First impressions from a week of distance learning in Finland. In conversation with my daughters

This week I read this article on EdTech published in the Guardian which asked Can computers ever replace the classroom? 

Here in Finland due to the coronavirus pandemic only a few schools remain open  and the question is no longer whether computers can replace the classroom, during these weeks they have to. So, I talked to my daughters Olga and Venla and asked them how their first week of distance learning was. 

Bilbao 2018

Tell me first where you study and what grade you are in?

Olga – I am in my last year here at the Finnish International School Of Tampere, in 9th grade.

Venla – I am in the 7th grade. Same school as Olga.

Do you often use digital platforms, apps, etc. in the classroom during normal times?

Olga – Yes, we do. We often use Microsoft Office 365 (online) to work on assignments and projects. We use mainly Word and Powerpoint. Sometimes we use Qridi for specific assignments and to assess and evaluate our own work during lessons. We use Helmi as the platform where the teacher posts our grades and test results. The school uses it to communicate with parents and to post school’s timetables in each  our semesters and any update like not with the coronavirus

Venla – Not too often. We sometimes prepare Powerpoint presentations to present the findings for a project,  but I would say that we mostly use books and paper. We also have an account in Helmi.

Since Monday you are at home from school and have followed classes online. How is it going?

Olga – On Monday when we started it was a bit confusing because the teachers were using different platforms to let us know what we had to do for the different lessons. We were also figuring out how to use Microsoft Teams which was new to us and the teachers. Having said this, by the end of the week we all got used to it and it is easier now to understand everything. Some teachers use some other platforms (e.g. Reppu and Qridi) but Teams is the main platform now. Helmi is the main channel for sharing messages and information between teacher-students-friends-families. 

In my class we also use chats where we can have discussion with our teachers and the whole class. We also do conference calls. Our teachers are learning quickly how to use these platforms and I feel we can get our tasks done at our own pace which is nice. Basically after finishing with a task we just send it back to the teacher through a file or pictures of our notebooks.

All in all, it\’s going okay so far, no issues and I\’m able to still get work all done on time, even if it seems a bit more work than before where we were all in the class. 

Venla – Since it has only been a week, I think I will get used to it soon enough. At the beginning it was a bit confusing because the teachers were trying to figure out how to work with the different platforms: Teams, Helmi, Qridi, Opetus 365, Reppu and so on. It will take some time for the teachers to get used to it too. We are getting there and it will soon be easier. I would say that there is definitely potential in learning online. Some things are easier to do online. Of course this also depends a lot on the student, and what kinds of working/learning environments they strive in. Some people work well in places where there are people to talk to and work with, whilst others work better in a quiet space. These things should be taken into account in some way or another to ensure that everyone gets an equal learning experience.

Tell me more about how the teaching online works?

Olga – For each lesson we get a task from the teachers and we try to complete it by the due time (which usually is plenty of time). Once we complete it, we send our work back to the teacher as a file or text message with a picture of the answers in our notebook. Most teachers have now used Microsoft Teams, but some still send messages through Helmi and also a platform called Reppu which is from the City of Tampere. We are still in the beginning  and learning about this distant learning. It is a bit more complicated and teachers are still figuring out how tasks and tests can be organised.

Venla – Teachers somehow reach out to students before the lesson begins with instructions and what we are going to do during the day. This can be done via a chat/message or a video call. When students know what to do, they do the work and ask any questions they might have through messaging/video calls with the teacher who are also working from home.

What do you classmates say about learning from home?

Olga – Some enjoy the fact that they can just wake up right when school begins (which I agree with). They like how it is all more chill and we can do everything at our own pace. However, some don\’t like that we seem to get way too much work for some lessons since it sometimes takes longer to get everything done than the time we are given. If this gets on for a longer time, maybe some students might start to get fed up with staying indoors all day and the social distancing might get tough.  We can\’t meet up with friends as often or at all anymore. Thankfully we are able to still call each other in a way still.

Venla – Mostly everyone is on the same page, there are upsides and downsides. Some are also just disappointed that they can\’t see their friends. This leads back to what learning environments students thrive in. A person can be extremely social. Not seeing friends and classmates for a long time can have an effect on these very social people.

How do you think your teachers are doing?

Olga – They are still trying to figure everything out and how the whole system will work. I believe it can be a bit challenging for them especially for teachers who aren\’t so very tech-savvy. For “younger” teachers it is a bit easier, I think. They already understand how the tech works and are able to help some students who might not. All in all, we still end up getting something to do for every lesson but they might still be figuring out how much work to assign for a lesson. What we do not know at all is how the big exam at the end of the year will be held. It would be much easier in my opinion if all the lessons were held in one platform though but our classes still help eachother out (in group chats) if we can\’t find a certain task etc…

Venla – They are still trying to figure everything out and get on the same page as everyone else. I\’m sure it will get easier over time.

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