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Designing new learning environments together with local companies

New ideas are needed in the development of learning environments in order for them to promote learning. Collaboration between schools and companies is mutually beneficial: schools gain access to many new opportunities, and companies can boost their competitiveness through new business ideas.  

Early this year, the University of Eastern Finland launched a project that seeks to strengthen the region’s competence base by providing companies with information and opportunities for collaboration in the development of learning environments in different educational organisations.

The Designing and Developing Flexible Learning Environments project collaborates with small companies operating in the region of eastern Finland. A particular objective is to enhance expertise relating to learning environments within teacher education.

“Through these partnerships, we can design and create new products, tools and processes for the development of learning environments. At the same time, we are strengthening collaboration between schools and companies, and raising working life awareness,” says Professor of Education Sari Havu-Nuutinen, who leads the project.

The collaboration between schools and companies also means that pupils and students have better opportunities to visit local companies.

“Another objective of the project is to strengthen teachers’ pedagogical skills in the development and use of learning environments in a flexible manner. The outcomes of the project will support research activities and enhance the role of learning and teaching-related research in the region.”

A long-term goal is to influence regional development and to strengthen regional businesses and industries. The project also provides significant support for the region’s international and transnational education initiatives.

Mutually beneficial

An astronaut, a horse caregiver, a coffee shop owner, an ice cream seller... These are examples of the desired future professions listed by preschool children in the Loiste kindergarten in Joensuu. The kindergarten constitutes part of Pilke, a chain of day care centres in Finland.

The preschool group is learning about working life, approaching the theme from a variety of perspectives. The children have presented their desired future professions by drawing them and exploring their possible content. They have also made company visits, for example to a library and a bakery.

Thanks to the University of Eastern Finland project, the theme is now supplemented by a new component. The children have made videos of their desired future professions under the guidance of science education professionals – and they are naturally excited about this opportunity.

“The university provided us with green screen technology to help in the making of the videos, and thanks to this modern technology, we’ve been able to produce high-quality videos with the children,” says Niko Kyllönen from Joensuu Science Education Services.

He has worked on the project for approximately one month now. Furthermore, Hannu Partanen from Science Education Hannu Partanen has also been involved in the brainstorming for and implementation of an IT-based learning environment for kindergartens. They both feel that the project has given them plenty of good ideas for further development.

“The project has given us insight into what kind of further development is needed and what types of new software we need for our activities in the future,” Partanen says.

Both Kyllönen and Partanen are students of the university, and they also run their own businesses.

“In the future, we both seek to expand the concept of science education within our own companies and to offer similar, readily available products for kindergartens and schools,” Kyllönen says.

According to Partanen, another goal is to train teachers in the use of this type of technology.

“The project has also given us good contacts in local companies. Thanks to these networks, regional collaboration will be easier in the future.”

Collaboration expands

Sari Havu-Nuutinen says that the science education project carried out in the Loiste kindergarten is one of the many projects launched in the region since. Projects are ongoing at all levels, from preschool to higher education.

“For instance, there is a project to develop the school soundscape of the Nepenmäki school in Joensuu, which is carried out in collaboration with SF Sound, a company specialising in sound production. And there is a project to build a winter garden in the Puoliväli kindergarten in Liperi in collaboration with a local gardening company.”

“We use these projects to gather information about the experiences of the children and entrepreneurs involved, as well as of how children experience well-being in the learning environments of their schools.”

Children attending the science-oriented Loiste kindergarten (member of the Pilke chain of day care centres) explore their immediate surroundings with science in mind. Play, creativity and sensory experiences are used to practice scientific thinking, which enhances children’s memory and learning skills. 

Niko Kyllönen and Hannu Partanen are introducing the video technique to the children.
Hannu Partanen (above) and Niko Kyllönen found a suitable background for the desired future profession videos of all preschool child attending the Loiste kindergarten.