To observe Finnish university classes, Ewha Voice visited two classes at the UH relevant to Finnish-Korean IT Education comparison: “Introduction to Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence”, an elective course in the department of Cognitive Sciences, and “Contemporary Korea”, also an elective in the Cultural Studies Department. Both courses featured a mix of lectures and audiovisual material, as well as student and lecturer-facilitated discussion.
Unlike the stereotype that Finnish students would be outspoken in class in all environments, students in the AI class were much better at engaging in fierce debates among themselves in small groups. However, when asked to speak out to the entire class, only a few raised their hands to lead the discussion.
The situation was similar in the “Contemporary Korea” class where students thrived in group discussions based on their weekly assignments. Close to half of the 90-minute class was dedicated to elaborating on the latest Korean issues that students found in English-language Korean media.
A feature of both classes was that professors played music while students were engaged in discussions. During the AI class, university lecturer Anna-Mari Rusanen played a song titled “Self-Control” when students were discussing the notion of cognitive agency.
In the Korea class, Professor Logie played newly released K-pop songs “After You’ve Gone” and “Fire Up” just before beginning the class. The music was soon turned back on when students started group discussion on diverse issues including comfort women, the training of music performers and labor union protests in Korea.
“There are Finns who are quiet, but they can be good at group work,” Logie said. “Frontal [lecture-style] teaching is not a very productive method. However, work in small groups and discussions can lead students to work.”
He mentioned that part of the promises of Finnish education had been exaggerated in international media, and that it has become an inseparable part of the national brand image.
“Nonetheless, there are certain elements of Finnish pedagogy which work,” he said.
One part of this would be the amount of freedom that is given to students in terms of attendance. In both classes, students freely walked into the room even after class had begun, and the instructors had not taken note either.
“Attendance is casually regulated,” said Tobias Bachmann, a master’s student majoring philosophy who is taking philosophy of AI. “It is thought to be the student’s right to decide whether to come to class.”
Students in both classes also signed up based on their interest in the class, rather than being tied to graduation requirements. Most classes at UH are open to both undergraduate and master’s students and students are given the freedom to choose classes flexibly, which is in contrast to the Korean reality, where many students must design their course schedules based on recommended courses to meet degree requirements.
“I took this class because I found the philosophy aspect of the course interesting even though it was challenging,” said Wing Yee-fan, an exchange student from The Chinese University of Hong Kong who is taking the AI class.
Both classes went beyond the relaying of searchable information, and excavated deeper philosophical lessons as well as repercussions of Korean social issues. For instance, the AI class dealt with how AI may be superior in one sense, but not in others.
“We talked about how easy it is to design AI to play a logical game,” said Lea Kosonen, a master’s student majoring data science in the AI class. “However, it is difficult to design AI to imitate human behavior such as picking apples from a tree.”
Students in the AI class also had to think on their own about philosophical problems such as what the notion of autonomy is and cognitive agency is. The class went beyond the importance of technological development, and provided the chance for students to explore the ethical dilemmas when using technology.
Similarly, the Korea class went into great detail on how the Sewol Ferry disaster led to the impeachment of the former president Park Geun-hye, exploring the connection between these two events. Logie showed a documentary film titled “Diving Bell” to explain how the former government had lost trust, since they could not take appropriate measures when the Sewol Ferry disaster occurred
As a scholar of Korean studies with interests both in the contemporary issues and historical aspects, Logie explained how he studies Korean issues.
“I try to visit Korea about three times a year,” Logie said. “I usually spend a lot of time reading or buying books at bookstores or at the national library.”
He also shared his thoughts on social problems in Korea.
“It’s not that particular social problems only occur in Korea,” Logie said. “It’s just that Korea’s problems seem to be more extreme. For example, kids being addicted to phones is not only a matter in Korea, but they just seem to be taken to the extreme there.”
One big difference between Korean and Finnish university classes was the grading system. Bachmann shared his thoughts on the system at the UH.
“Students are not so worried about grades……many classes are evaluated in terms of pass or fail rather than quantifying their grades,” Bachmann said. “Students also have less pressure about dropping out of class, as they can choose to walk out at any point during the semester, without receiving any [bad] credit for the class.”
Mixed Reality Hub, integrating technology in the classroom
As well as capitalizing on their inclusive education system, Finns are increasingly focusing on integrating technology in the classroom, in terms of both pedagogy and content.
The Mixed Reality Hub (MRHub) at the UH is an innovative example of how this can work. The lab combines virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology to create mixed reality applications that can be used in applications from sales and customer service through to teaching.
Osmo Mattila, a postdoctoral researcher at the center showed how VR headsets are being developed to teach forestry, which is a traditionally important industry in Finland. The technology can be used to teach students how to plant and manage forest resources in VR, as opposed to actual forests. Students can select the virtual environment for their learning, with landscapes available on both Mars and Earth. They can either follow lessons that have been pre-recorded by a teacher or create their own lesson plans by recording their virtual moves into the system.
As with all innovations, another researcher, Jani Holopainen, stressed that there is no guarantee that VR learning will be the “next big thing,” though they are making strides in developing creative ways to integrate technology into the classroom.
“No one knows whether VR or AR techniques in the classrooms will be mainstream and used by all, but nonetheless it is important to explore the various technological possibilities out there”.