Boosting teamwork with dLearn.Helsinki

5.11.2019
The world is becoming increasingly complex, networked and international. More and more, we need skills in cooperation and listening. These skills should initially be learnt in school, but the learning continues later in professional life. A research-based technological solution and application developed by the dLearn.Helsinki team helps in developing such skills.

Today’s professional life is a challenging working environment. Changing duties and situations require from employees a wide range of skills, known as generic working life skills.

These include the skills to analyse and solve complex phenomena, understand differences, conduct smooth cooperation, operate in changing circumstances as well as work in a responsible and respectful way.

“These skills cannot be learnt from books, and it is challenging to learn them on your own,” says Auli Toom, professor of higher education.

In fact, the learning of such skills should be supported already in school. Mastering them is connected with study performance, wellbeing, expertise and getting employment.

Research shows that reflecting on one’s own behaviour and work practices after carrying them out is key to the development of skills. People learn by doing and assessing their action.

How, then, could this assessment be realised in practice? It is not always easy to identify how a team at the workplace or pupils in the classroom operate and how each individual acts in collaborative situations.

The dLearn.Helsinki team from the University of Helsinki has designed a solution for this, a digital tool based on research that pupils, students and employees can use to assess their personal and shared activity. With the application, individuals and teams can examine their perceived strengths and development targets, as well as consider and set goals for developing skills together with others.

dLearn.Helsinki supports skills development

In practice, the application developed by the dLearn.Helsinki team works like this: A team of professionals at a workplace or a teacher with their pupils in school can agree on when individual and group work will be assessed. Based on that, relevant questions in the application are chosen. Every member of the team or every pupil answers the questions via an online application.

The solution generates immediate personal feedback based on the responses, and shared results can be considered and reflected on together on a skill wall. The intended learning goals are chosen on the basis of joint discussion and reflection. Respondents assess their activity in the group and the activity of the group as a whole.

At the moment, the dLearn.Helsinki team is piloting the practical functionality of the application as well as carrying out testing and statistical validation of the questions.

Immediate feedback highlights challenges

The strength of the research-based application developed by the dLearn.Helsinki team lies in its situational and contextual characteristics. Teams can assess their activities while carrying them out with questions pertaining to the situation. The feedback provided by the application helps identify strengths and challenges, making it possible to tackle the most important ones collaboratively without delay.

The application provides tangible support for everyday work: how did the team act when carrying out a specific task? What did the team leader or teacher do? The team and its leader, or the teacher and their pupils, are free to choose from among a range of questions those best suited to any given situation. The focus can be, for example, on which skills should be assessed and developed for the benefit of the team's tasks or the pupils’ learning.

The application helps identify skills individually and collectively, as well as develop an interactive culture based on negotiation in schools and at workplaces. It helps articulate experiences and turn them into something concrete. The team at workplace or pupils in classroom engage in considering together which skills they already possess and which skills they should, as a group, still learn.

The results can demonstrate, for example, that someone has found that mutual support during collaboration did not work at all. This initiates discussion: what are the reasons for this?

Artificial intelligence in support of teaching

In working life, the established term is ‘career skills’, while the corresponding term in school curricula is ‘transversal skills’. What do these mean in everyday life?

“Teaching is often very hectic, and the assessment of learning frequently focuses on the content of school subjects. Knowledge of pupils’ skills in areas that are harder to assess can be based on incidental experiences and feelings,” Auli Toom notes.

In the near future, the dLearn.Helsinki team also aims to have the application provide teachers with concrete tools through the development of AI-based support for teaching. The goal is that the application will help to identify development targets in teaching.

Currently, there is a lot of talk about the importance of research-based and empirical evidence in teaching and its development; in addition to other information, teachers can take advantage of the most recent research findings when making decisions. The potential for application is great.

Specialists in education, psychology and computer science join forces

The application designed by the dLearn.Helsinki team has already been piloted in businesses and schools, resulting in very encouraging and rewarding feedback.

The research and development project is being carried out by a multidisciplinary team composed of researchers from the Faculty of Educational Sciences and the Faculty of Science of the University of Helsinki.

Professor of Higher Education Auli Toom, Professor of Education Katariina Salmela-Aro, Docent Minna Lakkala, researcher Veera Kallunki and Research Director Mari Tervaniemi bring to the team pedagogical expertise in educational sciences, psychology and learning technologies,

while expertise in software development is provided by Professor of Computer Science Tomi Männistö, coordinating software developer Philip Dexter, University Lecturer Fabian Fagerholm and software developer Heikki Ahonen.

Veli-Matti Harjula from the Merilahti Comprehensive School adds the teacher’s perspective and Sari-Anna Pulkkinen drives the project forward particularly in terms of commercialisation, conducting close cooperation with businesses, schools and other stakeholders.

The dLearn.Helsinki team has a steering group composed of a number of key stakeholder representatives from the field of education and working life. The University of Helsinki’s Helsinki Innovation Services (HIS) supports dLearn.Helsinki especially in its commercialisation efforts.

dLearn.Helsinki will be attending Slush in 2019 in the University of Helsinki section.

Come and see for yourself how the dLearn.Helsinki application works!