Teacher interview: Olli-Pekka Penttinen

University Lecturer Olli-Pekka Penttinen teaches ecotoxicology.

What do you teach?

I teach ecotoxicology, that is, what makes chemicals harmful and how their adverse effects are evidenced in individual organisms or the environment. In the methodology course, students learn about toxicology testing and result analysis. In addition, I coordinate two portfolio courses which students complete on their own. I invest in web-based education, especially in bachelor’s level instruction.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of teaching?

Teaching is a multidimensional and, at times, adventurous activity whose best elements include teaching and interaction in the lecture room and online, the students themselves, recognising learning and competence as well as any kind of silent joy related to teaching as a whole. The most challenging thing is accepting the fact that sometimes teaching is just teaching, nothing more than the sum of its parts.

How do you develop or wish to develop teaching?

Teaching has to stem from students’ needs. Listening to students produces the best courses. At the same time, I emphasise the big picture principle, or the fact that, through their interconnections, so many aspects relating to the environment and chemicals ultimately constitute a perceivable entity. All this requires perseverance and a willingness to experiment. I consider implementing my instruction in an online environment whenever possible. Online, I am inspired by the rhythm of teaching, continuous assessment and the utilisation of slow interaction.

What do you investigate alongside teaching? How is your research mirrored in your teaching?

My research relates to experimental ecotoxicology, with complex chemical compounds in water and soil systems as a particular topic of research.

What languages do you use in teaching? How is internationalisation evidenced in your teaching?

In the Bachelor's Programme in Environmental Sciences, I mainly teach in Finnish, while English is the language of instruction in the Master’s Programme in Environmental Change and Global Sustainability. I have also actively participated in Erasmus teacher exchange for a decade, teaching in Sweden, Lithuania and Spain. International activities are in my comfort zone, although occasionally the English language is perhaps even too challenging.

Why does your subject of teaching matter and what challenges can it help to tackle?

The chemicalisation of the environment is a global problem, and ecotoxicology is needed to understand the environmental effects of chemicals. More and more, these issues are investigated from a solution-oriented perspective. Persistent organic compounds, heavy metals, pharmaceutical agents and consumer chemicals are the greatest causes for concern.

What particularly exceptional aspects are associated with your teaching, if any?

I profess to be a ‘mobile teacher’, or identify as one. That means a teacher who, while not necessarily meeting them in person, is there for students when they need you.