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

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

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

The need for new learning in a virtual flexible environment

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

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

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

The need for sustainability

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

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

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

Table 1. Waste Management course content

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

The pilot survey

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

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

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

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

Discussion

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

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

Authors

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

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Chat – the Future Platform of Finnish Education Exports?

Authors: Kaius Karlsson, Jonas Tana, Outi Ahonen.

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

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

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

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

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

Everything Is Based on Chat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simplicity, Openness, and Spontaneity

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

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

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

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

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

Changing the Conditions

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

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

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

Authors

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

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