Blog 6 by Anneli – How I communicate a writing task for students?

Writing tasks in my courses are question-answer type and template based. In question-answer tasks students are answering to given questions. To find answers they are studying certain materials which are available in the course e-learning environment and via JYU digital library. They know which material to study and where they find it. They can answer to questions in groups or individually. Type of writing is free form, the main issue is to write a correct answer – length is not so relevant. In template-based tasks students are using very structured template with section and subsection titles defined. The guidelines for the content in each section or subsection are also described in the templates. Students are working in groups with small software requirements development projects the subject of which they can choose themselves. So they apply the template for the project of their own. In both cases, question-answer type and template based, I have prepared clear guidelines for them with examples. I have developed these guidelines year by year based on students’ feedback and my own experience. Now it seems to work well, because the amount of questions from students has decreased and the quality of writing tasks has become better.

Blog 5 by Anneli – Teaching practices or methods from languages perspective

Problem/task based learning and progressive inquiry are the pedagogical models which I apply in my courses (advance level courses). Group working is one of the main working modes. Independent study is also possible, especially in summer courses. Teaching language is English meaning that all course materials are in English and my emails to course email list are in English. In case course has several Finnish students but very few foreign students, I write emails both in English and in Finnish (double work for me but can prevent misunderstandings). Finnish students can do their course outcomes in English or in Finnish. They decide the language in groups. Many groups use English because it is, globally thinking, the working language in software development business, and it saves them for translating the course vocabulary to Finnish.  Multilingual groups are  using English as they working language. This may be a challenge for some students. I try to encourage the group manager and group members to work together. Sometimes it is hard job, sometimes things go smoothly.

In my web-based courses “Course guidelines” is one of the most essential documents. I have edited this document year by year according to students’ questions when they do not understand what to do. Now I think it working quite well because no questions are coming in anymore. I have noticed that it is extremely important to say/write very clearly with simple words what are the course rules and guidelines.

Blog 4 by Anneli – Teaching in English

My learners are and will be working in small, medium and large size software development projects both in public and in private sectors. Their roles (maybe also job titles) are team leaders, projects managers, requirements analysts and software developers. They are working with multi-cultural and multi-lingual stakeholders and in multi-cultural and multi-lingual teams. The main working language is English.

My teaching, research and PhD/MSc supervising field is requirements engineering (RE). Requirements engineering is related to development of software-intensive systems. A software-intensive system is an interrelated set of human activities, supported by computer technology. The requirements express the purpose of such a system. They allow us to say something meaningful about how good a particular system is, by exposing how well it suits its purpose. Or, more usefully, they allow us to predict how well it will suit its purpose, if we design it in a particular way.

The idea of human-centered design is crucial – the real goal of an engineering process is to improve human activities in some way, rather than to build some technological artifact. Requirements engineering applies to the development of all software-intensive systems and contains a set of activities for discovering, analysing, documenting, validating and maintaining a set of system requirements.

Requirements engineering is above all a communication process, and the communication language is English. It is very natural that English is the teaching language in my courses (in addition to that the course belongs to faculty’s international programs). My students learn RE vocabulary in English which is an important key to the field. They also learn to discuss, write free form and structured form reports in English about topics related to RE. For me as a supervising teacher, it is a great issue to teach in English – helps me in research, in international collaborations and we do not have to invent clumsy translations for RE vocabulary.

So in RE course we have at least a common working language and a common RE vocabulary. In heterogeneous groups that is important and useful. My learners differ not only in native languages (or national dialects) and in academic skills but also in age and working experience. I have noticed that in groups it is a good idea to have a role which I call a group manager. This works. Working experience is a great issue when groups are peer reviewing each other. In this way we can benefit the knowledge they have gained in real working life.

Blog 3 by Anneli – Conceptualization of culture

What a tricky title! It is so nice and safe to organize things/concepts into boxes or folders. What if a thing or a concept belongs to several different boxes or folders? If you want to find them you take copies and put one copy to every box it belongs or as Ted Nelson, the inventor of hypertext and hypermedia did, you build links between these things. Culture seems now for me a context sensitive concept – changing like an ameba from situation to another. One of my favorite definitions of culture is: “Culture is embodied in how people interact with other individuals and with their environment; it is a way of life formed under specific historical, natural and social conditions” (Special Issue: AI and Cultural Heritage, IEEE Intelligent System, 2009, Vol. 24, No.2).

A letter from the Editor was also very interesting for me during those days (Wang, F-Y., 2009. Is Culture Computable? A Letter from the Editors, Special Issue: AI and Cultural Heritage, IEEE Intelligent System, Vol. 24, No.2, pp. 2-3).

Cultural computing has been my entrance to cultural research world some 20 years ago when I stated collaboration with my Japanese colleagues. We have developed computational methods (image processing) for comparing Japanese and Finnish color worlds in art, cross-cultural virtual museums and icon languages for clearly defined applications. The more I worked with my Japanese colleagues the more I started to read literature related to Japan and culture. At the beginning Hofstede’s, Lewis’s and Hall’s research helped me to start. Their models are like frameworks – not to be taken literally. I think that it is good to be aware of these when you do business abroad and also in multi-cultural team working in international software industry. It is not putting people into boxes but realizing that our societies, backgrounds and every day manners are different.

For example gift giving is very important and it has a lot of semantics in Japan. (Please do not give beautiful Finnish hand-made candles as Christmas presents for your Japanese friend, as I did before I started to study some cultural basics. Candles are related to dead persons in Japan.) My experiences have brought me up year by year. My Japanese colleagues have been my best teachers. Nowadays when we are working together and when we are very excited we forget where we come from – as if we are creating a neutral joint space. However after joint working sessions we have to have our feet on ground and face the cultural context where we are.

I like very much “culture” as a verb. Thank you for Margarethe for introducing this. Culturing has exactly been the key point in our Japan-Finland joint research – we just called it cross-cultural. In the future I will vote for “both – and” approach to cultural research in other words integrating traditional cultural views and modern cultural views. Before this will happen, perhaps you find something interesting from the following article.

Parrish and J.A. Linder-VanBerschot, “Cultural dimensions of learning: Addressing the challenges of multicultural instruction,” The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, vol. 11, pp. 1-19, 2010.

Blog 2 by Anneli – Piller’s article

My initial thoughts about the article: The paper is very interesting and analytically written. It was also a big surprise for me that linguistic approach seems to be a negligible aspect in intercultural communication literature. I think language is one output of communication in addition to gestures and facial expressions. Language also reflects the way we picture the world. However, I am sure we all know, that sometimes it is very difficult to express oneself only by words. In Piller’s article I liked the way she leaded the reader to understand the fuzziness of “culture” as a concept. (Curiosity: A similar kind of fuzzy concept is “context”. One of the leading context researchers Professor Patrick Brézillon is maintaining a database of context definitions found in research literature. There are hundreds of items in the database.)

In page 10, there is an example of the word “yes” and its several meanings depending on context in Japanese (and in other languages). However, in Japan case there is a deeper story behind. My colleagues from Keio University have taught me that “harmony” is one of the key concepts and a way of living for Japanese. It has developed over the millenniums and is a follow-up of huge population living in such a small area. They say “harmony” can also be considered as a survival strategy. So Japanese try to avoid saying “no”, they say “yes” instead, to keep the harmony.

How do Piller’s points possibly apply to “interculturality” in the academic classroom? In case there might be a risk for misunderstanding in communication because of (English) language, I have asked a student to explain by his/her own words what we have discussed, how he/she has understood my story. I use this in supervising sessions. It seems to work, because then I see if the student has understood at all what we have been talking (nodding and say “yes” are not enough). Another approach, closely related to teaching subject (software development), is defining an unambiguous vocabulary that we all use in the course in question.

What are your own experiences as teachers in higher education: when are (cultural) differences evoked and why? Or are they? I have faced cultural differences in supervising (master and PhD) students and collaborating with researchers from different Asian countries (Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam). I think it is richness not a burden. I admire for example the skill of visual thinking among my colleagues from Japan and Thailand. I have thinking that their language might be one reason for this skill – every mark is like a little piece of art.

Ok, ok. Differences can also be due to academic skills, different kind of school systems, society welfare in general etc. Altogether, Piller’s article was refreshing reading for me.

Blog 1 by Anneli – Technology and education

Technology is a present tool. It can help, support and make more versatile “something” we are doing. However, the “something” comes first and technology after that. There are a lot of hype concerning for example e-learning. I am very interesting in modelling, designing, applying and using technological tools in education. Sometimes I also forget the first sentences I just wrote.

I am applying digital technology for example for communication, interaction, material delivery (slides, video lectures, e-books, guidelines) and feedback giving. My learners also get familiar with different e-platforms which are reality in working life.

I am using several technological tools and environments in my teaching activities (advanced level courses). For example normal PC tools for document creation, management and monitoring learners’ progress. As e-learning environments, I am using Korppi, Optima, Koppa, Moodle, TIM, “Moniviestin” and Skype. I also prepare video lectures in Agora’s “tila-studio”. Email and Skype are very important for me in teaching, supervising and communicating with my learners and colleagues in Finland and abroad.

I have designed my web courses by means of many iterative steps based on my own experiences and learners’ feedback. Basically, I am applying pedagogical models such as project based learning and progressive inquiry in my web-based courses. My courses have clear and scheduled (phased) structure. My role, as I am calling myself, is serving as a supervising teacher.

Recorded audio feedback (RAF) is a new medium that I am excited in giving feedback for my learners and learner groups. I have done research on RAF at JYU and Keio University (Japan). My plan is to adopt RAF as a feedback medium.

“Are we introducing technology enough, is it correct to think that students already know…”. This is an excellent point. As I am working in the Faculty of Information Technology, I may expect too much. I also rely on that our learners are technologically-oriented. However, I introduce the tech tools in my introduction lecture, but I am expecting that learners have basic skills to use for example Korppi, Optima and e-books. If not, I will guide them to support services (IT support and library courses). My courses do not include “tech hype”, only basic tools. “How to work and learn with instructional technologies…” In JYU context, working and learning goes hand in hand. Almost in every academic year we have some new or updated system to use. Sometimes it takes a lot of time (+nerves) and sometimes it is fun.

About Henderson et al. article. It was interesting to read this. I think the article was mainly about digital tools and media in studying, not so much doing with learning or learning processes. I missed pedagogical context. However the article was well written and explained clearly how the study was done. Only one issue related to learning process was highlighted “seeing information in different ways”. According to the article some students described this as leading to deeper learning. For example visualization and demonstrations are very important in mathematical and natural sciences. In this context the article introduced – but not defined – the concept “digital pedagogy”. In Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_pedagogy) : “Digital pedagogy is the study and use of contemporary digital technologies in teaching and learning. Digital pedagogy may be applied to online, hybrid, and face-to-face learning environments. In Digital Pedagogy Lab (http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/digitalpedagogy/): “Digital pedagogy is precisely not about using digital technologies for teaching and, rather, about approaching those tools from a critical pedagogical perspective. So, it is as much about using digital tools thoughtfully as it is about deciding when not to use digital tools, and about paying attention to the impact of digital tools on learning.” This sounds good :-).