Chat – the Future Platform of Finnish Education Exports?

Authors: Kaius Karlsson, Jonas Tana, Outi Ahonen.

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

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

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

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

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

Everything Is Based on Chat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simplicity, Openness, and Spontaneity

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

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

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

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

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

Changing the Conditions

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

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

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

Authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kuvituskuva

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.

Writers

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

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 http://ecahe.eu/assets/uploads/2015/06/36-Raij-LbD-Action-Model.pdf

eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020. 2012. Innovative healthcare for the 21st century6.12.2012. COM(2012) 736 final, Brussels. Retrieved January 11 2016 ,  from https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/news/ehealth-action-plan-2012-2020-innovative-healthcare-21st-century

European Commission. 2014. GREEN PAPER on mobile Health (”mHealth”). SWD(2014) 135 Final. Brussels. Retrieved  January 11 2016, from https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/news/green-paper-mobile-health-mhealth

European Commission. 2015a. eHealth. Retrieved January 11 2016, from http://ec.europa.eu/health/ehealth/policy/index_en.htm

European Commission. 2015b. Digital Agenda for Europe A Europe 2020 Initiative. Retrieved January 12 2016, from https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/digital-europe

EDCL, European Computer Driving License. 2015. Retrieved January 2016 from http://www.ecdl.org/programmes/index.jsp?p=108&n=2927

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 http://www.jmir.org/2001/2/e20/

Finnsih Nursing Association. 2016. Strategy for eHealth. Retrieved  January 13  2016, from https://sairaanhoitajat.fi/wpcontent/uploads/2016/01/S%C3%84HK%C3%96ISET_TERVPALV_STRATEGIA.pdf

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, http://epublications.uef.fi/pub/urn_isbn_978-952-61-1611-2/urn_isbn_978-952-61-1611-2.pdf

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 http://www.ond.vlaanderen.be/hogeronderwijs/bologna/news/EQF_EN.pdf

STM. 2014. TIETO HYVINVOINNIN JA UUDISTUVIEN PALVELUJEN TUKENA. Sote-tieto hyötykäyttöön–strategia. Retrieved  January 12 2016, from http://stm.fi/julkaisu?pubid=10024/125500

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 http://www.thetigerinitiative.org/

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.)