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Arkiv Tema Åbo Akademi University leading the way

Åbo Akademi University leading the way

For those of us who completed our education, in the 1990s the use of computers is second nature. We sometimes see our parents struggle with computer skills, as their generation was only thought through the method writing with pen on paper. In an increasingly digital world there can be a meeting of these two traditions - one which reaps great benefits for today's students.

ÅBO Akademi University has long been recognised as an esteemed centre for research in Europe, let alone Finland. The work carried out there in the areas of bioscience, computer science, democracy, human rights, material sciences, process chemistry and psychology is well known in the educational world.

Åbo (or Turku in Finnish) is the main centre of research for the university, with Vasa (Vaasa) being the secondary of the two - with three other centres, in Helsinki, Jakobstad (Pietarsaari) and the Åland Islands (Ahvenanmaa) - and Vasa holds the Faculty of Education of Åbo Akademi (ÅA).

Professor Ria Heilä-Ylikallio in Vasa is the leader of two current research projects, Reading and Writing in the 21st Century and an extremely innovative project on using ICT skills in writing for young children called Intelligent på tangent (Intelligent on key).

Helsinki Times speaks to the Professor of Swedish Language and Literature Education at the Faculty of Education, Åbo Akademi University (Vasa) about this revolutionary new concept.

"Education must keep ahead of the times. We must recognise, in this technologically advanced society, that the world is becoming a multimodal and digital place - this is a fact of life," says Heilä-Ylikallio.

Multimodal interaction

The idea of multimodality is to provide the users, in this case comprehensive school students, with multiple modes of interfacing with a system. Multimodal interaction may use a pen, keyboard and computer screen, pictures, music, gestures and images. When you think about it we use multimodal technology on a regular basis; the touch-screen on ATMs for example. With Intelligent på tangent the idea is to make learning enjoyable also.

As Heilä-Ylikallio explains, the concept is ideal for children, who naturally make mistakes as they learn to form words and sentences, "We can all remember learning to write and making mistakes. Instead of using the rubber eraser to correct the mistake, with computers you simply delete the error and make the correction. It takes some of the frustration out of the learning process."

"With Swedish, children sometimes struggle early in their learning as it is phonetically different from, say, Finnish where every letter represents a sound. Computers can prompt the correct spelling, give an alternative spelling or simply correct the mistake. It's so much easier than writing in your copy-book and handing to the teacher to await the results."

The Norwegian educationalist Arne Trageton first studied the concept of computer assisted learning in a three-year study called Creative writing on computers, grade 1-4. Playful learning carried out in 13 schools in Norway, Denmark, Finland and Estonia in 1999. He found that "through playful learning the children have taught themselves most of the letters and have also learned to write and read before the formal teaching starts in grade two."

"We start with children in grades 1-2, boys and girls aged 7-8. The core curriculum, set in 2004, states that all children should have some experience of computers - we just increase that level so that basic subjects of Swedish and literature, art, music and nature studies all involve teaching through computers, as opposed to computers being a separate subject. That is the beauty of the Finnish education system - it allows the teacher control of the methods of teaching, so long as the core curriculum (and its goals and teaching hours) are achieved," continues Heilä-Ylikallio.

Editors of our own stories

"As regards the literature classes we don't just limit the children to words. We work on creative writing using images and interactive writing boards. The children often work two to a computer and we have noticed greater cooperation as they figure how to create a story using images and words of their choosing. We are increasingly these days becoming the multimodal editors of our own stories, for example through Facebook and flickr."

Vasa övningsskola is a Swedish-speaking teacher training school in Vasa and is affiliated with the Åbo Akademi Faculty of Education. The predecessor to Vasa övningsskola opened its doors to its first students in 1611 and the national poet Johan Runeberg was a student there. As a teacher-training school its students and teachers assist in research carried out by masters students and researchers from the university.

"In the junior classes we aim to teach basic computer functionality and the finger system in a playful way. We are not so strict this early with using the correct fingers on the correct keys - studies here have shown the children will find their way to the correct system easier than if we make it too strict and take the fun out of it. The practice of both manual dexterity and visual memory is positive and we do encourage it obviously. Another important aim is to allow students to collaborate on each other's texts, converting them into drama, dance or different text genres," says Heilä-Ylikallio.

"In the higher classes, from grades 4-6 (children aged 10-12), we develop and train the ability to create projects and thematic work and for the students to develop the ability to express themselves through photography, film and film-editing. The creative writing now really blossoms where the writing involves pictures and layout."

One fear relating to the teaching of children to read and write through computers is that the traditional and irreplaceable skill of handwriting maybe be neglected. But as Professor Heilä-Ylikallio explains, over the five years the study has been ongoing, this has not been a problem, "We haven't seen this at all - it doesn't seem to affect the learning of this skill."

Åbo Akademi University was founded in 1918 as Finland’s second university through private donations – primarily to secure higher education in Swedish for the country’s Swedish-speaking population and to allow Turku to again become a university town.

The university has campus areas in Åbo, Vasa and Jakobstad, and also facilities in Helsinki and in the Åland Islands.

Åbo Akademi is also the only unilingually Swedish university in the world outside of Sweden.

There are just under 8,000 students at the university’s faculties and over 1,000 staff and administrative workers. Åbo Akademi is also a member of the Coimbra Group. The rector is Jorma Mattinen.

The university consists of twelve departments: Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Education, Faculty of Theology, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, School of Business and Economics, Department of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science, Department of Law, Department of Biosciences, Department of Information Technology, Department of Chemical Engineering and Department of Natural Sciences

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