“Openness improves the quality of teaching and requires digital solutions”

Jaakko Kurhila, the recently appointed chief digitalisation officer of the University, is organising introductory courses for those interested in university studies. His aim is to subject teaching to open criticism. In Kurhila’s mind, digitalisation serves education.

A tool in the service of education, that is, creativity and criticism. That’s what digitalisation is to Jaakko Kurhila, the recently appointed chief digitalisation officer of the University of Helsinki.

Kurhila took on the position after serving as the director of the Open University where he successfully developed novel digital methods, among them MOOC online courses open to all. Now, his mission is to help the entire University evolve.

“Digitalisation is nothing mythical or mystical. I wish people weren’t so cautious about its potential but would together look for the right ways to advance things,” says Kurhila.

Teaching in need of a boost similar to research

In recent years, research, studying and learning environments have undergone tremendous changes. Many courses can already be completed online, while examinations can be taken in an electronic examination facility according to personal schedules. The role of open data and open access publishing at the University will only grow in the future.

Digitalisation will also affect teaching in many ways. Currently, dozens of degree programmes at the University of Helsinki are considering how teaching could be improved through digital solutions. The Digital Leap in Teaching project has already born fruit in the form of a wide variety of ideas and projects, from digital classroom examinations in medicine to the utilisation of virtual reality.

According to Jaakko Kurhila, the digitalisation of teaching is even more important than that of research. Research evolves due to competition on the international stage, which also applies to funding.

"The digitalisation of teaching is even more important than that of research."

“When a new device or method that facilitates the conduct of research is developed, it is quickly introduced in practice. No one wants to give an edge to other researchers. Through such hard-nosed competition, the quality of research also improves.”

Kurhila thinks the same attitude should prevail also in education.

“The only way to improve teaching is to subject it to unfettered criticism. Openness is the way to develop education in the right direction. To make such openness a reality, digitalisation is required.”

In practice, increasing the openness of teaching could mean that anyone will be able to attend and provide feedback on teaching online.

“This would put pressure on teachers to develop their teaching. I believe this would also increase the appreciation of teaching.”

Introductory course on university studies

Currently, in the works at the University are several introductory courses for those interested in studying. The goal is to provide an opportunity to attend lectures and other teaching situations online. In other words, the participants will find out what studying actually entails. This could help in choosing the right field of study and, at best, decrease the number of transfers during studies.

“Today’s byword is continuous learning. If teaching was made available as a societal service, everyone would still be able to immerse themselves in the latest knowledge after completing studies,” says Kurhila.

Once online courses and independent examinations are routine, will something essential be missed? Will teachers and students no longer meet?

“Attendance at critical junctures is essential. Wisdom resides in networks and in the spaces between, in human-to-human interaction. This should be reflected on the ways teaching is organised. Studying no longer means sitting in lectures but doing things together. Its communal nature is stronger than many perceive.”

Introducing digital leaps in teaching

The closing seminar for the digital leap projects carried out during 2017 at the University of Helsinki will be held on Tuesday, 22 May 2018 at 12.00 on the Think Corner Stage. Most of the presentations will be in Finnish. Please register for the event by Friday, 18 May 2018.

Further information: Digiloikkaajat Stagella!

More about the subject: Teaching & studying