What is our teaching like?

Our teaching is founded on up-to-date research, with a focus on students’ learning and skills. High-quality instruction is realised through continual and inclusive development. Our Faculty employs some of the best teachers at the University, who continually reform their teaching and utilise innovative teaching methods in order to improve their instruction and the guidance provided to students.

Teaching at the Faculty is implemented in a versatile manner by employing a range of teaching methods, including lecture-based teaching, courses (in the field and laboratory), seminars and web-based teaching. In many courses, instruction is provided flexibly by combining contact instruction periods, small group work and remote instruction. In addition, there are independently completed courses relating to, for example, species knowledge and literature.

Web-based and blended teaching

Online courses that emphasise interaction make skills and learning visible. One benefit of digital education is its less restricted scheduling – instruction is available to students at the time of their choosing.

Teaching highlights elements of interaction and continuous assessment, including peer assessment. The diverse range of methods used in teaching include lecture recordings, live streams, small and larger assignments as well as group work. Students are encouraged to discuss and comment on topical issues. A technique where students form a chain of questions and answers on a topic chosen by the teacher has turned out to be an effective teaching method.

The many opportunities offered by web-based teaching are increasing their use at our Faculty. For example, the ecotoxicology course of the Bachelor’s Programme in Environmental Sciences explores the fundamentals of chemicals harmful to the environment. The Environmental Risk Assessment course focuses on environmental chemicalisation as a broader societal problem, while part of the instruction in the Molecular Nutrition course is designed in the form of a video game.

Teaching is implemented by diverse means, and while teachers may not be physically in the same place with their students, they are very present on their courses.

Field instruction

A significant share of teaching pertaining to species, biospheres and biotopes in both bachelor’s and master’s studies is organised in the field in the natural habitats of species. Most field courses are held at the biological research stations of the University of Helsinki, which are located in Kilpisjärvi in Fell Lapland, in Lammi in the boreal zone, and in Tvärminne, Hankoniemi.

Field courses are also organised in the natural environments of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and surrounding regions, as well as at the University of Helsinki’s Taita Research Station in Kenya and other varying locations.

Biological research stations

Laboratory courses

Laboratory courses are an important element of teaching in the biosciences. They establish a link between theory and practice, providing students with skills in experimental research and scientific reporting, which are utilised and advanced throughout their studies. Laboratory courses begin in the first year of studies, at which point students familiarise themselves with general laboratory skills, safe and careful work methods as well as the basic techniques employed in biochemistry, microbiology and molecular genetics.

Before actual laboratory work, students complete a theoretical component exploring these topics. In the bachelor’s level laboratory courses, students also practise independent work, as well as related planning and scheduling. These are important academic skills which will be further polished and developed at the master’s level.

The laboratory courses included in master’s studies familiarise students with up-to-date experimental techniques and teach them to use these techniques to find answers to research questions. Often, the same equipment that is used in research is utilised in teaching. The topics of laboratory courses relate to, among other things, techniques used in molecular and cell biology, neurobiology and genetics. Laboratory courses are supplemented by individual research projects carried out in research groups, which are integrally connected to ongoing research. They enhance students’ methodological competence and provide good opportunities to contribute to the activities of research groups.

Typically, research project results are presented in the form of a scholarly article, which strengthens writing and reporting skills. Laboratory courses and research projects provide a solid methodological basis for completing an experimental master’s thesis. In addition to laboratory techniques, many master’s level courses include computer exercises which train students in skills related to computation and the processing of biological information, whose significance to research and applications associated with bioscience is constantly growing.

Research methods in teaching

Our Faculty is a very research-intensive institution, with related opportunities broadly utilised in teaching. Over the course of their studies, students will become familiar with the research laboratories of different fields and greenhouses on Viikki Campus, as well as our research stations. Competence in both methodology and theoretical knowledge is a strength that we wish to offer to our students.

We utilise a wide spectrum of research methods, from traditional field investigations to state-of-the art laboratory techniques. In many fields, genetic and genomic methods are in use.    Characteristic of neurobiology is the study of nerve cell function by employing methods of electrophysiology and optics in combination with those of genetics and molecular biology. Imaging techniques can be used to capture the fine structure of organic molecules, while research in population biology investigates the laws within populations and their mechanisms.

Examples of research methods in different fields

Ecological research methods

The fields of ecology and evolutionary biology utilise biological research methods broadly, ranging from traditional field investigations and experimental research conducted in the field and laboratory to the latest methods of genetics and genomics. Recently, the analysis of extensive ecological and genomic datasets has become a focal point in ecological and evolutionary biology research.

Research methods and equipment in botany

Botanical research and education employ modern research methods and equipment which make it possible to observe, image and model the vital processes of plants. In basic research, we utilise model plants as research tools, including thale cress and birch, as well as mutants produced from them by genetic means.

In plant biology, techniques based on DNA sequencing have made it possible, among other things, to determine the entire genome of the silver birch. This has opened new avenues to identifying genes that affect the growth rate, wood quality as well as the tolerance against diseases and harm of trees.

Plant metabolism and cell signalling are investigated with biochemical methods, while a range of microscopy techniques enable the imaging of cellular functions.

The greenhouses as well as the automated measuring and imaging system on Viikki Campus make it possible to carry out long-term monitoring of the photosynthesis, growth and lifecycle of model and useful plants.

Molecular Ecology and Systematics laboratory (MES)

The MES laboratory specialises in the molecular genetic study of natural populations. With the help of DNA polymorphisms and gene expression, the laboratory investigates, among other things, questions related to phylogenetics, biogeography, conservation genetics and behavioural ecology. MES also provides course-based instruction in the basic methods of molecular genetics, in connection with which master’s theses are completed under the Faculty’s master’s programmes.