The University of Jyväskylä invests in developing teaching – right from the strategy stage onwards. Three new pedagogical senior lecturers with different job descriptions started their work at the university to tackle the challenge of developing teaching. Who are they and what kind of ideas do they have to develop teaching practices at JYU?
Developing the quality and practices of teaching is one of the strategic goals of the University of Jyväskylä. The education development programme of the university’s strategy includes the JYULearn concept, which develops the operating environment of the university so that it is pedagogically diverse and has the appropriate technology in use.
Recently this development work took a leap forwards when three pedagogical senior lecturers were recruited to strengthen the pedagogical team.
“Over the past few years, we have recognised that global and societal change drivers, as well as the drivers of technology development, are challenging us to develop teaching and education in a more agile and future-oriented direction. It is absolutely magnificent that we are able to strengthen our team in this important work,” says Marja-Leena Laakso, vice rector responsible for education.
The new senior lecturers represent different types of disciplines.
“Education development has strong traditions in human sciences, but this doesn’t mean that development work would be tied to a certain field of science. Multidisciplinarity is essential, and it is crucial that representatives from different disciplines participate in the development work,” says Peppi Taalas, Director of the Centre for Multilingual Academic Communication (Movi) who is also responsible for the JYULearn development work.
The senior lecturers support teaching development with a research-based approach. Many kinds of change pressures are directed at teaching. The traditional course-based activities of teaching and supervisory staff are being expanded towards future-oriented pedagogical development, which is based on co-design and in which technology has a natural role.
All three new senior lecturers have different responsibility areas. They will participate in curriculum work and in the central development actions of the strategic education development programme.
So, who are the persons in the new positions and how do they see the direction of teaching development is taking?
Student-centeredness is crucial for development
Sami Lehesvuori has a background in the teaching of mathematics and science and the research of interaction. He has worked in several international projects that have studied interaction-related phenomena and their connection to learning. Lehesvuori moved to the position from the Department of Teacher Education where he worked in a project that studied the development of teachers’ interaction and assessment skills.
According to Lehesvuori, one of the central themes in the University’s teaching is a student-centered approach, which may appear in different forms and on different levels.
“Student-centeredness involves enabling flexible learning independent of time and place. Similarly, student-centeredness is also manifested in high-quality and dialogue-based teaching interaction. I aim to locate and research existing student-centered approaches and practices and to enhance student-centeredness by adding awareness of its manifestation in different teaching and learning environments,” Lehesvuori says.
What does he see as the largest areas for development in university teaching?
“The dividing lines between teaching and research should be removed, because reflecting on your teaching with a systematic research-based approach is an important part of high-quality teaching and its continuous development”
“While teachers understand the needs of students and the studied discipline best, research enables analytical inspection and development of pedagogical approaches. Work in multidisciplinary teams increases interaction between teaching and research and promotes the active and academic agency of teachers,” says Lehesvuori.
Digital pedagogy habits that suit the teacher – student feedback also listened to
Päivi Kousa’s career has included healthcare specialist duties, development of teacher education in natural sciences, study counselling, research, and numerous international projects, to mention but a few.
“In my previous job I coordinated the AI in Learning project that was funded by Business Finland and led by the University of Helsinki. I studied the challenges and opportunities of EdTech companies and schools in relation to digital pedagogy and ethicality of artificial intelligence,” Kousa says.
Through her work, she wants to support teachers to seek and find digital pedagogy methods that help to utilise multimodal learning environments better than before – taking into account sustainability and the diversity of students.
“The purpose is not to change what is already working but to combine a teacher’s own expertise and digital pedagogy in a proportion that is suitable for the teacher and has lifelong learning and well-being as its aim. I also want to encourage everyone to participate in both national and international multi-professional cooperation with different actors in society.
Even though there has been tremendous growth in the digital skills of many individuals, Kousa finds that information, support and ability to find personally suitable digital pedagogy methods are still much needed.
“It is important that digital materials and tools are also safe and developed in an ethically sustainable way. In addition to digital issues, key topics will be matters related to equality, sustainability and lifelong learning in particular,” Kousa says.
As proven by research, interaction promotes the well-being of both teachers and students, but, unfortunately, it is exactly interaction that decreased dramatically during the pandemic and the distance teaching period. We still need research and experiments in how to make remote and hybrid teaching as inspiring and interactive as possible.
Better understanding on the learning capabilities of future generations
Timo Kovanen has worked as a music teacher in a general education school and as a teacher trainer. Before returning to Jyväskylä, he worked for the past seven years in the Oulu University Teacher Training School as a music lecturer, supervising teacher, supervisor instructor, and university teacher of music education.
Long experience in Finnish educational organisations has accrued Kovanen’s competence capital and helped him to create an extensive overall picture of the field: curriculum expertise, observing the education management mechanisms and creative but elaborate mapping of opportunities for doing things differently are the keystones of his expertise.
Kovanen’s role in the promotion of JYULearn goals is to formulate and ask apt questions that renew pedagogical thinking and to be a sparring partner in teaching development.
“I am enthusiastic to contribute to the building of societal impact called for in the strategy in a role of a co-thinker, a kind of ‘consulting architect of learning’,” Kovanen says.
Kovanen sees three main points in teaching development. Firstly, he wishes that strict divisions between traditional and digital learning or contact and distance teaching would vanish. Teaching should be practical and flexible.
“The most suitable multimodal teaching and learning practices should be modified to meaningful and functional student-centered pedagogy.”
Secondly, Kovanen mentions that teaching development and high-level pedagogy could be more visible and rewarded in the guidance mechanisms. Finally, Kovanen highlights a better understanding of future generations:
“The strategic goal to create bold academic experts requires that we understand more clearly the changing readiness of future student generations to think academically and cope in the operating environment.”
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