Excellence in Teaching and Learning and how it is manifested in three countries

Author: Sharon Lierse.

Abstract

Excellence in education is a topic of global interest. Universities are in competition for the highest quality of research and top students. They are also ranked against each other in global university rankings. Moreover, universities have an increasingly important role in preparing students for the next generation workforce and lifelong learning; a responsibility that is undergoing significant transformation. Another indicator of excellence in education is the Programme for International Student Assessment better known as the PISA tests. The purpose of the research is to compare, and contrast Australian, South Korean and Finnish tertiary educational institutions in what is are characteristics of excellent teaching. Factors such as teaching philosophies, cultural influences and the role of the arts will be investigated. Through investigating these educational philosophies and practices will gain a greater understanding of what drives different countries to achieve excellence in learning and teaching.

Introduction

Excellence in higher education and how this is identified and measured is of global interest. Countries promote their universities and are in competition for the best students (Yedkevich, Altbach & Rumbley, 2016). There are also external organizations such as the Times Higher Education which rank universities against each other (Baker, 2017; Times, 2017). These global rankings have a great impact on how teaching and learning is conducted at universities and what is considered important for educating the future generation. Countries which have excellent universities are known for what these institutions do, but not how excellence is taught, achieved, and what is valued by students and lecturers in the process.

Another indicator of excellence in education is the Programme for International Student Assessment, better known as the PISA tests (OECD, 2017). This international test is given to a cross-section of students in The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries when they are aged fifteen. The PISA tests have highlighted how educational systems impact learning and teaching and how this may flow onto the quality of education in the tertiary sector. The PISA tests have shown that two countries which have consistently ranked highly are South Korea and Finland. They are vastly different in their geographic location, language, cultural practices and attitudes to education. In contrast, Australia is a Western country situated in Asia, which has ranked quite well in the tertiary global rankings and PISA. The aim of the research is to compare and contrast perceptions of excellence between these three select countries, and what can be learnt from them. In an increasingly globalised community, understanding what is valued between countries and how excellence is achieved may increase one’s understanding of society, and how to address current themes and issues within the education system. The key questions asked in the study are the following:

  1. What is excellence and success?
  2. How is competition regarded in the learning process?
  3. Is there a connection between excellence and altruism, empathy and equity in learning and teaching?
  4. Are there specific subjects or disciplines connected to excellence?

Data will be collected through surveys and interviews as well as investigating philosophies, culture and curricula. Themes of excellence, success and competition will be the focus as well as what is valued in society. Grounded theory will also be employed as an inductive theoretical approach after analysing the various forms of data.

Definitions

What is Excellence?

To achieve excellence, one first has to know what the term ‘excellence’ means. The difficulty with the term is that humans can identify excellence but when describing of verbalising what components are excellent or why, it becomes challenging. For a term widely used, finding a definition is difficult. The Collins English Dictionary (1979) defines ‘excellence’ as both a noun and a verb: “the state or quality of excelling or being exceptionally good; extreme merit; superiority” and “an action, characteristic, etc., in which a person excels” (p. 531). The Latin translation for excellence is ‘uirtus’ which look very similar to the word ‘virtue’. This is based on Plato’s philosophy that ‘excellence is virtue’. Hence, to be good at a task may have also been virtuous in its moral quality. For the purpose of the paper, excellence is defined as “exceptionally good and of superior quality”.

What is Success?

The term ‘success’ is often interchanged with ‘excellence’. The word ‘success’ stems from the Latin root ‘successus’, which means an outcome. The Collins English Dictionary (1979) defines ‘success’ as, “The favourable outcome of something attempted” (p. 1521). It was also described when a task has been completed and it becomes “obsolete”. ‘Excellence’ and ‘success’ are often interchanged but to be successful at a task does not necessarily imply that the quality is good, or of virtue. There is not necessarily a causal relationship between being excellence and success. Success here is when the task has been achieved and does not require further work.

What is Competition?

Competition occurs in many fields including sport, music and education. The premise of competition is that there will be a winner and loser with the individuals or groups pitted against each other. It has been defined as “rivalry”, or “the struggle between individuals of the same or different species” (Collins, 1979, p. 322).

Literature Review

There has been research into excellence in teaching at the tertiary level from a range of perspectives. To clarify, there has been a range of terms and definitions depending on philosophical understandings, geographic location and culture. Terms such as ‘outstanding’, ‘excellent’ and ‘successful’ are interchanged as well as ‘tertiary’, ‘university’ and ‘college’. ‘Lecturing’ and ‘teaching’ have also been interchanged (Andrews, Garriso & Magnusson, 1996; Cosh, 1999; Gibbs, 2006; Sherman et al., 1987; Yair, 2008). For the purpose of this study, ‘excellence’, ‘tertiary’ and ‘teaching’ will be used.

Historically, the topic of excellence has been research for over century in which one of the first publications was published in 1917 in The Journal of Educational Research (Breed, 1927). The characteristics identified were personal qualities, organization of the subject matter, knowledge, skill, university co-operation and professional development. Similar characteristics were found in studies by Brookfield (1990), Finkel (2000), Metcalfe and Game (2006), Weimar (1997); and Yair (2008). There was a discussion of whether excellence was a quality which was innate (Gosling & Hannan, 2007; Polanyi, 1966; Weimar, 1997; Yair, 2008) or whether it were techniques and skills which can be taught (Kane, Sandretto & Heath, 2004). The personality of the teacher was rated highly in some studies which traits such as approachability, passion and enthusiasm were at times considered more important than skills (Bain, 2004; Bain, 2012; Bentley-Davies, 2010; Boonshaft, 2010; Feldman, 1988; Gladwell, 2009; Lawler, Chen & Venso, 2007; Moore & Kuol, 2007; Saroyan & Amundsen, 2001). However, as students progressed though the higher levels of academia, skill and expertise were increasingly considered important (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1986; Chi, Glaser & Farr, 1998).

There are also excellent teachers who were focused on inspiring and transforming lives despite the bureaucracy and structure of the system. They may not necessarily be good administrators and therefore may miss out on recognition they duly deserve through not filling out the paperwork for promotions (Dunkin & Precians, 1992; Jones, 2010; Palmer & Collins, 2006; Skelton, 2005; Yair, 2008). They would work around policies and procedures in order to evoke the changes they considered necessary (Robinson, 2009). Some have also questioned the status quo and consequently become disruptors to the system.

A quality of excellent teachers was their ability to reflect (Brookfield, 1995; Cosh, 1999; Cowan, 2006; McAlphine & Westin, 2000; Schön, 1983). Reflection could come in many forms such critically reflecting their own practice to further improve their own teaching. Another form was to show understanding through empathy. This empathetic response would help students with their most pressing needs and in improving their learning. Other qualities are equity in which the concept of student bias or favouritism is negated to achieve the desired results.

At a systemic and national level, key cities throughout history have been known for excellence and advancing society. They have shown common traits of nurturing talent including those considered outsiders and having an altruistic attitude towards achievement (Weiner, 2016). Here, the strive for excellence was not competitive for individual gain, but rather collaborative for the greater good of humanity. The importance of altruism and empathy, and a more holistic approach to learning has been investigated (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2003; Sahlberg, 2015; Stephan & Finlay, 1999). Ironically, it is the countries that are known for excelling in global rankings which also have a strong philosophical educational foundation, value empathy and equality in education.

Methodology

The two methodologies used for the study were thematic analysis and grounded theory (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Charmaz, 2000; Charmaz, 2002; Glaser, 1998; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). These were selected as they were the most suitable for categorising cross-cultural information and for positing a new understanding of why excellence has developed in select countries. Data was collected through surveys, interviews, monographs and journal articles. Surveys have been used at select universities in South Korea and Australia to ascertain what are the characteristics of excellence. Themes such as lecturing styles, learning preferences and cultural influences were investigated. Following this was a series of interviews with academics and post-graduate researchers. Information on Finland was acquired through publications monographs, journals and papers at educational conferences. This was due to the focus on the country after being number one in the world in the PISA results. The data collected has been compared and contrasted to identify trends and themes.

Australia

Australia is situated in the Asia-Pacific and is the smallest continent on earth. Although an island, it is the sixth largest country and is known for its large cities found on its perimeter. There are approximately 25 million people living in a country comprising six States and two Territories. It is a young country, colonised by the British in the eighteenth century and based on Western cultural traditions. English is the spoken language, but there are over a hundred foreign languages spoken by migrants as well as Indigenous languages from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Australia, in its Western cultural development has relied on Britain, and more recently to the United States of America. Politically, Australia has strong ties with Britain, the United States of America, and more recently China due its geographic proximity, trade, and number of migrants Australia. Australia is a multi-cultural society with a highly regarded university system. An increasingly expanding and significant component of the higher education market are international students.

The education philosophy is similar to Britain’s due to its religious, historical and cultural foundations, however, it is difficult to identify. It is based on Plato‘s notion of an ideal curriculum where subjects are required to be studied to be a good citizen. Education is curriculum focused and regulated.

There is inbuilt competition in the education system in Australia. During school, the national tests such as the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy, better known as NAPLAN, tests students in year three, five, seven and nine. The score that students receive is whether they have met the required standards and where they are in relation to other students in their year level (https://www.nap.edu.au/results-and-reports/how-to-interpret). In their final year of schooling, they are given a mark for each subject, which is then standardised to be ranked against other students in their State or Territory. An issue with the peer ranking system is the amount of stress and anxiety it creates.

A study was conducted at an Australian university in 2014 to investigate the characteristics of outstanding university lecturers (Lierse, 2016). There was an anonymous survey sent to 70 students enrolled in the Graduate Certificate of University Learning and Teaching where they identified characteristics. From this, fourteen participated in semi-structured interviews, and five lecturers who were identified as outstanding were interviewed, as well. The five characteristics discovered from the study were; expertise, holistic approach to learning, engaging the student, open door policy and ambitious altruists. It was the last characteristic ‘ambitious altruists’ which was of surprise and interest. The study found that outstanding lecturers were ambitious and had purpose in their work. Ambition was from an altruistic foundation in which their students came first, rather than for their own ego. Their practices were often unconventional and they would often be criticised to the point of being isolated from their peers. As a result, many of these lecturers sacrificed their own career paths for the academy (Lierse, 2016, p. 9).

Their ambition was beyond ego and was for the good of humanity rather than for personal gain (Butler-Bowden, 2007). These lecturers would sometime sacrifice their own career paths or even jobs for their altruistic pursuits (Palmer, 1998).

South Korea

South Korea or the Republic of Korea is a country situated in East Asia with a population of approximately 51 million people. The country has had a turbulent political history with its neighbours, North Korea, China and Japan. It is known for its manufacturing as well as its education system. The language spoken is Korean.

South Korea’s education system came under the international spotlight after the students received high results in the PISA tests (OECD, 2017). Consequently, many educational researchers have visited South Korea to gain an understanding of the teaching system. What they discovered was the high value placed on rigorous learning and educational achievement (Ripley, 2013). One aspect of their system was the after-hours tutoring culture known as Hagwon.

A survey and a series of interview questions were designed to discover why South Korea had one of the best educational systems and how they perceived excellence. The research proposal went through ethics at the university and was approved. The survey was sent to lecturers and post-graduate students at a university in South Korea.

The second part of the research were interview questions for South Korean lecturers and post-graduate students who had a degree of English fluency. The questions were designed to trigger conversation and were semi-structured. The topics range from their own background, teaching styles and what is considered excellent. There were interview questions for university lecturers. The data was coded and interviews analysed to determine what the trends are in South Korea in relation to what is considered excellent.

The results revealed how much emphasis is placed on education and to do well. The pressure to succeed was from the family as well as society and it was not unusual for students to spend long hours studying. There was a clear progression from doing well at school to then go to a good university to then gain a good job. This was the key to success which would then make one happy. One respondent discussed how, “Many parents believe that it is the short cut to success.” Another respondent stated, “To have a successful life it is money, best university, good job, people to envy you is successful.” Lecturers were highly regarded and respected and any form of teaching was still seen as a good career choice.

Competition is a feature of the South Korean education system. Students are tested often and are ranked in class. From an early age, students know that they have to work hard and the end goal is to be accepted into a top university. “I think the education atmosphere is so competitive in South Korea…Students study very hard. Their motivation is very high, but sometimes their motivation is performance oriented. And they [are] influenced by other students because they compare each other.” Competition is a key factor in student achievement in South Korean education system. There is also a respect for the teachers and education.

Finland

Finland is a sovereign state in Northern Europe situated between Western countries and Russia. It has a relatively small population of five-and-a-half million people and is known for its cold winters. The language spoken is Finnish.

Finland has been featured in the media due to their PISA test results in which they have been ranked number one in the world. Even though this was a test in secondary schools, it reflected how excellence in teaching was practised in the university system to produce such impressive outcomes. A reason for this is that Finland has undergone a transformation in their society which has focussed on education. Sahlberg (2015) discussed how: “Diplomacy, cooperation, problem solving, and seeking consensus have thus become hallmarks of contemporary Finnish culture” (p. 17). Their system is based on the Aristotelian philosophy where ones’ purpose is to have a good and noble life. There is a focus on social skills, empathy and leadership (p. 199). There is surprisingly very little testing in schools. Finland only selects the best applicants to be a school teacher in which the minimum requirement to work in schools is a Master’s Degree. Due to their success of their education system, many teachers from different countries have visited Finland and observed teaching in schools to better understand the secret to their success. Sahlberg (2015) commented “Many teachers and administrators who have visited Finnish schools…are often stuck in the middle of excellence versus equity quandaries due to external demands and regulations in their own countries” (p. 66). The Finnish example of educational excellence has worked in Finland. This would be due to the congruence of support by the government, educational system and their society. However, this would be difficult to be replicated in other countries due to the complexity of cultural systems and understandings.

Discussion

The three countries are different in their geographically, linguistically and politically and their education systems are based on a philosophical foundation.

How excellence, success, perfection and failure are defined varies between countries which in turn impacts the teaching and learning in schools and universities. The role of competition in education is a driving factor in South Korea, and to an increasing extent in Australia, but is viewed negatively in Finland in favour of cooperation. The overriding philosophy in Finland is based on Aristotle’s of living to have a good and virtuous life. South Korean’s educational philosophy is based on Confucius in which there is an “I” with “self”, “others” and the universe and learning is a life-long process. Australia’s philosophy has been adopted from the United Kingdom and is based on Plato in which excellence is a virtue and a range of subjects are required in order to achieve this.

The results revealed that the philosophy and its beliefs of a country have a strong impact on education. The countries which excel in education during the formal academic schooling and for life-long learning have strong philosophical foundations, especially in the role of arts but also how education is practised varied widely. The other dimension of excellence, which has been explored, are the roles of empathy, equity and altruism. How a society can be sustained for life-long learning without their members working to their own potential, helping others and for the greater good of the community.

South Korea and Finland have excelled in PISA tests to the surprise of many countries. They are not known for their population size or being a dominant force in large global companies although they are global leaders in many niche industries. Politically, they have both been under constant threat from neighbouring countries and have a long history of warfare and being invaded. Finland has the global superpower Russia to the East and Sweden to the West, and they only received independence in 1917. South Korea is under constant threat from North Korea, has been invaded by Japan, and has the superpower China as a neighbour. Both countries do not have enough man power in their military to fight against neighbouring countries so have to exert their power in other ways. They cannot rely on primary resources such as farming and mining due to the land so they rely on themselves. Both of these countries have invested heavily in human capital in education to ensure that they will have a prosperous future.

To show their independence and autonomy, they have maintained their language and culture, which has been manifested through the arts. It is also the arts where they can learn their language and history through music, dance, art and drama. These also reinforce their patriotism, worthiness and sense of belonging. To remain relevant on a global level, it is these activities that bind these groups together, strengthen their loyalty to one another, and help to create empathy between each other. The arts form the fabric of their society and what it means to be part of the society.

Both South Korea and Finland show a great respect for the arts, especially Western art music. Their standard of performers is world class and there are opportunities for students at the school level to learn and music. This honour, respect and practice of the arts results in a high level of sophistication, development of emotions and empathy. These results were unexpected and the connection of excellence with empathy with the arts and through the arts is an area for future research.

Conclusion

The paper discusses how countries which are known for academic excellence have very strong philosophical foundations. However, it is the way excellence is practiced which differs widely and is often contradictory in its approaches. The research has shown that the role of the arts play an important role in the connection to excellence in education which is an area for future research. It is these new combinations of factors which may hold the key for sustained educational excellence throughout the life-span.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank the Australia-Korea Foundation through the Australia-Korea Foundation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for support in the “Teaching Excellence in South Korea and Australia: A Comparison” project.

Author

Dr Sharon Lierse, Lecturer in Education, Charles Darwin University, Melbourne, Australia


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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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Changing paradigms: moving higher education into the 21st century

Author: Zarina Charlesworth.

Abstract

Institutes of higher education can no longer pretend that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will not impact the way that learning is viewed, and education delivered. This article looks at changes in education from the perspective of students, educators, administrators complemented by practitioner action research in the classroom. In answer to the question of how to induce 21st century change in higher education, a meta-interpretation (Weed, 2005) of six related research studies carried out over the period 2014‒2017 was conducted. This in turn has allowed for a comprehensive analysis and the identification of key change-related findings that cut across the afore-mentioned stakeholder groups. A framework for change is put forth for administrators and examples for innovative classroom practice are provided for educators.

Introduction

It is clear that what is frequently described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Schwab, 2016) is having an impact not only in more traditional industries but in education as well. In 2012, digital technology was identified as one of the five key drivers of change taking place in education with one report going so far as to say “Campuses will remain, but digital technologies will transform the way education is delivered and accessed, and the way value is created by higher education providers, public and private alike” (Ernest & Young, 2012, p. 4). Three years later it was said that “the impact of technology on education delivery remains sub-optimal […and contributions] to teaching and learning have yet to be fully realised and exploited” yet, “it is vital that teachers become active agents for change” (OECD, 2015, p. 4). Educators today are faced with a world in mutation and it behoves us to tailor the learning experience so as to provide our higher education students with the competencies and knowledge that they will need as they move into the work force. As much as this is an exciting time, change can also be difficult and confusing, sometimes missing the overview necessary to move ahead and in turn often lacking coordination. A transition, first mentioned by King from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” (1993), is clearly underway, however, the opportunities afforded by technology add a level of complexity to the educational reality that has not yet sufficiently been taken into account (Jörg, Davis, & Nickmans, 2007; Reigeluth, Beatty, & Myers, 2017). The ongoing change in practices “will mean that more emphasis is placed on the teaching processes being situated as active ‘co-learning’ experiences [and that the] adoption of a more scholarly and reflective approach to teaching practice is clearly a logical strategy to help achieve this shift (Conole & Alevizou, 2010, p. 21).

The vision of the future of education held by those involved in the studies referred to is one full of hope and enthusiasm as we enter an age of unlimited possibilities where learning starts at an early age and goes on throughout one’s life. It is an exciting time, but we have a long way to go. The use of technology certainly does, however, afford educators, the possibility to add value to the learning experience (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2013; Howland, Jonassen, & Marra, 2012; Jonassen, 1996). Surprisingly, and despite all the resources available to educators, there has been relatively limited change in course delivery in higher education. What are the barriers and drivers to this paradigm change? Perhaps a better understanding of these issues will allow us to move forward with conviction and enthusiasm into a 21st century that is already well under way allowing the higher education community to become proactive in the shaping of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Abu Mezied, 2016).

This article examines the nature of change in education through a meta-interpretation of a series of selected studies taken from two practice-based action research projects (2014‒2016 & 2016‒2017) carried out at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland. The reason for this type of interpretation being to provide the whole picture as we are looking at a paradigm change and not just a snapshot of innovative classroom practice. A paradigm change does not necessarily mean starting completely afresh, however. The research presented here is firmly anchored in existing theory, which provides the guiding thread linking all the studies in this meta-interpretation together and shows how one can move from the past into the future without having to make any kind of break.

The paper closes with the key findings of this analysis and a discussion of how to meet some of the challenges faced. Examples, based on the action research, are provided for the easy integration of technology in the classroom that may be of interest to educators. The conclusions drawn here are based on and aimed primarily at higher education providers but may be applied in general.

Theoretical background

Self-regulation

The research referred to in this article draws on two main bodies of literature to link together the series of studies referred to in this meta-interpretation. The point of departure and the pivot for all the studies conducted was the concept of self-regulation. In Zimmerman’s (1989) words, “self-regulated learning strategies are actions and processes directed at acquiring information or skill that involves agency, purpose, and instrumentality perceptions by learners” (p. 329). This process, first introduced by Bandura (1986, 1991), is seen to be subject to the impact of personal, environmental and behavioural influences. These influences may vary in strength depending on the learning situation. For example, a group project conducted across countries with different time zones may be subject more to environmental influences than would a project conducted at a local level. Today the environmental influence is of particular importance as it relates not only to the physical environment but to the virtual as well.

The idea of self-regulation was later taken up by Nicol and MacFarlane-Dick who see it as “manifested in the active monitoring and regulation of a number of different learning processes: e.g. the setting of, and orientation towards, learning goals; the strategies used to achieve goals; the management of resources; the effort exerted; reactions to external feedback; the products produced.” (2006, p. 199). Adding to this, the work of other researchers (Pintrich, 2004; Winters, Greene, & Costich, 2008; Zumbrunn, Tadlock, & Roberts, 2011) emphasizes the role of directed learning through its active construction and purposeful engagement. The management of learning thus takes on new proportions which in turn rely more than ever on the development of self-regulation processes.

In today’s ‘educational ecosystem’ (Cristol, 2014) higher education students are faced with an unprecedented amount of information, a need to sift through, select and share it as well as use it to further their knowledge. Zimmerman saw the process of self-regulation as going through three phases (Zimmerman, 2000). This was later taken up by Dabbagh and Kitsantas and then revisited by Charlesworth & Sarrasin taking technological advances into account. Table 1 presents a comparison of these frameworks (Charlesworth & Sarrasin, 2014).

Table 1. A Comparison of Frameworks.
 Zimmerman (2000)Dabbagh and Kitsantas (2012)Charlesworth and Sarrasin (2014)
PhaseStageLevel
1ForethoughtPersonal information managementOrganization and searching
2Performance or volitional controlSocial interaction and collaborationInformation exchange
3Self-reflectionInformation aggregation and managementCo-creation and co-construction of knowledge

The link between the levels shown in Table 1 and the competencies that higher education is called upon to develop in 21st century graduates, including those of critical-thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration, (World_Economic_Forum, 2015) is clear.

Organization and searching skills can be linked to both the organization of study as well as to information literacy. Higher education students today need support in the search for information and especially in the validation of what information is reliable, a role both the institute as well as its educators need to fill. In terms of information exchange students are generally quite capable yet often default to more basic types of exchange through the institute’s learning management platform (LMS), Dropbox, WhatsApp, etc. But when called upon to go past simple exchange and delve into the co-creation and co-construction of knowledge which technology easily allows one to do “few students naturally do this well” (Zumbrunn et al., 2011, p. 4). These skills and competencies rely heavily on collaboration. Related literature that has taken this up (De Corte, 2012; Järvelä, Näykki, Laru, & Luokkanen, 2007; Lee & Tsai, 2011; Leinonen, Järvelä, & Häkkinen, 2005; Li, Ingram-El Helou, & Gillet, 2012), suggests that educators giving support for individual learning through the use of structured collaboration will encourage students to develop strategies that allow for the co-creation and co-construction of knowledge.

Change Management

Clearly the onus for learning is increasingly on the students themselves and in each of the afore-mentioned levels they are expected to perform. It is in the third level, however, that the idea of a paradigm change comes to fruition as it is here that the educator has a large role to play. A role which goes far past just adapting one’s course syllabus but calls into question what learning in the 21st century really is and calls on the educator to examine his/her educational practice. This in turn leads us to the idea of change. To better understand the mechanisms of change, the second body of literature referred to in this article is that of change management (Kotter, 1995; Lewin, 1958; Quinn, Amer, & Lonie, 2012). The foundations for organizational change were embraced by management / industry some twenty years ago. These have since been taken up in education with a framework put forth by Quinn et al. (2012). This framework is shown in order that conclusions can be drawn not just about what changes might be pertinent but how to have such change embraced by educators.

There is little published research on change management in higher education that looks at the principal stakeholders: students and educators. Faculty developers as change agents have been looked at (Dawson, Mighty, & Britnell, 2010) as have academic support centres (Diamond, 2005). “Unfortunately, much of what is at the disposition of the educators comes from instructional designers and support personal whose time in the classroom is often limited and may be overly “tool” oriented” (Charlesworth & Sarrasin, 2017a, p. 7376). As pointed out by Kirkwood & Price (2013) educator’s questions are often concerned with the use of a particular tool or technology rather than with the more creative “How can I enable my students to achieve the desired or necessary learning outcomes?” or “What forms of participation or practice are enabled for learning?” (p. 332). The question remains of how to engender this kind of change.

Using Lewin (1958) as the starting point with his three-step: unfreezing, moving, refreezing description of organisational change, together with Kotter’s 8-step model (1995), Quinn et al. (2012) came up with three related phases for driving change in education as shown below:

Phase 1: Setting the stage in order to “break open the shell of complacency” (Lewin, 1958, p. 211) through actions which encourage change.

Phase 2: Making change happen means allowing change to happen through “empowering of others to act on the vision through encouraging risk-taking, and non-traditional ideas, activities, and actions” (Kotter, 1995, p. 3).

Phase 3: Making it stick where actions involving systems and structures emphasize the commitment of the institute.

Clearly the relationship between evolving student needs and managing change at the level of the institute is complex. The question that this paper looks to answer is, how, taking the various stakeholders and their perspectives into account, can one hope to drive change.

Methodological orientation & procedures

Rather than present research findings from one or more isolated studies, this article provides a meta-interpretation (Weed, 2005) of related research studies conducted over the period 2014‒2017. What is proposed here is to synthesize the results of these studies in order to look at how best to move change forward in higher education and this at levels from the student through to the administration.

The synthesis of research, both quantitative and qualitative, has taken on increasing importance over the past twenty years. Going from a focus on the synthesis of quantitative studies, frequently through the use of a meta-analysis, the methodological literature now describes any number of ways for synthesizing all data types. There seems to be some consensus that despite the variety of methods referred to, there should always be an element of structured synthesis. A distinction can, however, be made based on “the extent to which the various methods aim to test, explore, or generate theories and the extent to which they interpret evidence from the included studies” (Snilstveit et al. 2012, p. 414).

It is of importance to note that “the re-interpretation of original research is not a valid way to proceed” (Weed, 2005, paragraph 36). Where more traditional research synthesis and review tended to rely on a summary of findings, the narrative approach to synthesis aims to generate new insight allowing for a more holistic approach. The approach taken in this paper is that of Secondary Analysis of Primary Data as defined by Weed (2005) where the original interpretations are considered to be the raw data for the secondary analysis.

As mentioned by Weed (2005), and in the tradition of qualitative research, the terms validity and reliability are not appropriate in this type of analysis. This is not, however, to refute their importance but to redefine them accordingly. In the case of this current work, ‘research quality’ the term used by Weed (2005) and seen as “referring to ensuring the quality and integrity of the meta-interpretation approach” (paragraph 37) is particularly well suited. Guaranteeing this quality calls for a selection of the studies to be included and for transparent nature of the process where all studies referred to are available for the reader to access.

The six studies referred to in this analysis were carried out between 2014 and 2017 and called on a range of methods including: the use of student focus groups (2 having n=17 participants); faculty interviews (n=5; n= 16); administrator interviews (n=9); faculty workshops (20 having n=252 participants) with a follow-up questionnaire (n=39); and finally two revised courses (BA students and Continuing Education students) which each went through three action research iterations as well as allowing for a quantitative component (BA students n=85) and a virtual community analysis (Continuing Education students n=95).

The choice of these six studies was dictated by the fact that they were all part of two related research projects carried out in the same university allowing a coherent and holistic approach to the issue.

As suggested by Weed (2005 paragraph 43), this type of interpretation calls for:

  • A focus on meaning in context;
  • Interpretations are the raw data for synthesis;
  • An iterative approach to the sampling of studies for synthesis.

This approach allows for a more comprehensive approach to the findings. Accordingly, the selected studies have, in the first instance, been grouped by context before proceeding to the final analysis.

Results

The interpretations for each of the studies included in the meta-interpretation are considered to be the raw data or the “primary subject for secondary analysis” (Weed, 2005, paragraph 35). A total of six studies have been included in this analysis. A compilation of the original interpretations is shown below in Table 2. Once again, the object is not to reinterpret neither to summarize but to provide, through further analysis, an interpretation that goes beyond that of each individual study, rather like making a collage of photos and as the whole picture emerges being able to see something new.

Table 2. Compiled Studies 2014‒2017: Reported findings.

Changing paradigms, largely due to digitalization, are going on all around us. Whether educators are inclined to go the route of technology enhanced learning becomes a moot point because technology, whether in the classroom or not, is now ubiquitous. Its impact has been to change the teacher-student dynamic, to alter the time-distance relationship and to give students unlimited access to all the knowledge they could desire, calling on educators to add real value or be shunned by their students. All of the research presented here has been subject to a meta-interpretation highlighting barriers and drivers to this paradigm change.

The findings reported in Table 2 confirm the impact of technology on course delivery today. Even though innovation in the classroom does not necessarily call for the use of technology it clearly needs to be considered in any course redesign.

Table 3 is a recompilation of the findings shown in Table 2 by stakeholder group and divided into barriers and drivers to classroom innovation.

Table 3. Barriers & Drivers to innovation in the higher education classroom.
Stakeholder groupBarriersDrivers
StudentsDigital native ≠ Digital learner
Feeling a loss of control in a non-traditional classroom
Resistance to change
Expecting teachers to add value
Asynchronous time-distance relationship seen as positive
Appreaciate being involved in the learning process
FacultyUnclear on changing role of educator
Relatively low level of digital fluency
Insufficient time available to embrace change
Use of technology is motivating & created a dynamic classroom
Clear benefits for collaboration & networking beyond the classroom with student involvement
AdminA number of campuses over a large distance
Insufficient communication from the top down
Overall vision not clear to educators
A teacher training department
A certain level of support for innovation-related projects
Support for conferences

Going past just a synthesis by category of stakeholder but to a cross-stakeholder synthesis it becomes clear that there are interacting relationships worth highlighting, allowing us to identify key findings. Key findings risk remaining just that if measures are not taken in response to them. At the end of the day, what is shown in these studies is that there is uncertainty, confusion, resistance, and a certain passivism on the part of both students and teachers. To move this forward, the administrators have a certain responsibility and through the principles of change management, as experienced and described previously, there is a clear path to follow. Here we turn to Quinn et al.’s (2012) framework for change suggesting that the findings be addressed in a manner so as to make the most impact.

Setting the stage – where complacency is no longer accepted

Key finding #1: Both students and educators are novices in the use of technology for learning
For example, students, despite their digital native status do not really know how to use technology for learning. Many educators get put off by the idea of digital natives, worried that they might not be able to keep up. What they do not realize is that although students are often tech-savvy they are no further up the learning curve than the educators themselves in terms of how best to use technology in the classroom. This translates into an excellent opportunity for educator-student collaboration and even co-creation as they discover together what can be done. If educators are encouraged to take on this challenge without fear of recrimination or the possible consequences of negative student evaluations the stage will be set to go further.

Key finding #2: Innovation-related projects and conferences call for more than lip service
Clearly the instauration of innovation-related projects and conferences is a good start, yet it is not sufficient for the institute to applaud these events rather real involvement, time allocation for those involved, publicity for the outcomes and follow-up could make much more of an impact.

Making change happen – giving substance to vision

Key finding #3: A need to close the gap between institutional vision and what is happening on the ground
Clearly there is a gap between what those in administration see as the vision for the future of the institute and what is communicated, or not, to the educators. A real effort is called for to close the gaps in perception of where to next.

Key finding #4: There is a real need for scaffolding and institutional support
The need for scaffolding in their own learning on the part of the educators involved is not to be underestimated. Educators are being pulled in many directions with often more than just teaching commitments. It is insufficient to tell educators that they have permission to go ahead and make changes without providing the required support. Support that should go beyond the possibility of seeing a pedagogical advisor or taking a course but support that brings together discipline champions with those searching for new solutions and gives educators the time and space needed to experiment.

Making it stick – where systems and structures are impacted

Key finding #5: Sufficient time for change in course delivery is lacking
Telling educators that they have the liberty to run their courses as they see fit and to say that innovation is encouraged but unfortunately this does not merit an additional time allowance simply does not give the right message. Encouragement needs to go as far as allowing time and space for the creativity that will be needed as education evolves.

Key finding #6: The need for a centralized resource centre
It is one thing to give educators the go ahead to change their methods of course delivery and encourage instructional diversity but if the infrastructure does not evolve hand-in-hand with technology this cannot work. The new generation classroom calls for tables and chairs that are easily reconfigured, ideally several beamers, movable white boards, wireless access, and sufficient sockets to plug electronic equipment into. The standard classroom setting with tables cabled together will not work.

New ideas and innovative solutions will not suffice to change the face of education and the still dominant paradigms of teaching and learning but a more strategic and integrated approach such as shown above is called for in order that lasting change takes place.

Discussion and conclusions

A meta-interpretation of the results suggests that there are many sides to this story and that research often informs on only one aspect. In some cases, this is sufficient but in the case of fundamental changes, such as we are now seeing in the educational paradigm, this will not suffice. Jasinski (2007) speaks of inter-related enablers, some of which have also shown up in our research and which include “a work culture that embraces and supports innovation; a robust technology infrastructure; technology tools that are appropriate for teaching and learning purposes; a senior champion who drives the process; a willingness to consult and share; and supportive managers, peers and support professionals” (pp. 4‒5). These are all important elements, but our research supports the idea that for educators to embrace change there are other even more important elements including: time allowed, valorisation of effort, support and recognition from all levels and encouragement. Unfortunately, administrators tend to default to Industrial-Age mental models or mindsets (Reigeluth et al., 2017) and continue to evaluate education along well-known standard lines which often penalize the risk-taking educator who wants to try something new in the classroom. The key findings presented in the previous section provide clear direction in answer to the question posed at the outset of how to induce 21st century change in higher education.
If nothing else, the action research experience has taught us not to be afraid of making mistakes and trying new things out in the classroom even if at first one does not succeed. Below are two examples of actions that were carried out successfully during the action research and to the enjoyment of educators and students alike.

Importance and relevance for practice

The importance of doing this type of meta-interpretation is that it allows one to see the big picture. As illustrated in the story of the blind men and the elephant (PeaceCorps, undated), the Jain-based theory of manifold predications states “ to be competitive, innovative and successful we need the team to look at the larger picture collectively rather than get one view” (Sharma, 2011 paragraph 11). The suggestions put forth here should help move change in the educational paradigm, currently often only occurring at the individual educator level, to the collective school and community levels.

Author

Zarina Charlesworth, PhD (Ed.), University of Applied Arts & Sciences of Western Switzerland, HES-SO, Switzerland


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Redesigning for Student Centricity: A Four-Step Process

Authors: Ann Padley, Antti Piironen.

Introduction

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

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

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

Case: The Digital Wellbeing Sprint

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

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

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

The process

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

Figure 1. Four-step design process.

Step One: Learn & Evolve

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

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

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

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

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

Step Two: Discover

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

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

Step 3: Define

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

Figure 2. Various perspectives of ’Define’.

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

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

Step Four: Develop

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

Conclusions

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

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

Authors

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

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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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kuvituskuva

Simulaatiot haastavat opiskelutaitoja

Johdanto

Simulaatioilla tarkoitetaan erilaisia työelämää jäljitteleviä oppimistilanteita, joissa harjoitellaan tai ylläpidetään ammatissa tarvittavaa osaamista (Teräs, Poikela & Lahtela 2013). Simulaatioita on käytetty jo pitkään lentäjä- ja sotilaskoulutuksissa. Terveysalan koulutuksissa simulaatio-opetus on lisännyt suosiotaan viimeisen 10 vuoden aikana. Terveysalan simulaatioita tunnistetaan kolmenlaisia: eläviä, rakennettuja ja potilassimulaattorin avulla tapahtuvia. Elävissä simulaatioissa opiskelijat opiskelevat esimerkiksi näyttelijöiden kanssa vuorovaikutustaitoja. Rakennetut simulaatiot toimivat täysin tietokonemaailmassa ja voivat olla pelimäisiä. Potilassimulaattorit taas ovat tyypillisesti tietokoneohjattuja mallinukkeja, joiden teknologinen taso vaihtelee. (Banks & Sokolowski 2011.) Bland kollegoineen (2011) analysoi simulaatiokäsitettä hoitoalalla. He totesivat, että simulaatio oppimisstrategiana korosti dynaamista prosessia, joka muodostui viidestä kriittisestä piirteestä: 1) Luodaan hypoteettinen tilanne, 2) Jäljitellään aitoa työtilannetta 3) Osallistetaan opiskelijat 4) Integroidaan käytännöllinen ja teoreettinen oppiminen ja 5) Mahdollistetaan toisto, arviointi ja reflektio. Aikaisempi tutkimus simulaatiokoulutuksesta keskittyy pääosin itse simulaatiomenetelmään ja sen toteuttamiseen käytännössä sekä opiskelijoiden ja opettajien käsityksiin menetelmästä. Simulaatioiden on todettu olevan hyviä ja tehokkaita oppimisen muotoja esimerkiksi käytännön hoitotyön taitojen, tiimi- ja vuorovaikutustaitojen ja päätöksenteon oppimisessa. Lisäksi ne tuovat itsevarmuutta ja luottamusta omaan toimintaan. (Bland, Topping & Wood 2011; Poikela & Teräs 2015.)

Aikaisempi tutkimus ei ole niinkään tarkastellut sitä, millaisia opiskelutaitoja simulaatiot opiskelijalta edellyttävät. Perinteisesti opiskelutaidot ja -tekniikat, joita opiskelijoille opetetaan, liittyvät esimerkiksi muistiinpanojen tekemiseen, tehokkaaseen lukemiseen, erilaisten tekstien tuottamiseen, tenttiin valmistautumiseen ja tenttikysymyksiin vastaamiseen. Tässä artikkelissa pohdimme sitä, miten simulaatioissa opiskelu eroaa muista menetelmistä ja millaisia uudenlaisia opiskelutaitoja simulaatiot osallistujiltaan edellyttävät. Artikkeli pohjautuu tutkimusprojektiin Asiantuntijuuden oppiminen ja kehittyminen simulaatioiden avulla.

Simulaatiot haastavat todenmukaisuuteen

Tutkijat Nehring ja Lashley (2004) kuvasivat simulaatioiden haasteita mm. seuraavasti. Korkean tason simulaatioympäristö ja sen ylläpito vaativat resursointia. Todenmukaisten potilastapausten luominen ja toteuttaminen vaativat aikaa. Simulaatio-opetukseen osallistujien määrä on yleensä pieni. Osallistujat voivat jännittää simulaatioita ja tämä aiheuttaa sen, että kokonaiskuvan saamisen sijasta keskitytään joihinkin hoitotilanteen osatekijöihin. Toisaalta tutkijat kuvasivat simulaatioiden mahdollisuuksia mm. seuraavasti: Koulutuksen tavoitteiden ja osallistujan osaamisen välinen yhteys tulee paremmin näkyväksi. Osallistujan on mahdollista havaita hoitotoimenpiteiden vaikutukset paremmin kuin kirjallisuuden tai oikeiden potilaiden avulla opiskeltaessa. Osallistuja voi turvallisesti tehdä virheitä ja oppia niistä. Osallistujien itseluottamus, kriittinen ajattelu ja päätöksentekotaidot kehittyvät. (Nehring & Lashley 2004; Teräs & Jokela 2015)

[easy-tweet tweet=”Simulaatiossa tapahtuva koulutus koetaan luontevana siirtymänä teoriaopintojen ja tulevaisuuden työelämän välillä.” hashtags=”uasjournal, digitalisaatio”]

Herrington, Olivier ja Reeves (2003) tutkivat verkossa käytettäviä oppimistehtäviä. He näkevät oppimisen opiskelijan aktiivisena osallistumisena tehtäviin. He kuvasivat tehtäviä mm. seuraavien piirteiden avulla. Todenmukaiset oppimistehtävät:

  • heijastavat reaalimaailmaa asiaankuuluvasti
  • ovat epäselviä, joten ne vaativat opiskelijoita itse määrittelemään tehtävät ja osatehtävien toteuttamiseen tarvittavan toiminnan
  • ovat monimutkaisia tehtäviä, joita opiskelijat tutkivat pitkän aikaa
  • mahdollistavat tarkastelun eri näkökulmista ja erilaisten resurssien käytön
  • mahdollistavat yhteistyön tekemisen ja reflektion
  • voidaan integroida ja niitä voidaan soveltaa eri oppiaineissa ja myös oppiaineen ulkopuolella
  • on integroitu saumattomasti arviointiin
  • sallivat kilpailevia ratkaisuja ja monimuotoisia tuloksia. (Herrington ym. 2003, 62–63.)

Tutkijat painottivat, että opiskelijan on osattava asettaa tilanteen teennäinen luonne oikeaan painoarvoon tilanteen luomiin mahdollisuuksiin nähden ja kyettävä ”siirtämään epäilystään” tilanteen todenmukaisuudesta. Ilmiötä voi hyvin verrata tieteiselokuvan katsomiseen. Elokuvan juonen seuraaminen edellyttää sellaisten rakenteiden ja käsitteiden hyväksymisen, mitkä eivät todellisessa maailmassa olisi mahdollisia. Katsojan oletetaan näin siirtävän epäilystään todellisuudesta. (Kiias 2014.) Herringtonin kollegoineen esittämiä todenmukaisten tehtävien piirteitä voidaan siirtää myös simulaatio-opetukseen, jossa opiskelijalla on keskeinen ja aktiivinen rooli. Simulaatiotilanne vaatii opiskelijalta myös heittäytymistä (ammattilaisen tai omaisen roolin ottamista), oman epäilyksen siirtämistä (esim. ”Eihän tämä ole oikea hoitotilanne”), nopeata tilanteen kartoittamista ja omien tekojen seuraamusten tunnistamista kuten lääkeaineen vaikuttavuuden seuraamista. Todenmukaiset oppimistehtävät haastavat opiskelemaan monimutkaisia ja epämääräisiä tehtäviä, joihin on olemassa erilaisia vaihtoehtoisia ratkaisuja. Tehtävät vaativat ongelmanratkaisua, uuden tiedon keräämistä, rajojen ylittämistä, ryhmässä työskentelyä sekä reflektiota.

Simulaatioiden integrointi koulutukseen on tärkeää

Peter Dieckmann (2009) kuvasi simulaatiokoulutuksen prosessimallia ja sen integraatiota kurssiin seitsemän eri moduulin kautta. Ennen kurssin aloitusta opiskelijat saavat ennakkokatsauksessa (Pre-briefing) tietoa kurssin sisällöstä ja tavoitteista. Kurssin alkaessa (Setting intro) käydään läpi esimerkiksi aikataulu, tarkempi sisältö ja periaatteet. Simulaattorin ennakkotarkastuksen (Simulator briefing) aikana opiskelijat saavat tutustua käytössä olevaan tekniikkaan, potilassimulaattoriin ja oppimisympäristöön. Teoriavaiheen (Theory) aikana osallistujat saavat teoreettista tietoa liittyen kurssiin ja simulaatioon. Tapauksen toimintaohjevaiheessa (Case briefing) opiskelijat saavat tietoa itse harjoituksesta (Scenario). Esimerkiksi sen, missä ja mihin aikaan harjoitus tapahtuu, potilaan taustatiedot, mahdolliset annetut määräykset ja opiskelijoiden roolit simulaatiossa. Itse harjoitus ja jälkipuinti (Debriefing) muodostavat oppimiskokemuksen ytimen. Kurssin lopussa (Ending) tehdään yhteenveto kurssilla opituista asioista ja siitä kuinka opittua voidaan soveltaa (Application) käytännön työssä. (Dieckmann 2009.) Kuten todenmukaisten tehtävienkin kohdalla prosessimalli edellyttää opiskelijalta mm. kokonaistilanteen hahmottamista, yhteistyötä ja harjoitustilanteessa toimimista. Lisäksi prosessimalli edellyttää opiskelijalta sen ymmärtämistä, että simulaatio-oppiminen on harvoin suoraa eli lineaarista. Oppimistutkimuksesta tiedetään, että oppiminen on dynaaminen prosessi ja oppimista tapahtuu prosessin kaikissa eri vaiheissa. (Teräs & Jokela 2015.)

Tekeminen ja käytännönläheisyys erottavat simulaatio-opiskelun muista menetelmistä

Merkittävin ero simulaatio-opiskelussa on asioiden tekeminen, mitä usein verrataan lukemiseen, oppitunnilla kuunteluun, keskusteluun ja oppimistehtävien kirjoittamiseen. Erona on myös se, että simulaatioissa täytyy samanaikaisesti toimia ja ajatella, tehdä päätöksiä ja seurata päätösten vaikutuksia. Simulaatioissa toiset seuraavat tekemistä ja niitä myös videoidaan, mikä voi häiritä kokonaistilanteen hahmottamista. Opiskelijan aktiivisuus korostuu, sillä simulaatiot haastavat eri tavalla kuin luokka-opetus. Menetelmän käytännönläheisyys on toinen merkittävin ero verrattuna muihin opiskelumenetelmiin. Simulaatio-opiskelu vaatii osallistujilta erilaisten roolien ottamista ja roolin hyväksymistä. Käytännönläheisyydessä korostuvat kokonaistilanteen hallinta, asioiden monimuotoisuus, ja konkreettisuus, mitkä yhdistyvät nopeaan toimintaan, aikatauluihin ja priorisointiin. Ryhmätyöskentelyn ja kommunikaation harjoittelu mahdollistuu myös eri tavalla kuin luokkahuoneopetuksessa. Turvallisen ja ohjatun ympäristön käyttö koetaan yleensä itsevarmuutta kasvattavana ja se saa kiitosta luomastaan mahdollisuudesta harjaannuttaa kädentaitoja. Taitoja voidaan simulaatiotilanteissa harjoitella ilman, että joudutaan aiheuttamaan riskejä tai haittoja oikeille potilaille. Toisaalta jotkin näkemykset simulaatiossa opiskelusta voidaan nähdä osittain ristiriitaisina. Opetusmetodia kiitetään sen luomasta mahdollisuudesta teorian ja käytännöntyön yhdistämiseen kritisoiden samalla kuitenkin opetustilanteen ja todellisen työtilanteen eroavuutta, kuilua luodun ja aidon tilanteen välillä. (Kiias 2014.) Tässä voi nähdä Herringtonin ja kollegoiden mainitseman epäilyksen siirron. Simulaatioissa opiskelu vaatii opiskelijalta opetustilanteen keinotekoisuuden hyväksymistä. Simulaatiossa tapahtuva koulutus koetaan luontevana siirtymänä teoriaopintojen ja tulevaisuuden työelämän välillä. Dieckmannin prosessimalli hahmotta, kuinka menetelmä voidaan yhdistää kiinteämmäksi osaksi koulutusta. Simulaatioiden edellyttämät opiskelutaidot on siten tärkeää tehdä näkyväksi ja harjoitella niitä ennen simulaatiokoulutuksiin osallistumista.

Kirjoittajat

Marianne Teräs, yliopiston lehtori, FT, dosentti, Tukholman yliopisto, Kasvatustieteenlaitos, marianne.teras(at)edu.su.se
Sari Kiias, kasvatustieteiden kandidaatti, Helsingin yliopisto, Käyttäytymistieteiden laitos, sari.j.kiias(at)gmail.com
Jorma Jokela, yliopettaja FT, dosentti, Laurea-ammattikorkeakoulu, TKI-kehitysyksikkö, jorma.jokela(at)laurea.fi

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