Agents of change

UEF launches a pilot project to create a truly modern learning environment – starting from teachers’ mindsets.

In a pilot project starting at the beginning of 2016, 43 UEF teachers are given time off other duties to develop their teaching with the help of pedagogical and technical experts.

“The aim is to implement the flipped classroom learning model in a variety of disciplines and courses,” says Markku Saarelainen (in the photo above), UEF’s newly-appointed Learning Development Manager, who leads the pilot.

According to Saarelainen, universities are in a race to attract students with top-notch learning facilities. “But changes in the physical learning environment only serve students if they are based on improved pedagogical models.”

In a flipped classroom setting, the traditional order of teaching and self-study is reversed. Instead of the teacher introducing the new material to students in class, they study the material on their own first, after which class time can be dedicated to problem solving, analysis and applying the knowledge.

“Online lectures enable the students to acquire knowledge where and when it suits them best, and as teachers no longer need to spend their time and expertise on transmitting knowledge, they can focus on supporting students to achieve higher levels of learning.”

As a lecturer at the Department of Applied Physics, Saarelainen started flipping his classes eight years ago and says there’s no going back. “The pass rate on my electricity course rocketed from 20 to 90 per cent after I introduced the flipped classroom. Other lecturers in our department have started to apply similar methods as well.”

With funding from the University Properties of Finland, the premises of the department have also been renovated to support student-centred learning, group work and self-study instead of traditional lectures.

In the ongoing pilot, each teacher gets hands-on guidance in reconstructing one of their courses in line with the flipped model, from how to cover crucial learning steps to preparing online lectures and interactive classes, mastering the technology and involving students. In addition, they form a network, sharing ideas and spreading the wave of flipped teaching throughout the university. The pilot will also be a subject of research for education researchers.

Senior Lecturer Sanna Pasonen-Seppänen and medical student Anton Lin take a look at a digitised tissue sample.

“I really appreciate the fact that the development of learning environments has been set as a strategic goal at UEF,” says Senior Lecturer, Docent Sanna Pasonen-Seppänen from the Institute of Biomedicine.

Her goal in the pilot is to modernise her histology course, starting from practical classes that have been largely based on individual microscopy work on histological tissue samples. “Our new virtual microscopy environment enables team-based learning, as students can work together on the same sample on their tablets and classroom touchscreens. I want to step away from teacher-focused teaching to support their interaction.”

“Later I will also replace some of my lectures with video lectures, focusing on the core aspects of the course.” University Teacher Sinikka Kettunen from the Language Centre is going to apply the flipped model to the advanced Swedish course for law students. “One outcome will be more web-based and distance learning, for which there is a need among many students.”

“Students find traditional lectures boring. Passive listening leads more to memorising than understanding things. I want to offer them more of those ‘aha!’ moments, where they really internalise the subject matter,” says Senior Researcher Lasse Heikkinen from the Department of Applied Physics.

 “When I told them I’m going to flip my modern physics course as a pilot, they asked me why I didn’t flip all the courses right away.”

“I’m going to make my two-campus course more effective, more flexible and above all, more pedagogically sensible both for myself and my students,” says Senior Lecturer Helena Kantanen, who teaches marketing, communication and change management at the Business School.

“Students appreciate new technologies and alternative ways to take courses. Class teaching is still valued, though, as long as it entails discussion. It doesn’t hurt to have a little fun in class once in a while, either.”

Flipped classroom pilot 2016–2017

  • Involves 43 teachers from 25 UEF units
  • Each pilot teacher dedicates 8 weeks’ work to preparing a flipped course
  • Individual tutoring from the pilot leader
  • Tailored technological and pedagogical support from IT Services, and Student and Learning Services
  • The flipped teachers’ network offers peer support and spreads the model throughout UEF
  • Education researchers carry out a study of the pilot

Text Ulla Kaltiala Photos Raija Törrönen