Take your phone out at lectures!

28.03.2017

You use a dozen different mobile applications, but making a functional Excel worksheet seems like an impossible task. You can easily find streaming services for American TV series, but finding the route to online science journals seems like an insurmountable challenge. The media hypes the thriving gaming industry, but your role in game stores is only that of a client. Does this sound familiar?

In a recent issue of Yliopisto (2/17), Lecturer in Information and Communication Technology Ari Myllyviita bemoans how the concept of the digital native is misdirecting the educational world. People who have spent their childhood and youth in the Internet era do not necessarily have particularly good ICT skills. Conscious effort is needed to teach digital skills in basic and upper secondary education if we wish to see these skills develop.

As long as this is not taken care of, the problem will be visible in universities too. Trends such as digital humanism and anything utilising big data will never reach their full potential if students are not at a sufficient starting level.

Fortunately, the problem has been noticed. This year, the University of Helsinki launched the digital leap project. Degree programmes taking part in the project have promising plans for using new digital teaching aids. These include the utilisation of mixed reality technologies, practising corporate software engineering and algorithms that automatically revise coursework.

Paradoxically, there is a simultaneous excess and lack of digital platforms. Chair of HYY’s Board Laura Luoto raised the issue in her keynote speech in the Learning Adventure event: Students might have to search for information related to a course from WebOodi, Moodle, the websites of the faculty and the degree programme, email, a separate course website, the University’s wiki platform, Opinder and Flamma. Additionally, students use unofficial platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp groups formed by the students themselves. As data related to students is opening, commercial actors are entering the markets.

Director Jaakko Kurhila from the Open University has called digitalisation a smoke screen that can be used to develop teaching as a whole. Electronic platforms promote problem-based learning, peer learning and the flipped classroom approach in which the central tasks and materials are available to students before face-to-face teaching occurs. In an ideal situation, students do not use mobile phones to snapping pics during lectures – instead, they use mobile applications related to the lecture.

At the same time, existing electronic basic services must be developed and new ones sought by testing new innovations and more functional electronic teaching methods. Projects and monetary funding might advance the cutting edge, but changing the entire culture requires work and enthusiasm on the grassroots level.

It is the students’ task to convince the teaching staff that electronic platforms ease their workload and improve learning results even if their initial implementation might require teachers to step out of their comfort zone momentarily. For instance, the electronic exam room and its flexible times for taking exams make it easier for students with a family to complete courses. At the same time, the electronic exam room lessens the workload of the unit as the need for traditional paper exams decreases and improves the availability of course books as everyone completing the course is not hoarding the same book at the same time just before the faculty exam.

The University of Helsinki was once again ranked among the top one hundred universities in the world in the QS World University Rankings. The University must aim to become a top university in terms of teaching too. A successful digital leap might make this a reality.

Heikki Isotalo
Specialist in educational policy

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