Once more, I have delivered Orientation to Academic Studies, a course part of Edunation’s pathway program. This was the second time in a row I acted as its teacher. As the name suggests, the course is designed to help students get started and familiarise themselves with the world of academics.
Now, it’s a good chance for me to take a step back and reflect on my experiences. This article will explore my thoughts regarding the course as its teacher.
The Finnish Style
Orientation to Academic Studies, or OtAS for short, prepares students for their proper degree studies in a Finnish higher education institution. During the course, I explained the characteristics and functions of the Finnish education system. The main focus is, of course, on universities and universities of applied sciences and how to study in one. This is extremely valuable information for many, no matter if they have prior experience in tertiary education or not.
What I can say right from the bat is that this kind of preparation can help the students tremendously. They will not only better understand what to expect from their degree studies, but it also builds motivation. Many of my students have remarked how they find the Finnish “style” of educating much more to their liking.
What makes the “Finnish education style” stand out then? Well, based on conversations with my students, many are used to more “traditional” classes and examinations. I’m not suggesting that Finland has no traditional classes or exams, but the approach is generally different. The main emphasis is on critical and reflective thinking instead of simply remembering what has been said by the authority.
In Finland, a student is not merely a passive receiver of information who then shows how much they have absorbed during the lectures in an exam. Quite the opposite, actually. In Finland, students ought to be actively dissecting the information being transferred. Even the most traditional lectures still include conversations with the teacher and among the students so that the information might be further investigated.
While I’ve been studying for my MA in Education at the University of Turku, I have done very little exams. Instead, I have done essays and presentations. I assert that essays are more pedagogically sound and even compare to a “real life situation” better. Rather than trying to remember every bit of detail, essays make you critically ponder the information and–this is the key part–how to apply the information into practice.
Back to the Basics
Accustoming students to critical and reflective thinking in their studies is essential to OtAS. But what about the basics then? For example, someone may ask how to write an academic essay if they’ve never done it before. After all, our students come from various backgrounds. This needs to be properly addressed to bring them all up to par.
The neat part is that while I’ve made the students engage in critical and reflective thought processes, the fundamentals of, for example, writing an academic essay and working together are still covered. I want to ensure a strong foundation for everyone for them to succeed in their proper degree studies.
While planning the course contents and working on the materials, one realization that really struck me was that some of the students might have minimal experience even using the Latin alphabet, as there is also other type of writing systems in the world. So, when I say basics, I indeed mean the very basics. These kinds of things should never be overlooked.
Another thing I mentioned above is working together. Many students remarked that one of the most interesting and eye-opening aspects of the course and their pathway studies, in general, is the level of engagement with other students. Many of them report being used to focusing on their own thing, not even noticing other students in the classroom. But now they’ve found an entirely new way of learning through cooperation.
I am still in absolute adoration of these kinds of comments from the students regarding the value of cooperation. As a team, so much more can be achieved. It strongly proves the power of communication and collaboration. Not only that, but it helps to build spirit and a sense of belonging. In my opinion, these things are much needed in today’s world.
An English Crash Course
OtAS is not exactly an English course. However, as the course is delivered in English, it is also an excellent chance to develop one’s communication and literacy skills in a most likely secondary language. Even within a very short period, I noticed many students becoming more efficient and comfortable using English.
The reason is self-explanatory. The more you do or use something, the better you get at it. This goes for languages, too. As the students actively participate in communicating, reading, and writing in English, it is only natural that their English skills are enhanced. The conversations with other students in breakout rooms ensure that everybody gets a chance to speak if they don’t feel comfortable doing that in front of the whole class.
While it’s no surprise that the pathway program assists students in developing their English skills, it is nonetheless important to note. This is another advantage of our pathway program, as it ensures that the students are ready when they begin their degree studies.
Overall, I deem the course a great success, even if I say so myself. I had great fun, as I very much enjoy teaching and helping others to prosper. Not only that but from the conversations with my students, I could also learn a lot. This is my final anecdote here. Teaching and learning go both ways, especially if one keeps an open mind.
About the Writer
Jonne is an education expert from Finland who is passionate about teaching, learning, and global opportunities. He’s been teaching and tutoring at Edunation for two semesters already.