New professors of digital learning at the Faculty

The Faculty of Educational Sciences has appointed three professors of digital learning.

DPhil Sami Paavola began his work as assistant professor of digital learning at work on 1 November. DPhil (Education) Kalle Juuti began as assistant professor of digital learning in schools on the same date. Doctor of Science (Technology) Petri Ihantola will begin as assistant professor of big data learning analytics on 1 February 2018.

According to Sami Paavola, digitalisation is in many ways connected to the rapid changes in the world of work and in society at large. On the other hand, the ways people operate are tied to past methods and practices.

“There are many concerns over digitalisation which relate to the disappearance of jobs or many jobs becoming monotonous, but it also brings about many unforeseen opportunities.”

Paavola is particularly interested in how digitalisation is changing the ways people cooperate or work communally. He is also interested in how technological development changes general conceptions of learning, or of human thinking and action. Technology is still often presented either through ideal visions (how technology “should” be used) or failures (e.g., some technology is persistently used incorrectly). According to Paavola, research should focus more on how the ways people operate are likely to change through the use of technology.

Paavola wants to develop teaching and research methods that emphasise various practices. He has a multidisciplinary background, based on philosophy, sociology and learning research. He has been heavily involved in the study of collaborative learning through technology and, in the past few years, has participated in research projects focusing on how data modelling can be used in construction projects and particularly in designer cooperation.

According to Kalle Juuti, the proliferation of technological devices will change both teaching and learning. Students will use their own smartphones, the school’s tablet computers and other digital technology. In addition, learning assessment will move to digital environments.

“Digital technology is not intended to update old teaching practices. It enables new kinds of knowledge-based teaching and learning,” says Juuti.

Juuti wants to study how the adoption of digital tools changes the way different subjects are taught and studied. The study of digital teaching tools is closely connected to practical teaching work. Teaching experiments planned and implemented together with teachers working in schools are a central element of studying digital learning. Juuti’s research focuses on teaching development, and he has extensive experience in basic and continuing teacher education. Juuti is also a teacher of physics and drama.

The field of Petri Ihantolas professorship – learning analytics – means measuring, storing and analysing information relating to learning, and then using the results of the analysis.

“Learning has been observed for as long as teaching has been studied, so in that sense this is not a new area,” says Ihantola.

However, collecting information on learning has changed as learning environments have become digital. Contemporary learning analytics is characterised by a combination of detailed and diverse information sources which observe the behaviour of individuals from various perspectives. The methods of learning analytics combine statistics, the visualisation of information and machine learning.

Ihantola’s background is in computer science. Until the beginning of his new professorship, he will continue to serve as assistant professor of software engineering at the Tampere University of Technology. In addition to academia, he has worked at Google as a software engineer. Ihantola’s research focuses on the procedural data collected in the course of teaching in programming. He uses this data to study problem-solving processes: what kinds of paths do learners take to potentially arrive at identical solutions, and what can these various paths tell us?

Learning analytics is a multidisciplinary field, and Ihantola wants to continue to develop cooperation between educational sciences and computer science also in his new position.