Key finding #5: Sufficient time for change in course delivery is lacking
Telling educators that they have the liberty to run their courses as they see fit and to say that innovation is encouraged but unfortunately this does not merit an additional time allowance simply does not give the right message. Encouragement needs to go as far as allowing time and space for the creativity that will be needed as education evolves.

Key finding #6: The need for a centralized resource centre
It is one thing to give educators the go ahead to change their methods of course delivery and encourage instructional diversity but if the infrastructure does not evolve hand-in-hand with technology this cannot work. The new generation classroom calls for tables and chairs that are easily reconfigured, ideally several beamers, movable white boards, wireless access, and sufficient sockets to plug electronic equipment into. The standard classroom setting with tables cabled together will not work.

New ideas and innovative solutions will not suffice to change the face of education and the still dominant paradigms of teaching and learning but a more strategic and integrated approach such as shown above is called for in order that lasting change takes place.

Discussion and conclusions

A meta-interpretation of the results suggests that there are many sides to this story and that research often informs on only one aspect. In some cases, this is sufficient but in the case of fundamental changes, such as we are now seeing in the educational paradigm, this will not suffice. Jasinski (2007) speaks of inter-related enablers, some of which have also shown up in our research and which include “a work culture that embraces and supports innovation; a robust technology infrastructure; technology tools that are appropriate for teaching and learning purposes; a senior champion who drives the process; a willingness to consult and share; and supportive managers, peers and support professionals” (pp. 4‒5). These are all important elements, but our research supports the idea that for educators to embrace change there are other even more important elements including: time allowed, valorisation of effort, support and recognition from all levels and encouragement. Unfortunately, administrators tend to default to Industrial-Age mental models or mindsets (Reigeluth et al., 2017) and continue to evaluate education along well-known standard lines which often penalize the risk-taking educator who wants to try something new in the classroom. The key findings presented in the previous section provide clear direction in answer to the question posed at the outset of how to induce 21st century change in higher education.
If nothing else, the action research experience has taught us not to be afraid of making mistakes and trying new things out in the classroom even if at first one does not succeed. Below are two examples of actions that were carried out successfully during the action research and to the enjoyment of educators and students alike.

Importance and relevance for practice

The importance of doing this type of meta-interpretation is that it allows one to see the big picture. As illustrated in the story of the blind men and the elephant (PeaceCorps, undated), the Jain-based theory of manifold predications states “ to be competitive, innovative and successful we need the team to look at the larger picture collectively rather than get one view” (Sharma, 2011 paragraph 11). The suggestions put forth here should help move change in the educational paradigm, currently often only occurring at the individual educator level, to the collective school and community levels.

Author

Zarina Charlesworth, PhD (Ed.), University of Applied Arts & Sciences of Western Switzerland, HES-SO, Switzerland


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Development of project management and multiple work life skills through real life projects – case Arctic Youth Forum

Authors: Anzelika Krastina, Nikolett Plesér and Alena Perervenko.

In Lapland UAS, International Business students are encouraged to learn actual challenges of real life projects through taking an initiative and leading the project. Learning by projects is a part of the curricula in International Business (IB) study programme. However, where and how to get those real life projects? One of the most common ways to get a real life project into the classroom is to cooperate with the companies and to work on specific problems defined by the company. The other way is to initiate own projects based on the identified societal, global, environmental, economic, technological or any other problems. The project is a problem scheduled for solution. Usual initiation of the project in practice begins with defining the problem, analyzing causes and effects of the existing problem, defining possible solutions and deciding on the strategy for the project. This way the project idea is born. While junior students usually work on the projects smaller in their scope, senior students are required to work through entire project lifecycle from project initiation, to project planning, implementation and evaluation.

Case Arctic Youth Forum

Arctic as a region has recently gained global attention. It can be explained by many factors, including climate change, environmental issues, large deposits of natural resources and opening new sea routes and future possibilities for large industries, mining, oil and gas, as well as increasing potential for business development. Arctic studies became a background for many project initiatives of international students. Understanding the region, students gain better vision for the future work, career and business opportunity.

During the problem analysis workshop within the course related to Arctic studies, students realized that actual youth involvement in the Arctic development and cooperation discussions is rather limited. The impression that young people had, was that they are not heard or listened to, although it is obvious that young people are a very important part of the Arctic population, and the youth is the human capital that will shape the future of the region. Young people, the students of the IB programme, decided that they need to take an initiative and take the issue in their own hands. This way the idea of the first Arctic Youth Forum was developed within the course Innovation and Entrepreneurship Project Work (10 ECTS) at Lapland UAS. Students decided to create a forum connecting young people, influencers and decision makers to discuss existing problems develop new ideas together. Thus, students moved from a problem of lack of dialog between decision makers and youth of the Arctic towards a solution to create a dialog platform under the name of Arctic Youth Forum.

The first edition of Arctic Youth Forum was organized in the form of a panel presentation, round table discussion and workshops as a side event of Rovaniemi Arctic Spirit conference organized by the Arctic Center. It took place on the 13th of November 2017 in Rovaniemi, Finland. More than fifty young people from the region came to discuss core topics with the panelists and other participants in organized interactive workshops focusing on:

  • Arctic/Barents cross-border cooperation/ Innovation and Cooperation in the Arctic
  • Arctic Industries
  • Future of Rovaniemi / Regional development
  • Arctic Economic and Business Development
  • Circumpolar health and wellbeing; Gender studies
  • Ideas for a better Artic. How to do things better in the Arctic?

Engagement of young people and panelists during the event showed that this type of forums are really needed and are important venues for dialog between young people, who have good development ideas, and decision makers, who can take these ideas into account and promote them further when creating policies and regional development strategies.

Project and real work life skills developed during the project

Article aims to reflect on what competences related to the real work life were developed and increased as a result of organizing a unique event such as “Arctic Youth Forum”. First, it aimed to solve real life situation problems identified in the Arctic region. It was not an artificial problem created for the purposes of the course exercise. Secondly, in order to organize the event, most of the work and communication happens outside traditional setting of the classroom. Based on the performance assessment, reports and the feedback by the students, the following skills, competences and abilities have been developed or improved throughout the project implementation. Hereby the findings and a few important student comments reflect their learning and personal development.

In the initiations phase, students found and decided on an idea through problem analysis, cause and effect analysis, deciding project strategy and finally project goals.

Our main idea was to give a platform for young people to express their opinions and ideas concerning the future of the Arctic while connecting them with influencers and decision makers…We want our Arctic to be lively, buzzing even in 20 years from now. We need young people to stay in the Arctic and for this to be possible we gave a chance for them to express their ideas and opinions.

During the planning phase, students learnt creating the hierarchy of project objectives, deciding project indicators, quality criteria, defining risks and assumptions. Creating work breakdown structure and activity schedule in the Gantt Chart, planning the resource and budgeting. In the implementation phase, students organized the venue, arranged equipment, found, invited and hosted panelists from government to business organizations and from different countries, made a marketing plan and carried out promotion. Creating the script and planning to carry out smooth workshop process, as well as hosting the event itself were also their tasks. In the evaluation phase, students collected feedback, analyzed it and wrote a report. In addition, they learnt assessing the success of the project against set indicators. Analyzing personal performance and development, and setting new development goals were in the core in evaluating their learning.

Being like a company was interesting because we were in charge of an event and everybody had to work for a common goal. An important event like this motivates people to work hard and not disappoint the group members… Things like the Gantt chart, WBS or Concept Note were something new for some of the members, but at the end we realized that were useful things to work with.

The project helped significantly to improve leadership and teamwork skills.

This project helped me to improve my team-work abilities…it was even more interesting because almost every team member was from different country which sometimes brings some difficulties, but also brings new ideas and solutions which may not occur in teams from the same country or background.

As a leader, I have received such great feedback from the panelists and participants. I am utterly grateful for everyone who worked with me and supported me as now I know what I can achieve if I have a great team (or three) behind me. Project helped me to believe in myself and achieve things like the youth forum, where we actually connected young people with important people involved in decision making and possibly created something, which will continue as a great movement in the future as well.

I learned from my mistakes and I will do my best so as not to make them again in the future. It was a great accomplishment for me as a person. Now I know that it is possible to work on leadership skills through practice and new experiences. And I know that if I made it ones, I can do it again. Leaders are not born. They are made.

Innovation and entrepreneurship competence development reflected through the ability to create an added value by solving an existing problem, observe trends and spot weak signals in order to set the best strategy for the project. Becoming familiar with the social innovation and entrepreneurship concept and principles, developing entrepreneurial mindset, carrying out innovation workshops during the forum and generating new innovation solutions to different problems discussed in the Arctic, students realized that they have gained better understanding of real work life situations.

I learnt a lot though this event, it not just taught me the importance of practicing my knowledge in the real life, but also taught me to cooperation with people. This real life project is really helpful when I begin working in the future.

During networking and collaboration with outside stakeholders, it is important to develop relevant business communication skills, for formulating proper business letters and emails, invitations and promotion material targeted for various beneficiaries.

Partnership was really important thing for the project and its goals, and our partner, the Arctic Centre, was fundamental for the correct implementation of the event. Communication with the stakeholders and the panelists was conducted by the core team frequently…With these kind of things we realized how important are the sponsors and partners for the projects.

For many foreign students, the learning by project work helped them to better understand the Finnish education system. The team in charge of the project implementation consisted of young people from different countries, some of them were local or international degree students, and some of them were exchange students, who came for one semester to Lapland UAS from another country.

As an exchange student this class helped me to better understand Finnish education system, especially approach which is used at the University of Applied Sciences, which is more focused on practical skills´ development.

Regardless of the challenges that real life projects can bring, it is an excellent platform for experiencing, practicing and developing necessary work life skills.

Authors

Anzelika Krastina, Med., Senior Lecturer, Entrepreneurship coach, International coordinator, School of Business and Culture, Lapland UAS Anzelika.krastina(at)lapinamk.fi

Nikolett Plesér (Hungary), International Business (BA) 3rd year student, Arctic Youth Forum (AYF) project leader, Lapland UAS Nikolett.Pleser(at)edu.lapinamk.fi

Alena Perervenko (Russia), International Business (BA) 3rd year student, AYF team leader, Lapland UAS Alena.Perervenko(at)edu.lapinamk.fi

No 2/2018 Abstracts

Editorial: Dialogue between work and learning is the key to development of higher education

Anu Moisio, Process Director (3AMK)
Liisa Vanhanen-Nuutinen, Principal Lecturer
Hannu Kotila, Principal Lecturer, Project Manager
Kimmo Mäki, Principal Lecturer

Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Professional Teacher Education Unit

The theme of UAS Journal number 2/2018 is the connection of work and university studies. Universities of applied sciences are important for the local business and industry: students do various project and training tasks at workplaces during their studies, participate in the development of new innovations together with industry representatives, and finance their studies through work.

“Information and theory only gain importance when applied by people functioning in their environment.” This pragmatic starting point has always been at the pedagogical heart of universities of applied sciences. It is best achieved in the integration of authentic work and learning. Throughout their entire existence, universities of applied sciences have looked for and found some natural ways to integrate theory and practice. This continuous dialogue between work and studies makes the universities of applied sciences interesting also in the international arena.

The students become connected to the labour market already during their studies. Research shows that approximately half of the students at universities of applied sciences work regularly alongside studying. This is also, in many ways, an untapped opportunity. Learning at work in the same industry lowers the threshold of finding employment upon graduation. It also provides the students with an opportunity to link knowledge gained at work with their studies, for example, through the process of studifying. The possibilities of studifying work may also attract students who would otherwise not even consider university education.

Competence gained from working alongside studying has only recently been utilised and intertwined with university learning. We are at the beginning of a learning path: now we simply have to find proper opportunities for expertise created at work and study to be fuelled by each other. As the focus moves from completing qualifications to enabling learning, it will challenge the structures of university teaching, teachers’ attitudes and pedagogical leadership. Moreover, the students’ way of thinking about learning will change, and experts at workplaces are obliged to reconsider how to inspire university students. This is a major transformation requiring long-term management and the involvement of different parties in order to be successful.

Workplace projects, traineeships and employment during studies will help the students to engage with work, and to plan and promote their careers. Upon graduation, most students find employment in the nearby workplaces that have become familiar during their studies. All of the aforementioned requires a functioning workplace pedagogy, as well as guidance and cooperation between the university of applied sciences and the workplace.

This theme issue presents a variety of ways to make use of early connection to work. More solutions are being developed in the Totem project. Totem studies and develops practical models for connecting work and university studies. Totem is a higher education development project funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, and its website can be found at www.amktoteemi.fi/en

 

Working life engagement in studies in the fields of construction and real estate management

Marika Ahlavuo, Science producer, coordinator, culture producer in Aalto University
Mika Lindholm, Head of construction and real estate, Lic. Tech., Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
Hannu Hyyppä, Professor, Dr.Sc. (Tech.), Associate Professor, Aalto University
Kaisa Jaalama, post-graduate student, M.Sc. (Admin.), Aalto University

Working life engagement is based on a long lasting and self-renewing interaction with the student, working life partners as well as with the educational and research staff of the higher educational institution. The article is based on our experiences in student engagement in Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and Aalto University’s department of built environment. As we are reflecting the results of the current and previous working life collaboration projects, we are also suggesting further ways in which the higher educational sector could include working life partners as part of higher educational activities.

Thus, we suggest that e.g. higher educational sector in construction engineering could benefit of the business investment and industry intervention in educational activities. Deeper collaboration with higher educational institutions and working life partners could support students in gaining competitive and cross-disciplinary skills through education.

 

In the network of studyfying every one wins

Eeva-Leena Forma, M.A., Teaching development manager, Toteemi project, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Heini Korvenkangas, M.Sc. (Econ.), Lecturer of travel business, ReKey project, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Vappu Salo, D.Ed. , Lecturer of food manufacturing, ReKey project, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences

Development of teaching practises is centred on flexible, personal study paths that are closely connected with working life. Development of student oriented studification and co-creation of a network of teaching and work life has been adopted as a common development project of teaching in SAMK. This development work is carried out by combining resources in subprojects within Toteemi, ReKey and eAMK projects, financed by Ministry of Education and Culture. Everyone wins. Students’ work life skills and ability to make knowledge and skills explicit improve. At the same time, studies proceed in a meaningful manner. Organisations will get the required expertise through employees, who expand their knowledge by studying in a University of Applied Sciences. This all will strengthen networking and co-operation between education and work life.

The student programs offer opportunities to career paths

Soili Fabritius, M.A., Lecturer of Finnish language and communications, Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Karoliina Pigg, M.A., Part-time lecturer of Finnish language and communications, Oulu University of Applied Sciences

During the past few years construction companies have started student programs which attempt to attract future experts to create a career path at their service. YIT, Skanska and Lehto Group offer different study programs to the students of Civil engineering at Oulu University of Applied Sciences. Students conduct part of their studies within the program, companies offer work practice and summer job opportunities as well as on-the-job trainings for students close to graduation. As the skills accumulate the work tasks get more challenging and at its best at the end of a path awaits a permanent job.

 

Satellite education model gives a fresh start for working life to biomedical laboratory science professionals

Sirkka-Liisa Halimaa, Dr.Sc. (Health), Project Specialist, Savonia University of Applied Sciences
Marja Kopeli, M.A., Head Education planner, Savonia University of Applied Sciences
Leena Tikka, Lic.Sc. (Health), Principal Lecturer, Savonia University of Applied Sciences

Satellite education model in this article means distance learning. The digital solutions and collaboration with the regional hospitals make it possible for the students to study in their hometowns. Savonia UAS, University Hospital Kotka Laboratories (Carea) and South-Carelia Social and Health Care District (Eksote) have since 2014 organized Degree Programme in Biomedical Laboratory Science together. Distance learning environments have been implemented in Kotka and Lappeenranta hospitals.

Kotka and Lappeenranta were Savonia’s pilot satellites. According to feedback and study results, both traditional campus education and satellite model provide competences defined in curriculum. Clinical laboratory process competences are more applied in satellite groups. Working life oriented education model helps students also to understand deeper the role of biomedical laboratory science professionals as a part of health care sector. In this model, the students take their place in working life flexibly.

 

From Google explorer into an innovative expert

Nina Hynnä, M.Soc.Sc., Information Specialist, Häme University of Applied Sciences
Katja Laitila, M.Soc.Sc., Information Specialist, Häme University of Applied Sciences
Tiina Mäntylä, M.A., Information Specialist, University of Lapland

In current information-driven workplace knowledge, employees must know when and what kind of information is required, how to find it, evaluate it and integrate it. Information skills are embedded in basic business functions, and depending on the situation and context, information is defined and handled in different ways. This makes it difficult to talk about information or “information literacy” without a context. There is no one-size-fits-all information literacy model or tools that work in every workplace context. However, there have been various attempts to find solutions on how to support the distribution of information and its usage in an effective and efficient way.

 

Development of project management and multiple work life skills through real life projects – case Arctic Youth Forum

Anzelika Krastina, Med., Senior Lecturer, Entrepreneurship coach, International coordinator, School of Business and Culture, Lapland UAS 
Nikolett Plesér (Hungary), International Business (BA) 3rd year student, Arctic Youth Forum (AYF) project leader, Lapland UAS 
Alena Perervenko (Russia), International Business (BA) 3rd year student, AYF team leader, Lapland UAS

Project management competence is one of the core competences that is essential in any field of activity in contemporary working life. Project management can be considered as a separate profession and career opportunity, or it can be regarded and applied as a tool or methodology for efficient and effective business operations. This article aims to reveal actual experiences in what it takes to carry out and lead a rather large development project with multiple work life stakeholders and multinational team, based on student experiences and feedback given during and after the project reflecting their competence development. The Arctic Youth Forum is used as a case example to give more specific insights about the real life learning process.

 

Which are the key competences in the Hospitality management field?

Päivi Mantere, M.Sc., Lecturer, Project Specialist in ReKey project, Laurea University of Applied Sciences

Article presents how working life and businesses experience the key competences for students in the field of Hospitality management. In the ReKey-project, students interviewed 38 representatives from Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure companies about the Hospitality management students´ key competences.

Research demonstrates some key elements that are crucial in the hospitality field. Education should ensure that students apply hospitable and customer centric approach in their actions. Professional in the service industry should have basic knowledge about products, services and law and regulation in the service field. In addition to that, students should have skills to solve problems and manage their own work. Main characteristic for success in the service field seems to be positive attitude and willingness to serve customers.

 

Work & Study, learn at work. Perspectives to guidance in work-based learning.

Alisa Pettersson, M.Soc.Sc., Study Coordinator, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences

Work-based learning has increasingly become an area of interest for the higher education sector. In Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, we have conceptualized the model of validation of work under the name Work & Study. This article presents the process of work-based learning, concentrating on guidance provided by both the teacher/counsellor and industry representatives. The process can be divided into three main steps: preparing the Work & Study plan, working according to the plan while documenting the process, and finally demonstrating the competencies and undergoing assessment. Essential questions are, what the most student-friendly and reasonable ways to support student´s self-directedness and reflection through the process are, and in which ways to collaborate with the companies and organizations involved in this process?

 

Master’s Thesis project lead to transition to a new job

Sari Saukkonen, Physiotherapist (B.Sc.), Master’s Student, RDI Specialist, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences, Xamk
Maarit Karhula, M.Sc., R&D Manager, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences, Xamk
Merja A.T. Reunanen, Dr.Soc.Sc., Lic.Sc., Principal Lecturer, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences, Xamk

This article presents a successful transition to a new job while the student was busy with her Master’s Thesis integrated in a RDI project in South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences, Xamk. The aim of the Master´s Thesis is to show the student’s highly specialized knowledge in a field of work, specialized problem-solving skills and responsibility in complex work contexts. Similar competences are required in RDI projects. In this case, a Master’s student in social and health care education was working in OSSI-project and, as a surprise for herself, was chosen to be a RDI expert in this project during her Master’s studies. Integration between Master’s Thesis and RDI projects is highly encouraged.

 

Where is the focus of the strategic funding of universities of applied sciences?

Kati Komulainen, D.Sc., Manager, Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Tua Hakanpää, M.A., Ph.D. Student, University of Tampere
Helka Luttinen, M.A., Education Planner, Humak University of Applied Sciences

This article examines the allocation of innovation-/profile-oriented funding in relation to employability indicators and students’ integration to the labour market in the universities of applied sciences in Finland.

The research data consists of information gathered from the Vipunen database of educational administration and the open access strategy contracts between universities of applied sciences and the Ministry of Education and Culture for the contract period of 2017–2020.

Funding had been allocated to work-life collaboration in the following universities of applied sciences: Haaga-Helia UAS, Laurea UAS, Oulu UAS and Satakunta UAS. Cooperation with commercial and industrial life had been appointed as the focus of activities in the universities of applied sciences of Lappi and Satakunta. Metropolia UAS allocates its strategy funding to higher education and employability of immigrants. Entrepreneurship was selected as a focal point of strategy funding in Haaga-Helia UAS, Laurea UAS, Oulu UAS, Saimaa UAS, Satakunta UAS and Seinäjoki UAS.

The study revealed that most of the funding was allocated to the following five themes: improvement of admission procedures, structural and strategic alliances, entrepreneurship, organizational development of campuses and internationalization. In proportion to the number or students in the universities of applied sciences the government allocated strategy funds were not distributed evenly. Haaga-Helia UAS got the least (710 euros/ student) and Lahti UAS got the most (1516 euros/ student). Strategy funding is a strong governmental steering devise. In the contract period of 2017–2020 entrepreneurship, internationality and regional development were strongly featured in most contracts between universities of applied sciences and the Ministry of Culture and Education. One way of viewing the strategy funding of universities of applied sciences is to see it as a way of carrying out working life pedagogics.

 

Utilizing Digitality in Studification of Work

Katja Finnilä M.Sc., Construction Engineer, Lecturer, Tampere University of Applied Sciences
Tommi Lehtonen M.Sc., Lecturer, Tampere University of Applied Sciences
Sirpa Levo-Aaltonen Lic.Tech., M.Sc. (Econ.), Tampere University of Applied Sciences

The article presents the utilization of digitality in studification of work in Tampere University of Applied Sciences. The focus area has been in the degree programme in construction site management. There are courses of Project work, where the students have used the software during their studies. At the same time, there is a project called ”Toteemi”, where practical models will be developed to combine work and higher education studies. In Toteemi, workplace instructors were needed to assess the students during their practical work. Thus, it was planned to develop the digital possibilities to make this and a pilot. This article describes in brief the utilization of digitality and the experiences of the teachers in the courses of Project work. In additional, the article gives some points of views for planning the pilot in which digitality will be utilized in the studification of work.

 

Skilful study counselling for Master’s students both at work and in studies

Kirsti Kehusmaa, Lic.Tech. (Occupational psychology and leadership) Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences

A Master’s student is usually an experienced professional working in demanding specialist or managerial position. (S)he may have flexibly combined studies and working and achieved many milestones both in education and career. This may create a delusion that no special study counselling is needed for Master’s students. As a matter of fact, there is a wide variety of counselling needs among Master’s students.

The obvious counselling needs concern personal study planning and making thesis. Besides these students may need counselling when adjusting their personal life, career aspirations and demands from their employer with the studies. Many questions concerning career planning or challenges with family life or health are especially complex. The study counsellor needs to have versatile competences in order to offer support in all these different situations. Diversifying study possibilities, like studification, increase individualization opportunities in studies but at the same time, they complicate the counsellor´s work. Teacher teams consisting of diversified competences as well artificial intelligence tools may be a solution when trying to enhance both the quantity and quality in counselling Master’s students.

 

Are reflection skills prerequisite in working life?

Marja Kopeli, FM, koulutusvastuusuunnittelija, Savonia-ammattikorkeakoulu, marja.kopeli@savonia.fi
Aija Hietanen, THM, terveydenhuollon lehtori, Savonia-ammattikorkeakoulu, aija.hietanen@savonia.fi
Kaarina Sirviö, TtT, yliopettaja, Savonia-ammattikorkeakoulu, kaarina.sirvio@savonia.fi 

Savonia UAS is organizing dental hygienist education in Päijät-Häme region via distance learning methods. A personal mentor supports students’ professional growth. Toteemi project is funding a coaching for the mentors. Reflection skills play a very important role both in mentoring and professional growth. Reflection skills give tools to look at issues and phenomena from different perspectives, so it is a prerequisite for innovation and development.

 

PLE and Open Badge as tools in working life engagement

Aija Hietanen, M.Sc. (Health), Lecturer, Savonia University of Applied Sciences
Anna-Leena Ruotsalainen, M.Sc. (Health), Lecturer, Savonia University of Applied Sciences

Personal Learning Environment (PLE) and Open Badges designed in co-operation with working life partners integrate Savonia University of Applied Sciences healthcare students to working life during their studies. PLE and Open Badges validate students’ competences and networks and make them visible. Students can use their PLE content and Open Badges in recruitment and lifelong learning processes as they accompany students from studies to working life and further education.