Our studyFIT quest to garner good ideas for the English Learning Support project recently took us to the Open University of the University of Jyväskylä for an Erasmus+ funded staff visit. Our hosts, Dr Virpi Uotinen and Minna Kallinen-Kuisma, had put together a wide-ranging programme in which the FernUniversität visitors learnt much about the Finnish higher education system; the institution’s involvement in the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU); the role of their Centre for Multilingual Academic Communication; virtual language exchanges; and novel approaches to student support services. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
(That is no mere figure of speech: the city centre-situated Lake Jyväsjärvi was still frozen at the end of April, though the city’s ice-skating enthusiasts had ceased trying their luck).
An exciting programme of talks, exchanges, walking tours and coffee laden chats allowed us to gain much insight into how our northern peers conduct distance teaching and counselling using the digital tools at their disposal. On Day One we were welcomed to the Open University by Pepper – the social humanoid robot world renowned for its bright eyes, bald head and prominent touch screen. We learnt that our Finnish counterparts are also Moodle aficionados and have been paying attention to learning analytics more keenly in recent times.
“This Erasmus exchange has proved beyond inspirational because it has given us some solid ideas on how to streamline the services we offer students,” commented ZLI board member Dr André Biederbeck. “Whilst some of what we have observed pertains primarily to contact settings, there are also aspects that can be implemented in the distance learning environment.”
Christine Charon of the FernUniversität’s Graduate Student Services was also pleased with the fruitfulness of the exchanges with her counterparts, whilst Anna Abramova who deals with third party funding listened eagerly when the Finns described how they go about procuring resources and managing research projects large and small.
It turns out that the Finnish education system bears a striking resemblance to that of Germany because of the centuries-long history of exchange and joint scholarship between Scandinavia and the rest of the Continent. Furthermore, the closer cooperation fostered by European integration and the Bologna process means that aims, approaches and funding mechanisms across Europe are in harmony, if not outright lockstep. This means that adopting some of the good practices we observed would be a cinch. Likewise, it was with rapt attention that our Finnish audience listened to our own presentations at the mid-week staff meeting.
Overall, our hosts are to be commended for providing us with substantial input. The programme also allowed for informal discussions and some free time which we spent exploring the campus-based Museum of Central Finland, visiting the famous Panda sweet shop and walking around the Jyväskylä pedestrian precinct. The welcome dinner, hosted by the Open University Director Dr Jukka Lerkkanen, was a fine introduction to Finnish cuisine.
Hats off to our hosts and to the FernUniversität in Hagen’s International Office for facilitating the visit.
Please click through the slide show below for some impressions of what the Open University of the University of Jyväskylä has to offer.