Key Tips for Teaching Online: “good planning, openness, transparency, and patience”

In spring 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused school closures all over the world, Ms. Claire Cheng from Cloud Global Education had a Zoom interview with Dr. Kirsi Wallinheimo from the University of Helsinki about online learning and teaching. How is Finland implementing digital learning in schools? How should teachers prepare themselves for digital education? You can watch the video or read the transcription of the interview below.

The Transcription of the Interview with Dr. Kirsi Wallinheimo from the University of Helsinki

Dr. Wallinheimo:

“I’m Kirsi Wallinheimo, a university lecturer in teaching foreign language education at the Faculty of Education at the University of Helsinki, since 2003. My pedagogical and research interests include the implementation of digital learning environments, especially in language teaching and learning, and also phenomenon-based learning, playful approach to learning, and subject teacher education. Primary school education is also in my research interests.”

Ms. Cheng:

“Kirsi, thank you for this opportunity to talk with us! We have learned from the media and other past events that Finland has been performing very well in PISA results, and many educators are curious about your secret. So can you tell us briefly, what is the essence of Finnish education that we can learn from in Taiwan? What are the good lessons for us?”

Dr. Wallinheimo:

“It would not be a secret if I tell you, but I will tell you after all!

Finnish schoolteacher education programmes lead to an advanced and research-based degree, and they are so popular amongst young Finns, that only one in ten applicants is accepted every year. In Finland, we think that every pupil in school is unique and has the right to high-quality education. Therefore, universities focus on finding the right people to become career-long teachers, so we get the most motivated future teachers. In this secret there is also the fact that Finland’s well-prepared teachers enjoy significant independence in running their classes – that’s also one thing that they can use their research-based competence for.”

Digital Teaching and Learning

Ms. Cheng:

“We are also aware that digital education is a part of the future learning, it’s essential for the 21st century learning. How would you recommend our teachers in Taiwan to prepare themselves for digital education? Just give us a broad idea how they can prepare themselves.”

Dr. Wallinheimo:

“We are all standing in front of a big issue, because many of us have, or think that we have, the digital tools and the digital skills, but now suddenly we have to start implementing them all the time – that’s something definitely new.

The most important thing for the teachers to think of is that with good planning, openness, transparency, and patience you can progress in small steps. That’s important to think about, and to understand that you are not alone; all teachers are standing at the same level now. You could also use all the collaboration you can get through the interaction with other teachers – for example, co-teach together with another teacher and in that way get help and support.”

Ms. Cheng:

“Exactly, collaboration is not just essential for the students but also amongst teachers. Many teachers ask me about your current status in terms of digital learning. How is Finland implementing digital learning in your schools right now? Can you give us some idea of where you are?”

Dr. Wallinheimo:

“The core Finnish national curriculum describes seven transversal competence areas, and one of those areas is ICT competences. ICT skills are important civic skills nowadays of course in themselves, but as part of multiliteracy skills as well. ICT is the object and tool of learning – that’s how we think in Finland.

In basic education, all pupils have opportunities to develop ICT skills, and it’s systematically utilised in all grades of basic education in various subjects, and in other schoolwork. So ICT is like a pen traditionally. Now we have ICT with us all the time.”

Phenomenon-Based Learning in Virtual Conditions

Ms. Cheng:

“Finnish education is also known for phenomenon-based learning. Many teachers are wondering, how do you apply phenomenon-based learning into your course design and especially in virtual conditions? How do you design your content, how to integrate materials, encourage interaction etc.? This is more about digital pedagogy.”

Dr. Wallinheimo:

“Now we are standing in a difficult and demanding situation, because phenomenon-based teaching actually needs a lot of collaboration and maybe co-teaching, if you are going to put several subjects together and if you have subject teachers.

I can give an example about language teaching and how you can work with other subjects. Language, math and art, for example, could work online like this: you have assignments which you have to write in another language, for example English, which is a foreign language. Besides that, you could have assignments in math, which have something in English, and then you can implement the language into math and arts. You can also think it in an opposite way: you can have a math lesson, where you implement features of English subject or art subject; you have to combine different parts of each subject.

There you need collaboration with other teachers or then you yourself as a teacher, if you’re teaching at a primary school or elementary school, can choose which subjects could match together. And you don’t have to do everything at once – in small steps, that’s my advice.”

Assessment in Online Learning

Ms. Cheng:

“Online learning is actually still new for many teachers and students in Taiwan. Usually their concerns come from assessment, because it may be very difficult to assess students’ achievements as successfully as in the traditional way. How would you recommend teachers to evaluate their programmes and their students’ progress, when they give online programmes?”

Dr. Wallinheimo:

“Assessment is one of the most demanding parts actually of any kind of learning, not only online learning, but also face-to-face learning. Because in order to assess and evaluate your pupils, you have to use usually formative assessment tools, which means that you are evaluating your pupils along the way from the beginning until the end – but you also have to teach your students to assess themselves.

Self-assessment is a very important part in order to gain learning. Feedback from different sources is important, and especially in online learning. It’s not always synchronised – you’re not always online with your teacher so that the teacher could give you the feedback. Therefore, you need feedback maybe from your fellow students or maybe from other teachers as well. Fellow students or peers especially are an important source for feedback and in peer assessment.

When we are talking about online learning and distance learning, there are digital assessment platforms, which you can use, and which help. It makes it possible for the teacher to keep track of students’ individual progress. That’s something that is important in online assessment. The information the platform gathers about the students’ progress, this so-called learning analytics, could prove to be useful in group distance learning situations. The teacher then can choose to pay more attention to some students, maybe give some more demanding tasks or give some more help and support. There are several thinks to think about, but all of them are very useful.”

The Learning from a Distance Programme

Ms. Cheng:

“I understand that recently, just in March, you have designed a special teachers’ training programme to some teachers in Sharjah, UAE. The programme is teaching from a distance. Could you tell us a little bit about the programme and how it’s going?”

Dr. Wallinheimo:

“We started with a three-hour webinar, and there were exactly 165 participants online at the same time. We had an online lecture, with several short pauses, where the participants could ask questions or comment. We also had the chat box open all the time so that the lecturer, or I, could see the questions and comments coming along the way.

But it wasn’t just an online lecture – the participants could also implement at the same time when I showed some platforms or examples. The participants were able to test them by doing an assignment, which had something to do with online pedagogy or digital pedagogy – so it was learning by doing, and then they of course could get back to the webinar. The first part was about planning and procedures: what to do online. The second part was about assessment.”

Ms. Cheng:

“For participants of this programme, do you have any suggestions in terms of how they prepare themselves before they come?”

Dr. Wallinheimo:

“I would say that the most important thing is to be open-minded, and also to think that you already are experts in teaching. Now you only have to focus on maybe gathering some information, maybe getting some competence in the technical part or in the part where you put the technical part together with the pedagogy. Usually teachers know what to do. When they are online as well as face-to-face, the most important of course are the pupils – who are behind the screen. You are not doing this for yourself; you are doing it for your pupils.”

Ms. Cheng:

“Yes, exactly! Thank you so much, Kirsi! We are looking forward to seeing you soon online.”

Dr. Wallinheimo:

“Thank you! Bye bye!”


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