Becoming part of the scientific community in the physics department's own living room 

The group work room of the Department of Applied Physics underwent quite the facelift, as old school desks were carried out and new Ikea furniture was moved in. 

The facelift was inspired by an idea to enhance social interaction and student engagement. "We have got off to a smooth start. People have been positive and curious about the new room and, to me, that speaks volumes for people's faith in the idea. This is already seen as a normal living room," Lecturer Markku Saarelainen explains.

Today's students carry very little with them, so traditional school desks aren't necessarily needed.

"In this room, it is impossible for students to hide and sleep at the back, because the teacher circulates around. For the teacher, the room makes it possible to take the stage and perform," he continues, smiling.

The new room supports peer learning, as it emphasises the exchange of ideas between group members. Another goal is to get students to know each other and to turn them into committed members of the local scientific community. 

"In this kind of classroom, it's easy to ask the teacher to explain things that haven't been understood. One tends to be more present in the moment, and it's nice to get individual counselling," say second-year students Ms Gisela Miettinen and Mr Jyrki Jauhiainen

The technology in the room is also modern: the smart boards are easily visible from everywhere, and students can use a document camera to download content from the smart boards to their laptops or iPads. 

"For us, however, technology is just a spice, not the main ingredient," Senior Researcher Lasse Heikkinen says.

Mathematics is part of a physicist's skill set 

"We are using the same teaching methods as before. Physics is a subject where deep learning requires a certain hierarchical structure. New knowledge is built on existing knowledge, and it is the task of the teacher to make sure that the student has understood the basics. Otherwise the hierarchical structure tends to crumble," Lecturer Saarelainen explains.

"The application of knowledge is the most difficult level, and the level we are aiming at. It is also extremely important that students learn to work as members of a group, because practical advances in today's science are not made by individuals alone, but always with the support and help of a group." 

The laid-back atmosphere of the room seeks to inspire discussion, but how does the room consider the needs of the quieter student?

"Tacit knowledge can be accessed through discussion. Not every student is lively and talkative, and not everyone needs to be, either. However, in a room like this, even the quietest student can blossom. The future will show what kinds of results can be achieved," Senior Researcher Heikkinen says.

The goal is to combine traditional and new study skills. "We aim to enhance students' confidence and encourage them to take more and more responsibility for studying," Senior Lecturer Päivi Ronkanen says.

"This kind of room is bound to come as a culture shock to many, and it will take time for the room to find its full potential," Senior Researcher Heikkinen and Lecturer Ville Ramula say.

"As teachers, we do not provide students with ready-made ideas, and students will need to do all assignments, such as calculations, by themselves now and in the future. Many people dreaming about doing studies in physics may have a romanticised idea about the subject. The diversity of the mathematical arsenal a physicist must possess may come as a shock to many," Lecturer Saarelainen points out. 

Text: Marianne Mustonen Photo: Raija Törrönen