On our teaching activity and on technology in general

Today (12.11.2018), we presented our teaching activity, which hopefully demonstrated the myriad possibilities of digital platforms for collaborative academic projects. The activity went quite well and all the groups were able to create collective libraries (in Mendeley) and comment each others’ articles. Planning and executing this activity made me think more generally of the possibilities and limits of similar kinds of platforms for teaching purposes. Many teachers already use message boards and even chat-applications (such as Slack) in their teaching, and it makes me wonder if I too should update my devices for the 21th century..

Yet it is interesting how these platforms can, in no way, compete with actual human to human interaction, for example, small group discussions or other, rather analog technologies. I’ve taken part in many courses which have used message boards but the disussions have always felt rather forced and bored. They’ve never really taken off, so to speak and I’ve never gotten almost anything from them. Using message boards or chats is somewhat easy for the teachers however as posts and comments are easy to quantify…

The same comparison goes to lecturing with fancy, flashy and colourful powerpoints and other multimedias, which are nowadays tought to be an obligatory part of all teaching. Yes, they can help, but at the same time I can clearly remember the legendary lectures of professor Taneli Kukkonen, who simply walked into the classroom with a coffee cup in his hand and started to talk about the history of ideas in the Islamic world without any notes or what so ever. Sometimes he would write something on the chalkboard, maybe some crucial years or names, but that was it. Without a structural aide such as a powerpoint, he also occasionally drifted away from the core topic, but at all times he was sharp, captivating and conversational with his students. His method and his devices were not that much differen, I can imagine, from the good teachers through all ages of history.

I remember him and his wildly running arabic script on the chalkboard but I have no such memories of any powerpoint presentations.

And I am not a luddite by the way.

Dialogue and Dialogic Pedagogy in Classrooms

A topic that constantly arises with context to pedagogy are the dimensions of dialogue and classroom interactions. In my own research and in deliberations with others, this is a topic I enjoy exploring and engaging in. In this post I explore the meanings of dialogic pedagogy and some aspects from academic literature speckled with ideas and thoughts from my own understanding. This is an area that I have been exploring a lot in my own classes and one key observation has been students warming up to the idea of critical thinking, reflective thinking, constructive dialogue and this translating in to reflective writing pieces. This seems to be a process that flows very naturally as long as students feel connected to the topic and the trigger questions being discussed in class. It almost seems like a self-discovery that they actually enjoy this process and the possibilities that open up through these kind of interactions. So what does dialogic pedagogy sound like?

Moving beyond education from just being a cognitive process with quantifiable terms of assessment, dialogic pedagogy affirms the true meaning of education being an open, free learning oriented process enabled through purposeful dialogue. It also aims towards being a transformative process for the individual and all those involved.

In teaching that is more dialogic than transmissive, the key principles include collectiveness where teachers and students address learning tasks together, reciprocity which involves listening, sharing and open to alternative viewpoints, supportive in that the atmosphere is one of openness and non-judgemental, cumulative in that teachers and students build synergy based on the each other’s ideas and that it is purposeful in nature since talk is done with specific goals in mind. (Alexander, 2008, pp. 102-104.).

The nature of the classroom discourses has an enormous influence on the way students experience learning. Dialogic teaching involves interactions that is speckled with authentic questions from both the teachers and the students, although the answers to these questions are never specific but the dialogue itself lends meaning through the students responses.

In a dialogic classroom, when we get students to engage with one another effectively through dialogue with others, we are definitely encouraging a much needed higher order skill, which involves creativity, reasoning, evaluating and reflective self-monitoring. These are practiced in the process of having meaningful dialogue. Becoming more dialogic, also means being more open, responsive and making oneself more accessible to new ideas.

“Becoming more dialogic is also about feeling more at home living in a space of dialogue where there are always many voices and where there is never any certainty.” (Wegerif, 2010, p. 35.) Dialogical classrooms while evidently being more dialogical in approach has in its agenda one of creating an environment where interactions are filled with real questions. Seeking the answers is a process of elevating the thinking and reasoning skills of students and focussed on true learning. Listening, sharing, being responsive are characteristics of this environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: http://www.petaa.edu.au/imis_prod/w/Teaching_Resources/PETAA_Papers/w/Teaching_Resources/PPs/PETAA_PAPER_195.aspx
This representation of the modes of dialogical talk in a classroom are some practical indicative practices but it still does not capture completely the immenseness of the practice of dialogic pedagogy itself. Dialogic pedagogy is based on colliding and testing diverse ideas presented by different voices, by different members of a community. It involves genuine interest in each other. In dialogic pedagogy, the teacher does not look for a student’s errors but rather learns from the student how the student sees the world and him/herself.

The factors related to dialogue that come in to play in a multicultural environment and how does it enable the process of building a greater sense of openness, being non-judgemental and moving towards a more equitable, inclusive classroom while building on the intercultural competencies of the teacher and the students is a question worth exploring.

Alexander, R. (2008). Culture, dialogue and learning: Notes on an emerging pedagogy. Exploring talk in school, 91-114.

Wegerif, R. (2010). Mind Expanding: Teaching For Thinking And Creativity In Primary Education: Teaching for Thinking and Creativity in Primary Education. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Using collaborative digital platforms

It was an interesting session introducing the idea of reference management systems like Mendeley to share and collaborate on academic literature. It is something that is useful across disciplines and also as tool for multi-disciplinary learning. In terms of pedagogical learning, to me it was interesting how to go about introducing a topic that is new ( probably to a few people in the group) , using technology as a medium of the teaching process and also getting people on board to get to warm up to the idea and to adapt quickly to what was needed to get started , in terms of creating an account and learning how to use the platform. Enabling everyone was a fairly large team of tutors and also people who were already familiar with the platform that worked as an advantage to conducting the teaching session. Discussing the experiential aspects of the advantages and the limitations of the platform added some critical information of saving, planning and collaborating more effectively. The class was enriching since we had to access to multiple inputs from individuals who had varying levels of expertise with the digital platform. It also gave space to discuss the pros and cons of the digital platform as a reference management tool as it had been in people’s experiences. The well ‘paced timing and keeping everyone in sync with the different steps was helpful too. Those had finished the steps earlier had time to talk and share some more aspects of reference management tools.

A key aspect of class room teaching that is continually emphasized in various forms, through experience, scholarly articles and through peer group discussions has been providing a space for dialogue, multiple perspectives and sufficient time and structured activities to allow for an enriching learning process that is co-created with others. While all is this critical, it becomes imperative to keep a focus on the use of academic language and the kind of dialogue styles that evolves in the classroom using English as a medium of instruction and learning.

I choose to explore this topic further using articles that talk more about dialogues in classrooms and teacher talks styles which I find extremely interesting and engaging.

 

 

Eija’s second blog

The teaching methods I have been used are diverse from the perspective of what they demand from teachers and students. I have been lecturing alone and together with a colleague. A good way of giving lectures in English is to do it with a colleague; you can share the burden of preparing materials and talking in English. For students it might be more enjoyable to follow this kind of dialogical lecturing, it becomes more like a conversation than a monologue. Participating in the lectures demands, of course, ability to follow English spoken lecturing and slides, but because we try to connect small discussions inside the lectures, also discussion skills in English in small groups from students. It is not easy to take into account the complicities involved in intercultural communication and being responsiveness and sensitive to the situation and the other participants in these kind of general discussions (see Baker, 2016).

Further, one quite common study method are different group works. Group presentations involve collaboration and discussion with peers coming from different backgrounds and having different mother languages. We have made quite a lot of work to unite our international master’s programme students with our Finnish students studying their master’s level studies in our department, because we think that it is fruitful to study together with students with different backgrounds. Some of the Finnish students are afraid of and anxious about using English language in their studies, which is undoubtedly understandable. The students in the international master’s programme are more ready to communicate in English, because they have known English to be the study language already when applying to the programme. Nonetheless, this kind of working can be also stressful for the students and they may be worried about how well they are succeeding in general, but also about working with peers they do not know beforehand and talking English. We still try to encourage them, because the results of this kind of group working are generally very positive from the perspective of the presentations and as a learning experience. The students can, if they like, to incorporate country-specific knowledge as a part of their group work and make thought-provoking comparisons, for example, on the issues of family life in different countries. What needs to be kept in mind is cultural awareness in order not to produce cultural stereotyping and categorisation, but to construct possibilities to reflect on the differences between, but also the similarities and individual differences within different cultures (see Hahl & Löfström, 2016). The group work as such demands skills to read and interpret quite abstract contents, to plan the presentation and to construct the slides and other material for the presentation, to think of how to activate the listeners, and to bear responsibility for the outcome of the group presentation. Giving a presentation means also acting /performing under the eyes of others, and speaking and communicating in English. It might be also worthwhile to reflect on how culture is made in these group presentations and discussions (Piller, 2012).

Eija

 

Baker, W. (2016) English as an academic lingua franca and intercultural awareness: student mobility in the transcultural university, Language and Intercultural Communication, 16:3, 437-451, DOI: 10.1080/14708477.2016.1168053

Hahl, K. & Löfström, E. (2016). Conceptualizing interculturality in multicultural teacher education, Journal of Multicultural Discourses, 11:3, 300-314. DOI:10.1080/17447143.2015.1134544

Piller, (2012). Intercultural communication: An overview. In C. B. Paulston & S. F. Kiesling & E. S. Rangel (Eds.), Handbook of intercultural discourse and communication.

 

EMI, FMI, who cares?

For most cases, I fail to see any difference in the language requirements between English or Finnish medium instructions. Or more precisely, I fail to see issues that would be due EMI that would not exist in instructions given in native languages. This does not mean that the level of my language skills, specifically, English skills would be at the same level as my native Finnish, but that the problem is not really the use of “secondary language”. The question is, of course, do you know the topic and have the active vocabulary to tell about it? If yes. Then looking from that point, the question is that does your audience have it? Naturally different things come in play here, but basically the difference is in vocabulary, language, in different levels of understanding. As established many times in class before, the academic language or more accurately any specific technical vocabulary is not the first language for anyone. The learning curve is high and existing for both EMI and FMI, or whatever.

During this fall, I have had several lectures in Finnish that have included much more vocabulary issues with native speakers than in my daily encounters with Master students who (most of them) use their second (or even third) language. There is one main difference between two groups that might elaborate the reason why this sort of difference has appeared. The FMI groups have been at basic level and with the participants who were less connected to the daily academic life and studies in HEI. The EMI groups have been and are (“my”) degree students completing their advanced level studies. While these courses are part of our MA curriculum that I have be in my part planning, the FMI “lectures” have been more or less disconnected from my daily work.

So, the main issues, the ones with vocabulary, have been caused by me failing to calibrate my “language” and thinking to the level of the audience. The issue does not really depend from the language, but the “language”. Also, issues are not really about practices or methods, but misalignments in practical preparedness. Furthermore, issues is a strong word here, few mistakes later I had recalibrated my level and clarified the conceptual misunderstandings and or lack of understanding.

Simply, I don’t really think that I have practices or methods that I would use exclusively for EMI teaching, but for teaching in general. Moreover, I would rather talk / write about attitude, which is much more important for teacher…  Teaching is a relational thing, in a dynamic relation of beings – whom all exist in a situation with individual aspirations, motivations and temporal orientations. At least if we are talking of the active modern interpretation of the thing (=teaching) instead of the more superficial and static forms. The question is, how we can make everyone engaged? Or should we just try our best and leave the responsibility for the receiver?

If the language is not the issue for the instructor – for example, instructor does not panic, lose concentration and thus words – all the issues can be simply resolved by numerous examples and rewordings. This might be time consuming, but you just have to find the ones that connect with the recipient. This practice fits both the traditional lectures and more modern collaborative group work, even in flipped settings. Also, while these and even the readings and digital solutions can be made engaging, “we” often do not really do so, “we” leave it on the responsibility of the students themselves.

How can teacher in traditional contact teaching be engaging? The thing is to be prepared to change the plan, be alert, aware and sensible etc. to stay on the top of the situation. It is a dynamic relation that requires reactions. While this – not sticking to the plan – might seem a bit unprofessional, I claim that this actually is possible only at the later stages of professional life. And that this is the trademark of generally well performing instructors, lecturers and performers. And teachers, if they really care and try to be dialogical. You cannot really be dialogical in static or unilateral situation. For one, most of the time the lesson/course plan is too booked, there is no time to adjust and adapt, and to listen and discuss. We forget that when something is added, something usually must come out. To be dialogical in the real philosophical sense of the term, well, it requires time. Therefore, I could actually as a practise and method recommend blending of flipped practices that free space of encounters and interactions in class. But at this point, I would rather claim that teaching practices and methods are irrelevant if the teaching philosophy is sound enough, and students/targets properly motivated to search and absorb the information. In this, teacher is no more teacher, but more a facilitator and mirror offering one more reflective relation to actively process the knowledge. Though it would not harm (or it would be necessary) to understand what learning is and how it happens as a proper teacher should.

While the above is more and more inclining towards improvisation and creative practices, for more or less fresh instructors I would recommend a rigorous planning and preparation. Same goes if you are new to EMI or go back to FMI after a while. I, for example, have to remind myself about the level of my Finnish groups, so I do not enter too deep waters. Good plan and preparation also eases the time management and coherence. However, the issue is, that well planned and prepared presentation is not living if it is rigorously performed. If the performer is not sensitive for the reactions of the audience and just sticks to the plan. It might be a total miss, and will always appear at least a bit stiff (and rigid). Not good as presentation wise. A good presentation is always dynamic and “reacts to the movements” of the audience, almost like a stand-up comedians. This is possible for more seasoned veterans – whom however should stay off too many jokes –  if they can put up the effort. Advice would be, that make sure that the overall course plan and big picture are both crystal clear – and that you are on the top of your topic, know your audience and have the confidence to mess-up and recover. If so, just loosen up you tie and let it flow. Adapt and adjust on the go. Improvise and create, it is a once in a lifetime performance that you should enjoy. But remember, it is not about you, it is about the students! If it feels easy, you are not engaged enough. If it feels impossible, keep practising!

So, if one method should be named, it would be listening. Listen your group, and then act accordingly. As a practice, it is good to make plans, but expect them to fail…

Banal Nationalism

In a multicultural classroom, the national boundaries may dissolve very quickly. Only if everyone understood that we all have some personal identifications to our national structures and our national culture. And one should not judge others for such identifications. Individually students and teachers may have a personal identification with their own national identity. Because of which students may or may not be comfortable discussing a few things about their nation in the classroom. It might be a reason for someone to judge. As a teacher, my own reflection on my own identity and my own process of identification of my national identity may help me to understand this process. Also, this stops me from over judging the students.  The challenge is to keep these identifications under control in a classroom setting. As a teacher, I need to be even more responsible for the classroom teaching to ensure learning beyond the national boundaries.

 

As a teacher, I try to use the multicultural classroom to my benefit. Especially during the discussions, I encourage students to share examples from their own countries. For example, once I was mentioning about car sharing model in Germany to explain boundaries of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). There were some exchange students from Germany in the class who started smiling. They immediately identified the phenomena and were happy to explain the phenomena to the rest of the class. This encouraged active participation in the class. Students identify with examples that are local to their nation. But sometimes student associate shame and stigma with specific examples from a certain region. For example, a student from India may find it very difficult to explain child labor or cases related to social injustice. As a teacher I need to understand these tensions and awkwardness around specific example in the class.  I need to handle it in a more relaxed way providing them some context and why it is necessary to know about that example with some positive twist.

The aim was to write about my practical experience with Banal nationalism. But I suppose this more of my personal thoughts about the situation when one has to deal with banal nationalism.

Reflection on EMI teaching

A couple of weeks back I along with Dr. Marjo Siltaoja taught a course about – Managing a green organization. Marjo was teaching about the leadership and human issues, while I was teaching the environmental management systems (EMS) and practical aspects of implementing a green strategy in an organization. Leadership and human issues were taught first, and then I introduced the class with the EMS.

The teaching material included EMS standards (EMAS standards and ISO 14001 standards, GRI indicators) and PowerPoint slides.

One of the significant challenges for me during the course was not to make it a monologue. As the guidelines are of hundreds of pages and explaining them can be very mechanical or robotic in nature. I was teaching this for the first time, I was very tensed about how to deal with this situation. As a student, I never enjoyed monologues and non-stop instructions.

Another challenge was to relate all that I was teaching with what Marjo had already explained in the class.

To deal with the first issue, I divided my class into two parts. The first half would be a monologue and instructions for about 30 minutes. In the second half in groups students picked one company from different industries (For example Nuclear power plant, a paper mill, a clothes manufacturing company, etc.). I came up with a set of guiding questions, that might help the students to deal with implementing these EMS guidelines in real jobs. I asked the students to answer these guiding questions for implementing an EMS for the chosen company. During these group discussions, I would go to each group and ask them to explain to me their approach, where I would challenge them and push them beyond their present thinking. Also, I noted interesting questions and ideas that were discussed with the individual group and shared them collectively at the beginning of the next class.

This approach, gave the students an idea about practical challenges while implementing an EMS. Also, how to find the right indicators from the guidelines.

To deal with the second challenge, I would ask them some direct questions during the group discussion, how would they as leaders deal with a particular situation and ask them to reflect on what they learned in the first half of the course. Further during the last class, I invited the ex-global Sustainability Director of Nokia, to share his experiences and challenges as a leader to manage sustainability at a global level. This interaction was exciting, as students came up with interesting questions that they were trying to deal during the group discussions and got some excellent answers from real life experiences.

Another practical issue that I noticed very quickly in the first class was that students were not familiar with specific terms. I was expecting that the master’s student would be familiar with terms like benchmarking, the scope of carbon emissions and a few more. Anyhow, during the first class, I could notice blank faces in my classroom when I was talking about benchmarking. Then I explained them the term and asked them to stop me whenever I used an unfamiliar term. I was thinking that the class would be shy to stop me, but luckily that was not the case.

To summarize, my EMI was based on short monologues that provided instructions, then reflection on the teachings in groups and answering questions and discussion with the teacher and sharing of the learnings with rest of the class.

On my EMI teaching

The task of this blog post is hard for me as I haven’t really done any EMI teaching. I am about to teach my first course in English only next spring, which is also the reason why I wanted to take this course. I have presented a lot of papers in conferences and seminars in English, but that is not quite the same thing. In conferences, it seems to me, the presenters are often not that interested of any pedagocial aspects of their presentations, which is also understandable as its not really a teaching situation. The language dimension is also easily forgotten; it is seen as a mere vehicle for getting your ideas out, not something to be that conscious or interested of.

When planning my spring course, I hadn’t really given much thouht to the language question. The last TACE session (22.10.) however offered many important points that I should take into consideration and so, instead of outlining examples of the methods that I commonly use (haven’t) I could discuss what I thought were the most interesting and important parts of the session.

I consider myself a pretty old school teacher. The kind of lecturer who is standing in front of the amphitheatre (as in one of Fergal’s slides), talking for an hour and then exiting the scene without much discussion. For this reason, this course has not only helped me to rethink the EMI aspects of my teaching, but has also offered a lot of new ideas for my teaching in general.

First of all, I now see the use of small group work as very effective. Being exactly the kind of introverted guy who will always just listen silently in the back row of the classroom, I can relate to the idea of them as “safe learning environments”. In small groups the students (also introverted ones) will get to discuss new ideas and reflect them from different angles. TACE has also applied small group discussions a lot, and I always feel like I’m almost getting the most out of them. However the group dynamic is very important: if the discussion is reserved or very forced, it can also be simply a waste of good 10 minutes of lecturing time. Anyhow, I will definitely have some sort of group work in my next teaching.

I also thought that the advice on pronounciation and intonation was very important. First of all, as I don’t speak English that often nowadays, I sometimes encounter trouble when I have to pronounce some terms for the first time or after a long pause. So now that I’m planning the slides for my lecture series I should remember to practice the pronounciations of the key terms and not leave it until the very day of the lecturing. For example: “strategy”! I read and write the word all the time, but when I have to actually say the word: stratzzizzy, strätzizi… Mumbling like that comes out.

Intonation is also important. Maybe it is also one of the reasons for why the native English speakers are usually rather easy to listen and sound interesting. Their language lives and flows almost like music and it keeps your attention up. It is true that Finnish speak can be rather monotonous and the worst cases of monotonous lecturers will almost make you sleep. I never thought about this before but I think I should really improve my intonation too…

On language and power

Today we had the first group teaching session, organized by Bhavani, Kirsi, Bhavesh and Yusuf. The idea was to experiment with teamwork in small groups. Task: to build as high a tower as possible using spaghetti and duct tape, AND to make it strong enough for holding a marshmellow on the top of it. Its the legenary ”spaghetti-marshmellow -challenge” that has been studied with various different groups from architects, business leaders to kindergarden kids around the age of five.

As our group started to work on the problem, it was indeed very interesting to observe the dynamics that begin to emerge in the group: someone throws in an idea and it gets developed a bit further. And at at some point, maybe someone just takes action on his own. The question we were supposed to explore with the experiment was (if I remeber correctly) what are the possibilities, benefits and challenges of teamwork. The discussions we had on this topic after the experiment were also very interesting. An important reminder was that groupwork and especially involvement of people with varying backgrounds in it is not always helpful. For instance, if there is one architect in the group building a tower out of spaghetti, the rest of the group will really not bring much, might evern harm the process.

After this task we studied language and social interaction. The focus was on the academic setting but the basic ideas apply almost everywhere. English is the global language and I would argue it will also remain so long into the future, no matter how global politics evolve (rise of China and such). Competence in English thus opens a lot of doors, but incompetence in it (or even an appearance of incomptence) can easily close them…

Language can be seen as an instrument of power. Networks and carreer opportunities are based on competence in languages, which today means more or less, in English. In the academic setting this is often seen in scenarios such as, that if one is not fluent with English, he/she can be then thought to be a bad teacher or incompetent in his field of research. (Well, sometimes this shouldn’t be denied too; if a teacher’s English is really bad or his pronounciation is almost uncomprehensible, well, maybe he is not a bad teacher, but at least I don’t feel like learning much.)

Yet fluency or the correct accent shouldn’t be that important as English is a global language. It is no more owned by the people with anglo-saxon background, but spoken everywhere. The native language of Jamaicans, for example is English, and India and Nigeria have English as an official language – in the latter it is even spoken by the majority of the people. Academic English is even less owned by anyone.

As for me, I’ve always felt rather comfortable with my Finnish accent. Yet I cannot deny, that when I see someone, coming from the Unites States for example, giving an academic presentation with excellent and clear pronounciation, plus having the relaxed yet compelling presentation skills that are typical to American presenters (I know, I know, some brute cultural essentialization here), they just feel more competent and persuasive. This is perhaps partly because they come from a culture which appreciates and also reinforces such extrovert traits, but also because they feel very natural with the language they are using.

Dmitri’s post no. 1

Hello, World all you wonderful people in TACE 2018!

Never did any blogging whatsoever, but one should start somewhere, I guess. My name is Dmitri Leontjev, and I am a Postdoc at the Department of Language and Communication Studies, doing research in language assessment (for learning rather than good old testing of learning outcomes) and teaching in assessment, methodology, language (education) policy & the like graduate courses. That’s what brought me here to this course.

I guess, a reflection on the use/role of technology is what should come next, judging by the rest of the posts. I had to leave earlier Monday, and have not got to Juha’s lecture yet, so apologise if what follows is too much of a digression. My view of technology in education is that it is not (just) a tool but neither it is something using which is a goal of education, if you know what I mean. I’d never use technology (whatever one means by it) for the sake of using it. My take on it is pretty much congruent with that of Peppi Taalas (of the Lg. Centre of JYU; see here: http://users.jyu.fi/~peppi/) in that technology should add value to the way one teaches and/or learns.

Technology does change the way we do things (teach, learn, communicate, read, write, think—you name it), naturally; in other words, it mediates what we do and how we do it (any Vygotsky’s fans over there?). Thanks, Matti (if I may), for your reflection on it. Agree with it completely. But while acknowledging what it brings into and takes away from our teaching, I try not to forget that using it is not a goal in itself. I can teach my students how to make effective presentations using Google slides or write blog posts (well, no, I can’t =), but I’d rather our goals are reflecting (as in this one), starting conversations (as hopefully with this one), and taking actions, with technology being there to mediate the way these goals are reached.

Hmm, that was long… in short, I see technology as affordance in the way van Lier wrote about it: as offering opportunities for interacting with the environment, which can be (are?) used differently by different individuals due to their different experiences, beliefs, understandings, skills, etc.

As to my quick reflection on the course, I join the others’ opinion, that discussions, including informal ones over a coffee offer wonderful opportunities for developing our thinking and acting as teachers and learners.