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Coronavirus situation at the University of Eastern Finland

Teamwork.

Experiences of internationalisation in teaching practice

  • Education and learning environments
  • Languages and cultures
  • Text Nina Venhe | Photos Varpu Heiskanen

This spring, pupils of two fourth-grade classes at Tulliportti Teacher Training School carried out an international project in English. Some of their peers from Spain and Poland were also involved in the project. Coronavirus interfered with their plans, but still the pupils learned important skills for distance work under the guidance of student teachers. The European teacher’s network provided a good platform for the project.

eTwinning is a part of Erasmus+ program aimed at intensifying the cooperation of European schools and developing online teaching and learning. It provides schools with an online platform and a learning environment for cooperation and implementation of projects.  

– I was one of the three teachers from Tulliportti school who participated in the eTwinning seminar aimed at learning about the opportunities provided by the network and finding partners, recalls Merja Kukkonen, who is a full-time teacher at Tulliportti Teacher Training School. 

In the seminar, the teachers from Tulliportti school learned to know some Polish and Spanish colleagues who taught children of the same age in their own countries.  They quickly discovered topics that interested all of them.

– The colleagues from Spain suggested that the pupils should together learn to know about endangered animals in their own country and then introduce them to the others in English. My colleague Juha Paavilainen and I were pleased to take on this idea and were able to engage the student teachers completing their advanced studies in the project. 

Platform for internationalisation at home

The teacher training schools of the University of Eastern Finland pilot the use of eTwinning as part of the teaching practice periods.

– As far as I am aware, eTwinning is not used in teaching practice periods  by other universities, yet. The Finnish National Agency for Education recommends providing student teachers with information on the opportunities for internationalisation. eTwinning has been an excellent platform for this. As a result, the young teachers will spread information about its features to schools, Kukkonen says.

Internationalisation at home can easily be practised with the help of eTwinning as more than 800,000 European teachers belong to the network.  

– We hope that in the future, every teacher graduating from the University of Eastern Finland has had the opportunity to participate in a similar international project during their teaching practice period. With personal experience of eTwinning it will be easier for them to start using it when working.

New skills for everyone

Sonja Penttala, a fourth-year student in class teacher education, explains that, as a whole, the project was a positive surprise to everyone – the teachers, pupils and student teachers alike.

– In the project, the pupils were divided into small groups. Each group chose one Finnish endangered animal for their research. The pupils could then decide on their roles within their group. For example, the groups had translators, illustrators, information searchers and editors. 

Coronavirus forced the pupils do everything online. Fortunately, etwinning provided all the necessary tools for that. Thus, alongside the project work, they learned technical skills such as using digital platforms, sharing the screen and image processing.

– While the pupils’ knowledge and teamwork skills increased, we student teachers also learned a lot of new things, especially about technology. 

The pupils gave good feedback on the project and reflected on their own learning after the project.

– The material was produced both in Finnish and in English. Because Spanish and Polish pupils of the same age are not as advanced in their studies in English as pupils in Finland, the pupils took this into account by using less complicated language and sentence structures.

Language teachers were also involved in the project and helped with language production through remote connections. 

– Besides helping with language issues, English teacher Hilkka Koivistoinen had a significant role in this project and deserves special compliments, says Merja Kukkonen.

Motivating work

The other part of the work was related to wellbeing.

– We wanted to do our part and bring joy and wellbeing to life with the coronavirus pandemic. There was a day dedicated to wellbeing in the project. We organised online workshops in which pupils compiled good news from Finland in the form of news broadcasts. In addition, some of the pupils drew pictures of themselves and explained in English what brings them joy and what they like. It was also possible to produce different kinds of videos, recalls Viljami Viskari, who will graduate as a teacher of English. 

The workshops were led by the student teachers and the teachers guiding them moved between the workshops, monitoring the progress of the work. 

– All of the texts were produced in English, but we also practised basic phrases in Polish and Spanish. This way we could include some  diversity and awareness of languages. At the same time, we wanted to promote knowledge of Finnish language. So, Finnish was visible in some of the produced material.

Viskari says that eTwinning project platform was easy to use.

– We have talked about it a lot in lectures, but this was a practical example of how the platform works and how we can use it in our future work. The best thing about the platform is that one can carry out very small projects or large projects with more partners and for a longer periods of time.

Penttala adds that the pupils' motivation seemed to increase especially by the fact that the material they produced was really going to be read by their peers abroad and not only by their own teacher. 

Objectives were achieved

According to Merja Kukkonen, the objectives of eTwinning were achieved. 

– We noticed that working together is easy even though we are not physically in the same space. The platform is like a large, global classroom in which the classmates are from different countries. 

eTwinning is also cost-effective: internationalisation takes place without travelling. 

– Although coronavirus slowed down the implementation of our project and we will not really be able to examine the results until next autumn, this was very rewarding even just as a distance learning experience. I admire the inventiveness of the teacher students and the experiences the pupils had. The pupils supported each other and proposed solutions to each other whenever this was needed. 

The objectives defined in the curriculum were also achieved in the project.

– This was development of transversal competence at its best. The pupils searched for information independently, processed it and learned cognitive and ICT skills. In addition, their language proficiency improved and they became more broad-minded. Their teamwork skills also got better, summarises Kukkonen. 

– All in all, this was a learning experience for all of us. 

eTwinning provides an opportunity and a place for everyone working in a school to connect with each other, work in cooperation, develop projects and feel a part of a shared learning environment. eTwinning receives funding from the Erasmus+ Programme, which is a part of the EU’s education, training, youth and sports programme. Currently more than 800,000 teachers and 205,000 schools participate in eTwinning.
 

Teamwork with teacher.
Teacher Merja Kukkonen and the fourth-graders have already returned to contact teaching, so they will not be able to present the results of their project to their international peers until next autumn.