Cooperation between students and their teacher resulted in a timely book

“The Computational Transformation of the Public Sphere: How Information Technologies Transform Democracy, Markets, and Interpersonal Relationships” offers a timely read into the impact of digital technologies on government, civil society, and social relationships. The book is a result of a rare team effort of MA students and their teacher.

This unique book project was launched in autumn 2019 in the course of Philosophy of Politics and Communication. The MA students from Global Politics and Communication familiarized themselves with the topics of their own choice in small groups and jointly wrote research papers on the basis of their findings. Sonja M. Amadae, a University Lecturer in Politics at the Faculty of Social Sciences, was so pleased with the innovativeness and quality of her students’ research papers that she wanted them to be seen by a wider audience.

- It was not conceived of as a book until I read the results and found them to be significant. I learned a great deal from the cases my students studied and was proud of their achievements, Amadae explains.

Learning through practical challenges

The students’ articles certainly address very challenging questions. They deal with how the public sector, the market and relationships between people change with information and communication technologies. The topics covered in the book include Sophia, the Saudi Arabian robotic citizen; greenwashing; democratic governance; social media; the #MeToo movement; and the Incel movement.

- The best part has been to engage students on a project with intrinsic meaning, rather than just the “carrot” of a good grade at the end of the course. I believe that it is a good exercise for students to write for the public and not just to receive a grade, and then have their thoughts and efforts quickly forgotten, Amadae stresses.

MA students Roosa Kontiokari and Johan Wahlsten agree with their teacher. Both found the project highly rewarding and particularly useful in developing practical research skills. From their point of view, the greatest challenges were related to combining theory and empirical observations, forming a coherent argument, and sharing responsibilities in a group. That is to say, the same issues that cause difficulties for many experienced researchers as well.

Their teacher’s encouragement played an important role in maintaining the motivation of students and in tackling the challenges.

- I have to give a lot of credit to professor Amadae. The book project was initiated and completed first and foremost because of her encouragement and drive, Wahlsten notes.

Hard work and commitment paid off

Although the project proved to be successful in all respects, Amadae is aware that there is rarely time and the necessary resources for implementing such a large-scale project with students. It took a lot of extracurricular work to complete the book, and everyone involved had to be very committed to the project. Nevertheless, the outcome was a book that is genuinely insightful and stands as a concrete indication of what interactive learning, at its best, can be.

- I think this book has a lot of great ideas and fresh perspectives on algorithmic governance, the role of artificial intelligence, and rational thinking. It also displays what kind of questions and phenomena students find to be important and relevant at the moment, Kontiokari sums up.

For its part, this edited collection of MA student articles also celebrates the 75th anniversary of University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Social Sciences. The Faculty of Social Sciences also supported the project financially.

More information and the link to the electronic publication of the book can be found on the anniversary year website