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

Authors: Marja Laurikainen & Irma Kunnari.

Abstract

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

Introduction and theoretical background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methodology

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

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

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

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

Methods in investigating students’ perspective

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

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

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

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

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

Methods in investigating employers’ perspective

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

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

Methods in investigating teachers’ perspective

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

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

Results of the analysis on three perspectives on ePortfolios

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

Students’ ePortfolio process and development of digital competence

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

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

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

Competence transparency and its innovativeness – Employers’ perspective

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

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

Figure 1. Summarized findings from the employers’ interviews.

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

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

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

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

Teachers’ engaging assessment and guidance processes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions and discussion

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

1) Understanding the benefits of ePortfolios:

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

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

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

3) Freedom and ownership of students:

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

4) Skills needed

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

5) Clear formulation of the content of ePortfolio

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

6) Show personality

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

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

Authors

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


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Team-Based Learning: Engaging learners & creating team accountability

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

Abstract

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

Problem context

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

Theoritical embedding

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

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

 

Figure 1. Typical teaching pattern in a TBL module.

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

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

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

Question

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

Methods

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

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

Data collection

Participants

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

Instruments

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

Data analysis

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

Results

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

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

Conclusions

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

Authors

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


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

Introduction

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.

Author

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

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innostuksen johtaminen

Miten innostusta johdetaan?

Työntekijöidensä hyvinvoinnista huolehtivat organisaatiot kartoittavat perinteisesti organisaation tilaa säännöllisten työtyytyväisyyskyselyiden avulla. Työntekijä saattaa antaa kyselyyn huippupisteet, jos hän on sitä mieltä, että työtä ei ole liikaa eikä liian vähän, palkka ja lomat ovat kohdallaan ja suhteet työkavereihin ja pomoon kunnossa. Tyytyväinen työntekijä ei kuitenkaan välttämättä ole organisaation kannalta tuottavin, sillä perinteiset työtyytyväisyysmittarit eivät pysty erottamaan passiivista työtyytyväisyyttä aktiivisesta työtyytyväisyydestä. Ne eivät kuvaa sitä, minkälaisella asenteella ja tekemisen intensiteetillä työntekijä suhtautuu työhönsä, sen kehittämiseen ja uudistamiseen (Martela & Jarenko 2014, 17–18).

Leading Passion -hanke

Lähdimme Haaga-Heliassa yhdessä Aalto-yliopiston ja Filosofian Akatemian johtajuustutkijoiden kanssa suunnittelemaan Leading Passion -hanketta, koska näimme, että työelämän murros vaatii johtamisen näkökulman muutosta. Koska rutiinityöt automatisoituvat yhä enemmän tulevaisuudessa, vaaditaan jäljelle jäävissä työtehtävissä kykyä luoda lisäarvoa joko asiakkaiden tai kollegoiden kanssa innovoinnin, ideoiden jalostuksen ja yhdistelyn sekä yhteistyön avulla. Tällainen ”uusi työ” ei ole mahdollista, ellei työntekijä ole sisäisesti motivoitunut ja innostunut. Johtajan tehtävänä ei ole kuitenkaan motivoida, vaan rakentaa organisaatioon sellainen ilmapiiri ja kulttuuri, jossa työntekijät saavat mahdollisuuden toteuttaa sisäistä motivaatiotaan (Ryan 2015).

Innostuksen johtaminen on johtamisen ”uusi musta”, joka nostaa pehmeät arvot yrityksen kovaksi ytimeksi, koska innostus tuottaa sekä yritykselle paremman tuloksen että työntekijöille parempaa hyvinvointia (kooste aiemmasta tutkimuksesta esim. Martela & Jarenko 2014, 27).

Yksi innostuksen johtamisen keskeisistä haasteista on se, että innostus on vaikea rakentaa, mutta helppo ja nopea tuhota.

Saimme mukaan Leading Passion -projektiimme tutkimusorganisaatioiden lisäksi neljä muuta organisaatiota: Pipelife Finland edustaa perinteistä teollisuutta, Santander Consumer Finance ja Clear Channel Finland palvelusektoria ja Suomen Ekonomit järjestökenttää. Tekesin Liideri-ohjelman rahoituksen avulla olemme vuoden 2015 alusta tehneet näissä organisaatioissa mittauksia, haastatteluja, kokeiluja ja havainnointia innostuksen johtamisesta. Lisäksi olemme tehneet tutkimusta vapaaehtoisverkostoissa.

Alustavat tutkimustulokset

Tutkimustuloksemme hankkeen ensimmäiseltä vuodelta kertovat, että innostusta löytyy hyvin erilaisista organisaatiosta ja työtehtävistä, mikäli sitä tukevaa organisaatiokulttuuria osataan johtaa (Launonen & Ruotsalainen 2016; Marttinen & Kostamo 2016; Vuori 2016). Innostusta löytyy myös sellaisissa töissä, jotka eivät ole perinteisiä kutsumusammatteja, esimerkiksi valmistavassa tehdastyössä tai asiakasreklamaatioiden käsittelyssä.

Tutkimustuloksemme myös nostavat esille sen, että sisäinen motivaatio ja innostus työhön suojaavat hallinnantunteen menettämiseltä. Tämä on tärkeää työssä jaksamisen kannalta, sillä monissa työtehtävissä työntekijän kokema hallinnantunne on vaarassa informaatiotulvan, kiireen, keskeytysten ja ylikuormituksen takia. Keräämämme aineiston perusteella tehty analyysi kertoo myös, että mitä vahvemmin työntekijät kokevat työnsä merkitykselliseksi, sen itseohjautuvampia ja oma-aloitteisempia he ovat työssään (Launonen & Ruotsalainen 2016). Haastatteluaineistosta olemme saaneet useita kuvauksia siitä, miten nopeasti ja helposti johtaja voi tuhota innostuksen (Marttinen & Kostamo 2016).

Yhdessä työelämää uudistamaan

Jatkamme Leading Passion -hankkeen aineiston keräämistä vuoden 2017 loppuun. Laajempana tavoitteenamme on parantaa suomalaista työelämää ja rakentaa tutkimustuloksiin perustuva työkaluja siihen, miten innostusta voidaan johtaa.

Olemme halunneet hankkeessa verkostoitua aktiivisesti uudistavan johtamisen puolestapuhujien kanssa, sillä yhdessä muutamme työelämää enemmän. Järjestimme keväällä 2015 Espoossa Innostuksen johtaminen -seminaarin, johon saimme pääpuhujaksi sisäisen motivaatioteorian kansainvälisen kärkinimen Richard Ryanin, joka omiin laajoihin tutkimuksiinsa viitaten korosti sisäisen motivaation merkitystä työelämässä ja koulutuksessa. Keväällä 2016 järjestimme Porvoossa tutkimuskonferenssin, jonne kutsuimme uuden työn ja johtamisen tutkijoita ja kehittäjiä miettimään sitä, mitä voimme tehdä johtamisen ja työelämän uudistamiseksi.

professori Esa Saarinen
Leading Passion -hankkeen Porvoon 2016 tutkimuskonferenssin ensimmäinen keynote-puhuja oli professori Esa Saarinen. KUVA: Petra Lehtinen

Seuraava tapahtumamme on 9.9.2016 järjestettävä Liideri-aamukahvit Helsingin Messukeskuksessa, jonka Leading Passion -hanke järjestää yhteistyössä myötätunnon voimaa tutkivan CoPassion-hankkeen kanssa. Loppuseminaarimme järjestetään syksyllä 2017.

Kutsumme innostuksesta, intohimosta ja johtamisen muutoksesta kiinnostuneet tervetulleiksi tapahtumiimme sekä seuraamaan innostuksen johtamista koskevan hankkeemme materiaaleja www-sivuillemme leadingpassion.fi ja keskustelemaan kanssamme twitterissä @leadingpassion.

Kirjoittaja

Johanna Vuori, yliopettaja, HT, Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu, johanna.vuori(at)haaga-helia.fi

Launonen, R. & Ruotsalainen, M. (2016). Measuring the Intrinsic Motivation – Three case examples. Esitys Leading Passsion: Motivation and Work in the Post-Industrial Era -konferenssissa Porvoossa 19–20.4.2016.

Martela, F. & Jarenko, K. (2014). Sisäinen motivaatio – Tulevaisuuden työssä tuottavuus ja innostus kohtaavat. Helsinki: Eduskunnan tulevaisuusvaliokunta.

Marttinen, K. & Kostamo, T. (2016). What gives fire and what kills passion at work among the Generation Y? Leading Passion: Motivation and Work in the Post-Industrial Era Research Conference proceedings. Helsinki: Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, 1–14.

Ryan, R. (2015). Keynote-esitelmä Innostuksen johtamisen -seminaarissa Espoossa 13.5.2015. Tallenne: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPYn-CrxNiU

Vuori, J. (2016). Leading Passion in volunteer work. Esitys Leading Passion: Motivation and Work in the Post-Industrial Era – konferenssissa Porvoossa 19–20.4.2016.