Head of Language Centre
Tampere University of Applied Sciences, Finland
Head of Language Centre
JAMK University of Applied Sciences, Finland
Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) and JAMK University of Applied Sciences have organized together international weeks for higher education language teachers in Finland since 2013. The 2nd International Week for Language Teachers took place in two Finnish inland towns Jyväskylä and Tampere on 18th – 22nd May 2015. The main theme for the 2015 week was Language Teaching Tomorrow – Changing Pedagogical Needs in Higher Education, and three programme tracks were offered simultaneously: online and blended learning, integration with substance and classroom pedagogy.
During the event, about 100 higher education language teachers from 20 countries got together in order to share good practices, launch new co-operation projects and network with their colleagues. They also had an opportunity to catch a glimpse of Jyväskylä and Tampere. Tens of TAMK and JAMK students participated in the event. TAMK students´ participation was included in their curriculum as Hosting international guests.
The presenters were supposed to prepare lectures, workshops or roundtable discussion on their topic. No participation fee was charged, and the participants from institutions with ERASMUS mobility programme could apply for a grant for travel and accommodation costs at their home institutions.
Early 2015, the virtual community Language Teaching Tomorrow was launched in order to spur community building before, during and after the week. The e-journal of higher education language teaching and learning Language Teaching Tomorrow serves as a forum of expert articles.
Why an international week for language teachers – background
A teacher’s role is changing rapidly from a content provider to a facilitator of learning process and coach of a student team. Today, supporting creative enquiry and creating authentic learning opportunities for their students are facilitators’ core skills. The information resides in various sources, most of which are easily accessible on the net. Internet came about less than 30 years ago, and the development of education technology is exponential. Teachers must update their theoretical and pedagogical knowledge constantly in order to be able to understand and meet the challenges arising from the changing environment. Personal Development is a must and it is best supported in communities of practice throughout a teacher’s professional career. We believe that by maintaining a joint online community and arranging international weeks teachers´ personal development can be supported well.
During the event many issues were discussed such as the role of educators from teachers to course designers, coaches and online facilitators of individual students, the role of students from passive objects to active subjects and owners of their learning, independent learners (e.g. those who learn a language in a project or during an exchange period abroad) and institutional support for them, challenges and benefits caused by varied professional and educational backgrounds of students and increasing cultural diversity. Proposals were made to engage educators from European higher education institutions in co-operation through integration of technology. Some international courses have already been realized in virtual learning environments, some of them yielding credits and some extra-curricular, yet virtually important for the students since no other study possibilities are offered by their institutions.
The output and outcome of the event
Direct feedback from participants during the international week was spontaneous and positive, and a fair amount of community building took place from the very first day till the last. An online survey was also done for the participants of the 2015 international week. The main purpose of the questionnaire was to explore the importance of having an international community where language teachers can communicate and develop their professionalism. The survey consisted of seven questions. 51 participants answered the survey. The main findings are presented next.
First the participants were asked to choose on a scale from 1 to 5 to what extent they agreed with the following statement: The international week programme had a strong focus in the skills, knowledge and professional identity of a 21st century language teacher. Figure 1 shows that 45 out of 51 participants agreed that the focus of the international week was very useful to them.
Figure 1: The international week programme had a strong focus in the skills, knowledge and professional identity of a 21st century language teacher.
Written comments were also given by the respondents and they confirmed the usefulness of the week:
“We discussed a number of current issues including Web 2.0, collaborative learning and the teacher’s role in the contemporary classroom, all of which provoked interesting discussion and some ideas for practical solutions.”
“The lectures, workshops and keynotes I watched helped me to have a global understanding of what other teachers from different countries are doing to advance teaching and learning.”
“The most teachers shared their best practices. It was very interesting to listen to them and participate in roundtable discussions.”
In Question 2 the respondents had to indicate whether they had enough possibilities to share their thoughts and ideas with others during the event. Over 90 % of the respondents answered “Yes”. Only 4 teachers felt that they did not have enough possibilities to communicate with others. Here are a few illustrative comments of the respondents:
“I delivered a presentation and that provided a perfect opportunity for sharing my ideas with the participating colleagues.”
“It was good to organise some common events/programm (city tour, dinner, sauna) that gave us the possibility to talk to each other in a free atmosphere.”
“I completely agree the the Mission of the Week was to develop professional communication and collaboration. We had a plenty of possibilities to do it – during workshops and coffee breaks, evening events and excursions.”
The third question focused on the participants´ perceptions of the direct transferability of the acquired knowledge into their classroom practices or further studies. The answers were given using a scale from 1 (disagree) to 5 (agree). The majority of the teachers (40 out of 51) agreed that they learnt something new which they can adapt into their teaching or studies (see Figure 3).
Figure 2: I acquired knowledge which is directly transferable to my classroom practices or further studies.
Here are a couple examples of the comments which the respondents gave:
“I learnt a lot about technologies, tools I could directly use in my class but, as I previously stated, some of the presentations lacked theoretical back-up that would have helped people take some distance with what they do and realise their work could be improved.”
“The event made me realize that impossible is possible especially when it comes to using new technologies on everyday basis. I am very thankful for that.”
Two respondents gave also comments on workshops:
“Too much theory by comparison with the practice. It´s necessary to develop practical aspects of the workshops.”
“Yes, I got valuable information, elaborated fruitful ideas, acquired some professional knowledge. But I wish that some workshops would be more practically oriented and efficient.”
A few respondents indicated that they did not learn much or anything new.
In the fourth question the participants were asked to react to the following statement: The participants came from more than 20 countries, which added an enriching aspect to the week’s programme. The findings are in Figure 3.
Figure 3: The participants came from more than 20 countries, which added an enriching aspect to the week’s programme.
51 respondents saw the multicultural aspect of the week enriching:
“It was quite thrilling to work together with such a wide range of nations. While we are still getting to grips with the fact that Europe has become so much closer, we see that connections between Europe and the rest of the world are already forming. I would be very interested in following how things work on other continents, as our language centers offer many languages from outside Europe (Chinese, Arabic, and Japanese being most common currently).”
“Discussing with teachers from other countries makes you more aware of the pros and cons of your own professional environment.”
“The multitude of nationalities was really enriching, however, there should not be more participants in total.”
“Meeting people from so many countries was quite interesting, especially the fact that we had so much in common although we came from different backgrounds.”
The responses to the fifth question I felt a sense of community with other teachers were mainly very positive and only a few respondents did not agree totally with the statement (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: I felt a sense of community with other teachers.
Here are some examples of comments on good atmosphere and sense of community:
“A very good atmosphere created during the the International Week helped in establishing a sense of community with other teachers.”
“Language teachers around the world seem to be similar in that we all enjoy each others’ company – we’re all more or less in the same boat together.”
“Yes – both professionally and socially, there was a great sense of community.”
When asked in Question 6 Would you like to continue participating in NING with other teachers after the international week, 47 respondents wanted to continue co-operation on an online platform (NING). 4 teachers answered “No” to the question.
Last we asked the respondents to tell about their co-operation and project ideas. As it can be seen from the responses below, they had many suggestions and plans for future co-operation:
“Every two years in Finland is a great idea, much better if every other year satellite event would be hosted by rest of countries participating. Same dates, same purpose, simply different location.”
“Teachers/students of 8 countries will cooperate in a project “International Communication” during the 2015 autumn term.”
“I would like to set up an online co-operation (via Skype e.g.) for Russian/German with the Syktyvkar Forest Institute (Republic of Komi) for online round-table discussions. Maybe we are also going to take over some of their ideas for out-of-classroom-activities like the language learning contest, student’s scientific contest and the arts and singer contest which I think would really be great fun for the students.”
“It is envisaged to compile and share study material in inter-university work groups and to exchange ideas on what works and what does not work. A first step might be to visit each other’s institutions.”
“I have a project with a teacher in Holland; we want to improve students oral skills by making them meet on Skype or vision-conference and discuss subjects that they have prepared for example.”
“I will start a Skype project with the colleagues..: we will develop a few assignments on intercultural communication together, and make our students talk about these assignments in French.”
“Some intensive language courses could be offered for example in summer or winter. I think that it could be a very good professional and enriching experience in order to know other students from other countries and other different cultures.”
The survey and its findings confirmed that the international week programme contributed to professional identity building of the participants and most of them acquired skills which they thought were directly transferable to their classroom practices or further studies. An important element during the week were the ample possibilities to share thoughts, ideas and good practises with colleagues also during the evening events. The multicultural atmosphere was considered as an enriching aspect at the same time as a sense of professional community with other teachers was obvious. The virtual community building continues as well as international development projects. The feedback we received from the participants was all in all very positive and encouraging and we shall organise the next international week in spring 2017.