Imagined future – elements of a good first-year student experience


Perceptions of the goals, objectives and tools of work have changed. It has been estimated that the transformation of working life which is going on today will equal in magnitude the changes brought about by the industrial revolution. This means that we should assume a completely new approach to work and education on all levels. The efficiency of work and work performance used to be largely dependent on the traditional structures of industrial work; the workplace, colleagues, supervisors, clients and their needs, working hours, organizations, products and services were all stable and predictable. These days, however, the transformation of work and the pressures for organizational change mean it is no longer possible to rely on these structures. Increasing unpredictability and complexity in the operating environment have become the norm. (Järvensivu, Kokkinen, Kasvio & Viluksela 2014.)

This trend is also having an impact on higher education.  Our traditional views of efficient operating models, good practices and guidelines for the delivery of higher education are all being challenged. There have been calls for closer linkages between higher education and the world of work, in order to increase the relevance of the curriculum to working life (Singh & Little 2011, 38). So, the resources of higher education institutions have come under intense pressure; they should provide quality learning and teaching, making effective use of technology, while being responsive to the increased expectations and conflicting demands of a student body with ever more diverse needs (Morgan 2012, 10).

The increasing costs of delivering higher education, reductions in state funding and constraints on resources mean that delivering high quality student experience is challenging. Staff at all levels and across all areas within an institution affect the student experience. In order to be effective, services, advice, guidance and support for students must be organized holistically rather than provided only by dedicated central services (e.g. student services departments, students’ unions).  Providing guidance and support only to specific groups (e.g. dyslexic, mature, or disabled students, or those with weak entry qualifications) should be avoided.  It is also unrealistic to expect students to seek out support themselves. (Morgan 2012, 11.)

Student experience has been studied extensively mainly from the point of view of the students. This is natural, of course, but it is important to find out the viewpoints of other groups, too, such as teachers and other staff members. Teachers are key figures regarding student experience as they create the framework for action in the context of the curriculum. Williams (2011, 46.) points out that other categories of staff, such as those responsible for delivering student support services, are often the invisible support function within higher education institutions. Yet they are of vital importance to the student experience. They are also important to the teaching function.

This research examines the premises for a good student experience for people in their first year of studies. The research was conducted in one university of applied sciences and the key aim was to provide insight into and understanding of the factors affecting student experience. The research question is: What elements are important for a good first year experience in a university of applied sciences, according to students, teachers and other staff members?

The concept of student experience

Higher education is at a crossroads. The development of competencies required both for studying and in working life has become the personal project of each individual student. (Stelter 2014.) Students expect and demand support, advice and guidance which meet their individual needs. This cannot be provided with a “one size fits all” approach to education. (Morgan 2012).

The idea of student experience as an issue to be managed institutionally is a relatively recent one and the term has multiple meanings.  First, it is important to emphasise that each student’s set of experiences will be unique to him or herself. Thus any uniform “student experience” does not exist in practice. (Temple, Callender, Grove, Kersh 2014; Morgan 2012.)  As Forbes (2009) explains, student experience can be defined narrowly or broadly.  In a narrow definition the focus is on students’ formal learning experiences and their overall experience of university life. A wider definition covers their entire engagement with the university from initial contact, through recruitment, arrival, learning and university experience, graduation, employment, and their experiences as alumni. In addition, there are matters that the institutions are not directly responsible for, but generally have some involvement in. These include students’ living arrangements, accommodation, safety and security, part-time work, and social inclusion.

According to Benckendorff, Ruhanen & Scott (2009), the factors identified in the literature as influencing the student experience can be grouped broadly into four dimensions: Institutional dimensions (how universities and staff can better manage the learning experience), student dimensions (individual student characteristics), sector-wide dimensions (broader systems of institutions and trends that emerge as a result of competition or collaboration) and external dimensions (factors such as government policies, technological innovations, and economic pressures).

Harvey, Burrows and Green (1992, 1) argue that student experience is the most important factor in assessing quality in higher education. They use the expression “total student experience”, indicating that significant experiences are not restricted to the classroom. Internationally, the term “student experience” is used to refer not only to the teaching, learning and curriculum aspects of student life, but also encompasses extracurricular activities, academic advice, support and mentoring, as well as work experiences and student lifestyle (Purdue University 2004).

The recent interest in students’ experiences may also be associated with changing conceptions of learning and curricula. Emphasizing students’ agency, activity and participation means that experiences have to be taken into account when designing the curriculum (Barnett & Coate 2010). Thomas (2012) argues that students’ experience of the curriculum has a profound influence on their persistence and success in studies. Curricula can be designed and delivered in a way that promotes students’ engagement and sense of belonging, and reduces drop-out rates.

The term “student experience” has come to be used so widely that it is important to consider critical viewpoints, too.  Student experience is sometimes treated as analogous to customer experience – as a marketing term.  As students are seen as ”customers” or “clients”, their ”experience” becomes a factor that must be managed and optimized, as for any other “target group”.  However, Staddon and Standish (2012) have challenged the idea of “student-as-customer”. In their view, seeing students’ choices as determinants of quality is an abrogation of responsibility on the part of higher education providers. Furthermore, Gibbs (2012,14) argues that evidence is lacking as to whether there is any causal relationship between good student satisfaction scores – suggesting satisfied ‘customers’– and educational quality as assessed by measures such as student performance and learning gain.

The student experience arises not only from the engagement of students with learning and teaching, but also include other aspects that impinge on learning and studying. Since students’ experiences are shaped through interaction with the whole institution, it is important to know what elements are significant in creating a good experience. Therefore, in this study an interaction- and institution-based definition of student experience is used. Student experience can be defined as the totality of a student’s interaction with the institution (Temple, Callender, Grove & Kersh 2014).

Students’ engagement and expectations

Students’ engagement has become the focus of a great deal of research. Students’ expectations and their experience during their first year of studies have a tangible influence on student engagement and persistence – that is, the probability that they will complete their studies (Longden 2006). Singh and Little (2011, 36) argue that within discourses concerning pressures on higher education, the economic point of view tends to dominate; less emphasis is placed on the implications that various changes have for teaching and learning and for non-economic dimensions of social engagement. Instead of assessing students’ engagement in their studies from an economic point of view, the benefits of engagement should be seen in terms of better learning outcomes (Millard, Bartholomew, Brand & Nygaard 2013).

Definitions of student engagement vary somewhat depending on the theoretical framework used. An individual-constructive perspective focuses on the time and quality of effort that students devote to educationally purposeful activities (e.g. Astin 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini 1991). For instance, their level of motivation and willingness (Ainley 2006; Purnell, McCarthy & McLeod 2010). The interactional perspective emphasizes that personal investment, by both students and university staff, is the key to engagement (Kuh 2009). In this view, it is important for institutions to adapt their organizational structures and cultures to enable students to be part of learning communities (Zhao & Kuh 2004). Sociocultural engagement theory (Haworth & Conrad 1997) underlines that students and staff ought to engage in a mutually-supportive academic community, building a participatory and dialogical educational environment. Engagement is enhanced by a participatory culture, interactive teaching and learning, connected programme requirements, and adequate resources. (Annala, Mäkinen, Svärd, Silius & Miilumäki 2012.)

Coates (2007) has described four different engagement styles: intense, passive, collaborative and independent.   Intense and passive come at opposite ends of a continuum covering engagement styles from engaged to disengaged.  The collaborative style favors social aspects of university work, while the independent style is characterized by a more academically and less socially oriented approach. These two latter styles point out the multidimensionality of engagement: a student may emphasize social aspects and turn the focus from studies to social life or vice versa, he or she may be very engaged in studies but neither socially active nor interested in communality with peers. (Annala & al. 2012.)

Turning to the question of student expectations, research suggests that the standard practices of higher education institutions do not necessarily align with what students want and expect.  Teachers and providers of student services may make erroneous assumptions about students’ needs and expectations because higher education institutions tend to provide information to students based on the institutions’ expectations, not those of the student (Pithers & Holland 2006). Thus, there may be a significant gap between the students’ expectations and their actual experiences during the first year of their studies. According to Telford and Masson (2005), the perceived quality of the educational service depends on students’ expectations and values. If teachers and other staff know what their students expect, they may be able to adapt their behavior and services accordingly, which should have a positive impact on students’ levels of satisfaction. (Voss, Gruber & Szmigin 2007.)

Today’s student body is highly diverse, comprising members of the “Baby-boomer” generation (born mid-1940s to mid-1960s), “Generation X” (born mid-1960s to early 1980s) and the “Millennial” generation (born early 1980s to 2000). These generations tend to have different expectations and life experiences, and different skills in using and understanding technology.  This diversity creates challenges for higher education institutions. Morgan (2012, 9) gives examples of how tensions can arise between students and also between students and lecturers and other staff members. A Generation X student may feel that Millennial students are not as engaged in group project work or as committed to their studies as they should be.  A Baby Boomer student who has worked in business for many years may feel that he or she is much more qualified to teach than a lecturer who has little – if any – experience in running a company.

With the increase in student diversity, the probability of drop-out, i.e. failure to complete the study programme, rises.  When a student drops out, there are usually a number of causal factors behind it.  Each student’s personality, life experience, study experience and future plans will all affect his or her level of engagement. (Morgan 2012, 9-10.) Thomas and May (2011) argue that if students are able to engage with their peers, teaching staff, other staff at the institution, and with the institution per se, then they are more likely to experience a sense of belonging to and identity with the institution.

Identity work – the process of becoming

New interpretations of student engagement in studies emphasize the importance of identity construction and communities of practice (Krause & Coates 2008; Millard, Bartholomew, Brand & Nygaard 2013; Wenger 1998). Thus learning to become a professional involves not only what we know and do, but also who we are, and who we are becoming (Dall’Alba, 2009). Cognitive elements and acquiring of new skills are only part of the process of becoming a professional – albeit an important part. Emotive issues are of crucial importance in identity construction. Learning is both affective and cognitive, and involves identity shifts which can entail troublesome, unsafe journeys (Cousin 2006).

Beijaard, Verloop and Vermunt (2000, 750) define identity as who or what someone is, the various meanings people attach to themselves, or the meanings attributed to them by others. An essential point is that each individual has not just one identity but many; these multiple identities are changing over time and are revealed in interaction.  Identity is formed and constructed by narratives (Rodgers & Scott 2008). Thus, professional identity is not a fixed state which can be achieved during one’s studies, but is rather a continuing dynamic process of intersubjective discourses, experiences, and emotions. Beijaard, Meijer and Verloop (2004, 108) consider identity to be an ongoing process of interpreting one’s self as a certain kind of person and being recognized as such in a given context. Identity can be seen as an answer to the recurrent question, “Who am I at this moment?”

Identity construction requires a conception of where one is coming from and going to (Taylor 1989). It is thus essential that students have some vision of their future in order to engage in their studies. Having a clear image of what might lie ahead is important for decreasing uncertainty. Markus and Nurius (1986) use the expression “possible selves” to describe individuals’ ideas of what they believe they can become. These possible selves form the basis for evaluating one’s current selves and motivating action. “Possible future” is a term used in socio-dynamic counselling. It suggests that the future is not a predetermined state, just lying in wait around the corner, but is created and constructed through human action. What we think about our future affects what we do today. (Peavy 2006.) Thus students who can imagine their future as professionals in a particular field are likely to be more highly motivated and to have a clearer idea of what they still need to learn.

Gadamer’s (1979) conception of two kinds of experiences can be used to illustrate the connections between students’ experience, engagement and identity work. There are experiences which strengthen personal conceptions, and there are new, hermeneutic experiences. People need experiences that strengthen their conceptions but they do not learn anything new from experiences of this kind.  Hermeneutic experiences, on the other hand, include something new and unexpected, something we have not thought about before. Hermeneutic experiences are uncomfortable, as they disrupt our typical way of seeing and understanding matters. These experiences feel unpleasant and painful, as they challenge our conception of ourselves and of our personal competence and knowledge. These negative experiences, however, make identity work productive by enabling us to see and understand matters in a different way. It is therefore crucial to present students with hermeneutic experiences, as through these experiences they gain new insight into the demands of working life, and start to see themselves in a new light – as “becoming professionals”.

 Two important pedagogical concepts are particularly relevant to this discussion of promoting identity work, namely, the zone of proximal development, and scaffolding. The zone of proximal development is defined as the range of tasks that a person can perform with the help and guidance of others, but cannot yet perform independently. It is the area where the most sensitive instruction or guidance should occur. (Vygotsky 1986.) Scaffolding is directly related to the zone of proximal development in that it is the support mechanism that helps a learner successfully perform a task within his or her zone of proximal development. Typically, this process is completed by a more competent individual as a way of supporting the learning of a less competent individual. Scaffolding is a key strategy in cognitive apprenticeship, in which students can learn by taking increasing responsibility and ownership for their role in complex problem solving. (Collins, Brown, & Newman 1989). So, for example, there could be a teacher assisting a student, or a higher-level or more competent student assisting a peer. By using scaffolding, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator of knowledge acquisition on the part of the learner rather than the dominant source of knowledge and expertise.

Identity is not a fixed state which can be attained during one’s studies. Constantly changing environments and new competence criteria in working life require flexibility to construct one’s own identity over and over again. Enabling contacts with working life during the studies is vital, because it allows students to adopt role models and to participate in professional discussions; it exposes them to influences from professionals in their own field of practice, and provides them with material for reflection on their own professional identity (Adams, Hean, Sturgis & Macleod Clark 2006; Kärnä 2015, 84). Identity functions as a basis for the interpretations the student makes of him- or herself – as a learner, as a member of different groups, and as a prospective professional. Thus identity is the basis for all one’s possible selves (Markus & Nurius 1986) and images of the possible future (Peavy 2006), too. According to Tsang (2010), having the opportunity to conduct identity work during the studies enhances learning experiences and leads to a positive and more clearly defined professional identity.

Method – imagining the future

Organizations evolve in whatever direction their members ask questions about. The basic assumptions for the methodology of this study arise from Cooperrider’s (1995) argument that we need forms of inquiry that are generative: which help us to discover what could be, rather than try to fix what is. Human systems project ahead of themselves a “horizon of expectation” that brings the future into the present. What we believe to be true determines what we do, and what we do today is guided by our image of the future. (Cooperrider & Whitney 2005; Peavy 2006.) Organizational life is expressed in the stories people tell each other every day, so the story of the organization is constantly being co-authored. The purpose of inquiry is to stimulate new ideas, stories and images that generate new possibilities for action. By inquiring into human systems we can change them. (Cooperrider & Whitney 2005; Kessler 2013.)

In this research, instead of only asking students about their experiences retrospectively, a more comprehensive and future-oriented perspective on first-year experience was used. It can be called imagining or envisioning the future. It can be loosely connected to one stage in the so-called “cycle of appreciative inquiry”. In the “dreaming” or “envisioning” stage of appreciative inquiry, the participants are asked to imagine their group, organization or community at its best in relation to the affirmative topic. The purpose is to identify the common aspirations of system members. (Kessler 2013.) Taking this for a starting point, a group of second-year students (n = 121) and a group of personnel (teachers and other staff, n = 523) were asked to imagine the desirable future by reflecting on the question: What would the students tell about their first-year experience if everything had been ideal in our university of applied sciences? The data was produced in small group discussions in order to share existing stories and create new ones about matters associated with good first-year experience. The discussions were documented by each group, either in a discussion area in the intranet of the university of applied sciences, or on flip charts. In total the data comprised 25 pages (font Times New Roman 12).

The data was analyzed in a three-stage process based on content analytical approach. The methods of qualitative content analysis should not simply be techniques to be employed anywhere but the methods must be adapted to suit the individual study (Mayring 2014, 40). Therefore, a three stage process was created for the analysis. Firstly, the data was read many times, in order to identify different expressions, sentences and key words relating to a desirable future state i.e. what the students would tell if everything had been ideal. Figuratively speaking, the data was asked what kind of things belong to an ideal university of applied sciences. Gradually, three categories were identified: the psycho-social point of view, the material point of view, and the pedagogical point of view into a good university of applied sciences. Secondly, the expressions belonging to these three categories were moulded into the form of short narratives in order to create a meaningful, explicit and coherent whole from partly short and fragmental utterances.

During these two stages of analysis the student data and the personnel data were analyzed separately. Therefore, after the second stage, there were two collections of narratives: those constructed from the students’ descriptions and those constructed from the descriptions provided by the teachers and other staff. However, the purpose of the study was not to search for differences in students’ and personnel’s conceptions, but to find common prospects.  Therefore, the analysis was proceeded and in the last stage of the analysis common elements for a good first-year experience were identified from both sets of narratives. This was done by identifying similarities in the three categories – psycho-social point of view, material point of view, and pedagogical point of view – relating to students’ identity construction, professional growth, participation, sense of belonging and engagement. On the grounds of this comparison five elements for a good first-year experience was identified.

Findings – Basic elements for a good first-year experience

In a university of applied sciences, a good student experience is associated with practices, situations and events which affect students’ learning and well-being. In the data-production discussions, the students, teachers and other staff brought out themes related to the psycho-social environment, the material environment and the pedagogical environment. On the basis of the research material, five elements for a good first-year experience were identified: personalization, mentoring-guidance, authenticity, collaboration and adaptability. These elements can be understood as a basis for promoting students’ agency, participation, sense of belonging, and engagement in their studies, and thus for supporting students’ identity construction and professional growth. It is important to point out that the five elements of a good first-year experience are not distinct from each other but overlap; changes in one element resonate throughout the others. However, this kind of theoretical separation helps when it comes to applying them for the purposes of assessing and developing the prevailing practices and systems.  In the following description of each element there is a short example from the narratives to illustrate the features of the element concerned. The question the participants were asked to reflect on was: What would the students tell about their first-year experience if everything had been ideal in our university of applied sciences?

a) Personalization

Studying has changed my life – my aims are more ambitious than before. I have grown as a human being and have got new perspectives. I have found my own strengths and possibilities and I know what I want from the future. I already have enough professional pride to take responsibility for my own choices and also for the choices we make in team-work. In our school, students can follow their own interests and develop their ideas further. You can choose what you study, make your own timetable and even choose the teachers you want to work with. There are lots of study modules to select from, and each student’s timetable is tailored on the basis of individual choices and plans.

Personalization included many kinds of action which allows individual decisions. Studying was seen as a personal project and during the process the student start to recognize his or her own capacity. Learning to become a professional involves not only new knowledge and new skills, but also personal growth and new perspectives to oneself. Students can make choices and influence their own study paths Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner. This kind of personalization of studies can take many forms, including accreditation of prior learning and “studification of work”. Studification of work is a new, alternative way to study at universities of applied sciences.  It is a model of studying where learning is brought from the classroom to the workplace and formal studies are combined with work.

Prahalad & Ramaswamy (2000) make a distinction between personalization and customization. Customization assumes that the manufacturer will design a product to suit a customer’s needs. Personalization, on the other hand, is about customers, i.e. students in this case, becoming co-creators of the content of their experiences. Personalization includes tailoring of content and action to the individual student’s frame of reference, and enables students to have personal learning paths that encourage them to set and manage their individual goals. This does not mean that individual students are separated from each other (see the fourth element: collaboration).

The main thing in personalization is that it strengthens the student’s engagement by increasing psychological ownership (Pierce, Kostova, & Dirks, 2003, 86) Psychological ownership is a cognitive-affective state in which students feel a sense of ownership in the process of studying. They have a positive attitude towards studying, a realistic self-concept, and a sense of responsibility for the results and outcomes. This sense of possession (the feeling that the learning objectives or assignments are ‘mine’ or ‘ours’) promotes engagement in the processes of studying and learning, and facilitates identity work. The emergence and development of ownership is supported by letting students have a greater say in their own learning activities, and in how they deal with assignments which require complex action, thinking and planning.

In working life, work is supervised to an increasing extent by employees themselves, involving negotiations in various communities. Supervisory and managerial responsibilities are also in motion, and are not permanently associated with specific people. (Järvensivu & al. 2014.) In complicated assignments, employees have to exercise autonomy and use their own discretion; the choices they make are heavily influenced by their work-identity or professional identity (Pierce, Jussila & Cummings 2009.) Similarly, learning assignments which are too carefully preplanned by the teacher do not necessarily support the development and maintenance of ownership. Putting the onus on students to formulate their own goals and assignments is the basis for the use of scaffolding.

b) Mentoring-guidance

I have the feeling that studying here is meaningful for my life. My own field of study seems worthwhile and my perspectives and goals have become more explicit and clear. Even my professional identity has strengthened. I feel that the staff are really there for you. The teachers and other staff are kind, human and approachable – not like robots. Individual guidance is much more available than ever before; I have never felt lonely or abandoned at any time during my studies.

The atmosphere is really good, democratic and tolerant. The students are treated as adults and the teachers appreciate the students. I feel secure, knowing that I can get help whenever I need it.

Successful mentoring-guidance requires mutual respect, listening, encouragement, dialogue and emotional sensitivity. Teachers, other staff members and representatives of working life can encourage students’ engagement in their own learning and performance improvement by guiding students in planning their own learning and studying. Personal meaning-making will be emphasized in constructing positive future scenarios. The goal in mentoring-guidance is that, within a dialogical environment and participatory culture, students become aware of themselves and their own potential.

What does it mean to you to become a professional in your own field? That is a question every student should have time and opportunity to consider and discuss. The role transition from student to employee in working life may happen quickly, but identity work needs time and support. Identity construction, i.e. the person’s conception of who he or she is and where he or she belongs, requires a conception of where he or she is coming from and going to (Taylor 1989). Students must have a future vision in order to engage in their studies and form their own professional identity.

Meaning-making is at the core of mentoring-guidance. Meaning is formed on the basis of experience, reflection, speech and action.  It is based on previous experiences and expectations of the future, and is a holistic way of integrating past and present experiences, together with ideas about what the future holds (Stelter 2014). Mentoring-guidance helps to regulate the development of competencies and supports the learner’s ability to apply skills, knowledge and experience to new situations and processes (Michael 2008). It is a form of dialogue where participants focus on creating space for reflection through collaborative practices. The target is to encourage students’ goal-orientation, and engagement in their own learning and performance improvement. Parsloe (1992) argues that the function of mentoring is to help and support people to manage their own learning in order to maximize their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance, and become the person they want to be. This applies to mentoring-guidance too.

c) Authenticity

Individuality and diversity as well as differences between students are respected. I have been treated with respect – as myself. People here are truly interested in your learning and your future.  The goals of every study module are directed towards working life. Already during the first year you can participate in development projects together with students from other fields of study and representatives of working life. We carry out activities in which you can learn and practice work-life skills in real situations with real customers and professionals.

Authenticity was connected both to learning environments and to the quality of interaction.  Working in real projects with representatives of working life was seen as essential part of learning.  One important aspect in authenticity was that students are not only defined by their institutional role as students, but their personal and individual needs, situations and goals are also taken into account.

Authenticity is a complex and multidimensional phenomenon.  No single unanimous definition of authenticity exists, but core elements of its meaning are being “real” or “genuine”.  For the purposes of this study, three definitions by Kreber are worth mentioning.  First, authenticity as being true to oneself means not being defined by others but using self-knowledge to establish one’s own identity. Another view of authenticity – acting in the interests of learners – means that teachers and other members of staff care about their students and want them to succeed. The third definition refers to transformation, or the process of becoming. In this view, authenticity develops via a process that involves ongoing critical reflection. Transformative learning goes beyond changing what students know – it can change who they are. (Kreber 2010.)

In higher education, the terms “authenticity” and “authentic” are usually associated with real-life situations, environments and tasks which are exploited in some way for learning purposes.  However, authenticity occurs not in the learner, the task, or the environment, but in the dynamic interactions among all of these. It is cognitive authenticity rather than physical authenticity that is of prime importance in the design of authentic learning environments. (Barab, Squire & Dueber 2000; Herrington, Oliver & Reeves 2003). Authenticity enables learners to engage in activities which present the same type of cognitive challenges as those in the real world (Honebein, Duffy & Fishman, 1993). Working with tasks and problems which replicate the particular activity structures of a context enhances transferability and application of theoretical knowledge to the “real world”. Along with technical procedures, students should be learning the schema through which professionals recognize and solve problems. Expert thinking involves the ability to identify and solve problems for which there is no routine solution. According to employers, the most important skills in new hires include teamwork, critical thinking/reasoning, assembling/organizing information, and innovative thinking/creativity. (Hart 2006.)

Authenticity can also simply mean that something is personally relevant or interesting to the learner (Jonassen 1999). Authentic problems engage learners because they represent a meaningful challenge to them. Thus authenticity goes hand in hand with the drive for student engagement and partnership. Authenticity can be enhanced by helping the students to recognize their own starting points, thinking, action and prior knowledge, supporting them to formulate their own learning objectives, and encouraging them to reflect on issues concerning theory and practice.

d) Collaboration

The students work in small groups or teams (not too big) – both within the institution and together with representatives of work life. There is a lot of project-based learning in co-operation with work life. Student counselling functions very well.  The students’ union is active and constantly develops new kinds of ways to influence the practices within the organization. Students, teachers and other staff know each other, which is a good basis for co-operation. ICT is widely used in teaching and teamwork and communication with regional, national and international partners.

The principle of collaboration includes any kind of action that is done with the student or for the student. Thus, one-on-one encounters, group or team discussions, co-operation between different fields of study, services and departments are all encompassed within this concept. In addition, collaboration included networking with representatives of working life and regional policy-makers, and web-based participation in nationwide and global discussions.  Digitalization, social media and mobile technology was seen as essential tools of communication which are opening up new opportunities for agile interaction. Furthermore, these tools enable technical scaffolding, such as web links, online tutorials, or help pages, for the guidance of students (Yelland & Masters, 2007).

Collaboration entails working together toward a common goal. Students invest in their own learning and take responsibility as team members (see also psychological ownership). Learners use a variety of research tools (digital and mobile) as they actively participate in different projects, working not only with internal partners but also with representatives of working life.

Collaboration is a process in which individuals negotiate and share meanings relevant to the problem-solving task at hand. (Roschelle & Teasley 1995). In working life, employees are increasingly organizing their work flexibly among themselves. Work is flexibly reorganized, rescheduled and replanned in response to changing situations and needs. (Järvensivu & al. 2014.) These flexible working skills can be practiced during the studies. Collaboration is a coordinated activity that is the result of a sustained attempt to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem. This enables, for example, role-switching, where teachers/practitioners become learners at times, and learners sometimes teach. Collaboration can be seen both as a way of studying together and a way of creating knowledge.

The use of new devices for communication are an essential element in collaboration. However, students’ ability to exploit mobile devices and other emergent technologies as effective study tools cannot be assumed; this issue requires deliberate attention. Furthermore, personal factors such as students’ prior knowledge and their metacognitive and collaborative skills, as well as contextual cues such as cultural compatibility and instructional methods, influence student engagement. (Laru 2012.)

e) Adaptability

Accreditation of prior learning and work experience enable students to make individual study plans and study paths. I didn’t have to study the same things I had already studied before. It is possible to study and learn new, interesting and useful skills or shorten the studying time and move earlier into work life. This kind of possibility increases motivation. It is possible to affect your learning environment, teaching, the spaces you work in and the equipment you use. Bureaucracy is very low and even administrative matters work well. Unexpected changes in a student’s life situation are understood and accepted. Plans are flexible and they can be reorganized.

 Adaptability was understood as a multilevel phenomenon. On a personal level and group level, adaptability refers to the ability to take on new challenges at short notice, and to deal with changing priorities and workloads. On an organizational level – both in educational and work-life settings – adaptability means the capacity to modify plans, curricula and organizational structures to meet changing demands in different situations.  An essential feature of adaptability is the creation of learning spaces that are flexible and plastic while supporting the teaching and learning processes. Adaptability – like personalization – includes tailoring of content and study processes to the individual student’s frame of reference.

Adaptability can be defined as the capacity to deal with new, changing, and/or uncertain situations (Martin 2010). Thus, adaptability can be understood as a mindset, a way of thinking or a habitual attitude. This kind of flexibility is one of the key competencies in working life. Järvensivu & al. (2014) argue that when today’s students enter the workforce, they will need to cope with complex environments, production networks and online work communities.  They will face chaotic situations, demanding high-level management – and self-management – skills.  This will require a capacity for continuous shared learning in response to the changes in the work environment.   From the educational and vocational viewpoint, the changes in working life present enormous challenges, particularly for the improvement and up-dating of competencies.

Discussion and conclusions

The focus of this study was on inquiring into first-year student experience; the research question was: What elements are important for a good first year experience in a university of applied sciences, according to students, teachers and other staff members?  Higher education ought to equip students to enhance their capacity to adapt and manage an unknown future. The five elements of a good first-year experience identified from the data – personalization, mentoring-guidance, authenticity, collaboration and adaptability – can be seen as guidelines for supporting students’ identity work and professional growth, and for promoting their acquisition of the competencies needed in working life. These guidelines could serve as an example of how curricula can be linked to world of work (c.f. Singh & Little 2011, 38). Beijaard & al (2004) emphasize that identity is an ongoing process. Thus identity work continues even if the student has finished his/her studies.

The results of this study are significant in that they give voice both to the students and to the personnel by allowing them to specify the elements of good student experience. The results highlight the importance of student agency, responsibility, and participation in decision-making. Students, teachers and other staff should have opportunities to engage in mutually-supportive communities, and contribute to building a participatory and dialogical learning, teaching and working environment. The five basic elements help us to understand how to enhance engagement in the processes of studying, what is important in interaction, and what should be taken into account in executing plans and processes. These elements can be applied in any discipline or field of study, at any stage of the student journey, and in the whole range of student services.  By providing opportunities for every party – students, teachers and other categories of staff – to articulate their opinions, constructive dialogue becomes possible, enabling progress towards a more positive alignment between student expectations and their actual experience (c.f. Morgan 2012, 10).  This in turn will raise levels of student satisfaction.   According to Williams (2011, 46) for example the experience and knowledge of people working in student support services is usually not utilized enough. A future-oriented and positive approach is needed in order to identify, acknowledge and reflect on daily practices, and ultimately determine what action should be taken if some of the basic elements are being neglected.

The findings of this study provide strong justification for practices which enable students’ agency and participation, and give students responsibility. Further research is needed in order to work out how these five basic elements can be implemented in practice, and to analyze what impact they have on students’ experiences. Answers to these questions should be sought in collaboration with students, teachers, other categories of staff, and representatives of working life.  As times, places and tools for work are all in flux, so the times, places and tools for learning, teaching and education have also been reconsidered. It is important to consult the people working with the students during their practical training periods and in projects, and to involve them in investigating what the broader conditions are that maintain particular ways of thinking, acting and relating, in the context of supporting professional growth. Collaboration between employees in universities of applied sciences and workplaces should be enhanced in order to create a common understanding of the ways to support students in their identity work, and to facilitate their acquisition of the competencies needed to meet the demands of working life in its current state of change. The implementation of these elements could help students to endure uncertainty and hermeneutic experiences (c.f. Gadamer 1979) and their orientation to their own zones of proximal development (c.f. Vygotsky 1986).

This study was carried out in a university of applied sciences. As the five basic elements of a good first-year experience are not related to any particular subject or field of study, they can be applied in many kinds of institutions and in all manner of situations where learning, professional development and identity construction are a high priority. They can be applied even in work-life organizations for assessing current practices and organizational culture. In educational institutions, teachers and other categories of staff can use them in planning, assessing and developing their work.  Work communities can use them for assessing learning environments and making the working culture more collaborative in nature.  Students can use them when planning their studies, and representatives of working life can use them for developing new ways of supporting students’ learning in project work and in practical training settings.

It is important that the five basic elements identified in this study should be applied not only during the time spent in the institution, but also during the practical training periods in work-places, and in other situations involving cooperation with companies and representatives of working life.  The five elements give a good basis for building a participatory culture where students, teachers, other staff members and representatives of working life engage mutually in creating dialogical learning environments (c.f. Haworth & Conrad 1997; Annala & al. 2012). This would provide a good basis for enabling students to become competent partners for research and development projects, and valued employees who are capable of developing their organizations and work communities.


Harri Kukkonen, PhD, MSocSc, Principal lecturer, Tampere University of Applied Sciences, harri.kukkonen(at)

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Supporting Communication between Stakeholders Involved in Industrial Doctoral Projects by a Process Steering Instrument


Industrial doctoral projects are defined as projects that promote knowledge transfer between universities and commercial organisations and nurture innovation. These projects are founded on needs identified within business organisations and researchers from related research areas. The projects last approximately five years in Sweden[1]. A typical project involves a doctoral student and stakeholders from academia and industry who have different priorities and areas of expertise. The project is usually co-financed by research funding agencies, often within the framework of larger research projects, research environments or schools. Unfortunately, many projects of this nature are interrupted, take an unnecessarily long time to reach their objectives or do not meet all the stakeholders’ requirements.

The characteristics of an industrial doctoral projects are seldom taken into account in the assessments, rules and regulations for doctoral projects. The traditional goal of the doctoral programme and thesis is to demonstrate the candidate’s ability to conduct independent research on a novel concept and to communicate the results in an accessible way (Gould, 2016: p 27). In terms of knowledge, skills and competences, this overall aim can be formulated somewhat differently depending on the university and the programme, and does not include applicability to a specific context. While research applicability is requested for all doctoral theses (see e.g. Norell Bergendahl et al., 2004; Nature Editorial, 2016), the value of a doctoral project to non-academic stakeholders is seldom known and assessed in formal evaluations, i.e. goals and regulations do not necessarily take into consideration whether a project is an industrial doctoral project or not.

The hypothesis behind this study is that systematic communication increases the possibility of succeeding with industrial doctoral projects. The success of a project means continuously demonstrating relevant values throughout the whole project and concluding it by successfully defending a PhD thesis that is beneficial to all the parties involved. Systematic communication should include business values and use terminology that is understandable to all the stakeholders.

The overall aim of this paper is to contribute to a better understanding of industrial doctoral projects in modern educational environments where the stakeholders come from both academia and industry. It discusses the role of the doctoral students and the evolving process around their projects in environments at the interface between academic culture and industrial traditions. This is done by presenting the construction and use of a supporting instrument at an industrial research school specialising in applied informatics and the evaluation of the instrument. The following questions are examined:

  1. How can industrial doctoral projects take into account process steering instruments?
  2. How can a process steering instrument be used at a research school?

Based on the rules and regulations and stakeholder requirements, with a focus on the value creation, and coupled with a short presentation of the development of the process steering model presented in part earlier (Heldal et al., 2014), this paper includes new data from meetings and interviews with stakeholders after three years of use. The data is discussed in view of documents and literature ensuring successful completion of industrial doctoral projects.

The structure of the paper is as follows: Section 2 presents previous research results dealing with issues that support or impede knowledge transfer between academia and industry and the requirements for running academic projects that are relevant in practice. Section 3 describes the Methodology, Section 4 the basic components in the design of a process steering instrument that is called Thesis Steering Model (TSM). Section 5 presents experiences from the introduction of TSM and during the three first years of use. Section 6 discusses the findings, with the literature as a background and Section 7 concludes the paper.

While the overall aims of a doctoral project – producing new academic values and demonstrating the capacity to perform independent research – are not questioned, the paper focuses in the first instance on the interests of industrial stakeholders and the support they can provide for industrial doctoral projects. Moreover, the role of management in involving all stakeholders interested in industrial doctoral projects is also discussed. The current limitation can be the relatively short time, acquiring a better understanding of the influence of process steering methods may require further investigation in a longer time perspective. Three years may be quite a short period of time to carry out a more rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of such instruments.

2. Background

Good industrial doctoral projects need to deal with cultural differences between the environments in question and the roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders, including uneasy decision-making situations. In order to identify possible areas of support, this section focuses on the identified problems and benefits outlined in the literature and in current steering documents in Sweden.

2.1. Two different cultures: University and Business

The different countries in Europe and in the European Union invest huge resources in industrial doctoral projects (Schiermeier, 2012; Borrell-Damian, 2009). While the importance of university-industry collaboration via different projects is recognised, the innovations achieved are often considered to be ‘smaller’ in contrast to real breakthroughs. As regards doctoral projects, stakeholders from academia respect that in the first instance it should be the goals set by universities and at national level that regulate projects. Stakeholders in industrial contexts recognize this; however, they would like to understand and follow their ‘own’ doctoral projects. While, they are familiar with the use of process steering instruments as a means of aligning important partial goals to the overall goals in long-term projects, they are not necessarily as familiar with long-term academic projects where the partial goals are, e.g. research proposal seminar, paper x, licentiate thesis etc. The academic doctoral projects do not have business values, deliverables aligning to overall progress, potential commercialization plans, clear process owners etc. Not understanding the major goals and the plan, could jeopardise the progress of the doctoral project since knowledge does not per se flow between the academic and industrial sphere (Hermans and Castiaux, 2007), coordination takes time, and requires careful planning.

An extensive investigation of problems experienced by four different industrial research schools within engineering fields was carried out by Wallgren (2007). She clearly identified a vast gap in understanding between industry and academia; a gap that can cause serious problems for industrial doctoral projects. This can be experienced by the students in the form of inadequate information transfer between the two environments, poor understanding of the business values, a lack of understanding of the economic conditions behind the projects, inadequate control by the companies, problems with supervisors, and the feeling that they are alone when building a bridge between academia and industry.

According to an extensive background examination in the doctoral thesis by Julie Hermans (2011), successful collaborative research and development projects run by academia and industry need to recognise (1) the two-way relationship between the different environments, (2) focus on knowledge co-creation as a process, and (3) have active and supportive social milieus around the projects. She argues in favour of considering a longitudinal and situated approach to nurture good applied projects. Following established approaches for applied and interdisciplinary research could be questionable. This is particularly the case for highly interdisciplinary fields within informatics, as understanding knowledge creation in applied research is often insufficient. Cross-disciplinary boundaries need to be considered for several activities – in order to follow interdisciplinary courses for example (Bergeå et al., 2006). It is highly debatable how one and the same study can follow existing institutional research traditions (Evans and Marvin, 2006) or cross certain disciplinary boundaries (Lowe and Phillipson, 2009) in order to produce new scientific knowledge.

If the most important aspects of successful industrial doctoral projects require awareness of each other’s environment and culture (e.g. Wallgren and Dahlgren, 2005) and project completion in time (Manathunga, 2005) the varying role of the supervisor is probably the most important (e.g. Grant, 2005; Lee, 2008) that directly influences awareness and completion. The relation between the supervisor and doctoral student is highly debated (McCallin and Nayar, 2012; Deuchar, 2008), especially considering the involvement of industrial supervisors with currently unspecified roles (Salminen-Karlsson and Wallgren, 2008). However, industrial supervisors are undoubtedly influence the flow and results. If the academic and industrial stakeholders are not coordinated a doctoral project can meet conflicting requirements (Morris et al., 2012). In order to solve problems such as these, both the different supervisors and the student should assume the role of negotiator and translator (Strengers, 2014). Success is more likely can be achieved if there is good communication and a joint decision-making involving both university and industrial partners (Salimi et al., 2016). This position is only possible with a high degree of involvement which, apart from having the right professional expertise, also needs personal skills (Malfroy, 2011) and longitudinal planning (Thune, 2009).

To plan industrial doctoral projects are subject to debate at different levels. The definitions of values certainly can and need to be discussed when studies argue in favour of using entrepreneurial methods for value creation (Lackéus and Williams Middleton, 2015). While the aim of this paper is not to promote industrial development directly but to do so via new scientific knowledge, consideration must be given to the environment in long-term projects if values are to be of interest. Methods and terminology from industry must be taken into account when projects include business stakeholders and when the aim is to achieve employability at business companies (Harman, 2004).

2.2 Influences of industrial stakeholders

For complex industrial projects where no individual stakeholder has the competence to understand and control the entire activity, it is common to work with processes. Processes help to handle and bring order to activity flows that include tasks, players, resources and peripheral players. This is the case for large companies in Sweden, including ABB (Gustavsen et al., 1996), Volvo (Eneroth et al., 2009) and Ericsson (Ericsson, 2012), companies highly involved in industrial doctoral projects.

As an example, the IS-GDP (Information Systems Global Development Process) is one such process, developed at Volvo IT and intended for use in complex IT projects and a refinement of the more general Global Development Process (GDP) at the Volvo Group (Eneroth et al., 2009). The process is defined as a procedure for a repeated activity, such as a production line, a computer algorithm or a code. Given standardised input of the right quality, the process delivers standardised output of the desired quality. Central to the process concept is what should be agreed on in the different process steps, not how or by whom. While the structure for doctoral processes can be the same, the progress and the content toward achieving the main goals are usually different (Newbury, 2003).

Since doctoral students need to be aware of the different ways in which academia and industry gather and handle knowledge (Ivček and Galinac, 2008) and possible differences in terminology during a long-term industrial doctoral project, it is important to clarify whether main values are understood in the same way during the key steps that have been identified. To overcome any misunderstanding of complex industrial contexts, where no individual stakeholder has the competence to understand and control the entire activity, processes can be used to manage projects. Ankrah and Tabbaa use a process approach to summarise a systematic review of university-industry collaboration (2015). Their process approach begins with establishing collaboration, moves on to defining organisational forms and operationalising activities, and ends with investigating outcomes. This study is focusing on developing a model to define forms of collaboration and support communication around activities and partial goals.

2.3 The Swedish doctoral process

Previously, a full-time doctoral programme took an average of four years’ full-time study. That has now risen to a longer time due to other duties and interruptions, such as teaching, project work, parental leave, sickness etc. Certain requirements need to be fulfilled during each doctoral period (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The PhD process in Sweden (picture by courtesy of Wallgren and Dahlgren, 2007, p. 434). Illustrated is a four-year, full-time PhD project from commencement (A) through individual study plans (IS[2], one per year), Intr (Introductory seminar), thesis proposal (TP) and a mid-term, i.e. licentiate (Lic) seminar and the thesis (Ph.D.) seminar. Figure 1. The PhD process in Sweden (picture by courtesy of Wallgren and
Dahlgren, 2007, p. 434). Illustrated is a four-year, full-time PhD project from
commencement (A) through individual study plans (IS[2], one per year), Intr
(Introductory seminar), thesis proposal (TP) and a mid-term, i.e. licentiate
(Lic) seminar and the thesis (Ph.D.) seminar. 

When a doctoral project commences, many doctoral students and their supervisor(s) from industry are not aware of the academic doctoral process and the requirements that emerge during this process. The students and their supervisors do not necessarily have full knowledge of the business value of their concrete research ideas. Careful guidance through the process is essential, particularly at the beginning when research problems are formulated. This problem formulation is a key area that can set the tone, expectations and conditions for the doctoral student and her/his progress for years to come. It is important for all stakeholders (doctoral students, supervisors and mentors) to realise that problems cannot be identified in isolation by one or two parties. Instead, they must be identified through collaboration in order to ensure value and benefit for all concerned and that the doctoral project is supported by everyone (Wallgren and Hägglund, 2004). ‘

3. Methodology

Handling multiple targets and acquiring a mutual understanding that creation of added values are key issues to ensure the best possible synergy effects. The results describe the development and use of a process steering instrument, which was used for doctoral projects at an industrial research school specialising in informatics – ApplyIT. The instrument is named Thesis Steering Model (TSM). Section 4 presents TSM, developed to plan structured up meetings for all stakeholders based on academic and industrial requirements. Section 5 presents the evaluation. This is done via participatory observations from the responsible management group for TSM. The management groups incorporated three persons belonging to the management group of the school. This study contains data from 19 gate meetings (about the gate meetings, see Section 4.2), examining documents from TSM, and informal conversations with the stakeholders during the first three years of usage. To answer the research questions results from 12 semi-structured interviews were used, with 6 doctoral students, 3 industrial stakeholders and 3 academic stakeholders performed 2015 and 2016.

4. Development of a process steering instrument for industrial doctoral projects

Previous sections have shown that a number of challenges can arise in a doctoral project and collaboration, handling multiple values and acquiring a mutual understanding of those values are key issues to ensure the best possible synergy effects. This section argues in favour of and describes the development and use of a process steering instrument, which was used for projects at an industrial research school specialising in informatics ApplyIT[3].

4.1 Incorporating knowledge from different cultures

Having identified underlying problems in industrial doctoral projects, as well as the potential usefulness of the process concept from industry and the requirements for successful completion of doctoral projects, the management group from the industrial research school decided to couple this with their own experiences and develop a formal instrument to support doctoral projects. The instrument, called Thesis Steering Model (TSM), was developed alongside the task of defining the basics, starting up the research school and identifying the needs of the first PhD students.

TSM is an abstract structure for predefined meetings where each step aligns the main educational requirements to the main activities deriving from existing industrial process steering instruments. The content depends on finding the right doctoral project and focuses on values, aims, progress, activities, risks, resources and basic terminology. TSM is a methodology driven by scientific requirements and business needs. The activities are enhanced and intense, especially during the start-up phase, and are intended to support systematic encounters between stakeholders throughout the entire doctoral project.

The main steps during a doctoral process that are known to the university stakeholders are not necessarily known to the industrial stakeholders. Likewise, the main steps in industrial processes are not necessarily known in an academic environment. Following examination of a wide range of industrial process steering instruments, the study focused on a simplified and more generalised instrument. This generalised instrument was based in the first instance on instruments from the industrial stakeholders from the research school. The steps in TSM are meetings that are important to the academic process but which also take into account the industrial process (see Figure 2). While TSM focuses on the mandatory aspects, in the first instance the academic process, characteristics from the industrial process are also in focus.

Figure 2. The TSM considers the academic process for a doctoral project and important steps taken from project steering instruments used in industry.
Figure 2. The TSM considers the academic process for a doctoral project and important steps taken from project steering instruments used in industry.

Beginning and successfully ending a doctoral project via requirements from academia is important. Conveying the terminology related to duties and progress via the generalised process steering instrument known to the industrial stakeholders clarifies eventual misunderstanding and promotes discussion about current values and goals.

In order to identify important steps for TSM, local university and national requirements for doctoral projects in Sweden are considered together with experience gained from industrial process steering instruments. Most doctoral projects at Swedish universities comprise five important steps: admission, suggesting a research proposal, obtaining a licentiate (mid-term seminar), a concluding[4] seminar, and a public defence. In addition, annual continuous progress plans, known as Individual Study Plans (ISP), must be set out at the doctoral student’s research location. This plan shows the current status of the doctoral project but seldom the progress made in relation to previous plans (Thune, 2009; Vesterlund, 2015). To show progress processes steering instrument can be used to emphasise negotiations for key steps for the different stakeholders. These negotiations are particularly important during the early stages of a project (Strengers, 2014). Examples of values that need common agreement include partial goals, associated resources, managing changes, participation levels and issues related to the roles and responsibilities of the parties involved.

TSM was developed by the management group of ApplyIT to provide evidence of progress, ensuring that

  • a project group that aims to start and support a doctoral project is formed
  • innovation techniques are used to generate and identify research ideas more quickly
  • time and other resources are allocated already from the idea generation phase
  • important milestones and stages in a doctoral project are identified and facilitated through scheduled communication and collaboration meetings
  • academic values in terms of scientific significance and business value are discussed at each meeting
  • the terminology is widely understood and the process is transparent
  • progress reports are produced based on common agreements between all key stakeholders after each meeting
  • a focus is maintained on overall goals as well as awareness of any deviations that may arise at a meeting and within each identified step
  • the progress goals are revised and aligned to the overall goals

Therefore, a project group consisting of the PhD student, the supervisor, the assistant supervisor(s) and the industrial mentor(s)[5] was formed for each PhD project. They were obliged to participate in a number of meetings, as described in Section (3.2) below. In order to allocate responsibility as close as possible to the work that was being conducted, the PhD student was appointed to act as project leader and the person responsible for the content of the meetings. This naturally meant that she or he would initially need a great deal of support from all the parties involved.

The progress of every doctoral project needs to be monitored by a project steering group consisting of the project group members and at least one person from the industrial research school management group. The involvement of external individuals from the school in longitudinal plans for doctoral projects alongside the members of the project group, coupled with the use of TSM, is new and unique in Sweden for the industrial doctoral project administration.

4.2 TSM: an instrument that supports systematic collaboration in doctoral projects

The TSM is an instrument for longitudinal support based on seven or so gates (see Figure 3). Each gate involves an associated gate meeting with systematic and thematic questions that are set out in templates (15 active slides for each meeting), and which need to be answered prior to each gate meeting. The answers to these questions require a great deal of teamwork on the part of the project group. The TSM is thus not a quick fix guide to pass the gates but more a process tool to get communication flowing in the project group and to harmonise the members’ expectations by identifying and discussing scientific requirements and possible associated business values.

Depending on the project and the familiarity of the project group with process steering tools, the preparation before each gate meeting takes a few days. As the templates for the different meetings are related to each other, the work involved in understanding the structure of a meeting decreases after each gate meeting. The presentation of the templates at the gate meetings usually leads to further discussion.

The TSM aims to achieve the following:

  • Describe what needs to be done (generate ideas and plan activities) and when they should be done (by identifying important phases and elements as ‘gates’), but leave the how question to the project group.
  • Provide guidance, support and quality assurance for the research projects by going through a series of gates, where each gate represents a key phase with associated templates.
  • Support communication between the academic and industrial partners and follow this up at systematically planned meetings. The partners need to come up with a mutual agreement and understanding of the goals behind the doctoral project at each gate a) by formalising concrete goals and decisions regarding time, resources, quality and content and b) by ensuring that key issues have been covered and the right resources of the expected quality and content are available.
  • Provide a skeleton to ensure appropriate areas are documented sufficiently with regard to important decisions and individual project requirements.
  • Be easily understood by all the parties, regardless of their background.
  • Bring transparency and control into project monitoring by focusing on the importance of commitment, common sense, cooperation and active involvement and by highlighting potential risks before they become a problem.
  • If possible, generate synergy effects between the doctoral projects.

 TSM have the following gates:

At the Start Gate the project group is formed and the project vision and expectations are formulated in general terms and are agreed on in order to commence the pre-study. Initial scanning of related work is carried out with a focus on novelty assessment. The pre-study ends with the Vision Gate, which is where multiple project visions are generated. Several possible ideas have been investigated and possible goals and research problems have been formulated. Related research from other parties and potential external cooperation environments have been considered. The vision of the project has become clearer.

At the Concept Gate, the main feasible research goals are discussed and ways of reaching these are examined. The research background needed is discussed together with possible external cooperation environments and experts and the potential for collaboration. At the Development Gate clear targets, plans and methods to achieve the research aims are formulated. The resources needed to do so are planned and secured from all stakeholders. These four early gates are the most important gates and correspond to the convergence in the funnel model used in innovation theory.

The Follow-up Gate aims to discuss the mid-term seminar and future plans. Several Follow-up gate meetings can be requested, depending on the doctoral project. The formal concluding gates are the Thesis Gate, which involves preparing for a formal pre-defence and defence, and the End Gate, which involves concluding current collaboration and preparing for future collaboration, and ends the series of TSM meetings. The correspondence between scientific magnitude and business value is considered at all gates.


Figure 3. A general overview of the doctoral project from the point of view of the TSM.
Figure 3. A general overview of the doctoral project from the point of view of the TSM.

The four most important values – research quality, progress towards examination, associated business values and overall project control – as streamlines are shown in Figure 3. These are discussed at each gate. As an example, the increased number of ideas and visions and the width of the Vision Gate will converge towards the concrete aims at the Development Gate.

3.3 Gate meetings

Seven gate meetings are intended to take place at well-defined stages in the project, depending on the progress and the degree of activity of the doctoral student. A student usually spends 80% of her/his time working on the project and the remaining time is taken up with working in industry or teaching. As a result, her/his PhD project may take five years.

The first three gates occur relatively early on in the doctoral project. A formal progress sign-off meeting (i.e. a workshop) is planned at each gate. At each gate-opening meeting a discussion takes place within the project steering group, based on the preliminary work carried out within the project group. The aim is to ensure the discussions remain constructive and to keep the plans transparent and approved by everyone. If the discussion goes well, the gate is formally opened.

Opening a gate at the gate meeting is a symbolic action that means that the progress made is acknowledged and that the PhD student can continue her/his work. If the gate is not opened, clear indications are given about how to continue with the thesis. Formal minutes from each gate meeting are written with a focus on the four main questions (research values, examination management, business values and project control), including important decisions or unanswered questions or risks.  Figure 4 is taken from a Concept gate presentation dealing with identification of the research problem and the benefits of a project. As this is a template, the headings are the same throughout the whole process although the content the doctoral students add at each meeting changes over time.

Figure 4. An example of a template presented at a Vision gate meeting by a PhD student. The template shows the identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within a project dealing with automated improvement analysis of a production system.
Figure 4. An example of a template presented at a Vision gate meeting by a PhD student. The template shows the identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within a project dealing with automated improvement analysis of a production system.

 4.4 Influences on development

The management group at the industrial research school included members from the university and from industry who have previous experience of managing pure academic and industrial doctoral projects and from using process steering instruments, especially ISGDP (presented in Section 2), which is a familiar feature at Volvo. As the majority of the doctoral projects in question were initiated by Volvo and people from the management group already had industrial experience of ISGDP from several Volvo companies, the management group decided to develop a process steering instrument based on several other process steering instruments. ISGDP was the one that had affected TSM most.

Picture 1. Stakeholders at the research school kick-off listening to a presentation of TSM.
Picture 1. Stakeholders at the research school kick-off listening to a presentation of TSM.

In order to use TSM, the university management and supervisors were informed and they had to give their approval. During development, two former industrial doctoral students from the university were interviewed and their experiences were taken into consideration. It was ready to use when the Applied Informatics research school[6], complete with eight doctoral projects, commenced in January 2013. An initial overview of the development from a two-year perspective has been presented earlier (Heldal et al., 2014). In 2013 and 2014, the TSM was improved based on early comments. The changes included the introduction of the Follow-up Gate (requested by the project group) and improving the accuracy of the templates. The TSM was used initially in eight doctoral projects and it is currently (2016) being used in twelve projects[7].

For the introduction, one-hour seminars were arranged on a number of occasions for the stakeholders to explain the project methodology. It was explained again at a separate seminar held during the two-day ‘kick-off’ meeting for the research school, which took place in January 2013 (see Picture 1) and which was discussed at a workshop by different combinations of participating stakeholders in June 2013.

5. Using a process steering instrument for industrial doctoral projects

Breaking down the process into smaller parts makes it easier for the doctoral students to report their progress while still maintaining coherence between scientific and industrial needs and requirements. TSM enables them to keep values – both academic and industrial – in focus, and to ensure that both supervisors and industrial mentors have a common understanding of their problems. One of the main lessons to be learned from this study could be to acknowledge that focusing on the introduction of a doctoral project needs better communication. This is also confirmed in other studies (Wallgren and Hägglund, 2004; Wallin et al., 2014). It is not very easy to understand each other’s needs at the beginning.

1.) How can industrial doctoral projects take into account process steering instruments?

 Based on the literature for managing good university-industry projects, both industrial processes and documents regarding compliance with the academic requirements for a doctoral thesis influenced the development of TSM, as described in Section 3. Even at the construction phase a large number of associated questions needed to be addressed; questions about the content and how to use it and about roles and responsibilities associated with use. In order to accept the instrument, several meetings needed to be initiated and coordinated, and the instrument needed to be adjusted according to observations and requirements laid down by the university management and the parties involved in funding the research school.

One of the main observations is the substantial difference between the users’ background and their familiarity with process steering instruments. In three of the seven projects there was no previous experience of project management and process steering instruments, which made TSM difficult, especially at the beginning.

Positive comments were also received from the other eight research schools that were partly financed by the same national research funding institution as ApplyIT. While several schools requested the documentation necessary to run TSM, no one has to our knowledge applied the tool in their environments. In the light of the required coordination time, it could be considered beneficial to develop the instrument in parallel with development of the research school, which demands additional time on the part of developers and managers. To begin using it, the school may require resources to change the content and a number of strategic decisions may need to be made regarding how to use it in current doctoral projects.

2.) How can a process steering instrument be used at a research school?

This part is based on an initial overview of 19 meetings (SG, VG and CG) for seven doctoral projects. The following parts discuss separately the perspectives from a) the doctoral students, b) academic stakeholders and c) industrial stakeholders.

a) The doctoral students’ perspective

At almost all the SG meetings (for 6 out of 7 students) there were misunderstandings in relation to the research questions. For one student, who had supervisors from two universities and mentors from two companies, this was very obvious. Even if the aim of providing better decision-making support was stated before commencement, it became clear at the meeting that stakeholders were interested in at least three major research areas when approaching this aim and they had different opinions regarding the underlying research. Only two out of the seven project groups held at least one additional meeting with the whole project group between the beginning of the doctoral project and the SG meeting. A positive consequence of having slightly difficult templates was the increased discussion between the doctoral students regarding the meaning, for example, of research aims, business values and internal and external cooperation potential. One student, who was doing an industrial doctorate at Volvo, stated: “It was great to contact X and see her templates. Even if our projects differ a lot and even if she is working at GKN, I see we have a number of common issues regarding our research.”

While the SG meeting was considered to be more frustrating due to a lack of familiarity within the groups and with the templates, the VG meeting that was held approximately six months after commencement was considered by many projects to be positive. Idea generation with some constraints had already been discussed before the start-up and proved useful. Again, there was only one project where all the associated supervisors in the project group met between the SG and the VG meetings. According to one student: “Having all my supervisors in one place and being able to discuss with all of them the possible external environments and where important research or development projects are and what needs to be considered, proved to be extremely useful.” A student who held his SG and VG meetings together (after failing at the first SG meeting) commented: “I still think your templates are difficult, but this was really a great day for me. I feel that I have a better understanding of what I need to do in my research.”

It was hoped that all CG meetings would be held approximately one year after the start, but the meetings were only held during the second study year. Unfortunately, in most of the doctoral projects the project groups did not hold any additional meeting between VG and SG.

One of the aims of TSM, i.e. to follow the doctoral process and empower doctoral students to gain a better grasp of their projects, was considered to have been reached, but further investigation is needed to discuss how this can be made more seamless. For two of the doctoral students, assuming responsibility was a major problem and planning the first gate meeting took an unnecessarily long time. In general, some experience of project management and process steering would be beneficial to all students before starting their industrial doctoral studies, i.e. from the second information meeting dealing with TSM one year after the start. Here we can see that it is not the well-run projects that are in most need of steering. The main benefit for the student is that she/he is presented with a valid problem early on and which is of interest to both the university and industry. Another important aspect is that training in project culture would be a considerable advantage when entering the professional world. Direct contact with industry during the study period would also be enhanced.

b) The academic supervisors’ perspective

 Those academic supervisors who had previous experience of industrial collaboration, and those who had collaborative projects involving different universities, were more positive about TSM. For the last two studies the industrial perspective and business value were only dealt with on a hypothetical level. In these two cases, the management group and the academic supervisors discussed the relevance of process steering to the projects. Although before the first TSM meeting (SG) the use of TSM was called into question, the supervisors agreed to continue using it due to the fact that TSM made it easier to follow the same project from different research areas and different places.

Initially, the academic supervisors were somewhat sceptical but they became significantly more positive after a number of meetings during which TSM was explained and discussed and after realising that TSM would help them in their collaboration with the mentors from industry. There were also differences of opinion between the supervisors depending on their level of activity in the doctoral projects. The younger supervisors in particular adopted a more protective view of their students’ time and involvement in activities that were not vitally important to an accurate study.

c) The industrial mentors’ perspective

Most of the mentors found it interesting to work with TSM except those from smaller consulting companies and in the case of a doctoral project where the supporting company changes during the project. A mentor from GKN stated: “In order to follow X’s [the doctoral student’s] work we participated in the regular status meetings where the TSM model was presented as support in the process and X presented her work. Accordingly, X […] is on the right path and we now understand her thesis proposal and a recently published paper at a scientific conference. From the company’s perspective, X’s efforts have resulted in improved maintenance expertise, which is valuable to us.”

There are differences between mentors who are already used to doctoral programmes and those who are not. Discussing terminology, e.g. what is a research proposal, when and how can a paper be published and what participation at conferences means for doctoral students, is important not only for managing and funding resources but also for attracting interest from the company.

In the short term the company will have a competence influx via those persons from the company who are participating in the project and via discussions with university participants on different occasions. Regulations and legal systems mean that concept content differs from one organisation to another. An example was that different regulations stipulated that organisations were required to maintain control of information security and privacy. These issues arose on several occasions at the gate meetings.

In the long run, however, it emerged that the TSM ideas are more difficult to understand in practice than the school management group first anticipated. We have met with different reactions and been somewhat surprised by them. One industrial mentor stated: “We are not experienced in identifying the research problem that needs to be addressed, and a problem almost never gets an industrial research project up and running”. This opinion needs to be discussed further. According to the aim of TSM and the discussions during the gate meetings, the industrial mentors should be empowered to express their thoughts and to attempt to deal with problems, needs and ideas within the project group. Industrial supervisors who are not used with supervising doctoral projects are not aware on their own role. At the end of the second year, a course for teaching mentors was requires. Maybe this course is not necessarily needed for everyone. For another project, another mentor, used with supervising doctoral projects r commented at a VG meeting: “I am not interested in this […] since it is only producing a small improvement for us, an improvement that I can order and test much cheaper from […]”. While the scientific relevance of the research depends more on the supervisor from academia, securing industry approval for the study is extremely important.

The mentors realised there was a willingness to focus on industrial challenges founded in business needs and they were positive, even if they were not sure about the results and even if they found it difficult to find the time to provide input for the doctoral students or find a time slot for collaborative gate meetings.

6. Discussion

Doctoral projects that aim to create new knowledge are difficult to evaluate, especially by introducing new routines or management instruments. What can be attributed to individual abilities and what can be attributed to artificial support is always a subject for debate. The general positive attitude, despite difficult templates, allocating time for meetings and solving coordination problems, is, as one student put it, a result of getting more attention. As one of the students stated: “On the whole, ApplyIT works very well, especially with regard to the additional aids it gives us when we compare an ApplyIT doctoral student to a ‘regular’ doctoral student.” According to the same student, being the first also means embarking on a new path: “I belong to the first group of doctoral students at the research school and I came across certain things that could be improved. These have also been raised with the management and steps have been taken. TSM works well and clearer instructions (with examples from past students) for the gate material are now in place. I believe this will provide a good example for future doctoral students.”

The role of support on the road to becoming an independent researcher could also be discussed. A member of the management group, who was an experienced mentor for several industrial doctoral projects, said: “In the case of my own doctoral studies, approximately fifty years ago, my supervisor told me to go to the library and find my research problem and research questions”. While this strategy may promote a willingness to learn and make new inroads through one’s own efforts, it is difficult to follow this principle today with the limited timeframes available. Finding a smaller research area by yourself and defining research questions may contribute to learning experiences but it can scarcely be followed by many stakeholders. According to one manager and mentor from another research school: “I don’t have time for Start Gate and Vision Gate. I have to define twelve important research questions prioritised at my company, choose twelve good students, and start with the Concept Gate”. Consequently, one can discuss the role and the number of gates and how these can be defined to support and not delimit research at the very beginning of doctoral projects. Here there is a related question regarding the quality of the project and how steering and supporting that can help truly revolutionary innovations (e.g. National Academies of Sciences, 2016) and not marginalise the research contributions (Blumenthal  et al., 1996) can be possible with predefined research questions. Establishing research questions in interesting research areas and defining research contributions are clearly different from development or consulting needs. Behind these questions there may only be a subtle border, and it should therefore be discussed further. Having pre-defined gates, templates and research questions may encourage investigation of roles and aims behind industrial doctoral projects in order to sort out possible concerns about exploitation of students and ’over-industrialisation’ of higher education. (Schiermeier, 2012: p. 559)

According to this study, exploring the diversity between academia and industry can produce values if the differences are acknowledged, identified and handled from the very outset. The gain for the company is understanding state-of-the-art technologies and associated research efforts at national and international level. The meetings for discussing and steering research projects are expected to provide a good example for future projects. There can be resulting spin-off effects in terms, for example, of good master’s dissertations and other research work initiation. The dominating positive effect for industry is if they employ the successful doctoral student and bring her/him into their organisation. There she/he will make a substantial contribution in terms of time, especially by analysing problems systematically. The ‘absorptive’ effect of the research school in general can be seen in the study by Bienkowska and Wallgren, in which 19 PhD graduates were interviewed 5-10 years after being awarded their PhD (Bienkowska and Wallgren, 2012). While many companies, especially the larger ones, have an interest in supporting genuine research, they are also interested in the higher levels of competence that can be accessed via new PhD graduates (Schiermeier, 2012)

7. Conclusions

This study presented a process steering instrument, TSM constructed and used at a research school in applied informatics and provided examples for its use. The main challenge was to getting the industrial research school to prioritize time and resources to start to use TSM. Our evaluation show that meetings would not be scheduled and, as Section 3 exemplified, issues would not be discussed without TSM. One of the main lessons from this study is illustrating the needs for carefully planned introductory activities. Industry mentors are not usually trained in research procedures. Their role should be better clarified. Since the backgrounds of the stakeholders are different, it would be beneficial to know more about their view of values, handling intellectual property, patents, publications and dependence on co-funding companies already during the development supporting instruments.

This study acknowledges the result from Hermans (2011), on the importance of having active and supportive social environment around the projects and the benefits of developing the instrument alongside with developing the research school. To adjust routines and procedures for TSM according to comments and suggestions from the different stakeholders during the development phase was useful.

TSM was served as a way for the doctoral student to take the leadership for their own projects and report partial advancements to all stakeholders, as the templates were well suited to such presentations. However, only some students could master project leading and instruments for process steering at the very beginning of their graduate careers.

During this study there were a number of changes at different levels at the research school and in the surrounding research environment, including changes in the institutional structure at the local university. More than half of the doctoral projects replaced some of the academic supervisors, and a number of them replaced mentors. Even the form in which the school was co-funded by the different stakeholders changed. Handling change needs to be investigated more thoroughly for such long-term projects. Our evaluation also show that small companies need more help and therefore it would be beneficial to further investigate the need for additional support to them.


I would like to thank Lars Bråthe for much help with this paper, Robert Murby and Eva Söderström for their collaboration for building TSM, the members of ApplyIT for their fruitful comments, and Patrick O’Malley for reviewing the paper.

[1] According to the Swedish Council for Higher Education, the average time taken for doctoral projects completed in 2014 was 5.5 years (11 terms). (See: )

[2] IS (or ISP) stands for Individual Study Plan, a yearly plan for the doctoral student that must be signed by the doctoral student and the academic supervisors.

[3] The industrial research school in Aplyied Informatics (ApplyIT) later changed its name to IPSI.

[4] The concluding seminar is often called a pre-defence seminar.

[5] In certain contexts, the industrial mentor is called an industrial supervisor.

[6] The name of the research school changed from ApplyIT to IPSI in 2015.

[6] The name of the research school changed from ApplyIT to IPSI in 2015.

[7] After changing the management group at the industrial research school, the Follow-up Gates and the End Gate were removed. See (July 22, 2016)


Ilona Heldal, Faculty of Engineering and Business Administration, University College Bergen, Norway, ilona.heldal(at)

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Contexts and Approaches to Multiprofessional Working in Arts and Social Care

I. Introduction

In this article, we identify the basic concepts informing multiprofessional competencies in arts and social work/care, focusing on their specific cultural contextualisation,  as framed within the currently running project MOMU (Moving towards Multiprofessional Work in Art and Social Work) funded by the Erasmus+ Programme.[1]  In short, the project aims to define competencies in teamwork and enhance educational/teacher knowledge and skills in arts and social work/care (MPW) by developing learning materials and handbooks in this area and embedding this in undergraduate HE provision. It builds on the work carried out in the project MIMO – Moving In, Moving On!  which established and embedded the initial methods for MPW into professional practice in Finland and Estonia[2]. (TUAS, 2013)

The emphasis of this kind of MPW work lies in combining the strengths of different arts and social work/care professionals to work effectively together with individuals or communities to address the identified needs. It is a multiprofessional practice stemming from a multidisciplinary approach to working with communities and individuals.

This article will thus aim to a) articulate the cultural and critical contexts of relevant concepts and b) propose overarching criteria for learning frameworks which inform future training modules in the area of MPW.

II. Scope and context

As the initial project documentation suggests, there are ‘artists who are willing to work in new kinds of environments. In the field of social work there is a growing willingness to apply art, but it is not always easy when different professional cultures confront’. (Tonteri, 2013) Artists and arts professionals might feel that they cannot get inside the community of social work professionals or might perceive that by doing so, they leave their artistic integrity behind or open themselves to risks. Social Work/Care professionals, on the other hand, often feel that collaboration may make their work more complicated, and there is often a lack of confidence in applying artistically informed approaches. More often than not, although there is real enthusiasm and willingness, they do not perceive themselves as artists, and do not feel they have the credibility or confidence to use artistic methods. Art is perceived to be associated with a deeply informed, embodied and/or studied practice and thus represents a barrier towards a wider, or deeper application of arts-based approaches in social work/care contexts.

There are plenty of case studies and projects demonstrating on the one hand the positive impacts of art-based working with youth and ethnic minorities (and other communities), and on the other the effectiveness of multiprofessional approaches in health and social care (Glasby, 2007). This project builds on these and various premises that have been widely explored in other publications and embedded into policies and professional practices but focuses on joining these two specific areas of professional practice. For sake of clarity, the basic premises that underpin this work are listed below, provided with a few key recent publications supporting their assertions:

  • Arts and culture engagement maximises social well-being and a nation’s productivity
    (Carnwath & Brown, 2014; Daykin & Joss, 2016; Sacco, 2011; The National Youth Agency UK, 2009; The Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture‘s Child and Youth Policy Programme 2012–2015; The (Finnish) Art and Culture for Well-being 2010-2014;  The Spanish National Strategy ‘Culture for all’; etc)
  • Multiprofessional working environments are a key component of modern healthcare/social care and policies dealing with children, young people and adults have already accepted/embedded the need to work with multiprofessional approaches as an effective means to achieve impact
    (Barr, 1996; Lewitt, Cross, Sheward, & Beirne, 2015; The Scottish Government, 2012a, 2012b; Zwarenstein, Goldman, & Reeves, 2009; EU Youth Report 2012; The Spanish National Strategy on Disability 2012-2020;  Government Green Paper entitled ‘Every Child Matters’; Children Act in the UK; etc)
  • Integrating both arts-based approaches and multiprofessional working methods within young people benefits growth, well-being and participation of young people (Krappe & Leino, 2013; Krappe, Parkkinen, & Tonteri, 2012; Leino, 2012; Tonteri et al., 2013; TUAS, 2013)

These underpinnings need to be inherent in any learning frameworks training young professionals in MPW in social care/work and art, allowing professionals not to lose sight of the need to be effective advocators of the connections between arts and society. The given basis that arts and culture engagement maximises social well-being and a nation’s productivity already appears in various policies, but what is often missing are more formal learning frameworks that help afford professionals to gain the skills, knowledge and competencies needed for effective MPW work to address the challenges of young people in our societies today. Additionally, learning frameworks will need to be able to address the cultural and national contexts of communities, welfare and political institutions as well as learning organisations.

This is where multiprofessional approaches can provide solutions by using the full depth of artistic engagement, while maintaining the community focused support specific to the needs and requirements of the social context. Examples of multiprofessional teamwork by arts and social work/care professionals already exist extensively, but there is a lack of learning frameworks that allow MPW teams to be supported by a structured process of negotiating roles and understanding their own responsibility in this collaborative process.

III. Linking arts-based methods and multiprofessional work

The concepts informing multiprofessional collaboration are widely used, but not often specifically defined in the context of arts and social work/care. Either they cover MPW education (or IPE – Interprofessional Education) (Davis & Smith, 2012; Lewitt et al., 2015), or they consider arts-based approaches in social work without the MPW element.

Within the context of multiprofessional work in arts and social care/work, we define MPW as a collaborative practice stemming from an inherently multidisciplinary approach to working with communities and individuals. Its strength lies in combining the knowledges and skills of arts and social work/care professionals to work effectively together to address the identified needs.

Reappearing themes from prior projects, as well as the general literature, point towards the need to consider integrating supportive measures to address these. These recurrent themes include:

a) From practical, conceptual to organisational dimensions

MPW education does not stand in isolation, and like any multidisciplinary or newly emerging practice, the various dimensions in which it exists tend to become important when advocating for its efficacy. When considering degree level training and knowledge acquisition within universities, multi- and interdisciplinary practices are always influenced by various dimensions, including:

  • the academic – multidisciplinary curricula and degree structures
  • the organisational – institutional infrastructure for multiprofessional practice
  • the social – disciplines underpinning professional practices are elementally social constructs (Boehm, 2007)

Parna referring to specifically MPW work (in Krappe & Leino, 2013) has similar divisions, from organisational, conceptual to practical. These different spheres continuously interact and need to be constantly negotiated in order to ensure that MPW can be embedded both in educational curricula, experiential learning or placement activities, as well as professional practice.

Thus as with any innovative learning practice, it will be of interest to academics and practitioners working in this field to ensure that we have the evidence to prove its efficacy in order to devise learning components that fit into existing organisational structures. Persuasive cases need to be made for the various organisational structures in order to allow effective MPW learning to happen, such as supporting multiprofessional team teaching; co-teaching of multidisciplinary students cohorts.

Outcome measurement thus becomes a necessity in order to afford the organisational dimensions to meet the needs at the theoretical and practical level. In a similar manner, how to measure the individual/pair impact of embedding MPW in professional practice interventions is a subject matter that needs to be integrated into educational provision. And as Carpenter (2005) identifies, outcomes can be at a number of different levels; about learner’s reactions, modification in attitudes and perceptions, acquisition of knowledge, changes in behaviour, changes in organizational practice and benefits to service users and carers.

b) MPW caught in the vocational vs academic debate

To understand and advocate effectively the facilitation of university-based learning environments for multiprofessional practice, it also helps to understand the question of multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary knowledge creation in universities including their historical evolution that have widely influenced organisational structures.

Depth of knowledge has not always been prioritized over breadth, and the organisational challenges to mind the gaps between what is considered academic and what vocational; intellectual vs professional learning experiences; all these still stem from a 19th century model of intelligence. Certain subjects have come to be perceived as academic only since the 18th century and were reinforced as being ‘academic’ by the rise of the Humboldtian model of a university, which was accepted by most European and American universities. That the English and Scottish (and Irish) ancient universities have more recognisable remnants of their medieval origins may in some way also explain the wider acceptance of the ‘practice-based’ in British university contexts, as exemplified by music composition, drama, dance or creative writing. Whereas in the UK composition is taught in research-intensive universities, in Germany it is predominantly taught in conservatories and music colleges. Similarly, the Finnish HE system still displays a binary divide with universities on the one hand, and universities of applied science on the other, the latter usually not providing study to PhD level. Spanish universities are more and more adopting practice-based methods, however there are still clear differences between University degrees and ‘upper degree professional studies’ (‘formacion professional de grado superior’) which are the equivalent of Universities of Applied Sciences in Finland. Arts Schools in Spain also fall into this category[3]. Even in the UK, where the Further and Higher Education Act of 1992 placed the former polytechnics – with their more vocational and practice-based cultures – into the same framework as the old universities with their perceived predominantly academic provisions, the binary divide is still apparent and its value system perniciously remains, for example in the form of perceived research intensity.

As many of our modern European and US universities are built upon just this Humboldtian ideal of knowledge and intellect, some have argued (Boehm, 2007; Robinson, 2010) that this poses a challenge to our education systems, as well as to our means for knowledge production. The perceived difference between the ‘vocational’ and the ‘academic’ is based on this very specific intellectual model of the mind: that our perception of what academic study entails was formed at a time where the concept of intelligence was limited to the ability to reason deductively. Robinson (2010) sees this divide as being detrimentally influential in the secondary educational sector, but also suggests in his keynote speech to the RSA in 2010 that we need to scrap the perceived dichotomy between the ‘academic’ and the ‘non-academic’, the ‘theoretical’ and the ‘practical’. ‘We should see it as what it is: a Myth’.

The scale and quality of adoption by universities of innovative professional practices, such as MPW in arts and social care, is affected and influenced by these contexts, and in turn affects the creation of the skills and competencies needed for multiprofessional work, and this has been repeatedly identified in the general MPW literature reaching back at least 40 years (see Lewitt 2015). For MPW work to be widely accepted in the HE sector, these national and international Higher Education policy drivers will need to be understood to devise convincing cases for adoption.

c) Multidisciplinary knowledge and multiprofessional practice

As multiprofessional work is based on multidisciplinary learning, research and practice, as indicated above, how we facilitate interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary learning in Higher Education becomes an important framework consideration. As part of this, knowledge institutions need to understand the nuances in relation to interdisciplinary knowledge.  Thus apart from above structural dimensions, it also helps to see disciplinarity as an umbrella concept with individual terms referring to various nuances. According to Stember (Stember in Seipel, 2005) we can differentiate between knowledge formation in the following categories:

Intradisciplinary enquiries, which involve mainly one single discipline, such as a musician harmonically analysing a piece of music, or a social scientist using thematic analysis of structured interviews to consider important aspects of self-expressions of particular communities,

Cross-disciplinary enquiries tend to view one discipline from the perspective of another, such as understanding the history and social dynamic of British Pop Bands through Tajfels (1982) social identity models,

Transdisciplinary enquiries, in Stember’s words, are ‘concerned with the unity of intellectual frameworks beyond the disciplinary perspectives’. Seipel goes on to suggest that they may deal with philosophical questions about the nature of reality or the nature of knowledge systems that transcend disciplines.

Multidisciplinary enquiries draw on the knowledge domains of several disciplines, providing different perspectives on one enquiry in an additive fashion. ‘In multidisciplinary analysis, each discipline makes a contribution to the overall understanding of the issue.’ In this, a study of music performance can include insights derived from psychology as well as historical performance practice.

Interdisciplinary enquiries require ‘integration of knowledge from the disciplines being brought to bear on an issue. Disciplinary knowledge, concepts, tools, and rules of investigation are considered, contrasted, and combined in such a way that the resulting understanding is greater than simply the sum of its disciplinary parts. However, the focus on integration should not imply that the outcome of interdisciplinary analysis will always be a neat, tidy solution in which all contradictions between the alternative disciplines are resolved. Interdisciplinary study may indeed be ‘messy’. However, contradictory conclusions and accompanying tensions between disciplines may not only provide a fuller understanding, but could be seen as a healthy symptom of interdisciplinarity. Analysis which works through these tensions and contradictions between disciplinary systems of knowledge with the goal of synthesis—the creation of new knowledge—often characterises the richest interdisciplinary work.’ (Seipel in Boehm 2014)

Multiprofessional practices can thus be seen as the professional application of a knowledge domain that derives from multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary methods of enquiry. These multidisciplinary approaches will be facilitated by the educational frameworks developed by the current MOMU project. What will undoubtedly emerge is also genuine interdisciplinary knowledge and practice, where the result becomes more than merely the sum of the parts. This ‘interdisciplinary’ stage, represented by the synergy of different knowledge domains can conceptually be seen as the evolutionary development of disciplines and their associated professional practices (C. Boehm, 2007). However, it should be noted that multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary practices often exist simultaneously in a field, providing in the extreme both the opportunities of synergy of something new on the one hand, and an addition of existing deep knowledge on the other. This represents a rich environment in which new knowledge and its associated practices are formed for real-world challenges that our contemporary society is facing. MPW work thus adds a new knowledge and professional practice that will hopefully allow us to meet some of the challenges of today’s world.

d) Sharing competencies and capturing change: communication and documentation

Whether choosing a multiprofessional practice, or an interdisciplinary one, the process of formation of collectively shared competencies needs an intentional effort to communicate from one knowledge/practice domain to the other, from one expert/practitioner to the other. Structured communication channels are thus a key element in the toolset of any MPW practitioner.

Leino (2012), writing on the experiences of working in MPW teams as part of the MIMO project, emphasises the shift towards having to manage a collaborative owned knowledge: ‘The traditional concept of expertise is based on emphasizing the individual’s professional skill, which was seen to arise from the individual’s experience of working in the field in question.(…) Collective expertise means a shared kind of competence.’(Leino, 2012)

To facilitate this process of managing a shared collection of competencies, the MIMO project put forward the model below, which acted as a tool for learning, development and MPW work supervision (see Figure 1) and encompasses a concept of collective expertise through teamwork, thus facilitating the sharing of competencies between professionals from different fields (Leino 2012).

Figure 1 - MIMO’s MPW teamwork model, based on problem-based learning, in Leino's (2012)
Figure 1 – MIMO’s MPW teamwork model, based on problem-based learning, in Leino’s (2012)

Thus central to the notion of collectively shared competencies and collective expertise development is the need to have structured communication channels available that support the sharing and combining of different knowledge and values. Communication becomes a vital part, specifically as different professional cultures will not have the same terminologies and concepts or have similar terms and concepts which mean different things whilst also having differing working methods and processes.

Besides the need to maintain structured communication channels to facilitate a process of experienced change, there is also the need to document just this process. Art and social work/care is known to allow and support transformational change, be it of perspective, personal boundaries, self-knowledge and reflection, personal or community identity, empathy or empowerment. However when working in MPW it is useful to ensure that teams are aware that the focus is often predominantly on the process rather than the product. So although artistic integrity and ‘depth’ is needed and even desired, the social contexts requires an artistic experience to provide some form of transformation or change through a process of engaging artistically or creatively. ‘Rather than the artistic end product, the most important aspect of the work was the process by which the opportunities (were) awarded by art’.(Leino 2012)

It might be worthwhile noting, that this emphasis on the creative process, rather than the creative artefact (or end product), as an inherent element of an artistic practice, differs from country to country. Music, as one of the most ‘ancient’ academic subjects has had the least resistance in being accepted as an academic study to PhD level in Universities in UK. But specifically those countries that were at the forefront of artistic subjects being accepted in academic contexts, e.g. those countries in which it has been possible to study Dance, Drama, Theatre and Creative Writing to PhD level, pushed forward the idea of practice-as-research, or PaR. ‘PaR acknowledges the significance of a direct engagement from within the practical activity as an integral part. What is often called a dialogical relationship between the practice on the one hand, and the conceptual and critical frameworks on the other, is integral to PaR. In this, it does have resemblances to methodologies such as action research.’ (Boehm, 2014) With the need for an ongoing dialogue as part of a rigorous, research informed practice, in short ‘praxis’, documentation becomes an integral part of that practice. And this in turn reflects similar good practices identified in the social work/care context. Here, McLaughlin (McLaughlin, 2012) has argued that practitioners should view their practice as research in action whereby they should evaluate their interventions and where practice should inform research and research should inform practice. But the national differences in this area of artistic ‘praxis’ does have ramifications for MPW in that documentation as part of a professional practice might be common knowledge for social work/care professionals, but might not be as inherently understood by all arts professionals.  With a focus on the – by its nature – ephemeral process, it follows that documenting practice also becomes a vital part of MPW work and needs to be considered as part of the competency frameworks.

e) MPW learning improves adoption of MPW methods

Most literature about MPW in healthcare reflects the MOMU philosophy of the experiential value of learning with multiprofessional cohorts of students, and being facilitated to learn by multiprofessional teams of educators. Whether these learning experiences are labelled as interdisciplinary or interprofessional, intra-professional or interdisciplinary-interprofessional (Wiezorek, Sawyer, Serafini, Scott, Finochio in (Wiezorek, Sawyer, Serafini, Scott, Finochio in Lewitt et al., 2015), the underlying plausible assertion is that learning together will lead to an embodied understanding of how to better work together. Part of this is the premise that collaboration is itself a skill-based social process, and thus early experiences of MPW as part of skills and knowledge acquisition is vital. (Clark, 2006; Oandasan & Reeves, 2005a, 2005b)

It is noteworthy that MPW in healthcare is usually with people who are employed by the same employer, work in the same structures and share a common language. This is different from social work/social care and arts professional who are usually employed by different employers who may irregularly come together and have to develop a common language.

To support individual learners develop the team-working skills and competencies, mentoring (Lewitt et al., 2015), peer-led reviewing, peer-mentoring, experiential learning and placement shadowing (Lewitt et al., 2015) all have been identified as effective. Although no empirical study of the efficacy have been carried out, considering the very individualised and specifically contextualised needs of arts and social care/work projects, using a leadership-related-coaching approach with real experiential learning in real-life projects can be expected to become one best practice that supports teams on their own experiential journeys.

IV. Terminological quagmires, or building sandcastles with a shovel

The formation of a new knowledge domain and its professional practice arrives often with the formation of new concepts, words and associations. This terminological quagmire is made more complex when considering it across cultural and country boundaries, with their own cultural heritages and associations. Thus the words ‘multiprofessional’, ‘interprofessional’, ‘competency’, ‘applied arts’ might all seem harmless on their own, but when considered in different cultural contexts, the expert trained and practiced in one country faces the helplessness of being caught in a differently flowing maelstrom of concepts and meanings.

These interdependencies do not exist in isolation but are part of a wider political, cultural and social contexts of nations, both helping to shape and be shaped by these concepts. Language and culture thus often not only enlighten us, but make us humble in the acceptance that words are simply crude tools in our sandbox of quite sophisticated concepts, meanings and truths. Thus the communication of this knowledge, our knowledge exchange of which this article is one attempt, necessarily is like building the most intricate of sandcastles with a large shovel.

Thus it might be worthwhile to explore the complexities of certain terms in relation to different critical and cultural frameworks.

In the English language, ‘multiprofessional work’ is one term of many that is increasingly used to define a concept to describe a way of working with different professional sectors or services. Other terms often found relating to this are ‘interprofessional work’ or ‘interagency work’.

Figure 2 Number of papers using the terms interprofessional, multiprofessional, interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary in the title.( Lewitt and alii (2015), p7)
Figure 2 Number of papers using the terms interprofessional, multiprofessional, interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary in the title.( Lewitt and alii (2015), p7)

Although in MOMU we would normally consider the term to denote a model that necessitates collaborative team-work processes at every stage, in health and social care practices this is not always the case. A ‘consecutive’ working process with case handovers, joint case management, but not necessarily simultaneous collaborative multiprofessional team work, is also often considered to conform to this term, such as is described in various examples in Davis’ pedagogical handbook about multiprofessional work within child services (Davis & Smith, 2012). This might be considered to conform more to the UK-used term of ‘interagency work’, but the fluid and responsive nature of this kind of work and how it moves seamlessly from more linear case handovers to non-linear, simultaneous multi-sector involvement makes it difficult to find one term fitting all specific scenarios and contexts.

Historically, in 1997 the Centre for the Advancement of Interprofessional Education (CAIPE) put forward the definition  that  ‘interprofessional education occurs when two or more professions learn with, from and about each other to improve collaboration and the quality of care’(CAIPE, 1997).

Lewitt (2015) points out that there is a renewed interest in MPW/IPW and they put forward an exponential rise in publications using these terms in key works (See Figure 2). Interestingly they point out that  ‘publications using the terms multi–‐ or interdisciplinary tended to be practice–‐oriented, while approximately 50% of papers using the term interprofessional related to undergraduate or postgraduate education.’(Lewitt et al., 2015) The interdisciplinary underpinning stands out for Lewitt, who wrote: ‘There is lack of consensus and clarity around the use of the terms multiprofessional and multidisciplinary, both in the literature and in practice, and they are often used interchangeably.’

The discussion around the concept of ’multiprofessionality’ and ’multiprofessional work’ is highly topical in Finland where the arts sector has not had a long tradition of cross-sectoral cooperation or even ‘community arts’. This can be seen in public and media debates, in the most of extreme of these the concept of a multiprofessional practice was questioned in terms of disciplinary depth, e.g. from an artistic perspective the doubters put forward the danger of risking artistic integrity. The fear is often expressed in these debates that overwhelming demands on arts professionals would be made, being obliged to be multiply skilled persons or multi-taskers; artists who are at the same time therapists, teachers, counsellors, business managers, salespersons, project experts and so on.

The term multiprofessional seems to have gone out of fashion in the UK as Banks (2010,  p.281) notes: ‘The idea of “multi-professional working” (different professionals working alongside each other) is being replaced by “interprofessional working” (different professionals working closely together, with shared goals and perhaps with interchangeability of roles).’(Banks, 2010)

Of interest to us are the notions of ‘working closely together’, ‘shared goals’ and ‘interchangeability’ The working closely could involve two or more workers jointly sharing a case or a project and doing everything together to the situation of a key worker coordinating the contributions of other workers to achieve an agreed aim. Shared goals whereby the workers would have jointly assessed a need and agreed a plan building on the strengths of both, or more, workers identifying who would do what. Interchangeability is interesting as it suggests the final destination of interprofessional working for workforce analysts might be to question whether the two workers are always needed or whether we need a new type of professional an interprofessional worker or even a non-professional interprofessional worker.

‘Multiprofessional working’, ‘interprofessional practice’, ‘multi-disciplinary working’ or collaborative practice are often used interchangeably but all contain a notion that by working together their will be a pooling of resources, and where the ‘whole is believed to be greater than the sum of the parts’.

In the UK some social work programmes have had dual professional qualification programmes e.g. learning disability nurse and a social worker. However, even though qualified workers were qualified in both disciplines they found it difficult to obtain jobs which used both their skill sets and instead were forced into joining one profession or the other McLaughlin (McLaughlin, 2012b). This also reminds us that professions are not neutral entities and that professions like social work/social care and the arts are involved in an exercise of occupational boundaries claiming control of their own area of practice. Thus change in one profession’s claims may have knock on effects in others (Abbott, 1988).

In England there are 72 approved social work qualifying programmes in social work who enrol approximately 4,500 students per year  (Skills for Care, 2016). As part of the heavily prescriptive curriculum social work students are expected to develop skills in interprofessional practice especially as the failure of the caring professions and the police to work together has been highlighted in all UK child death inquiries since Maria Colwell (1974) to Peter Connolly (Baby P 2007). The Health and Care Professions Council ((HCPC) who currently regulate social work require qualifying and registered social workers as part of their Standards of Proficiency to be able to:

  • be able to work in partnership with others, including those working in other agencies and roles (9.6)
  • be able to contribute effectively to work undertaken as part of a multi-disciplinary team (9.7) (HCPC, 2012:11)

These standards have to be achieved by all qualifying social workers, but are generally seen in relation to working with education, health services and the police rather than with artists. This is not to say that the arts have not been used in social work, for example in the development of ‘life story books’ for children moving to alternative permanent families or the use of art, poetry, drama or music with people suffering from mental illness or dementia. It is just that artistic approaches have never been mainstreamed within social work education or practice. Hafford-Letchfied, Leaonard and Couchman (2012) in their editorial to a special edition of Social Work Education: The International Journal on the use of arts in social work note that although artistic methods are becoming more common they remain underused, connected to the lack of critical mass of evidence for their effectiveness.

The concepts around the term of MPW have thus various dimensions and contexts in which different sets of meanings and associations, and specifically for this project the professional connotations and the national contexts are relevant in order for consistent, but possibly not conform, methods of MPW education to be established.

V. Conclusion

In this first article as part of the three year EU funded MOMU project, we have explored some of the basic critical and cultural contexts in which multiprofessional work in arts and social care resides. As an inherently multidisciplinary practice, emerging from the more interdisciplinary challenges that our complex societies throw at us, it provides challenges to educational providers that derive their historical and cultural understanding from a modernity point of view of prioritising depth of disciplines. We felt that it was necessary to understand this underpinning before moving on to exploring multi- and interdisciplinary learning frameworks that will train the next generation of professionals working in this area.

Our specific learning frameworks will be the subject of a separate article, but from these explorations it becomes already clear that any learning frameworks put forward will need to cover the following aspects, whose critical and conceptual frameworks have been explored in this article:

a) Art as a basic human right (see section II);
b) Creativity and its connection to health and well-being;
c) Learning components that fit into existing organisational structures, as well as make a persuasive case for multiprofessional teaching teams and co-teaching (see section IIIa);
d) Importance of measuring outcomes of MPW work and MPW learning for demonstrating impact (see section IIIa);
e) Ability to address various national and international policy related drivers (see section IIIb);
f) Understand the academic-vocational divide as a myth, and allow experiential learning (see section IIIb);
g) Appreciation of MPW as the professional application of a knowledge domain that derives from multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary methods of enquiry (see section IIIc);
h) Skills related to communication and documentation are part of the professional practice (see section IIId);
i) MPW learning Is most effective as an MPW practice (see section IIIe);
j) Sensitivity to terminological quagmires and respect the interdisciplinary, interprofessional and intercultural interdependencies of terms and concepts (see section IV).

This is an exciting time for multiprofessional learning, and we expect that there will be many possible approaches taken across Europe to explore how best we can train future professionals. We would hope that the MOMU approach will be one of the models that will meet the challenges. Thus, we have covered in this article the specific cultural and critical contexts and propose frame criteria for learning frameworks which inform and develop future training modules in the area of MPW.

VI. Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the ERASMUS+ programme for funding this project, and everyone within the project team as well as all other individuals that have already been involved in, or contributed to the project in various ways, including interview participants, survey participants, workshop attendees or simply people we meet and talk to. The list goes on. We believe this project, which is interfaced between arts, health and wellbeing, is important, and we are thankful to be working in an area where we meet people on a daily basis that are as passionate about arts and well-being as we are. Thank you.

[1]  The idea of the project was developed in cooperation with four European Universities involved intensively in arts and social work provision: Turku University of Applied Sciences (Finland), Manchester Metropolitan University (UK), University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy (Estonia) and University of Castilla-La Mancha (Spain).

[2] MIMO was a research and development project running from 2010–2013 funded from the Central Baltic INTERREG IV A 2007–2013 programme, the project developed multiprofessional teamwork models and applied art-based methods for participatory youth work and embedded the approach within its own educational provision and many external youth organisations.

[3] See and (Last accessed 2016/07/23)


Carola Boehm, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK; Associate Dean; MA; C.Boehm(at)
Liisa-Maria Lilja-Viherlampi, TUAS, Finland; Principal lecturer I Culture and Well-being; PhD; Liisa-maria.lilja-viherlampi(at)
Outi Linnossuo, TUAS, Finland; Senior teacher/Social Worker; PhD; Outi.M.Linnossuo(at)
Hugh McLaughlin, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK; Professor; H.McLaughlin(at)
Emilio Jose Gomez Ciriano, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Spain; Professor; EmilioJose.Gomez(at)
Oscar Martinez Martin, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha; Señor Lecturer; oscar.martinez(at)
Esther Mercado García, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha; Associate Professor; esther.mercado(at)
Suvi Kivelä, TUAS, Finland; Project manager; suvi.kivela(at)
Ivar Männamaa, TÜ Viljandi Kultuuriakadeemia, Estonia; ivarman(at)
Jodie Gibson, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK; Director Axis Arts Centre, MSc; J.Gibson(at)

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Strategies for evaluating informal science education: Identifying and measuring meaningful indicators of program effectiveness for a mobile laboratory program


The mobiLLab science education program was developed by faculty at the University of Teacher Education in St.Gallen (Pädagogische Hochschule St. Gallen (PHSG)) to spark young people’s interest in science and technology (S&T). During the last 30 years, science centers and mobile laboratories have been developed in response to a decreasing interest in S&T careers among young people (Huber, 2014), something critical to our Digital Age society and workforce (Sjøberg & Schreiner, 2010). Since its inception in 2008, the mobiLLab program has provided secondary school pupils and their teachers in Eastern Switzerland with hands-on training in science experimentation using industry and laboratory equipments. The program also serves as on-the-job training for pre-service science and math teachers at the PHSG, who participate in several school visits as pupil coaches. For the first four years of operation, mobiLLab program staff had regularly received positive verbal feedback from participating teachers and pupils and had more requests from schools than they could visit. Even so, before making changes to the program, mobiLLab leaders wanted to elicit more specific, candid feedback from program participants that could inform program development.

Starting in 2012, mobiLLab team members worked with researchers to better understand the effectiveness of their program. This paper begins with a description of the mobiLLab program and provides detail about a typical visit. The next section describes how, through an exploratory background investigation, program priorities and indicators of effectiveness were identified (Cors, 2013). We then explain how, through a mixed-methods pilot study (Cors et al., 2015), researchers examined these indicators. We further describe findings about pupil and teacher satisfaction with the program; teacher ratings of classroom preparation materials offered on the mobiLLab website; pupil educational outcomes related to S&T interest; and which factors affect these educational outcomes. A final section discusses the advantages and limitations of the methods used, and offers recommendations for future research.

Background: A Program for Inspiring Tomorrow’s Science and Industry Workers

The mobiLLab program was developed to support the PHSG strategy to promote interest in S&T topics and careers among Switzerland’s youth. School visits are designed for pupils aged 14 to 16 who attend secondary school level 1 (German: Oberstufenschule). These pupils generally either pursue further vocational training or transfer into the university preparatory secondary school level II (German: Gymnasium).

A typical visit

A mobiLLab school visit begins at the PHSG building, where the deployment team loads the experimental equipment into a van, shown in Figure 1, and drives to the school. Typically, a class visit with mobiLLab lasts a half a day. The mobiLLab usually stays at a school for one or several days, during which it holds two class visits per day.


Figure 1: The mobiLLab van
Figure 1: The mobiLLab van

MobiLLab brings with it 12 experimental posts, listed in Table 1. During classroom prepration, teachers work with pupils to choose four experimental posts at which they will work and to prepare for the visit by reviewing the corresponding E-Learning tutorial for each post. The E-Learning tutorials are 10- to 13-minute video sequences that introduce the theory, equipment and sometimes applications for each experimental post. The last part of each E-Learning tutorial is a quiz consisting of about 10 questions. Most teachers print out worksheets (Journalblätter) from the mobiLLab website for pupil use. The worksheets include blank spaces for pupils to write down their own hypotheses and questions about the experiments before the visit as well as blank spaces for them to record the results of their experimentation.

Table 1: MobiLLab offers twelve experimental posts.
Table 1: MobiLLab offers twelve experimental posts.

A day for tinkering

The mobiLLab offers pupils an opportunity to work independently and in an evaluation-free environment, something thought to promote engagement in activities and interest development (Boekaerts & Minnaert, 1999; Ryan & Deci, 2000). In contrast to most classroom experiences, where pupils regularly encounter goals, deadlines, tests and other directives, teachers and the mobiLLab team present the mobiLLab visit as a day for trying things out and working in a self-directed manner. Pupils work in pairs, as shown in Figure 2 and, in addition to following step-by-step directions at each post, are encouraged to play around and ‘tinker’ with the equipment. Pupils are asked to try to deal with unexpected results on their own before turning to a mobiLLab coach. This independent problem-solving is supported by inquiry-based responses from mobiLLab coaches, who offer comments and questions (and no direct answers) to support pupils in exploring their own explanations for their observations. Pupils are also encouraged to bring items from home to test. At the Food Analysis Post, for example, pupils test the sugar content of soft drinks and homemade jam. Sometimes pupils bring tap or pond water to analyze via ion chromatography or metal objects to analyze with x-ray fluorescence.

Figure 2.1: Pupils at mobiLLab experimental posts: Exhaust Gas Measurement
Figure 2.2: Pupils at mobiLLab experimental posts: Microwave Synthesis
Figure 2.3: Pupils at mobiLLab experimental posts: Spiro-ergometer

A desire to move forward strategically

In 2011, the mobiLLab operations team made some changes in response to teacher comments. Specifically, the mobiLLab team developed two new items for each post: the E-Learning tutorials that pupils review online before the visit and the laminated step-by-step procedural guides (Kurzanleitung) for each post. Before making other changes to the program, the mobiLLab team wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and to identify factors that promote this effectiveness. What did it mean to be effective? What factors influence mobiLLab’s effectiveness?

Phase I: A Background Investigation

A first step in the evaluation was to identify exactly what it meant for the mobiLLab program to be effective. Researchers worked with mobiLLab faculty and staff to organize a background investigation to explore the program’s priorities and identify measures of effectiveness.


The background investigation took place between October 2012 and April 2013. This discovery work took place in part during mobiLLab visits through observations of and informal conversational interviews with teachers and pupils. In addition, informal interviews conducted using an interview guide, were held in person or over the telephone with mobiLLab team members and representatives from similar programs worldwide. Interview guides were developed based on guidelines from Patton (2002) to conduct informal (not taped), non-structured, open-ended discussions. Interviewees received a list of questions before the interview, in order to encourage reflection and well-thought-out responses. Both informal conversational interviews and script-guided interviews were conducted in German or English, depending upon the preference of the in¬terviewee. Activities also included reviewing mobiLLab program materials, relevant economic trend reports for Switzerland and Europe, and relevant research studies. Figure 3 shows the scope of investigation activities.

Figure 3: Background investigation activities.
Figure 3: Background investigation activities.

This exploratory inquiry provided information that the mobiLLab team used to sketch a ‘logic model,’ or map, showing the logical relationships among the resources invested in the program, the activities that take place, and the benefits or changes that result from them. The mobiLLab team developed the logic model according to a process designed for educational program planning that was developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Taylor-Powell et al., 2003). The logic model expresses the mobiLLab team’s theory of change, which illustrates how the program is supposed to work. Taylor-Powell described how the logic model helps groups use evaluation resources effectively by explicitly describing how program resources and activities are meant to be linked to desired outcomes:

”A logic model is the first step in evaluation. It helps determine when and what to evaluate so that evaluation resources are used effectively and efficiently. Through evaluation, we test and verify the reality of the program theory – how we believe the program will work. A logic model helps us focus on appropriate process and outcome measures” (p. 3).

Results: Articulating their situation

A first step in creating the logic model was for the mobiLLab team to define the situation, or the environment in which the program exists, which is a complex of sociopolitical, environmental, and economic conditions. An accurate understanding of the situation is a foundational part of logic model development in that it identifies forces driving the need for strategic planning and describes the people, resources, and activities related to program challenges. The mobiLLab team formulated the following situation statement:

“In spite of good science and math scores in secondary school (Eichenberger, 2010), young people in Switzer¬land, as in many other developed countries, show low interest in these subjects (Sjøberg & Schreiner, 2010). Moreover, too few young Swiss who show talent in science and math are completing univer¬sity degrees in these disci¬plines and they are choosing non-tech professions or professions outside of industry (MINT-Meter, 2012; Vogel-Misicka, 2012). This trend comes at a time when demand for science and technology graduates is growing, making it necessary for Switzerland to import high-tech and industry workers to remain competitive (High Level Group on Increasing Human Resources for Science and Technology in Europe, 2004; PresenceSwitzerland, 2012). To address the lack of “home-grown” industry and technology workers, mobile laboratory programs have started operating in countries including Germany and Switzerland.

By bringing laboratory experiments, scientists and science coaches into secondary school class-rooms in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, mobiLLab gives pupils an opportunity to expe¬rience inquiry-based science experimentation. Studies conducted in Europe and the US show that visits with mobile laboratories and science centers sometimes result in the development of pupils’ science interest attitude and knowledge immediately after a visit and that any changes tend to fade over a matter of one or two months (Barmby et al., 2005; Brandt et al., 2008; Dowell, 2011; Gassmann, 2012; Jarvis & Pell, 2005; Pawek, 2009).

Now in its fourth year of operation, the mobiLLab team would like to evaluate the program’s effec¬tiveness to inform further development. Specifically, we want to better understand how mobiLLab affects pupils’ science and technology interest, attitudes and knowledge development, and how positive changes can be sustained” (Cors, 2013, p. 4).

Results: The core program aim is to awaken youth interest in S&T

In the logic model, or theory of change shown in Figure 4, outcomes and assumptions that the mobiLLab team believed to be most influential to program success are shown in bold. The logic model shows, for example, how classroom preparation, shown as an Action Outcome, is important for helping the pupils know what to expect, reducing anxiety and promoting curiosity about the mobiLLab visit, a Learning Outcome. This enables pupils to better engage in activities at experimental posts, which causes them to ‘become more technophillic,’ a Condition Outcome. Becoming more technophillic is an important step towards maintaining interest in S&T, which the mobiLLab team believes makes it more likely that pupils will later choose related careers, another Condition Outcome.

Through this logic modeling process, mobiLLab team members confirmed that awakening pupils’ interest in doing science with technology, or pupils becoming more technophillic, is the core goal of the program. During background investigation interviews, stakeholders including teachers, industry representatives who visited classes during mobiLLab events, and mobiLLab team members, explained that awakening pupils’ interest involves promoting multiple views of the relevance of S&T in their lives. They spoke about fostering development of pupils’ basic interest in S&T; their awareness of it in the world around them; how it is useful in society; and their comfort level with it. Similarly, studies often couple measures of science interest with measures of attitude and self-concept of ability related to S&T (Denissen et al., 2007; Dowell, 2011; Dresel & Lämmle, 2011; Potvin & Abdelkrim, 2014). Even though some elements of the logic model were somewhat roughly expressed, it provided a centerpiece for discussion among mobiLLab staff and researchers that informed identification of program effectiveness measures.

Figure 4: The logic model illustrates the mobiLLab program Theory of Change (Cors, 2013).
Figure 4: The logic model illustrates the mobiLLab program Theory of Change (Cors, 2013).

Results: Indicators of program effectiveness

Based on several logic model elements, the mobiLLab team identified a list of indicators of program effectiveness, which would be practical to measure during a research investigation. One indicator, participant satisfaction, is reflected in several logic model outcomes, such as ‘pupils feel engaged…’ and ‘teachers continue to request mobiLLab.’ A second indicator, usefulness of classroom preparation materials, comes from the logic model assumption that the level of the E-Learning tutorials is appropriate for pupil learning and from the Learning Outcome that ‘teachers learn how to prepare for the mobiLLab visit.’ A final indicator was change in pupils’ affective educational outcomes, to be measured as S&T interest, attitude and self-concept of ability. The literature review conducted in conjunction with the background investigation helped researchers identify existing instruments that could be adapted for use in the mobiLLab pilot study to measure these aspects of program effectiveness. The specific instruments that were used to measure each indicator, along with the source for each, are listed in Table 2.

Table 2: Measures of effectiveness for some mobiLLab program outputs and outcomes.
Table 2: Measures of effectiveness for some mobiLLab program outputs and outcomes.

Results: Factors thought to affect pupils S&T interest development

Drawing on results from the logic model and the literature review, the mobiLLab research-faculty team identified factors they thought had the greatest influence on pupils’ affective educational outcomes. These factors included pre-visit classroom preparation activities; pupils’ feelings of novelty, or unfamiliarity; and teachers’ attitudes about learning approaches. The process for identifying these factors is shown in Figure 5 and each factor is described below.

Figure 5: Process for identifying factors that affect pupils' development of S&T interest.
Figure 5: Process for identifying factors that affect pupils’ development of S&T interest.

Classroom preparation. Classroom preparation was seen as critical to program effectiveness. The mobiLLab team’s hypothesis, shown in the logic model, was that a more complete classroom preparation would better help pupils know what to expect at the visit and therefore support their engagement in visit activities, which would, in turn, improve their S&T interest. Similarly, several studies of informal science learning programs provide evidence for a link between a more complete classroom preparation and development of educational outcomes, which sometimes related to pupils’ exploratory behavior at the program visit (Anderson & Lucas, 1997; Cotton & Cotton, 2009; Jarvis & Pell, 2005; Kubota & Olstad, 1991; Orion & Hofstein, 1994).

Novelty. The mobiLLab theory of change emphasizes classroom preparation because it increases pupils’ familiarity with the schedule and objects they will encounter at the visit, which should lower their anxiety and heighten their curiosity about the visit. This improved familiarity should, in turn, enable pupils to better engage in at-visit activities, which should promote development of more positive interest in S&T. Evidence for such a link between increased familiarity, or reduced novelty, and the effectiveness of informal science education program has been produced by several studies. These studies indicate that pupils’ individual novelty factors, such as relevant content knowledge or familiarity with the informal learning setting, related significantly to more on-task behavior at the visit and to the development of more positive educational outcomes (Anderson & Lucas, 1997; Falk & Balling, 1982; Falk et al., 1978; Jarvis & Pell, 2005). Based on this, mobiLLab investigators identified three novelty impact factors thought to most influence how novel pupils found the mobiLLab experience: 1) a cognitive factor, measured as pupils’ grades, 2) a setting orientation factor, measured as frequency of pupils visits to informal learning venues, such as museums and science centers; and 3) a technological capability factor that reflects whether pupils’ explore and tinker, or to seek direction and support, when interacting with technology. As already mentioned, the first two factors have been examined in previous studies of informal science learning. The capabilities impact factor became part of the research design in response to interviews and conversations with mobiLLab program faculty and staff during and after the background investigation. They explained that they wanted to have a better understand how pupils feel about working with technology. The technological capability construct was chosen because it is an indicator of how capable people feel interacting with technology. It was developed as part of the Technological Profile Inventory (TPI), which supports a South African university admissions process that sought to admit engineering students with the best chance of success (Luckay & Collier-Reed, 2011).

Teacher Attitude. As an assumption in the mobiLLab logic model shows, mobiLLab team members also thought that teacher attitude influenced pupils’ interest. The great influence of teacher attitude on what pupils gain from an informal learning experience was also emphasized in interview responses from leaders of similar programs worldwide (Cors, 2013). Teacher attitude and teaching approach as a key to improving educational outcomes is not a new idea and, as early as the 1960s, the United National Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization recognized the “essential role of teachers in educational advancement and the importance of their contribution to the development of man and modern society” (ILO & UNESCO, 1966, p. 20). Based on a previous study of how teacher attitudes are linked to how pupils learn physics, investigators selected two factors to examine: teachers’ attitude to situational learning and to constructivist learning (Kuhn, 2010).

Phase II – Pilot Study

A mixed-methods pilot research investigation was developed to examine how classroom preparation, pupil novelty factors, and teacher attitude related to pupils’ affective educational outcomes. Affective educational outcomes, called ‘core S&T outcomes,’ were measured as interest in, attitude to, and self-concept to S&T. The investigation was designed to explore the questions, ‘How do differences in classroom preparation and in pupils’ novelty factors relate to changes pupils’ core S&T educational outcomes from before to after a mobiLLab visit?’ and ‘What moderating role do teachers’ attitudes play?’ The study also presented an opportunity to examine measures of program effectiveness.


The mobiLLab pilot study took place in Spring 2014. Data collection involved 9 teachers and 15 of their class groups who experienced a mobiLLab visit. All 9 teachers and 208 pupils completed pre- and post-visit surveys, which occurred in January and one week after their mobiLLab visit, which occurred from February to May, respectively. Teachers also participated in post-visit interviews.

Pupil survey. Pupils responded to survey items about their core S&T outcomes, their individual novelty factors, and opinions about the mobiLLab program. They rated these items using a 4-point Likert scale: “1”=completely untrue (“stimmt gar nicht”), “2” = somewhat true (“stimmt wenig”), “3” = very/quite true (“stimmt sehr”), “4” completely true (“stimmt völlig”). Examples of survey items are shown in Table 3. All of these items were borrowed from other pupil surveys and were adapted to the mobiLLab pilot surveys through a review process that involved mobiLLab program leaders, to ensure that the language would be appropriate for participating pupils. A group of eight testers, including four teens who attended school in the same provincial areas as mobiLLab pupils, completed a draft of the survey and provided feedback to improve understandability.

Table 3: Example items from the pupil survey of the mobiLLab pilot study.
Table 3: Example items from the pupil survey of the mobiLLab pilot study.

Paired t-tests were employed to assess whether pupils’ interest, attitude and self-concept regarding both science and technology changed significantly between pre- and post- visit surveys (when p<0.05). For significant changes, Cohen’s d was calculated to indicate the magnitude of the change, called effect size, which can be interpreted based on guidelines from Cohen (1998): small d=0.2, medium d=0.5, large d=0.8. Relations between impact factors, such as technological capability, and educational outcomes were explored through multivariate analysis of regression (MANOVA). Results are reported as F values, a comparison of group means for tinkers and direction seekers. For significant relations, an effect size is given as partial eta squared, Ƞp2, which can be interpreted from guidelines from Cohen (1988): small Ƞp2=0.01, medium Ƞp2=0.06, large Ƞp2=0.14.

Teacher interviews and survey. Teacher interviews took place at schools where teachers worked and lasted 30 to 40 minutes. The aims were to characterize classroom preparation and better understand teachers’ experiences with the mobiLLab program. Interviews were developed and conducted according to guidelines from Patton (2002) in a semi-structured manner. This involved following a scripted list of questions and sometimes diverging from the script when opportunities arose to talk with teachers about suggestions for program improvement. It was clear beforehand that there would not be enough time during the interviews for teachers to comment on each of the classroom preparation resources available on the mobiLLab website. In anticipation of the limited time, the interviewer (first author) asked teachers about the four resources thought to be most used by teachers: the introduction to mobiLLab PowerPoint presentation (Einführung ins mobiLLab), E-Learning, the worksheets (Journalblätter), and the step-by-step instructions for working at each post (Kurzanleitung). If other resources were discussed, these conversations were generally initiated by the teacher.

Through an online survey, teachers responded to questions about their preparation and rated four of the materials thought to be most frequently downloaded from the mobiLLab website and used for classroom preparation. These materials were the introduction to mobiLLab PowerPoint presentation (Einführung ins mobiLLab), E-Learning, the worksheets (Journalblätter), and the step-by-step instructions for working at each post (Kurzanleitung). Teachers rated these website materials based on four criteria: appropriate level and language for pupils; clarity and understandability for pupils; whether the material was edited by the teacher prior to use in class; and appeal to pupils. They rated the materials using a four-point Likert scale to indicate for example, how clear and understandable each item was: 1= not at all (stimmt gar nicht), 2 = somewhat (stimmt wenig), 3= quite (stimmt ziemlich), 4= completely (stimmt völlig).

Teacher sample and intervention

It was expected that survey responses from teachers about classroom preparation would differ between treatment teachers, who received additional preparation materials, and control teachers, who received no additional preparation materials. However, teachers’ accounts of their preparation did not vary significantly for most factors, such as which mobiLLab website materials they used during classroom preparation and their attitudes toward situated learning. In fact, classroom preparation time was the only aspect from which a preparation typology could be created. Four preparation types, shown in Figure 6, were defined based on duration and number of classroom lesson-hours (45 minutes each) devoted to preparation.

Figure 6: A classroom preparation typology was based on duration and lesson-hours.
Figure 6: A classroom preparation typology was based on duration and lesson-hours.

One explanation for the low variability of materials used by teachers for classroom preparation could be the small sample of (9) teachers. An even more likely reason was that, even though the mobiLLab manager shared new preparation materials with only five of the teachers (treatment group), other teachers (control group) sometimes gained access to these same resources. This sample ‘contamination’ is illustrated in Table 4, which shows how control group teachers used most of the new preparation materials, likely acquired from colleagues in the treatment group who worked at the same school. All new resources except for the novelty space triangle were used by at least one control group teacher. Because of the popularity of some of the new resources with teachers, such as the Planning Guide, they became a permanent part of website materials the mobiLLab program offers for classroom preparation.

Table 4: Preparation resources offered to treatment group teachers (N=5) were used by both control and treatment group teachers (N=9).
Table 4: Preparation resources offered to treatment group teachers (N=5) were used by both control and treatment group teachers (N=9).

Pupil sample

Responses from pupils (108 male; 97 female; 3 no response) about core S&T outcomes from the pre- and post-visit survey are shown in Figure 7. Pupil ratings of technology-related core S&T outcomes showed slight or insignificant changes. That is, pupils’ interest in technology was moderate and decreased significantly from pre- to post-survey, with small effect, (M=2.55->2.43, p<.001, Cohen’s d=0.18). In contrast, their attitude was somewhat positive and showed no significant change (M=3.04->3.07; p=.284), and their somewhat positive self-concept decreased significantly, with small effect, (M=2.86->2.80, p=.006, Cohen’s d=0.10). Responses about natural science were similar: pupils indicated a moderate interest in natural science that decreased significantly, with small effect, (M=2.52->2.44, p=.005, Cohen’s d=0.13); a somewhat positive attitude that showed no significant change (M=2.94->2.97; p=.384), and a somewhat positive self-concept that decreased significantly, with small effect, (M=2.87->2.82, p=.046, Cohen’s d=0.09). These results reflect the collective results from other studies of science learning at mobile laboratories and science centers, which show that pupils interest sometimes decreases and sometimes increases, and that these changes often fade over time (Barmby et al., 2005; Brandt et al., 2008; Dowell, 2011; Guderian, 2007; Jarvis & Pell, 2005; Pawek, 2009; Sasson, 2014).


Figure 7: Pupils’ S&T interest, attitude, and self-concept; mobiLLab pilot study sample (techn=technology; ns=natural science).
Figure 7: Pupils’ S&T interest, attitude, and self-concept; mobiLLab pilot study sample (techn=technology; ns=natural science).

Results: program satisfaction and classroom preparation materials

This section begins with a description of findings from an improved version of the pupil pre- and post- surveys (N=215) completed in 2015. Qualitative data from the pilot study provides further insights into participants’ program satisfaction. Also described are teachers’ ratings about the usefulness of frequently used preparation materials.

Program satisfaction
Pupils’ program satisfaction was measured through a grade they gave the mobiLLab program and through several question about how they liked the mobiLLab visit. Pupils gave their mobiLLab experience an average grade of 4.8 (SD=0.9), which is more than a full grade higher than the grade they gave the mobiLLab in 2010 (M=3.2, SD=1.5), as shown in Figure 8. MobiLLab team members attributed this improved grade from mobiLLab pupils largely to the addition of the E-Learning and step-by-step procedural guides (Kurzanleitung) for each post in 2011. MobiLLab team leaders also point to other factors that could have contributed to this increased program satisfaction: there are more teachers each year who have worked with mobiLLab in a previous year and can therefore better support pupils to prepare for the visit; new posts, such as Food Analysis, are easier to operate and can test more items from home; and recent additions of new objects, such as a prism to the Visible Light post, which appear to be popular with pupils.

Figure 8: Pupils gave mobiLLab a higher grade in 2015 than in 2010.
Figure 8: Pupils gave mobiLLab a higher grade in 2015 than in 2010.

Pupils’ responses to three questions about their satisfaction, shown in Figure 9, indicate that their mobiLLab experiences were fairly positive. On average, pupils gave a positive rating for liking the visit (M=3.1, SD=0.8). Responses about whether they would like to participate in another mobiLLab visit were slightly better than neutral (M=2.7, SD=1.0). Finally, pupils thought they had to work at least as hard during the mobiLLab visit as they usually do during science class (M=2.4, SD=0.8). These findings suggest that pupils liked their mobiLLab experience, even though it involved some work. This supports the assertion by researchers that informal learning is more than just play, offering an environment where learners work but also enjoy themselves (Rennie, 2007).

Figure 9: Pupils worked about as hard during the mobiLLab visit as they do in their regular science class, and still liked the mobiLLab day very much.
Figure 9: Pupils worked about as hard during the mobiLLab visit as they do in their regular science class, and still liked the mobiLLab day very much.

During interviews, several teachers explained that during classroom discussions after the mobiLLab visit, pupils also voiced positive feedback about the program. Teachers themselves also indicated that they were satisfied with the program, with about half of teachers expressing (unsolicited) interest in another mobiLLab visit. Teachers said mobiLLab is valuable to them because it offers pupils a chance to work with equipment and materials the schools do not have and because pupils can develop and implement their own ideas.

Results: Teacher ratings of classroom preparation materials

Teacher responses about classroom materials, shown in Figure 10, were relatively encouraging. They found the Introduction to mobiLLab to be at a good content level (M= 3.4, SD=0.7), clear and understandable (M= 3.4, SD=0.7), interesting and exciting for pupils (M= 3.2, SD=0.7), and did not need much changing before use (M= 1.6, SD=1.1). Similarly, teachers rated E-Learning online tutorials as having a good content level (M= 3.3, SD=0.9), as clear and understandable (M= 3.1, SD=1.0), interesting and exciting for pupils (M= 3.4 SD=0.7), but indicated they could use some modification (M= 2.2, SD=1.0). The post step-by-step instructions received ratings that were almost as good, with teachers indicating a good content level (M= 2.9, SD=0.9); clarity and understandability (M= 2.9, SD=0.7); that they were interesting and exciting for pupils (M= 3.0, SD=0.6); but that they could use some adjustment before use (M= 2.1, SD=1.2). The Journalblätter worksheets received more moderate reviews. Teachers indicated that they had a good content level (M= 3.1, SD=1.1); were clear and understandable (M= 2.9, SD=1.1); were somewhat interesting and exciting for pupils (M= 2.7, SD=0.5); but indicated they needed some adjustment before use (M= 2.3, SD=1.2). During interviews, teachers offered specific suggestions about modifying the Journalblätter worksheets that led to a major shortening and revision of this resource. Also in response to specific suggestions offered during interviews, the mobiLLab team managers revised several other online resources, reorganized the website, and added some information to teachers’ orientation materials.

Figure 10: Teachers' ratings of four frequently used preparation resources on a scale of 1 to 4.
Figure 10: Teachers’ ratings of four frequently used preparation resources on a scale of 1 to 4.


Results: Factors that affect pupils’ educational outcomes

Results of a multivariate analysis of regression (MANOVA) indicated that two factors affected how pupils’ core S&T outcomes changed from before to after the mobiLLab visit. These two factors were preparation time and pupils’ perception of their technologically capability.

Preparation time. Preparation time had an overall small effect on core S&T outcomes, ɳp2 =.03. A closer look through post-hoc tests suggest that pupils who experienced a preparation that started closer to the mobiLLab visit and involved more classroom time (’duration short, lesson time high’), showed significantly greater interest (science, p=.049; technology, p=.012) and had a more positive attitude (science, p=.011; technology, p=.010). These results could suggest that when preparation starts too early, pupils have difficulty recalling preparation lessons and feel unprepared for the visit. Also, more classroom time may simply give pupils more opportunity to become familiar with relevant content, equipment, and the schedule for the visit. Qualitative data provide insights into how prepration time can be used most effectively. That is, during pilot study interviews, teachers emphasized that an effective preparation 1) involves pupils reviewing the E-Learning tutorials; 2) relates mobiLLab to pupils’ interest; 3) relates classroom activities and assignments to mobiLLab; and 4) orients pupils to the plan for the day.

NOTE: Data about teacher pre-visit attitudes about the importance of situated (M=2.9, SD=.06) and constructivist (M=2.8, SD=.04) learning did not change significantly from before to after the mobiLLab visit. Also, teacher attitudes were not found to be significant moderators of the relation between impact factors and pupils’ core S&T outcomes.

Comfort with technology. Pilot study findings suggest a link between pupils’ comfort with mobiLLab equipment and engagement with mobiLLab visit activities. That is, during interviews, several teachers talked about how pupils’ engagement with mobiLLab activities depended upon them becoming comfortable with the idea of handling equipment, without for example breaking something.

Quantitative data also suggest that pupils’ comfort interacting with technology is linked to their program experience. Specifically, findings showed that more technologically capable pupils (tinkerers), reported significantly different changes in their core S&T outcomes, from before to after the mobiLLab visit, than direction seekers (medium effect: ɳp2 =.05). Follow-up ANOVA tests for individual outcomes revealed significant relations between technological capability and changes in pupils’ interest in and self-concept to technology. That is, pupils’ technological capability accounted for differences in how their interest in technology changed from before to after the mobiLLab visit with small effect, F(1,199)=5.69, (p=.018), Ƞp2=.028. As illustrated in Figure 11, tinkerers had more positive interest in technology than their direction-seeking peers. However, tinkerers’ interest in technology decreased slightly from pre- to post-visit, while direction-seekers’ interest remained unchanged. This could mean that tinkerers were bored or that somehow their expectations for the visit were not met. These results could also reflect a trend of decreased interest in science with age, a phenomenon identified in other studies of similar programs (Barmby et al., 2005; Guderian, 2007). This interpretation is based on the fact that there was a timespan of five to twenty weeks between pre- and post-visit surveys, depending upon when the mobiLLab visit for a given class took place.

Figure 11: Tinkerers’ interest in technology decreased slightly from before to after the mobiLLab visit, while direction-seekers’ interest remained steady.
Figure 11: Tinkerers’ interest in technology decreased slightly from before to after the mobiLLab visit, while direction-seekers’ interest remained steady.

ANOVA results also show that pupils’ technologically capability accounted for small but significant differences in changes in pupils’ self-concept to technology, F(1,199)=3.90, (p=.050), Ƞp2=.019. This effect is illustrated in Figure 12, which shows how tinkerers started with greater self-concept to technology than direction-seekers. However, direction-seekers’ self-concept decreased significantly more than than tinkerers’ self-concept to technology, which remained virtually unchanged. One could imagine that direction seekers felt less comfortable with the equipment at the mobiLLab visit and/or perhaps overwhelmed by the challenge of using it, which caused them to feel frustrated and therefore disengage with the activity.

Figure 12: Tinkerers’ self-concept to technology remained steady from before to after the mobiLLab visit, while direction-seekers’ self-concept decreased.
Figure 12: Tinkerers’ self-concept to technology remained steady from before to after the mobiLLab visit, while direction-seekers’ self-concept decreased.

There was no significant relationship between pupils’ technological capability and changes in their attitude to technology, F(1,199)=.147, (p=.702). Also technological capability did not account for differences in changes in pupils’ natural science educational outcomes F(3,195)=.41, (p=.746). Likewise, pupils’ science grades, math grades, and how often they visited other informal learning programs were not significantly linked to how their core S&T outcomes changed.

Summary and outlook

The mobiLLab team sought to identify and measure indicators of program effectiveness that were meaningful for their work in the field. Through an exploratory background investigation, indicators of program effectiveness were identified: participant satisfaction, usefulness of mobiLLab website materials for classroom preparation, and changes in pupils’ S&T interest, attitude and self-concept from pre- to post-visit. These indicators were examined through pupil and teacher surveys and teacher interviews during a pilot research investigation. Findings about program satisfaction produced encouraging results, indicating that pupils and teachers were satisfied overall with their mobiLLab program experience and that pupil satisfaction improved over time. Results also showed that teachers are generally pleased with classroom preparation materials provided on the mobiLLab website and offered useful input for improving these resources.

Like results from other studies about informal science education programs, our results showed that pupil’ S&T interest, attitude and self-concept changed slightly or not at all significantly from before to after the visit. Fortunately, the investigation also explored factors that influence these outcomes. Results show that classroom preparations that began less than 15 days before the mobiLLab visit and lasted longer than eight lesson hours were linked to more positive pupil S&T interest and self-concept. This offers evidence that the time invested by the mobiLLab team in developing preparation materials and by teachers in conducting classroom preparation activities is worthwhile.

A second factor that predicted how pupils’ S&T outcomes changed from before to after the mobiLLab visit was their comfort interacting with technology. That is, findings provide evidence that interest in and self-concept to technology for tinkerers, or pupils who see themselves as more technologically capable, changed differently than their direction-seeking peers. The nature of these differences was unexpected. It was perhaps no surprise that tinkerers had greater S&T interest, attitude, and self-concept than direction seekers. However, tinkerers’ interest in technology decreased slightly, while direction seekers interest remained unchanged. In contrast, tinkerers’ self-concept of ability with technology remained steady, while direction seekers developed a slightly lower self-concept of ability with technology. Qualitative data also point to how pupils’ comfort with technology affects their mobiLLab experience. That is, during pilot study interviews, teachers asserted that the more comfortable pupils feel with the mobiLLab equipment, the better they engage in activities and profit from the visit. Through the lens of novelty, this could mean that the mobiLLab needs to offer more appealing novelty, such as a more authentic laboratory environment with lab coats and clipboards, to attract pupils’ interest. Perhaps additional ‘whacky challenges’ need to be added to maintain the interest of tinkerers and keep them from being bored. In contrast, for direction-seekers, mobiLLab could try to reduce unfamiliarity by offering more opportunities for pre-visit practice with equipment and/or some simple tasks at the mobiLLab visit with which they can succeed. These activities could reduce how overwhelmed and intimidated direction-seekers feel and boost their self-concept. Future studies should examine how these approaches affect learners’ S&T interest and self-concept of ability.

The mobiLLab pilot study was designed based on the idea that classroom preparation reduces unfamiliarity and promotes at-visit engagement, which, in turn, promotes the development of S&T interest. This link between learners’ novelty factors, at-visit experience, and their educational outcomes has been put forth by several models for informal learning research, yet few studies have measured learners’ at-visit experiences. Future studies should examine how individual novelty factors, such as technological capability, relate to how learners perceive novelty during a visit, measured through indicators such as exploratory behavior, oriented feeling, cognitive load and curiosity feeling. Such studies would demonstrate, for example, whether a novelty-reducing preparation indeed improves how oriented pupils feel at a science center visit. By examining relations among learner novelty impact factors, at-visit novelty factors, and educational outcomes, studies can deepen our understanding of the role of novelty in informal learning.

The investigation process and findings offer a model that can inform other informal learning programs about evaluating their own programs. The investigation followed many of the criteria that are part of quality research to evaluate science education (Bennett et al., 2006). For example, by exploring mobiLLab program priorities and goals with team members and other program stakeholders, researchers developed measures of program effectiveness that represent the real-world challenges of an informal science education program. And by involving mobiLLab team members and local youth in developing and testing measurement instruments for the pupil survey, they felt relatively confident that they collected responses from pupils that match what they aimed to measure. Collecting teacher responses through both interviews and an on-line survey is a form of data triangulation that contributed to the validity of some variables. Moreover, data was collected both before and after the mobiLLab visit and the pilot study involved a moderately large pupil sample.

Investigators also learned about the challenges of studying informal learning programs, including some factors that commonly limit such studies, which must often organize research activities to conform with classroom pupil groupings and course schedules (Bell et al., 2009; Brownell et al., 2013). For example, the pilot study did not include a control or comparison group, so conclusions cannot be made about whether educational outcomes from a mobiLLab visit are different from outcomes that result from classroom learning. Also, pupil and teacher samples were not chosen randomly, but consisted of those classes whose teachers made the extra effort to request a mobiLLab visit. It is also worth noting that the one-time, transient nature of informal learning programs like mobiLLab introduces questions about whether findings are the result of the program experience or of other factors in learners’ lives. That is, during the pre- and post-visit surveys, pupils could have encountered other classroom lessons or out-of-school experiences that influenced their science interest, attitude and self-concept.

A final note is about the high-technology nature of some informal learning programs, which reflects how technology has become more prevalent in our lives. The mobiLLab evaluation reveals that pupils’ interest in and self-concept to technology are different from how they view science, depending upon their perception of how technologically capable they are. By recognizing these links, studies about mobile laboratories and science centers can help us better understand how we are preparing young people for life in the 21st century, much of which is high-tech. How technologically capable pupils see themselves as has been recognized as an important skill for thriving and contributing to Digital Age societies. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and US National Research Council (NRC) described technological capability as one of three dimensions of technological literacy, which consists of dimensions of capabilities, knowledge, and critical thinking. They explain how technological literacy has become a critical aspect of how people function in and support today’s economy and society (Garmire & Pearson, 2006):

“There are a number {of benefits of technological literacy} … some of the most important relate to improving how people—from consumers to policy makers— think and make decisions about technology; increasing citizen participation in discussion of technological developments; supporting a modern workforce, which requires workers with significant technological savvy; and ensuring equal opportunity in such areas as education and employment for people with differing social, cultural, educational, and work backgrounds” (p. 22).


Rebecca Cors*, University of Teacher Education, Institute for Teaching Natural Science, Switzerland, rebecca.cors(at)
Nicolas Robin, University of Teacher Education, Institute for Teaching Natural Science, Switzerland, nicolas.robin(at)

*corresponding author

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Developing new models for earning study credits from daily work – challenges in developing competence in nursing education

Clinical learning of nursing students in Finland

In Finland, students study to become registered nurses for 3.5 years (210 ECTS) in universities of applied sciences. At the EU level, clinical practice covers at least 50% of the total degree. During their education and particularly in clinical practice situations, it must be ensured that nursing students are able to prepare their skills in evidence-based nursing (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, 2012). There is a need for special learning situation arrangements in the context of health care and social services. Typically, nursing students carry out clinical practice as unpaid workers, acting as ‘extra’ persons in the workplaces, not included in staff resources. This is supposed to allow students a chance to have better circumstances for the placement and give them time for learning. One of the reasons that, for example, nursing students may not get opportunities to practice their competencies in their work as paid employees in the fact that, in Finland, nursing students are allowed to work as a fill-in for a registered nurse only once they have completed at least 140 ECTS of their nursing studies. The law contains many restrictions concerning health care and social service workers who have not yet graduated regarding what they are allowed to do in their work.


For instance, if the nursing student is allowed to perform some task during his or her clinical practice before reaching certain level of studies, they must be accompanied by an employee qualified for the task, who in turn shall take the responsibility of guiding the student to conduct the task in an appropriate and safe way. Registered nurses, referred to as the students’ mentors, guide and assess nursing students in the clinical practice situations; however, in Finland, university-educated teachers are also responsible for guiding and assessing the students during their clinical placements (Ministry of Education, 2006).

Competence Areas

Nursing students must be trained to meet medical standards and have competence in nursing diagnoses and interventions (Eriksson et al., 2015). However, according to Kajander-Unkuri et al. (2013), specific competence areas in nursing are yet to be defined in the European Union. For example, Gardner, Hase, Gardner, Dunn & Carryer (2007) have argued that there are limitations to the use of a competency-based assessment: Nurses may have knowledge accumulated through education and experience, but they may nevertheless be unprepared to use it in their clinical practice actions. The nursing students’ capability describes their ability to use their competencies in novel as well as familiar circumstances. Rochester, Kilstoff & Scott (2005) found that while capability in technical skill is required in successful practice as a nurse, the capabilities of social and personal ‘emotional intelligence’ are also significant. The highest-ranked item in Rochester et al.’s (2005) important study was the interpersonal aspect of emotional intelligence, which was defined as ‘ability to empathize and work productively with people from a wide range of backgrounds’. Mentors in clinical placements spend a lot of time with students, which puts emphasis to their ability to assess how the students manage combining theoretical knowledge with the real word of nursing.

Verkkovirta project and nursing students’ learning by working

The goal of the Verkkovirta project, financed by the European Social Fund, is to develop new models that allow students to earn study credits from daily work. Haaga-Helia School of Vocational Teacher Education coordinates the project, while the subprojects are implemented in Saimaa and eleven other universities of applied sciences. (Verkkovirta 2016.)

Competencies required by a degree in nursing can be obtained both in the classroom and in the workplace. Therefore, new innovative methods are needed. In different fields of education, there is a need for different and novel arrangements of education. Indeed, this project has excellent potential to develop good practices that combine work and study. When nursing students obtain study credits for their daily work as employees, it must be ensured that successful practice is underpinned by the graduates’ ability to integrate and consistently apply a number of capabilities beyond profession-specific skills and knowledge. For example, Bisholt et al. (2014) and Stayt & Merriman (2013) have argued that nursing students may not get consistent opportunities and experiences of clinical skill development in their clinical placements, which may have consequences on nursing students´ learning and competency development. This might cause difficulties in placing students effectively in clinical contexts to ensure maximal learning opportunities (Walker et al., 2011). Through the placements, nursing students get to work in very different kinds of hospitals, nursing homes, home care etc. It is challenging to analyze what kind of possibilities they have during these placements to achieve certain kinds of competency and what is the level of these competencies.

Managers’ perspectives of the possibility of earning money and completing a degree at the same time

One of the roles of Saimaa University of Applied Sciences in the Verkkovirta project was to investigate working organizations’ perspectives of development needs in situations where students are able to receive payment for their work while at the same time have possibilities to build their competency for degree purposes.

Data collection and data analysis

Ten managers in different kinds of health care and social services (public, private and third sector) were contacted by visiting them personally at their workplaces. The purpose of the visits was to find out about the managers’ opinions of this aim. Interviews were held as dialogical discussion sessions, and the author was taking notes at the same time. After each interview, the notes were supplemented by the author to make them more accurate. The written data were analyzed by content analysis and themes were formed by combining the managers’ conceptions of the development needs related to this new way of earning money and studying at the same time in clinical situations.

Permanent worker as a nursing student

It has been common in nursing and social service organizations that when a worker holds a permanent position, he or she might get opportunities to combine some of their studies in higher education with their current job, getting to complete some study assignments, such as clinical practice periods or theoretical tasks at their workplace. For example, if the student has been working in a hospital or home care as a practical nurse, they can complete parts of their registered nurse education at the same workplace. The interviewed managers reported that they support workers who want to advance their studies in health care or social services. In some cases, workplaces may even have offered to change the student’s job description to provide them with more opportunities to use the working periods for educational purposes during the education. The support of colleagues plays an important role, as such arrangements may also effect the entire workplace. Managers highlighted that the main responsibility of employees is to perform their normal tasks at the workplace, and situations supporting the education may be arranged if the main work situation allows this without any major problems. The main focus must be on clients and patients, not just educational purposes.

The managers suggested that it is easier to manage simultaneous work and degree-earning when the worker conducting studies is has a permanent job contract. Nevertheless, managers also planned and provided options for temporary workers to combine their work and studies, for example, in some cases, work tasks could be arranged just for a given student. For example, a nursing student may have a summer job in home care of which, each week two or three days could be arranged to include certain type of work for the mere purpose of helping the student reach the level of competence required by their degree. Managers described that this might influence the students’ motivation as workers in the organization not only during the work practice period, but also later. Most of such arrangements could be facilitated by a multi-professional workplace where there are employees working in the profession pursued by the student. In fact, the managers highlighted the possibilities for students to collaborate with professionals during their work practice periods and the fact that it is not always possible if they are paid workers and not the ‘extra people’ as students with no financial impact to the organizations as usually.

Multi-professional mentoring

Especially in small working places, the managers also brought up the question of the mentor having the ‘same profession as the student. Educational institutes typically require for the workplaces where health care and social services students practice their skills of competency to provide the student with a mentor in the same profession as the one which the student is working towards. Mentoring could also be arranged at times by providing multi-professional mentors; however the mentor who bears the responsibility of the student’s final assessment at the end of the clinical practice period should be in the profession as the one for which the student is studying. Managers shared the opinion that it should also be possible that, for example, a registered nurse should be allowed to assess a physiotherapist student’s ability to work in certain circumstances. The question of the managers was that ‘what is the problem of the multi-professional assessment’.

Mentoring resources

In order to successfully combine work and achieving competency for educational purposes, the importance of proper guidance and mentoring was highlighted. The managers argued that it is important for mentors to have more knowledge, for example, of the nursing education curriculum and skill requirements set for nursing students. There was also an apparent need for mentors to enhance their skills in assessing nursing students’ competence in clinical situations. Therefore, there is a need for instructions from educational institutes to the work placement sites. The main question seems to concern timing problems: mentors have a lot of responsibilities in their work settings and there are few resources for substitute employees. Therefore, it may not be easy to set time aside from patient care in order to study nursing student’s learning and assessment needs. In addition, if the registered nurses do get the opportunity to participate in training, they prefer to enhance their patient care knowledge, especially in case of nursing in specific fields (e.g. surgical or mental health nursing). Nursing guidelines and techniques are constantly in progress, and nurses are required to stay updated on these important issues, which also explains the order of importance for using nursing resources for education purposes.

Mentoring education arrangements

When asked about good practices for mentoring training, managers suggested events that would take only three to four hours in the evening and offering the same contents twice on different days would enable as many as possible to participate in the education and using necessary shift arrangements to take care of clients and patients. Managers argued that it would be easiest to arrange mentoring training at the work organization so that the workers would not have to travel a long way in order to attend, and it would also be ideal if the events were held at the working places of the mentors.

Support from teachers

It has not always been possible to ensure that mentors have completed mentor training, which makes the support of the students’ teachers even more important. The managers highlighted that teachers should visit the clinical placements in the beginning of the working period so that the mentors and students get orientation to the clinical practice period and the assessment process, including determining what the student should learn and what competency levels should be reached for educational purposes during the working period. Teachers should also clarify the responsibilities of each party: what should managers/organizations do, what is the student responsible for, what are teachers/educational institutes’ responsibilities? Managers also highlighted the role of the students: they may have broad responsibility of the whole process and must be particularly proactive in arranging and ensuring that they get possibilities for learning and earn the level of competency set for their degree. According to the managers’ views, the students who are willing to be active in process are more likely to take care of their own learning and related situations. This may help them graduate earlier than other students or possibly enhance their financial circumstances during their education.

Independent working situations

The issue of mentoring in independent working situations was also highlighted by the managers. Health care and social services involve certain situations that require employees to work by themselves, without any help from colleagues at the worksite. Home care and work conducted alone with the customer/patient in an examination room are typically one-worker jobs.  Working alone is usually an outcome of limitations to financial and timing resources. What consequences could there be for student nurses needing to have someone to accompany them so that they could assess their behavior in real customer/patient situations? Would the rest of the employees have to work more because one of the workers cannot work independently all the time? This could also affect the willingness for the aforementioned arrangements at the whole work place and among workers.

The managers had a very positive view on improving students’ ability to earn study credits from their daily work. They had often witnessed students having to work during their studies to earn money to in order to support their family, small children or meet their financial needs. This might cause a delay in the students’ education, but the employers would like to employ this specific student after graduating and this is not possible because of the situation. The managers consider that combining work and studying gives ‘good drive’ to the whole workplace because the students may be highly motivated to improve the circumstances of working processes. In many cases, the students take on theoretical tasks, such as a final thesis, for certain work place needs.


Students’ ability to work in the ‘real world’ is very important for their professional growth by combining their theoretical knowledge with actions in a workplace. These learning situations are important, but it is also crucial that students increase their knowledge of their competency as nurses or other professionals. Final assessment in clinical practice during nursing education is extremely import for ensuring the sufficiently high quality of nursing graduates. In every profession, awareness of what employees know and do not know, and their ability to identify what they need to know is key to lifelong learning and becoming a better professional (Gardner et al., 2007). For example, Blackman et al. (2007) and Lauder et al. (2008) have argued that nursing students’ self-assessment skills may be insufficient and that self-assessment might thus not be a reliable method for ensuring the competence of nursing students. The challenges in combining work with earning credits to a degree also highlight this challenge of assessment. What are the circumstances in which students are working; what are the utilized competency areas, are the students able to do practice everything required by their studies, how is mentoring arranged, and how do students get relevant feedback and assessment?

Mentors are clinical nurses who supervise and assess nursing students during their clinical practice. Therefore, mentors play an important role in identifying nursing students’ capability (Jokelainen et al., 2011). If working organizations had possibilities to ensure that students get proper learning opportunities with the help of good mentoring and appropriate assessment practices, we could ensure meeting the objectives set for nursing students also in a situation when a student is paid for work during the period they learn nursing skills. In many other education sectors, it is not uncommon that students receive payment for their work also when the aim of their work period is to meet objectives set for their studies.. For example, in technological education in Finland, students are encouraged to get a summer job to earn credits for their studies. In contrast, in education in the field of health care and social services, students are typically considered to be unable to learn enough if they are working as paid workers. But again: high quality assessment is the way to ensure high quality of learning.

Educational institutes must carry out good teamwork with clinical practice placement sites and mentors to ensure high quality in the assessment process, especially when nursing students are also employees at the sites. This is a challenging set of circumstances because it differs from typical arrangements for nursing students’ clinical practice periods where students are perceived as ‘extra’ persons in the working places. The role of nursing teachers in the clinical placements has been sometimes debated, while findings by Helminen et al. (2014) and Löfmark et al. (2012) showed that nursing students and mentors rated highly the supervision they had from teachers. The opinions of the managers who participated in this inquiry belonging to the Verkkovirta project were similar. Mentors need support from teachers to improve the clarity of assessment plans and documentation: what nursing students are required to complete and explanations regarding the meaning of the ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ grades. Mentors and nursing teachers have their own roles in the clinical placements: mentors are the experts on clinical practice, while teachers´ role includes familiarity with learning outcomes defined for clinical practice and how these can be reached and assessed (Collington et al., 2012; Broadbent et al., 2014; Helminen et al., 2016). Therefore, nursing teachers’ visits to clinical placement sites for ensuring that nursing students get an opportunity to receive feedback on their performance from mentors are important for the good quality of the assessment process. Work organizations play a central role in enabling this special opportunity for students to arrange their studies in personal ways and, therefore, educational institutes and teachers should also invest in and carefully consider employers’ opinions and make this cooperation as good as possible.

The purpose was to investigate perspectives in work organizations on development needs related to students combining work and studies. By interviewing managers, we gained important knowledge that can be used in developing educational situations to provide students with opportunities to study flexibly and graduate within the appropriate timeframe. The importance of support and arrangements for the entire workplace and employees is highlighted. Finally, educational institutes must also guarantee that the teachers provide support to the students, mentors and managers during the process.


Kristiina Helminen, Saimaa University of Applied Sciences, Senior Lecturer, MHSc, kristiina.helminen(at)

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Eriksson, E., Korhonen, T., Merasto, M. & Moisio, E-L. 2015. Sairaanhoitajan ammatillinen osaaminen – Sairaanhoitajakoulutuksen tulevaisuus -hanke. Ammattikorkeakoulujen terveysalan verkosto ja Suomen sairaanhoitajaliitto ry. Bookwell Oy, Porvoo. Also available at (includes English version):

Gardner, A., Hase, S., Gardner, G., Dunn, SV. & Carryer, J. 2007. From competence to capability: a study of nurse practitioners in clinical practice. Journal of Clinical Nursing 17, 250-258.

Helminen, K., Tossavainen, K. & Turunen, H. 2014. Assessing clinical practice of student nurses: Views of teachers, mentors and students. Nurse Education Today 34, 1161-1166.

Helminen, K., Coco, K., Johnson, M., Turunen, H. & Tossavainen, K. 2016. Summative assessment of clinical practice of student nurses: A review of the literature. International Journal of Nursing Studies 53, 308-319.

Jokelainen, M., Turunen, H., Tossavainen, K., Jamokeeah, D. & Coco, K. 2011. A systematic review of mentoring nursing students in clinical placements. Journal of Clinical Nursing 20, 2854-2867.

Kajander-Unkuri, S., Salminen, L., Saarikoski, M., Suhonen, R. & Leino-Kilpi, H. 2013. Competence areas of nursing students in Europe. Nurse Education Today 33, 625-632.

Lauder, W., Holland, K., Roxburgh, M., Topping, K., Watson, R., Johnson, M., Porter, M. & Behr, A. 2008. Measuring competence, self-reported competence and self-efficacy in pre-registration students. Nursing Standard 22, 35-43.

Löfmark, A., Thorkildsen, K., Råholm, M-B. & Natvig, G.K. 2012. Nursing students´ satisfaction with supervision from preceptors and teachers during clinical practice. Nurse Education in Practice 12, 164-169.
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Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 2012. Koulutuksella osaamista asiakaskeskeisiin ja moniammatillisiin palveluihin, Ehdotukset hoitotyön toimintaohjelman pohjalta. Publications of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 2012: 7, 1-29. (In Finnish)

Rochester, S., Kilstoff, K., Scott, G. 2005. Learning from success: Improving undergraduate education through understanding the capabilities of successful nurse graduates. Nurse Education Today 25, 181-188.

Stayt, L.C. & Merriman, C. 2013. A descriptive survey investigating pre-registration student nurses´ perceptions of clinical skill development in clinical placements. Nurse Education Today 33, 425-430.

Verkkovirta 2016. Verkkovirta – new forms of studification in collaboration between higher education and work. Available at:   Accessed 5 June 2016.

Walker, R., Henderson, A., Cooke, M. & Creedy, D. 2011. Impact of a learning circle intervention across academic and service contexts on developing a learning culture. Nurse Education Today 31, 378-382.

Real life solutions to real life problems: Living Labs approach within university of applied sciences pedagogical practice

Recently, institutions of higher education have adapted practices that bring together students, members of the teaching staff and institutional partners. It is typical for these practices that students work in teams to solve challenges provided by partnering institutions (private business, public agencies, NGOs, etc.).  Current pedagogical theories fail to cover certain aspects of these practices. The aim of this article is to describe pedagogical practice in question through theoretical inquiry and a case study. As a result, the Living Labs approach is proposed in order to complement current pedagogical theories.

Questions of learning and how the pedagogical process should by designed accordingly are central to each pedagogical institution. As a community of experts, every pedagogical institution needs a shared vision and defined curriculum to be communicated to teachers, students and partners.

Institutions of higher education have adapted practices that bring together students, members of the teaching staff and institutional partners. Students work in teams to solve challenges provided by partnering institutions (private business, public agencies, NGOs, etc.). Also, concepts of innovation and innovation pedagogy are considered important.  Faculty members serve as facilitators. They mediate between the wishes of the partnering organizations providing the student teams with tasks and requirements of the curriculum.

Even within Finland, examples are many. University of Tampere has Demola, Laurea University of Applied Sciences has introduced Learning by Development. Metropolia University of Applied Sciences has Minno and Aalto University has developed similar practices (i.e. Hämäläinen 2015).

As a case author uses his employer, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences. Diaconia University of Applied Sciences (Diak) is a nation-wide university of applied sciences, which offers Bachelor’s degree programmes in social services, youth work and diaconia, nursing, sign language interpreting, and community interpreting. All Diak’s five campuses are actively engaged in the development of social and health issues in the regions where they are set. Diak has about 3,000 students, which makes Diak the largest higher education institution providing social work education in Finland. Diak has a distinct profile among the Finnish higher education institutions in immigration and refugee issues, the work against poverty and marginalization, and social inclusion. (Diaconia University of Applied Sciences, 2016.)

Author works as a lecturer and development team leader in Diak. Author has taken part in the process described below.  First of all, author and his team designed the new thesis process to fit into Curriculum 2015 and ideals presented in OSKE –pedagogy.  Secondly, team has implemented these ideals into study assignments and instructions. Thirdly, team has been central in communication new practices to students and staff members.

Knowledge creation approach in pedagogy

Pedagogical practice referred to above falls under the constructivist learning theories.  In the following different categories within constructivist learning theories are discussed.

Characteristic of the knowledge-creation approach is to examine learning in terms of creating social structures and collaborative processes that support knowledge advancement and innovation. The knowledge-creation view represents a ‘‘trialogical’’ approach because the emphasis is not only on individuals or on community, but on the way people collaboratively develop mediating artifacts (Paavola & Hakkarainen 2005, 539).

Scardamalia and Bereiter (2014) use the concept knowledge creation in order to differentiate between knowledge building and knowledge creation. They see the former as deriving from the learning sciences and latter from the organizational sciences. Both these approaches consider knowledge as created, rather than discovered.

In their view, Knowledge creation refers to learning organizations. Knowledge creation is about a socio-cognitive process in which the tacit knowledge of individuals figures centrally both as source and an outcome. Organizations develop and became more productive and efficient through the knowledge  process of knowledge creation. Also, within the knowledge creation approach, students are valued for their contribution. Students learning is not a process taking place within their minds. Rather, learning is a shared process aiming for a certain outcome.

While organizational sciences see learning and human development as tools for better organizational performance, learning sciences consider learning and human development as aims in themselves. What can we expect of the students, and what conditions for leaning and development can we set?

Insightful interpretations or explanations of the work of others qualify as knowledge creation, as do identification and clarification of problems, providing supportive or disconfirming findings, offering a different perspective on an issue, and even popularizing knowledge advances – putting them within reach of the less sophisticated. All of these are within the capacity of students working collaboratively. (Scardamalia & Bereiter 2014, 398.)

One strong argument for the knowledge creation approach within learning sciences is that they prepare students for the current conditions of life in general and working life especially. These are the 21st century skills for the knowledge driven societies and knowledge driven organizations.

The knowledge creation approach is developed through different concepts.  According to Krajcik & Shin (2014) project-based learning (PBL) environments have certain key features such as (i) the driving question, a problem to be solved; (ii) focus on learning goals; (iii) student participation in scientific practices, etc.

In the pursuit of solving the driving question, students engage in a meaningful process which is characterized by social interaction and the use of cognitive tools. In project based learning, driving questions are selected or students can develop their own driving questions for projects. A good driving question is feasible (students can design and perform investigations in order to answer the question), worthwhile (they contain rich scientific content), (iii) contextualized (relate with real world), (iv) meaningful (interesting and exciting) (v) ethical (not harming the participants’ environment etc.) (ibid. 281.)

Problem based learning, on the other hand, is “an active approach to learning in which learners collaborate in understanding and solving complex, ill-structured problems” (Lu et al 298). Central to problem based learning is the tutorial process. The facilitator, usually a member of the teaching staff, uses different strategies in order to enhance learning and problem solving. These include the use of open-ended and metacognitive questions, revoicing, summarizing, etc. (ibid. 307.)

Also, the role of the problems themselves is high-lighted. Out of four types of problems (diagnostic problems, design problems, strategic performance problems and decision-making problems), two are the most efficient. Design problems and strategic performance problems proved the greatest achievement effects. Design problems involve creating an artifact, generally based on a set of functional specifications. Strategic performance problems ask for “applying tactics to meet strategy in real-time complex performance” (ibid. 304-5).

For the knowledge creation approach in general, Scardamalia and Bereiter suggest that a meta-discourse should be created and supported. This is especially important from the point of view of engagement of all students in sustained creative activities. Metadiscourse is the discourse of the students themselves regarding their ongoing   building practice and discourse. It is a discourse on discourse. Students should be given tools and stimulus to discuss and evaluate their progress, ways of argumentation and recognizing and dealing with obstacles etc. (Scardamalia & Bereiter 2014, 407),

The previous issue relates with the question of adequate and authoritative literature. In an information society, where information is more and more easily available, it has become more and more unclear who or what defines the authoritative sources of literature. Traditionally literature has been regarded as providing the theory on a given issue, while student engagement in the practical process provides the practice or experiment. Who should provide the coherent theoretical and conceptual framework for the students in which to reflect on their practical process?

This is also one of the skills in the 21st century tool box. Transliteracy, the ability to use different sources of information in order to produce a coherent understanding of the phenomena and issue at hand, is a valuable skill.

Bereiter (2014) uses the term principled practical knowledge to refer to know-how combined with know-why. In a more formal manner principled practical knowledge can be defined as “explanatorily coherent practical knowledge” (Bereiter 2014). This type of knowledge is created in the process of solving problems. However, there is an additional element here. Instead of merely solving a problem at hand, explanatorily coherent practical knowledge includes aspects that are useful beyond the immediate problem. These elements enable the development of the field of practice.

Explanatorily coherent practical knowledge does not make a difference between conceptual knowledge and practical knowledge. It is explanatory, it makes easier to understand the issue and the field at hand. Also, it is coherent. Explanatory practical knowledge cannot refer only to one issue or topic. Rather, the reference is on the wider field which is explained and described coherently.

Open Innovation 2.0 and UAS curriculum: the case of Diak

Within the Finnish framework, institutions of higher education are relatively free to set they own curriculum. Legislation (Ammattikorkeakoululaki 20.3.2015/325 14§; Valtioneuvoston asetus ammattikorkeakouluista 18.12.2014/1129), the definition of competences for each profession (i.e. social worker, nurse, etc. defined by network of UAS’s) and the UAS contracts with Ministry of Education set a frame for institutions of higher education to create they own curriculum.

Diak published a new curriculum in the fall of 2014. Compared with the previous one, Curriculum 2015 is structured differently and includes new biases. Here I will focus only on the issues relevant to the topic at hand, without trying to cover all the aspects of Curriculum 2015.

From the RDI point of view, Curriculum 2015 builds on the idea and practice of participatory action research. Partners, citizens and service users should be included in the RDI process. They should not be considered as objects of the study. Rather, they should be understood as active participants of the process. Within Diak, participatory action research goes under the acronym OSKE (Osallistava ja tutkiva kehittäminen; see Gothoni et al 2015).

Even if the thesis process is traditionally the central channel for a student to take part in RDI, Curriculum 2015 aims further. Participatory action research should be present also in other study units, not only in those related to thesis process.

On the level of implementation, this means the integration of different processes. These include the process of the students, the Diak RDI –process and the process of the Diak partners. Within Diak, there had been previous attempts to integrate these aspects. However, Curriculum 2015 is unique because for the first time these ideas are included in the curriculum. Previous attempts to bring together the student process with RDI were less structured and based on the decisions of individual lecturers. Within Curriculum 2015 there are specific study modules under the OSKE head-line to give a defined place and room for the practices integrating the students’ process, the RDI –process and the needs of the Diak partners.

Having a new curriculum is not enough, however. An implementation process is also needed. Implementation took place in phases. The way to arrange the co-operation between the students, lecturers and Diak partners is based on the long lasting collaborative workshops. These workshops are called OSKE -workshops. Several workshops were to be set up, each based on the specified theme. The core of each workshop is practical co-operation between the Diak teaching staff (i.e. lecturers) and the representatives of Diak partners.

Since the OSKE –study modules form the core of the thesis process for the student, it was necessarily to make sure that these study modules provide possibilities for students to plan and execute one’s thesis process. During the process, questions of innovation pedagogy and entrepreneurship studies were taken up. As a result, Innovation pedagogy and entrepreneurship studies were considered necessary to include these aspects into the OSKE –study modules.

In order to facilitate different ways of developing and indicating students’ professional competencies, an OSKE –blog was developed and taken into use in spring 2016. This is based on the older Diak experiment with a blog provided for students (Alavaikko 2010). The OSKE –blog provides an easy access publication channel for students to publish their texts, videos, photographs etc. The OSKE -blog also creates a semi-open forum for communication between students, lecturers and Diak partners. Students and the Diak staff can comment on each other’s ideas, external experts and Diak partners can be invited to comment on a student’s publications. (Alavaikko 2016.)

Arenas for interaction

Several arenas for interaction were created. First of all, the OSKE blog aims to bring together students, lecturers and Diak partners. It provides a possibility to communicate ideas and implementation plans from students to lecturers and Diak partners. Furthermore, OSKE blog gives a possibility to comment on these ideas and develop them further.

Since the first study modules were implemented fall 2015, became apparent that a forum for student recruitment was needed. There was no channel to recruit students into the OSKE –workshops.  To meet the need for student recruitment, the first OSKE –forums were arranged in February 2016. The OSKE –forum is an event taking place in each of Diak campuses. OSKE –forum lasts approximately 3 hours and brings together students, Diak lecturers and Diak partners.

The OSKE –forum is a key element in combining the student process, the Diak RDI -process and Diak partners. Their schedule defines possibilities to combine processes of different shareholders. For instance, there are short term projects (1-4 months). They have a limited possibility to be linked with the students’ process. On the other hand, scheduling OSKE –forums beginning at the beginning of the term, means that planning needs to be done during the previous term. Lecturers need to work with their partners, plan what they provide for the students at the next OSKE -forum and during next term.

This way, several arenas for interaction were created. First of all, OSKE workshops are the central element of the system. They are the ones where cooperation takes place, where credits are turned into action and practical real-life problems are solved. These long term processes bring together students, staff members (lecturers and RDI) and partners (business, public sector, civil society).

On the other hand, OSKE forums, arranged 1-2 times every semester at every Diak campus, are the arena for networking and student recruitment into OSKE workshops. Thirdly, the OSKE –blog makes one arena of its own. While the OSKE forums take place 1-2 times every semester, the blog remains. Future students can build on the texts and other products published by the previous student generations, students can interact amongst each other and exchange ideas with the Diak staff members and partners.

The blog for testing one’s ideas is central during the first stage, innovation and planning. Innovation and planning of one’s process consists of two courses, one focused purely on innovation and the other focused on creating a plan for executing and documenting one’s idea. Students’ ideas are based on the earlier Diak projects with domestic or EU funding, and/or ongoing cooperation with our partners. These ideas are published in the blog. This means that ideas can be commented on by ‘outsiders’, outsiders referring here to representatives of projects and organizations outside Diak.

Several cooperation processes between students, faculty members and partners are currently taking place. (i.e. Alavaikko et al 2016). Considering these experiences, it is possible to reflect between the pedagogical theories (above) and reality of the pedagogical practice within Diak.

As discussed by Krajcik & Shin (2014) above, experience has proved that the nature of the problem is significant. Also, the tutorial process is of central importance, as pointed out by Lu et al. (2014). However, there is a certain aspect in Diak OSKE –practices that theoretical approaches above fail to acknowledge. All problems, tasks or challenges that students are facing within OSKE practices, are real. They are provided by Diak partners (private, public, NGOs) for the student teams. The student teams then work collaboratively in solving these problems, in projects facilitated by staff lecturers. In order to highlight this aspect, the Living labs approach is defined below.

Living Labs approach and Open innovation 2.0

By Living labs, we mean reconstructing the interaction space. This space for interaction can be any space, anywhere, suitable for collaborative design, the application of knowledge for empowerment, uplift, and the development of people and communities for the use of innovation. (quote from the interview, Leminen et al 2012.)

Living labs wish to accentuate their informal nature and define themselves as a movement (Garcia et al. 2015, 16-27). Still, there are certain ways of formalizing Living labs. Living labs are benchmarked by European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL), and through benchmarking process it is possible to get a membership in ENoLL. Five basic requirements for a Living labs are as follows:

  • active user involvement (i.e. empowering end users to thoroughly impact the innovation process)
  • real-life setting (i.e. testing and experimenting with new artefacts ”in the wild”)
  • multi-stakeholder participation (i.e. the involvement of technology providers, service providers, relevant institutional actors, professional or residential end users)
  • a multi-method approach (i.e. the combination of methods and tools originating from e.g. ethnography, psychology, sociology, strategic management, engineering)
  • co-creation (i.e. iterations of design cycles with different sets of stakeholders).

(Garcia et al 2015, 19)

Apart from this ‘official’ definition, Living lab is also used as general reference to practices and organizations of similar characteristics, with or without membership in ENoLL (i.e. Curley 2016, 314). In this general sense Living Labs refer to user-centric research methodology for sensing, prototyping, validating and refining complex solutions in multiple and evolving real life contexts.

In fact, Living labs are usually seen within the discourse of innovation and co-creation. Open Innovation 2.0 and the concept of innovation ecosystems put innovation onto the forefront. Innovation is regarded as a driver for economic growth. (OECD 1998). For these reasons, innovation discourse has a strong political backing and therefore innovation draws economical and other resources. In the current discussion, Open Innovation 2.0. and innovation ecosystems came hand in hand.

[i]nnovation as a discipline has now moved from being something invented by a brilliant researcher, through the era of open innovation, into an ecosystem-centric view of innovation, where the ecosystem is often the distinguishing unit of success, not individual companies or universities. (Curley & Salmelin 2013, 3.)

No company or institution of higher education can pursue their aims alone. Co-operation is the key to success. What is also needed is openness. Ideas need to be tested and developed together or by the users, not in an isolated laboratory.  Quaprable helix refers to academia, government, civil society and business to work together in developing products and practices (Curley & Salmelin 2013; Curley 2016).

In a sense, the circle is full: the innovation ecosystem, with co-operation and co-creation between academia, government, society and business, provides a framework and a function for institutions of higher education to engage in development processes, providing challenges for students and staff members alike. On the other hand, institutions of higher education want to ‘mingle in’, they wish to be part of the regional ecosystem of private companies, public sector organizations and civil society. They wish to find they place in the quaprable helix for Open Innovation 2.0, formed in the co-operation of academia, government, private sector and civil society.

As for the concepts, I will use the Living Labs approach in order to refer to the web of concepts created by Living Labs, Open Innovation 2.0 and Innovation ecosystems. They are interlinked and related, even if they all have they own point of reference. The idea of innovation ecosystems forms the rationale for institutions of higher education to seek their place alongside the public sector, the private sector and civil society. Within this framework, institutions of higher education seek to relate with local and global systems of innovation, economics and production (i.e. ecosystem).

Open innovation 2.0 comes hand-in-hand with the idea of innovation ecosystems. Open Innovation 2.0 underlines the open nature of the way innovations are understood to come about. While RDI used to be the business for the highly ranked experts, innovation is currently understood as an open, almost chaotic system where the brokering of seemingly unfitting ideas and approaches plays the crucial role. Innovation is not about geniuses in their ivory towers, innovation is about every one of us relating our ideas with others.

The driving force behind Open Innovation 2.0 and Innovation ecosystems is that innovation is believed to be the central ingredient of economic growth. Living Labs, both in their formal and loose sense, form the practice where the representatives of academia, civil society, public and private sector come together for innovation. Universities feel the pressure: the list of most innovative universities in the world was currently published (Ewalt 2015).

Without the openness of the current practice of innovation, students who are not yet experts would not have a role in the innovation. Within the framework of Open Innovation 2.0 students can represent the everyman and everywoman in the innovation process, while at the same time learning the ideas and procedures of the innovation. Organizations representing the private and the public sector and civil society are the ones that UAS’s co-operate with, in that they bring them into contact with students. These organizations provide students with content, with tasks for their assignments, team-works and theses. It is then a task for the teaching staff to arrange and formulate these tasks so that they communicate with the curriculum and are functional and logical from the pedagogical point of view.

It should also be noted that the discourse of innovation forms something resembling an ideology. Key words are the economic growth and national competitiveness, as Professor Pauli Kettunen has pointed out (Kettunen 2011). Innovation discourse is not politically or socially neutral. According to Kettunen, innovation discourse it is not merely a question of how to arrange elements of RDI in the best possible order. Innovation discourse has its connotations and political implications also.


I propose the Living Labs approach to be used when referring to pedagogical practices that fulfill the following criteria:

  • real life problems and challenges (the public sector, the private sector, NGOs) are brought into pedagogical practice
  • activity takes place in an ecosystem (multi-stakeholder environment)
  • active user-involvement is central for the process

The Living labs approach does not remove a need for other theoretical concepts. On the contrary, the knowledge creation approach in general and problem based learning and project based learning are the most relevant tools in analyzing and designing the students’ processes within the Living Labs approach.

It is also important to differentiate the Living Labs approach from other pedagogical approaches within knowledge creation. Differentiation is important in order to be able discuss possible problems and challenges.

For instance, it is possible that a focus on the needs of the partnering institutions and their clients overshadows the pedagogical aims. The development and learning of the students should be the aim of the pedagogical institutions. How to combine this aim with the aims of partnering organizations?

The Living Labs approach brings into light further topics. A significant dimension is that attention should be paid to the problem itself. In this respect, problem based learning identifies two dimensions. First, how structured the problem is, and secondly, how complex the problem is (Lu et al 304-305). However, the framework where the problem is set receives less attention. Within the Living Lab approach, problems are supposed to be real-life problems. Urge to solve real-life problems with real-life partners creates a new, difficult-to-control dimension into the learning process.

Even if the literature suggests that problem based learning should be the core of the curriculum rather than an addition (Lu et al 2015, 300), there are also other catch-words present. Innovation pedagogy, entrepreneurship studies, start-ups… How to relate these together, how to include these aspects into a curriculum and still have a logical and approachable curriculum?

It is, however, also a pedagogical and practical question how to arrange the principles of Open Innovation 2.0 and Living Lab within an institution of higher education. How to create arenas for sharing and discussion and interaction (civil society, business, government) within a pedagogical institution? What type of the student process is needed and what type of arenas (virtual, face-to-face, mixed, etc.) are needed at the different stages of the process? How to link the pedagogical approach with interests in business and government and civil society interests?

Also, an ecosystem -type of environment (different types of organizations, focus on the contacts, sharing and learning between organizations, not within a given organization) poses new challenges from the pedagogical point of view. There is a significant amount of literature on the management of innovative ecosystems and networks (i.e. Harmaakorpi 2013; Parjanen 2014; Prince 2014). This literature needs to be related with pedagogical theory and practice.


Mika Alavaikko, Lecturer, development team leader, Master’s Degree in Social Sciences, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences, Finland, mika.alavaikko(at)

Alavaikko, Mika. 2010. Blogipohjaisen verkkoalustan käyttö ammattikorkeakouluopetuksessa. In Hankekirjoittaminen., eds.  Pirjo Lambert, Liisa Vanhanen-Nuutinen.

Alavaikko, Mika. 2016. Blog as an arena of cooperation in problem based learning. Paper presented at ICERI 2016, Seville, Spain. [forthcoming]

Alavaikko, Mika, Katisko, Marja, Riihimäki, Titta and Sukula-Ruusunen, Kirsi. 2016. Yhteisöllinen kehittämisprosessi Katriinan sairaalassa. In Diakin pedagoginen vuosikirja 2016., eds. Raili Gothóni, Marjo Kolkka. [forthcoming]

Ammattikorkeakoululaki 20.3.2015/325.

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Curley, Martin & Salmelin, Bror. 2013. Open innovation 2.0 — A new paradigm. Paper presented at EU Open Innovation and Strategy Policy Group.

Curley, Martin. 2016. Twelve principles for open innovation 2.0. Nature 533 (7603): 314-6.

Diaconia University of Applied Sciences 2016, webpages, Retrieved 5th of October 2016.

Ewalt, David. 2015. The World’s Most Innovative Universities. Reuters, Retrieved 5th of October 2016.

Garcia, Ana Garcia, Anu, Hirvikoski, Dimitr, Schuurman, and Lorna Stokes, eds. 2015. Introducing ENoLL and its living lab community. First ed. Brussels: European Network of Living Labs.

Gothóni, Raili, Susanna, Hyväri, Marjo, Kolkka, and Päivi, Vuokila-Oikkonen, eds. 2015. Osallisuutta, oppimista ja arviointia : Diakonia-ammattikorkeakoulun TKI-toiminnan vuosikirja 2015. Helsinki: Diakonia ammattikorkeakoulu.

Harmaakorpi, Vesa. 2013. Complex adaptive innovation systems. Papers in Regional Science 92 (2): 440-2.

Hämäläinen, Erkki. 2015. Experiences of a professor of practice at Aalto University. In Orchestrating regional innovation ecosystems., eds. Pia Lappalainen, Markku Markkula and Hank Kune, 191. Finland: Aalto University in cooperation with Laurea University of Applied Sciences and Built Environment Innovations RYM Ltd.

Kettunen, Pauli. 2011. The transnational construction of national challenges: The ambiguous nordic model of welfare and competitiveness. In Globalization and welfare : Beyond welfare state models : Transnational historical perspectives on social policy., eds. Pauli Kettunen, Klaus Petersen, 16-40. Cheltenham, GB: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.

Krajcik, Joseph S., and Namsoo Shin. 2014. Project-based learning. The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (2nd Ed.).: 275.

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Oamk LABs practices for bridging work life 21th century skills and higher education

Problem and context

The demand for professionals who are able to create new solutions and innovations across disciplines, professions and perspectives is increasing. Innovations are needed for creating economically and ecologically sustainable communities (Capra 2007; Dumont and Istance 2010) and they are dependent on the capacities of people, organizations and networks to create and utilize knowledge (Boreham and Lammont 2000). Practitioners are functioning in societal structures and organizations that are constantly changing since expertise is no longer manifested exclusively in performing known tasks in a particular setting. Challenges that often cannot be addressed by routine solutions are constantly arising. These challenges have to be addressed by experts from different fields collaborating across different contexts (Engeström, Engeström and Kärkkäinen 1995; Tynjälä 1999). These are often called wicked problems, as they are characterized by confusing data, multiple users with differing values and not having a right or wrong answer. Furthermore, any possible explanation for one of these problems is strongly dependent on the worldview of the designer (Buchanan 1992).

The development in society and the economy described above requires that educational systems equip young people with the right competences that include attitudes, skills and knowledge to allow them to contribute actively to economic development under a system where the main asset is expertise. These skills and competencies, 21st Century Skills, are closely related to the needs of emerging models of economic and social development than with those of the past century, which were more suited to an industrial mode of production (Ananiadou and Claro 2009). Universities and institutions for vocational higher education are all challenged to educate these knowledge workers, since students of vocational education today are expected to function in a knowledge-based society.

As questioned by Ritchhart (2002),

“What if education were less about acquiring skills and knowledge and more about cultivating the dispositions and habits of mind that students will need for a lifetime learning, problem solving and decision making? What if education were less concerned with end-of-year exam and more concerned with who students become as a result of their schooling? What if we viewed smartness as a goal that students can work toward rather than as something they either have or don´t have?”

We, the authors, believe that 21st Century Skills represent the lens through which to address these questions. This article is an overview of the case of Oamk LABs which educates for those skills in higher education within a LAB studio model educational setting. The skills described within Oamk LABs education case, include descriptions of key practices as well as Oamk LABs student experiences with quotes from self-evaluations, course feedback or thesis work.

Studio pedagogy and LAB studio model

Studio based pedagogy

Studios have been used for educational purposes for centuries and can be traced to Middle Age schools of art and architecture. Today, besides the worldwide usage of studios in those schools, central features of the studio model of education hold interesting possibilities for education in other fields of vocational education as well for example in computer science (Kuhn 2001; Bull and Whittle 2014; Carter and Hundhausen 2011).

Studio based pedagogy can be defined as an instructional strategy that provides students with opportunities to engage in relevant, authentic learning in a school setting (Boyer and Mitgang 1996; Burroughs, Brocato and Franz 2009). The basic objective of the studio is to practice professional skills in small groups where one’s professional skills are challenged by others ­both peers and mentors (Schön 1983,1987). Studio based pedagogy is a constructivist approach, utilising project based learning (Blumenfeld et al., 1991). Also the approach of learning­-by-­doing, initially promoted by John Dewey (1897), is also a critical pedagogical principle. In this way, studios parallel the need for collaboration and creativity existing in work­place environments in the creative disciplines, design, art, etc. Traditionally, studios focus on visually ­centred work; and “reflective practice” (Schön 1987) observing and refining practice in a continuous cycle, supported by coaching and peer ­learning.

Studio based pedagogy suggests a more practical approach to professional education. Schön (1983) summarizes this process as reflective practice or “knowing­ and reflecting-­in-­action”. Pakman (2000) adds that this model of learning can allow practitioners to reconstruct their theories of action making and form action strategies explicitly open to criticism. This process is aligned with the knowledge creation practices, e.g. SECI-model (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995). Another aspect of the studio model is the use of real world problems around which teaching is constructed (Schön 1985). Overall, research related to design education suggests that studio­ based pedagogy is an effective method for cultivating students’ identities as designers, developing their conceptual understanding of design and the design process, and fostering their design thinking (Kuhn 1998, 2001; Schön 1983).

LAB studio model characteristics supporting connection to work life

The LAB studio model (LSM), as a pedagogical model utilising studio based pedagogy, is a higher education model aimed at training competent new professionals, self-­directed teams and new businesses. The recent publication by Heikkinen and Stevenson (2016) has shown LSM to include several new factors compared to existing definitions of studio based learning such as by Bull, Whittle and Cruickshank (2013). According to Heikkinen and Stevenson (2016), these factors include:

  • offering a form of instruction that is more competitive in structure in contrast to other studio models (competitiveness);
  • integrating experienced professionals and coaches from the industry (work-life connection);
  • including problems or ideas directly from targeted industries;
  • building project teams that cross professional and higher education faculty boundaries (interdisciplinary).

The factors above described factors support the development of T-model learners and 21st Century Skills. Professionals having T-shaped skills “are deep problem solvers in their home discipline but also capable of interacting with and understanding specialists from a wide range of disciplines and functional areas” (IfM and IBM 2008).

LSM supports the work-life connection through various themes. By being intergenerational, interdisciplinary and international, project teams are connected to diverse expertise and experiences. The project based learning method involves interaction with an external client and starting from the problem connects both students and coaches to the industry, as well as the reflective practice given by industry participants. New knowledge is created in organised and impromptu common happenings where social interaction, networking, informal peer-coaching and critique or constructive feedback is promoted.

LSM is founded on two values: Trust and Care. In general, these values reflect the LAB’s inherent entrepreneurial thinking and approach to problem solving. Among other things, the value ‘Trust’ refers to the fact that students are trusted to do their best towards the common goals defined within their team, leading to trustful and equal relationships, which also concern staff of the LABs. The value ‘Care’ means taking proper care of everyone and everything involved, from the educators and students to the development and learning results of the projects and teams. This value also emphasises tutoring as a means for ensuring professional growth during and after the LAB studies (Heikkinen 2014). Failures and mistakes are considered an essential part of the learning. Students have to face the challenges, practice and find new solutions after they have recognised their mistakes. Learning and success is a result of effort and self-inquiry. This is viewed as the way to support students to become more independent learners (cf. Dweck 2009; Saavedra and Opfer 2012).

Oamk LABs Studies

Established in 2012, the Oamk LABs are a higher education program offered at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences (Oamk) in Finland. This program is based on the LSM and is a full-time, interdisciplinary, international and intergenerational program to train new professionals and build new businesses. The Oamk LABs can be characterized as pre-incubators (Heikkinen , Seppänen and Isokangas 2015) where students are working together in interdisciplinary teams to build real prototypes, products and possible startups. As of January 2016, Oamk LABs consists of three LAB studios (LABs) each targeting a specific global industry: Oulu Game LAB (games industry), EduLAB (edtech industry) and DevLAB (health, energy and environmental industries). The Oamk LABs program is taught in English and currently brings together roughly 150 students from around the world, with a new cohort joining the LABs every semester.

Picture 1: A LAB Master advising a student.
Picture 1: A LAB Master advising a student.

The first part (one to two semesters) in Oamk LABs consists of two main phases: a concept development phase, called LEAD, and a demonstration development phase, called LAB. In the LEAD-­phase students produce concepts for needs provided by existing companies, organisations or from the participants themselves. The concepts are presented in specific events called Gates. (Heikkinen 2014). In the LAB­-phase, larger teams are formed to develop demonstrations (demos) of the concepts and a related business model. The LAB­-phase and the first semester ends with a final presentation event, which is open for all the students and LAB staff, as well as for professionals from the industry. In the events, student teams present their solutions and business models to receive customer oriented and professional feedback. The second semester is optional for the teams which are willing to continue developing their demonstration into a more complete product and it includes more focused business and product delivery coaching and connections to the industry.

The students participating in Oamk LABs in Spring 2016 were from various fields of study and represented over 30 different nationalities. The fields of study were teacher education, software engineering, business development, graphical design, social work, occupational therapy and physiotherapy with the addition of unemployed professionals. A wide range of experience and expertise is expected to cover the key areas of competences necessary for establishing new ventures (Timmons and Spinelli 1994) – start­up companies for the industries in focus. This also brings possibilities for students to gain valuable skills:

“Working in an interdisciplinary team has been new for me. This might have been the best experience I’ve had in DevLAB. Learning about each other’s background / culture was really important for me. This way of group work also improved my competences about responsibility and organizing, because every culture and background needs another kind of behavior.” (Industrial engineering student, The Netherlands)

Each Oamk LABs studio is led by a LAB Master. Together with coaches and tutors the LAB Master acts as a supervisor of learning and directs the students to find and build new knowledge and to commit them to work toward the promotion of learning. The staff has the responsibility of supporting student development, both in terms of specific professional career goals and in their project task and goals (Heikkinen and Stevenson 2016). Additionally in studios, coaching often requires the improvisation of teaching (Sawyer 2004). At Oamk LABs this calls for variations of methods used at the moment of coaching.

As a result, over the four years that the model has been developed a significant amount of students, credits and companies have been achieved. Based on the Oamk internal statistics (Oamk LAB´s Yearly Statistics 2016) between the years 2012-2015 Oamk LABs resulted in: roughly 600 new professionals, over 15000 ECTS credits, 152 new concepts, 59 demonstrations and 14 new enterprises. Oamk LABs has also been externally acknowledged to be the most innovative higher education model in Finland. In 2014 the LAB studio model was recognized for its ”Innovation and Entrepreneurship Teaching Excellence” and in 2016 Oamk LABs received the second highest honour at the European Conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship conference award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Teaching Excellence (ECIE 2016).

Learning and 21st Century Skills

Twenty-first Century Skills or competences are described by various sources (Ananiadou and Claro 2009; Binkley et al. 2012;  Burkhardt 2016; Dede 2009;  P21 2011). In Oamk LABs, these competences are seen as a dynamic combination of knowledge, attitude and skills (c.f.Ananiadou and Claro 2009). The competence areas at Oamk LABs are presented in Figure 1. We believe that the development of these six competence areas leads to a future professional mindset where the core is a positive attitude towards innovation and development. The facets of the future professional mindset are: confident person, concerned citizen, self-directed learner and an active professional. For each competence area, the model uses various learning methods and methods often overlap several competence areas.

Figure 1: 21st Century Skills at Oamk LABs
Figure 1: 21st Century Skills at Oamk LABs

Communication and collaboration

Professionals focusing on knowledge economy work require efficient skills for communicating and for working in teams. The ability to collaborate with others is one of the most important 21st Century Skills and also important for active lifelong learning (Saavedra and Opfer 2012). Future professionals need to be able to communicate face to face, by using distance communication tools and in different languages. They need to be clear both orally and in writing when using professional language to be able to influence and persuade others. They need to have effective team working skills: the ability to relate with others, to have patience with others, to trust others and skills to present, negotiate and listen actively (Dede 2009).

When working in teams at Oamk LABs, students have to overcome the lack of a shared vocabulary and different communication cultures. Because of the so-called disciplinary “silos” (Ashcraft 2011; Cohen and Lloyd 2014), students from different professions are speaking different professional languages. In order to work and develop concrete, user-centred projects and products in cooperation, students need to learn to understand each other’s professional terms and meanings and the way of communicating. Students also recognise the learning in themselves:

“Regarding communication and collaboration I feel that I have made significant improvements during Devlab. Working (…) has improved my overall team working skills, but also improved my personal communicational skills as well. I am more ready to start conversations both regarding project and other non-project related things as well.” (Master of Science Information system design Oamk Open University student, Finland).

Students learn how to observe body language and acquire skills to know how and when to show empathy. During the LAB each student gives multiple presentations. This is one way to learn how to communicate information and ideas to different audiences using a variety of media and presentation formats. Additionally, students develop networks in order to build collaboration that supports their future careers. During studies in Oamk LABs, the students’ learning network expands significantly (Heikkinen et al. 2015).

Disciplinary knowledge

Students at Oamk LABs are usually 3th or 4th year Bachelor or Master degree undergraduate students. Before joining a LAB, students need to have solid knowledge in their own discipline since during the LAB program they need to bring the skills and knowledge of their own profession into an interdisciplinary team. Students must use a wide range of content knowledge within their disciplines and profession: existing disciplinary knowledge, expertise, skills, networks and communities, professional interest areas and understanding of the future challenges in the field, and professional and research approaches.

While working as part of an interdisciplinary team, students learn how to apply and deepen their disciplinary knowledge and professional roles. Each student and profession is served by coaching specifically targeting his or her professional roles. Projects are also served by mentors to ensure an industry customer relationship (Carnell, MacDonald and Askew. 2006). Coaching and mentoring is performed by the teachers and external experts. The learning process is viewed as a process of learning and building new knowledge, which is shared within and between professions as peer-­learning (c.f. Boud, Cohen and Sampson 1999; 2014). The challenge has been ensuring that the learning of disciplinary topics of the curriculum studies fit with the requirements from the degree program. The solution for the above challenge has been to create an agreement associated with the individual learning objectives for each student together with their personal goals and a commonly defined curriculum together with the degree programs and Oamk LABs.

Teamwork is done in an unfamiliar and challenging context which requires students to apply and recognize their knowledge and share it with students from other fields. They learn about other professions, but most of all about their own profession and how they as representative of his/her own profession can contribute as a team member. Furthermore, students learn T-shaped skills which are required in order to effectively interpret and utilize unfamiliar knowledge for exploration focusing on gaining new knowledge aimed at innovation (c.f. Hamdi, Silong, Omar and Rasid 2016). Students are also gaining experience about how work should be done and divided for the best result from the product development point of view, such as demonstrated by the following lead software developer:

“…the thing that I learned is how to split the work among developers, making sure that not only everybody gets a fair share of the work, but also importantly, that our works do not conflict with each other’s when we merge our work tighter.” (Information Technology student, Lithuania).

According to Litendahl (2015) and Perka (2016), studying at Oamk LABs develops disciplinary competences and even new, future-related competences (Litendahl 2015) as well as knowhow to use disciplinary competences become wilder (Perka 2016).

Responsibility and global awareness

To effectively develop user-centred innovations, professionals need to have the ability to empathise and share the pain of the user. This means courage to respect differences of cultures, ways of living and values of people (c.f. Ikeda 2005). When truly doing this, professionals become more aware about the global needs, limitations, opportunities and future trends. Responsibility becomes a personal obligation to be productive, including intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship, and the work has to respond to the needs of the customer.

Sustainability is a central theme in DevLAB for the academic year of 2016-2017. Sustainability is accepted nowadays as a guiding principle by public policy making and companies (Finkbeiner, Schau, Lehmann and Traverso 2010). Moving towards the goal of becoming more sustainable requires fundamental changes in attitudes and behaviour. Every student learns accountability, personal and social responsibility and being a responsible team member. For many students, the way to approach clients and customers to find solutions for real life problems is different from what they have had before:

“Now I know how to ask the right questions without leading (myself or the person to interview) too much to the solution that I have on my mind. This enables me to get the honest answers to the problem I’m solving.” (Business information systems student, Finland).

One practice used to become more aware about global issues and responsibility is a Megatrends workshop. Within Megatrends workshops students deepen their knowledge about a global megatrend, which is connected to the actual problem they will be dealing with later in the program. During the spring 2016, key megatrends that students were studying were: aging, urbanisation, decline of resources, digitalisation, global environmental change, rising healthcare costs, the changing nature of work and the rise of personalisation. Students got familiar with the megatrends during the first week of the semester and they prepared short presentations for the group. This was one way of preparing students for the mindset of being active and using all available expertise in the LAB. At Oamk LABs new knowledge is created in cooperation between students, coaches and work­-life partners, thus forming a community of learners (c.f. Brown and Campione 1994; Rogoff, Matusov and White 1996). This allows students to create some common understanding about the world.

Creativity and innovation

According to the organization Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21 2004), there are three skills essential for creativity and innovativeness: thinking creatively, working creatively with others and implementation of innovations. In order to think creatively one needs to use a wide range of idea creation methods or techniques. Future professionals have to know how to create new and viable ideas both by themselves and as part of different teams. To work creatively with others means developing, implementing and communicating new ideas effectively to others. Future professionals need to be open and receptive to new ideas and diverse perspectives. They also need to have a mindset that being creative and innovative is a long-term cyclical process, floating between mistakes and success. They also have to tolerate that it could take a lot of time to create something real, unique and useful. This happens only if one is curious and ready to take some risks. In order to be able to think and act like this, the professionals have to have creative confidence – a mindset to see one’s own creative potential (c.f. Kelley and Kelley 2013).

Learning by doing as a work-based learning method has been recognized for a long time as an important way of learning innovation creation (Toner 2011). Learning in Oamk LABs is strongly based on the concept of learning by doing; developing a concept for a product or a service. In Oamk LABs, the Concept Development Process has been used based on the Design Thinking (Brown 2008) methodology in the academic year 2015-2016. This process was an experiment to see how Design Thinking fit in with the LAB Studio Model. Students were creating solutions for various different user groups and needs well outside of their own experience. The concept development process, not based on any of the fields of the students, is an equalizing force that allows everyone to participate. The promise of design thinking is that anyone can do it if they follow the mindset. For the spring semester 2016, the concept development process was fully implemented and realized as two subsequent cycles though the design thinking modes during the Lead phase to create a solution concept (Karjalainen 2016).

Critical thinking and civic literacy

Open-mindedness, flexibility, willingness to self-correct and pursuit of consensus are needed skills for future professionals. These are also characteristics of a critical thinker. Professionals, who are critical thinkers are motivated to exercise the effort needed to work in a resourceful manner, to check for accuracy, to gather information, and to persist when the solution is not obvious or requires several steps (Halpern 2003). Critical thinking uses evidence (Halpern 2003) and that is why it is connected to skills of civic literacy.

The aim of learning critical thinking is to help students to develop their abilities to reason, analyse, evaluate and create. Students need to develop these abilities and at the same time learn to express one’s feelings, thoughts and actions in a way that is rational and clear (Mulcahy 2008). Learning critical civic literacy enables students to question the assumptions that undergird current ideas, practices, policies and structures (Teitelbaum 2011). These are skills needed when students are identifying and defining problems from partners, collecting and analysing data (e.g. identifying existing problems and already made solutions for them in order to find the real problem behind the problem). An essential component for the future work is that professionals are encouraged to think and use their skills in different situations and environments (e.g. skills transfer).

Coaching provides opportunities to learn critical thinking skills. In Open Coaching Sessions students are challenged to discuss, ideate and find new points of views. Both staff members, students from different LABs and external coaches gather together to exchange ideas. Another coaching practice is Professional Coaching within which students of a specific field or profession have either an expert from the industry or coach from the university staff focusing on their specific professional issues and challenges. With the help of coaching, students can critically think about their projects:

“We were able to come up with new ideas, criticise them as much as we could from all areas such as from a business or development standpoint, and then we would research heavily what would need to be done to make the product/service and if there were any similar devices and their downfalls.”  (Graphical design student, Ireland).

Self-knowledge and self-awareness

High self-awareness leads to better team performance; it affects positively to decision-making, coordination and conflict management (Dierdorff and Rubin 2015). The LAB Studio Model-learning is based on reflection and reflection is described as a process of self-analysis, self-evaluation, self-dialogue and self-observation (c.f. Yip 2006). The starting point of the learning process is for every student to identify his / her own needs and goals for learning. This helps students to define what and how they want to achieve their goals as a person and as a team member. Personal development in Oamk LABs is viewed from a team working point of view, thus goals are discussed, defined and reflected with other team members, LAB Masters and tutors. During the course of the LAB, the learning goals are aligned with the project goals.

Personal evaluation discussions are individual meetings with students. Before the meeting the student prepares 2-4 personal development needs from the point of view of their future expertise. Discussions are done with the same person(s) throughout the semester: at the beginning, in midway and at the end of the semester. In spring 2016, one student told about how displeased he was about the quality of his work, his unorganized way of using time and not being productive enough. The student set himself appropriate goals in cooperation with LAB Masters. As part of his self-evaluation, at the end of the semester, he writes:

“I feel I am now much more capable at determining my strengths and weaknesses and I am also much more aware at what my current skill levels will allow me to do. I have realised that rather than doing everyone’s job, I have to have more trust in my team and have one job that is done to its best standard.”  (Graphical design student, Ireland).

During the process of studying in Oamk LABs, goals as well as methods to achieve the goals, are discussed several times both individually and in teams, because goals become more clear and will need adjusting during the study process. Depending on a student’s own wishes this can be more individual, but most students are open and willing to share their personal development areas at least with their team, some of them also with the larger learning community. This enables possibilities to have feedback and support from peers as well.

Development of self-knowledge and self-awareness happens both in planned activities as well as in serendipitous encounters which the LAB learning enables. The goal is to become a more self-directed learner. As a result, learning is dependent on the interests, experiences and actions of each learner and the circumstances in which learners find themselves. The fact that students and staff members are working together in close contact for at least one semester opens the possibility for a trusting relationship to develop. Cooperation with LAB Masters and coaches is partly planned beforehand, but students also know that whenever they need to have coaching, they can ask for it. Acting according to these principles reflects in action one side of the key values of LAB Studio Model, Trust and Care.


As an operational model, Oamk LABs work more as a small company than as a school and according to our values the coaches treat the project teams like startup companies. We allow them to self-organize, divide the tasks and make their development plans. However, to support a climate of critical consciousness, feedback in LABs is given to individuals and to project teams and coaching groups during formal and informal sessions. In this way, giving and receiving feedback is a regular part of LAB studio daily activities. Learning at Oamk LABs mostly happens in relation to the team and the project.

Oamk LABs employ several practices to achieve both the learning goals and to bridge the academic work with the work-life. Some practices happen regularly over the course of a semester while others are one-time events. Figure 2 maps some of these practices with regard to two aspects. The vertical axis represents whether the activity is more team or individual focused and the horizontal axis tracks if the reasoning for the activity is more related to academic work or the work-life. We feel it is important to a have mix of practices for bridging academic training and the work-life while allowing learning to happen both as individuals and as team or group members. Academic methods aim for reflection of one’s values, attitudes and actions, while practices with a team dimension are more closely related to work-life skills and advancing the project goals. These practices teach students to recognize the joys and challenges of teamwork and to value the contributions of team members. This helps to build a future professional with T-shaped skills.

Figure 2: Some practices at Oamk LABs mapped according to the target of the activity and relevance in academic versus work-life needs.
Figure 2: Some practices at Oamk LABs mapped according to the target of the activity and relevance in academic versus work-life needs.

The learning model is built to be flexible so it can accommodate different industries and types of projects, which may require adaptation and addition of new practices. Since the educational model is still under development, new practices are tried out in a limited scope and existing ones aer improved where a need is seen. The following sections cover three practices which specifically deal with bringing the work-life into the studies in more detail.

Practice: Source of project topics

In order to bring the work-life in to Oamk LABs, the student projects start from problems or phenomena related to real cases in the industry. Problems from partners come with a contact person in the industry, but importantly projects are not assignments, where the company or organization might already have an idea of the solution they think they need or have a list of requirements at the ready. It is critical for project-based learning that the outcomes of the project are not predetermined (Blumenfeld et al. 1991). The coaches prepare the problems together with the industry professionals and to make sure that the project enables deepening of student’s disciplinary knowledge.

Another key aspect for suitable problems is that they require an interdisciplinary team. This leads us often to either look for novel business opportunities or to wicked problems, in which no one can solve the problem alone. Understanding the problem behind the problem, the need of the client, and the development process to build a viable solution all require different types of expertise (Saavedra and Opfer 2012). A student team owns the rights to their solution after the LAB and have the ability and receives support to create a business based on the idea if they so wish, which can be highly engaging for entrepreneurially minded students.

With respect to the interests of the participating companies, this practice strikes a balance by both bringing partners to the LABs and allowing the solution to take shape rather freely. The value for a company in participating is the ability to influence the studies, look for new talent or new business opportunities. In cooperation with the student team, the partners can act as guides in the industry, as sources of information and provide access for user testing with end users. Companies who recognise the problem are also potentially the first customers for the solution and can provide valuable feedback for the student team. Partners who work closely with LABs get a chance to see the talent in the students and by offering problems also affect the content of the instruction in the LAB.

This practice naturally puts requirements to the coaches to be responsive to student needs during the LAB and also before the LAB starts in order to look for the problems in their networks. The IP rights agreement, the open doors policy and public nature of pitching sessions mean that some projects are not suitable for LABs. Overall, this practice is a benefit and an important cornerstone of running Oamk LABs since it enables new business opportunities, which may have initial demand in the market.

Practice: Project proposal presentations and selection, Gate 2

The Gate 2 event and pitch presentations are held at the end of the concept creation, LEAD-phase. The event is public and open to everyone. This is a key practice in bringing the competitiveness to the LAB and builds on the industry connection by having a panel of professionals in the jury, often from companies, industry associations and public organizations. A jury of outsiders is needed so we can get an unbiased view on projects, because at this point LAB Masters and coaches have been working with the teams for weeks and benefit from outside perspectives on the projects. Having new people listening to the presentations also raises the stakes and puts more emphasis on the delivery of the message. Coaches who know the story might fill in the gaps based on previous knowledge whereas fresh eyes and ears spot the inconsistencies. Judging is based on the framing of the problem and context, the business opportunity, viability of the solution and demo plan and the strength of the prototype.

Based on the jury’s feedback, projects are chosen for the LAB phase and the demo development. New team members join teams to create the final project teams. Gate 2 is a stressful event for most students, but creates a strong boost with an important deadline; do a good job or your project is dropped. The Gate 2 presentation should summarize all learning from several weeks of research, development and debate into one presentation. The team members need to work together to pick the right story to tell, find an interesting and compelling way to tell it, select the right person to present and support that person in preparing. This is not always easy and coaches need to facilitate this process in coaching sessions and by running a pre-Gate with presentations and feedback from coaches and peers.

Picture 2: Gate 2 event Spring 2016 was held on campus with high production to show students that their work is valuable and also to show the work to other students.
Picture 2: Gate 2 event Spring 2016 was held on campus with high production to show students that their work is valuable and also to show the work to other students.

The downside with Gate 2 is the potential loss of motivation if one’s’ project does not pass the gate. The jury and coaching feedback needs to be honest and open to offer a chance for reflection. We view this as an important learning moment as well. The project team might have done everything in their power and still get cut due to factors outside of their control. For example, the LAB can only support a certain number of project teams and thus some are cancelled. Similarly, companies have limited resources and some development projects have to be cut despite the great work and promise they may hold. Gates are connected to a practice called Bye old, hello new team in which we reflect on the Gate and show that there is value and things to learn from the projects that did not continue.

Practice: Events as learning opportunities

Event participation can take many forms and provides opportunities both to connect to work-life and to build competences. Students can participate in industry events, like seminars or networking events as a part of the public. Non-formal connections with work-life are emphasised by also organising common events or seminars. All event participation promotes social interaction, networking, non-formal peer-coaching, critique and constructive feedback. Students can also take part in organizing events or volunteering at large events. Some student teams with very promising products can even pitch at startup events already during their studies in LAB. This brings the student team under the same level of scrutiny as the already established companies pitching for the same judges. For example, at the Midnight Pitchfest (2016) in Oulu, Finland one of our student teams was in the top 5 in the general category among over 20 companies. Pitch opportunities create extra goals to boost motivation among students.

Volunteering at events creates opportunities for networking and builds appreciation of the industry. In the spring of 2016, the LAB Master of DevLAB decided to send all of the students to volunteer at a startup pitching event titled Polar Bear Pitching (2016) in Oulu. They helped to build up and tear down the stage area, served food and drinks, drove people and gear from place to place. Through this experience, students reported to have gained more understanding and respect for the various skills and the hard work needed to put on a successful event. They highlighted the need for communication and collaboration during the event and the need for organization and planning. While the time spent at events naturally takes away from advancing the student projects, LAB Masters need to ensure that goals are reached.

Practical considerations for running LABs

Maintaining bridging and alignment

Oamk LABs curricula and cooperation methods are developed together with the recognised stakeholders in LAB focus industries. For guiding the practical development work, Oamk LABs has established two steering groups (SG), one external and one internal. The internal SG is for the development of interdisciplinary and interfaculty practices and curricula within the university. The external SG is for adjusting the model to address industry needs better as well as helping to find suitable problems from the industry. This arrangement of SGs prepares the model to be closely aligned with the needs of the industries and with Oamk internal practices and structures.

Environment for Studios

The premises and location of a studio have an important role in studio model education, and thus require special attention. Based on our experience and according studio model research (Bull et al. 2013, Lee et al. 2015), the environment represents and promotes different ways of learning. The ownership of the premises enhances a feeling of trust and safety among the participants, and helps build the working culture. In addition, the visual representations of the projects are important for professional awareness (Bull et al. 2013) and reflective practice (Schön 1983).

With this in mind, Oamk LABs operates in three different locations; two in the downtown area, one on the university campus. Students, who all have 24 hours a day / 7 days a week access to the space, generate common rules for the premises. Premises include a kitchen area with a chill-out lounge, common spaces for lectures, working spaces for project teams and meeting rooms. Student teams are allowed and encouraged to modify their own space according to their needs. This action has the goal of enhancing the students feeling of control and ownership of the space to allow them to channel their motivation and follow their passion in creating their future. In addition, LABs premises are surrounded by supportive structures for creating new businesses. Usually new startup companies established from the LABs, LAB alumni, stay in close contact with the LABs. These relationships are benefitting from each other as LAB-newbies and alumni can support each other’s learning and product development.

Oulu Game Campus is a practical example of the industry’s interest to collaborate with the Oamk LABs and its ability to respond with the education bridging work-life. During the year 2016, Oulu Game LAB together with Fingersoft and other game companies in Oulu established a game industry pre-incubator initiative and facility in the Oulu City Centre (Kaleva 2016). This new campus brings together students, coaches, startups and more advanced companies, as well as companies giving supportive services for the industry, such as legal, accounting and financing services.

Renewing the role of the teacher

Studio based pedagogy drives renewal of teaching in vocational higher education. The LAB studio model sets new and challenging demands for the role of a teacher as educator, since the traditional teacher-student setup is turned upside down. With inspired, talented, well-connected, interdisciplinary and experienced personnel the learning is enhanced by using multiple methods inside the studio (Oamk LABs 2016). Teachers become more like coaches and consultants advising for the student teams in their projects, guiding learning, stimulating peer-learning and facilitating connections to work-life. Coaching is a new way of teaching and poses challenges to teachers, but is also something unfamiliar to students as well as demonstrated by one student:

”… I totally support this equality between teacher and student cause in my experience the learning effect was higher. Sometimes I wished that the coaches just tell me what was the right thing to do, which decision we should make, what direction we need to go with the project but they just asked question to push ourselves through our individual way. This was frustrating, interesting, annoying, challenging, helpful and very efficient” (Perka 2016).

Because of being full time studies, Oamk LABs give coaches the opportunity to act as a mirror reflecting the professional development of the student by giving constant feedback. Based on program experiences and trials, the suitable size of a LAB student group has been defined as between 30 to 40 students. In our experience the minimum amount of students ensures the forming of a multidimensional LAB community, thus enabling the learning community. On the other hand, the student group should be small enough to create a comfortable environment where students are familiar with each other. The studio education period should also be long enough to provide sufficient time for building a trustful relationship between coaches and students.

Since LABs curricula is designed to be flexible based on the needs of work-life and focuses around the needs of the student project, individual teachers’ traditional lesson plans cannot be utilized. Instead, teaching is principally based on the emergent needs of a student team project, referred to as impromptu teaching. Interdisciplinary teams and different student backgrounds force teachers to be open to new ideas and agile in guiding students. These Oamk LABs working methods challenge teachers to support 21st Century Skills and tap into their T-shaped skills. To succeed, teachers are well connected and have the latest knowledge from their field of expertise.

At Oamk LABs, staff form and operate in an interdisciplinary team of LAB coaches. The teacher’s ability to utilise the team of LAB coaches for needed expertise and introduce new external experts is necessary to advise student projects successfully. The working method also clashes with the traditional way of resourcing and planning teachers work time, since teachers are working as part time and have also other responsibilities outside of LABs. The needed coach might not be available for an impromptu session when it is needed. LAB Masters are responsible for resourcing and must anticipate the needs in projects. Over time the same issues emerge at the same phases of the projects and therefore resourcing can be matched more closely.

Training the LAB coaches for the model is essential to the successful delivery of a studio type of education (Schön 1983; Bull and Whittle 2014). The Oamk LABs staff has been educated for the LSM through a specific training program which includes intensive, practical and theoretical coverage of learning practices in the model. In fact, commonly at the beginning of the training program, coaches experience the concept development components of the LAB as a student. By experiencing the model first, coaches are able to better align their own teaching later on to the needs of a student team and individual students. Overall, teachers in studios need to be living according the values and act as future professional role models. Interestingly, the majority of the teachers participating in LABs have entrepreneurial or private sector background, which provides them with a strong understanding about business.

Discussion and future developments

So far studio based education has been utilised mainly in creative disciplines, such as architecture, design and arts for bridging academic and work-life practices. However, the nature of problems that future professionals are facing demands developing skills such as creativity and collaboration, – 21st Century Skills. This suggests why interest towards studio based pedagogy has increased in recent years among other areas of professional education (Heikkinen et. al. 2016). The studio based environment encourages the learning of work life skills in a climate that tolerates failure, which is essential before moving into work life. Project and problem based learning with methods using reflection are also widely used in studios. While current studio education typically includes students from only one discipline, the experience from the Oamk LABs studio environment calls for including students and teachers from different areas of expertise.

Based on experience from Oamk LABs, studio pedagogy can be highly demanding for students and teachers. The environment at LABs may be confusing for students because of the working methods and the interdisciplinary, international and intergenerational group of students. Communication between the different professions in a language that might not be your native language is challenging. Often extra effort is needed to make yourself and your ideas understood. Many of the students are undertaking concept development for the first time in their life and LABs offer a safe environment to make their first real designs for real problems provided by real customers. More advanced students provide an opportunity for Master-Apprentice-type learning since they can act as role models for younger students. After the ‘cultural shock’ at the beginning of the program, students recover and start to perform in a company-like environment as young professionals and eventually gain new knowledge for the task at hand.

The Oamk LABs future development continues through trials and evidence based development of methods. When the LSM is applied to other industries and countries and more degree programs are involved, the growth sets increasing challenges for the model definition, and external and internal communications as well. The Oamk LABs were created and continue to be developed through agile methods to be a dynamic education program with substantial freedom of operation to address changing needs of the industries and society at large. Creating interdisciplinary programs in higher education requires courage and a willingness for cooperation from within the different degree programs and a common recognized need, which can be formed only through co-creation and discussion. External pull for new types of expertise or a crisis can jumpstart the development of these new forms teaching and learning.

Oamk LABs enables learning of 21st Century Skills in higher education by educating self-directed learners who are active and concerned citizens. They are persons with an opportunity mindset and the confidence and tools for co-creation of innovations. The LAB studio model includes several additional components compared to many of the existing models of studio based learning. Since it is designed to be international, interdisciplinary, intergenerational and industry focused, it brings new opportunities for learning 21th Century Skills. In our opinion, bridging work-life and higher education happens through the renewal of teaching and teachers should act as role models for the new skills required. Oamk LABs is a dynamic and open environment which offers a platform to renew teaching practices and invites all participants to learn and develop together.


Janne Karjalainen, Oulu University of Applied Sciences, M.Sc. (Tech.), Lecturer, LAB Master, janne.karjalainen(at)
Ulla-Maija Seppänen, Oulu University of Applied Sciences, M.Sc.(Health, Occupational Therapy), Senior Lecturer, LAB Master, ulla-maija.seppanen(at)
Kari-Pekka Heikkinen, Oulu University of Applied Sciences, M.Sc. (Tech.), Senior Lecturer, Creator of Creations, kari-pekka.heikkinen(at)

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‘Do I Have It in Me to Be an Entrepreneur?’ – Entrepreneurial Coaching for Master Level Students


Entrepreneurship education has been high on the European agenda for many years as an effective mean of embedding an entrepreneurial culture in higher education institutions (HEI). Higher education has not traditionally prepared students for self-employment as HEIs’ primary mission has been to prepare students for employment (Fenton & Barry, 2014). Higher education is facing challenges in the definition of its purpose, role, and scope in society and the economy, and therefore universities have been recommended to expand their entrepreneurship education (OECD, 2012). Entrepreneurship education has evolved considerably in recent decades and it has gained both academic and political credibility (Henry, 2013).

Entrepreneurship education in higher education has shown to have a positive impact on the entrepreneurial mindset of students, their intention towards entrepreneurship, their employability and finally on their role in the society and the economy (European Commission 2012). At the global level entrepreneurship education is portrayed as critical to employment generation, innovation and economic growth and, therefore, it is promoted as a necessary core rather than an optional peripheral aspect of higher education curricula (Henry, 2013). The expectations for entrepreneurship education are high and e.g. Henry (2013) suggests that policy makers’ expectations may even have spiralled beyond what is both realistic and possible.

The entrepreneurial intentions of students at Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) and in secondary education have been studied in a longitudinal research (Joensuu et al. 2014). In that study it was found that the entrepreneurial intentions of UAS students decrease during their studies. One reason for this seems to be that at the beginning of the studies students have more positive attitudes towards entrepreneurship as the time to actually make the decision to start a business after graduation seems to be far in the future. As they near graduation, their opinions towards entrepreneurship become more realistic and cautious. Furthermore, it was found that taking general entrepreneurship studies does not have an effect on entrepreneurial intention. However, entrepreneurial pedagogy requiring active participation of the students has a positive effect on the students’ confidence in their entrepreneurial capabilities and this in turn has a positive effect on entrepreneurial intentions (Joensuu et al. 2014).

A relevant policy-oriented question whether it would make more sense for a certain group of students to take more comprehensive entrepreneurship education rather than all students taking only basic entrepreneurship education has been raised (Søren, 2014). Entrepreneurship-specific education may provide students with an opportunity to accumulate transferable skills that can be employed in any organizational context, not only in business start-ups (Solesvik, Westhead, Matlay & Parsyak, 2013). This view supports the idea of offering entrepreneurship education widely in HEIs. On the other hand, if we think that entrepreneurship education should enhance students’ business start-ups, we should give more specific coaching for those students who already have entrepreneurial intention. As Fenton and Barry (2014) state, it is a fallacy to assume that more entrepreneurship education provision will lead to immediate graduate entrepreneurship as the route to self-employment is influenced by personal circumstances.

Another critical question raised within entrepreneurship education research is what we are really doing when we provide teaching and training in entrepreneurship. According to Fayolle (2015), we should think more critically about the appropriateness, relevance, coherence, social usefulness and efficiency of practices in entrepreneurship education. Entrepreneurship education is at the crossroads of entrepreneurship and education and, therefore, it should have a solid theoretical and conceptual foundation drawing from these both fields.

Keeping these two relevant and critical questions in mind, in this paper’s theoretical background the theoretical foundation behind our decision to concentrate on students with entrepreneurial intention is described firstly. Secondly, the educational foundation for our entrepreneurial coaching model is discussed.

Terms Related to Entrepreneurial Coaching

In research and political reports terms entrepreneurship education, enterprise education and entrepreneurial education seem to be used as related terms. However,  these terms are slightly different and e.g. UK’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education QAA (2012) has defined enterprise education as follows: ’Enterprise education aims to produce graduates with the mindset and skills to come up with original ideas in response to identified needs and shortfalls, and the ability to act on them. In short, having an idea and making it happen’. Whereas entrepreneurship education ‘focuses on the development and application of an enterprising mindset and skills in the specific contexts of setting up a new venture, developing and growing an existing business, or designing an entrepreneurial organisation.’ (QAA, 2012, 8). The ultimate goal of enterprise and entrepreneurship education is to develop entrepreneurial effectiveness which can be defined as ‘the ability to behave in enterprising and entrepreneurial ways. This is achieved through the development of enhanced awareness, mindset and capabilities to enable learners to perform effectively in taking up opportunities and achieving desired results’ (QAA, 2012, 10-11).

This study describes one model of entrepreneurship education called entrepreneurial coaching which is offered to master level students at Savonia University of Applied Sciences. In this study the term entrepreneurship education is used when discussing entrepreneurial, enterprise and entrepreneurship education in general, and when discussing the entrepreneurship education model of our university the term entrepreneurial coaching is used. Coaching as a term describes well our model which has a personalized approach focusing not only on the business idea but on the student as an individual. This model creates a context of learning that equips the students to find answers themselves through a creative process. The coach plays the role of a facilitator or catalyst but does not provide ready-made answers (see e.g. Audet & Couteret, 2012; International Coaching Federation, 2016).

Objectives, Approach and Methods

This study describes the foundations, model and methods of entrepreneurial coaching which is offered to the master level students of Savonia University of Applied Sciences. The students’ expectations for the coaching and how they utilize it to develop their business ideas are examined. An earlier version of this paper was presented in the RENT-conference in Zagreb, Croatia in November 2015 (Laukkanen & Iire, 2015).

In this study the students and their views are placed into focus, and it is examined how entrepreneurial coaching may enhance their personal development as entrepreneurs. Our entrepreneurial coaching model is presented as one way to enhance master level students’ capabilities and courage to start and develop their own businesses. The aim of the paper is to strengthen the entrepreneurship education research by analysing openly the educational foundations of our entrepreneurial coaching model. As Jones et al. (2014) state,  in order to promote the development of entrepreneurship education it is important that the educators ‘reflect upon their practice, identify their teaching orientation and question their emphasis upon certain contents, processes and outcomes’ (Jones et al. 2014, 773).

This study adopted a qualitative research approach and a theme-based survey was conducted among 17 students who participated in entrepreneurial coaching. This data was used to describe the expectations of the students and the ways they utilize the coaching to develop their business ideas. We also arranged a kick-off seminar for these students and there we discussed their expectations and challenges concerning entrepreneurship. These discussions gave more depth to the themes which rose from the survey.

Furthermore, a more detailed look was taken into the coaching processes of four students with very different starting points, and short case stories of these students are told. Two of the students develop together a business idea which is based on their new product and service innovation. The third student is already an entrepreneur, but his business lacks all formal business planning, business model and formal strategy. The fourth student has a business idea based on her knowledge and skills which have developed during her long working experience. By these case stories it is depicted how this kind of flexible entrepreneurial coaching model can benefit students in their personal circumstances. These particular students were chosen as they have so different starting points.

Entrepreneurial Coaching Model – to Whom, What, How and Why?

In this chapter two critical perspectives related to whom and how entrepreneurship education should be implemented are discussed. Firstly, the theoretical foundation behind our decision to concentrate on master students with entrepreneurial intention is described. Secondly, the educational foundation of our entrepreneurial coaching model is discussed.

Entrepreneurship Education and Coaching for All or Only for Those with Entrepreneurial Intention

In entrepreneurship education research there is a lot of discussion around the question whether it would make more sense in higher education institutes to offer some students more comprehensive entrepreneurship education rather than some entrepreneurship education for a large group of students or even all students. The view which supports offering entrepreneurship education widely in HEIs states that  entrepreneurship-specific education may provide students with an opportunity to accumulate transferable skills that can be employed in any organizational context, not only in business start-ups (Solesvik et al., 2013). Entrepreneurship-specific education has stated to accumulate the human capital assets required for entrepreneurial careers in new, established, small, large, public and private organizations (Solesvik, Westhead & Matlay, 2014).

Entrepreneurship education is booming worldwide, and entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly popular in business schools, engineering schools, universities and educational institutions (Fayolle, 2015). European Commission has adopted a very wide description of EE in a recent report saying that entrepreneurship education is taken to cover all educational activities that seek to prepare people to be responsible, enterprising individuals who have the skills, knowledge and attitudes needed to prepare themselves to achieve the goals they set for themselves to live a fulfilled life (European Commission, 2015). Offering entrepreneurship education widely in educational institutions has an important role producing skills to future entrepreneurs so that they are capable of thinking, acting and making decisions in a wide range of situations and contexts (Fayolle, 2015).

On the other hand, if we think that entrepreneurship education should enhance students’ business start-ups, it demands more specific education and coaching for those students who already have entrepreneurial intentions. Donellon et al. (2014) argue that while demand for entrepreneurial competence has led to constant growth of entrepreneurship education, few programmes provide robust outcomes such as actual new ventures or entrepreneurial behaviour in real contexts. They emphasize that beyond acquiring knowledge and skills, entrepreneurial learning also involves the development of an entrepreneurial identity (Donellon, Ollila & Williams Middleton, 2014). Furthermore, the route to self-employment is highly influenced by personal circumstances (Fenton & Barry, 2014).

There seems to be a gap between entrepreneurial intention and action (Van Gelderen, Kautonen & Fink, 2015; Gielnik et al., 2014). Many people form intentions to start their own businesses but do little to translate those intentions into action. Acting upon intentions may be postponed or abandoned for several reasons; new constraints emerge, a person’s preferences change, or feelings of fear, doubt or aversion rise. Van Gelderen et al. (2015) show that self-control positively moderates the relationship between intention and action. It seems that supporting only the development of entrepreneurial knowledge does not necessarily lead to action, whereas factors of entrepreneurial goal intentions, positive fantasies, and action planning have combined effects on new venture creation (Gielnik et al. 2014).

At our university entrepreneurship is considered an important thing to promote since we see it as one way to develop the economy and well-being of the region. Therefore, at our business school we offer all students general entrepreneurial skills which are useful in all organizational contexts and may lead to business start-ups in future. All bachelor level business students get general knowledge and skills of entrepreneurship since these issues are taught in academic courses. They all also practice entrepreneurship skills during their first year in a virtual enterprise which they establish in teams of ten students. After this, all business students also at the bachelor’s level have an opportunity to choose entrepreneurial coaching courses if they have a preliminary business idea and/or entrepreneurial intentions.

The master’s level entrepreneurial studies are aimed at those students who already have entrepreneurial intentions. They choose these studies knowing that the goal is to develop their own business ideas and business models. We have named these studies entrepreneurial coaching to separate them from more general entrepreneurship education. In addition, we think that the term ‘coaching’ describes  our model very well as coaching discussions are an essential part of the process. These entrepreneurial coaching studies are offered also to students from other fields than only business. At the master’s level we have had students from the business, tourism, engineering and healthcare sectors. Several previous studies have also emphasized that entrepreneurship education should move beyond the traditional business school context and offer entrepreneurial learning pathways also to students from other faculties or schools (Jones, Matlay and Maritz, 2012; Crayford et al. 2012).

Educational Foundation for Entrepreneurial Coaching

Fayolle (2015) emphasizes that entrepreneurship education should have a strong intellectual and conceptual founding drawing from the fields of entrepreneurship and education. Similarly Jones et al. (2014) call for stronger pedagogical content knowledge for entrepreneurship education. In his article Fayolle (2013) presents a good generic teaching model for entrepreneurship education. In this paper his model is used as a basis to give a comprehensive description of the educational founding for our entrepreneurial coaching (figure 1).

Figure 1. Educational model of entrepreneurial coaching
Figure 1. Educational model of entrepreneurial coaching

The entrepreneurial coaching studies for master’s level students at our university consist of three courses (5 ECTS each). Students can include these studies in their curricula as elective studies, and they can choose one, two or three of these courses. In the following the studies are described in more detail.

For whom?
The students are studying at Savonia University of Applied Sciences in order to get a master’s level degree. They already have a bachelor’s level degree and at least three years of working experience after completing the bachelor’s degree. They have preliminary business ideas, and/or entrepreneurial intentions. The students’ reasons for participating in these studies vary. Some of them already have quite clear business ideas which they want to develop into solid business models. Some students have the entrepreneurial intentions, but not any clear business ideas. Some of them are already entrepreneurs, but they feel that their business ideas and models need to be clarified.

One clear objective for offering these studies is to increase the number of master’s level students’ business start-ups. However, achieving this goal takes time and the actual starting up may happen years after completing the degree. Another important goal is to give master students an opportunity to take time to ponder their entrepreneurial and personal goals and find versatile information about the industry, markets, competition, etc. which helps them to make decisions.

We also tell our students that these studies give them an opportunity to gather information to make the right decision whether to proceed with the business idea towards a start-up, or to postpone or abandon the commercial use of the idea. This is an ethical issue; we should also help the students to make a no-go decision if, after wide and versatile information gathering and analysis, it seems that the business idea has no commercial potential.

In our entrepreneurial coaching model we mix theoretical knowledge and practice-oriented approaches. The theoretical knowledge contains issues such as opportunity recognition, business model generation, business environment analysis and entrepreneurial skills. These issues are discussed in a kick-off workshop and in on-line materials. The students are expected to find more information about these issues focusing on their own business ideas. Otherwise the studies are very practice-oriented as the students work on their own ideas. The students’ information gathering and individual pondering is supported by coaching discussions when needed.

The coaching teachers also have skills that mix theoretical and practical knowledge. There are two ‘main coaches’, one of them has a doctoral degree in entrepreneurship and has been an entrepreneur herself, the other has a master’s degree in administrative sciences and a long and profound experience in developing business models in organizations. In addition, other professionals at our university can be employed as coaches when their special knowledge is needed (for example innovation management or financial management issues).

The entrepreneurial coaching process starts with a kick-off workshop for the whole group. In this workshop the students are offered short lectures on essential entrepreneurship knowledge. After that the students brainstorm and jointly develop the ideas. They also study how to use business model generation tools.

After that the students start to work on their own business ideas independently and the development process is supported during coaching sessions with the teachers. The coaching teachers also provide ideas on how the students should and could develop the needed network. An on-line learning environment is formed to contribute to the learning process. In the learning environment the students find relevant material, links and they can also ask the coaches questions. The students report on their learning by producing written learning assignments.

The studies consist of three separate courses, and a student can choose only one or two, or all three of them. These three courses have different learning objectives. In the first course the students ponder their own entrepreneurial intentions and skills and form the first business model around their business ideas. In this phase the students critically analyse their own entrepreneurial motivation and skills. The students are advised to enhance their self-reflection with tests which measure entrepreneurial intentions and capabilities.

In the second course they choose and justify one specific part of their business model which needs further studying and gather information related to this. And finally in the third course the students should be able to present holistic and profound business models and plans to show how they are going to turn their ideas into business. At this stage the students should form action plans on how their entrepreneurial intentions will translate into action (see e.g. Van Gelderen et al. 2015). At all stages the students are expected to gather versatile theoretical and practical information.

For which results?
The students develop their business ideas and models and they report on the development processes in the learning assignments. These assignments are evaluated and the students get their grades on the basis of the evaluation criteria which include e.g. the following: setting and achieving the goals of the process, use of versatile and profound knowledge base (theoretical and practical), usefulness of the gained information, versatile and professional discussion and reporting and logical conclusions. The students also get feedback which helps them to move forward in the development of their business models.

We assess the entrepreneurship outcomes of the coaching by following the number of students who participate, the start-ups of the students and new business models developed for the existing firms of the students. However, it is difficult to report on these assessments yet since the processes of the students are long and the actual results often come about later.

Students’ Experiences of Entrepreneurial Coaching

As mentioned, master students’ reasons for participating in entrepreneurial studies vary. In a survey among the students their motives to participate were asked, and we also discussed these motives during a kick-off workshop and coaching discussions. Some of the students have strong entrepreneurial intentions and quite clear business ideas, while some have the intention, but the business idea is still very vague. There are also students who have clear business ideas, but they want to take time to ponder how they could match entrepreneurship with their personal circumstances. And finally, there are students who already are entrepreneurs, but whose business ideas and models need to be clarified. Therefore a flexible coaching model is good for master students as it takes into account the students’ personal circumstances. Here are some citations to describe these different motives:

My goal is to explore profoundly if my business idea has real potential and if I have it in me to be a successful entrepreneur.

I want to attain more knowledge about entrepreneurship. On the other hand, these studies ‘force’ me to reflect my entrepreneurial skills and explore the potential of my business idea.

I want to clarify our firm’s business model. We haven’t done what we should have done at the beginning stage of the firm… Now it is a good time to clarify these essential aspects of our business.

We have students from different sectors; business, tourism, engineering and health care. This gives us a challenge as the students have different educational backgrounds. Business and tourism students already have quite strong general business and entrepreneurship knowledge, whereas engineers and students with health care degrees have studied these subjects much less. Therefore, some of the students expected to have more lectures on general business themes such as forms of enterprise and financial issues.

The execution of the studies is good. However, I expected to get more general business information – I mean basic things about issues which entrepreneurs face when they start a business. Having an opportunity for coaching discussions is great.

The participating students have found it important to get the opportunity and support to develop their business ideas as part of their studies. This seems to be one good way to promote the business start-ups of graduates as well as to enhance the chances of success of their businesses. As Fenton and Barry (2014) also found, entrepreneurial coaching at the graduate level provides a welcome ‘breathing space’ to develop students’ business ideas.

I find entrepreneurial coaching very useful for me. It is great that I have this opportunity to explore the potential of my idea as a part of my studies.

It is extremely important to get support for developing my business idea and get more knowledge from entrepreneurship experts.

The best way to describe the versatile motives, situations and processes of the students might be to tell short case stories. Therefore the stories of four students are told here: Helen and Sarah (innovation based idea), John (existing firm with no formal business model), and Mary (knowledge based idea). The names of the students are changed to ensure their anonymity. The processes of these students are still going on, and therefore the final outcomes and decisions which they will make concerning their business ideas cannot yet be told. These stories describe their entrepreneurial processes so far.

Helen and Sarah are master students from two different fields; Sarah is a business student and Helen is a healthcare management student. They met in an innovation knowledge course where they worked in the same study team and developed Helen’s original innovation idea which is a mobile phone application for persons with a certain type of food allergy. During the first course of entrepreneurial coaching they defined the customer segments for their application, analysed competition and formed their first business model draft. Helen and Sarah concluded in their report that they now have a preliminary understanding of the earning logic of their business. However, they now need a more profound market survey, and they need to plan and design the application. They are planning to focus on these aspects in their second and third entrepreneurial coaching courses and utilize the know-how of our university’s other departments (technology and design management).

John’s friends established a new firm in 2012 after recognizing a new import business opportunity. John started working for the company in autumn 2012 and bought his share of stocks in spring 2013. All three key persons had a technical education and background. Due to the strong demand, the business was good and the customers were found quite easily. The whole company adopted a culture of busy doing; there was no role for planning and foreseeing. John began to think about the future in the longer run. He started his master level business studies and soon realised that there is a huge need in their company to both increase efficiency and plan a proper business strategy for long term success. John took the entrepreneurial coaching studies because of the proper opportunity to take time to think about his own skills as an entrepreneur and also plan his business further. He is preparing the business model for their company. He thinks that the support from the tutoring professionals (coaching teachers) and the opportunity to think and plan by himself and reflect the results with the fellow students and tutors are the main reasons to participate in the entrepreneurial coaching studies.

Mary has a profound professional background as a controller, and she had an idea of starting her own business which would offer controlling and financial management services to entrepreneurs who lack these skills (firms which have been established leaning on the entrepreneurs’ professions). She developed the business model through versatile information gathering from both theory and practice. The practical information was gathered from managers in different sectors, and she also offered these services to one small company in the health care sector and tested the service there as a pilot case. During this process Mary found that there would be actual demand for her service business. However, she started to feel that this business would be too similar to the work she had done as an employee for a long time. Her interest started to focus more on the health care sector during her pilot process, and she now looks for new business opportunities in that sector. She also wants to be a part of a team instead of working as a consultant for a one- woman firm.

By telling these three case stories it is shown how different the starting points of students can be. Therefore we cannot offer some kind of one-size-fits-all solutions in entrepreneurial coaching. Instead, we need to appreciate the personal goals of the participants.

Conclusions and Implications

This study provides guiding principles for good practices in entrepreneurial coaching in higher education, and especially in practice-oriented universities such as universities of applied sciences. The findings of this study show that there is a need for a flexible entrepreneurial coaching model for master level students. On the basis of our experiences it can be said that entrepreneurial coaching should be student focused taking personal circumstances into account. Furthermore, the entrepreneurial studies should be compatible with the students’ curricula. This means that the curriculum is flexible enough and these entrepreneurial coaching studies can be included into the students’ personal study plans.

Using versatile learning methods seems to be good for developing entrepreneurial skills. A kick-off workshop where students become familiar with the business model development combined with e-learning environment and on-line material gives basis for the work which the students do independently. The students’ independent learning is supported in coaching discussions.

During this process the students also reflect and develop their own entrepreneurial identity. As Donellon et al. (2014) argue; if the educational objective is learning for the practice of entrepreneurship, then entrepreneurial identity construction is as important a goal as the development of knowledge and skills. The students are encouraged to critically evaluate their own skills and life goals and reflect them to attributes related to successful entrepreneurship. Context is an important contributor to entrepreneurial identity and the students need to confront their own internal dialogue about how the entrepreneurial identity fits with their social groups’ expectations and their own life expectations. We encourage our students to do this kind of reflection as part of their learning assignments.

Through the entrepreneurial coaching process master level students enforce their capabilities to develop their business ideas and business models. The process also enhances their courage to take their first steps (or new direction) as entrepreneurs. The students of our entrepreneurial coaching seem to have gained similar kind of immediate value as Kirkwood et al. (2014) also reported: confidence, entrepreneurship knowledge and skills, a sense of reality and practical solutions (Kirkwood, Dwyer and Gray, 2014). The coaching process forces the students to gather versatile information related to the planned business model. Therefore they will form stronger confidence in their skills. This and the coaching discussions enhance the courage to take the needed steps.

The entrepreneurial coaching process is an important learning experience also for those students who, after profound information gathering, decide to postpone or abandon the commercial use of their ideas. The process has offered them experimental learning opportunity which may in future give them better skills to recognize and analyse potential business opportunities, and gather versatile information to form solid business models.

This study contributes to entrepreneurship education research by presenting one model how entrepreneurial coaching can be organized in higher education. As Fayolle (2015) states, it is important that entrepreneurship education has a solid theoretical and conceptual foundation, drawing from both entrepreneurship and education. Therefore our model’s educational foundations are also clearly opened in this paper.

There are certain limits to this research, as it was undertaken at one university of applied sciences, and in a unique, regional environment. Therefore, it is influenced by policies, priorities and factors of the region and our university. However, by describing our model openly we hope to encourage entrepreneurship education professionals to develop practice-oriented coaching models using blended teaching methods.


Virpi Laukkanen, Savonia University of Applied Sciences, Principal Lecturer, Ph.D. (Econ.), Virpi.Laukkanen(at)

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Kirkwood, Jodyanne, Dwyer, Kirsty and Gray, Brendan. 2014. Students’ reflections on the value of an entrepreneurship education. The International Journal of Management Education, 12 (2012), 307-316.

Laukkanen, Virpi & Iire, Antti. 2015. Entrepreneurial Coaching for Master Students. Supporting Skills and Courage. Proceedings of RENT XXIX –conference. Research in Entrepreneurship and Small Business, Zagreb, Croatia, November 18-20, 2015.

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Van Gelderen, Marco, Kautonen, Teemu & Fink, Matthias. 2015. From entrepreneurial intentions to actions: Self-control and action-related doubt, fear and aversion. Journal of Business Venturing, 30 (2015), 655-673.

Ahonen, pääkuva

Mission Possible: Student Integration through Involvement


The purpose of the paper is to introduce the experimental Mission Possible pilot project, a student integration through involvement model at Lahti University of Applied Sciences (Lahti UAS). It was carried out in January 2016 by incoming International Trade Degree Programme (KVK) and International Business Degree Programme (IBU) students as their orientation week program. Instead of traditional day-long information lectures lasting for one week, the newbie students were put to work on their first group project already on the third day of the start of their studies. The project involved setting up and running a new venture. The results of this model provide strong support for using it in the future and perhaps with groups of newbie students in other university of applied sciences, too.

Mission Possible – the Idea

The Mission Possible pilot project was implemented to encourage student integration through involvement, in a practical sense. The idea of the project was to have the students to experience actual business operations right from the word go – thus, giving them an opportunity to experience real-life business in practice. The project aimed to help students, coming from two different degree programs and from different countries, to become acquainted with each other, to encourage social networking between the students in order to help them develop a closer connection to each other, and to support the integration of these students into their business studies. In addition, the students would learn team work skills, working in a multicultural environment, and learn the basics of start-up development.

The KVK and IBU students were expected to complete their project so as to be ready for the one-day DuuniExpo Networking and Career Fair, held in Lahti, on January 20, 2016. After preparatory lectures facilitated by the authors of the paper, the students had exactly one week’s time to plan, prepare, and implement their project.

DuuniExpo is a yearly-held fair that gathers students of all faculties at Lahti UAS and recruiters of the Lahti region together. Attendance at the fair differs from one year to the next with average attendance being 5,000 people. DuuniExpo – created, organized, and implemented by Lahti University of Applied Sciences’ students – is open to everyone. (DuuniExpo 2016.)

Mission Possible Practicalities

The project began with the presentation of the Mission Possible pilot project idea and the implementation phases of the project to the students. This was followed by lectures in business model principles (Osterwalder & Pigneur 2013), teamwork and team working and culture-related practices (Hofstede & Hofstede & Minkov 2010, Loughborough University 2016, Tuckman 1965). The sixty-nine students were divided into ten groups of six to eight students per group. Each group had both Finnish and foreign students. This ensured that all students became acquainted with each other as well as with each other’s cultures.

After getting to know each other via group discussion, based on pre-arranged discussion questions, the students then went on to brainstorm what product or service they would create and sell at the DuuniExpo Fair. The product or service could be anything legally approved of – either tangible or intangible. The idea of the chosen product or service was presented to the rest of the class the following day, thus avoiding overlapping of product or service ideas. There were four check points all-in-all ensuring the progression of the project and development of the business ideas. The final check point was the feedback-for-the-project check point.

Each group was given 50 euros as their budget to cover the expenses incurred in the implementation of their product or service. After the DuuniExpo event, the groups were required to pay the 50 euros back. Any profit they attained from their sales they were allowed to keep and divide amongst their group members. Results of each group’s earnings were presented the day after the DuuniExpo Fair. The group earning the most profit was declared the winning team and received their prizes.

The groups, besides working on creating their actual product or service, were also responsible for setting up and clearing their stands at the fair, arranging transportation of their products/equipment to and from the DuuniExpo, managing their cash flow, marketing/advertising their stand/products/service, and arranging the day schedule, time-wise, for each group member.

The ten groups came up with the following products and services: homemade muffins, cake, hot dogs, candy; hot and cold beverages; circulating coffee cart; handmade backpack bags, cell phone covers, candles and postcards; picture-taking booth; discount and offer coupons and raffle tickets.

Ahonen, kuva 2

Even though the prices of the products or services were quite cheap, the students earned, in total, a profit of 1,778 euros. The winning group sold raffle tickets – where each raffle ticket buyer won a prize donated by local businesses. The winning group donated their 468-euro profit to a charity cause.

Students’ Experience

Feedback for the Mission Possible project was collected by the two project facilitators after the DuuniExpo Fair. Feedback was collected with feedback forms. The forms were handed-out to the students and collected after completion at the beginning of the final day of the project, before the winning team/award was announced. Of the 69 students, fifty-five (79.7%) submitted a completed feedback form. The results were analyzed using Excel to find common themes. According to the feedback, all the students were extremely satisfied with the Mission Possible project. Also, they expressed how exciting and educative it was to really learn what the business concept means for real. Furthermore, they emphasized how well they got to know each other throughout the implementation of this project. Completing the project in multicultural groups helped the students acquire skills in team working as well as cultural skills. In addition, the students learned to make good use of the strengths of each team member. Other acquired skills included: leadership, socializing, time-management, entrepreneurship, sales and marketing, communication, and problem-solving skills.

Ahonen, kuva 1

Development suggestions were also given for the Mission Possible project. First, the length of the project, time-wise, was commented on. Some students expressed that they would have needed more time for this project; one student felt that this one week was too long. On the other hand, there were some students who felt that this one week time was a good thing because they had to work more intensively due to the shortage of time. Second, working in a multicultural group seemed to be a bit challenging for some students. The two areas where conflicting situations arose related to differences in the concept of time as well as communication practices. Third, students expressed the need for more information and tips on selling and marketing of products or services. This also included the need for more information on how to price products or services and how to approach customers. Fourth, although great care was given to eliminate duplicate product or service ideas, some students criticized that overlapping of products or services cut their profit. And finally, many students wished for more information about the other companies’ stands at the DuuniExpo Fair as well as information on what these companies were selling.

Development Proposals

More information relating to cultural differences is needed with future Mission Possible projects. The areas of focus should include not only the differences but the similarities as well. This would then equip the students with the needed skills when facing cultural differences in behaviour and practices.

With future Mission Possible groups it is important to have clearer instructions regarding money aspects, i.e., the 50 euro loan – what it is to be used for, are students allowed to use their own money for the project, as well as the risks involved – thus ensuring that all groups play by the same rules.

Selling and marketing need to be focused on more with future Mission Possible group projects. Students need to have information, i.e., tools and methods, on how to create ideas, market their product or service, how to approach Finnish customers, and how to price products or services to be more buyer-and-profit friendly. Students also need to be informed about other companies, products and services at the DuuniExpo – thus helping them create something different. Overlapping of products or services needs to be more strictly controlled.


All-in-all the experimental Mission Possible pilot project can be said to be successful. The students were able to practice, in real-life, what their studies will be teaching them. The execution of the project was interesting for both the students as well as the project facilitators. With the help of the project, the students coming from two different degree programs, acquired skills that are beneficial in their studies as well as the business world. Furthermore, this project helped the students integrate more quickly into their business studies. This type of student integration through involvement model might be worth trying in other universities of applied sciences.


Tarja (Terry) Ahonen, Senior Lecturer, Lahti University of Applied Sciences Ltd, tarja.ahonen(at)
Sami Heikkinen, Senior Lecturer, Lahti University of Applied Sciences Ltd, sami.heikkinen(at)

Hofstede, G. H., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. 2010. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind: Intercultural cooperation and its importance for survival. 3. revised edition. New York: McGraw Hill.

Loughborough University. 2016. Working in Groups. Referenced 2 October 2016. Available on database:

Osterwalder, A. & Pigneur, Y. 2013. Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Tuckman, B. 1965. Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin 63, 384-399. The article was reprinted in Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal, Number 3, Spring 2001.


No 3 (2016) Abstracts

The culture of experimentation is an art

Riitta Konkola, Managing Director and President, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

People at universities of applied sciences are enthusiastic about agile experimentation. A good example of this is the current theme issue on the culture of experimentation you are holding right now, not to mention the wide range of related articles from a variety of fields.

During the past 25 years, we have established ourselves as a provider of higher education and a partner in working life. In addition to this, we have also served as an example in improving our own organisational processes. We want to practice what we preach. This is one way to earn the trust of our students, our local community and our partners. Indeed, this magazine contains not only expert articles and reviews on various educational fields, but also–gratifyingly–on pieces related to such topics as security management at universities of applied sciences and the development of work organisation for people doing information work.

Due to complicated cause-effect relationships, the reform of society by means of political decision-making has become more difficult. This is why strengthening the culture of experimentation is one of the key projects of the current Government Programme: first testing solutions intended for national implementation on a smaller scale makes it possible to render decisions on their broader and more permanent implementation. In addition to this, universities of applied sciences that recognise the approaches used in working life have begun to openly apply the principles of a culture of experimentation, conducting the agile testing of new operating approaches for the benefit of society as a whole.

At the core of all agility, it is good to keep in mind that not all conventional development work or projects based on long-term planning should be lumped together within the inspiring concept of a culture of experimentation. Experiments should be openly defined in our organisation and differentiated from from other development methods. It is vital that we always take a moment to think about what the difference is between a project and experimentation. And, there is no reason to think that experimental designs, test cycles and sudden changes in course during a process would meet all development needs. The culture of experimentation is one strong link in a chain of many, but it is not suitable as the linchpin, not even for for universities of applied sciences.

Fortunately, we here in the educational field are very adept at expressing our thoughts on what we are striving for in individual experiments and how to advance from that point toward achieving greater influence in higher education. If we want to assess the real results of experimentation, such as by using a control group, we can obtain more information than by merely using an opinion survey aimed at those participating in a new function. We also need supervisory work related to the culture of experimentation in order to co-ordinate, harmonise and orient experiments toward achieving common goals. Without proper management and common organisational operating models, it will not be possible for even the most promising experiments to be brought to the next, more comprehensive level at universities of applied sciences.

The culture of experimentation is naturally suited to the people working at universities of applied sciences. When reading the articles in this theme issue, we might notice that we are at a very early stage in creating models that promote the development and co-ordination of experimentation methods. On the other hand, what if we looked at this collection of articles as being the first iteration cycle of many, publishing a similar theme issue in, for example, two years? What are all the things we could already do better? What kinds of things would we be proud to say that we had made progress from individual experiments to more comprehensive implementation to social influence?

Developing an experimentation ecosystem: innovation commissions as a bridge

Anu Kurvinen, Senior Lecturer, M.Sc. (Econ), Saimaa University of Applied Sciences
Pasi Juvonen, Senior Lecturer, Team Coach, D.Sc. (Tech), Saimaa University of Applied Sciences

Experimental development is currently a renowned topic but utilising the possibilities of it within organisations is still in its starting phase. At the same time companies are expected to create groundbreaking innovations in fast pace. One way of creating the first steps for an organisational culture that encourages experimental development is cooperation between education and business. Saimaa University of Applied Sciences is involved in several research and development projects using the tools of experimental development. This operating model is a proven way to reach the goals set for the projects. At the same time it also emphasizes the role of universities of applied sciences as business and working life driven regional trainers and influencers. Experimental development can be conducted as a practically oriented innovation work with relatively small resources that is positive news to participating organisations. The development work done may first appear as minor changes but exactly those minor changes can have a drastic effect in the big picture.

Culture of experimentation as a design process working method

Mirja Kälviäinen, Ph.D, Principal Lecturer, docent, Lahti University of Applied Sciences

Design process and design thinking as functionally similar to the culture of experimentation are applied as a process solution to various challenges at the same time as the culture of experimentation has gained influence. Design thinking as a working method is better suited in wicked, multidimensional and uncertain situations than mere logic-systematic thinking styles. The search for multiple alternatives and quick experimentation, the critical observation of the problem space, the possibility for uncertainty and failure represent the explorative inner through process and concrete experimentation. By experimentation it is possible to research and put under doubt the originally set problems and challenges. The solutions are built as a synthesis from the best features that the experimenting research reveals. Especially in the currently typical multidisciplinary work the application of design thinking means that abstract, verbally expressed and multidimensional development ideas are transferred into visual and concrete synthesis. In this way the holes and the solutions in the borderlines of the different disciplines can be observed and it is possible to come to joint conclusions where to lead the development work. The experimentations and prototypes also force to redesign the holes left in the solutions when just discussing about them by words and to define the role and nature of the different parts in the solution. When the design process is producing experimentation and prototypes about different ideas and solutions it is possible to evaluate and test them much easily than verbal plans with the stakeholders and especially with the users of the solution.

OAMK LAB model emphasises boldness, trust and learning

Ulla-Maija Seppänen, M.Sc. (Health Sciences), Senior Lecturer, Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Kari-Pekka Heikkinen, M.Sc. (Eng), Senior Lecturer, Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Jussi Haukkamaa, M.A., Senior Lecturer, Oulu University of Applied Sciences

A new way of teaching does not necessarily start automatically or through force. In this article, key factors of success in a culture of experimentation are described from a teachers’ point of view and defined through the concepts of trust, care, courage and learning. These factors represent the main elements of the LAB Studio Model (hereafter LAB Model) – a new learning model developed at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences (Oamk LABs). These elements can be observed in LAB studies on a daily basis. Currently, Oamk LABs include three separate LAB learning environments each targeting their own industries: Oulu Game LAB, Oulu DevLAB and Oulu EduLAB. It is suggested that the LAB students and staff are enabling a culture of experimentation, which challenges them in a new positive way. By being inspired, we inspire others.

Mission Possible: Student Integration through Involvement

Tarja (Terry) Ahonen, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Business and Hospitality Management, Lahti University of Applied Sciences
Sami Heikkinen, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Business and Hospitality Management, Lahti University of Applied Sciences

The article introduces the student integration through involvement model implemented at Lahti University of Applied Sciences. The case described is a project for new incoming students. The students started it already on the third day of their studies. They were expected to create a new product or service within one week. At the end of the week, they were selling their products at a trade fair held for businesses and business people. The aim was to familiarize the students to their studies and to their classmates. According to the feedback received from the students, the project was seen as a great way to learn new things about business practices. In addition, the students considered this a great way to start their studies at a university of applied sciences.

A culture of experimentation refines media learning environments

Milla Järvipetäjä, M.Soc., Project Manager, Turku University of Applied Sciences
Samuel Raunio, M.A., Lecturer, Turku University of Applied Sciences
Arja Tulonen, M.A., Head of Education and Research, Turku University of Applied Sciences

In the Degree Programme of Film and Media at Turku University of Applied Sciences (TUAS) learning is based on learning environments and our culture of experimentation. There is a growing demand for learning environment experiments, as the field of media is in transition and versatile know-how is needed. Recent studies show that there is a need for more courage and tools at workplaces to adopt new working methods. At TUAS, the framework of guidance enables the students to assign their independent projects and spontaneous work. Students are encouraged to find their limits and courageously try something new. Roles, limits and procedures by the Degree Programme form a structure within which students have the courage to go beyond their limits. An essential part of learning is the evaluation of the action, including the analysis of possible failures. An important part is also the supportive ambience for the culture of experimentation – the adasptive and spontaneous attitude of teachers.

Culture of experimentation brings new expertise to the security management of educational organisations

Soili Martikainen, M.Sc. (Health Sciences), Senior Lecturer, Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Tiina Ranta, KM, Head of Safety and Security, Laurea University of Applied Sciences

Experimental culture was used to produce new information and build new capabilities on safety and security management for the management of the municipal education department located in Southern Finland. Experiment showed that safety and security of municipal educational institutions can be developed by auditing their municipal education department. We strongly recommend that this audit process would be used as a national model to support safety and security management of educational institutions and universities in a more comprehensive and systematic direction.

SERPA: ”Here, everything should really start with youth”

Janne Laitinen, M.A., R&D Specialist, JAMK University of Applied Sciences
Katja Raitio, M.Sc. (Health Sciences), Senior Lecturer, JAMK University of Applied Sciences

How to involve youth? How to support them to find their own pathways? How to make it possible for young people to try different things and learn by experience? “SERPA – experimentation for young people to resolve problems of unemployment by inclusive culture of experimentation” – project is an experiment which aims to involve youth to solve their problems of education and employment by themselves with the support of the group in Central Finland. According to interviews of young project managers, who piloted SERPA-groups, genuine young-oriented action is rewarding but also challenging. Group offers possibilities for peer support, ideas and learning, but at the same time voluntary based participation, lack of courage and youths’ activity and contradiction of own role brought up challenges. Group pilots need to have orientation and support, but at the same time opportunities to work truly by the principles of the culture of experimentation.

Joint simulation – interplay of several actors

Emilia Laapio, Senior Lecturer in Nursing, M.Sc. (Health Sciences), SH (AMK), Saimaa University of Applied Sciences
Päivi Rimpioja, Head of Degree Programme in Nursing, M.Ed., Nursing Education, Nurse, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

This article describes the experiment of joint simulation education between two universities of applied sciences in Finland. The joint simulation was conducted online. The experiment revealed that timing and the cooperation with the IT-services is crucial in developing web-based education. Time and effort in planning are key points also in quick experiments.

Experimentation as part of experimental research at the Kajaani University of Applied Sciences

Tero Luukkonen, Ph.D, Project Researcher, Kajaani University of Applied Sciences
Kimmo Kemppainen, Eng. (M.Sc, (Eng), Project Manager, Kajaani University of Applied Sciences
Antti Rimpiläinen, M.A., Project worker, Kajaani University of Applied Sciences

A culture of experimentation is a characteristic part of experimental research. At Kajaani University of Applied Sciences, experimentation is implemented for instance in the geopolymer technology research which is related to several fields including building and environmental engineering. Geopolymers are novel materials which can be used for example as water treatment filter media. In practice, the culture of experimentation has been realized as a rapid and low-threshold testing of ideas at laboratory-scale. Furthermore, to maximize the utilization of research results, the working hours of project researchers have been flexibly divided between participating companies, university of applied science and/or science university.

Capacity to absorb and take responsibility – observations on the educational method experiment

Anu Nuutinen, M.Soc., ABM, Senior Lecturer, Saimaa University of Applied Sciences

Is it easier to take one exam that contains all the topics of study module worth 4 credits or would it be easier to divide topics into several small units? Many students thought that the former is an easier option even though results show that the latter gives much better results. What is the level of realism if students claim that it’s unfair that no points are given from the examination for them – and the fact is that those students didn’t even attend the examination.

This experiment of educational method was developed in order to help students with higher risk of failing. Results were different than pursued or expected. Students with good studying skills were able to utilize the given opportunity while others didn’t. Therefore, distribution of grades included mostly excellent or failed ones.

Incremental thesis work: the bogeyman in smaller bits?

Tuula Hopeavuori, Senior Lecturer in Finnish language and Communications, M.A., Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Eero Nousiainen, Team Manager, Senior Lecturer in Software development, M.A., Oulu University of Applied Sciences

Since spring 2015 the ICT Department of Oulu University of Applied Sciences has carried out an experiment where writing a bachelor’s thesis of 15 ECTS credits was divided into three parts, each consisting of 5 ECTS credits. The aim was to find out in practice how dividing a bachelor’s thesis into parts would work with the other courses of the curriculum. For a part of the students, writing the first document of 5 ECTS credits during the second study year was too much and they decided to do a 15-credit thesis later. The first three theses finalized during the experiment showed each in a different way how students’ professional knowledge deepened part by part. Different models will be tested in future, too. The combination of 5 + 10 ECTS credits would give more emphasis on the development task of the final stage of the thesis as well as on the final grade of the thesis. On the other hand, the model of 3 + 3 + 9 ECTS credits, based on well planned objectives, would support other studies of the curriculum in a new way.

It’s always good to experiment! – Language instruction experiments at the Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences

Jaana Oinonen, M.A., Senior Lecturer in Finnish language and Communications, JAMK University of Applied Sciences
Suvi Uotila, M.A., Senior Lecturer in English and Swedish, JAMK University of Applied Sciences
Paula Vuorinen, M.A., Senior Lecturer in English and Swedish, JAMK University of Applied Sciences

JAMK University of Applied Sciences has encouraged pedagogical experiments through its internal development projects to find new teaching and learning methods. JAMK Language Centre has started several experiments following learner-centered approach and the principles of lifelong learning. All the projects focus on working life based communication. The article describes four different experiments in teaching English as a Foreign Language, Communication Skills and Finnish. All four projects have contributed to new working methods used in the courses to date.

Save the world one serving at a time – local food experiment

Hilkka Heikkilä, Lic.Ph, Project Coordinator, JAMK University of Applied Sciences
Leena Pölkki, B.HM, Project Manager, JAMK University of Applied Sciences

Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences pilot project was successful in promoting the use of local food in Jyväskylä city food services. At the same time the business conditions for local fisheries, fish processing, and local food online shopping were improved. Project was able to show the decision makers that the use of local fish in public services is not only possible but also economically significant for the area. This was done with the calculations of pilot product roach production costs and effects on regional economy as well as environment. Project served also as an example in piloting the use of local food and it yielded new recipes and experimental model how to proceed when you want to increase the use of local food in other public food services.

MOOC content using the AgileAMK model

Merja Drake, Principal Lecturer, Ph.D, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences

Working life skill requirements are changing rapidly, and therefore the education organization should provide education to full fill the competence gap. Ten Universities of Applied Sciences co-ordinated by Online University of Applied Sciences Network / TAMK the ESR-funded three-year joint project The New Open Energy will design and test AgileAMK model. The model is based on flexible customization of existing degree education modules to serve the needs of continuing education. The model is intended to ensure the rapid, yet high quality content co-production and get the content as soon as possible for students to use. The core of the model is a powerful multi-professional content production team. The model helps to combine professional expertise from Finnish UASs and industries, as well as to discover any regional and local needs for enhancing skills.
The project partners will produce common content in the two pilot-MOOC: Sustainable energy, the Hållbara energilösningar and Almost zero construction, Närä-nolenergibyggande. MOOC Massive Open Online Course refers to a course that is freely open to anyone and online courses can be studied at the same time up to thousands of students.
The project will test a variety of tools and platforms for content production and distribution. The project will collect feedback from content producers, students and is inclusive of the target groups of the ideas and content development.

Agile work methods experiment in HR work

Sanna Tiihonen, M.Soc., Personnel Coordinator, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

We need capabilities to react quickly and gracefully when our operational environment changes. Wellbeing at work is greatly influenced by how work is being organised. Splitting large tasks into smaller chunks and making prioritised choices has an impact on how we perceive our workload. Continuous priorisation and alignment of goals requires an ongoing dialogue.

In our Human Resources team, we experimented using a kanban board for managing a few larger tasks and projects. Kanban enables us to react to changes, as the project phases and schedule have not been fixed already in the very beginning. Kanban facilitates a dialogue within the team and gives practical tools for everyone to manage their workload. Agile methods, of which kanban is one example, bring about the ergonomics of the mind: Everyone agrees on a common goal, the responsibilities have been agreed on, workload is sustainable and the ongoing dialogue helps to avoid any feelings of insecurity that might affect the wellbeing at work.

Experiments toward making a cycling capital region – Case: The Design for Everyday Mobility

Aleksandra Meyer, Project Coordinator, M.A., Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

The Design for Everyday Mobility project has been addressing the challenge of sustainable urban transportation through the means of design. The objective has been to create novel service concepts and quick prototypes to spark the public discussion as well as to see the corresponding student handiwork realised in the cityscape. This article presents three cases in which the quick and agile testing of ideas led to successful implementation.

Quality of life in a Kathmandu slum

Early in the morning in 9th of May 2012, people living in Thapathali slum community woke up, when bulldozers, protected by riot police forces, started the government program, “Bagmati River Basin Improvement Project”, by demolishing the large and most visible slum built on the river bank of Bagmati River. Few hours later the whole settlement together with its church and school, was a huge heap of sticks, bricks, plywood, sheet metal and pieces of tarpaulin. (Human Rights Watch 2012.)

In the shadows of the Asian urban jungle, slum and squatter settlements are growing in numbers but their existence is on other people’s hands. Living at the margins of society, their inhabitants are often deprived of basic access to education, health care and a decent standard of living. But can life also hold promises of a better future? What does wellbeing actually mean for the inhabitants themselves? This paper presents a joint research and development process by Diaconia University of Applied Sciences (Diak), Turku University of Applied Sciences and the Nepalese St. Xavier’s College, with an aim to describe and analyze the wellbeing of people in the Balkhu riverside slum settlement in Kathmandu, Nepal. We are interested in answering two questions: What do people in a slum think about their everyday life? How satisfied are they with their current life?

Mother and children in Balkhu
Picture 1. Mother and children in Balkhu. PHOTO: Kyösti Voima

The student research team from Diak first established contact with the community and learned basic information through observations and initial discussions. This contact was based on earlier collaboration done by lecturer Kyösti Voima from Diak. Then community leaders, contractors, government personnel and various stakeholders, totaling over 30 persons, were interviewed, and the survey in Balkhu community was conducted. Local key resources were the trusted leader of a community-based organization in the settlement as well as the social development officer and environment and energy officer from the District Development Committee (DDC) in Kathmandu. Two Bachelor’s theses (Khanal 2014 and Rumba 2014) were done in this project.

The Balkhu settlement

Nepal is a poor nation. Estimated per capita Gross Domestic Product per capita PPP was US $ 2265 for the year 2014. At the same time GDP per capita PPP in Finland was US $ 38 569 (Trading Economics 2016). High rate of rural poverty has caused internal displacement and attracted people to settle in urban areas (Acharya 2010, 179-180). Uncontrolled rapid urbanization, low socio-economic growth, inadequate capacity to cope with housing needs and poor imbalanced governance has caused increase of urban poverty (Shakya 2010, 1; see picture 6).

Since the 1950s dozens of settlements have been established alongside the two major rivers, Bagmati and Vishnumati. The Balkhu settlement is located along the holy river Bagmati. The riverside has natural access to water, making it a preferred choice for new dwellers but these rivers are the most polluted ones in the country (Toffin 2010, 157–158; see picture 3). A need for drinkable water is huge and many ways to guarantee clean water are in use (see picture 5). Also sanitation is challenging (see picture 6). An estimated 1650 people reside in 360 households, making Balkhu one of the largest settlements in the valley. Several religious groups are established in the settlement area (Kivelä 2014).

The dumping ground with nearest settlement houses
Picture 2. The dumping ground with nearest settlement houses. PHOTO: Sami Kivelä

Next to Balkhu settlement is the Balkhu Fruit market and opposite are a few industries and warehouses. Balkhu is a strategic location from the economic point of view as it is next to Ring Road which connects with the transport system going away from Kathmandu Valley. There is an open dumping site used by the fruit market to dispose of unwanted market waste, majority of these being bio waste (see picture 2), and another unprotected mixed waste dumping site just on the opposite side of the river, increasing the waste load of the heavily polluted river.

Balkhu riverside environment
Picture 3. Balkhu riverside environment. PHOTO: Anup Khanal & Ramesh Rumba
Balkhu Housing types and alley
Picture 4. Balkhu Housing types and alley. PHOTO: Anup Khanal & Ramesh Rumba
 Water source in Balkhu
Picture 5. Water source in Balkhu. PHOTO: Anup Khanal & Ramesh Rumba
Sanitation in Balkhu
Picture 6. Sanitation in Balkhu. PHOTO: Anup Khanal & Ramesh Rumba

Quality of life in a slum

The concept of quality of life (QOL) has been expressed in different ways. The concept is close to such concepts like Good life, Wellbeing, Satisfaction and Happiness. The earliest well-known Western formulation of good life (quality of life) was expressed by Aristotle in his concept of “eudaimonia”, where the individuals were encouraged to realize their full potential to achieve a “good life.” In the meanwhile, Eastern philosophers brought forward the QOL by equal distribution of resources and restraining from individual desires. (Diener and Suh 1997, 190.) QOL according to the utilitarian theory presented the idea of satisfaction of the individual desires and a good society is defined as the one which provides the maximum satisfaction or positive experiences to its citizens. It is not limited to crude materialism but it also involves generosity and satisfaction from altruistic behavior. (Cobb 2000, 7.)

The quality of life of people in the Balkhu Settlement is presented from a subjective viewpoint as well as by objective observation. Objective observations have been done in participatory observation and interviews and results are documented in this article with photos from Balkhu. The subjective part of wellbeing deals with how satisfied Balkhu residents are with different domains of their life. Domains have been selected based on earlier studies on subjective wellbeing (see Kainulainen 2014). These themes are studied by questioning the following questions:

  • How well do you manage with everyday life on yourself?
  • How satisfied are you with your health, sanitation, present life, housing, neighbors and safety?
  • How do you see your future?

Quality of Life in the Balkhu Slum Settlement

In total 103 households out of recorded 361 were surveyed by four two person teams. The survey had 46 open- and close-ended questions which covered different themes. The themes were personal information, education, economic status, cultural status, health, water and sanitation, social issues, housing and political status.

As an illegal settlement the community is subject to government evacuation or demolition. The houses in Balkhu are also subject to natural calamities and the surrounding environment is not suitable for healthy living. The polluted Bagmati River is a great threat in terms of health and flooding. The settlement is subject to social and economic discrimination and marginalization. Given all these factors the community is considered insecure for living. The survey revealed 57 percent responded they were dissatisfied with safety within the community while only 20 percent of families were satisfied with the safety of the community.

The developing plans of Bagmati River by Kathmandu Municipality increase the peoples fear to be evacuated (see Bagmati action plan 2008). Every fourth responded evacuation as the fearful factor. 40 percent responded natural calamities such as flood and fire to be the other factors. Rest of the respondent mentioned fear of robbery, diseases, sewage and alcoholism to be fearful factors. People have good reason for their fear. The unsuccessful government action in 2012 made the situation of thousands of slum settlers even more vulnerable than before.

balkhun figure 1
Figure 1. Subjective wellbeing of the Balkhu squatter settlement.

Every third (36 %) of the people said they were dissatisfied with their present life while same share of them felt neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. Only one in four were satisfied with their present life. 20 percent of Balkhu people felt their future was worsening while 22 percent felt their future was getting better. More than half of the people have the feeling that future will be the same as today. In regards to health facilities, 53 percent of the residents were not satisfied with their health. The sanitation in Balkhu was also not satisfactory for 65 percent of the people.


The Balkhu settlement is a prime example of urban poverty and very little improvement has been seen in addressing this issue as the number of settlements is growing year after year. According to our findings, neither the objective nor the subjective quality of life can been considered satisfactory in Balkhu. The settlement lacks the basic facilities such as proper shelter, safe drinking water, clean environment and electricity among others. Personal faith can be integral for maintaining hope – whether you are a Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Muslim – and faith-based organizations have provided crucial practical and spiritual aid. However, care should always be taken that religious adherence does not exclude anyone from getting aid. Full dignity and respect of universal human rights need to be ensured for all.

Subjective wellbeing tells the story of how people feel about and evaluate their objective environment. Objective and subjective indicators tell us that the situation is extremely bad in slums. But subjective indicators also tell us that even in a very dire situation some people don’t give up and people have dreams and hope (see Biswas-Diener & Diener 2001). The facts we have brought up in this article give us as developers of UAS some hints how to strengthen the capacity of people living in slums to overcome the challenges.

Happiness in Balkhu
Picture 7. Happiness in Balkhu. PHOTO: Kyösti Voima

According to our experiences we recommend the following: building a “neutral” community house for community meetings to enable people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds to come together; improving the infrastructure: water, sanitation, waste management; training of preschool teachers to strengthen the children’s school readiness as well as starting a Neighborhood Care Point (NCP) to increase the children’s wellbeing and strengthening the capacity of the community health promotion.


Anup Khanal, Graduate Student, Bachelor of Social Services, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences, droid.anup(at)
Sakari Kainulainen, Senior Specialist, Adjunct Professor, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences, sakari.kainulainen(at)
Kyösti Voima, Lecturer in International Affairs, MPH Int’l Health, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences, kyosti.voima(at)
Sami Kivelä, Lecturer in International Affairs, M. Theol, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences, sami.kivela(at)

Acharya, B. R. (2010). Urban Poverty: A Sociological Study of Shankhamul Squatter. Accessed 26.9.2014,

Biswas-Diener, R. & Diener, E. (2001). Making the Best of a Bad Situation: Satisfaction in the Slums of Calcutta. Social Indicators Research 55(3), 329–352.

Cobb, C. W. (2000). Measurement tools and the quality of life. Accessed 12.10.2014.

Diener, E. & Suh, E. (1997). Measuring Quality of Life: Economic, Social, and Subjective Indicators. Accessed 12.10.2014.,percent20social,percent20andpercent20subjectivepercent20indicators.pdf

Human Rights Watch. Accessed 2.5.2016.

Kainulainen, S. (2014). Mitä uutta kokemuksellisuus tuo hyvinvoinnin käsitteeseen ja käyttöön? Teoksessa A. Nieminen, A. Tarkiainen & E. Vuorio (toim.) Kokemustieto, hyvinvointi ja paikallisuus. Turun ammattikorkeakoulun Raportteja 177. Turku.

Khanal, A. (2014). Living on the Edge – Quality of life in Balkhu Squatter Settlement, Nepal. Bachelor of Social Services final thesis. Diaconia University of Applied Sciences.

Kivelä, S. (2014). Faiths and community in a riverside slum in Nepal. Paper presented at the Diaconia under Pressure conference in Stockholm 18.9.2014. Organized by the International Society for the Research and Study of Diaconia and Christian Social Practice.

Rumba, R. (2014). Balkhu Settlement in Kathmandu: A Poor Neighborhood. Situation Analysis. Bachelor of Social Services final thesis. Diaconia University of Applied Sciences.

Shakya, S. (2005). An extensive study of the urban poverty situation and its environmental implications in the squatter settlements of Kathmandu and Dharan. Accessed 18.10.2014.

Toffin, G. (2010). Urban fringes: squatter and slum settlements in the Kathmandu Valley. Accessed 26.9.2014.

Trading Economics. Accessed 29.4.2016.

The Future Competences for Working with Older People

The Future Competences for Working with Older People

Population ageing is a common issue around the Europe. The number of older people is growing and by the year 2030 every third person in the EU will be more than 60 years of age. (DART 2012). Ageing affects the entire society and it will also challenge social and health care services. The growing number of the oldest age groups will indicate increasing need for social and health care services in the future. Moreover, at the same time care services and environments are changing and becoming more diverse, there is an obvious need for new kind of social and health care expertise.

European level cooperation in developing competences in active ageing is undeniable. International cooperation in competence development is needed to enhance the quality of services and to improve the attractiveness of older people care. European collaboration related to ageing is also beneficial when aiming to increase the mobility of workforce in social and health care services. Sharing common competences and expertise in active ageing provides more opportunities for future professionals to work in different international environments.

ELLAN unites European higher education institutions

ELLAN (European Later Life Active Network) project connects Higher Education Institutions extensively around the Europe. The consortium includes 26 partners from 25 European countries. ELLAN project (2013–2016) is funded by the EU´s Lifelong Learning Programme and coordinated by Savonia University of Applied Sciences, School of Health Care (Finland).

ELLAN project promotes European collaboration and exchange of good practices related to working with ageing population. ELLAN reconstructs the diverse educational approaches by developing an agreed European Core Competences Framework (ECCF) for working with older people. During the project the educational network is also sharing innovations in teaching and learning as well as identifying factors that may influence students to choose to work with older people in the future.

Developing competencies through research

The development of the ECCF is based upon five studies which were carried out during the 1st and 2nd year of the project: (1) Literature review exploring competences required in working with older people; (2) Qualitative research focusing on older people’s perceptions about required competences of professionals; (3) Quantitative study exploring professionals’ views of competences needed to support older people; (4) Quantitative research of factors influencing health and social care students’ views of older people; (5) Identification of best practice and innovative teaching and learning methods encouraging students to choose to work with older people.

The aim of the literature review was to find out which competences of the social and health care professionals working with older people related to the CanMEDS roles are described in the literature. CanMeds model was chosen to be the basis for the competences of ECCF. CanMEDS framework was originally formulated to describe the abilities physicians have to have in order to meet the health care needs of the people they serve. These abilities are grouped thematically under seven roles. A competent physician seamlessly integrates the competences of all seven CanMEDS roles. The CanMEDS roles are Medical Expert (the integrating role), Communicator, Collaborator, Leader, Health Advocate, Scholar, and Professional. The overarching goal of CanMEDS is to improve patient care. The model has been adapted around the world, both within and outside the health professions (Frank et al. 2014). (Figure 1).

figure 1
Figure 1. CanMEDS roles

A total of 228 studies were found. According to the findings, found competences were in general directed to a particular healthcare worker with a wide variety of competences in the different roles. To get insight in the generic competences, a secondary analysis was conducted in which 38 studies were included. The research question was: which generic competences of health and social professionals related to the CanMEDS roles are described in the literature? The conclusion of the literature was that the care and support of older people is very complex. A multidisciplinary team approach is necessary. Collaboration and communication are essential competences to optimize the team approach but also to respond to the individual needs of older persons. Moreover, collaboration with the older person is important. Sometimes communication with older people requires special skills. The CanMEDS roles offers a framework for the needed competences. However, multicultural competences need to be added, and special attention has to be paid to technological competences and the recognition of older people abuse. (Roodbol & Dijkman 2016.)

Attitudes of health and social care students towards older people and also their perceptions of working with older people were examined in a survey. Undergraduate health and social care students (n=955) from five different European countries completed two widely used questionnaires: Attitudes towards Older People Scale (Kogan 1961) and Student´s Perception of Working with Older People Scale (Nolan et al. 2006). According to the results student´s attitudes were generally very positive towards older people. Those with least experience with older people displayed more negative attitudes. However, high reported experience with older people was not conclusively linked to positive attitudes. The main result of the study pointed out the apparent indecision among students to work with older people or choose careers of working with them in the future. (Coffey et al. 2015.)

Older people’s perceptions about the required competences of professionals working with older people were collected by interviews in six of the partner countries. The partners selected a convenience sample of 16 participants (N=96) and used semi-structured interviews for data collection. A common interview script was followed and data analysis was conducted using thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006). Four major themes were identified: (1) recognizing older people’s individuality as well as their personal and social background; (2) effective communication and positive relationships between professionals and older people; (3) technical competence and expertise as well as team work; (4) vocation, commitment and ethical recommendations. The development of these competencies has potential to improve the quality of care delivered by health and social care professionals to older people. (Soares 2015.)

International cooperation in competence development is needed to enhance the quality of services and to improve the attractiveness of older people care.

Social and health care professionals’ perspective to the competences related to older people was collected by a questionnaire in six partner countries (N=885). The quantitative method used was based on the modified Caring Nurse – Patient Interactions Scale (CNPI-70). The results showed that professionals perceive that it is important to encourage older people to believe in themselves, to motivate them, to acknowledge their potential, to give hope, help and support when needed. Professionalism in care of the older person was experienced as crucial. Health and social care professionals regard as important collaboration, risk assessment and the encouragement of autonomy. A central theme was accepting aging as a physiological process and not just a disease. (Felsmann & Andruszkiewicz 2015.)

A study to identify innovative good practices in education for gerontology was carried out in order to find learning approaches which could positively contribute students to choose a career in gerontology. A template was developed, based on the criteria for innovation and the Senses Framework as described by Nolan et al. (2002). The template was distributed to Higher Education Institutions providing education in Gerontology in five partner countries. Twenty-three templates were completed and analysed. According to the results, innovative teaching methods that take into account the needs of students were found and structured by Miller’s educational model for competence-based learning. The selected best practices will be disseminated throughout Europe. To conclude the study envisaged that the educational practices identified could positively influence students’ attitudes and decisions about working with older people. (Schoofs 2015.)

European Core Competences Framework (ECCF)

The European Core Competences Framework is based on the view that professionals are working in different roles while working with older people. The framework describes the minimum set of competences that constitutes a common baseline for all professionals in social and health care working with older people. The developed competences are described for the roles of CanMEDS model (Figure 1). The competences are formulated on the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) level 6 (Bachelor) and 7 (Master). The ECCF will be formulated by bringing together the results of the studies described above and verified by using Delphi technique, involving 24 experts from 8 countries in order to find consensus of the developed framework. Following the CanMeds model seven roles will be described: expert, communicator, collaborator, organizer, health and welfare advocate, scholar and professional. (Dijkman & Roodbol 2015.)


The ECCF can be used in developing curricula of social and health care professionals. The desired outcome of this project is improved quality of higher education of social and health care professionals working with older people. The ECCF will be presented at the 23rd Nordic Congress on Gerontology in Tampere, Finland, June 2016, and will be available at the project website after that.


Jukka Aho, Senior Lecturer, MNSc., Savonia University of Applied Sciences, jukka.aho(at)
Marjut Arola, Principal Lecturer, Lic.Soc.Sc., Karelia University of Applied Sciences, marjut.arola(at)
Irma Mikkonen, Principal Lecturer, PhD, Savonia University of Applied Sciences, Irma.mikkonen(at)

Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology 3, 77-101.

Coffey, A., Buckley, C., Gaidys, U., Sansoni, J., Arola, M., Deimante-Hartmane, D., Corvo, E., Auer, S., Petersen-Ewert, C., & Tyrrell, M. (2015). Beliefs of students about growing older and perceptions of working in gerontology. Nursing older people. The journal for professionals working in gerontological care 27 (1), 33-37.

DART – Declining, Ageing and Regional Transformation 2012. Final report. Accessed 23.2.2016.

Dijkman, B. & Roodbol, P. (2015). European Competence Framework for working with older persons by professional´s health and social care. Report draft.

ELLAN – European Later Life Active Network. Accessed 23.2.2016

Felsmann, M. & Andruszkiewicz, A. (2016). The opinions of health and social care professionals on important competencies in caring for older people. Report draft.

Frank, J.R., Snell, L.S. & Sherbino J. (eds.) (2014). Draft CanMEDS 2015 Physician Competency Framework – Series III. Ottawa: The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada; 2014 September. Accessed 6.4.2016

Kogan, N. (1961). Attitudes toward old people: the development of a scale and an examination of correlates. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 63, 44-54.

Nolan, M.R., Brown, J., Davies, S., Nolan, J. & Keady, J. (2006). The Senses Framework: improving care for older people through a relationship-centered approach. Getting research in Practice (GRiP) Report No 2. Accessed 3.4.2016

Roodbol, P.F. & Dijkman, B. L. (2016). Generic competences for health and social workers working with older persons. Literature Review: A secondary analysis. Report draft.

Schoofs, G. (2015). Motivating Health and Social Care students to choose a career in Gerontology through innovative education. Report draft.

Soares, C. (2015). Older people’s views on professional competences. Report draft.

abstracts 2/2016

No 2 (2016) Abstracts

Wellbeing 2.0

Petri Raivo, Rector, Karelia University of Applied Sciences

Your personal wellbeing is already following you on your wrist and in your breast pocket. My wristband counts my steps and alarms me if I’ve been sitting in one place for too long. Its running exercises save my time, distance and heart rate data into the cloud, and every day, week and month I receive inspirational feedback on my performance and a bunch of advice for improving my wellbeing. My phone even monitors my sleep. It tells me when I need to go to bed and wakes me up in the morning at the optimal moment for my sleep cycle, even though I’m not always too convinced. My phone also helps me take naps that promote my wellbeing, and reminds me to eat and drink water at regular intervals. This is all fun, of course, the voluntary inquisitiveness of a middle-aged man who is interested in technology, but national and global digital solutions for wellbeing are a lot bigger than that. Digitalisation and the possibilities it presents are an increasing part of our wellbeing. Wellbeing 2.0 is already here.

It’s not just about entertainment or voluntary control, but preventative measures that really promote caring for our health and wellbeing. Wellbeing 2.0 and its innovations also present demands for efficiency and money. Digitalisation is generally seen as enabling a leap in competitiveness for many fields – including the health and wellbeing industry – that, together with increased productivity and new innovations, is the engine that enables new kinds of social and healthcare solutions. In other words, the digitalisation of health and wellbeing is one of the few, if not the only measure that can create significant savings for the economy with its changes. Though in the beginning, it may well be the opposite – expenses increase as the systems are implemented and people are trained to use them.

The digitalisation of health and wellbeing is already an essential part of the multi-disciplinary and phenomena-based focus areas of the universities of applied sciences. The structural development report ”Kohti maailman parasta korkeakoululaitosta” (“Towards the Best Higher Education Institution in the World”) that was completed a while back by the working group appointed by the Rectors’ Conference of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences presents a clear picture of the focus areas of Finnish universities of applied sciences. These areas include several competence packages with titles such as intelligent solutions, applied technology for wellbeing, and renewed wellbeing services which are oriented towards digital solutions for health and wellbeing. This is proof of an increase in competence related to the field, lively RDI activities, corporate cooperation and the integration of new knowledge with teaching. Even in this, we are at the cutting edge.

Digitalisation also involves robotics, and this too is well represented in the strategic focus areas of some universities of applied sciences. Wellbeing and health robotics is a sector that is accelerating rapidly all around the world, and it has also gained increased exposure in Finland as well thanks to various well-known pilot experiments. Robots that monitor, engage, entertain and nurse us are here to stay. I already own a cleaning robot that tirelessly and carefully hoovers the whole house , sometimes even twice a day, without any complaints. I can certainly say that this provides me with spiritual wellbeing by at least preventing me from experiencing any acute hoovering-related stress. And, as a plus, it’s also preparing me for a future where I will have my own personal nursing robot when I’m old.

Question of changes and multi-party co-operation in social welfare and health care reform

Leena Viinamäki, Principal Lecturer, Degree Programme in Social Services, Dr.Soc.Sc., Lapland University of Applied Sciences
Anneli Pohjola, Professor of Social Work, Dr.Soc.Sc., University of Lapland

The social welfare and health care sector is one of the largest employer in Finland. At the same time, the sector is facing strong conflicting pressures of change, which are also reflected in many ways in the education and competence requirements in the social sector. Furthermore, some citizens require more comprehensive support in their situation in life, which often means multi-party co-operation between various professionals. Clients are entitled to services that are based on the best possible competence. There are many competence areas, and they each require specific, in-depth know-how in addition to general knowledge of the field. Competence needs in the social sector should be analysed more accurately, bearing in mind the viable division of work on the basis of the sector’s educational structure, which is clear in itself. What is also needed is multi-party co-operation that incorporates in-depth substance competence, since the many competence needs in the field cannot be mastered by a single education group. Paradoxically enough, these diverging needs are not always recognised; by contrast, it is assumed that general competence will suffice.

Quality of life in a Kathmandu slum

Anup Khanal, Graduate Student, Bachelor of Social Services, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences
Sakari Kainulainen, Senior Specialist, Adjunct Professor, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences
Kyösti Voima, Lecturer in International Affairs, MPH Int’l Health, Diaconia University of Applied
Sami Kivelä, Lecturer in International Affairs, M. Theol, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences

A case study on quality of life of Balkhu squatter community in Nepal was done in 2013. Diaconia University of Applied Sciences (Diak), Turku University of Applied Sciences and St. Xavier’s College carried out this research project together. Data collection was done by students of Diak and St. Xavier’s College. A community profile was created with the rich data obtained from a survey, participant direct observations, interviews, as well as images and videos. The community profile covers the quality of life in domains such as demography, environment, economy, religion, health, sanitation, and socio-political as well as subjective wellbeing. A case study was organized in a Diak project through participatory approach.

Moderation in everything – even in multitasking

Jutta Laine, nursing student, Turku University of Applied Sciences
Rami Pöyhönen, nursing student, Turku University of Applied Sciences
Camilla Laaksonen, Senior Lecturer, Dr.Sc. (Nutr.) Turku University of Applied Sciences

Multitasking mean performing simultaneous several tasks that each require concentration. Multitasking is part of everyday life and it´s form has changed as different digital equipment have become common. Human brain however poorly manage to perform several simultaneous tasks and multitasking cause burden on cognitive function, concentration and learning, stress management, social relationships and mental health. Present-day societies however demand that individuals manage several tasks synchronously and share the limited brain capacity. From the perspective of health and well-being, one may state that “knowing your limits and keeping it moderate” are good guidelines also regarding multitasking.

Towards a memory-friendly North Karelia

Kaisa Juvonen, Voimala Coordinator, Bachelor of Physiotherapy, Karelia University of Applied Sciences
Arja Jämsén, Regional Manager, M.Soc.Sc., Eastern Finland Social and Welfare Centre of Expertise
Leena Knuuttila, Managing Director, Specialised Nurse, Supervisor, Logotherapist, North Karelian Memory Association
Olli Lehtonen, Specialist, The Alzheimer Society of Finland
Liisa Suhonen, Principal Lecturer, PhD (Education), Lic. Sc. (Health), MSc (physiotherapy), Karelia University of Applied Sciences

The aim of the National Memory Programme is to build memory-friendly Finland. There are 193 000 people with memory diseases in Finland. In a way, almost everyone will be touched by memory diseases, at least via friends, neighbours or family members. North Karelia is being built towards a memory-friendly region. This work is based on strong regional cooperation with North Karelian Memory Association, Karelia University of Applied Sciences and Eastern Social and Welfare Centre of Expertise.

Communal dining of the elderly

Marja-Liisa Laitinen, RDI specialist, Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences
Anne Puntanen, Nurse, Home Care Meal Services, Department of Social Services and Health Care for the Mikkeli region

This article describes the communal dining experiment for the elderly which aimed to assess elderly dining experiences as a social event, but also as a factor for increasing wellbeing on a wider scale. The elderly are a growing population group in Southern Savonia as well, and this challenges teaching and research, development and innovation activities and regional services to try new sorts of openings and experiments. The goal of Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences’ ASKO project (2015) was to design food service models for the elderly, those living at home or customers of home care that could be offered according to the customers’ needs and preferences without ignoring the food services’ cost-effectiveness.

The Future Competences for Working with Older People

Jukka Aho, Senior Lecturer, MNSc., Savonia University of Applied Sciences
Marjut Arola, Principal Lecturer, Lic.Soc.Sc., Karelia University of Applied Sciences
Irma Mikkonen, Principal Lecturer, PhD, Savonia University of Applied Sciences

Population ageing is a common issue around the Europe. The growing number of the oldest age groups will indicate increasing need for social and health care services in the future. While at the same time care services and environments are changing and becoming more diverse, there is an obvious need for new kind of social and health care expertise. Consequently, 26 Higher Education Institutions from 25 different countries are developing together European Core Competences Framework for working with older people, in a project funded by EU LLP-programme for years 2013–2016. The framework will be used in developing curricula in social and health care professionals’ education. In Finland, the utilization of the framework will be done especially in the social and health care education in the universities of Applied Sciences.

Experiences of workplace-oriented teaching in Master’s degrees studies

Liisa Koskinen, Principal Lecturer, Dr.Sc. (Nutr.), Savonia University of Applied Sciences
Mikko Laasanen, RDI specialist, PhD, Savonia University of Applied Sciences
Kalevi Paldanius, Principal Lecturer, PhD (Psychology), Savonia University of Applied Sciences

Inside the “Coworking learning space – TKI 2.0” -project, two 5 ECTS credit point study courses of master studies were implemented by adjusting interprofessional and work-related learning. Courses were “Wellbeing in the work community” and “Successful organization”. In the “Wellbeing in the work community” the end product was a welfare plan or parts of it for the company. In the “Successful organization” the end products were different kinds of development ideas or plans depending on the company’s needs. The results showed that a gap between theory and practice diminished. On the other hand discussions between companies and University of Applied Sciences are needed about the aims and study tasks of work-related learning. This is essential in order to improve the involvement of companies and increase their gains about work-related learning. Also teachers’ role in the process needs clarification.

Flipped teaching in health promotive work

Maria Forss, Degree Programme Director, Principal Lecturer in Health Promotion, RN, PhD, Arcada University of Applied Sciences
Anu Grönlund, Lecturer in Nursing, RN, Master of Health Care, Arcada University of Applied Sciences

The aim of this article is to illuminate and discuss flipped learning as a method in order to increase and stimulate to the common health promotive actions for all nursing professions. We want to present a course design that activates and engages students to independently explore, discuss and evaluate the current topics of the course. Flipped learning is a method where the teaching isn´t done traditionally in the classroom. Students study at home independently or in groups mostly online and come to school to do their homework and have reflective discussions about the given topic.

Patient education by video-control

Teija Franck, Senior Lecturer, MHS, Turku University of Applied Sciences
Anne Mohn, Coordinator, MHS, Hospital District of Southwest Finland
Minna Syrjäläinen-Lindberg, Head of Degree Programme, MHS, Yrkeshögskolan Novia
Tiina Tarr, Teaching Coordinator, MHS, Hospital District of Southwest Finland
Leena Salminen, Senior Lecturer, Dr.Sc. (Nutr.), Associate Professor, University of Turku

Video-control suitability of the teaching method of patient education teaching – a project that studied by video-control teaching and control of the situation suitability of a real-time method of education. Video- control patient education strength evidence-based nursing and its guiding learning and develop research -based education to promote cooperation and student health care organizations skills.

Learning Multiprofessional Co-operation – Health and Life Coaching at Motiivi Wellness Services

Marita Pirkka, Senior Lecturer, MHS, Saimia University of Applied Sciences
Elina Ryhänen, Occupational Physiotherapist, M.Sc., Saimia University of Applied Sciences

Public Health Nursing students fulfilled a part of their internship requirements at Motiivi Wellness Services by implementing a Health and Life Coaching program for a group of staff members at Saimia University of Applied Sciences. The students lead groups as well as private sessions. In addition to guiding behavioral modification, the students got in contact with Physiotherapy students to widen their service palette and to learn multiprofessional co-operation. The co-operation stemmed from the needs of the Health and Life Coaching clients rather than from rigid internship requirements. Students found this type of natural and unforced co-operation fruitful and learned about functioning as professionals in their own field.

Interdisciplinary learning and internationalisation in the Nordic countries

Susanne Jungerstam, Principal Lecturer, PhD, Novia University of Applied Sciences, Finland
Marie Albertsson, Lecturer, Linnaeus University, Sweden
Justin Karlson, Lecturer, University College UCC, Denmark
Henny Kinn Solbjørg, University Lecturer, University of Tromsø, Norway

Today, the so called Nordic welfare model faces many new challenges. In order to meet the challenges, cooperation, internationalization and a multi-professional approach are frequently called for. In three consecutive years, four universities and universities of applied sciences in four Nordic countries have arranged joint intensive courses focusing on professional competences within social education. Participating students have emphasized that they have deepened their knowledge and rendered new insights into intercultural and inter-professional practices in different Nordic societies. Herein, the fact that the welfare systems of the Nordic countries hold comparable structures based on equivalent principles, underpinned by value systems that are largely shared, has contributed to the ease by which knowledge can be transferred and developed. Together, we can broaden our horizons and deepen our intercultural and inter-professional competences in different environments.

How to lead passion?

Johanna Vuori, Principal Lecturer, PHD, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences

Employees’ intrinsic motivation, engagement and passion at work are needed in the transformation of work. Leaders need new skills to lead passion as it places soft values to the hard core of management. Passion at work increases both the profitability of the company as well as employee wellbeing. The Leading Passion project does research on leading passion and develops tools to support it. Our preliminary results show that passion at work can be found in all jobs. We have also found out that intrinsic motivation and passion at work is connected to sense of control and self-directedness. Moreover, our results support the argument that a leader may rapidly destroy passion at work.

Producing art of well-being

Sanna Pekkinen, Senior Lecturer, Lic.Phil., Humak University of Applied Sciences

The welfare effects of arts and culture have been well studied and their importance to people’s overall quality of life, mental alertness and health has been recognized. Anyhow, it has been challenging to get the arts and culture into the social and health sector services. The project of Agency for Cultural Wellbeing has started to develop multi-professional teams new applied art products and services. For artists, cultural managers, and social and health care professionals tailored for continuing education, aims to minimize preconceptions, and to reduce the threshold to work together. The project will create new models for the development of applied arts productions and revenue logic in such a way that the art of well-being expertise would be possible to create a sustainable business. The EU-funded project is managed by Humak and the partners are Saimia and Turku Universities of Applied Sciences, Arts Promotion Centre Finland, Turku and Jyväskylä cities.

 The rehabilitation client’s path from the service home to the farm

Johanna Hirvonen, Principal Lecturer, PhD, Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences
Leena Uosukainen, Principal Lecturer, PhD (Education), Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences

Since 2010, Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences has coordinated several RDI projects aimed at developing green care in social, health and welfare services. This article describes mental health clients’ path from gardening works in the garden of a service home to a local farm to do farm works as part of their rehabilitation.

Promoting wellbeing with technology

Sari Merilampi, Leader, Project Manager, Dr.Sc. (Tech.), Well-being Enhancing Technology Research Group, Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Mirka Leino, Automation Technology Research Group Leader, Principal Lecturer (Research), M.A., Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Andrew Sirkka, Principal Lecturer, Welfare Technology, PhD (Education), Satakunta University of Applied Sciences
Antti Koivisto, Researcher, M.Sc. (Tech.), Satakunta University of Applied Sciences

Challenges in communication and general lack of knowledge between various actors have emerged bottle necks in welfare technology development and implementation in a variety of projects implemented by Satakunta University of Applied Sciences. HYVÄKSI project was established to meet the above mentioned challenges. The project focuses on building an innovation network for well-being enhancement through personalised and service designed client technology. The established network aims at boosting business opportunities also in the future in terms of supporting innovations and increasing communication and expertise through knowledge transfer between public, private and third sector organisations. The project goal is, through technology development and service designing, to enhance daily well-being and prevent further functional impairments among people with limitations, their family members and care givers. This article discusses the best practices and philosophies attained in the project.

Your decision

Tiina Kirvesniemi, Project Manager, Lic.Ed., Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences
Elise Wass, Upper Secondary Education Psychologist, MA (Psychology), City of Hamina

Your decision – solutions for youth participation by game innovations and service design. The aim of the project is to develop intervention models, by which social participation models in order to support social integration of young adults. The project utilizes service design. The participation of young adults is supported both directly and indirectly during the project: in addition to method development the project offers meaningful activities for young people.

In the project the young people will choose and develop – in cooperation with experts – new intervention models. The designed models will be presented for the partners who will implement the methods in their work. The functionality of interventions will be evaluated in authentic contexts with experienced workers and young people.


The Developers of Digital Health and Welfare Services

Photo: Savonia UAS

The healthcare systems in Europe are facing new challenges such as ageing of the population, increased budgetary pressure and thereby there is a need for cost-efficient solutions. e and mHealth could be one way to tackle these challenges by contributing to a more patient-focused healthcare. (European Commission, 2014,2015a). Eysenbach defines eHealth as follows (2001): “e-health is an emerging field in the intersection of medical informatics, public health and business, referring to health services and information delivered or enhanced through the Internet and related technologies. In a broader sense, the term characterizes not only a technical development, but also a state-of-mind, a way of thinking, an attitude, and a commitment for networked, global thinking, to improve health care locally, regionally, and worldwide by using information and communication technology.”

As the Digital Agenda for Europe states, challenges can be found in insufficient skills and motivation of the health care personnel to take part in the digital world (European Commission, 2015b). Research shows that continuous evaluation of information and competence is needed in health care education. The minimum competence requirements needed for health care professionals in the future are: the informatics knowledge base, informatics tools adoption and nursing and health information integration management. (Rajalahti, 2014)

The project “The Developer of Digital Health and Welfare Services” is a multi-cultural and multi-professional project that aims to create a new curriculum giving future professionals skills in developing improved eHealth and welfare services for citizens. The project is founded by Central Baltic. The partners are from Estonia, Latvia and Finland.

The project starts by evaluating the current curriculums to find the current knowledge about developing eHealth and welfare services.

In the second phase the project creates the new 30 ECTS curriculum. The curriculum is inspired by the recommendations of the International Medical Informatics Association (Mantas et al, 2010, 2011), The TIGER Initiative (2009) and the article Designing a Modern IT Curriculum (Westerlund & Pulkkis, 2015). Also the European Computer Driving License is defining skills all professionals´ already should have on a bachelor lever (EDCL, 2015).

[easy-tweet tweet=”Research shows that continuous evaluation of information and competence is needed in health care education. ” hashtags=”uasjournal, digitalization”]

The content of the new curriculum is based on measured competency and the latest multi-professional knowledge about the needs of the digital society. (eHealth Action Plan 2012, STM 2014, Finnish Nursing Association 2016.) In the study unit, future professionals ( in IT, economics, social- and health care) are developing their current competencies to match the needs of digital health care and welfare, taking into account the professional qualifications defined in EQF levels 5-6 as well as cultural differences in the Central Baltic region (Recommendation of the EU, 2008).

The curriculum will be based on the Learning by Developing (LbD) pedagogical model, developed in Laurea University of Applied Sciences (UAS) (Raij, 2007) In the LbD model, the goal is to bring about real changes in the world and new ways to act (Taatila & Raij,  2012). Combining theoretical and practical knowledge (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995) in the UAS´s projects means having knowledge in practice, of practice and for practice, and generating new innovations (Raij, 2007). Students, teachers, working life professionals and customers work together in real working life related research and development projects. The outcomes are innovations and new partner’s competences with regional actors. (Ahonen, Meristö, Ranta & Tuohimaa, 2014.)

The partners arrange a study unit piloting the curriculum. The students’ eHealth related competency is measured at the beginning and after the pilot. The curriculum, which is built on an e-learning platform, is piloted in Finnish (2), Estonian and Latvian VET/UAS programmes. The students (20×4) in the pilot get excellent competence and skills in designing and creating eHealth services in an international co-operation. Webinars and seminars support the studies. Training periods are also possible. The themes of the development projects are ageing citizens, cross-border workers, young people at risk of becoming excluded and people with chronic diseases.  The Structure of DeDiWe project is described in the figure one.

The Structure of Pilot
The figure 1. The Structure of Pilot.

It is important for the students to learn current core competencies and skills of their vocational subjects, but it is equally important to be a competent innovator and developer.

The new 30 ECTS study module is built around three main themes of 5 ECTS each; the client, the environment and the development of digital activities. These 15 ECTS can then be combined with 15 ECTS thesis or project work with working life partners.

The project not only creates a new curriculum but also gives the students the possibilities to implement development projects that are useful for the citizens. The core curriculum is the same for all students, which allows for a variety of professionals to work together. The level of the learning outcomes, as the starting level in the different modules, partly differ between professionals and to secure the possibility for all to develop the learning assignments are designed considering this. Each partner has its own set of students, but since they work in the same e-learning environment, cooperation is easy, regardless of country or organization.

The knowledge is viewed in three different ways: in, of and for practice. The new curriculum promotes multi-professional studying with the LbD – model, which gives students excellent opportunities to learn in real working life projects – and innovate new services to eHealth and welfare services.


Outi Ahonen, MNSc, Senior Lecturer, Laurea University of Applied Science outi.ahonen(at)
Gun-Britt Lejonqvist, LHSc, Principla lecturer, Arcada University of Applied Sciences, gun-britt.lejonqvist(at)
Baiba Apkalna,, Project expert, Red Cross Medical College of Riga Stradins University, baiba.apkalna(at)
Kersti Viitkar, MNSc, Coordinator of Nursing and Midwifery Curricula, Tartu Health Care College, kerstiviitkar(at)

Ahonen, O., Meristö, T., Ranta, L. &. Tuohimaa, H. 2014. Project as a Patchwork Quilt –from Study Units to Regional Development. In K. Raij (Ed.), Learning by Developing Action Model (67-84) Helsinki, Laurea University of Applied Science. Retrieved January 7 2016, from

eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020. 2012. Innovative healthcare for the 21st century6.12.2012. COM(2012) 736 final, Brussels. Retrieved January 11 2016 ,  from

European Commission. 2014. GREEN PAPER on mobile Health (”mHealth”). SWD(2014) 135 Final. Brussels. Retrieved  January 11 2016, from

European Commission. 2015a. eHealth. Retrieved January 11 2016, from

European Commission. 2015b. Digital Agenda for Europe A Europe 2020 Initiative. Retrieved January 12 2016, from

EDCL, European Computer Driving License. 2015. Retrieved January 2016 from

Eysenbach G. 2001. What is e-health? Journal of  Medical Internet Research , 3(2): e20.  Published online 2001 Jun 18. doi:  10.2196/jmir.3.2.e20. Retrieved  January 12 2016, from

Finnsih Nursing Association. 2016. Strategy for eHealth. Retrieved  January 13  2016, from

Mantas, J., Ammenwerth, E.,  Dermis, G., Hasman, A.,  Haux, R.,Hersh, W., Hovenga, E., Lun, KC. Marin, H. Martin-Sanchez, F. ja Wrighr G. 2010. Recommendations of the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) on Education in Biomedical and Health Informatics. International Medical Informatics Association, Working Group on Health and Medical Informatics Education. IMIA Educational Recommendations-Revised.

Mantas, J., Ammenwerth, E.,  Dermis, G., Hasman, A.,  Haux, R.,Hersh, W., Hovenga, E., Lun, KC. Marin, H. Martin-Sanchez, F. ja Wrighr G. 2011. Recommendations of the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) on Education in Biomedical and Health Informatics -First Revision. European Journal for Biomedical. Informatics, 7(1), 3-18.

Nonaka, I. & Takeuchi, H. 1995. The knowledge-creating company. How Japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation. New York, Oxford University Press.

Raij, K. 2007. Learning by developing. Laurea Publications A-58. Laurea University of Applied Sciences.

Rajalahti, E. 2014. The development of health educators’ nursing informatics competence. Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. Dissertations in Social Sciences and Business Studies, no 89. 2014.Publications of the University of Eastern Finland. University of Eastern  Finland, Kuopio. Available from,

Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2008 on the establishment of the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning, Annex II. 2008. Retrieved  January 12 2016, from

STM. 2014. TIETO HYVINVOINNIN JA UUDISTUVIEN PALVELUJEN TUKENA. Sote-tieto hyötykäyttöön–strategia. Retrieved  January 12 2016, from

Taatila, V. & Raij, K. 2012. Philosophical review of pragmatism as a basis for learning by developing pedagogy. Educational Philosophy and Theory 44(8) .doi: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2011.00758.x

TIGER Initiative, Technology Informatics Guiding Education Reform 2009: Informatics Competencies for Every Practicing Nurse: Recommendations from the TIGER Collaborative. 2009. Retrieved January 14 2016, from

Westerlund M, Pulkkis G. 2015. Designing a Modern IT Curriculum: Including Information Analytics as a Core Knowledge Area. Paper presented at the 17th Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE2015), Sydney, Australia, January 2015. Conferences in Research and Practice in Information Technology (CRPIT), Vol. 160. D’Souza,D. &  Falkner,K. (Eds.)

Education Technology Transfer to Developing Countries

Education Technology Transfer to Developing Countries

Education Technology Transfer to Developing Countries


Many companies and educational organisations in Finland are interested in the possibilities of exporting education to new countries. The Finnish school system has a good reputation all over the world. In this article, we will concentrate on India, as one of the authors is originally from India and he is currently working in the education sector. Professor Adaikalam represents the Loyola College Chennai, faculty of social work, and he addresses the topic from the Indian culture’s point of view.

India has rapidly become a major player in world economics. Nowadays, it is one of the largest economies in the world, and over the past two decades it has seen millions of people rise to higher socioeconomic classes. Development steps have also been taken, especially in the health and well-being sectors. India is a developing economy. Two-thirds of the population still live in rural areas, which poses challenges especially for vulnerable groups, regarding people’s access to services.

India has put a lot of effort into developing its school system. The entire school system in India is under a digitalization process, which means that schools of all levels need new kinds of technology and tools, but also an understanding of new needs of learning. It is possible that digital education technologies will eventually revolutionize the way we learn and teach. The problem in India is that best educational practices haven’t been scaled nationally, or the scaling is happening too slowly. One example of this is the fact that 1/5 of Indian children in fifth grade are not able to read simple words. Despite massive investments in developing the education system, learning results have not improved. Pritchett talks about the learning crisis, which he sees as a barrier to economic growth in developing countries (Pritchett 2013).


The population of India has grown quickly, and India has a large amount of young people. India is considered to be one of the world’s fastest growing Internet markets, and it will reach over 300 million Internet users by 2017.  Today, there are more households in developing countries with a mobile phone than with access to clean water. One year ago, the Indian government launched a program to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledgeable economy. The purpose of the government’s Digital India initiative is to make government services better available to citizens electronically by improving the online infrastructure and increasing Internet connectivity. At the same time, western countries are exporting their business such as digital learning platforms to the Indian markets. The country’s growing GDP and business opportunities especially in the healthcare and wellbeing markets attract many Finnish companies.

The effects of technology and its productivity expansion for the poor and the middle class, as well as the spreading of accountable governance, have so far been less than expected. Inequality is increasing, as better educated, well connected and more capable people have received most of the benefits. It has been noticed that the utilization of ICT-related products, services and research results from high-income environments entails challenges, especially in remote and low-income communities. An example of this is a project implemented in Peru, where all students of rural schools received computing equipment, but this did not bring any evidence of increasing learning skills in maths or languages. Hardware-centric educational technology projects planned and implemented in highly developed environments for use in developing countries without paying sufficient attention to local contexts are difficult to execute successfully. (World Bank group 2016.)

[easy-tweet tweet=”There are more households in developing countries with a mobile phone than with access to clean water. ” hashtags=”uasjournal, digitalization”]

The worst scenario regarding the export of education would be that citizens in developing countries become disappointed with the education system. At present, people already feel that education wastes their time and lecturers do not offer them access to working life. Another challenge is the quality of studies – there might be a lack of good pedagogical methods or not enough interest in investing teaching. Degree studies take time, and this is time that students could spend working and earning money for the family.

It is extremely important to carefully plan the digital transfer related to learning environments and education. The Indian school system consists of schools of different levels: At one level, schools are completely managed by government agencies. Another level is funded by the government but managed by foundations in a non-profit way. The third level consists of schools both funded and run by foundations on their own. Evidence shows that the mushroomed economic growth in India has concentrated on private schools and colleges and certain regions in an urban-centric way. The quality of education is the top priority, especially in remote areas and among the socially disadvantaged. Technology penetration is particularly crucial in these areas, and western countries have to take responsibility for exporting products in a sustainable way.


Digital tools and platforms in education could offer benefits for developing countries. The Indian government and the states of India have ranked education as one of their priorities and the education system has expanded a lot. Investments in the education sector need to be made to guarantee a skilled and professional workforce. The Government has launched programmes and initiatives to reduce gender inequality, promote girls’ schooling and improve the standard of education. The Indian education sector consists of a number of actors representing the central government, state and regional bodies, as well as private-sector operators.

Indians are well aware of Finland’s high performance in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) survey, and this offers good opportunities for cooperation in the education sector. Cooperation between educational organizations and businesses opens up prospects for companies to cooperate with each other. Especially digital learning solutions have great potential in Indian markets. When it comes to exporting education, the most important aspect to take into consideration is to understand that products need to be transformed in a suitable way to the specific society and culture.

A good way of exporting the digital education system to developing countries would be to use existing technology, which is available in the local environment and familiar for the local people. In addition to the successful export of digital education and ICT tools, it would be important to motivate and guide teachers and other key persons to use the exported technology in beneficial ways in the future. Supporting teachers and paying attention to pedagogical methods and curriculum material would offer a framework and understanding for the importance and possibilities of new technology. (World Bank Group 2016.) As Finland is boosting its educational export and many companies are planning to expand their business to developing countries, the authors of this article would like to emphasise the importance of paying attention to local environments and local citizens’ ways of living and behaving in those environments. Conducting user-centric surveys before expanding a business idea is not always enough, but extensive research implemented in collaboration with local people would support digital exports, even though it takes extra time, because this enables large-scale business transactions that benefit local people as well.


Education export should be based on understanding the needs of India’s ecosystems. A holistic perspective might be a good approach for looking at these ecosystems. A holistic approach to humans and societal development consists of essential elements such as the participation, agency and empowerment of people and enterprises, and these elements could help with the exploitation of digital tools. According to the OECD’s approach, holistic wellbeing includes physical, mental, emotional and social factors, as well as happiness and life satisfaction (OECD 2015). Without these elements, any digital products exported to developing countries will not scale and be implemented in practice successfully.


Sanna Juvonen, Senior Lecturer, RDI, M.Sc. (Education), Laurea University of Applied Sciences, sanna.juvonen(at)
Päivi Marjanen, Principal Lecturer, RDI, Ph.D. (Education), Laurea University of Applied Sciences, paivi.marjanen(at)
Francis Adaikalam, Assistant Professor, M.Phil. Social Medicine and Community Health, Loyola College Chennai, India, francis(at)

Annual Reports from Ministry of Finance, Govt. Of India. (9th February 2016)

Annual Economic Survey. (9th February 2016)

Asian Development Bank. (9th February 2016)

Education.(8th February 2016)

Finland´s India Action plan. Publication of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs 5/2013. Team Finland. Kopijyvä Oy, Jyväskylä.

Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs. (8th February 2016).

India in Business Ministry of External Affairs, Govt, of India Investment and Technology Promotion Division (9th February 2016)

Indian Budget. (9th February 2016)

Kokonaiskonsepteilla vauhtia koulutusvientiin. (29th February 2016)

NFHS reports on access to health services, NSSO data & Education (9th. February 2016)

NFHS reports on access to health services, NSSO data health. (8th February 2016).

NSSO – Key Indicators of Social Consumption in India: Education. (8th. February 2016).

OECD. 2015, How’s Life? Measuring Well-being. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Pritchett, L. 2013, The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain’t Learning. Washington D.C.: Center for Global Development.

Refer Census India 2011 on Socio economic profile. (8th. February 2016)

School education in India. (8th February 2016)

Wikipedia Digital India. (9th February 2016)

With 3rd largest smartphone market in the world, India to reach 314 million mobile internet users by 2017. (8th February 2016)

World Bank Group. 2016. World development report – Digital Dividends. Washington D.C. International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Aunimo-Alamäki artikkelikuva

Designing and Prototyping Digital B2B Sales Tools with Students


ICT professionals are nowadays expected to understand customer needs and to communicate and work in multidisciplinary teams in order to reach overall business goals. As a result, the Finnish universities of applied sciences are answering to this demand by offering project based learning experiences where real-world problems are solved in teams consisting of students, teachers and representatives from companies. This prepares the students with the necessary competences on the highly competitive job market. This paper describes two case examples of how the development goals of a research and development (R&D) project and the needs of partner companies can be integrated into teaching. The ultimate goal is to develop pedagogical approaches where students solve real problems given by companies in an authentic environment.

This paper describes the development of new B2B sales tool prototypes in the software development and innovation project courses of Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences (UAS). The projects are a part of a TEKES-funded R&D project called DIVA. The tool prototypes are developed for the companies participating in the project. Close cooperation with the companies during the projects ensure that the results are useful and realistic, and that students learn software design and development competencies in an authentic environment.

Project-based learning in Information Technology Education

Haaga-Helia UAS has a relatively long tradition in conducting company-driven software development and innovation projects as a mandatory part of the curriculum of the Business Information Technology Programme. The process is depicted in Figure 1. As shown in the figure, the first step is a preparative meeting with the representatives of the company and with the staff concerned from Haaga-Helia UAS. In this preparative meeting issues such as immaterial rights to the end product, schedule of the project and a sketch concerning the technology and software architecture to be used, are agreed upon. The next step is the kick-off meeting with the students. In this meeting the company describes the task at hand and tells about the domain and business area in general.  These presentations are usually followed by a vivid discussion. The project itself is executed using a SCRUM-like agile software development process. The materials collected in the kick-off meeting serve as a starting point for creating the initial version of the product backlog. There are three sprints. In the middle of the project, the intermediate results are presented to the company in the form of a functioning prototype. The company typically gives comments on this prototype. The comments have an effect on the contents and priorities of the product backlog. In the final meeting with the company, the finished version of the software is presented and delivered to the company. This last session also involves an evaluation on the successfulness of the project and some ideas for future development. In the next section we will describe two concrete projects which were implemented using this model.


course project process at Haaga-Helia UAS
Figure 1. The course project process at Haaga-Helia UAS from the point of view of the university and from the point of view of the participating company.

Prototyping of a Sales Robot

The students of Haaga-Helia UAS developed a prototype of a sales robot in the fall term of 2015. The project was done in a software project course with approximately 30 students and two teachers. The project started in August with a kick-off presentation by the company. In this kick-off event the representatives of the company presented the product that was the target of sales in this first version of the sales robot. The presentation was followed by an interesting discussion concerning the features of the new product as well as issues in automating transaction selling in a b2b context. By transaction selling we mean here a rather straightforward selling process that is typically applied when selling large volumes of a relatively unexpensive product.

After the kick-off event, the students organized themselves into three groups with separate areas of responsibility. As a Scrum-like process was the chosen model of software development, each team chose a Scrum Master among its members. Other roles in the teams were such as: database expert, security expert, integration expert, user interface expert, content/ domain expert etc. One of the students was left outside the teams and he was appointed as the project manager of the project. The teachers’ role was to coach the students through the project. One researcher from the DIVA project acted as the product owner in the project.

Close cooperation with the companies during the projects ensure that the results are useful and realistic, and that students learn software design and development competencies in an authentic environment.

The software development project was implemented in three sprints. In the beginning of the first sprint, one domain expert from each team and the product owner visited the company and interviewed three salesmen. This interview gave important insight into the environment where the sales robot would be used as well as important knowledge concerning the domain of sales of telecommunication products. This information as well as the product information concerning the product to be sold was used to create the sales dialogues for the robot.

In the mid phase of the project, the company commented on the first prototype as well as on the remaining product backlog items, their descriptions and their priorities. Work was eagerly continued after the feedback from the customer. The final prototype was delivered in December, and the project was ready for the next phase: piloting and UX testing. Figure 2 illustrates the dialogue of the sales robot.

dialogue in the sales robot tool
Figure 2. One example of a dialogue in the sales robot tool. The box below appears only after a choice in the first phase has been made. The software robot works on the web pages of the product to be sold on the company’s WWW-site.

Prototyping of Sales Lead Tools

The need for sales lead tools was recognized in the pre-study of partner companies in the DIVA-research project. The sales should not only be the task of sales and marketing functions as most employees who are directly working with customers are able to collect new needs and problems, in other words new sales leads. The sales lead is defined as a signal of potential customer’s business need or problem. The goal of this company-driven development project was to find out how to digitalize the process of sales lead collection among project managers.

Eight ICT-students in two groups started to work for this business challenge in the Haaga-Helia’s Innovation Project course in the fall of 2015. The development method was the user centered design. The roles of students in the development teams were defined according to their skills and strengths. The learning and development project started with the kick off meeting of a partner software company. The focus of development was narrowed to the software solution, which helps and motivates project managers to collect sales leads. A special emphasizes was put on the user experience and easiness of software solution. In the first phase, the student groups benchmarked digital sales tools and interviewed five project managers for learning of their opinion, needs and experiences. Based on the interview, the process model, use cases and requirements were defined and the first MVPs (Minimum Viable Product) were created for starting the learning of user expectations. The students also got familiar with sales techniques, such as how to have a discourse with a customer on their potential business needs or problems what have they met in their work. The process models and first user interface prototypes were presented to the representatives of a partner company, and the feedback was collected.

The both student groups designed and developed the prototypes which help project managers to insert sales leads electronically to the system where sales and marketing people can classify, evaluate and manage new sales leads. The final prototypes were presented to the representatives of partner companies in December. The students also created the written reports concerning to the project phases, such as how and why they ended up to various solutions, how the project proceeded and what they actually designed, created and programmed.


The ability to understand the viewpoint of end users and to work and communicate with customers is a critical skill for many ICT professionals. The digitalization of societies, organizations and every day activities set new user-centered requirements for the designers of digital services. There is an increasing demand for continuous learning and collaboration not only with customers but also within multi-disciplinary development teams. These changes in the practices of digital service design should be included in the ICT education programs in higher education institutes. However, it should be kept in mind that students can learn these critical capabilities best by involvement in real-world customer projects where they communicate directly with end users and customers in all development phases. This pedagogical approach sets new requirements also with regard to skills and attitudes of teachers.

The two learning and teaching cases presented in this paper are concrete examples of projects where we are acquiring new pedagogical insight on how to link R&D projects and companies in courses. In addition, during the projects, the companies learned from the fresh thinking and innovativeness of young students. A third accomplishment of the two case projects was that the R&D project behind them received new resources in order to figure out and test new ideas concerning novel tools for digital sales.


Lili Aunimo, Principal Lecturer, PhD, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, lili.aunimo(at)
Ari Alamäki, Principal Lecturer, PhD, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, ari.alamaki(at)

No 1 (2016) Abstracts

Digitalization challenges Universities of Applied Sciences in multiple ways

Anu Pruikkonen, Head of Services, M.Ed., Lapland University of Applied Sciences

Universities of Applied Sciences form an interesting context to examine digitalization phenomena because those should be able to utilize the possibibilities of digitalizaion development in multiple ways and arena. Digitalization should be applied to teaching and learning, sector-wise R&D&I development as well as UASorganisation’s own working and management practices. As w whole, digitalization is more about changing the working practices and culture than technology. The strenght of UAS could be cross-sectoral collaboration and working practices which would also support the understanding of digitalization phenomena and further creation of innovations. Digitalization is multi-faceted phenomena and it would be wise to recruit the whole UAS-community to work for taking full advantage of it.

Designing and Prototyping Digital B2B Sales Tools with Students

Lili Aunimo, Principal Lecturer, PhD, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences
Ari Alamäki, Principal Lecturer, PhD, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences

This paper describes two case examples of how the development goals of a research and development (R&D) project and the needs of partner companies can be integrated into teaching. The ultimate goal is to develop pedagogical approaches where students solve real problems given by companies. The two case projects presented describe the development of new B2B sales tool prototypes in the software development and innovation project courses of Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences (UAS). Close cooperation with the companies during the projects ensure that the results are useful and realistic, and that students learn software design and development as well as user-centered design competencies in an authentic environment.

Education Technology Transfer to Developing Countries

Sanna Juvonen, Senior Lecturer, RDI, M.Sc. (Education), Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Päivi Marjanen, Principal Lecturer, RDI, Ph.D. (Education), Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Francis Adaikalam, Assistant Professor, M.Phil. Social Medicine and Community Health, Loyola College Chennai, India

This paper consists of a reflection on digital business possibilities in developing countries, especially with regard to digital business linked to education technology transfer. The focus is on the possibilities and challenges related to business, but there is also some critical reflection on the transfer of education technology to developing countries. The aim is to provide an understanding from both partners’ perspectives, because this kind of cooperation includes plenty of dilemmas, which often disappear behind business scenarios when talking about new digital market areas, as well as privacy issues.

Review: The World’s Biggest Education Technology Event

Jaana Kullaslahti, Principal Lecturer (Research), PhD, Solution-Focused Coach, Häme University of Applied Sciences
Irma Mänty, Development Manager, M.Ed., Laurea University of Applied Sciences

This review is describing what the BETT Show 2016 was offering in it´s exhibitions and sessions. BETT is a place where the latest education technology is demonstrated in exhibitions and research findings and learning experiments are presented in sessions. The hundreds of Finnish teachers and developers of education are visiting BETT every year. Common themes this year where e.g. cloud services, Bring your own device (BYOD) policy and coding.

Simulations Are Challenging Learning Skills

Marianne Teräs, Senior Lecturer, PhD, Associate Professor, Stockholm University
Sari Kiias, Bachelor of Education, University of Helsinki
Jorma Jokela, Principal Lecturer, PhD, Associate Professor, Laurea University of Applied Sciences

Simulations are learning situations which imitate various work situations. This article explores how do simulations differ from other studying methods and what kinds of studying practices are needed in simulations. We approach this with authentic activities and simulation process. Simulations differ from other methods by emphasizing practice-based orientation and doings. Simulations require that students, among other things, accept unnatural situation and suspend their disbelief, outline whole situation, take different roles and accept complex and fuzzy tasks with diverse solutions. Studying in simulations also demands that students collect new information, cross boundaries, work in groups and reflect their learning. These studying practices and skills are important to make visible and practice before participating in simulations.

Digitalization Provides a Sound Basis for Study Paths

Kati Komulainen, Director, Dr.Sc. (Nutr.), Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Tuija Eloranta, Teacher of Social Services and Health Care, Vocational Special Teacher, Porvoo Vocational College, Amisto

Digitalization will change Education in Finland. At the same time, we have to speed up and streamline study paths from vocational education to higher education. In this article we introduce one digital study path pilot in co-operation with Porvoo Vocational College, Amisto. Furthermore, in this article we discuss what benefits Study paths might produce for all participants including students and the personnel of the vocational college and higher education.

Whirls of Digital learning environment

Titta Pohjanmäki, Principal Lecturer, Lic.Ed., Humak University of Applied Sciences
Päivi Timonen, Senior Lecturer, Digital Pedagogist, Community Educator, Master’s degree, Humak University of Applied Sciences

The coaching pedagogical thinking of Humak University of Applied Sciences is based on the integrative model of pedagogy (Tynjälä 2010). Along with coaching pedagogical thinking also the roles of the lecturer and the student have changed. According to possibilities, the studies will be integrated from the beginning of the project studies into the project activities of the institution and its stakeholders, as well as into other workplace cooperation. Digitalization challenges teachers’ expertise and requires a new kind of expertise, as opposed to traditional teaching happening in the same place at the same time. The diversity of digital learning environments will pose new challenges and put the coach’s expertise to a test. In her article Titta Pohjanmäki examines what is required from the digi-coach.

University of Applied Sciences Humak’s goal is to open Digital Campus 2018. The aim is that digital coaching pedagogy can be supported by digital learning technologies. To obtain this goal Päivi Timonen writes in the article about four different dimensions of digital learning environments. Learning in the different or the same digital learning environment and learning online or offline so different time or at the same time. These four e-learning dimensions are:

  1. Different digital learning environment – and learning at the same time
  2. Different digital learning environment – learning at different time
  3. Same digital learning environment – learning at the same time
  4. Same digital learning environment – learning at different time.

Multidisciplinary Co-teaching Provides a Good Basis for Online Degrees

Eeva Haikonen, Senior Lecturer, M.A., Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Kaisa Puttonen, Information Specialist, M.A., M.Soc.Sc., Laurea University of Applied Sciences

Students might find it difficult to commit to online studies. To meet these challenges, Laurea University of Applied Sciences has implemented a multidisciplinary approach with activities to online guidance. The described course, ’Information management and communication’ is the first one the distance learning students attend as they complete their Bachelor’s degree online. The overall aim is to ensure that students achieve basic computer, information literacy and communication skills for further studies. However, just as important is to build confidence to studying online and enhance online socialization. The presented course’s framework is based on Gilly Salmon’s five stage model for online learning. According to feedback, the image of studying alone changes to learning and interacting as a group. The interactive online lessons are experienced as a meaningful way to study. The positive attitude reflects also to motivation.

The lecturers experience guiding together and collaborating as a way to develop know-how in online pedagogy and gain professional growth through shared expertise.

Student-oriented Planning of Online Courses in Higher Education Institutions

Tuija Marstio, Senior Lecturer, M.Sc. (Econ.), Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Eija Lipasti, Senior Lecturer, M.Sc. (Econ.), Laurea University of Applied Sciences

In this article online learning is examined from the perspective of student experience. A student often chooses an online course because of the flexibility it offers. On the other hand, students encounter challenges in online courses deriving from their weak motivation and engagement in online learning. A study carried out in Laurea in spring 2015 regarding students’ opinions and experiences of online courses shows similar results to international research. The writers of the article present a holistic model for planning an online course, taking into consideration creation of the overview of issues to be learnt, engaging students, interaction and learning activities.

Care Services Companies Are Taking a Digital Leap

Hannele Niiniö, Project Manager, Nursing Teacher, M.Ed., Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Soili Vento, Senior Lecturer, M.Pol.Sc., M.Sc. (Econ.), Laurea University of Applied Sciences

The main goal of Digital in Care Services Project (DCS), funded by ESF, is to promote SME’s to digitalize their services both in client data systems and in safety and rehabilitation. Case
Enterprises and Mentor enterprises are part of open network. Also other actors, like digital and eHealth enterprises have been invited to DCS -network. Networking increases possibilities of innovation by trust and commitment to co-operation which promote co-creation and strengthens new knowledge to move to actions (Järvensivu & Kallio & Pyykkönen 2014, 6).

In DCS Project there will be used two methods developed in previous projects of Laurea UAS (HoivaRekry and Active for Life Fi). When digitalizing services there will be used sc. Profile tool to
Allocate human resources in service processes. Active role of employees when digitalizing services strengthens commitment and readiness to develop their own work. Occupational Health model of Encounter Art developed in Active for Life Fi Project will be applied as creative and experience based way of working in network meetings and training sessions.

Does Virtual Thesis Supervision Facilitate the Thesis Process?

Johanna Heinonen, Senior Lecturer, M.Sc. (Econ.), M.A., Laurea University of Applied Sciences

Virtuality has become an essential part of modern day teaching. However, thesis supervision has been considered to be an intimate dialogue between the teacher and the student. The virtual summer thesis supervision in Laurea has moved the intimate dialogue online and shared supervision with several teachers, something that could be considered even radical. This article discusses the possibilities of virtual thesis supervision and the issues that affect its success, i.e. planning, guidance, engagement and shared supervision. Virtual summer thesis in Laurea has clearly contributed the thesis process as whole by giving a new flexible way and also by revealing places for further development.

Virtual Learning Environments and Digitalisation of Teaching

Mari Virtanen, D-Specialist, MHS, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

Rapid technological development and the digitalization has challenged also universities to develop new and innovative learning environments and teaching methods. Learning environments which enables studying and learning in all times and in all places has allowed flexible learning opportunities and a stronger individual support. Virtual learning environments, developed in Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, supports the students in health and nursing degrees as biomedical laboratory science, radiography, oral healthcare and midwifery. Virtual learning environments are based on authentic 360-panorama image from the selected destination where students can study and learn in their own pace.

All required study material is attached to learning environment in text, image or video format. Through virtual learning environment students can follow video lectures or demonstrations, write together, do tasks, assessments and examinations and read electronic books. Development of environments has started in 2013. During this period systematic research has performed from usability, satisfaction and learning effectiveness perspectives with good results.

The Developers of Digital Health and Welfare Services

Outi Ahonen, MNSc, Senior Lecturer, Laurea University of Applied Science
Gun-Britt Lejonqvist, LHSc, Principla lecturer, Arcada University of Applied Sciences
Baiba Apkalna Project expert, Red Cross Medical College of Riga Stradins University
Kersti Viitkar MNSc, Coordinator of Nursing and Midwifery Curricula, Tartu Health Care College

The project “The Developer of Digital Health and Welfare Services” is a multi-cultural and multi-professional project that aims to create a new 30 ECTS curriculum giving future professionals in IT, economics, social- and health care current competencies to match the needs of developing improved eHealth and welfare services for citizens. The project is funded by Central Baltic. The partners are from Estonia, Latvia and Finland.

Big Data Analytics, a research project in the complex digital era


The security and stability in the digital economy has to be ascertained to ensure a competitive future for the Finnish business environment, using (Big) data and facts. The goal of this project is to make the “digital Finland” safe and to help decision makers to make good calls based on solid facts in order to safeguard the success in Finnish organizations. This project answers the call for relevant and top-level research efforts. The project aims at solving problems in several focus areas of the current challenges in Finland and the European Union. Project partners are Arcada University of Applied Sciences, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Novia University of Applied Sciences.

Main Activities

There have been two parallel tracks of activities, both supporting each other and the common goal, i.e. teaching businesses and master students to make fact based decisions (topic 1) and Improving stability and security in the digital economy of Finland (topic 2). Whereas the first topic is very much focused on improving the relevance in education in Big Data and creating the foundation for understanding Big Data in real life as well as collaboration between industry partners and academia, the second topic is focusing on solving research problems and establishing a solid academic network.

In the first topic, workshops have been held between several companies and the academic partners. Also a popular seminar was held in the beginning of May 2014 in Haaga-Helia. The potential of Big data applications has been studied in three focused sectors: in the retail, financial and industrial sector. Knowledge transfer has been done (not only through workshops and seminars) but also through direct placement of a teacher in one of the partner companies; the focus has been put on ensuring relevance in the project through proper industrial collaboration.

In the second topic, there has been plenty of activities, i.e. a network with Goethe University has been established (with a visiting researcher there from Arcada). Also the collaboration with Open University (England) has continued as planned. The main outcome of financial stability research is found in the use of analytical techniques in systemic risk measurement, as well as a deeper understanding of the mechanisms behind financial instability, and finally in overall extension of analytical techniques in high level publication outlets (e.g. Quantitative Finance, Knowledge and Information Systems, Information Visualization, Quality & Quantity, Ecological Informatics etc).

The response have been positive also from the practitioners side from the project and a further understanding of the financial crises as well as a set of additional tools have been very welcomed. In addition, Arcada has hosted a conference in Systemic Risk Analytics, in cooperation with the Bank of Finland and the ESRB (European Systemic Risk Board) during the fall 2015 (for more info see In our work concerning information security, the results has been in the form of new Hadoop implementations in intrusion detection applications as well as basic methods in machine learning aiding in information security efforts. The progress in text summarization research has been interesting, and the use of term weighting and text analysis methods in social media content analysis for image labeling has been explored. We have proposed a new approach of web content classification that combines topic extraction with sentiment analysis methods, and developed different classification models. In addition, we developed several versions of text analysis and feature extraction tools for the applications.


In Arcada, the outcome of the project (still not finished) has been contributions to a large number of publications (38) of which approx. half are in JUFO (Julkaisufoorumi) ranked forums (for more info see Additional research projects have been obtained in conjunction to this project. The impact of these results may be found in better understanding of financial stability processes, big data potential in information security issues and the potential of big data applications in the retail sector, industrial sector and financial sector. Also novel methods in the field of Machine learning have been obtained, on which future application in the industrial sector can be created.

Closing remark

This project has definitely helped research in Big Data Analytics to be placed not only in the traditional universities, but also in universities of applied sciences. The research activities in this area have, through the project, gained visibility and a solid network of academic and industrial partners. In the research field, we have obtained many results already in terms of publications and projects and we foresee no problem in achieving the desired research results from this project by the beginning of 2016.


Kaj-Mikael Björk, Head of Department, Dr. Econ, Dr.Tech, Arcada University of Applied Sciences, Department of Business Management and Analytics,

Cooperation and long term partnership between Karlsruhe, Laurea and Saimaa University of Applied Sciences based on business simulation joint course


Cooperation and partnership between other universities in different countries is encouraged in strategy papers of many universities. Many student and staff mobility programs already exist as well as cooperation in R&D contexts. However, joint courses offered by several universities together and implemented in curricula are not common. This paper focuses on long term cooperation and partnership between Karlsruhe, Laurea and Saimaa universities of applied sciences to offer a joint international business course based on business simulation.

EU-level framework

European commission defines growing internationalization and international mobility of students, researchers and staff as some of the key factors in the communication of an agenda for the modernization of Europe’s higher education systems. One of the main benefit of the internationalization is the dissemination of the ideas and best practices as well as the professional development of the people working on education. Virtual mobility is recognized as one, many times under exploited option. In general, creation of virtual learning platforms and utilization of variety of ICT solutions is seen as an opportunity to take up innovative practices in education, improve the level of learning and enrich the learning experiences. (European commission, 2011)

Another suggested field of improvement for higher education is the recognition of the transversal skills along with the specific professional skills. Transversal skills are understood to be working life skills that are important in many occupations. Examples of this type of competencies are language and cultural skills, teamwork skills or IT skills. The good level of transversal skills is proposed significantly improve the employability of the person, especially in the international sphere.

Simulations as an environment to practice business and transversal skills in an international cooperation

Business simulations can be used as practical learning tools in modern business education. In the business studies context the students can practice their business skills in an as close to realistic situation as it is possible to simulate. The students apply their knowledge on various business areas in running a virtual company via a business simulation game. The aim of the business simulation course is that the students gain comprehensive understanding on how strategic business decisions are made in teams in areas like marketing, pricing, and investments and they can be used in various sectors such as manufacturing industry, international trade and hotel and hospitality industry. Competing against other teams makes the learning experience motivating and real-like.

When business simulations are offered jointly and internationally in cooperation between several universities, the students don’t know each other in the beginning. Yet, they are expected to work in virtual, international, and intercultural teams. This way they learn capabilities needed in their future professional careers. (European commission 2011;, 2015)

Aligning course set-up to suit different curricula

At the starting point of co-operation simulations were part of the business studies curriculum in each of the three universities. However, there was no continuous international cooperation with other universities although some experiments had been carried out with other international partners. Karlsruhe, Laurea and Saimia shared the same vision: Long term partnership and implementation of mixed international teams formed of students from all partnering universities.

When students from different universities participate in the same course together, the course set-up has to be the same for all. Therefore course schedules had to be adjusted to suit all the universities. Learning platform issues and communication with the students were surprisingly difficult to unify as all the universities had different systems and security standards in place. Pedagogical choices required adjustments as well due to different learning objectives, learning activities and assessment practices in each university.

Teacher level experiences

Although simulations were part of the business studies curriculum in each of the three universities, there was no continuous international cooperation. Best practices and new knowledge was created at many levels in international surrounding. Teacher’s experiences about arranging a joint course on a continuous basis have been gathered throughout the planning, realization, assessment and reflection process of each course.

Learning to be flexible in planning a joint course was found to be the most important issue. Teachers from different countries learnt about each other’s pedagogical methods, were able to align learning objectives and activities to be the same for the participants from the three universities, chose a common online learning platform and gained experience from using several digital virtual team-working tools some previously familiar only to one (Adobe Connect, Skype, Google tools, Webex, etc.). This way the jointly offered international course was improved from the original domestic ones.

Many skills were enhanced at the teachers’ level. There was the need to use the language and cultural skills and virtual team work skills. The sharing of knowledge and new ideas was not limited to learning to use the new digital tools. Also the pedagogic knowledge was enhanced through the common creation of learning activities and reflective discussions after each course. The point of these discussions was to think together what we learnt as teachers, what was good about the course and where we had the room for improvement.

Student level learning experiences

Student feedback about their learning was collected immediately after the last assignment of the simulation by an open question in an electronic feedback form “What were your learnings from participating in the simulation?” Out of 31 students 15 participated in giving their feedback.

Student’s answers were analyzed by content analysis technique. Based on that three areas of learning were found in the answers, namely international teamwork, virtual teamwork and decision-making in businesses. In the following, learnings in these three themes is summarized.

International teamwork: Most of the students had worked in international teams during their studies at their own campuses. This experience was different because team members came from different universities in different countries with different back-grounds and previous studies. Students had realized how they can learn from each other and benefit from other team member’s different knowledge base, experience and perspectives on international business.

Virtual teamwork: Although before the simulation the students reported they had experience in virtual tools, working virtually with strangers was more difficult for them than they had expected. Lack of motivation of some team members in some teams was reported to be the reason for poorly functioning teamwork. Teams experiencing poor teamwork also spent less time together online and they sensed that they really didn’t know much about their team members. Students commonly used communication tools for teamwork were Skype and Facebook and other social media tools.

Decision-making in a company: As already concluded, this simulation was about making informed decisions when leading a company based on analysis on the present competitive situation in the simulated environment. The students realized the complexity of management decisions and how different activities and decisions in a company are intertwined. Past results are important and guide decisions for the future and before making final decisions it is important to analyze the possible outcomes. In decision-making it was important to focus on strategic big decisions.

According to the student feedback the joint course with foreign partners was motivating, it enhanced learning and they got a real experience of the challenges they might face while working in international companies and teams.

As one of the students put it: “business simulation games are really beneficial for students who have an attitude for learning. It challenges students and also enhances some abilities needed in a working life such as teamwork and leadership skills. I can also think of other advantages: simulation games shape innovativeness and creativity and increase the ability to make decisions. Students will learn to set goals and become more determined to achieve these goals. They also increase risk awareness, and help understand market rules.


Based on these learnings and experiences it is suggested that when creating a joint course with international partners a systematic way to approach the planning is needed. In this case Bloom’s taxonomy was found to be a good model to guide thinking towards a jointly accepted set of learning objectives, contents and learning tasks and activities.

The implementation of joint simulation enhanced the transversal skills such as language and cultural skills, teamwork skills or digital and social media skills both on teacher and student level. Additionally, teachers have been able to develop their pedagogical skills in an international setting throughout the courses.

Learning objectives were well reached when using jointly arranged simulation. To support students’ motivation and belonging to the team it is proposed that learning activities are designed to increase team members’ knowledge about each other. Once team members know each other, they can better trust each other and that way build mutual commitment to do their best for the benefit of themselves and each other.

The next experiment in this co-operation is to arrange a face to face week for the students before the actual game rounds. The purpose is to help the students to get to know each other before starting the virtual teamwork. The students from all three universities kick off the next joint course at Laurea Tikkurila campus in the end of October 2015. In the medium term the intention is to expand the partner network. Some discussions with potential universities have been held already.


Ville Lehto, Senior Lecturer, M.Sc., Saimaa University of Applied Sciences,

Eija Lipasti, Senior Lecturer, M.Sc., Laurea University of Applied Sciences,

Manfred R. Schorb, Professor, Dr., Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences,

Vladimira Schulz, Academic Assistant, MBA, Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences,

Jukka Sirkiä, Senior Lecturer, M.Sc., Saimaa University of Applied Sciences,

European Commission 2011. Communication from the commission to the European parliament, the council, the European economic and social committee and the committee of the regions. COM(2011) 567. Brussels 20.9.2011, accessed 19.8.2015