Visual arts teach civic skills for an increasingly visual culture

A rapidly changing visual culture inspires teacher trainer Seija Kairavuori to develop her visual skills and novel teaching methods.

A tumultuous whirlwind. This is how Seija Kairavuori, Senior University Lecturer in the Didactics of Visual Arts, describes the change in images, the core phenomenon of her field of teaching.

“During my career as a teacher, photographs and video images have become digital and mobile. Now, images can be bodily and multisensory virtual spaces that enable engaging blended experiences, or they can be created with artificial intelligence from image or text material,” Kairavuori says.

Kairavuori teaches future class teachers. Changes in visual culture have made new environments and tools available to teacher trainers.

Today, photography and image creation constitute a culture that is accessible to everyone, takes place everywhere, and is shared and experienced in new ways.

“Appearing in and producing images are a significant part of the formation and maintenance of, or exclusion from, social networks. The eternal questions of human growth pertaining to your identity and your place in communities, your inclusion and agency, are linked to images, photo- and videography, and interpretations of images in what is now a radically changed manner and volume.”

Kairavuori is also fascinated by questions concerning the relationship of images to ‘truth’ and human perceptions of reality. While mobile digital solutions and artificial intelligence are expanding the civic skills related to visuals, an increasingly advanced understanding is needed of skills associated with embodied learning and material images that are gradually learned, including their special nature in growth and education.

Creating your own images and discussing them will increase critical image literacy and open up opportunities for active participation.

New experiments

When supervising teaching practice, Kairavuori has utilised 360-degree videos together with students and supervisors. This way, students can, through supervision interaction, immerse themselves in the events of the lessons given and analyse them.

Presently Kairavuori is also helping to develop museum visits and workshops implemented over remote connections at the Ateneum Art Museum. The goal is to make them accessible to all schools.

As an art educator, Kairavuori is interested in experiential and embodied learning as part of general education and its various methods of knowing.

“Previous experiences and learning show where the new and unknown can begin, and when you need the courage to explore yourself and the reality around you under uncertain conditions, to be open to various possibilities and incomplete interpretations. The most courageous thing about learning is to advance and be seen with these uncertainties.”

Art as a work environment resembles a dynamic open-plan office where even the teacher has no set place based on what they or their capabilities are at a given time. Making and interpreting art is a work in progress towards potential worlds. Here, teachers are equally learners.

Wellbeing is built on dialogue

In her teaching and related development efforts, Seija Kairavuori strives to leave room for students’ everyday news and a dialogue-based approach. As the director of a bachelor’s programme, she tries to meet student representatives on a regular basis and systematically monitor their feedback on teaching and wellbeing.

“Being heard, opportunities for influencing and mutual respect are an important part of wellbeing in the University community.”

A safe space for considering art and teaching

As a teacher, Kairavuori wishes to create a safe space where questions related to images, art and growth into the teaching profession can be contemplated in a way that allows the positive realisation of diversity.

In teaching, cultural structures that constrict equality and diversity are critically examined. Over the years, visual arts as an occupation and pastime has been associated with, among other things, gendering practices.

“The visual culture of children and adolescents can continue to offer strong assumptions and acts of othering, for example, in terms of colours and areas of interest. As an art educator interested in social justice and inclusive teaching methods, I think wellbeing manifests as the courage to ask questions and challenge such matters, along with the possibility of being yourself in your community.”

Seija Kairavuori was appointed a fellow the University of Helsinki’s Teachers’ Academy in 2022. She works as a senior university lecturer in the didactics of visual arts at the Faculty of Educational Sciences. Kairavuori is the director of the Bachelor’s Programme in Education at the Faculty of Educational Sciences.

The Teachers' Academy


The Teachers' Academy is a network of teachers who have invested their time in the development of teaching, teaching skills and students' learning processes. The establishment of the Academy is an indication of the value the university community places on the quality of teaching.  By investing in teachers, the University also invests in students and the quality of learning.  An appointment as a fellow to the Teachers’ Academy is a sign of recognition for teaching merits and expertise in the field of teaching. 

The members of the Teachers' Academy form a multidisciplinary network that shares its expertise and is active in the development of learning and teaching at the university. The members of the Teachers' Academy meet regularly during the academic year to share their pedagogical innovations, learn about ideas for improving teaching and learning in different departments, and work together to promote issues they consider important.