Perfectly normal teaching

I recently wrote a blog post to my university’s education blog titled “Perfectly normal teaching” (Aivan tavallista opetusta). The main point was to remind teachers of the need to value established and “normal” teaching practices, and to share them with others as well. In my eyes, there is a tendency to highlight the “new” and “innovative”, and to focus on various types of development initiatives, while established best practices are often bypassed or taken for granted. Especially in situations or organisational change, such as when departments are joined together, or new personnel are recruited, it would be important to remember to share existing practices no matter how self-evident they may feel. In short, it is important to make structures visible.

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No, not this traditional teaching…

In this spirit, I want to collect here some highlights from the teaching I participated in the spring of 2017:

 

  • On the Newsgames -course, organised jointly between our dept. and the Faculty of Information Technology, student teams worked on three different game projects, including: A game on the life stories of Finns born in 1917, illustrating the drastic way our life has changed in the 100 years of Finnish independence; a game on cybercrime, illustrating the ease of making simple attacks, and how unlikely it is to get caught; a game on the every day decisions a medical doctor has to make, illustrating the difficulty of doing medical work ethically while not being overworked in the process.
  • On the Communication in Global Virtual Teams -course, student teams worked on a variety of wonderful topics, producing presentations and final reports on topics such as: Perspectives on Team Development in Virtual Setting; Social Tolerance in Global Virtual Teams; and Diversity Management in Global Virtual Teams
  • On the Media and Online Cultures -course, we used a very traditional lecture format (with visitors!) to take a look at themes such as social media and participatory culture, communication in online communities, theories of technology-mediated communication, new and emerging trends in journalism, contemporary media landscape as a (contested) site for bringing about change in the world, and many others.

And of course many others as well, including MA theses on too many topics to discuss here. There is always a lot happening within the hallowed walls of the university institute! As always, it has been an honour to work with talented and motivated students and to witness the way their thinking and understanding evolves.

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Newsgames going forward

Last year I had the pleasure of working together with talented people both from our department and that of Computer Sciences in a pilot project looking into the creation and reception of newsgames. What are newsgames, you might ask, and for a good reason. The seminal book published by Bogost, Ferrari and Schweizer in 2010 keeps the door open for a variety of manifestations (including ponderings on crossword puzzles), but in our project, we focused more clearly on contemporary digital games and game-like interactive data-journalistic experiments.

Now, this spring we are at it again, this time with the local newspaper Keskisuomalainen, with the intention of exploring in practice what newsgames could be and how one could go about creating them. We have three very talented teams working on designs as I write this, ready to pitch their initial ideas to the news organization in our next meeting. We will be keeping a close eye on this project, and try to report the outcomes of this particular type of project-based learning later on.

If you are interested in this particular topic, please contact me and let’s see what we can do together!

Are we blinded by choice?

Courtesy of Young SIETAR‘s Facebook-feed I just stumbled upon this fascinating talk by Sheena Iyengar about choice and the way that our perception of it differs culturally: http://www.ted.com/talks/sheena_iyengar_on_the_art_of_choosing.html?source=facebook#.T8rzHQIP3qE.facebook.

It got me thinking about international students in Finnish universities. While I don’t know how we compare to people from the United States in general, I do feel that we Finns generally value choice tremendously. Especially with the history of living next to a model of a society with limited or no choice (the Soviet Union -era countries), choice has presented itself as something to be proud of. For example, at our Department the freedom of students to choose their M.A. thesis topic is almost sacred, and it has become almost a shared fantasy (in the sense of Ernst Bormann‘s Symbolic Convergence theory) to separate ourselves from those departments and subjects where students are given topics by the staff. However, on many an occasion I have encountered students who struggle enormously with this choice, and who would much rather have a limited set of alternatives or a ready-made topic instead of choosing freely.

Now, I don’t want to make cultural generalizations, since I have also met Finns who have trouble with the total freedom of choice we offer them, but I have the feeling that with some international M.A. students the issue is even stronger. Perhaps they are used to an educational culture where students have limited choice, or perhaps their other cultural upbringing has not prepped them for what we expect here, but I have seen my share of troubled students who struggle with the choices related to writing a Master’s thesis all the way throughout the process.

Could it be that we need to become more sensitive to this (baffling) possibility that our students might not want to have the choice? Might there be other ways to operate, or if we agree that choice is *that* important, how could we train our students better in the art of making them?