All posts by Liisa Ilomäki

Trialogical approach to network in many ways

I had my first contact with the trialogical approach when listening Kai Hakkarainen’s lecture in 2011; he is one of the creators of the model. After that, I asked PhD Hanni Muukkonen to give a workshop in our school 2011 about the modern concepts of learning. The trialogical approach seemed exactly what should be done in upper secondary. At that time it was, however, difficult to find out what kind of collaborative knowledge creation could be used for something real in upper secondary studies.

When Liisa Ilomäki and Minna Lakkala had a workshop in our school in which we designed a teaching entities following a designing template, the trialogical approach became somewhat clearer. We succeeded to plan, step by step, an entity of several subjects focusing on the phenomenon of human rights, and later on, we also created a collaborative environment into Blogger, which was thought to be used and filled in during the courses. In Blogger ( ), the collaborative knowledge creation appeared as sharing of experiences between the courses and the blog made it also possible to share to everyone in the school. When I then had the possibility to see in KNORK Final conference 2016 the various implementations of various schools and teachers, the trialogical approach started to seem as a natural way of learning and teaching

I decided to apply trialogical approach and phenomenon-based learning for an applied course of voluntary work, which is organized once a year. In the topic, cross-fertilization between students and organisations of voluntary work is natural, especially because the students get to know the real volunteers and activities in various organisations and they themselves also participate in the voluntary work and not only search information in the Internet. I had already previously built a network of volunteers in organisations and, based on students’ wishes, I also created more contacts so that students could choose the organization they were interested in.

According to trialogical approach, my aim was to intensify the sharing of information and experiences between students by using digital tools and to create a longitudinal process of working for understanding the connection between voluntary work and human rights. The aim was that the outcome would be available to all students. Now that I conducted the process for a second time (in 2016), I also dared to take in to use collaborative writing tools, such as Answergarden ( ) and Padlet (, which we successfully used for collecting ideas and thoughts about the elements of good life and the human rights which support these elements. Students also collected collaboratively information into Google Presentations ( about organisations  which look after those people and grounds of life in which human rights have become under threat. In the end of the course we collected all experiences into that presentation. I asked students’ outcomes to be linked into Fronter (a learning environment used in our school) and these were presented to the whole student group.

The Human rights –blog did not activate students well enough because they were not given author rights and I had to link students’ outcome and collect the contents of the course. During the first implementation we collected Facebook-photos from various events but even that remained mainly my task. I could not demand that students have a Facebook account.

For the second implementation I created an own blog for the course. Students wrote individually or in pairs what they had experienced and learned. The blog appeared useful in the way that students could share experiences of events in which only some of them participated. Students could also upload pictures from Dropbox to be published in the blog.

In my course, sharing to others came true almost as by accident as the students wanted to share what they had learnt by organizing first-aid “control points” in our school, by inviting asylum seekers to school, and by opening the blog to anyone: students wanted to have a link into the blog in the virtual journal of our schools. In addition, students and I, too, shared the experiences also in the individual social media accounts. So this is how the cross-fertilization took place in the course also at this level. In future, I would like to find new cloud services which would serve my needs even better. I would like to found such an environment where we could build our common thinking and collect information and experiences of various voluntary work organisations, and the final outcome would be an overall picture in which one could investigate details more in depth.

The advantage of participating in KNORK project has definitely been the inspiration and support in reflecting and developing own work. Brainstorming and peer help with the other teachers who participated in KNORK in our school has been natural, and we have inspired each other for further development of ideas. University researchers’ critical questions have encouraged to thing the issues through a theoretical model and approach. Already during the first year of the KNORK project I understood what I could develop in my voluntary course and what of these insights I could transfer to all my other courses. Now I have developed longitudinal working processes in all my courses, and I have adopted actively digital tools and many kinds of cloud services to them. The trialogical approach has started to seem the best direction. To have meaningful learning, there should always be participatory independent and collaborative knowledge search and creation for some further use.

Anu-Elina Väkeväinen, teacher of psychology, religion and media, Helsingin Medialukio

Anu-Elina on the right. The picture is from a major national conference of Interactive technology in education in April 2014. The other teacher is Pia Kovalainen from Vantaa Vocational College Varia.


Happy KNORK researchers in sunny Helsinki

In May 23.-24. Klas Karlgren came to work  with the researchers in University of Helsinki.  So much research done related to KNORK! We talked about the research deliverable and started to write it, and we talked about a special issue of KNORK studies. The aim is to get it done during this year. Also some new ideas for articles and conference presentations were discussed. Nice plans, now we just need to get these done!

Researchers in the fotos: Klas Karlgen, Minna Lakkala, Hanni Muukkonen, Sami Paavola and Auli Toom.



Helsinki (1)

KNORK in a Finnish technology & education conference

KNORK outcomes were presented in ITK conference, the major Finnish conference about digital interactive technology in education. About 1 500 people participate every April in Hämeenlinna, Finland, to see and hear news about digital technology, to network, to get inspiration and ideas and simply to learn about technology in teaching and learning. For us participants  it is an extraordinary event because the participants come from various fields: we are teachers, principals, technology developers, researchers and people from administration. The spirit of the conference is creative and progressive, maybe because all people want to promote the use of technology and new ideas in general – so our KNORK approach to knowledge work and new competences fit well in the program.

Finnish KNORK partners – University of Helsinki, Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and Helsinki Upper Secondary School of media arts – together with Vantaa Vocational College Varia (a school which has had a lot of collaboration with KNORK) had an own exhibition stand, a small room, where we had posters of the project and computers available to show the digital outcomes, such as Re-Use Library and teacher training package. So two days in the conference we spoke, spoke, spoke but talking with visitors was really fun! It was impossible to say how many people visited our stand but 41 visitors evaluated the outcomes and left their contact information to get materials from KNORK. Quite good result! And even more: many of these wanted to have collaboration with KNORK partners in the future, e.g. for teacher training. This is how KNORK continues its life even after the project end!
Examples of the feedback in our questionnaire:

  • Really inspiring and fresh approach;
  • You have done great job and a lot of useable outcomes;
  • Collaboration (suggestion) for teacher continuing education.


Pictures of the presentation space.
Building the room computer Hannu and Liisa Three ladies WP_20160414_006 WP_20160414_010

It is hard to chance practices – or is it?

In KNORK we strongly aim to changes in teachers’ pedagogical practices. The change process of working practices is always quite hard, not only for teachers but for all of us; daily routines are so comfortable even if not always trendy. Like old shoes, which you know that you should not anymore use in circulation but every now and then you do that.

For teachers such comfortable practices serve also as a proof of students’ learning because the practices have “always” worked well. In KNORK the means for supporting teachers to change the pedagogical practices are trialogical workshops: workshops in which teachers talk about their courses in a structures way. The structure is based on the trialogical principles; e.g. first to talk about what is the collaborative object of activities for students’ work and learning.

After several workshops with teachers of universities, vocationals schools and upper secondary schools we have noticed that it works. The changes are seldom something revolutionary new, they usually are more like taking a few steps forward and the reflecting the outcomes, but the direction is forward. In a recent article (see; Lakkala, Toom, Ilomäki & Muukkonen) we presented results of university teachers’ pedagogical designs after teacher workshop and some consulting discussions. Althought the results are from higher education, the practical experiences indicate a very similar process in upper secondary and vocational schools.

In Rome, in the Final Conference at 12.1.2016 we will present results of several courses in the participating organisations. It is really interesting to see how we have managed, what are the changes like and do the design principles need modification.

In the photo, teachers of Medialukio started their change process by integrating research type of activities in chemistry, physics, and biology. The new entity was called Energy in ecosystem.

medialukio opet

What is the role of research for teachers and school?

For me as a researcher, it has been a great pleasure to collaborate with enthusiastic teachers and schools, and trying to improve teaching and learning together. On the other hand, such an approach – more or less normative, sometime even idealistic – has been shun in research because research is often regarded as neutral, objective, even free of values, and it should focus on clarifying the state of something (what, how, why) instead of guiding how the state should be. Of course there are different paradigms in which research has a more active role, but these paradigms are kind of “Others” while the true research is thought to be pure of values.

Our trialogical approach in KNORK has certainly a strong ideological emphasis. The design principles aim to direct education towards practices that enhance the development of knowledge work practices. (For the unaware reader, the design principles are the following: Organizing activities around shared “objects”; Supporting integration of personal and collective agency and work; Emphasizing development and creativity through knowledge transformations and reflection; Fostering long-term processes of knowledge advancement; Promoting cross-fertilization of knowledge practices and artifacts across communities and institutions, and Providing flexible tools for developing artifacts and practices.)

So are our studies about pedagogical practices research or not?

I had a possibility to listen prof. Anna Stetsenko in University of Helsinki while she visited Finland as an opponent for a doctoral dissertation. In her lecture which she also gave, the title was “Transformative Activist Stance: Implications for learning”, and one of her theses for science was that what if we researchers, instead of investigating “what is”, put forefront of our endeavors “what should be”. Her idea was that researchers could create the society, and world, in which we want to live and not only follow what is going on. I liked that approach a lot! For educational research it means, e.g., that we investigate what characterizes the school and education that is best for children, students and for the future, and furthermore, we investigate how can we improve or change the school and education to these aims. What you think, is it too ambitions to say that in KNORK we have an agenda towards future and we are actively working in schools and in universities to achieve that?

Liisa Ilomäki

Co-ordinator of KNORK

Is it possible to change upper secondary school?

A somewhat skeptical title refers to Finnish educational system, in which primary school teachers have a lot of freedom because one teacher is responsible for teaching almost all subjects; lower secondary teachers have still somewhat freedom although their days are structured by a timetable which navigates them to new classes after every 45 minutes, but the upper secondary school teachers are tied with very heavy curriculum, very tight seven-week course and furthermore, the matriculation examinations which close the twelve-year schooling.

There are several calls for change at upper secondary level, now especially in the Finnish school. The final examinations will become digitalized in autumn 2016. Previously, especially upper secondary level teachers have used digital technology less than teachers of other levels. Now they all need to learn to use technology in teaching. Another requirement for change is expressed both by practitioners and researchers: students don’t learn in school what they need. Three recent studies* have produced results that upper secondary school students don’t gain in school the necessary competencies for further studies and work life; among the insufficient competencies are what we in the KNORK project call knowledge work competencies. The third reason is the changing curriculum. National Board of Education has accepted new curriculum in which integration of school subjects as well as project- and process type of work are brought forward (see It has become impossible for an upper secondary teacher to continue in a traditional teacher-centered way, if she or he has any interest to answer the demands.

Then, how easy it is to make changes in pedagogical practices? Our research results and collaboration with three nice upper secondary schools, Helsingin Medialukio, Tapiolan lukio and Olarin lukio, indicates that even when teachers are very willing to improve their course practices towards student-centered, longitudinal and authentic process-work, there are obstacles that are almost impossible to overcome. The courses are full of issues that students have to learn, and the new curriculum does not differ from the previous one. In Medialukio we faced this challenge in a very concrete way: when a course was 18 hours during seven weeks, for a teacher it is impossible to use, e.g., an hour every week for an assignment which does not cover more than a limited area of the content. Only 3-4 hours is possible for a teacher to reserve for a specific project but even then the teacher has a guilty conscience: “I don’t teach my students all they should learn.” In addition, integrated project with teachers of other subjects is very difficult to organise because, again, of the lack of the time, but also because students don’t participate in the same courses. A natural integration of two (or more) courses so that the students would be the same on the courses does not succeed. Even time for teachers’ collaborative planning is difficult to find – they are busy and free on different times.

Conclusion: if we set up new aims for upper secondary schools, something in the structures have to be profoundly improved. The change is not based on individual teachers being willing or unwilling but on structures that need to be changed on national level.

Liisa Ilomäki

University of Helsinki

Is teaching teaching everywhere?

When we KNORK people had a meeting and workshops in Sofia in January (2015), I began to think how similar problems and challenges with digital technology teachers have in each KNORK country (Finland, Italy, Bulgaria) although the countries are very different. We might think that because, e.g. the resources of digital tools vary so much, because teachers’ digital competence differs so much, schools are so different, e.g., there is not much to talk about between teachers of each country and the experiences cannot be shared to others. On the contrary! The core of teacher profession is learning, at every level and in every country and school, and that is the common ground for teachers to collaborate. In the KNORK workshops, teachers were interested in how to teach better to support students’ future competencies, how to use technology in a meaningful way, and how to organize digital technology so that it supports teachers and students as well as possible. I enjoyed to ee how teachers asked questions from each other, and how they appreciated to see other teachers´ examples (related to KNORK activities). They also shared same problems: lack of time for collegial discussions and planning, limited technology resources and models for supporting students’ knowledge work skills, which is an aim of KNORK project.

Sometimes we think that all travelling around Europe for participating in some projects is just wasting time or “reward trips” without any deeper aims, but again, in our Sofia meeting, I saw the benefits of this face-to-face collaboration, also for teachers. One of the participating Finnish teachers said afterwards that she again got a lot of motivation to continue with the project. Working too much alone or within only in own school does not give wider perspectives – even to see how well one’s one work is. SO looking forward to have a face-to-face meeting in Italy next January!

Liisa Ilomäki, co-ordinator of KNORK, University of Helsinki

Work life competences and Finnish upper secondary schools

In Finland, upper secondary schools are facing major challenges during the next few years because the matriculation examinations (final exams) will be conducted with computers instead of previous pen and paper. Upper secondary school teachers have used less digital technology in classrooms than teachers on primary and lower secondary schools, and their skills and competences need much improvement. There is a lot of talk about the change process for the digital matriculation exams, and not only enthusiastic!

Continue reading Work life competences and Finnish upper secondary schools