Tag Archives: education

Marching towards new learning environments

The above title is modified from the Marching Towards Mars learning environment symposium organised in connection with the SciFest 2017 fair at the Joensuu Campus last week, where our experts together with e.g. NASA astronauts discussed future innovative learning environments and technologies.

Globalisation, digitalisation and robotisation are changing societies, living environments, as well as working life faster than probably ever before in the history of humankind. These changes provide huge opportunities for us, but at the same time, they challenge our current way of life in all possible senses, including education.

We have to face these complicated challenges through thematic, multidisciplinary approaches to research and education. So far, the Finnish educational system has been very successful in providing discipline and subject specific expertise for its students. In addition to these skills, we have to equip our students with the skills needed for acting in multidisciplinary and multiprofessional groups working together to solve the great challenges.

UEF has set the goal to be the best academic learning environment in Finland. However, we cannot do it alone, and we need partners to form ecosystems to increase the societal impact of our education and research.

One exciting example of such an ecosystem is the NASA Epic Challenge programme, where our students, together with partners from companies and other universities, are seeking solutions for the mankind to conquer the planet Mars in 2030s.

We are also building the Global Education Park Finland together with the city of Joensuu and other collaborators to form a platform for the development of modern learning environments in Finnish primary schools.

Through these ecosystems, we also teach ourselves as an organisation to operate in open platforms that are essential in this increasingly complicated world.

Jukka Mönkkönen

Natural sciences – A joint challenge in Finland

Last week, the Deans of universities offering natural sciences in Finland came together in Kuopio to discuss the challenges we are facing in university level education. A common view on the challenging situation of natural sciences in Finland was shared, and universities are also seeking ways to improve the attractiveness of natural sciences in the Finnish school system in general. At all levels of education, starting from the elementary school, there are serious attempts also by UEF to contribute to a better future of natural sciences in Finland. As a negative mood or giving up is not helping us, we must seek new ideas and practices, even if everything we try may not be a success.

The development of Bachelor’s programmes with a wide scope and, subsequently, highly focused Master’s programmes is a strategic approach in the Faculty of Science and Forestry in UEF. However, we should probably think the scope of our Bachelor’s programmes similarly as they do in the University of Helsinki. At the first stage of planning in UEF, these programmes were planned to include a maximum number of compulsory courses for all students. However, following the Helsinki model, at Bachelor’s level, the contents should be based on the individual choices of each student. Of course, we have to link the contents of the Bachelor’s programmes to the Master’s programmes the student is eligible to take later on. Personal guidance and supervision of each student then plays a critical role.

We have to share experiences from the initiatives of other Finnish universities and apply the good practices we learn from each other. Indeed, this is a learning process for us all, and failures will be part of the game. At the Master’s level, we have to design programmes that are unique to UEF, build on the strengths of our university and address problems of the modern world. Then, I believe, the programmes can be attractive also to future students of UEF.  Based on the discussion in the Deans’ meeting, I am confident that the faculties of natural sciences in Finnish universities will do their part to promote the importance of education, also in the field of natural sciences, for the success of future societies.

Jukka Jurvelin

Students make the university

A research institute is an organisation with active scientists working on chosen scientific fields and topics. Based on that, any university is also a research institute. In UEF, the Faculty of Science and Forestry can call itself an intensive research institute.   An institute with teaching activity is traditionally called a school. A university also has a commitment to teaching its students. Actually, through teaching universities educate new researchers and professionals. As research and teaching are thus linked, to be a true university, both activities must be in order. In the strategy of UEF, both missions are appreciated and ideas for development are provided. My faculty makes 2/3 of its income from output that is related to research. It does not mean that our departments with a high level of research can ignore teaching; instead we must make a significant effort in the development of teaching to be convincing as a university faculty.  The development of learning environments is not the only instrument that is needed for future success in teaching.

In UEF, university students will judge if our teaching activities are of high quality. Students can also tell us potential flaws in our teaching arrangements and practices. Therefore, students’ feedback, and our analysis of that feedback should provide the basis for the development of our teaching activities. The feedback should not only guide us for the optimal development of our teaching system as a whole, but also help individual teachers to develop their own ways of teaching. As many of us recognise, the university’s feedback systems may not be optimal and development is obviously needed. However, I am sure that useful feedback can be received any moment provided that we appreciate its importance, have regular contacts and informal relationships with our students.  The quality system of UEF, when functioning as expected, will certainly pinpoint potential problems in teaching.

In natural sciences, the recruitment of new, talented students is a true challenge. We have to work in many ways to be successful in the future. To help ourselves, we need the support of our present students. Their positive experience and satisfaction with the university education they have received serves as the most important basis for success in the competition for future students.

Jukka Jurvelin

Jukka Jurvelin
Dean of the Faculty of Science and Forestry

From knowledge dosing to open access

A learning environment is a whole created by the physical, social and pedagogical environment, and on many levels, it affects what and how we learn. For the outcome, the way we learn is at least as important as the things we learn: it affects our ability to utilise the skills we have learned in working life later on.

Dating back to medieval convent schools, the traditional unidirectional teaching method in which the teacher transfers knowledge to the student continues to prevail, although the world around us has changed drastically. In some specific fields, this method can produce good individual players, but it doesn’t train the skills of collaborative working needed in today’s working life.

Thanks to digitization, the production and sharing of knowledge has experienced a revolution. This, too, calls for new skills which we do not gain from traditional learning methods. When working to solve complex problems, we need to be able to produce and share information both alone and together. We need expertise that is built on a diverse base combining formal knowledge, non-formal knowledge and experiential knowledge. In today’s world, lifelong learning is supplemented by lifewide learning.

We live in a world that is characterised by fundamentally open access to information, and we need to make fundamental changes to our philosophy of teaching and learning. We need to move from controlled, unidirectional dosing of knowledge to collaborative learning between teachers and learners, which enhances social sharing of knowledge, networked expertise and teamwork skills. Teaching facilities and technologies are tools we can use to support this, but first and foremost, we need to change our operating culture.

A change in the operating culture requires that we take an open attitude towards knowledge and that we have the courage to give our ideas to be tested in larger forums. An important task of the teachers is to encourage students to solve problems and help them mine their way through open and extensive data resources.

Jukka_Monkkonen_100X130Jukka Mönkkönen

MEP elections – who’s interested in education and research?

I couldn’t resist the temptation to try out a voting advice application. YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, has made its voting advice application into a nice entertainment package that one can enjoy with or without sound.

Peace, security, jobs, equality, federal state, climate change, economy, debt and tax paradises are words frequently found in the descriptions of the MEP candidates in YLE’s voting advice application. I read through three election promises from 200 Finnish MEP candidates, and only two of them mention education and one mentions research.

“We need to ensure a high level of education and research – for growth and employment,” says a candidate of the Swedish People’s Party of Finland.  “I promise to promote tuition-free education in the EU and to defend tuition-free education in Finland,” says a candidate of the Left Alliance.

Are things really so well in Europe that education and research are nowhere near the top of the priority list? Or are they just being taken for granted? Or do we have other, more pressing problems that need solving? Or is it just safer to address the same trendy themes as everybody else?

We shouldn’t forget that education and research play a role in creating the foundations for peace, security, equality, stable economic development, innovations and new jobs.

On the other hand, the EU offers funding opportunities for education and research, and we have just witnessed the launch of the Erasmus+ and Horizon2020 programmes. The door to internationalisation, networking and conducting research is open. All we have to do is to seize this opportunity.

Although the Finnish MEP candidates don’t seem to be that much interested in issues of importance to the academic community, I encourage everyone to vote nonetheless. It’s important to have skilled people in the European Parliament.

Hilkka Soininen (2) Hilkka Soininen