Doing is the best way to learn, says prize-winning teacher Jaanika Blomster

Every year, field courses in environmental sciences prove to the teacher how learning and teaching can inspire. On Jaanika Blomster's courses, students also teach.

Every summer, a group of students in aquatic sciences, or the study of oceans and lakes, travels to southern Finland for a field course held at either the Tvärminne Zoological Station or the Lammi Biological Station. Having settled down for the duration, they spend their days by the sea.

On the course, they hone the skills needed in their field in practice: they collect specimens, carry out measurements and analyse results. In other words, they learn to conduct research and investigate the status of the environment and the organisms living in it.

The days may include a brief lecture, but most of the time is spent carrying out practical tasks.

“I enjoy field courses, and they provide me with energy for the rest of my teaching. At the research station, I remember that you actually do learn by doing,” says prize-winning University Lecturer Jaanika Blomster, who heads these courses.

Alongside her teaching duties, she manages the Bachelor's Programme in Environmental Sciences.

Students involved in research projects

Most of the time, students carry out measurements for their personal course assignments, but occasionally researchers include them in work aimed at producing peer-reviewed research output.

“Students contributed to one of my projects by collecting algae specimens from the shoreline. I was surprised by their enthusiasm, even though I considered the task quite simple.”

Such experiments convinced Blomster of the fact that it pays to involve students in research.

In the Bachelor's Programme in Environmental Sciences, two teachers have designed a course where students are part of the team authoring a scientific article, giving them research experience already at an early stage.

“The course was fully booked within an hour of my colleague opening registration.”

Courses other than those related to professional life are also popular among students of environmental sciences.

For instance, Blomster has together with Career Services designed four courses that familiarise students with a range of expert positions.

One of these courses is a project-based course for master’s level students, during which they partner with businesses. Over seven weeks, they solve the problems of various organisations; they may consider how to involve people in protecting the Baltic Sea or how overland travel could be made more popular.

From this collaboration, businesses gain fresh ideas and sometimes also well-functioning solutions.

Peer teaching generates good learning outcomes

On Jaanika Blomster's courses, students of environmental sciences also teach. For example, orientations and introductory courses that introduce the basics of the discipline are given by senior students. Blomster and her colleagues train second-year students, who then hold the lectures.

In peer teaching, students get to utilise their personal expertise.

“In terms of the workload, teachers would be better off organising the courses themselves, but peer learning has such huge benefits. Asking questions, for example, is easier than on courses held by university lecturers.”

Blomster has carried out pedagogical research in conjunction with the courses, observing that the establishment of community and peer teaching bring about good results. Students learn and participate.

“Lately, I’ve been noticing that students wish to develop teaching and a sense of community. I find their participation really important and fantastic.”