University of Helsinki: reaching many with MOOCs

Gabriella Restrepo
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Helsinki, Finland

When Moodlerooms decided to offer MOOCs for Higher Education institutions, the objective was to create an alternative that was reachable by everyone interested in furthering their education with the possibility of having interaction with instructors, peers and other experts globally. Since then, many schools and universities around the world, such as The University of Helsinki in Finland, have included these courses in their curriculum.

The University of Helsinki is the oldest and largest academic education establishment in Finland, and through the power of science it has contributed to society, education and welfare since 1640. It has an international scientific community of 40,000 students and researchers. In 2015, the University was 76th in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking, 96th in the QS World University Ranking and 67th in the Shanghai Ranking.

University of Helsinki, Finland. Photo: AFP Jussi Helttunen.
University of Helsinki, Finland. Photo: AFP Jussi Helttunen.

This university seeks solutions for global challenges and creates new ways of thinking for the benefit of humanity. As time passes, platforms therefore have to develop in order to improve education and help students feel comfortable with their learning process. But this process involves not only students, because teachers are also an important part of it, and this means that with new tools available to do everything they need, it is only a matter of time until everyone uses online platforms as one of the main ways to learn.

Finland’s welfare is built on education, culture and knowledge. The flexible education system and basic educational security make for equity and consistency in results. They believe that everyone wants to study, regardless of age; maybe they take only one course or perhaps they follow a whole degree program, but a life of learning is a very important thing there.

Consequently, the University has used technology in education for quite some time. Moodle has been predominant there since 2007 with two platforms: first, what they call “Normal Moodle”, with 15,000 courses to blend the online learning process with face-to-face teaching, lectures and group meetings, and then Moodle for their Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

In August 2015 they launched six MOOCs. At the time, they had one course in English, but now they have two. The first one is Political System in Finland is aimed at people who are interested in the Finnish political system and culture, and the other one is about Sustainable Energy in Education. Each of these MOOCs is free to everyone. Hopefully they will have more courses in English, but currently the majority is taught in Finnish.

When they started to work with Moodlerooms and to set up their MOOC platforms, some teachers said they wanted to have the course in Finnish because all the material they had was in that language and it therefore wouldn’t be very wise to have the course in English if nothing was in English. “It’s more about the resources the teachers have, and if they have them in a certain language, the logical thing to do is to teach the course in that language”, says Mari Jussila, the university’s Educational Technology Specialist.

94% of those who completed our MOOCs were satisfied with the course. 75% thought that the platform was easy to use, despite to 60% students this was their first online course ever. 25% would want more personal guidance.

The most important challenge facing the Educational Technology Center today is to help teachers design courses in a pedagogical way.

Students don’t complain very often, as they are familiar with many online platforms. It’s easy for them if the course is designed in a clear and informative manner. Teachers, on the other hand, sometimes are lost with Moodle, because if they start by only uploading slices it’s quite easy, but if they don’t know how to choose the right tool or activity, it gets more complex. Teachers are therefore struggling more with online teaching. This is why the Educational Technology Center at the University offers plenty of training for them.

Mari Jussila, Educational Technology Specialist, University of Helsinki. Photo: AFP Jussi Helttunen.
Mari Jussila, Educational Technology Specialist, University of Helsinki. Photo: AFP Jussi Helttunen.

When teachers get a Moodle course, it’s empty and they have to build it themselves. They choose the appearance and what tools they will use, and while some teachers use quizzes, others upload videos and more dynamic material. But “It’s very important to motivate teachers to try something new, for them to see examples from other teachers and to show each other what they are doing and what kind of things they have created. It doesn’t come from us –administration–, it comes from their peers, so they see the advantages of using these tools”, says Mari.

Mari mostly helps teachers understand the platform and how to make courses clearer for students. Students are quite demanding and want to use online platforms to do their assignments; they often go to their teachers and say “can we do this on Moodle, why do we have to come if we can do it online, could we use Moodle instead of email?”.

There can be no doubt that some teachers are still reluctant to use online platforms, but it is not a major problem because most are already using them. The most important challenge facing the Educational Technology Center today is to help teachers design courses in a pedagogical way. Every faculty therefore has at least one person helping teachers with Moodlerooms. They try to give teachers all the support and freedom they might require in order to use whatever tool they need.


* Mari Jussila, Educational Technology Specialist, University of Helsinki.


* AFP Jussi Helttunen.

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