Author(s): Jukka T. Lehtonen & Minna Lakkala
Affiliation(s): University of Helsinki, Finland
Date of publication: June 21, 2016
The Educational Problem
The central reason for creating the course was that in the feedback that the faculty of Bio- and Environmental Sciences had received both from alumni, graduates and employees, the competences of project planning and management were emphasized as important skills in working life. Such competences were taught little in the faculty. There emerged a desire to provide master students with opportunities to learn project work practices and apply theoretical domain knowledge that they have learned during their studies in solving practical real world problems.
The head instructor with two assistant instructors organized a course where students’ carried out a customer project for a real customer organization. An external expert gave students initial project work training. Teamwork was organized by an agreed policy, according to which the chairman and the secretary were replaced every two weeks. The students themselves decided how many study points they wanted to achieve and allocated time for the course and project work accordingly. The whole class had three joint meetings during the course. Otherwise the teams worked independently; for example, meetings with the clients and the tutoring instructor. In the course meetings, the teams presented their work progression and outcomes and received feedback from peer students, instructors and clients. A wiki platform was used for common course activities, the sharing of materials and group communication. In addition, the student teams took into use some cloud services (e.g., Google docs) for their co-authoring needs.
Generally, the students’ experienced the course very positively. Students appreciated group work, real work processes and responsibility given for them, but collaboration was also mentioned as being difficult. There were some problems with the uneven commitment to group work and difficulties to find time for group meetings. Students were impressed by the learning of expert practices and high quality group work results as well skills for real work life.
The instructors were also mainly satisfied with the course, especially the commitment and active participation of the clients and the high quality outcomes that the student teams produced. One challenging issue was the size of student teams; one team had 7 participants which was considered a too large group to be functional.
Materials and Links
- The materials of the first project course as well as subsequent course implementations are available in a wiki site (in Finnish):
- A research article about the pedagogical design of knowledge creation practices, including the project course in question as one case, is published and available online: Lakkala, M., Toom, A., Ilomäki, L., & Muukkonen, H. (2015). Re-designing university courses to support collaborative knowledge creation practices. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 31(5), 521-536.