Blended learning in higher education: Theory and practice in Finland

A week ago I gave a keynote at the Universidad de Ibagué in Tolima, Colombia. The Universidad de Ibagué is very advanced in the use of ICT in education. Most of the professors use Moodle with their in-campus courses and the university is strongly training and supporting its teaching staff to improve their course design and pedagogy with digital tools.

The slides of my talk are here.

In my talk I told a long story all the way from the Finnish geography and history to my University and my pedagogical thinking and teaching practice. In the end I also showed some snippets from my research.

You may ask why to explain the geography and history of Finland when giving a talk about pedagogy and use of ICT in higher education?

I think that the context — the cultural-historical reality — where we come from and live in is extremely important. I come from Finland, whatever I may sometimes try to act as some kind of citizen of the world. The history of my people, language and culture shapes the way I see the world. My talk makes more sense if people know a bit of the world where I come from.

What is universal, however, is that educational methods, pedagogy and technology used in and for teaching and learning is changing. Many people do not understand how much it is actually changing. It is not naive to compare the changes we are facing to the changes caused by the invention of the movable type in 1000 A.D. in China and about 400 years later in Europe. In Europe it was the starting point for communities of scientists and universities as we know them today. With the printing press the new scientific discoveries were communicated and disseminated across the Europe in a speed never seen before.

With the Internet and the Web we are again living transition time. Now the change is not primary happening in Europe, but everywhere. The price of communication, the price to deliver information is becoming close to zero. This is forcing educators to reconsider their practices.

It means, that higher education relying only to classical lectures is coming to the end. In educational planning we should have a “digital first” strategy. We should aim to have all the learning materials and a large part of course communication such as announcements and assignments, in addition to administrative tasks all in the open web. When we have done this we must think, what shall we anymore do in the classroom?

Some people are on that opinion that nothing, that we may turn of the lights and close the door. I disagree.

I think the classroom time can be very valuable — more valuable with the “digital first” approach than in most cases ever before. In a classroom students may have access to the tacit knowledge of the academic community. In the classroom — of which most should be modified to me laboratories, studios and workshops — students can see and take part in experts way of working. Problem based learning and progressive inquiry, where students are asked to do research in small groups, is one way to do it. And in the introduction courses we may give students homeworks, ask them to read and watch video lectures and then use the classroom time to discuss about the content.

On the other hand, in addition to becoming an expert in some field, there is a real need to learn skills that will help to work in multidisciplinary groups. Essential is to learn to understand other competences — to respect them and to get excited about them. Therefore part of the studies should take place in multidisciplinary study projects focusing on to solve real world problems with others.

I ended my talk with a slide advertising my latest research article, the first one in Spanish. Here is a link in to article:

Teemu Leinonen, Eva Durall Gazulla (in press): Pensamiento de diseño y aprendizaje colaborativo. Comunicar. Revista Cientifica de Communicación y Educación.

Finally, I want to thank everyone at the Universidad de Ibagué who made my stay easy and pleasant, even when I missed my meetings and forgot to have my phone with me. Really nice people. Thank you!

One thought on “Blended learning in higher education: Theory and practice in Finland

  1. Thanks for the post.

    In regards to the classroom possible obsolescence, in light of online materials, I heard the other day that, a few years ago, Yahoo and Google started discouraging its workers from working remotely from home. The reason was, roughly speaking, that the transfer of ideas – particularly sponteanous ones – and knowledge was significantly hampered by people not being in the same place.

    Also, in regards to the scientific revolution. Some of the key developments of the scientific revolution happened in the 17C with the formation of the Royal Society in the UK. Several key scientists, Hooke, Boyle, Newton, Bacon, etc… thought knowledge suggested in the universities was more of opinion than testable fact, and too much subject to the church’s thinkings.
    Besides them introducing the modern concept of testable science, they thought it best science be distributed as far and freely as possible (well, given the communication technology of the time).
    So they introduced the journals, and tried to keep the scientific community knowledgeable about what the different scientists were doing.
    There’s very much a parallel in educational materials in the age of the networked societies. A mental shift for how materials are made available, and how collaboration happens, needs to go hand in hand with the technological layer.
    Good to see open educational materials being developed, and as noted earlier, for the importance of human collaboration, virtually and physically, to be furthered.


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