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

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


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.”

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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?’).


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.


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


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).


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.


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.


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


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.

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 


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.


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.


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).
ePortfolio stage:
Existing in some programmes and teacher training, Emerging in othersExisting but only in the application/ entrance phaseExisting/
EmergingExisting in some courses/ programmesExisting
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)
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
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
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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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?


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


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


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.


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).


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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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)
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.


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.


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.


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.

Waste Management Collaboration between Brazilian and Finnish Students in the SCALA project

Authors: Annica Isacsson, Mirva Hyypiä, Minna-Maari Harmaala and Elias Goulart.

Haaga-Helia School of Vocational Teacher education is coordinating a BEAM-funded Tekes project, Scalable Mobile Learning Services for Global Markets (SCALA), which aims at researching and localizing Finnish digital learning solutions for the Brazilian market. The SCALA project is executed jointly with Lappeenranta University of Technology, three Finnish companies SMEs, and a Brazilian partner from the Municipal University of Sae Caetano do Sul. All of the Finnish companies’ learning solutions have been tested in Brazil, developed further in Finland and piloted in Brazil. The virtual learning environment, however, proved to be difficult to test and pilot without a meaningful content. Hence, a joint Finnish /Brazilian waste management learning module was co-created between a Finnish business college and three Brazilian upper secondary institutes for the purpose of piloting. This article elaborates on the pedagogical need for a virtual environment, the need for waste management content, and the need for a mutual learning module including both Finnish and Brazilian students.

The need for new learning in a virtual flexible environment

Mattila et al. (2013) argue that there are pedagogical needs to develop socio-technically engaging learning environments. According to Mattila and Silander (2015, 2) inclusive virtual 3D learning and educational environments enable ubiquitous learning and distance education that enrich projects and enable boundary-crossing learning.

Furthermore, Mattila and Silander (2015, 2) state that the strength of technology is in supporting social interaction and making it possible to see, experience and learn things that would not otherwise be possible in education. Such environments make it possible to conduct interesting joint modules between countries. Imagine yourself as a teacher in the middle of a classroom, wishing that you could change the learning environment simply by clicking your fingers, in order to better demonstrate the issue to be learned. In a virtual environment, this is already possible, i.e. the learning situation can be changed very quickly from a rainforest into a desert and further into the pyramids of Egypt or space (Mattila 2015, 116). A virtual learning environment supports formal teaching, but it also enables informal and non-formal ways of interaction and learning. In a virtual environment you can learn with peer learners from anywhere in the world.

In 3D learning environments such as in Finpeda, FSV users can customize their avatars to look exactly how they want. Generally, an avatar is the embodiment of a person or idea. However, in the computer world, an avatar specifically refers to a character that represents an online user. Avatars are commonly used in multiplayer gaming, online communities, and Web forums (Avatar n.d.). Avatars make it possible to try out different roles, such as gender or nationality. In addition to roles, simulations and role playing games can also be arranged in environments that suit different themes.

The need for sustainability

Students at Haaga-Helia were involved in the SCALA project by doing a PESTEL analysis for the benefit of the project. A PESTEL analysis is a framework or tool used by marketers to analyze and monitor the macro-environmental (external marketing environment) factors that have an impact on an organization. PESTEL stands for political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal (Professional Academy n.d.).

The students produced a report (Sorokins et al. 2017) on the Brazilian market. One of the conclusions in their analysis was that the Brazilian Government considers environmental education as one of the important factors that has significantly influenced the development of the country. Therefore, creating contents related to environmental education could be a strategy for Finpeda to enter the local market. However, as the Brazilian Ministry of Environment has already conducted several courses for environmental e-learning courses, perhaps SCALA/Finpeda should focus on content and learning environments that can bring added-values to the existing ones.

Inspired by Haaga-Helia students’ findings and experts in Brazil waste management, educational content was integrated into the Finpeda 3D virtual FSV environment. The course content has been produced by a Haaga-Helia Principal lecturer responsible for teaching and enhancing knowledge related to sustainable development. The course content consists of four themes and topics, of which specifically waste management will be dealt with during the joint module. The description of content can be found below.

Table 1. Waste Management course content

Recycling and reuse of wasteThe recycling business (recycling centers, second-hand shops)Recognize the significance of recycling and reuse
The possibilities for reuse Identify the business potential of recycling and reuse
Producer responsibilityDescribe the principle and operation of producer responsibility
Utilization of waste as material and energyIndustrial utilization of wasteList the material and energy utilization potential of different types of waste
Utilization of construction and demolition wasteDescribe the waste management and sorting process
Utilization of organic wasteExplain the basic principles of waste material recovery and utilization
Utilization of recycled fuelsList examples of commonly used waste utilization methods
Utilization of waste in energy production
Production of new goods using recycled materials
Final disposal of wasteFinal disposal sites: principles, structures and operating proceduresDescribe the structures and operating procedures of final disposal sites
The future of final disposal sitesExplain the order of priority of waste and the place of final disposal in it
Estimate the future importance of final disposal
Present ways of reducing the need for the final disposal of waste
From waste to resources Future prospects in the worldRecognize the value of waste as a resource
Utilization of landfill waste (landfill mining)Recognize the growth and significance of the waste management business in the future
End-of-waste success storiesRecognize the need for new innovations

The pilot survey

The empirical data used in this article come from a wider research and development based SCALA project (September 2016–April 2018). The three Finnish case companies are small and medium-sized organizations operating nationally and internationally in the online learning business. Viope provides learning solutions for mathematics, Promentor for language skills and Finpeda for the virtual environment.
The upcoming Finpeda pilot involves a Finnish vocational business school and sixteen students, as well as three Brazilian upper secondary institutes with six students per school. Each school will design their own avatar. The implementation of the joint learning module is planned to take place during six weeks in February–March 2018, and the plan is to arrange six FSV video conferences, one each week. One avatar per group from different schools will participate in the weekly meetings.

The pilot involves a survey phase, during which the Finnish and Brazilian students get acquainted both with the learning environment and the Waste Management content. In the next phase, the students observe their daily waste management practices, and compare and document them through pictures, audiovisual and written material. The third phase contains sharing of findings and demonstrations in the Finpeda FSV Waste Management space.

Due to the results of the pilot study last year (2017) in Brazil, significant challenges for the upcoming pilot are recognized. First, most online learning systems require continuous Internet access, which is not available in Brazil as readily as it is in Finland. In addition, the infrastructure of Brazilian school buildings is not designed for mobile learning devices. For example, the possibility of recharging their batteries is not always guaranteed; there is a shortage of sockets in the classrooms. Furthermore, the virtual learning environment is not optimized for smartphone use. Most students use their own smartphones as availability of tablets or laptops in different schools are rather limited. It was also noted that a Portuguese language option is needed in the initial learning solutions and in the manuals. Video-based instructions for different solutions were highly recommended. Moreover, the pedagogical skills and educational systems differ between Finland and Brazil; for example, in the Nordic region, problem-based learning methods or self-directed group work is commonly used in various disciplines and at many levels of education whereas in Brazil a more teacher-oriented approach is more common.

The SCALA pilot study is interested in researching how waste management and mobile learning, as well as collaboration in the virtual environment take place between Brazilian and Finnish education. Additionally, the information and experiences of users are of crucial importance in order to develop the virtual learning environment further, as well as for the benefit of approaching the emerging markets.


To test and pilot a joint Waste Management course implemented in a digital 3D environment within the SCALA project, is a brilliant idea, and a challenging venture. The idea of integrating Finnish and Brazilian students for learning and interacting in a virtual environment through waste management content is a globally important. The challenges are related to a five hour difference in time, different learning cultures, mobile accessibility and connections.

The pilot implementation has just started, so we cannot say much about the results at this state, other than the fact that everybody seems very eager and enthousiastic to be part of the project. Both in Brazil and Finland both teachers and students are motivated, and find not only the theme and topic to be important, but also the co-learning and global dimension of the pilot.


Annica Isacsson, Ph.D. (Econ.), Research Manager, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, annica.isacsson(at)haaga-helia.fi
Mirva Hyypiä, D.Sc. (Tech.), Senior Researcher, Lappeenranta University of Technology, LUT Lahti, mirva.hyypia(at)lut.fi
Minna-Maari Harmaala, Ph.D. (Econ.), Principal lecturer, Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu, minna-maari.harmaala(at)haaga-helia.fi
Elias Goulart, Ph.D. (Tech..), Professor, Municipal University of Sae Caetano do Sul, elias.goulart(at)uscs.edu.br

Avatar (n.d.). Retrieved on 15 March 2018 from https://techterms.com/definition/avatar

Mattila, P. (2015). New educational technology. In Mattila, P. & Silander P. (eds). How to create the School of the Future – revolutionary thinking and design from Finland, 113-122. Retrieved 16 March 2018 from http://nebula.wsimg.com/57b76261c219f5e7083e9978cd2cd66d?AccessKeyId=3209BE92A5393B603C75

Mattila, P., Arhippainen, L., & Ryymin, T. (2013). Towards Innovative and User-Friendly Future Learning Spaces. 2013. Teacher Education Policy in Europe Conference, 16–18 May 2013, Helsinki, Finland.

Mattila, P., Silander, P., (2015). Introduction. In Mattila, P. & Silander P. (eds). How to create the School of the Future – revolutionary thinking and design from Finland, 1–2. Retrieved 16 March 2018 from http://nebula.wsimg.com/57b76261c219f5e7083e9978cd2cd66d?AccessKeyId=3209BE92A5393B603C75

Professional Academy (n.d.). Marketing Theories – PESTEL Analysis. Retrieved 15 March 2018 from https://www.professionalacademy.com/blogs-and-advice/marketing-theories—pestel-analysis

Soronkis, A., Huynh, A., Ten, D., & Barbosa, R. (2017). Scalable Mobile Learning Services for Global Markets. Haaga-Helia Degree Programme in International Business student report.

No 1/2018 Abstracts

Resource efficiency requires a change in thinking

Ms. Sirpa Pietikäinen, M.Sc. (Econ.), Member of European Parliament, Member of the editorial board of AMK-lehti // UAS Journal

The use of resources is continuously growing. There is an increasing number of people in the world with continuously more available income, in other words, opportunities to acquire goods from a constantly growing selection. Meanwhile, the service life of products shortens all the time either by artificial ageing, following the changing seasons of fashion or by developments in technology.
The equation is unsustainable for the Earth’s resources. We currently consume 1.5 times the World’s resources every year. According to forecasts, the demand for raw materials is going to triple globally by 2050.

Resource efficiency is the most important factor in solving climate change. A ‘tenth factor’ should be taken into practice: the same production and welfare should be reached with a tenth of current resources, and a tenth of today’s emissions. Only then would ambition be high enough to have any real impact on slowing down climate change and limiting the use of resources to match the Earth’s capacity.
The necessary steps must be planned depending on where we need to be in terms of resource efficiency. If by 2050 we have to produce the same welfare with a tenth of the resources, we need to decide what procedures are required in order to reach that goal. There is no point in practising hurdles, if in the real competition we have to cope with pole vault. Efficiency measures must be assessed. If the results are estimated not to be adequate or right, the measures should be adapted accordingly.

The main goal of circular economy is to design off waste. All products and goods should be designed in such a way that their use will not generate waste but recyclable material.

By design choices, products can be made improvable, repairable and recyclable, so that precious materials remain for as long as possible in the service for which they have been intended, or end up in a more valuable or longer-term use. The quality of recyclable materials must be kept as high as possible from one circulation to another, as is currently the case with bottles recycled on a deposit-based return system.

At the same time, the economic structure must be changed to support circular economy. Everything possible should be made available for rent, borrowing and sharing. Good models have already been developed for office furniture, lighting, carpet care, printer ink cartridges and construction machinery available for rent.

Modular thinking should be developed in which equipment and buildings are made of interchangeable components, which can be exchanged and recycled according to the customer’s needs and wants. This is what consumers want, too. According to the Eurobarometer survey done in 2014, 77 percent of Europeans would prefer repairing their old equipment to buying a new one.

The question is not only about environmental and climate policy. Circular economy has high economic opportunity. Europe is more dependent on imported raw materials than any other economic area. Competition on scarce resources is accelerated – the winner is the one who is capable of making more from less. The implementation of circular economy could create an estimated 1.2 to 3 million jobs in Europe by the year 2030.

Resource efficiency must be supported with the right incentives. It matters whether support goes towards waste incineration plants or the development of bio-based packaging materials. This spring, the parliament will discuss introducing incentives to the financial sector that would promote sustainability and environmental responsibility. Public administration should be a forerunner and make environmental criteria mandatory in public procurement.

The activity and choices of individuals go hand in hand with the developing regulations. As part of the plastic strategy, right incentives are being sought for influencing both producers and consumers. Consumer choices – quality, organic, local – can affect the entire food chain from the origin of the food to food waste. Circular economy should be taught at all educational levels from primary schools to universities until it becomes a mantra, and the development of new things springs automatically from the idea of ’sustainable, repairable, recyclable’. This is especially important in polytechnics and vocational institutions, where the makers and doers of everyday life are trained.

Finland has the opportunity to be a pioneer. SITRA has the right attitude in its strategy work and projects. Increased collaboration between operators in Finland is also needed in order to develop funding applications, for instance, to EFSI, European Fund for Strategic Investments.


Waste Management Collaboration between Brazilian and Finnish Students in the SCALA project

Annica Isacsson, Ph.D. (Econ.), Research Manager, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences
Mirva Hyypiä, D.Sc .(Tech.), Senior Researcher, Lappeenranta University of Technology
Minna-Maari Harmaala, Ph.D. (Econ.), Principal lecturer, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences
Elias Goulart, Ph.D. (Tech.), Professor, Municipal University of Sae Caetano do Sul

Haaga-Helia School of Vocational Teacher education is coordinating a BEAM-funded Tekes project, Scalable Mobile Learning Services for Global Markets (SCALA), which aims at researching and localizing Finnish digital learning solutions for the Brazilian market. The SCALA project is executed jointly with Lappeenranta University of Technology, three Finnish SME companies, and a Brazilian partner from the Municipal University of Sae Caetano do Sul. All of the Finnish companies’ learning solutions have been tested in Brazil, developed further in Finland and piloted in Brazil. The virtual learning environment, however, proved to be difficult to test and pilot without a meaningful content. Hence, a joint Finnish /Brazilian waste management learning module was co-created between a Finnish business college and three Brazilian upper secondary institutes for the purpose of piloting. This article elaborates on the pedagogical need for a virtual environment, the need for waste management content, and the need for a mutual learning module including both Finnish and Brazilian students.


Education for circular economy – cooperation creates know-how and skills for students and enterprises

Henna Knuutila, M.Eng., Lecturer, Project Manager, Turku University of Applied Sciences
Pia Haapea, Lic. Tech., Principal Lecturer, Lahti University of Applied Sciences
Marketta Virta, M.A., B.Eng., Turku University of Applied Sciences
Piia Nurmi, M.Sc. (Econ. and Bus. Admin.), Leader of Education and Research, Turku University of Applied Sciences
Ulla Häggblom, Education Manager, Tampere University of Applied Sciences

In order for Finland to become the top country in circular economy, it is necessary to have cooperation and a new kind of mindset in every sector of society. Future professionals, experts and decision-makers have an important role to play in transition to circular economy and education and research must support this. In Finland, the significance of the circular economy has been identified in universities of applied sciences and circular economy has already been taught in some of the higher education Thinstitutions.

The #circulareconomy project aims to spread good practices and experiences of circular economy education in the universities of applied sciences in Turku, Tampere and Lahti for all universities. Teaching methods in these universities are documented and piloted in the partner universities. Later, these method packages will be available for both national and international use and for all levels of education.


”Anything out of anything!” – recycling material without any production design restrictions

Reijo Heikkinen, Lic. Tech., Principal Lecturer, Lahti University of Applied Sciences
Kirsti Cura, Ph.D., Development Manager, Lahti University of Applied Sciences

This article presents a digiManufacturing project which is lead by Lahti University of Applies Sciences during 1.9.2017-31.12.2019. The digiManufacturing project will build a new 3D printing technology for recycled materials with related software technology and robotics. It will advance business opportunities in the Päijät-Häme region such as new 3D printing applications for companies, and new service-based 3D printing and production business. In addition, a roadmap for further measures to promote the 3D printing in the area, as well as company-specific 3D printing the development / implementation plans and associated 3D printing know-how development plans will be developed.


The possibilities and challenges of circular economy in Lapland: Circular economy center in developing the region

Sanna Tyni, Ph.D., Specialist, Lapland University of Applied Sciences
Juha-Pekka Snäkin, M.Sc. (Agr.), Specialist, Lapland University of Applied Sciences

Circular economy in North Finland is focused on heavy industries and their side streams and waste management. Mining and steel sector is strong and growing. Forest industries in Kemi and Kemijärvi cities are extensive. Investment plans for biofuels and biorefinery have been made by Chinese investors. Kemin Digipolis Oy started to invent heavy industries’ side streams in 2012. Since that, sectors like SME’s, municipalities and agrobusinesses have also been covered. In 2017 Sitra released funds for establishing national bio- and circular economy center in Kemi city. The center will be run in cooperation with Digipolis and Lapland University of Applied Sciences (LUAS). The center will offer services for local businesses. This should yet be done in parallel with existing project portfolios of various organizations and clusters to avoid e.g. overlapping. LUAS for example has over 30 on-going circular economy projects. To fulfill its tasks, bio- and circular economy center should strive for open information and sharing policies. This calls for efforts towards succesfully balancing between public type of information and business secrets.


Know-how for plastic materials is needed in circular economy

Mirja Andersson, Ph.D., Principal Lecturer, Arcada University of Applied Sciences
Stewart Makkonen-Craig, M.A., Senior Lecturer, Arcada University of Applied Sciences
Maiju Holm, B.Eng., Arcada University of Applied Sciences
Kristo Lehtonen, M.Sc. (Tech.), M.Sc. (Econ.), Managing Director, 3DBear Oy

Recycling of plastic materials has been an important research topic for Arcada University of Applied Sciences during past few years. Arcada has been involved in several public and private research partnerships developing the plastics technologies towards the principles presented in the circular economy model, by closing the material loops. The applied recycling research at Arcada has been in good coordination with the educational development of Plastics Technology / Materials Processing Technology. This article describes in brief the recent projects of RDI at Arcada, connected to circular economy.


The Festival ’Kekola’ is a gathering for those interested in circular economy

Pia Laine, M.Sc. (Food Science), Lecturer, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
Tuija Nieminen, B.Sc. (Crafts & Design), Lecturer, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
Marjut Haimila, B.Eng., Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
Malla Tuuri-Sarinko, Entrepreneur at Kinuskilla Coffee Shop in Ruukki, Main Organizer of Ruukki Circular Economy Festival

The Festival on circular economy (called Kekola) will be organised first time at the Ruukki area of Tuusula in 26th of May 2018. Originally, Ruukki (established in 1795) operated as an ironworks, but nowadays it is the heart of Kellokoski village. The collaboration between the companies of Ruukki area and Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, as well as the presence of other local players in Tuusula (organizations, companies, and local people) and the support of Tuusula City makes the festival project possible. The aim of the festival project is to share information by getting together people who are interested in circular economy. The festival program consist of the results of the student projects such as textile arts made of recycled materials and various innovations how to use waste food.


Openness of cooperation enables circular economy

Virpi Käyhkö,  M.Sc. (Tech.), Project Manager, Oulu University of Applied Science

Circular economy in businesses is based on the need to find new operating models, which would enhance the use of underutilized resources in the business in question. Circular economy has become a part of daily operation in businesses, often in cooperation with other players. Openness and innovativeness are needed to start cooperation based on circular economy. This is something that we, as representatives of a neutral education and development organization, are able to influence in.

Oulu University of Applied Sciences joined the FISS network (Finnish Industrial Symbiosis System, coordinated by Motiva) in the spring of 2017. The practical work in which circular economy and low-carbon economy in businesses and communities are promoted is done in a project called ’Northern Ostrobothnia Industrial Symbiosis System’ (NOISS). Workshops that operate according to the FISS model have been organized as a part of circular economy events. There new uses and users have been paired with unutilized minor flows of businesses.


Good practices in bio-based circular economy from the Päijät-Häme region into Europe

Susanna Vanhamäki, M.Soc.Sc., RDI Specialist, Lahti University of Applied Sciences
Katerina Medkova, M.Eng., M.B.A., Planner, Lahti University of Applied Sciences
Riika Kivelä, M.Sc. (Econ.), Project Coordinator, The Regional Council of Päijät-Häme

The BIOREGIO project promotes good practices in bio-based circular economy. In addition to the Päijät-Häme region, the project is carried out in regions of Spain, Greece, Slovakia, Romania and France. The aim of the project is to define best practices of bio-based circular economy, promoting both cooperation models and best available technologies of biological materials that are resource-efficient, build on cooperation and are applicable elsewhere in Europe. The project is closely involved with the strategic planning of each area, through which the information provided by the project is transposed into the regional programs. Criteria for good practices of the bio-based circular economy have been created. Based on the criteria, the Päijät-Häme bioeconomy experts propose seven good practices from the area to be shared at EU level. Good practices will be described and evaluated by EU experts before them being published in the EU database.


Gamification, geospatial data and renewable energy – possibilities in following and visualization of energy usage

Juho-Pekka Virtanen, M.F.A., Doctoral Student, Aalto University
Kaisa Jaalama, M.Sc. (Admin.), Doctoral Student, Aalto University
Arttu Julin, M.Sc. (Tech.), Doctoral Student, Aalto University
Harri Hahkala, M.Sc. (Tech.), Project Engineer, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
Matti T. Vaaja, D.Sc. (Tech.), Professor, Aalto University
Hannu Hyyppä, D.Sc. (Tech.), Professor, Aalto University

In the ERDF project ”Soludus”, researchers from Aalto University developed demo applications and gaming concepts for visualizing information related to producing renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. To provide background information, the use of geospatial data in existing computer games was studied. An expert survey was performed to evaluate how gamification could promote energy savings and improve the awareness on renewable energy production. It was observed, that game engine technology is applicable for information visualization and development of interactive applications outside the traditional gaming domain. The emerging high fidelity geospatial data sets released as open data, such as 3D city models, support this development. The methods and processing workflows developed in the Soludus project can be further applied in other projects involving digitalization of the built environment and use of game engine technology.


Towards circular economy in the Päijät-Häme region by using a roadmap

Maarit Virtanen, M.Sc. (Admin.), RDI Specialist, Lahti University of Applied Sciences
Anni Orola, Student, Lahti University of Applied Sciences

The Päijät-Häme region in Finland is among the first European regions to launch a road map towards circular economy. The aim is to concretize and implement the national and regional circular economy visions. The road map process is a part of European Regional Development Fund project, Kiertoliike, coordinated by Lahti University of Applied Sciences.

The road map includes a regional vision: “Päijät-Häme – the successful resource efficient region”, goals under five themes, and concrete activities. The themes are: 1. Closed loops of technical streams to create added value, 2. Sustainable business from bio circular economy, 3. Towards energy self-sufficiency by sustainable transport and energy solutions, 4. New consumption models and business opportunities, 5. Piloting and demonstrating innovative circular economy solutions. The road map process continues with specifying and updating activities through, for instance, regional workshops.


Turning the bio-waste of reindeer and fish industry into raw materials

Petri Muje,  M.A., Project Manager, Lapland University of Applied Sciences
Aki Ranta, Student, Project Worker, Lapland University of Applied Sciences 

In Lapland province sparse population, long distances and disintegration of side-streams are challenges for circular economy and bio-waste treatment. The ideas of circular economy will be emphasized in the project Bio-waste as raw material – circular economy of commercial inland fisheries and reindeer herding (Biojätteestä raaka-aineeksi – kala- ja porotalous osaksi kiertotaloutta) funded by SITRA. Lapland University of Applied Sciences (lead partner), Digipolis and VTT Technical Research Center of Finland carry out the project 1.11.2017–28.2.2019. In the project the amount, quality, geographical and seasonal availability of reindeer slaughtering and commercial inland fisheries side-streams is estimated in Lapland province. The use of processing side-streams will be investigated, too. Rethinking the food chain and side-streams will yield new alternatives for the use of the side-streams and increase the sustainability of the production.


Renewable energy as a circular economy solution in Namibia

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

The consumption and need of energy increases rapidly in quickly developing African countries. The increased population also leads to greater amounts of waste. In Tekes BEAM research project NAMURBAN, the circular economy of energy sector and its potential was studied as a part of urban development in Namibia by SAMK. The energy sector in Namibia is greatly dependent on imported energy from Southern African countries, which also is a threat in the future. The strengths of Namibia are the abundant natural resources, which be used as a source for renewable energy, such as solar, wind and bioenergy. Biogas technology is one of the potential solutions for lack of energy and circular use of waste. As a result of the project it was found that key factors for a successful biogas plant in Namibia are the correct size, suitability to local conditions and services such as training adjacent to technology.

Chat – the Future Platform of Finnish Education Exports?

Authors: Kaius Karlsson, Jonas Tana, Outi Ahonen.

Image: A screenshot of a DeDiWe Slackinar in October 2017 delivered in Slack by lecturer Marge Mahla from Tartu Health Care College. The left-hand sidebar displays channels and workspace members. A Slackinar group chat channel is active in the center. The right-hand sidebar exhibits one of the channel’s several threaded discussions. Screenshot image by Kaius Karlsson.

Starting next year, the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture (2017) will channel 75 million euros into the development of university and UAS level education. Specifically, one target for funding is the enhancement of digital learning environments. Finland already holds a reputation as an education powerhouse (Arene 2016) and a digital pathfinder, so leadership in higher education online learning solutions should be a natural way forward.

In our current delivery of the Developer of Digital Health and Welfare Services study module, or DeDiWe in short, we are experimenting with what we consider an example of a forward-thinking online learning solution. The DeDiWe study module brings together a diverse virtual learning community whose lecturers and students come from various professional orientations in several institutions, universities, and UASs in different countries. (Arcada 2017).

DeDiWe’s pedagogic framework is based on the Learning by Developing Action Model, or LbD in short, which in itself is a Finnish education innovation dating back to 2002 when it was first used in Laurea (Pirnes 2008, 102). In LbD, lecturers, students, and professionals from working life partnerships collaborate in a shared learning environment. (Raij 2014, 14).

The DeDiWe study module was piloted in 2016-2017. Feedback from students stirred an urge to modernize the study module’s delivery. In order to co-learn, co-design, and co-create eHealth service development in the DeDiWe study module, experts of nursing and welfare must join in collaboration with experts of software engineering and service design. For this, we looked for a platform that is accessible, communication-focused, and intuitive to use — a platform that could provide an equal playing field for our diverse community of students, lecturers, and participants from professional partnerships.

Everything Is Based on Chat

From currently available online collaboration solutions, we picked Slack as the platform for the 2017-2018 curriculum. Slack is a professional virtual workspace service used by productive communities such as NASA, Harvard, and Oracle (Slack 2017). Originally, DeDiWe’s modernizer Kaius Karlsson utilized Slack throughout his studies in Laurea UAS. Typically, Karlsson set up a Slack workspace for his fellow students and himself when a new Learning by Developing group project started. Later, as a student in DeDiWe, Karlsson set up a Slack workspace for fellow DeDiWe students when the communication features of a traditional virtual learning environment were deemed insufficient.

In traditional learning management systems, assignments, source materials, and interaction are usually arranged behind folders and tabs. Interestingly folders, tabs, and even email can be seen as virtualized relics from the age of paper and pen. Their efficiency and productivity in online learning delivery can be questioned.

Interestingly folders, tabs, and even email can be seen as virtualized relics from the age of paper and pen.

Slack’s growing popularity (Forbes 2017) in itself can be regarded as part of a movement where users are looking for alternatives to traditional online collaboration and communication methods. On a platform like Slack, everything is based on chat. Instead of folders and tabs, files and documents shared in Slack are organized and rediscovered by taking advantage of features like pinning and favoriting.

For example, an interesting comment or a shared PDF document can be pinned to a Slack channel for quick rediscovery for all the channel’s members. One can think of pinning in Slack as in pinning to a virtual bulletin board. Likewise, an individual member may favorite comments and contents and thus accumulate a personal list of bookmarks within the workspace.

As part of the modernization, the study module’s content delivery and learning processes were rethought, simplified, and repackaged around what we call Slackinars — a term first coined by DeDiWe’s modernizer Kaius Karlsson in his 2017 blog post (Karlsson 2017). A Slackinar is perhaps best described as a chat-based seminar delivered in Slack.

During a Slackinar, the transnational DeDiWe learning community lights up into a fervent two-hour group chat session where virtual contents are fluidly shared and commented on. Between Slackinars, students work in small groups on LbD assignments. The small groups have their own chat channels where their learning activity is focused on different development themes. The development themes are based on professional interests expressed by students in an entry questionnaire.

Figure 1. A visualization of the cyclical interplay of Slackinars, small group collaboration, summaries, and Learning by Developing of the DeDiWe study module in Slack. Each cycle is designed to propel the small groups’ creative development processes.

It could be said that we are future-proofing our students by introducing them to a true working-life professional collaboration environment. We are building a virtual chat-based pedagogic foundation with an emphasis on dialogue, openness, and transparency — factors we consider imperative to innovation and collaboration.

During recent Slackinars, we have enjoyed discussion threads populated with comments by dozens of students, some of them engaging in heated topic-related debates. According to a short survey conducted in October 2017, the DeDiWe students strongly agreed that Slack works well as a learning platform for the study module.

Simplicity, Openness, and Spontaneity

Since all the interaction in our chat-based workspace is in text form, each piece of commentary and shared content is logged chronologically and is thus accessible for swift retrospection. The entire workspace can be searched by keywords, user names, time frames, and other search criteria. Ideally, the chat channels can be regarded as live communal learning journals that are accumulated and indexed for rediscovery throughout the curriculum.

Ideally, the chat channels can be regarded as live communal learning journals that are accumulated and indexed for rediscovery throughout the curriculum.

Specified searches in Slack are also a great way for lecturers to monitor student activity. Tutoring dialogues between a student and a lecturer can be conducted discreetly through direct messages. Voice or video calls can be initiated on impulse by clicking on a user’s name.

The lecturers can maintain a private teachers’ room channel for planning and administration purposes. For example, the lecturers can have their own private group chats on things like evaluation and student attendance in a Slack channel that is completely inaccessible and invisible to students. Also, lecturers can collaborate for example on a study unit manual in private before sharing it to public channels where students can access it.

The simplicity and openness of professional chat-based platforms means we can spontaneously invite new participants into our learning workspaces — guest lecturers, consultants, student interns, and professional partners that are essential to collaborative learning. A chat-based online communication culture may reduce the need for time sensitive telephone conversations and video conferences — not to mention actual traveling. By taking advantage of chat-based professional collaboration platforms, we can promote cost-effective, low-emission know-how mobility on a global scale while spending less time managing our email inboxes.

Changing the Conditions

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1996, 1) has written that ”it is easier to enhance creativity by changing conditions in the environment than by trying to make people think more creatively”. Indeed, we believe the condition change of online education towards chat-based platforms can be a step towards enhanced creativity.

We believe that the solutions we have now created for study module delivery through Slack are broadly applicable in the field of online education. These solutions are mostly compatible with other chat-based platforms like Microsoft Teams which has recently become available for use in the majority of Finnish universities of applied sciences. Microsoft Teams (Microsoft 2017), like Slack, is based on chat groups and can hence be used in similar fashion as Slack — students and chat-based group sessions can be assigned their own respective channels while the workspace as a whole can remain highly navigable and searchable.

According to the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture (2016), fresh approaches to education such as digital platforms require swiftness and agility from proponents of Finnish education exports. The motivation for fresh approaches is further emphasized when we consider the multi-disciplinary requirements of today’s rapidly evolving fields such as eHealth service development. With sufficient ambition and bravery we can conceptualize chat-based online learning solutions and export them internationally as pioneering Finnish education innovations.


Kaius Karlsson, Bachelor of Social Services, Bachelor of Journalism, DeDiWe Modernizer, Laurea University of Applied Sciences, kaius.karlsson(a)gmail.com
Jonas Tana, R.N, M.A., Researcher, DeDiWe Communications Manager, Arcada University of Applied Sciences, jonas.tana(at)arcada.fi
Outi Ahonen, MNSc, Senior Lecturer, DeDiWe Project Manager, Laurea University of Applied Sciences, outi.ahonen(at)laurea.fi

Arcada. (2017). The Developer of Digital Health and Welfare Services. Accessed 15 November 2017. http://rdi.arcada.fi/dediwe/en/

Arene. (2016). Finnish Excellence in Education. Accessed 26 October 2017. http://www.arene.fi/sites/default/files/PDF/2016/FinPro-Ministry-screen-version_090216-v4-HQ.pdf

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity – Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. HarperPerennial. HarperCollinsPublishers.

Forbes. (2017). Slack Passes 6 Million Daily Users And Opens Up Channels To Multi-Company Use. Accessed 26 October 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexkonrad/2017/09/12/slack-passes-6-million-daily-users-and-opens-up-channels-to-multi-company-use/#43646a597fdb

Karlsson, K. (2017). DeDiWe Is Going Slack. The Developer of Digital Health and Welfare Services. Accessed 26 October 2017. http://rdi.arcada.fi/dediwe/en/dediwe-is-going-slack/

Microsoft. (2017). Microsoft Teams – Group Chat Software. Accessed 15 November 2017. https://products.office.com/en-us/microsoft-teams/group-chat-software

Ministry of Education and Culture. (2016). Koulutusviennin tiekartta 2016–2019. Accessed 26 October 2017. http://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/74852/okm9.pdf

Ministry of Education and Culture. (2017). Erityisavustus korkeakouluille korkeakoulutuksen kehittämiseen 2018-2020. Accessed 26 October 2017. http://minedu.fi/avustukset/avustus/-/asset_publisher/korkeakoulutuksen-kehittamishankkeet

Pirnes, H. (2008). LbD:n haasteet monikulttuurisessa oppimisympäristössä. Case: suomalais-japanilaisen vanhuspalvelumallin kehittäminen. In a Laurea Publication: Oppiminen Learning by Developing -toimintamallissa edited by Kallioinen, O. Laurea Publications A61. Vantaa.

Raij, K. (2014). Learning by Developing in Higher Education. In a Laurea Publication: Learning by Developing Action Model edited by Raij. K. Laurea Publications 36. Accessed 26 October 2017. https://www.laurea.fi/dokumentit/Documents/36%20%20Raij%20LbD%20Action%20Model.pdf

Opportunities in Cleantech Education Export to Kazakhstan

Authors: Katerina Medkova, Kati Manskinen, Harri Mattila.

Figure: Cleantech Education VIP Day organised by KFEIG, Finnish Pavilion, EXPO 2017 Astana, Kazakhstan, photo taken by Timur Mukanov.

Green Economy Concept – Environmental Challenges Identified

According to the Central Asia Research Forum series (2017), Kazakhstan as the ninth largest country in the world is a large emitter of the greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, Kazakhstan is regarded as one of the five carbon-intensive countries with 70 to 75% of the electric power generated by using coal. The world’s average carbon intensity is about 0.58 kg of CO2 emitted per USD 1000 of economic activity, in comparison with 2.59 kg in Kazakhstan. Table 1 shows some interesting facts about Kazakhstan.

Table 1. Facts about geography and economy of Kazakhstan.

In 2013, President N. Nazarbayev approved a National Concept for Transition to a Green Economy, an ambitious sustainable development paradigm. The Concept aims at an economy of increased wellbeing of the Kazakhstani people while it alleviates the impact on the environment and degradation of scarce resources. By adopting the principles and goals of the green economy concept, Kazakhstan may become one of the 30 developed countries in the world. At the same time, it is expected to increase the GDP of the country by 3% and create over 500 000 new jobs by 2050. The reasons behind the need of “greening” the economy is the overall deterioration of natural resources noticed in every sector in Kazakhstan, leading into potential yearly economic losses of USD 7 billion by 2030. (CONCEPT 2013)

The transition toward a green economy is implemented through several strategic program documents, such as the Strategy Kazakhstan 2050 with bold targets:

  • Power sector – to reach 50% share of alternative and renewable energy in electricity generation by 2050
  • Energy efficiency – to reduce energy intensity of GDP by 10% by 2015 and by 25% by 2020 compared to 2008 baseline
  • Water sector – drinking water supply to be determined by 2020 and agricultural water supply by 2040
  • Agriculture sector – to enhance the productivity of the agricultural land by factor of 1.5 by 2020
    (CONCEPT 2013, 6)

The Concept also identifies six main principles in the transition to a green economy:

  1. Resource productivity improvements as a central economic indicator to indicate the value creation ability along with the environmental footprint minimization
  2. Resource use responsibility including increased monitoring and controlling of the resource use and the state of the environment
  3. Use of the most efficient technologies to modernize the economy
  4. Attractive investment measures for efficient use of resources – tariff and price setting
  5. Prioritization of profitable measures to improve the environmental situation and economic benefits
  6. Education and culture to support environmental awareness among the population of Kazakhstan
    (CONCEPT 2013, 8-9)

In the Concept (2013), Kazakhstan acknowledged education as a powerful driver of the transition and environmental culture development of its nation. It promotes education reforms and development of a new modern education system and vocational training (CONCEPT 2013, 9). Due to Kazakhstan’s resource-intensiveness, it is essential to educate a substantial number of professionals with expertise in environmental protection and resource productivity. Therefore, these lacking areas of expertise should be included in the curriculum of all engineering education. For thousands of existing engineers, and other involved parties, such as authorities and farmers, on-the-job training and further education could develop their skills. Furthermore, the environmental awareness and education of the general public is fundamental for creating a new eco-culture concerning the consumption of energy, water and other resources, as well as waste separation. Here, it is vital to spread information on resource usage and environmental problems. Finally, “greening” the curricula of the primary and pre-school education will contribute to increased environmental awareness. (CONCEPT 2013, 48)

Finland’s Opportunities

Finnish education is regarded to be one of the best in the world and a pioneer in the Cleantech and environmental sectors, both in know-how and education, as well as technologies. These facts, well recognized in Kazakhstan, give Finnish education institutions and companies, immense business opportunities in developing curricula at all levels, pedagogical education, and learning environments (Finpro 2017).

The uniqueness of the Finnish education was also presented at the international exposition EXPO 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan from June 10 to September 10. Finland was the only Nordic country exhibited in Astana. Altogether, there were 3.8 million visitors at the world exhibition, and 300 000 of them explored the Finnish pavilion. The Finnish pavilion, Sharing Pure Energy, was designed by Ateljé Sotamaa and was awarded with a gold medal for theme development in the category of pavilion with less than 400 m2 (Finpro 2017; Garton 2017). At EXPO 2017, the Kazakstani-Finnish Education and Innovation Group, shortly KFEIG, represented Finnish higher and vocational education.


KFEIG is a consortium of four Finnish educational institutions: Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK), Lahti University of Applied Sciences (LAMK), Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences (JAMK) and Tampere Adult Education Centre (TAKK).

The KFEIG Consortium offers a wide range of education related services, from Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes, open studies, continuing education, competence-based vocational secondary education to teacher training and consultation. KFEIG also cooperates with one of the largest global education financiers, the World Bank, in international education projects in developing countries. JAMK and LAMK have been cooperating with the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development of Kazakhstan and providing its expertise and development in the healthcare education already since 2012. (LAMK 2016; Malinen et al. 2017)

KFEIG aims to strengthen its position in Kazakhstan and extend the cooperation to other areas of education, such as environmental education and teacher training (Malinen et al. 2017). During EXPO 2017, KFEIG organised a series of three VIP Days in the Finnish Pavilion. The themes of these VIP Days were healthcare (21.8.2017), teacher education (25.8.2017) and Cleantech education (29.8.2017).
Figure 1 is a photo taken during the Cleantech Education VIP Day in Astana on 29 August 2017.


During the EXPO 2017, the VIP events enabled meaningful discussions with local education authorities and decision-makers. Positive visibility to Finnish education know-how was reinforced. Furthermore, the advanced results in environmental protection received a lot of interest from the Kazakhstani media and press. An example of this is the fact that in the region of Lahti in Finland, 97% of the waste is utilized and only 3% of the waste is landfilled. In comparison, in Kazakhstan, 97% of the waste is landfilled.

Finland as a pioneer in Cleantech expertise has an enormous opportunity to share knowledge with Kazakhstan and other developing countries. In Finland, the progress in environmental issues has taken over 20 years. Due to education export in these fields, developing countries may reach a high environmental performance level quickly. However, it requires a tailor-made cooperation to fulfill the specific goals.

Currently, Finland is paying attention to resource preservation and circular economy. It is important to acknowledge that these terms might not yet be recognized in other countries. Therefore, it is worthwhile to point out challenges related to national and cultural differences. For instance, when exporting Cleantech education to Kazakhstan, it is better to talk about green economy rather than circular economy. After all, we would like to point out, that due to a success in healthcare education in Kazakhstan, as well as good reputation of Finnish education and environmental performance, Finland has a huge opportunity to begin education export in the Cleantech sector.


Katerina Medkova, MSc., Environmental Project Coordinator, Lahti University of Applied Sciences, katerina.medkova(at)lamk.fi
Kati Manskinen, DSc., RDI Director in Cleantech, Lahti University of Applied Sciences, kati.manskinen(at)lamk.fi
Harri Mattila, Adjunct Professor, DSc. (tech.), Principal Lecturer (Research), Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK), harri.mattila(at)hamk.fi

Central Asia Research Forum. (2017). Sustainable Energy in Kazakhstan: Moving to cleaner energy in a resource-rich country. Edit. Kalyuzhnova, Y. & Pomfret, R. Routledge.

CONCEPT for transition of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Green Economy. (2013). Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan approved on May 30, 2013. Astana. Kazakhstan [referenced 29 September 2017]. Available at: www.legislationline.org/documents/id/18322.

Finpro. (2017). Kazakhstan reforms its education system – strong demand for Finnish offering. Team Finland [referenced 27 September 2017]. Available at: https://www.marketopportunities.fi/kazakhstan-reforms-its-education-system-strong-demand-for-finnish-offering.

Garton, A. R. (2017). Finland’s pavilion wins gold medal in Astana Expo. Daily Finland. Finnish News Network. Rovaniemi. Finland [referenced 29 September 2017]. Available at: http://www.dailyfinland.fi/business/2192/Finlands-pavilion-wins-gold-medal-in-Astana-Expo.

LAMK. (2016). Developing the nursing education in Kazakhstan. LAMK. Lahti. Finland [referenced 26 September 2017]. Available at: http://www.lamk.fi/english/news/Sivut/developing-the-nursing-education-in-kazakhstan.aspx.

Malinen, H., Paloniemi, A. & Pusa, H. (2017). How to Gain Visibility for Universities of Applied Sciences. in Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences on the Verge of a New Era: Value, Viability and Visibility of International Education. Eds. Vanhanen R., Kitinoja H., Holappa J., JAMK University of Applied Sciences: Jyväskylä, Finland [referenced 11 October 2017]. Available at: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-830-464-0.

PISA 2015. (2015). Results in Focus. OECD 2016 [referenced 29 September 2017]. Available at: https://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisa-2015-results-in-focus.pdf.

No 4/2017 Abstracts

First steps taken in the export of education – a time of growth lies ahead

Programme Director, Dr Lauri Tuomi, Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI)

Finland is a ’superpower’ when it comes to education. Ten years ago our PISA result (relating the skills and competences in 15-year-old students) brought our Finnish education system to the attention of the whole world. However, the quality of our education system paints a broader picture than the PISA results would indicate. It is more a matter of how we teach, rather than what we teach. Our reputation is reflected in all levels of education. With university tuition fees, we are now part of one of the world’s fastest growing service export sectors.

The size of the global education market has been determined by British investment bankers on a cost-orientation basis. The estimated size of the market is between 4,000 and 5,000 trillion dollars. The estimates vary according to the point of view, although, whatever the case, it is a business worth billions.   Finland’s share is tiny. Roughly speaking, the export of education this year will be worth about 300 million euros.

Early childhood and upper secondary school education are the current areas of focus.  Non-formal adult education, in its various forms, is also part of the education export sector.  In recent years, much has been done to break down legislative barriers. This needs to continue. It is also important to identify the factors that hinder progress.  These may, for example, relate to taxation practices or a lack of accreditation models.

Alongside the export of education by educational organisations, Finland has witnessed the evolution of a significant ’edtech’ startup sector. What the two have in common is the desire to dominate the globe with the best education technology solutions.  Products and services are being developed in cooperation with educational institutions  It is also becoming more common for innovative teachers to run their own businesses. Currently, Finnish education export companies are still either college- or innovation-based.

Wide-ranging education export tenders, in particular, need to incorporate the perspective of a comprehensive service. It is interesting to consider when we will be seeing the first business- and college- based export company.   Could the universities of applied sciences show the way here as centres of strong business expertise?

There is still plenty of scope for boosting the export of education. The Education Finland education export growth programme is the answer. The task will be to deliver the best services for the exporters of the world’s best education.  The programme now has 51 approved members. In all, 23 companies or colleges have been invited to join the group of those moving into the education export phase.  A total of 11 universities of applied sciences are represented, either directly or through a joint venture.

The programme’s services have been structured in collaboration with its members to support a scalable business.  The rate of growth among members is robust: it averages 212% (growth in education export turnover in 2016 and 2017). There is investment in a market presence in China, Southeast Asia, the Gulf region and Latin America.   A start has also been made to identify the remaining legislative barriers and the factors that cause delays.

A new feature of the programme is that it is located within the teaching sector at the National Board of Education.  Close cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs plays a crucial role.  The immense expertise of the National Board of Education in its role as development agency has brought a whole lot more to the enterprise.  The most essential consideration, however, is cooperation with the exporters of education. There is an ongoing process for applying to join the programme. Welcome!

The challenges associated with the commercialisation of internationalisation in universities of applied sciences

Pirjo Aura, R&D Coordinator, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences
Sami Heikkinen, Lecturer, Lahti University of Applied Sciences
Elisa Kannasto, Lecturer, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences
Helli Kitinoja, Senior Specialist, Export of Expertise, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences
Jaana Muttonen, Research Manager, Häme University of Applied Sciences
Mikhail Nemilentsev, Lecturer, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Science

In the Strategies for the Internationalization of Higher Education Institutions (HEI) in Finland (2009-2015, 2017-2025) education and expertise were seen as nationally significant exports, and the export of expertise and competence are one of the main aims of the strategies. The Roadmap for Education Export, released by the Ministry of Education and Culture offers an action plan for 2016–2019 for the export of expertise. During last few years the Finnish HEIs have reached the phase of commercialization in the development of their international activities. Different concepts are in use in the fields where educational institutions and companies sell education and other expertise. In this article global education services also covers the concepts export of education and export of expertise.

Based on a survey carried out in 2016, half of the Finnish universities of applied sciences (UAS) have been active in the export of education and expertise since 2010, but most UASs are still in the initial phases of these activities. Finnish UASs also recognize the importance of networks, strategic partnerships, consortiums, students and alumni in increasing exporting activities. Strategic decisions and management within the organization are core elements when it comes to attaining positive results in the field of global education services.

FLEN – The Food Learning Export Network

Antti Pasila, Senior Specialist, RDI, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences
Elina Puska, RDI specialist, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences
Jukka Lähteenkorva, CEO, Foodknow Oy

The FLEN (Food Learning Export Network) is an educational export pilot for food business. FLEN combines the strengths of five Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences for one network, where different experts can share their knowledge under the food chain theme in cooperation with SMEs and food technology sector. FLEN creates an operational model, which has the necessary skills and prestige in order to achieve international success. The tools and methods produced by FLEN are object-oriented which include innovative viewpoints and actions in order to test the food -thematic actions in practice together with the food chain companies. Food quality management and food safety systems are strengths of the Finnish food chain and export business. FLEN also adds value for the Finnish food export by offering educational solutions for food quality and safety related issues, especially, in developing countries, Asia or Persian Gulf region. The FLEN has gained project financing until 2019 from the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) by South Ostrobothnia region. As an expected result a new concept is drafted which lowers the threshold to start food chain export.

Education helps boost the growth in tourism in Vietnam

Jaana Häkli, Lecturer, Saimaa University of Applied Sciences

Saimaa University of Applied Sciences is starting to export Finnish tourism and hospitality education to Vietnam. There is a lot of potential for different forms of co-operation e.g. in the form of double degrees or online studies. Tourism industry has a major role in the development of the entire country as increased tourist flows and revenue modernize the country. Due to good experiences in teaching Vietnamese students, personal contacts and flexibility, Saimaa UAS sees a lot of potential in the future co-operation and has jumped on the bandwagon.

The export of education is an opportunity to reflect critically on one’s own endeavours

Henna Juusola, Project Coordinator, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences

Good success in international surveys such as in PISA (relating the skills and competences in 15-years old students) and PIAAC (relating the skills and competences of adults) are often seen as a guarantee of the high quality of Finnish education. This has increased the international awareness and interest towards Finnish education and thus contributed the implementation of education export activities. However, good global reputation as such does not provide a basis for the quality assurance of education export activities. This article explores quality assurance of education export activities from a national and international point of view by highlighting those issues that may be relevant to take into account in the institutional quality assurance practicalities. In addition, this article will give an overview of the groundwork that is currently going on at Haaga-Helia in the frame of quality assurance of education export activities.

Competence-based practices in the export of education – how do we make the curriculum more flexible?

Marjaana Mäkelä, Principal Lecturer, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences

Competence-based pedagogy provides a functional tool for UAS institutions in curriculum development, assessment, validation, international cooperation and relations with industries. However, in context of export of education, understanding of competences on an institutional scale does not always meet the objectives of education export projects that require flexible, bespoke solutions.

A case example from Haaga-Helia UAS and a partner institution in Malta, Institute of Tourism Studies, unfolds some aspects of an export project where competence-based curriculum needs to be re-interpreted. The modular training is based on hospitality management courses, with a novel combination of studies fitting the needs of highly skilled participants. Moreover, validation of prior learning is applied as part of the process.
To succeed in export projects, UAS institutions need to critically evaluate their curricula and related discourse. The European Qualifications Framework is of help in this work.

Satakunta University of Applied Sciences is exporting education to two continents

Minna Keinänen-Toivola, Research Manager, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Viveka Höijer- Brear, Lecturer, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Tiina Savola, Director of Business, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Markku Paukkunen, Project Manager/ Senior Adviser on China, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Ari-Pekka Kainu, Head of International Affairs, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences

Satakunta University of Applied Sciences has worked with educational export to China almost ten years and to Namibia about five years. In China, parliamentary co-operation and twin city activities are key to concreate co-operation. In Namibia, the actions were started by a ship sale, in addition to an active role of the Embassy of Finland. In the article, examples from health and welfare are presented. In China, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences and Changzhou University signed a co-operation agreement on nursing double degree in fall 2016. In Namibia, SAMK, SAIMIA, SeAMK and XAMK started to building up joint in-service training product for physiotherapy. Co-operation with the city and university of Changzou as well as with many instances in Namibia are starting point for wider markets in China and Southern Africa. In educational export, patience and ethics are the main elements for success.

The export of education to provide a new stimulus for Finnish universities

Jorma Nevaranta, Head of Unit, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences

Education export is a new challenge and possibility for the Finnish Higher Education Institutions (HEI). Tuition fee is only one example in this sense and it has been possible in Finland only since the beginning of 2016. In principle, Finland has excellent possibilities to increase education export activities because of the good reputation of its education systems.

This article describes the conduct and experiences of one tailor-made training programme carried out by the School of Technology in Seinajoki University of Applied Sciences. The target group consisted 11 persons in Shenzhen Polytechnic Institute in China.

The contents of this training programme were based on the wishes of the participants. The offer of the one week programme in Seinajoki was made in April 2017 and the programme itself was conducted in August. The experiences of the participants as well as the presenters were very positive after the busy training week.

Ten years of the export of teacher training – what we have learnt

Jari Laukia, Director, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, School of Vocational Teacher Education
Pekka Risku, Director, JAMK University of Applied Sciences, School of Vocational Teacher Education

The Finnish educational system is highly respected abroad. This has had a positive influence also to the education export of vocational teacher education. Universitie of Applied sciences are responsible for arranging the training programs for teachers of vocational education and training (VET) in Finland.
In his article the focus is in export of vocational teacher education, the clients as well as experiences of previous and ongoing activities. Both the challenges and the positive results of the projects have been documented. The enthusiasm and competence of the teachers are essential to the success of education. International co-operation can have a positive impact also on the traditional teacher education programs in Finland.

Our education export success factors: research, customer orientation and a concentration on effective action

Essi Ryymin, Principal Lecturer, Research Manager, Häme University of Applied Sciences
Maaret Viskari, Sales Manager, (Global Education), Häme University of Applied Sciences

The goal of this article is to describe the success factors of education export at Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK). We concentrate especially on the continuous professional teacher training programmes to Brazil during the last three years. We summarize our experiences to the following three principles: 1) Research corrects the coordinates, 2) Customer before the expert and 3) Concentration on effective action.

Finland 100 years: TAMK donated a week of education to Brazil

Heini Pääkkönen, Marketing Coordinator, TAMK EDU, Tampere University of Applied Sciences

To celebrate long-term educational cooperation and Finland’s 100-year independence, TAMK wanted to donate the Brazilian public sector schools a sample of what investment in teacher education and staff motivation can achieve. The one-week education in São Paulo offered 25 public sector school representatives the chance to experience Finnish educators’ inspiring and practical teaching and reflect and develop their competence together with their colleagues.

Redesigning for Student Centricity: A Four-Step Process

Authors: Ann Padley, Antti Piironen.


 The concepts of customer-centered and human-centered have grown in popularity in the business world to refocus on what really matters—the people an organization exists to serve. In the same way, the idea of student-centered learning is on the rise in higher education. This marks a paradigm shift from education as a vehicle for distributing knowledge to an avenue for facilitating learning and encouraging active student engagement (ESG 2015). It is a shift supported by a deeper understanding of the science of learning (Hinton, Fischer, Glennon 2012) and offers higher education an avenue for becoming more adaptable and responsive to the needs of students and those of our rapidly changing world (Ojasalo 2015).

The benefits for learners of a student-centered approach include increased motivation, sense of responsibility and engagement in learning (ESG 2015, 12; Bovill 2014, 21). The practical realization of such a paradigm shift requires new ways of thinking and working. This article presents a four-step process educators can use to rethink a learning experience using a collaborative, student-centered approach. The teacher becomes a designer partnering with students to understand their needs, interests and perspectives to inform the design of the learning experience.

First piloted to support Research, Development, and Innovation (RDI) for a professional summer school course called The Digital Wellbeing Sprint (The Sprint), the process helps educators work to understand what students hope to achieve from the learning experience. This understanding is integrated into the design along with the intended learning outcomes set by the educator or organization. This approach supports the alignment between student and teacher perceptions, thereby increasing the likelihood the experience will meet the expectations of both stakeholders (Könings et al. 2014).

Case: The Digital Wellbeing Sprint

Laurea, Haaga-Helia, and Metropolia Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) organized the first joint Professional Summer School (PSS) in 2016 under the name Digital Wellbeing Co-creation and Start-up Summer School. Later renamed the Digital Wellbeing Sprint, the intensive two-week course brought together multidisciplinary teams of bachelor’s and master’s degree students to learn about service innovation using the ”Conceive Design Implement Operate” model (CDIO 2017).

Students solved real challenges from partnering organizations while learning tools and methods for co-creation and service design. In the first week, students explored their challenge by doing field and desktop research to learn about users, the service provider, the business environment, and relevant trends. Teams then generated ideas for a new service concept and spent the second week on prototyping, business model generation, and pitching their newly created concept to the clients (Piironen et al. 2017).

Armed with results and feedback from the first year, the newly formed UAS alliance wanted to apply the service innovation approach to develop The Sprint concept further, starting with gaining a better understanding of its own users: the students.

The process

The four-step process (Figure 1) used to pivot the design of The Sprint for 2017 combines the UK Design Council’s Double Diamond model (UK Design Council  n.d.) with an education-based design process created by the American firm iDesign (Kilgore 2016). The integration of the two models frames the use of design methods within an educational context. Divergent thinking is used to explore multiple perspectives and convergent to make sense of what was learned and identify next steps. Each step in the process builds on the other, starting with Learn and Evolve, on to Discover, then Define, and finally Develop.

Figure 1. Four-step design process.

Step One: Learn & Evolve

In Learn and Evolve, one embraces past experiences by gathering the perspectives of the education delivery team and students. This feedback is used to Learn from the last implementation of the course then Evolve or iterate the learning experience. (Kilgore 2016).

Interviews and the analysis of existing data can both be useful in this phase. In the case project, six interviews 30-60 minutes long were conducted with planning and teaching staff. The goal was to hear varying perspectives on the course, understand the organizational goals, and begin to establish how the research would contribute to the further development of The Sprint. Existing sources of student feedback were also analysed including:

  • open-ended questions from The Sprint application questionnaire
  • responses to a survey distributed mid-way through The Sprint
  • notes from interviews conducted during The Sprint by Piironen et al. (2017)

Student feedback was reviewed and categorized by development area, for example, communications, mentors, or curriculum. Comments related to each area were then further analyzed using an adapted Value Proposition Canvas (Osterwalder et al. 2014) to sort by pains (problems), gains (benefits or added value) and ideas for improvement. The goal of this step was to understand what elements contributed to the sense of value students experienced from The Sprint and which detracted from it.

In Learn and Evolve, insights from the staff interviews and student feedback offer immediate context and perspectives for the teacher-as-designer to consider in the ongoing development. This is where the analysis of feedback often stops, however, it is important to continue the process.

Step Two: Discover

Learn and Evolve offers insight into what perceptions students have of the experience—what worked and what did not. Discover offers the opportunity to dig deeper, to understand why. The focus of this step is to uncover what students hope to achieve through participation, or their Job to Be Done. This is a divergent step; the intention is to collect information and perspectives, making sense of them will happen in the next step, Define (UK Design Council 2007).

In Discover, interviews are used to gain insights from students. These interviews are not about asking students what they want; they are about understanding what the student is trying to accomplish (Bettencourt & Ulwick 2008). From this, one can form an understanding of the conditions for accomplishing their goal, the desired outcomes and the obstacles they face. In the case of The Sprint, six previous attendees were interviewed and the information collected was carried on to the Define stage.

Step 3: Define

In Define, a convergent step, one makes sense of the information collected thus far and defines, or redefines, the problems and opportunities. This step is about bringing actionable insights (Design Council 2007) and a deeper understanding of the learner into development. The process brings together the educators’ experience and the what and why of the student experience (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Various perspectives of ’Define’.

In the case of The Sprint, interviews with students were first analysed individually (see Patton 2001,41). The insights were then compared to identify patterns (see Christensen et al. 2016a, 59 or Kumar 2012, 141). The result was a set of statements summarizing what students hoped to achieve (see Silverstein, Samuel & DeCarlo 2012, 10). The statements fell into three main categories: the students wanted to learn from others, collect experiences, and take the next step. Within each category, core jobs and associated sub-jobs and outcomes were identified. For example, in learning from others, students hoped to a) learn from experienced professionals b) receive feedback to support their iterative learning process c) and learn from each other through peer-to-peer learning (see Padley 2017).

How might we questions were used to frame the findings as opportunities to feed into the development phase (IDEO 2012, 19; Berger 2012) and to bring together the student and educator perspectives. For example, by participating in The Sprint, students wanted to learn from experienced professionals and receive feedback to support their iterative learning process. A strategic goal of The Sprint is to support a smoother transition to working life. These perspectives were combined to ask, “How might we use mentorship and feedback to help students advance?” This question, in combination with the context from the research, could then be used by the development team to identify solutions that would meet the needs of both students and the organization.

Step Four: Develop

It is often not realistic to postpone development while focusing solely on research. In this model, Develop spans the length of the process representing development as an ongoing activity. This allows for an agile process and requires open communication and a willingness to adapt planning based on new insights. For example, early student and staff feedback about inconsistencies among the ten different projects in 2016 resulted in partnering with only one client during the 2017 Sprint. Student perceptions about the role of mentors and teachers inspired the addition of an afternoon training session for The Sprint support team. The training served to build shared best practices among the team and offer a deeper understanding of why students were attending The Sprint and what they hoped to gain. Finally, students’ desire for peer-to-peer learning further reinforced the multidisciplinary approach to learning.


The proposed four-step process offers one feasible way to move towards a more student-centered learning environment. It was developed during the Digital Wellbeing Sprint in 2016 and tested during the 2017 Sprint. It provides a framework which can be used to improve future implementations of the Digital Wellbeing Sprint or in developing similar learning events.

Taking a student-centred approach can drive innovation in education and improve learning outcomes and motivation of both the students and teachers.


Ann Padley, MBA in Service Innovation and Design, Teaching Fellow in Design Thinking, University of Bristol Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, ann.padley(at)bristol.ac.uk
Antti Piironen, Ph.D. in Physics, Principal Lecturer in Smart Systems Engineering, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, antti.piironen(at)metropolia.fi

Berger, W. 2012. The secret phrase top innovators use. Harvard business review. Accessed 22 February 2017. https://hbr.org/2012/09/the-secret-phrase-top-innovato

Bettencourt, L. & Ulwick, A.W. 2008. The Customer-Centered Innovation Map. Harvard Business Review. 86 (5) Accessed 3 January 2017. https://hbr.org/2008/05/the-customer-centered-innovation-map

Bovill, C. 2014. An investigation of co-created curricula within higher education in the UK, Ireland and the USA. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 51(1), 15-25.

Christensen, C.M., Hall, T., Dillon, K., & Duncan, D.S. 2016. Know your customers’ ‘jobs to be done’. Harvard Business Review, 94 (9), 54-62.

ESG. 2015. Standards and guidelines for quality assurance in the European higher education area (ESG). Brussels, Belgium. Accessed 13 January 2017. http://www.eua.be/Libraries/quality-assurance/esg_2015.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Hinton, C., Fischer, K., & Glennon, C. 2012. Mind, brain, and education. Jobs for the Future. March 2012. Accessed 4 August 2017. https://studentsatthecenterhub.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Mind-Brain-Education-Students-at-the-Center-1.pdf

IDEO. n.d. Design thinking for educators toolkit. IDEO LLC. Accessed 22 February 2017. https://designthinkingforeducators.com/

Kilgore, W. 2016. UX to LX: the rise of learner experience design. EdSurge, 20 June 2016. Accessed 20 December 2016. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-20-ux-to-lx-the-rise-of-learner-experience-design

Könings, K., Seidel, T., & Van Merrienboer, J. 2014. Participatory design of learning environments: integrating perspectives of students, teachers, and designers. Instructional Science 41(1). Article from Research Gate. Accessed 9 May 2017 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259906316_Participatory_design_of_learning_environments_Integrating_perspectives_of_students_teachers_and_designers

Ojasalo, K. 2015. Using service design methods to improve student-centricity of higher education. In: International Business & Education Conference, New York City, August 2015.

Osterwalder, A., Pigneur, Y., Bernarda, G., Smith, A., & Papadakos, T. 2014. Value proposition design: how to create products and services customers want. 1st edition. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.

Padley, A. 2017. Designing a student-centered learning experience: The Digital Wellbeing Sprint. MBA. Service Innovation and Design. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. http://www.theseus.fi/handle/10024/128728

Piironen, A.K., Haho, P., Porokuokka, J., Hirvikoski, T., Mäki, M. 2017. Experiences on a Multidisciplinary CDIO Project. The 13’th International CDIO Conference, Proceedings, 279-287. https://prism.ucalgary.ca/handle/1880/52101

UK Design Council. 2007. Eleven lessons: managing design in eleven global brands. Accessed 27 February 2017 http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/asset/document/ElevenLessons_Design_Council%20(2).pdf

UK Design Council. n.d. The design process: What is the double diamond? Accessed 27 February 2017. http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/news-opinion/design-process-what-double-diamond


Collaboration with Industry: Open Innovation Approach

Author: Eero Nousiainen.


The amount of completed degrees can be considered as one of the key criteria for assessing how universities of applied sciences (UAS) have succeeded in achieving their goals and how necessary and viable the new qualifications that have taken place in the workplace are. Also, one of the key objectives of UASes is their local impact. The task of UAS is to strengthen regional development and to respond to the needs of regional higher education.

Understanding and using open innovation enable the university to remain competitive and to respond rapidly and flexibly to changes in the environment, despite the development time and life cycle of products and technologies. By developing education continuously and by being in close cooperation with companies, the university has a better chance of achieving its goals.

Open Innovation Inside the Curriculum

One of the special features of UAS is a strong link with the needs of working life. Curricula and qualifications are designed to serve professional expert tasks. There is a clear need in the Finnish higher education field for work-oriented higher education degrees, where the curricula is based on a vision of the needs of business life. Since higher education is largely financed by public funding and its state funding is unlikely to increase significantly in the next few years, resources must be used to the fullest.

According to the principles of open innovation, all the top specialists in the education field are not working at our university but also in companies that we are dealing with. We must work with competent people both inside and outside the university. If we create the best possible combination of internal and external ideas, we have the opportunity to achieve even better results in the meaningfulness and motivation of the studies, which has a positive impact on the progress of the studies and graduation within the normative time.

Structure of the Curriculum

The structure and contents of the Degree Programme in ICT of Oulu University of Applied Sciences (OUAS) are designed to meet the needs of working life. In this model, students study basic and professional studies at OUAS for 2.5 years. After that, they have the opportunity to study for 1.5 years in different companies. In these companies, they do different development tasks in cross-sectoral and multicultural teams.

The first and second study year

During the first and second year of studies, students study 120 ECTS credits of basic and professional studies in each Option of ICT curriculum. The structure of the studies is shown in Figure 1, where each period of the academic year is compiled into one joint development project of 15-credit.

Figure 1: Structure of first and second year studies.

Each joint implementation has its own theme, and in addition, these collaborative implementations include basic and professional studies combined into one entity. During the first two years, there are four joint implementations. Each joint implementation takes one period and each joint implementation is preceded by basic and professional studies. The common teaching method is based on problem-based community learning and project-based teaching methodology. Basic and professional studies provide for the necessary basic information for future joint implementation and provide a basis for project execution. In lectures, there can be people from industry telling from their point of view issues related to the theme of the implementation and thus motivating the students in their studies.

The third and fourth study year

The third and fourth year studies comprise the study path shown in Figure 2.

Company-Oriented Product Development Projects  I-III are studies of Information and Communications Technology at Oulu University of Applied Sciences. The total number of studies is 30 ECTS credits consisting of three parts of 10 ECTS credits. R & D projects are generally carried out starting from the third year. At best, different product development projects will lead the students to a flexible start of the bachelor’s thesis, graduating within the normative time and even finding their first job.

In the development project work, the student becomes acquainted with the tasks related to the requirement analysis, as well as design and implementation of the project. The aim is to deepen the work skills required in IT projects while at the same time to acquire practical technical expertise in the target system. The tasks are defined more accurately by projects. Projects can be individual development tasks, but they can also be targeted at one and the same development task or target system.

After completing the first company-oriented project, the student will start working as a summer trainee for the company where they have made the project. After the summer work has finished, the student can continue in the company and start their second company-oriented development project. The bachelor’s thesis is the last work to be done in this study path. Both companies and students have found this continuum meaningful.

In addition, the projects prior to the free-choice study package of 15 ECTS can be directed to support the   product development projects. The student can allocate 90 credits to these work-life based studies.

Figure 2: Third and fourth year study path.

Projects will be launched in both autumn and spring semesters. The course aims to be implemented in as realistic conditions as possible, under the guidance of IT teachers and people working in the company. Project penetration always follows a certain process whose starting points and the desired result are clearly defined. The good design of the project creates the conditions for the success of the project. In this case, timetables are defined, resources are allocated and the working methods used in the project agreed on.

The educational objectives of the third and fourth year studies

After completing third and fourth year studies, the student gets an idea of ​​how the company works and experiences practical teamwork. The student is able to apply the previously taught theory in different courses. The student also understands the significance of project work as the work proceeds and knows how to act as a member of a project team. In addition, one of the teaching objectives is that the student masters the use of the methods and techniques used in the project.

The product development project, designed and implemented with good objectives and resources, provides a variety of positive developments. It always increases the customer’s knowledge of the project area. It increases the student’s expertise and provides a good experience for future project work and career development. A good project is valuable to all those involved in it. At its best, open innovation based co-operation between the university and companies will

– develop the company’s operations and processes
– provide more functionality to the company’s product
– create traineeships and permanent jobs
– promote the introduction of different technologies
– increase co-operation between different organizations
– be disseminated and widely exploitable
– have a positive impact on the environment
– promote the university way to co-operate with companies
– work as a new constructor of the teaching profile

The successful completion of the project naturally requires that the company has a real problem to be solved. Students’ know-how (i.e. completed studies, competence and practical experience) should always be taken into account when defining the problem.

To accomplish this task, the project team needs adequate resources and support throughout the project. The company’s genuine, continuous interest in the project work and its outcomes directly affects the project team’s motivation, work and project results.


The feedback – on the ICT curriculum of OUAS – from companies, students and teachers is generally positive. The curriculum is contributing to the renewal of teaching technology and to the growth of a new kind of education culture. In this culture, teachers are no longer just the puppeteers in the classroom, but they are working together with colleagues and people in companies in multicultural teams.

In this competitive world, if universities want to ensure a good economic performance, they have to produce innovative study possibilities, meet their customers’ (i.e. students and companies) needs, and respond quickly to market demands. Because of that, universities must understand that they do not necessarily have all the competencies to perform every operation themselves.


Eero Nousiainen, M.A., Team Manager, Oulu University of Applied Sciences, eero.nousiainen(at)oamk.fi

No 3 (2017) Abstracts

Universities of applied sciences at the core of modern innovation policy

Bror Salmelin, Adviser, Innovation Systems, European Commission

Innovation is an often used magic word, expected to resolve all problems. Such magic word are very easy to use, since they often offer an easy escape, without you needing to do too much thinking or to take real measures that would demand courage.

Curiosity and courage are essential parts of innovation; The curiosity to try things and the courage to think and act outside the box. We live in an age, where digitisation causes fundamental changes in both society and the academic and industrial modes of operation. How are we prepared for that, and how will the Finnish education system be able to address the competence challenge?

The modern concept of innovation is increasingly based on a Quadruple Helix Model where the users, the public sector, academia and businesses work together. This kind of approach also means that new innovation methods need to be developed. When experiments and trials are performed, and prototypes created in the real world with actual users, it shows already in the early stages of projects which ideas are implementable and scalable. Similarly, ‘difficult-to-implement’ solutions become thwarted at a very early stage, enabling the assignment of resources in the best possible way with a view to the outcome.

Therefore, experimentation culture coupled with co-creation lies at the very heart of the new open innovation policy. The Open Innovation 2.0 paradigm is based on seamless collaboration of all stakeholders involved, and it places the users/citizens at the very core of the innovation process.

As significant regional operators, universities of applied sciences are excellently positioned to assume a role between the various actors. At best, they become a glue that unites the operators under a shared vision and also breaks barriers between different technological fields and application areas. The modern innovation policy not only crosses barriers, but it eliminates them to create a common goal.

Digitisation requires also totally new skills. Traditionally, we have only been talking about the competencies of information technology users, or, at the most, the need to have new digital experts on the labour market. However, this is not enough. Creating and developing open innovation systems requires totally new abilities that the existing education system does not support. In the following, I describe the four main types needed.

A Curator is in charge of building thematic entities and for ensuring that the quality standard of the theme and its openness to collaborate with other themes is maintained.

A Bridger is a person genuinely interested in ‘everything’, who knows how to link different themes, technologies, applications and, first and foremost, various innovation field players together. Innovations are created by making ideas collide, and to create innovations it is necessary to find competences for achieving the shared goal. The Bridger combines curated competences.

An Orchestrator is in charge of creating a common goal in the same way as a conductor. A conductor brings out the skills of individual players and creates an enjoyable entity for the listeners in accordance with his or her own vision. The Orchestrator communicates strongly with other stakeholders to ensure that seamless co-operation continues.

A System Designer, on the other hand, is a person who enables all the operations described above. Knowledge of information technology, group psychology and application areas at a systemic level lies at the core of his or her activities.

Could the Finnish education system, with the universities of applied sciences as the key actors, create training programmes for creating open innovation environments in Finland? Would this initiative also have export potential? Open innovation is becoming an increasingly important paradigm, where actually the Finnish operating culture – or the Nordic operating culture in general – makes the adoption of open innovation easier than in most of our competitor countries.

The Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission is a strong advocate of the 3O strategy: Open Innovation, Open Science and Open to the World. This is and will be increasingly reflected in the Horizon 2020 EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. Examples of this include the Open and Disruptive Innovation instrument (seeking significant ideas, the first prototypes of which will be granted direct funding), major projects in the field of the application of information technology (seeking early and seamless inclusion of users, and early prototypes and pilot applications realised in the real world) and competitions within various thematic areas (where the problem solvers are rewarded, and where the methods or technologies to be used have not been defined in advance).

Open innovation environments are inclusive by nature. As technologies and society change, this is increasingly important, so that the necessary shift can be effected at the national level and, on top of that, in such a way that sore points can be avoided as far as possible. In my opinion, it is important to recognize the opportunity to create something new hidden in this transition. Seamless collaboration between all stakeholders is the key when totally new markets, services and products are being created. Today, the focus is too much on improving the old, without us being able to see the opportunity for anything new.

Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence are often regarded as necessary evils. They all will change job descriptions and cause replacement of old work tasks with new ones. However, progress has shown that social structures have coped well with the structural challenges brought on by productivity growth. The duties typical for humans will be creative tasks that require collaboration and are often to be performed in an as yet unstructured environment. Can the Finnish society be steered into this direction? What is the meaning of basic income with a view to changing the structures? In addition to active innovation policy, maintenance of the productivity of labour is one of the key tasks for ensuring that a socially and economically sustainable development can be guaranteed.

Finland needs a strong policy that supports open innovation, based on real-world experimentation and seamless collaboration between all stakeholders.

We need courage and new competences.

Will Finland and the universities of applied sciences accept this challenge?

A good reference on the pillars of open innovation can be found behind the following link: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/open-innovation-20-%E2%80%93-new-paradigm-and-foundation-sustainable-europe-0

Sustainable and open RDI activities, and novel processes

Hannu Hyyppä, Professor, D.Sc. (Eng), Head of the Institute, Aalto University, Humak University of Applied Sciences
Marika Ahlavuo, Science Producer, Coordinator, Cultural Pruducer, Aalto University, Humak University of Applied Sciences
Elina Ylikoski, Ph.D. (econ.), Innovation Director, Humak University of Applied Sciences

There is a need for improvement in the efficiency and interaction of sustainable and open R&D&I work activities in several polytechnics and universities in Finland. This article is based on our experiences on working with multidisciplinary and cross cutting teams and on executing innovation and R&D&I projects e.g. in Metropolia, Omnia, Laurea, Humak, and Aalto University. Our approach has been to enhance the functionality of our digital, sustainable, and open R&D&I process. We also suggest that the financiers of R&D&I activities should focus on better coordination between the overlapping themes in R&D&I and thus should target projects that supplement but not overlap each other. In that case, the time that can be saved from not doing overlapping work can be utilized better within the society by using the means of digitalization. Finally, we will present our own solutions on how we have increased the interaction.

The EU’s Network and Information Security (NIS) Directive will affect the innovation activities at universities of applied sciences

Jaakko Riihimaa, PhD, General Secretary, AAPA – Network of CIO’s in Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences

EU member states must during May 2018 latest to translate the directive to improve data protection for individuals (EU GDPR) into national law. This new standard has some effects also to UAS’s RDI activities.

On one hand, open science is assumed to have greater access to scientific inputs and outputs, so it can improve the effectiveness and productivity of the research and innovation systems. On other hand, in modern digitalized world data has become essential to the success of modern innovations and data can almost be handled as a new currency. Especially valuable is people’s personal data.

There is the tension between openness of innovation activities and privacy. Within UAS’s innovation activities this tension must be recognized and be reacted in an appropriate way when working with students, teachers and business partners. Tools for that can be found for example among quality systems, enterprise architecture methods and risk analysis.

Experimentation ecosystem as a growth platform for innovation activities

Anu Kurvinen, M.Sc.(Econ.), Senior Lecturer,  Faculty of Business Administration, Saimaa University of Applied Sciences, Lappeenranta
Pasi Juvonen, D.Sc. (Eng.), Senior Lecturer,  Faculty of Business Administration, Saimaa University of Applied Sciences, Lappeenranta

The basis of this article lies in Experimental Development Ecosystem (EDE) that is a framework including researchers from university of applied sciences and a technological university, students from both institutes, team entrepreneurs and lecturers, local enterprises and local cities. This article aims at describing utilization of the EDE as a platform for open innovation in three different cases: Innovation assignments given to the team entrepreneurs by local companies and organisations, Hackathons organized in conjunction with “Digikaappaus” event organized by team entrepreneur students in February 2017, and an experiment that was conducted based on the needs of cities of Imatra and Lappeenranta.

Open innovation is a way of thinking and doing in which creating innovations is done in co-operation with different stakeholders and networks. The EDE has been created according to the principles of open innovation.  Based on the experiences from the three presented cases, the most important issues in promoting open innovation are linked to the change in the ways of thinking and through that removing the possible obstacles for cooperation between different parties.

The changing role of a teacher – one of the corner stones of innovation pedagogics

Tiina Hirard, M.A., Senior lecturer, Turku University of Applied Sciences
Mervi Takaeilola, M.A., RN (UAS), Senior lecturer, Turku University of Applied Sciences

This article deals with the innovation pedagogy and the renewing teaching with activating learning and teaching methods, multidisciplinarity and development-oriented assessment. The renewing teaching was emphasized in the implementation of preparatory studies for higher education in the field of health and well-being at Turku University of Applied Sciences in 2016. The entire implementation was based on co-teaching between a Finnish language teacher and two nursing teachers and the co-teaching was put into practice both in planning, implementing and assessing the training. Learning and teaching was built on doing together so that in a multidisciplinary learning environment the knowledge was not only shared but also produced and verbalized together both during the contact lessons and online. Assessing students’ competencies was interactive and the main goals of the continuous assessment were guiding the students, forwarding the learning process and reinforcing the students’ self-assessment skills.

Haaga Place to Be: experimentation, insights and joint learning

Saija Laitinen, M.Sc (Nutrition), senior lecturer, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences
Johanna Rajakangas-Tolsa, Ph.D (Nutrition), principal lecturer, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences

At the hospitality campus of Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, innovation together with companies has been integrated to the Haaga Place to Be innovation platform that aims to develop professional kitchens. It brings together industry actors to test, gain insight and learn with students and teachers, but it also brings together companies to develop their business. The innovation platform aims to promote a culture of experimenting, learning together and understanding. At the moment 19 industry partners from kitchen appliance distributors to restaurants are participating in the concept. In practice the concept is shown for example at the campus in the lunch cafeteria, where the pop-up kitchen has been used by students and companies to test new products. Also other joint activities and development has proven the concept to bring innovative projects to the students, to make collaboration with the industry easier, and trough networking bring benefits to all parties involved. For more information visit www.p2bHaaga.fi.

Students of Industrial Management and Engineering are innovating theatre marketing

Esa Laihanen, M.A., Senior Lecturer (Finnish Language and Communication), Language Centre, Saimaa University of Applied Sciences

The article describes an innovation project where students of Industrial Engineering and Management innovated the marketing of Lappeenranta City Theater. The assignment was part of the course Finnish written and oral communication in Business and Economic Life organized by Saimaa University of Applied Sciences Language Centre in spring 2017. The project produced several applicable ideas for the marketing of the theater, served as a meaningful learning assignment for a communication course and contributed to the theater’s education work.

DRAFT teams innovate with the help of micro funding

Kirsi Taskinen, M.Sc., Project Coordinator, Karelia University of Applied Sciences
Marja-Liisa Ruotsalainen, M.Sc.Econ. & Bus.Adm., Senior Project Manager, Karelia University of Applied Sciences
Heikki Immonen, M.Sc., Principal Lecturer of Entrepreneurship, Karelia University of Applied Sciences

Since 2012, Karelia UAS and University of Eastern Finland have offered micro funding to their students and staff for testing business ideas and social innovations. The idea of the Draft Program developed at Karelia UAS is simple: First, teams interested in the Program send a description of their idea via email. Second, pre-selected teams present their idea to the Draft board, which selects teams with the most promising ideas to the Draft Program.

Every year about 20 teams receive 1000 euros – the first lot of Draft funding. During the Draft Program, the best teams have the possibility to receive up to 4000 euros of funding.

Draft Program is funded by Karelia UAS, UEF, William and Ester Otsakorpi Foundation and PKO Regional Co-operative. The alternating members of the Draft board represent Karelia UAS, UEF, North Karelian companies, Joensuu Science Park Business Incubator, Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation as well as various student organizations.

Why research is so hard to become innovations?

Kari Laasasenaho, project manager (Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences), PhD student (Tampere University of Technology)

Abstract: Currently, Finnish government has decreased funding for research and education. This has been affecting especially on young researchers, because it is hard to get funding without previous experience and results. Researchers must apply money more often and different sources. This means more time on bureaucracy and less time for research and innovation activity. The use of time is personal resource that has to be taken into account in the innovation activity. It is very important to realize that the reduction of research money is indirectly affecting on Finnish economy. One solution for the problem could be that the government increase research funding if the public economy will rise in the future.

The Karelia RDI environments are open for anyone

Helena Puhakka-Tarvainen, Senior Project Manager, M.Sc., Karelia University of Applied Sciences

Karelia University of Applied Sciences implements open science and research through multidisciplinary research infrastructures. Those study and service environments include technology and wood construction infrastructures, environments for wellbeing, simulation and physiotherapy, as well as facilities for media and creative businesses. Key issues for creating innovations are multi-stakeholder partnerships, open development platforms and inclusion of Karelia staff and students for the research and development work. Innovativeness of Sirkkala Energy Park is embedded in open data share and close cooperation with energy production related SMEs. Innovation platform for wood construction is spread outside from campus into existing pilot buildings. Voimala offers an environment for wellbeing-related learning and development for hundreds of students and stakeholders annually. Systematic processes for open publication through Theseus-database support the culture of openness.

Creative activities in an international context contribute to cultural sensitivity, awareness and personal development

Authors: Marina Arell-Sundberg,  Sissel Horghagen, Tania Hansen, Camilla Pyndt.


The network ‘Occupational Therapy in Nordic and Baltic Countries’ was established in 1992 and is a network under Nordplus Higher Education Programme (Nordplus). It is represented by the Nordic countries; Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden. The participating universities take turns to coordinate the collaboration in the network. The aim of the network is to increase student and teacher mobility and increase the collaboration between occupational therapy educations in the Nordic and Baltic countries. The network also works to reach high quality education and development through mobility, supportive relations and cooperation between the partner institutions. An overall aim is to create a unanimous knowledge base in regards to occupational therapy education, praxis and development within the collaborating universities in the member countries. The biggest effort has been in organizing an intensive course: “Creativity as a means in occupational therapy”. It has been developed through mutual planning and it fits into the curriculum of all partners, which is very important since all partners don’t have the possibility to send out students for longer exchange periods.

Description of the course

Through using self-experiences and third person perspective pedagogic approaches, the purpose of the course has been to enhance students’ own insight and evidence-based knowledge about relations between creative activities and health from a diversity viewpoint (including cultural traditions, communication and creative crafts). Students have been introduced to different perspectives on creative occupations. The benefits of participating in creative occupations and its relation to health and wellness have been identified. The occupational therapist uses creative activity, but also uses any activity in a creative way so therefore the creative design process is essential for occupational therapists. Pierce (2003) writes about building therapeutic power and in order for this to happen there needs to be creative thinking. Using individual or group interventions in creative activities, gives a flexibility that from the clients own perspective have great benefits from both a personal enhancement and developmental aspect (Pierce 2003; Horghagen; 2014).

Through evidence-based knowledge, experience and observation, the students have analysed demands and possibilities in activities with a focus on enablement through creativity. The students have practiced methods to explore the use of creative occupations and propose ideas related to health and occupational therapy intervention. They have explored their own creativity and learned about creativity in groups, and cultural diversity perspectives.

The learning outcomes of the course are about students knowing the conceptual foundations of creativity as used within occupational therapy and about the value of various creative activities for participation in occupation, health and wellbeing. They are also about how to identify oneself as a member of a group and how to gain a wider knowledge on diverse ways to express oneself and communicate through creative means.

The form of the course

Through the three last years the intensive course has been carried out in Finland, Latvia and Denmark. The pedagogic methods used in the course have been self-studies, lessons, workshops, group-work and presentations of group-work (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg 2010: 1-8). The students have been working in international teams throughout the course. Totally about 90 and approximately 30 students from the different countries have participated each year.

The involved teachers, in an average 4 on every course, have been cooperating with the planning, the implementation of the course, and the examination of the students. The planning has followed the 7 strategies as presented by Wlodkowski & Ginsberg (2010: 52-68):

  1. To allow for all to get to know each other and introduce themselves
  2. To provide multidimensional opportunities for sharing
  3. To concretely show what is expected of the participant before, under and at the end of the week.
  4. To use collaborative and cooperative learning experiences
  5. To present clear and concrete learning objectives and goals
  6. To show the connection between what has been learned and how it can be used within Occupational Therapy practice.
  7. To assess every students learning process in a graspable way

The three critical elements of cultural competence Understanding and awareness of one´s own cultural values and biases, knowledge and information of history, perspectives and values of culturally different groups and how to adapt one´s behaviour and skills to successfully interact with one another during the week, has guided the planning of the content of the week (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg 2010:48). The students also had literature to read as a preparation and exercises to present in the beginning of the course (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg 2010: 9). The course has the following issues: Lessons about creative activities and about fantasy, ideas and innovation as well as workshops on the topics. The students have received 2 ECTS; based on participation and presentation. The course content has been distributed though the network and has only been available to the members within the network. All member universities have access to all material through a mutual cloud service. Following an example of one of the days during the intensive Course in Denmark 2015:

The examination has been both oral and written. In groups, students have written reports of their work. The reports have been structured differently: both as a scientific paper (introduction, aim, method, results, and discussion) and as an article for a newspaper. The examination has also been about presenting therapeutic use of creative activities for a defined group. The evaluation of the assignments has its core in the aims of the course and has been carried out by using peer review.

Experiences with the course

The feedback and the experiences of the course where gathered though both a questionnaire and a group discussion. The students got information about the usage of both the content of the questionnaire and the discussions for this article, and they all gave their consent.

Theoretical reasoning and practical skills for therapeutically use of creative activities

The students developed understanding of the reasoning of using creative activities in occupational therapy practice and achieved knowledge about creative activities. Students also expressed that they developed skills in applying creative activities; they learned tools and techniques from lectures, but also skills in the arranged workshops. Related to one of the oral evaluations a student expressed: “Through the lectures I have learned to think out of the box and the word “creativity” now has a new and wider meaning”.

Developing cultural sensitivity and awareness

Students also experienced and reflected on how they have developed as human beings, as well as occupational therapists, through participating in the course. The most unexpected event was how the students described their growth in cultural sensitivity and awareness. Through that awareness, every student’s personal recognition of him/herself as a creative occupational therapist has also grown. Through the group-works, they reflected upon their own culture and other participants’ culture. We assume that the duration of the course, it lasted a week, was a factor for making this possible – they became familiar and comfortable with each other.

Participation in creative activities contributed to personal development

The students described a discovery of themselves as creative occupational therapists by being creative in different innovative ways. This implies an understanding of a therapeutic use of self within the creative activities. This has been two-fold, they have seen how people can develop their potential through creative activities, and they have experienced that they developed as human and therapist through participation in the course. This personal development was something that we had not expected to emerge. It was new to us, that the students expressed their experiences of personal development to such an evident extent. In a course like this, students get an international competence that enriches both education and practice in the students’ homelands.


There is a discussion and further challenge to make foundations of creative activities in the theories of activity in the profession. A course like this can contribute to building that foundation. The evaluations also underline a new learning outcome; namely, how the students experience and develop self-development for their future professional role as occupational therapists, plus in cultural awareness and sensitivity. Students as well as the teachers participating and arranging the course, get an international competence that enriches both education and practice in their homelands. This aspect contributes to an internationalisation of higher education.


Marina Arell-Sundberg, Senior lecturer, MA. in Rehab, OTR, Arcada University of Applied Siences Helsinki Finland, arellsum(at)arcada.fi
Sissel Horghagen, Principal lecturer, Ph.D., OTR, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim Norway, sissel.horghagen(at)ntnu.no
Tania Hansen, Senior lecturer, MA (Ed) in Educational Anthropology, OTR, University College Sjælland, Næstved, Denmark, taha(at)ucsj.dk
Camilla Pyndt, Senior lecturer, MA in Heath Services, OTR, University College Sjælland, Næstved, Denmark, cpy(at)ucsj.dk

Erasmus (2016). Erasmus+. Programme guide. Version 2(2016):07/01/2016

Horghagen, S., Fostvedt, B., & Alsaker, S. (2014). Craft activities in groups at meeting places: supporting mental health users’ everyday occupations. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 21(2), 145-152.

Pierce, D. E., & Pierce, D. (2003). Occupation by design: Building therapeutic power. FA Davis company.

Wlodkowski, R.J. & Ginsberg. M.B. (2010). Teaching Intensive an Accelerated Courses: Instruction that Motivates Learning. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

No 2 (2017) Abstracts

Busy times and new ventures in social welfare and healthcare development

Timo Sinervo, D.Soc.Sc. (Doctor of Social Sciences), Docent at University of Tampere, Research Manager, Research in social welfare and healthcare, National Institute for Health and Welfare

The social welfare and healthcare sector is undergoing a tremendous upheaval. The government’s social and healthcare reform naturally is the most important driver of this change, but even without it, the sector has changed and will be changing at a fast pace. The local government sector, which has been considered rigid, is in a state of constant flux on closer inspection.

The social and healthcare reform remains difficult to fathom, as many details are still missing. It seems obvious, however, that the county will be responsible for organising the services, while their provision will be entrusted to publicly owned enterprises and private companies.

The social and healthcare reform is a combination of an extremely extensive merger, launch of completely new activities (the counties as a government organisation and organisers of social and healthcare services), large-scale corporatisation as well as introduction of new practices (freedom of choice, personal budgeting). A merger in which over 200,000 employees will be looking for their new roles and thousands of directors for their positions would be a challenging task as such. Merely getting salaries paid in January 2019 and ensuring that customers can access services without disruptions would be a sufficient goal. In most mergers the operative changes are carried out at a later stage, whereas in the beginning, the merger is mainly a technical step.

If the draft acts are passed more or less in their current form, functions performed by public enterprises (hospitals, social work, specialised services, public administration activities) could in principle continue as before in many respects. However, it is likely that the organisation and management structures will change, and in the initial phase, this will create a lot of confusion; what will we do now, where do I get a new keyboard or a mouse when the old ones no longer work? Renewal of practices is naturally needed in all activities, and cooperation structures also keep changing.

Corporatisation will be a significant change for the employees in social welfare and health centres, services for older people and many others. Competing for customers is a new venture for the public sector, and it is likely that the social and healthcare centres, at the very least, will unavoidably lose some of their customers as new actors enter the market. The public sector is way behind and only establishing its companies, while private actors are already staking their claims in the market and getting ready for action. The public sector is accustomed to thinking of how customers could cope with as few services as possible, and attracting customers is a new challenge. Customer service and seeing the customer’s problems as a whole could be an area in need of development.

However, the structures are only the beginning, and the most essential challenge is still ahead: how to develop services that are more customer-responsive?

The reform will take a long time to complete, even after the new organisations are up and running. It is likely that fast consultations and solutions to practical problems will be needed in the midst of the change. Hopefully, one of the stakeholders can also find money for carefully monitoring the change. Failing to study the greatest change project of the last few decades would be a pity – and the studies should also focus on the process of change, not only the end result.

Once the structures have been sorted, the practices will be renewed. In order to support the change, there will certainly be demand for different types of development and research: consultants, research institutes, universities and universities of applied sciences alike. It is likely that development projects will be needed to come up with new operating models – combined with training, consultations, evaluation and benchmarking. As they are close to the labour market, the universities of applied sciences will play a key role in this. The question is how we can make the most of this cooperation with the world of work.

At this point, we should strain our ears and listen carefully to labour market needs. As the actors change, contacts in many areas need to be re-established. A public sector service provider will in many cases be replaced by a company owned by the private or the public sector. Will this change anything? What competence will be needed in the future, and how can education, training and development respond to future needs? How can attitudes and practices be reformed? What new competence will the current social and healthcare professionals need in the future? And do the current degree programmes have what it takes? If we aim for cooperation between social welfare and healthcare, should this cooperation also be more prominent in education?

If the social and healthcare reform follows the course plotted by the draft act on the freedom of choice, the services will be increasingly fragmented and provided by a greater number of actors. On the other hand, the counties will marshal activities that are scattered around the municipalities. As services are provided by companies and public enterprises of different owners, there will be greater need for service coordination and counselling. Up till now, flexible service chains responding to customer needs and teams of professionals have been created mainly by bringing the professionals together in the same organisation or facilities – even if this development is still in its early stages.

The majority of the resources are provided for customers who use a lot of services of many different types. It is thus clear that we must invest in services for this customer group. A change in practices and attitudes is needed to avoid a situation where we only look after an older person’s left knee. We should also consider how the older person, who is living alone and also otherwise is in a poor condition, can manage after a knee operation at home, on the second floor of a house with no elevator. The customer’s other service needs should also be assessed, and we should establish where these other services for the customer can be obtained.

In the future, we must increasingly build service chains between different actors. The difference is that the next link in the service chain will no longer be managed by another unit of the municipality. Instead, the customer should choose the physiotherapist or home care company that he or she wishes to do business with. Who will take care of this task and where? The county, the public enterprise or the companies that provide services? Do experts with sufficient knowledge of both social welfare and healthcare services exist to manage customer guidance or service coordination? Do the current experts consider the customer’s needs with a sufficiently holistic approach? And how can we persuade the service providers in the counties to work in line with the objectives set by the county?

A recurring problem in development and research efforts has been that the projects are small and disjointed. The municipalities already are up to their ears in projects of this type. The reason for this often is that research and development organisations have to work within the framework conditions set by funding: the actors research or develop whatever they can get funding for. This does not always serve the needs of the customers or providers of services.

Is it perhaps time to consider how different types of funding could be used to create more extensive projects between several actors that would genuinely serve the needs of the counties and service providers?

Partnerships on many fronts

Anu Niemi, Lic.Med., Development Director, Siun sote 
Sari Salminen, MHS, Nursing Director in charge of teaching, Siun sote
Mari Matveinen, MHS, Teaching and Research Coordinator, Siun sote
Tuula Kukkonen, Dr.Soc.Sc., Principal Lecturer, Karelia University of Applied Sciences 
Anneli Muona, MSc (Sports), Lecturer, Karelia University of Applied Sciences
Päivi Sihvo, MHS, Lecturer, Karelia University of Applied Sciences
Tuomas Lappalainen, M.Soc.Sc., Development Manager, Karelia University of Applied Sciences

The Karelia University of Applied Sciences, the North Karelia Educational Community and the North Karelia Social and Health Services, Sensate, have entered into a strategic partnership agreement in February of 2016. The strategic partnership is based on the parties’ strong expertise, mutual trust and benefit for all parties involved. Through this new cooperation methods, new multidisciplinary approaches, such as on-the-job learning and training as well as joint development projects were created.

Through this project, for example, new home care models and strengthening the digital competences of social and health professionals will develop.

Management in the social services and health care sector in the future

Terhi Laine, D.Soc.Sc., Director of Innovations, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences
Ilse Vogt, M.Ed, Regional Cordinator, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences

Social welfare and health care reform will change the structure of services in Finland. This article focuses on social services and health care management today and in the future. The data was collected from Master’s Degree students who work at social services and health care sector. Some of them were in leadership position in their working places. In data collection there were four reflective group discussions which were recorded and littered. The analysis was based on the content analysis.

The analysis indicates that there is the basis of management which describes the situation of today. It consists of interaction, declaration of core tasks, capacity to do decision making capacity and development of know-how. We can find those elements also in the future of management in the social services and health care sector. Furthermore there will be enhanced other issues such as coaching, remote leadership, leadership of interprofessional networks, management by knowledge and communication skills of manager. These elements are important in ongoing social welfare and health care reform, which requires change management.

Front-line management studies develop mentoring in supervisory work

Arja-Irene Tiainen, Principal Lecturer, PhD (Education), MHS, Specialist Nurse, Karelia University of Applied Sciences
Jaana Pasanen, Assistant Head Nurse, Specialist Nurse, Supervisor, Siun sote/PKKS 

The demands for health care managers’ competence have grown. Many first-line managers in the field of health care have recognised the need for supplementary leadership education. At Karelia University of Applied Sciences, we wanted to meet this demand by developing leadership education for first-line managers in health care (60 ECTS). This article describes a practical mentoring assignment conducted by a leadership student. Mentoring is one of the oldest development methods for transferring silent knowledge from a mentor to an actor. Mentoring is useful for both the mentor and the actor since both will learn and develop themselves during the mentoring process. One part of the leadership education at Karelia UAS is the course Human Resource Management. During this course, the student’s task was to start a mentoring process at the intensive care ward she was working at as a Head Nurse. Previously, mentoring had been used at this ward, but it was not currently in use. The article describes the student’s work on re-introducing mentoring at the ward as part of first-line management. Mentoring can be seen as one method of contributing to the wellbeing of employees in the field of health care.

Competence related to procurement supports a successful social and healthcare reform

Esa Väänänen, Licentiate of Science (Economics), M.Sc. (Tech.), Lecturer, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
Erja Turunen, Licentiate of Science (Economics), Principal Lecturer, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

In this article, a significant competence challenge is presented for organisations both in the private and public sector as they take part in the implementation of a major societal change, namely the renewal of the social and health care sector in Finland. In his recent doctoral dissertation, the main author argues: procurement competence is needed and its significance is not sufficiently known nor appreciated in organisations. Many of the best practices utilized in the private sector can be transferred to the public sector. Similar conclusions appear in Master’s Theses he has supervised. The second author is a colleague interested in RDI activities of universities of applied sciences and has closely observed the development and implementation of a Master’s degree programme in Supply Chain Management (Procurement) led by the main author.

Reinforcing the well-being and social inclusion of young people

Kati Peltonen, Dr.Sc. (Econ.), MEd, RDI Director, Lahti University of Applied Sciences
Minna Elomaa-Krapu, Dr.Sc. (Nutr.), Head of Master’s programmes in health, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
Anne Määttä, D.Soc.Sc., Senior Specialist in service system development, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences
Minna Kahala, Dr.Sc. (Nutr.), Lecturer, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Marko Kananen, PhD, Researcher, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Science

A majority of young people in Finland are feeling well, but at the same time a number of young people facing unemployment and situations of social exclusion and poverty is increasing alarmingly. This article opens up the multilayered concept of inclusion and addresses different dimensions which are intertwined and constitute and have effect on young people’s subjective experiences on their wellbeing and social inclusion. The article brings up the crucial role of psychological factors such as resilience, coherence and self-beliefs in enhancing youth mental wellbeing.

Social, Mental and Body – More together

Marjo Keckman, MHS, Lecturer, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Tiina Mikkonen-Ojala, MHS, Lecturer, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Mari Törne, MHS, Lecturer, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences

The university of applied sciences (UAS) students have different forms of studies. Most students handle the work load well and their experienced health is good. However, psychosomatic problems have increased among UAS students. SomeBody® method was invented to meet the students’ needs and SomeBody groups have been provided for SAMK students. This method combines body awareness, emotional and social skills. The focus is on awareness of and relationship with the surrounding people and society. The course participants get tools to cope with stress and social situations. They learn ways to react physically, mentally and socially and to express their emotions. An ability to recognize one’s own resources and strengths is also needed at work in the future. Health care professionals should be able to guide the clients towards their own resources and self-reflection. SomeBody® method is still being developed in order to better response to the needs of the UAS students’ well-being.

Developing well-being services together – customer first

Birgitta Lehto, Dr.Sc. (Nutr.), Nurse, Lecturer, Saimaa University of Applied Sciences
Minna Taipale, Bachelor of Culture and Arts, Specialist, Humak University of Applied Sciences

The Agency of Cultural Wellbeing is a three-year-long project coordinated by Humak University of Applied Sciences in cooperation with Saimaa and Turku Universities of Applied Science.

The Agency of Cultural Wellbeing wants to bring together the customers and providers of inclusive art. It’s main goal is to promote equal access to arts and culture. Cooperation between universities of applied science can offer wide range of networks, Up-to-date R & D know-how and international contacts.

The Agency of Cultural Wellbeing is training artists, cultural producers and professionals of social services and health care to work together to create new art based products especially for the use of social services and health care. Good example of our work is TUNNE I KEHO –method created by multiprofessional group during the training. Method was developed together with customers of mental care basing on their needs.

Olopiste teaches students to take a closer look at long-term unemployed people

Helena Hatakka, Lic.Ed., Principal Lecturer, Lahti University of Applied Sciences 
Erno Hokkanen, Bachelor of Business Administration, Project Manager, Harjula Settlement
Tarja Kempe-Hakkarainen, M.Ed., Lecturer, Lahti University of Applied Sciences
Pasi Viitaniemi, Practical Nurse, Supervisor, Kaupunkikylä Sylvia-koti yhdistys ry

The ESR funded (2015-2018) project Olopiste (S20362), which is a non-threshold support action for long-term unemployed and socially excluded people. It aims to strengthen the participants’ abilities to participate in society’s normal activities. It also aims to strengthen their working abilities and well-being through support and provided activities. There are both individual and group activities for clients in Olopiste. Bachelor of social services students are implementing these activities together with the staff. Olopiste is also an authentic learning environment. Clients have been involved in evaluation of Olopiste´s activities. Generally, they are content with the current activities. Developmental activities have lately focused on marketing and finding more clients. Next the individual counselling work and how to maintain Olopiste as a service after the project are the main issues. Partners are Harjula Settlement, Lahti University of Applied Sciences and SylviaKoti Association/Kaupunkikylä.

Results by genuine cooperation -Occupational therapy group as a boundary object

Jennie Nyman, Master of Medical Sciences in Occupational Therapy, Teacher in Occupational Therapy, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
Sanna Piikki, Master of Health Sciences, Teacher in Occupational Therapy, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

Is it possible to teach students and serve working life partners at the same time? This was the main question we asked ourselves as we started to plan a new way of carrying out a course on group leading skills for occupational therapy students. As teachers at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences we wanted to include the task of addressing the needs of the working life as a key component of our course.

In this article we describe our choices when planning a course that provides services for working life partners, enhances the learning for our students and uses the teachers’ resources effectively, all at the same time. The most central decision was to involve working life partners already in the theoretical studies. We also found it to be very important that the students get firsthand experience of planning and leading a group and that they get the possibility to learn from each other’s experiences as well. We designed a course where the students work in pairs when planning and carrying out occupational therapy groups in different work environments. The students share experiences with each other, and the teachers’ role is to provide support and supervision along the way.

Increased well-being through 3D technologies

Hannu Hyyppä, Professor of Measuring and Modeling, D.Sc., Head of the Institute, Aalto University, Humak University of Applied Sciences
Marika Ahlavuo, Science Producer, Coordinator, Cultural Pruducer, Aalto University, The Research Institute of Modeling and Measuring for the Built Environment (MeMo), Humak University of Applied Sciences
Matias Hyyppä, Student of Technology, Aalto University
Kaisa Jaalama, urban designer, M.Sc (Public administration), Aalto University, MeMo
Matti Kurkela, Studio Manager, Lic.Tech., M.A., Aalto University, MeMo
Juho-Pekka Virtanen, Doctoral Student, M.A., Aalto University, MeMo
Jussi-Matti Kallio, Project Coordinator, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences
Matti Vaaja, Postdoctoral Researcher, D.Sc., Aalto University, MeMo
Petri Rönnholm, Senior University Lecturer, D.Sc., Aalto University
Arttu Julin, Doctoral Student, M.Sc., Aalto University, MeMo
Juha Hyyppä, Professor, D.Sc. (Tech), National Land Survey of Finland’s Geospatial Research Institute

Digitalization transforms health and social care. Explicit measurements of the living environments as well as of human bodies can be assisted by 3D technologies that have become increasingly cheap over the years.

Digital footprint can now be analyzed and applied in new kind of products for the purposes of well-being and health. Individual measuring becomes global. Means of moving as well as knowledge of surrounding environment and its possibilities will increase. Emerging technologies combine measuring and time dimension that enables tracking changes in human bodies and in the surrounding environment effortlessly. Technology slowly merges to the environment and changes the way individuals evaluate their well-being in their everyday life, work and living. Conclusions were made in technological pilots and vision work generated by Humak University of Applied Sciences, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences and Aalto University.

With a cross-sectoral approach, everyone is a winner!

Andrew Sirkka, PhD (Education), Principal Lecturer, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Sari Merilampi, Dr.Sc. (Tech.), Senior Researcher, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Krista Toivonen, Lecturer, Team Leader, Sataedu

Shared cross-sectoral expertise is required to attain optimal benefits from technology potential in health and welfare service development. Wellbeing Enhancing Technology research group (WET) at Satakunta UAS (SAMK) actively and intentionally integrates RDI with education (and vice versa) utilizing cross-sectoral and cross-national expertise. RDI activities take place in close collaboration with a great number of working life organisations, entrepreneurs, students and international partners. Based on the feedback, crossing sectors and levels of education as a genuine conjunction of action is motivating all parties. Exposing oneself and bringing one’s own frame of reference into seeking the optimal solutions generates actors and innovators with novel skills.

Could mobile applications have a role in evidence-based customer work in the social and healthcare sector?

Mari Punna, MHS, Lecturer, JAMK University of Applied Sciences
Essi Heimovaara-Kotonen, MHS, Project Specialist, JAMK University of Applied Sciences

The use of digital methods has increased worldwide within health and social services’ client counselling. Mobile applications are forecasted to be a key factor in developing current services and creating opportunities for new kinds of services. However, all the new mobile applications do not correspond to evidence-based care or well-being promotion.

In Me First –project a tool for assessing health and well-being mobile applications has been created in co-operation with developers and social- and healthcare professionals, utilizing previous research. The developed assessment tool can be used in mobile application assessment to respond to individual needs of patients.

The assessment tool consists of three sections evaluating the mobile application: 1) contents of health and well-being counselling, 2) usability, and 3) information security and safety of usage.

Using existing health and well-being mobile applications with clients and patients is an interesting future opportunity to increase client-centered working methods.

Shaping the transformation of well-being

Leena Unkari-Virtanen, DMA, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
Eeva Tawast, MA (Psych), psychologist specialising in developmental and family counselling, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
Jari Pihlava, MHS, Psychotherapist with advanced level of competence, occupational therapist, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
Päivi Eskelinen-Roos, MEd, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
Raili Honkanen-Korhonen, Lecturer, Master in Music Pedagogy, playback theatre director, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

The historic but empty psychiatric hospital of Lapinlahti, Helsinki, was turned into a centre of mental wellbeing in a project called Join at Lapinlahden Lähde 2015-2017. Metropolia University of Applied Sciences was part of the project and provided a team of experts, which task was first to observe the functions of project and, in turn, to create a concept of wellbeing that can be duplicated and transferred in to other old, empty spaces and buildings. In the team lecturers of varied areas of culture and social wellbeing brought different perspectives on the concept. Starting point of the concept design was positive psychology. This concept of mental wellbeing consists of three parts: narrative, visual and functional parts.

Lypsylove promotes well-being in rural areas 2025?

Johanna Hautamäki, MA, Project Manager, Centria University of Applied Sciences
Annukka Tapani, D.Soc.Sc., Principal Lecturer, Tampere University of Applied Sciences
Minna Sipponen, Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management, Tourism (YAMK), lehtori, Lapland University of Applied Sciences
Leila Kakko, MMM, lehtori, Tampere University of Applied Sciences

This article describes, through a practical example, how a UAS can act as a partner with working life in developing welfare services. A workshop was organized in co-operation between three UAS’s, where hospitality management students brainstormed to come up with ideas for future welfare services in rural areas using service design methods. This workshop is part of a longer anticipation process that is carried out at Centria UAS together with working life partner, ProAgria Ostrobothnia.

The workshop was organized at Tampere UAS, bringing together 39 third year students. The aim was to get new ideas and perspectives. The workshop resulted in eight services ideas. Four of them focused on enhancing digital services, two on increasing meeting and exchanging know-how and two on building on nature’s possibilities.

Increased well-being through 3D measurement of green infrastructure in the living environment

Kaisa Jaalama, urban designer, MHS, Aalto University
Hannu Hyyppä, Professor of Measuring and Modeling, D.Sc., Head of the Institute, Aalto University, Humak University of Applied Sciences
Marika Ahlavuo, Science Producer, Coordinator, Cultural Pruducer, Aalto University, Humak University of Applied Sciences
Satu Räty, BA, Aalto University
Arttu Julin, Doctoral Student, M.Sc., Aalto University
Juho-Pekka Virtanen, Doctoral Student, M.A., Aalto University
Matti Kurkela, Studio Manager, Lic.Tech., M.A., Aalto University
Matti Vaaja, Postdoctoral Researcher, D.Sc., Aalto University

Wellbeing and the quality of the living environment are being enhanced by the assistance of emerging 3D technologies. This will be seen as 3D technology assisted everyday life services but also as 3D spatial information, that can be used in increasing the quality of the living environment. We are developing indicators based on spatial information and 3D technologies that work as a tool in evaluating existing green infrastructure, quality and attractiveness of the residential and urban areas. Important questions are how 3D spatial information can be combined with empirical and residents’ knowledge, and how this information can be applied in urban planning and services.

Digital Solutions in Teacher Education enhance Wellbeing and Expertise

Authors: Essi Ryymin, Irma Kunnari and Alexandre Fonseca D’Andréa

Teacher education programme for Brazilian teachers

Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK) has coordinated The VET Teachers for the Future – Professional Development Programme for Brazilian teachers since 2014 together with its partner Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK). The programme has been implemented altogether three times now. One training lasts about 7-9 months including study sections both in Finnish and in Brazilian learning environments. The programme scores 30 credits.

Altogether 106 teachers have graduated from the programme so far, and thousands of students and teacher colleagues have been contributed to regional development work in Brazil. The participants of the programme represent several disciplines and sciences, for example biotechnology, agricultural engineering, agronomy, computer science, chemistry, mathematics, linguistics, educational sciences and business administration. The teachers’ work in the Federal Institutes in Brazil, which are institutions for higher, basic and professional education specialized in offering vocational and technology education. The goal of the Federal Institutes is to answer to social and economic demands of the region by using applied research to boost innovations and the local development.

The goal in The VET Teachers for the Future programme is to encourage the participants to collaboratively rethink and design innovative education and learning environments to respond to their on-going regional and future challenges. The main contents of the program include competency-based education with 21st century skills and cooperation between universities and the world of work. The teacher students create and implement an individual or a shared development project during the training. The projects include a wide spectrum of inventions from the scientific research to high tech and social innovations, for example new digital applications and games for education, school management models, new pedagogical practices and training programmes as well as pedagogical models for preventing social exclusion.

Making professional development transparent by digital solutions

In the programme digital solutions were consciously utilized in order to make teachers’ professional development visible, especially issues related to relatedness, social connections and networked expertise. For example, teachers were encouraged to solve educational challenges together and share, and further develop, their thinking collaboratively and openly on different digital platforms. Hakkarainen and his team (2004) have developed a theoretical and methodological framework to examine networked expertise; higher-level competences that arise, in appropriate environments, from sustained collaborative efforts to solving problems and building knowledge together.

Many theorists have defined relatedness as a basic human need that is essential for wellbeing (Baumeister & Leary 1995; Deci Ryan 2012), and others have suggested that having stable, satisfying relationships is a general resilience factor across the lifespan (Mikulincer 1998). The role of positive emotions in the formation of social bonds (Baumeister & Leary 1995) and in the creation of important skills and resources (Fredrickson 2001; Sheldon King 2001) has been widely noticed.

Creating wellbeing for members of the community can be understood as a learning process that enhances relatedness, competence and autonomy (Ryan & Deci 2000; Sheldon & King 2001; Hakkarainen, Palonen, Paavola & Lehtinen 2004; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi 2000). These basic psychological needs are determinative with regard to optimal experience and wellbeing in daily life, also in an educational environment. Creating wellbeing within a teacher education programme can be seen then as an active, collaborative and situated process in which the relationship between individuals and their environment is constantly constructed and modified (Soini, Pyhältö & Pietarinen 2010).

The first study results reveals creative use of digital solutions

There in an ongoing study in which Finnish and Brazilian programme partners try to capture optimal practices of teachers’ professional development, in terms of building relatedness, feeling of competence, autonomy and networked expertise. A key question is also how the digital solutions can be used in wellbeing and networked expertise building?

During the training programme the group of teacher students from Brazil were personally interviewed. Also the data from the use of different digital platform and database was gathered, e.g. from learning diaries (blogs), discussion forums and competence demonstrations from interactive applications. The transcripts and the digital data is qualitatively analyzed. The content analysis (Krippendorff 2004) aimed to define the teachers in professional development practices by using case analysis of each participant’s descriptions of key events promoting professional development during the education programme (Patton 1990, 376-377).

The first study results (Kunnari & Ryymin 2016; Ryymin, Kunnari, Joyce & Laurikainen 2016; Ryymin et al. 2015) reveal that practices such as building, caring and respecting connections, creating positive interpretations and affordances together, adopting practices according to the perceived needs of the teachers have an impact on relationships that fostered senses of relatedness, competence and autonomy of teacher students. These relationships appeared to play an important role in creating successful social conditions for learning, wellbeing and pedagogical change. This can be seen as an interpersonal flourishing, which is a core feature of quality living across cultures.

The preliminary findings suggest also that the teachers consciously constructed networked expertise and socio-psychological wellbeing by applying digital solutions creatively, and this had a positive impact on their pedagogical practices. Creative, flexible and open use of digital solutions enhanced wellbeing for example by multiplying emotional, societal and cognitive support and by making peer support, positive feedback, reciprocal respect as well as cultural knowhow, knowledge, sensitivity and understanding transparent and accessible. The networked expertise was evolved, e.g. by sharing connections and resources, consulting colleagues and linking people and by solving relevant regional challenges together. The digital solutions seemed to facilitate the process effectively. The programme, as well as the applied research process, is ongoing, iterative and dynamic by its nature, and more detailed findings and conclusions will be reflected and dialogued later in the process. It is also very important to analyze what the challenges and obstacles in teachers’ professional development and pedagogical change are, as well as what are the qualities for successful international teacher education in the future.


Picture 1. The Graduation Seminar of the third The VET Teachers for the Future – Programme on 9th of December 2016 in Maceió, Brazil. HAMK Study Group together with their Tutor Teachers.


Essi Ryymin, Ph.D., Research and Development Manager, Principal Lecturer, Häme University of Applied Sciences, essi.ryymin(at)hamk.fi
Irma Kunnari, M.Ed., Principal Lecturer, Ph.D. Student, Häme University of Applied Sciences, irma.kunnari(at)hamk.fi
Alexandre Fonseca D’Andréa, Ph.D., Teacher of Basic, Technical and Technological Education, Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of Paraíba,

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