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Creating a National Digital Learning Environment for Enhancing University Teachers’ Pedagogical Expertise – The Case UNIPS

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This article analyses the design, implementation, and evaluation of a nation-wide project to create a common digital solution for university teaching staff’s pedagogical training in Finland. During three years, eight universities collaborated in developing an online learning platform called UNIPS, the University Pedagogical Support system. The areas to develop were A) a learning platform based on technical design principles, B) pedagogical principles, and C) broadening the scope of offered studies. The results have been promising. With a carefully planned timetable, all participating universities were able to produce, test, and offer UNIPS modules in collaboration with other universities on the area of their expertise. This paper presents the design process and looks at both developers' experiences on how they perceived the process and the UNIPS platform as its result, and students’ experiences about studying in the UNIPS platform.
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Creating a National Digital Learning Environment for Enhancing University Teachers’
Pedagogical Expertise : The Case UNIPS
© 2020 The authors and IJLTER.ORG
Published version
Murtonen, Mari; Laato, Samuli; Lipponen, Emilia; Salmento, Heidi; Vilppu, Henna;
Mäkinen, Martti; Naukkarinen, Johanna; Virkki-Hatakka, Terhi; Pajarre, Eila;
Selänne, Sara; Skaniakos, Terhi
Murtonen, Mari; Laato, Samuli; Lipponen, Emilia; Salmento, Heidi; Vilppu, Henna; Mäkinen,
Martti; Naukkarinen, Johanna; Virkki-Hatakka, Terhi; Pajarre, Eila; Selänne, Sara; Skaniakos,
Terhi (2020). Creating a National Digital Learning Environment for Enhancing University
Teachers’ Pedagogical Expertise : The Case UNIPS. International Journal of Learning, Teaching
and Educational Research, 19 (1), 7-29. DOI: 10.26803/ijlter.19.1.2
2020
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©2020 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.
International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research
Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 7-29, January 2020
https://doi.org/10.26803/ijlter.19.1.2
Creating a National Digital Learning
Environment for Enhancing University Teachers’
Pedagogical Expertise The Case UNIPS
Mari Murtonen
1
Tampere University & University of Turku, Finland
https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2381-5731
Samuli Laato, Emilia Lipponen, Heidi Salmento & Henna Vilppu
University of Turku, Finland
Merja Maikkola & Paula Vaskuri
University of Oulu, Finland
Martti Mäkinen
Hanken School of Economics, Finland
Johanna Naukkarinen & Terhi Virkki-Hatakka
Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland
Eila Pajarre & Sara Selänne
Tampere University, Finland
Terhi Skaniakos
University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Abstract. This article analyses the design, implementation, and
evaluation of a nation-wide project to create a common digital solution
for university teaching staff’s pedagogical training in Finland. During
three years, eight universities collaborated in developing an online
learning platform called UNIPS, the University Pedagogical Support
system. The areas to develop were A) a learning platform based on
technical design principles, B) pedagogical principles, and C)
broadening the scope of offered studies. The results have been
promising. With a carefully planned timetable, all participating
universities were able to produce, test, and offer UNIPS modules in
collaboration with other universities on the area of their expertise. This
paper presents the design process and looks at both developers'
experiences on how they perceived the process and the UNIPS platform
1
Corresponding author: Mari Murtonen, mari.murtonen@tuni.fi
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©2020 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.
as its result, and students’ experiences about studying in the UNIPS
platform.
Keywords: university teaching; higher education; pedagogical training;
pedagogical support; digital solution
1. Introduction
University teachers have traditionally been a group who do not receive any
pedagogical training before they begin to work as teachers, and even later in
their teaching career, their pedagogical training is mostly voluntary (Murtonen
& Vilppu, under review). In recent years, the demand for staff development
courses and lifelong learning opportunities has increased (Hyland, 2019), and
universities have been constantly evaluated and accredited for their success in
teaching. University teachers are required to be aware of the latest pedagogical
changes in their field in order to be able to provide high quality teaching.
The reasons for the lack of pedagogical training and teaching staff’s weak
pedagogical education in universities are numerous. The Humboldtian tradition
of universities in many countries relies on the high-quality content knowledge
and collaboration in research groups that is assumed to ensure the high-quality
teaching (Simons, 2006; Simons & Elen, 2007). When pedagogical training is
offered, the staff may not be interested in participating because of the traditional
thinking that pedagogical skills are not needed. Those who might be interested
in participating may not be able to attend fixed training sessions due to busy
working schedules. Employee training courses on pedagogy have been
expensive for universities to organize and staff for organizing them has been
scarce, and since only the most experienced applicants have been selected, all
who wanted to participate may not have received a study place (Vilppu,
Södervik, Postareff, & Murtonen, 2019). This leaves, again, the beginning
teachers uneducated. If a selection criterion to training has been working as a
teacher at the university, doctoral students without teaching duties have usually
been left out, even if they may have been interested in participating.
Many Finnish universities are struggling with the above-mentioned issues.
Another severe problem is that the pedagogical training has been offered in
many universities only in Finnish, leaving international staff and doctoral
students out. For these reasons, there was demand for a modern learning
solution that would enable busy staff members, all doctoral students, and non-
native Finnish speakers to participate in university pedagogical courses,
preferably with a lower cost than in face-to-face training. The goal was also to
develop the content of the training in order to meet the goals set in the strategies
of the Finnish universities.
To meet the demand, an idea of a common digital learning platform was born
among the university pedagogical developers of the Peda-forum, a network of
university-level actors and teachers in Finland. The University of Turku was the
first one to develop a digital learning platform prototype named UTUPS
(University of Turku Pedagogical Support) that was tested and consolidated in
use during 20152017. Since struggling to provide pedagogical training for
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university staff was a common problem in middle-sized and small universities,
the success of the UTUPS sparked the interest of other Finnish universities. A
key funding application was produced in collaboration and the Finnish Ministry
of Education and Culture decided to fund the UNIPS project, a joint effort of
eight Finnish universities (out of a total of 13 universities), coordinated by the
University of Turku, from the beginning of 2017 until the end of 2019 (see Figure
1).
Figure 1: Implementation plan of the UNIPS project during years 2017-2019
The aim of the project was to produce an environment that builds on the
findings of the learning sciences, i.e. to provide a best possible environment to
foster and support participants’ learning, and that uses the most inspiring digital
solutions available. This paper describes the design and implementation of the
UNIPS platform and analyses the experiences of both the developers of the
platform and students who studied in the platform. The analysis is done both at
the levels of pedagogical and technical solutions. The goal is to describe the most
successful solutions for developing and executing such a digital environment,
and how to avoid possible pitfalls. In addition, some visions for the future will
be set, especially concerning the continuity of this type of an environment after
the funding period.
2. The theoretical standing points and practical requirements for
designing the UNIPS platform
The focus in designing the UNIPS platform was to produce high-quality
university pedagogical material online and provide an easy access to that
material. Thus, the goal was to enable staff members’ self-studying on various
higher education pedagogy topics whenever they would need information to
support their teaching (cf. Laato, Salmento, & Murtonen, 2018). A further goal
was also to incorporate material for the guided study model, which would
utilize online teamwork for collaborative improvement of pedagogical skills and
allow students to earn study credits in the guidance of a teacher. These
objectives posed various challenges to feasible technical and pedagogical
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solutions and affected the way content was chosen and created. Due to the
complexity of online courses, best practices and lessons from previous studies
needed to be taken into account already in the design phase. The solution also
needs to be constantly evaluated through theory and practice.
This chapter will describe the agreed design principles, the actual
implementation solutions of the UNIPS platform from the viewpoints of
technical, pedagogical, and scope related requirements and possibilities, and the
theoretical standing points of the design principles and the implementation. The
most important goals and solutions are summarized in Table 1.
Table 1: The requirements and initial solutions of the UNIPS platform
Goal
Specific requirement
Implementation solution
A. TECHICAL PLATFORM DESIGN PRINCIPLES
A1. Flexibility &
easy accessibility
for students
Materials available at all
times, everywhere, for
everyone
Provide materials online; no
registration or password
A2. Ensure the use
of the platform in
universities
Make the solution
practical, easy and low-
cost to maintain
Use free software technologies - in
practice: WordPress CMS and
Moodle
A3. Ensure the use
of the materials in
universities
Make materials relevant
and fit the current
ecosystem of university
pedagogical teaching
Modular structure enables:
- Use within various teaching
methods (e.g. flipped learning,
traditional teaching, self-study, etc.)
- Studying modules as individual
study units or including contents
into other courses
- Use of micro credentials or badges
B. PEDAGOGICAL PRINCIPLES
B1. Support
learning and
avoid dropping
out by good
usability and
attractiveness
Minimize students’
cognitive load and make
studying attractive by
gamifying contents and
making elements
interactive
- Include only necessary information
- Short snippets of information and
small packets of learning
- Basically same design and structure
in every content module
- Motivating, interactive materials,
e.g. activating tasks, quizzes, tests
and short videos
B2. Enhance
collaborative
knowledge
building
Include social features &
collaborative learning
Use external technologies to facilitate
group discussions and collaborative
tasks with shared goals
B3. Enhance
reflection skills
and conceptual
change
Include possibilities for
metacognitive processes
and challenging one’s
own knowledge
Individual and collaborative tasks to
create conceptual conflict and need
for reflection
C. BROADENING SCOPE
C1. Broadening
participant group
Provide teaching for new
teachers and PhD
students
Scalable online courses to control
organizing costs
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C2. Broadening
language selection
Teaching available in
English
Create all materials in English or
provide translations
C3. Broadening
content selection
and quality of
materials
Offer wider selection of
high-quality courses
Co-plan and co-produce the open
modules for national purposes
2.1. Technical platform design principles
Since the goal was to create a flexible digital environment, the first task in
designing the learning solution was to select suitable tools for implementing the
pedagogical ideas. The first question was whether the environment should be
open or closed. Since the funder, The Ministry of Education and Culture,
requires open access solutions, and also because the aim was to create easily
accessible materials, an open solution was selected. The internet provides unique
opportunities for higher education. Massive open online courses (MOOCs),
meaning courses that are open to all who are willing to study, as well as learning
management systems (LMSs), i.e. software applications for managing
educational courses, have emerged, providing educational resources for
students regardless of their physical location. The development costs of quality
online educational materials can be high; however, those are fixed one-time
costs, and, as the maintenance and redistribution of the created content is cheap
compared to contact teaching, this allows the universities to use the solution for
a long time. Since the universities in Finland operate mainly on public funding,
the costs for each university to develop and maintain the environment needed to
be low. Thus, mainly such software were selected that already were used by all
universities or that were free or low in cost. The domain name unips.fi was
reserved for the platform and a web hotel was rented to host the site. The
WordPress content management system (CMS) was then installed on the server,
on top of which the main UNIPS website and all pedagogical materials were
deployed. According to design science research approaches, such as the Hevner
design science (Hevner, 2007), information to the artifact must be obtained both
from a knowledge base (scientific articles) as well as the environment (UTUPS
prototype). The UNIPS artifact went through several iterations where both the
website visuals and order of materials were improved upon. In autumn 2017,
three pilot modules, each worth one credit point, were offered to staff members
and doctoral students at the University of Turku. At the same time the website
was made accessible with no password to make the materials available for
everyone. Since 2017, all UNIPS content has been licensed under the Creative
Commons AttributionShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) license. The design of the
website and the technical background solution was designed together with
participating universities. The coordinating university, the University of Turku,
was the administrator in executing the solution. However, each university was
responsible for developing their own materials on the module website.
In order to offer easily measurable and comparable short courses among eight
universities, it was decided to organize pedagogical materials into small packets
of 1 ECTS credit (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System). The
materials were designed to the UNIPS website in a manner that allows one
module to fit entirely on a single webpage. The materials can be used in self-
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study, guided study with credit points, and as parts of pre-existing teaching, for
example, via utilizing flipped learning strategies, i.e. using the material as a pre-
material for a face-to-face meeting. The modular structure of the UNIPS learning
solution enables learners to quickly find materials related to specific topics of
their interest. The materials are available on the website at all times without
login or registration requirements. Furthermore, available modules are
accessible via two clicks after arriving on the front page. The modular structure
and small packages also allow universities to update the content easily and to
add new modules to the platform.
Participating universities offering the modules have utilized additional technical
solutions to support their UNIPS courses. For example, LMSs such as Moodle
have been used for accepting registrations and organizing the courses. Another
connected software that has been used with UNIPS is Google Docs for
collaborative writing. Also, Webropol has been used for purposes of module
enrolment and to collect research data and student feedback. The aim of making
the UNIPS platform easy to use in connection to other software that universities
are currently using is hoped to foster the use of UNIPS.
2.2. Pedagogical principles of the UNIPS-platform
The UNIPS platform and the contents were designed to support both individual
self-study and studying in a more teacher-led guided study format. According to
Picciano (2017), teacher-led fully online courses have the advantage of being able
to offer more guidance and interaction for the students; however, one of the
disadvantages is that the courses cannot be fully automated and can only be
organized at times when a teacher is available. The UNIPS modules in the
current format are not automated and they require teacher guidance at certain
points to allow the student to move forward in the module. However, since the
courses are short, the teacher’s role is mostly administrative in guiding students
to fulfil the certain tasks at certain points, and not so much on guiding the
learning process itself. As most of the UNIPS modules are for beginners, the
teacher’s task was planned to be mainly an observer who takes care that no
misconceptions were formed and no irrelevant discussions emerged.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) can typically have dropout rates as
high as 90% with Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs) dropout rates being a
bit lower (Eriksson, Adawi, & Stöhr, 2017; Laato, Lipponen, Salmento, Vilppu, &
Murtonen, 2019). The biggest spike in dropouts is almost always in the
beginning of the online course and it approaches zero as the course progresses.
The reasons why students quit online course participation are numerous, and
hence, also strategies used to increase student retention are numerous (Khalil &
Ebner, 2014). Eriksson et al. (2017) found four main reasons why students
dropout from online courses: (1) learners’ perception of the course content, (2)
learners’ perception of the course design, (3) learners’ social situation and
characteristics, and (4) learners’ ability to find and manage time effectively.
In order to avoid solutions that increase the dropout rates, we aimed at selecting
and applying pedagogical features that support learners’ learning actions but do
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not burden their capacity. A theoretical framework for this task was the
Cognitive Load Theory (CLT), which is built on taking into account humans’
cognitive architecture where working memory and cognitive processing
capability are limited (Paas, Tuovinen, Tabbers, & Van Gerven, 2010). According
to CLT, instructional methods using too much of the limited cognitive capacity
can result in cognitive overload, which leads to a situation where the learner
cannot learn. Cognitive overload has been identified as a reason for students to
yield participation in online courses by several studies (Huang et al., 2017; Tyler-
Smith, 2006; Oakley, Poole, & Nestor, 2016). Additionally, minimizing cognitive
load in the instructional design has been shown to produce better learning
results (Mayer, Moreno, Boire, & Vagge, 1999). It is thus no wonder that CLT has
been applied previously in the design of online learning environments and tools
to minimize cognitive load of learners and enhance positive outcomes (Feinberg
& Murphy, 2000; Heo & Chow, 2005; Tracy & Albers, 2006). The cognitive load
aspect was taken into account in both technical and pedagogical solutions of
UNIPS. The pedagogical principles to reduce cognitive load were, for example,
giving clear learning outcome goals, organizing materials in small packets that
contain only one central idea or message, and offering interesting ways to study
with repeating the same module structure in every module.
A particularly important and challenging aspect of online learning is how to
incorporate social features in the learning platform in a way that would benefit
students. Social presence is related to students' satisfaction and perceived
learning (Richardson, Maeda, Lv, & Caskurlu, 2017). A systematic literature
review on the dropout rates in MOOCs found students’ feeling of isolation to be
one of the biggest reasons for course withdrawal (Khalil & Ebner, 2014). Thus,
increasing the feeling of social presence and scaffolding meaningful social
interactions in the UNIPS modules was an important aspect in the development
process. Social interaction in online learning can be divided into two categories:
synchronous and asynchronous (Hrastinski, 2008). Synchronous activities
require students to be present at the same time. These activities have the
advantage of rapid feedback and provide learners more real life-like interaction.
On the other hand, asynchronous activities enjoy the benefit of not requiring
attendance at a fixed time, and can thus be more suitable for employee training
courses where students are busy with other activities besides studying.
Examples of asynchronous solutions are forum type of discussion and anchored
environments. There are a lot of tools available; however, finding a tool that
would foster “deep and authentic” discussions instead of superficial
commenting to fill the requirements to pass the course can be challenging. Some
social media channels might enable this kind of discussions; nevertheless, they
can be problematic for online learning as the prominent ones are owned by
private companies and require external registration.
In UNIPS, social features were fostered in two ways: in the beginning of the
group work period, the participants introduced themselves to the other group
members, which aimed to reduce the feeling of isolation. Secondly, the
participants had asynchronous discussion on the basis of their own essays,
which was hoped to evoke discussion since they all had written text on the same
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topic. The social features are also crucial since they enhance collaborative
knowledge building processes aiming at the development of pedagogical
expertise (e.g. Hakkarainen, Palonen, Paavola, & Lehtinen, 2004). As
collaborative learning and social presence have been shown to provide multiple
benefits for online learners (Combéfis, Bibal, & Van Roy, 2014), collaborative
features were included in the guided study of the modules. Computers can
support collaborative learning in several ways. The primary form of support is
to provide a medium for communication; however, computer-supported
learning environments can also provide various other forms of scaffolding
(Stahl, Koschmann, & Suthers, 2014). The basic idea of the UNIPS platform is to
bring together participants from different disciplines and universities. Providing
them an opportunity to exchange ideas and share views is likely to support their
meaning making regarding university pedagogy even without complex
computational feedback and interaction mechanisms and thus also to support
collaborative learning. The same process also helps to develop teachers’
reflective metacognitive skills as well as to foster conceptual development and
even change by creating possibilities for cognitive conflicts in knowledge
building situations (e.g. Mikkilä-Erdmann, Ahopelto, Virtanen, Kääpä, &
Olkinuora, 2012).
2.3. Broadening the scope of pedagogical trainings
One of the most important goals of the UNIPS project was to help universities to
offer pedagogical training for a wider selection of teachers and prospective
teachers than before. Respecting teachers’ varying situations, e.g. rushed
working hours, difficulties to participate in contact teaching, and language
limitations, the UNIPS project aimed at offering universities a solution that
could be used in a very flexible way. By utilizing the current ideas of micro
credentials and continuous learning, the UNIPS platform allows participants to
start with small studying packages and continue their learning to the direction
they feel important.
After designing the above-mentioned technical and pedagogical principles of
UNIPS, the themes and topics of the modules were planned together with the
same project group to fulfil the needs of various university teachers and to
increase the quality of offered trainings. The module topics range from basic
university pedagogical contents, such as “Becoming a teacher” and “How to
plan my teaching” to more specific themes, such as pedagogics in digital
learning, standards and guidelines in teaching, competency-based curriculum,
and working life collaboration. The modules were worked on in small teams of 1
to 3 universities based on their interests and special experience, skills, and
knowledge of the theme. The teams were self-organized and the created
modules were evaluated in the whole group of eight universities before
publishing them on the UNIPS website.
The module contents consist of, for example, research articles, educational
videos, interactive exercises, and various other tasks. In the case of self-study,
some assignments for helping students to review and test themselves were
sometimes included. In the case of guided study, different kinds of group
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activities that were planned to strengthen interaction during the courses could
be used. Examples of these activities are, for example, face-to-face synchronous
discussions, asynchronous discussions held in an online learning environment
or even in social media, peer feedback, co-writing or co-creating, and any
activities that support learning in small groups moderated by an instructor.
The personnel responsible for the development of the modules were also given
the responsibility to design how the materials are supposed to be used in the
guided study and produce a teacher’s guide for helping utilize the modules in
different universities. Most of the UNIPS modules that are used as guided study
modules are organized as teacher-led fully online courses that could use
additional supporting technologies such as a learning management system
(LMS) and collaborative learning tools. The contact between students and
teacher is important in these types of environments. Being present at the course
site, creating collaboration between students and supporting individual tasks,
and giving timely feedback for students participating on a course are important
(e.g. Bailey & Card, 2009; Boettcher & Conrad 2016).
After building the content, the modules were tested at partner universities with
real students. Each of the modules were piloted at least once, some several times.
Based on the experiences, the module contents and the teacher’s guides were
developed further. The final UNIPS website module selection is displayed in
Figure 2. It was also decided that when one university offers a module, it can
accept students also from other participating universities. By this system the
students were offered a wider range of modules than by only offering their own
university modules.
Figure 2: Twelve modules developed during the UNIPS project, available on the
https://unips.fi website
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3. Evaluating the developers’ and students’ experiences of the UNIPS
platform
In the above the process of planning and deciding the technical and pedagogical
principles for the UNIPS platform within the key funding project group of eight
universities has been described. In order to study whether the goals were
obtained, a study with two groups was conducted: the developers of the UNIPS
and the students of UNIPS. The aim was to explore 1) how the developers of
UNIPS learning solution have perceived the process and the resulting product,
the UNIPS platform, and 2) how UNIPS works from the viewpoint of UNIPS
students, i.e. teachers and doctoral candidates who have studied the modules. In
addition, some statistics concerning the number of educated staff will be
presented.
3.1. Participants
The participating developers were the developer groups (consisting of up to five
people) of the UNIPS learning solution from eight Finnish universities
(University of Turku, University of Jyväskylä, Tampere University,
Lappeenranta University of Technology, University of Eastern Finland,
University of Oulu, Aalto University and Hanken School of Economics). Since
the amount of staff varied during the project, the developers were asked to
respond as groups so that one response was received from each university. All
universities responded.
The participating students (N = 81) responded to a feedback questionnaire after
studying some or all of the three generic modules Becoming a teacher, Lecturing
and expertise or How to plan my teaching in spring 2019 (n = 43) or autumn 2019 (n
= 38), organized by the coordinating university, the University of Turku. These
timings were selected because the year 2019 was the last of the three-year project
period and then the modules had already been piloted to ensure their
functioning (see Figure 1). The students of the modules represented several
disciplines and came from different universities in Finland. Responding to the
feedback questionnaire was voluntary and anonymous, and detailed
background information, such as university or discipline, were not asked.
3.2. Data collection and analysis
In order to find out developers’ experiences and the best solutions in planning
and executing this type of an educational platform, we created a questionnaire to
focus on the most central aspects of this kind of learning solution on the basis of
prior literature. The created questionnaire consisted of both open-ended
questions and Likert-scale statements concerning developers’ experiences and
opinions about the technical and pedagogical decisions and implementations in
UNIPS. For example, the developers evaluated the realization of the pedagogical
goals of UNIPS, such as flexibility of studies and usability of the environment,
on a Likert-scale from one to four (1 = poorly, …, 4 = very well). Experiences of
technical solutions and compatibility with other software and platforms were
evaluated by open-ended questions.
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Feedback from students who completed UNIPS modules was collected with a
feedback questionnaire that was created for the UNIPS purposes, with a focus
on user experiences. The data was collected in the end of the project period that
was also the time when the modules had been piloted to ensure their working.
The students’ questionnaire consisted of open-ended questions and Likert-scale
statements aiming to explore how the participants have experienced the
technical and pedagogical solutions. On a scale form one to five (1 = strongly
disagree, …, 5 = strongly agree), the students evaluated for example the layout
and the design of the environment and clearness of the instructions. Open-ended
space was provided for improvement ideas and other feedback.
The data of both of the questionnaires was analyzed quantitatively and
qualitatively. The Likert-scale ratings are presented with descriptive statistics.
The qualitative responses were content analyzed by searching for themes that
the respondents brought up. Due to the small amount of respondents, no
numerical data about developers’ answers is presented.
4. Results
Before presenting the results of the questionnaires, we present some statistics
about the staff that has been educated through UNIPS during the project period.
Based on the amount of modules completed during the whole project, UNIPS
has succeeded to increase the amount of pedagogical training in Finland. For
example, between 20172019, 285 participants have completed 13 of the UNIPS
modules Becoming a teacher, Lecturing and expertise, and How to plan my teaching
organized at the University of Turku. The total number of credits completed by
studying these modules during the project is 630, and the number of students
(taking 13 modules) was almost 300, while normally the number of students
taking basic courses during three years would have been around 150. The
participation has been active from all the disciplines: 47 of the participants were
from the faculty of Humanities, 48 from Science and engineering, 68 from
Medicine, 6 from Law, 26 from Social sciences, 24 from Education, 34 from
Economics, and 32 from other faculties or units. The participants were staff
members (n = 93), doctoral students with teaching duties at the university (n =
68), and doctoral students without teaching duties at the university (n =
123).When taking into account the modules arranged by UNIPS staff in other
partner universities, the amount of study credits is even higher. Thus, the goal of
increasing the number of pedagogically educated staff has been reached.
Especially the number of doctoral students who do not have teaching duties at a
university is high, and they probably would not have had an opportunity to
study pedagogy without UNIPS.
4.1 Developing UNIPS learning solution the viewpoint of the developers
Developer groups from all the participating universities (N = 8) answered the
questionnaire concerning their experiences of the process and the product, the
UNIPS learning solution. The developers evaluated the realization of the
pedagogical goals of UNIPS overall quite positively (see Figure 3). Factors that
received the most positive evaluations were increasing the offering of studies in
English, flexibility of studies, self-reflection in learning, and diversifying the
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content of instruction. However, better cooperativeness of learning was wished
for. Also, the accessibility and quality of instruction were thought to be not as
good as possible.
Figure 3: Developer groups’ evaluations of the UNIPS learning solution
To gain a deeper insight into developers’ views, we also gathered qualitative
feedback from them. The developers did not report major problems with the
technical solutions of the UNIPS (WordPress, H5P plugin). Most of the
developers considered them reliable, easy to use, and good for co-creating web
content, but at the same time quite static, restrictive, and non-interactive. The
channels of social media proved to be excellent support services for this kind of
project aiming to create something new. A considerable amount of time was
used in the beginning on negotiating about the suitable online platform.
According to the developers, the selected content management system,
WordPress, worked well, also with other software, such as Moodle and
YouTube. Overall, extensive use of external tools was perceived as challenging
for both the facilitator and the learners. A few respondents brought up that it
would be most convenient to have it all at the same webpage:
“The best solution would be a learning environment that looks
like a home page (like WordPress), but then have a closed area
inside the environment where all the assignments would be
returned and space for the group work and so on.”
M 3.13
SD 0.83
M 3.38
SD 0.74
M 3.25
SD 0.71
M 3.25
SD 0.71
M 3.38
SD 0.52
M 3.88
SD 0.35
M 2.88
SD 0.64
M 3.38
SD 0.74
M 3.38
SD 0.74
M 3.13
SD 0.83
1.00
1.50
2.00
2.50
3.00
3.50
4.00
Rating 1-4
19
©2020 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.
- - a login and personified LMS would be required to be able to
display instructions to students on the website itself.”
- - when you use Moodle it is more convenient for the students
to use only Moodle.”
The developers considered preparing UNIPS materials together with colleagues
outside their own university useful, and even fun. In the beginning there may
have been some misunderstandings; however, these were solved by negotiation
and cooperation. Linking the journal articles to the open website was
problematic because the library links are university-based and require a user
identification. Videos were the most popular form of content delivery. The
videos were made with iPads and iMovie, Planet eStream and green screen
studio, for instance. Making videos was considered an arduous and time-
consuming process by some, and more support from home university was
wished for, especially in the beginning of the project. Careful planning and a
good script were the most frequent tips given for making video materials. Also,
a prompter was considered to be useful in helping the teachers appear natural
when recording the videos.
When the developers where asked about surprises or critical incidents in the
UNIPS process, some issues were raised concerning communication and
cooperation between the participating universities. For example, a shared
communication platform (such as Microsoft Teams) could have made working
with other universities more dynamic than using one university’s Moodle,
which functioned merely as a storage for materials and information. In addition,
some developer groups worked tightly together whereas others were more
loosely organized. Furthermore, unexpected changes in personnel during the
project were considered a critical incident that might even jeopardize the whole
project, but fortunately, that did not happen in this case. The big number of
dropouts was a surprise for one university, although the dropout rates for
UNIPS modules have been relatively small compared to other online courses: in
UNIPS the dropout rate has been around 55%, while in some other
environments it has sometimes been as high as 90% (Laato et al., 2019).
All the participating universities had offered the UNIPS modules as 1 ECTS
courses. The universities had given either study credits or certificates of
participation to the students. In some universities, UNIPS courses could be
accredited into doctoral studies or other (pedagogical) studies. However, some
universities reported having severe problems with administration, stating that
the official study register is too inflexible for small modules such as the ones in
UNIPS. Open badges were called for by two universities for their simplicity.
Besides offering the modules as such, five of the eight universities had included
the materials available in UNIPS modules as part of other, more extensive
university pedagogy courses.
The benefits of UNIPS for the participating universities were many. The
possibility to offer pedagogical training in English and for doctoral students
20
©2020 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.
were the most commonly mentioned benefits. Additionally, opportunities for
diverse (e.g. on specific themes) and flexible (e.g. asynchronous, distance study
possibilities) pedagogical studies were appreciated. Finally, the nationwide
cooperation was considered fruitful for the quality of the materials and
development of developers’ own pedagogical expertise.
4.2. UNIPS students’ experiences about studying in UNIPS environment
UNIPS students’ (i.e. university teachers and doctoral students who have
participated in UNIPS modules) experiences about studying in UNIPS
environment were explored by analyzing data collected with a feedback
questionnaire that was sent to all participants after studying some or all of the
modules Becoming a teacher, Lecturing and expertise, and How to plan my teaching in
autumn 2018 and spring 2019. A total of 81 participants responded to the
questionnaire, which is 67% of all the 121 students who completed at least one of
the modules (autumn 2018 N = 46, spring 2019 N = 75). Most of the participants
(70.9%) reported having experience on online learning as a student and one fifth
(20.9%) as a teacher. Addressing the crucial need for modernizing university
pedagogical courses, almost 90 percent (88.9%) of the participants reported that
they had not received previously any instruction for teaching online courses.
Generally, the participants were satisfied with UNIPS modules and over 90% of
the participants reported that they would recommend the modules to their
colleagues. To explore UNIPS students’ experiences in more detail, we asked
participants to respond to Likert-scale statements concerning their experiences
and opinions about the technical (see Figure 4) and pedagogical (see Figure 5)
solutions of UNIPS. These Likert-scale statements were not included in the
questionnaire in spring 2019 and for that reason the total amount of respondents
is lower (n = 43) than presented above.
Figure 4: Participants’ (n = 43) experiences of technical solutions of UNIPS
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
80%
The platform is easy
to use
The materials were
available when
needed
The materials
(videos, exercises,
articles, etc.) are
easy to find
The layout and
design are clear
Strongly agree
Agree
Neither disagree nor agree
Disagree
Strongly disagree
21
©2020 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.
An overview of participants’ experiences of technical solutions of UNIPS shows
that the technical solutions seem to work well. Majority of participants regarded
the platform as easy to use (93.02% of the participants chose the option “strongly
agree” or “agree”), the materials are easy to find (76.75% of the participants
chose the option “strongly agree” or “agree”), the materials are available when
needed (97.68% of the participants chose the option “strongly agree” or “agree”),
and the layout and design are clear (86.05% of the participants chose the option
“strongly agree” or “agree”).
Figure 5: Participants’ (n = 43) experiences of pedagogical solutions of UNIPS
The analysis of UNIPS students’ experiences of the pedagogical solutions of
UNIPS shows that also that part seems to work well. Majority of participants
considered the instructions to be clear and concise (93.02% of the participants
chose the option “strongly agree” or “agree”), the online tools used in the
module facilitate learning (81.4% of the participants chose the option “strongly
agree” or “agree”), and the workload of the module was appropriate (88.37% of
the participants chose the option “strongly agree” or “agree”).
4.3. UNIPS students’ reasons to take part in the online modules
To find out why the 81 respondents had decided to participate in studying the
UNIPS modules, we asked them to respond to a multiple-choice question about
reasons to study online. The amount of options was not limited and many of the
participants had chosen several options. The reasons are presented in Figure 6.
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
80%
The instructions are clear
and concise
The online tools used in the
module facilitate learning
The workload of the module
was appropriate
Strongly agree
Agree
Neither agree nor disagree
Disagree
Strongly disagree
22
©2020 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.
Figure 6: Reasons why respondents (N = 81) chose to study the module(s) online. The
bars present the number (n) of respondents who have chosen the option.
The three first options about face-to-face course being not available, preferring
studying in own pace and finding online studying a convenient form were
equally popular. It thus looks like UNIPS has reached also those who would not
participate on traditional university pedagogical courses. In addition, when we
asked whether the participants had chosen UNIPS because they were not able to
participate face-to-face course because of work or other commitments, about
forty percent selected that option. UNIPS has also been utilized in modelling
online teaching and learning since almost 30 percent reported that they wanted
to have ideas for designing their own online courses.
4.4. UNIPS students’ ideas to improve the modules
To find out how the modules could be improved, we asked the 46 UNIPS
students in 2018 to respond to an open-ended question “How would you
improve the modules”. Students’ answers were analyzed by using a data-driven
content-analysis and improvement ideas were found in three categories:
pedagogical solutions concerning guidance and learning materials, pedagogical
solutions concerning social interaction, and technical solutions of the modules.
The improvement ideas are presented at Table 2.
56
56
56
34
24
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
Face to face
course of the
topic was not
available
I prefer studying
at my own pace
I find online
studying more
convenient
Face-to-face
course was
available, but I
could not attend
due to work or
other
commitments
I wanted to have
ideas for
designing my
own online
course
23
©2020 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.
Table 2: UNIPS students’ ideas how to improve the modules
Pedagogical solutions
concerning guidance and
learning materials
(n = 27)
Pedagogical solutions
concerning social
interaction
(n = 17)
Technical solutions
(n = 11)
- More instructions about
the tasks beforehand
(n=11)
- Upgrading the selection of
the scientific articles (n=3)
- Breaking the tasks in
smaller parts (n=2)
- More examples (n=1)
- Increasing (n=5) or
decreasing (n=2) the
elements of the modules
- Decreasing the workload
(n=3)
- More interaction with
teachers (n=3) or other
students (n=3)
- Including face-to-face
teaching (n=2) or real-
life practice (n=1)
- More feedback (n=1)
- More (n=2) or less
(n=1) time for tasks or
discussions
- Developing the
discussion part in
general (n=4)
- Direct links to the
articles or other
materials (n=4)
- Decreasing the technical
elements (n=2)
- Improving the quality of
videos (n=3)
- More detailed ideas, like
adding a post folder in
front of the UNIPS page
(n=1) or a rewind-button
to a certain video (n=1)
In line with developers’ views, also students thought that more instructions
were needed. Considerations for both increasing and decreasing the number of
module elements were expressed. Workload was considered too big by only
three participants. Social interaction was mentioned by seventeen participants,
meaning that there is a need for improvement. Developing the discussion part
was mentioned most often. Technical solutions also got some comments, the
most usual being adding direct links to articles or other materials.
5. Discussion
5.1. Evaluation of the success of the environment
The task for this paper was to introduce the goals of the UNIPS platform
planned by the developers of eight Finnish universities and to test if these goals
have been reached. As the findings presented in this paper address, teachers and
doctoral students who have studied the UNIPS modules were generally satisfied
with both the technical and pedagogical aspects of the modules. The solution has
succeeded in increasing the offering of pedagogical training in English and
opportunities for flexible and diverse pedagogical studies nationwide. Targets
for development from the developers’ viewpoint are more dynamic
communication during the planning process and a simpler accreditation of the
study credits by issuing open badges, for instance.
Based on the amount of the completed modules during the whole project,
UNIPS has succeeded to increase the amount of pedagogical training in Finland.
UNIPS has also become rapidly familiar in all Finnish Universities and as the
findings of Laato et al. (in press) suggest, UNIPS has managed to increase 1) the
diversity of students and 2) the diversity of offered studies in the field of
University pedagogy. This means that UNIPS has become a channel for
providing pedagogical studies also to non-native speakers and to doctoral
students who have not had a chance to participate in pedagogical courses
earlier. Research concerning UNIPS modules has also shown that even short
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©2020 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.
online pedagogical trainings may have an impact on teachers’ pedagogical
development, especially when they are not very experienced in teaching (Vilppu
et al., 2019).
There were also some challenges when planning, creating, and developing the
UNIPS learning solution. In the beginning, some time was spent on finding and
choosing the right online platform for the learning environment. The aim was to
find a platform that would be safe and easy to access, use, and update. One
option was to use the Moodle platform or the intranet of University of Turku.
One key question was whether we would aim to create materials only for the
staff of our own university, or whether we would move towards “culture of
sharing” and try to find a platform that would be easy to share with others in the
future. In addition, a modern look and possibility to embed different online tools
were important features we were looking for. Finally, a solution was found and
WordPress was chosen. It proved to be a good base for the collaborative learning
environment of several universities.
Another challenge, especially in the beginning of the project, was to make a
pedagogically sound but technically functional and attractive learning solution.
All the people in the project had a pedagogical background, but their experience
with technology varied. For example, preparing videos were considered
challenging in the beginning. The third challenge encountered was also related
to technical issues. The possibility to embed different online tools is a challenge
because it is not guaranteed how long the tools exist and will be updated by
their creator companies. Further, all the universities do not have access to the
same research articles, which made finding literature for modules challenging.
A challenge of dropouts was also evident in UNIPS courses. The amount of
dropouts in Finnish face-to-face university pedagogy courses is normally very
low, often even zero. Thus, compared to face-to-face courses, the amount of
dropouts on UNIPS courses was much higher, around 55% (see in more detail:
Laato, et al., 2019). The biggest spike in dropouts is usually in the beginning of
the courses (Eriksson et al., 2017), and that was also the case for UNIPS.
5.2. Limitations
This study presented the design, implementation, and evaluation of the UNIPS
online learning solution for pedagogical studies. Consequently, the study has
several limitations. With regard to the chosen pedagogical principles and design,
we had to make choices on which principles to follow. For example, although
cognitive load theory provides insights into how to design a website, another
theory might have yielded different results. In the implementation phase, we
had to make decisions about how to follow the selected principles and theories.
The chosen web technologies, such as WordPress, also guided the solution to a
certain direction whereas another CMS, such as Drupal, could have inspired a
different implementation.
The chosen evaluation method consisted of collecting feedback from both the
designers and the end users. This was done to ensure a holistic understanding of
25
©2020 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.
the final solution. However, there are limitations and risks of bias in the way this
information was collected and also in participants’ perceptions of the platform.
The UNIPS feedback survey was distributed to all participants, but only 81
students replied, meaning that many important opinions were never received.
Some participants also gave verbal feedback or non-official feedback during
guided study periods, which was not included in the current study, but which
might have contributed to a more robust understanding of the solution. The
designers’ perceptions about the platform could also be positively biased as they
themselves worked on it and were committed to the project. Lastly, the
evaluation of the success of the platform was mostly based on a comparison
with previous university pedagogical solutions that were not online courses. To
derive the value of these kinds of teacher-driven fully online courses provided
by UNIPS, comparison with similar alternatives could be done in the future.
6. Conclusions and future work
The UNIPS solution was established from the effort of eight Finnish universities.
Each of them were responsible for producing the materials for at least one
module, but cooperated also in designing other modules. The guided study
option with credit points was locally offered by individual partner universities.
However, all content creators offered general guidelines to other universities on
how to organize the modules, such as what are the pitfalls to be avoided.
The student feedback on the platform was very positive. Therefore, we can
conclude that the open and easily accessible UNIPS materials make a welcome
addition to the university pedagogy syllabus. Of course, traditional, face-to-face
pedagogy courses are still needed. However, for many staff members and
doctoral students the compact UNIPS modules can be the first step towards
deepening pedagogical understanding. Curriculum work is needed to be able to
embed the modules as a part of other university pedagogical studies. It is also
important to promote the new modules in universities. Further, offering
discipline-specific modules will remain as a future goal.
This project has shown that this type of an environment is mostly used for
guided study. Despite the self-study option, only few students access the
website outside the guided study periods (see also Laato et al., 2018). Some ways
to support the self-study usage of the modules should be devised. The UNIPS
web page could be marketed more strongly as a first aid kit of university
pedagogy for first-timers in teaching. The materials could be more visible in
different kinds of other web materials and trainings in the future. All in all, we
should experiment some solutions to strengthen the individual use of modules,
too, and examine whether there are solutions for supporting self-studying or
not.
The UNIPS platform has shown to be fairly successful and well-liked medium in
offering pedagogical training for university employees and doctoral students.
The development of the platform will continue according to the ideas described
above. The continuity of the solution after the funding period is guaranteed by
the demand for a platform like UNIPS, well prepared basis, and good usability
26
©2020 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.
of the environment. Some other Finnish universities, and also universities from
other countries, that are not participating in the currently funded project have
already expressed interest in participating in the UNIPS solution. The solution is
hoped to become a common base for all Finnish universities to collaborate in
organizing the university pedagogical training. Also, building partnerships with
universities from other European countries is one of the future goals of UNIPS.
7. Acknowledgements and funding
The study was funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture (Finland), grant
number [Grant no. OKM/199/523/2016], grant recipient University of Turku.
However, the funding source had no involvement in study design, in the
collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, nor writing the report or the
decision to submit the article for publication.
We want to thank the next collaborators: University of Turku: Anni Laine,
Elizabeth Eta, Erkki Anto, Hanna Nori, Heidi Kettunen, Henna Virtanen, Ilona
Södervik, Miia Oinonen, Milla Räisänen, Neea Heinonen, Niko Aaltonen &
Trang Nguyen; Aalto University: Jukka Välimäki & Virve Pekkarinen;
University of Eastern Finland: Antti Kauppila, Krista Sutinen, Tuula Heide &
Ulla Ritvanen; Hanken: Alona Chmilewsky & Susanna Taimitarha; University of
Jyväskylä: Anita Malinen, Juha Lahti & Kari Toiviainen; LUT University: Katja
Lahikainen & Pirjo Kuru; University of Oulu: Jonna Hurskainen, Katherine
Tingzon & Pekka Mertala; Tampere University: Heta Rintala.
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Biographies
Samuli Laato
Project Researcher and a PhD Student at the Departments of Future
Technologies and Education at University of Turku. Currently his research
interests include online education and multi-disciplinary learning technologies
such as mathematical music composing software and location-based games.
Emilia Lipponen
M.Soc.Sc., Project Researcher in UNIPS project at the University of Turku during
2018-2019.
Merja Maikkola
M.Ed. Merja Maikkola is University teacher in University Pedagogics at the
University of Oulu, Finland. Partner in UNIPS during 2017 - 2019. She has been
developer in university pedagogics since 1995. She has coordinated Peda-forum,
a Finnish network for developing instruction and learning in higher education,
20 years.
Mari Murtonen
Professor of Higher Education Pedagogy, Faculty of Education and Culture,
Tampere University, and a Research Leader of the UNIPS solution at the
University of Turku during 2017-2019. Her research interests are in higher
education learning and teaching, especially in how to foster students’
development of scientific thinking and teachers’ pedagogical expertise in
different environments.
Martti Mäkinen
Director of Centre for Languages and Business Communication, Hanken School
of Economics. PhD, Title of Docent, Associate Professor in English. His research
interests are in teaching of communication in higher education, learner academic
writing, and corpus linguistics.
Johanna Naukkarinen
D. Sc. (Tech), post-doctoral researcher and project manager with the School of
Energy Systems at Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT. Her main
research interests relate to technology and society, gender diversity and teaching
and learning within engineering education.
Eila Pajarre
29
©2020 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.
D. Sc. (tech.), Leader of Services for Pedagogical development team in Tampere
University. Her research interest covers the field of teaching and learning in
higher education and she is currently working in projects about work-integrated
pedagogy in higher education, university pedagogical support for teachers, and
support for students’ wellbeing. She has previously studied also the university
teachers’ working-life cooperation in teaching and the practices of internships in
higher education.
Heidi Salmento
(M.Ed.) works as a Doctoral Student at Doctoral Programme on Learning,
Teaching and Learning Environments Research at the Department of Teacher
Education at the University of Turku. She is a developer of the pedagogical and
technical solution of UNIPS.fi digital learning environment. Her areas of
research include learning and teaching in higher education, the development of
university students´ scientific thinking and the pedagogical use of educational
technology.
Sara Selänne
B.Ed. Education Specialist, Education and Learning, Tampere University. Also
Project Manager in a project concerning the new electronic examination system
introduced by Tampere University. Areas of expertise include the development
of university teaching and digital pedagogy.
Terhi Skaniakos
PhD, Senior Specialist, Student and Academic Services, University of Jyväskylä.
Skaniakos is an expert in University Pedagogy and her research interests are in
teacher development, peer group mentoring and guidance in higher education.
Paula Vaskuri
M.A. Paula Vaskuri is Head of IT Services for Teaching in IT Services of
University of Oulu, Finland. Partner in UNIPS during 2017 2019. She has
strong expertise in digital pedagogics in university teaching and learning. She
has been developer in university pedagogics since 2001 and has wide expertise
in academic continuing education also in local, national and international
contexts mainly in educational field of science.
Henna Vilppu
PhD (Education), University Research Fellow at the Unit for University
Pedagogy, Department of Teacher Education, University of Turku, Finland. Her
research interests are in higher education learning and teaching, especially in
regulation of learning, conceptions of teaching and pedagogical development.
Terhi Virkki-Hatakka
D.Sc. (Tech.), Project manager, School of Business and Management, LUT
University, member of the J. Hyneman Center Team, and developing
coordinator at LUT Doctoral School. Her current research interests and tasks in
national and international projects are related to doctoral education
development, and fostering multidiscipline innovations, co-creation and student
entrepreneurship.
... This was viewed as a shared responsibility between the teaching staff, HEI management, and existing teacher support services. While open online resources on staff training existed (e.g., [83]), not all were aware of their existence. Furthermore, the rapid schedule in which HEI staff had to adapt to the work from home policy left little room for academic education, especially as teachers were busy transitioning their ongoing and upcoming courses to the online format [65,69]. ...
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