Liveblogging: University Pedagogical Support (UNIPS) digital environment for university staff and doctoral students – a Finnish innovation – Mari Murtonen (16th May, 2018)


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Background to the day

I’m here once again for one of our Department’s Learning Lunch. I’ve had my sandwiches and now waiting on Mari to speak who’s on a visit here from Finland. Kieran, one of our research fellows, knows her well and has invited her over to do the talk. I’m intrigued to hear the talk as it is about academic development certification in learning and teaching (i.e. equivalent to PGCerts in Academic Practice) in Finland at a more national scale i.e. run for 8 universities in Finland (there is only 15 of them!).

Mari is here as part of an ERASMUS exchange.

UNIPS project

Mari’s interests is in research methods learning (which is also one of my interest!) but her talk today is about providing digital pedagogical support to doctoral students and staff (UNIPS, university pedagogical support). The project was funded by the government for EUR$1.3 million. They’re hoping to roll it out to all universities in Finland.

The starting point was that all of the 8 universities had very small educational development units and that their academic staff were often busy. They, therefore, wanted to offer something that was more flexible and online.

Mari is demonstrating the UNIPS project which they built on WordPress. It is quite interesting how simple it is presented and easy it to navigate within WordPress.

UNIPS modules

Mari is looking for some European collaborators to work with this project and perhaps rolling it out. They have currently developed modules based on 1 ECTS basis (i.e. 20 hours study time). They think this is sufficient length of time to engage staff. They currently have 3 modules but are hoping to role out more. The current three are:

  • Becoming a teacher
  • Lecturing and expertise
  • How to plan my teaching?

The audience are suggesting that this sort of online learning may be more appropriate for new staff whilst they are waiting to go onto a certificated programme, so it can get them started. Others have indicated that senior staff may find it useful as well to update themselves as their teaching approaches may go “stale”.

Mari is currently evaluating to what extent these short courses are able to pedagogically develop their teachers using self-assessment scales.

Evaluation Studies

Her evaluation studies are showing that that the short modules have the best progress on the pedagogical development of the teachers if they were within 0 to 2 years of teaching experience. Their conclusion is that pedagogical training should be offered before starting as a teacher (this result is going to be in a paper to be submitted in June).

The audience is suggesting that for the more senior staff, they are perhaps less likely to change because they have already formed teaching habits that they are less likely to change.

Mari is looking to develop a theory of scientific thinking skills for university settings and mentions the book that has been submitting for consideration around this idea (for which I am contributing a chapter).

My reflection

I thought the idea of having online academic practice teaching that was common across all the universities was an interesting idea as it ensured the all university teachers had similar training but also made it more efficient. In the UK, almost every university has its own academic practice teaching training which has to align with the HEA’s UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) and therefore can achieve consistency across programmes through normal quality assurance procedures.

I forgot to ask Mari whether there was a common framework like this in Finland – because if it did, I wonder to what extent that the universities would be willing to work together – but perhaps this is not an issue where the universities do not need to make an income through teaching. I recently did the online HEA’s External Examiner Training for free and that was for external examiners across the country. I wonder how long the External Examiner Training would remain free across the country and not be offered by individual universities, if there was a common framework to be accredited to and a likelihood of either saving/ making money. Perhaps, I’m being cynical, but I think the consumerist push within the UK HEIs, means sometimes collaborative initiatives like the UNIPS in Finland will be looked upon sceptically here as the UK economic HEI culture may not support collaborative endeavours between universities unless there was a tangible individual profit to be made and certainly not because it is a public good for all HEIs and society (i.e. a collectivist approach).

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