This article is © Copyright 2000 Pilgrims Ltd. The copyright owners reserve all rights to its reproduction.               ...
rooms with big windows, called Aquarium and Terrarium, two other rooms, called Bartorium andSofatorium and a large open sp...
behind “doing business”? The answer is that Team Academy students also learn by reading.Each student must earn 120 book po...
This is the most valuable tool in Team Academy’s learning system and it woks very well inlanguage coaching as well. The st...
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Team Academy: A New Learning Environment


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Team Academy: A New Learning Environment

  1. 1. This article is © Copyright 2000 Pilgrims Ltd. The copyright owners reserve all rights to its reproduction. Team Academy in Finland – a new learning environment Riitta Purokuru and Hannu RyynanenRiitta Purokuru, MA, is a lecturer and Hannu Ryynanen, MA, is senior Lecturer, JyvaskylaUniversity of Applied Sciences, Language Centre, Finland.E-mail: hannu.ryynanen@jypoly.fiMenuBackgroundWhat is Team Academy?New Principles, Methods and PracticesLearning in Team AcademyFreedom and ResponsibilityBecoming a language coach of Team Academy, backgroundSome problems and questionsLearning through DialogueWhat has Team Academy given to us?ConclusionBackgroundTeam Academy is an inspiring and innovative new learning environment for business studentswithin the Jyvaskyla University of Applied Sciences. The basic learning principle of the Academy isthat of ‘learning by doing’, and three years ago they wanted to incorporate language learning aspart of their programme. This article accounts for the creation of a language learning system for theAcademy and it firstly gives a brief description of the Academy itself and after that focuses on thedetails of its present language learning activities.What is Team Academy?Team Academy is “a school of entrepreneurs” created in 1993 by Mr Timo Partanen, who until thenwas a Senior Lecturer in Marketing in the School of Business Administration. It is part of theJyvaskyla University of Applied Sciences (formerly Jyvaskyla Polytechnic), a city located 250kilometres to the north of Helsinki, Finland. The annual intake of Team Academy is about 40students who take a three-and-a-half year programme leading to a BA in Business Administration.Since its creation, Team Academy has trained almost three hundred students, most of whom comefrom the region of Central Finland. It has also created different training programs for businessexecutives and entrepreneurs, including an MBA programme.Team Academy is run by four coaches and the Head Coach, Mr Partanen, and it also benefits fromthe administrative and technical support of the University of Applied Sciences. Timo Partanen, whohad earlier taught marketing at the Business School of Jyvaskyla, started to question the traditionalteaching methods and decided to try a different, more practical approach to teaching marketing.He had an idea of placing an announcement on the wall of the School of Business saying ”Wouldyou like to take a trip around the world and learn a little marketing at the same time?” Twenty-sixbrave students responded to this appeal and, after several years of trials and errors, TeamAcademy has become a learning-by-doing institution training young business entrepreneurs andleaders.New Principles, Methods and PracticesTeam Academy is located in a refurbished redbrick plywood factory of 1.000 square metres. Allstudents have a key to the premises and they can come and go as they like, even at night. Insteadof classrooms and desks there are removable walls, offices, PCs, cosy armchairs, plants, two
  2. 2. rooms with big windows, called Aquarium and Terrarium, two other rooms, called Bartorium andSofatorium and a large open space.All over one can see young people talking in groups, typing, reading, phoning, strolling around andjoking. A lot of smiling faces and cheerful voices. The pedagogy applied in Team Academy is notapplied anywhere else in the world – only perhaps in the new emerging institutions similar to TeamAcademy.Learning in Team AcademyThe academic year starts with a period called ‘Penguins’ referring to the clumsy walk of thoseanimals – and, perhaps, to the host of bewildered new students. During the first two weeks or sothe new students form teams according to their preferences and decide about the name of theteam: Bronco, Brain Laundry / Washery, Dajak, Innobizness, Kromix, ProArea, Seragan, Mogulietc.In Team Academy a team is defined as a group of students who study together: they define theirlearning and performance goals and are responsible for their own and each others’ learning. Ateam is the centre of the pedagogical process. The teams are also defined by their learningobjective: all students belong not only to their home team but also to temporary teams such asproject teams that can be formed for a specific purpose. Earlier the focus at Team Academy wason marketing and innovation, today it is on entrepreneurship.Already during the first few weeks the new students start visiting local companies in order to detectthe companies’ needs and to offer their services. Little by little the teams start having businessprojects of their own with the local companies and each student is involved in these teamprojects. The teamsters deal with the customers, do the job and invoice them. Wine importation,marketing research, selling Christmas trees, company and event marketing, event creation,organising cafeterias, even in winter a log cafeteria on the ice at the skating rink on LakeJyvasjarvi, all sections of business can be found among the operations of the teamsters. Fromproject to project, which sometimes can fail - and do fail (bearing also the financial consequencesof failures), the team will grow in an ongoing learning process.The organisation of the Academy’s own events is always entrusted to the students. For example, inJanuary 06 a project team organised the 13th anniversary of Team Academy with almost 400guests – former and present students, local business people, visitors from abroad etc.Here are some other examples of the events organised by specific project teams: Brainstorm, foryoung entrepreneurs and business students, Firestorms for bigger companies where some of thelecturers come from the top of the business world (e.g. Jorma Ollila, the CEO of Nokia, RichardTeerlink, the former CEO of Harley & Davidson ), Coachstorms for teachers and educators fromall over Finland. The teams earn real money through their projects and just before their graduationthe teams go on a trip around the world or just to some exotic country to celebrate their graduation.Some of the projects started by the students of Team Academy have become successfulbusinesses that still exist today.Freedom and ResponsibilityFreedom and responsibility are the basic principles of Team Academy. The students have all thefreedom they want – yet they are responsible for their own learning. Instead of lectures, traditionalteachers and exams, the Academy uses dialogue sessions as the central tool of learning. Twice aweek each team meets with their coach for a learning dialogue sitting in comfortable violetarmchairs in a circle. All participants explain what they have learned and how they have learned it.They exchange ideas in the presence of their coach and tell the group what they have learnedfrom the books they have read. In this way the students are made aware of their learning process.One of the advantages of the dialogue sessions is also that tacit knowledge is made available toeverybody.In fact, learning to learn is one of the core disciplines “taught”, just as marketing or leadership.This, however, may lead us to ask about theory. How do they learn the theoretical thinking that lies
  3. 3. behind “doing business”? The answer is that Team Academy students also learn by reading.Each student must earn 120 book points by reading books from the book list – a bibliographycompiled over the years, as well as updated annually, by T. Partanen - where there are more than1,000 books selected and rated by range of difficulty covering a wide array of topics such asmarketing, leadership, management and spiritual growth to mention but a few. The students givepresentations and write essays on the books not by summarizing the content but by stating whatthey have learned and how the books have helped them with their projects.We sometimes hear questions such as ‘Can you really trust the students to have read the booksand thus earned the book points? What if they lie?’ After having learned to understand the systemand its difference compared to traditional teaching methods, we would say that such questions areirrelevant because the students really bear the responsibility for their learning. If one is not honest,it will come out one way or the other because the teamsters have an unconditional trust in eachother. If one betrays this trust, he/she may be fired from the team, and as a team is the core unit -one’s home base so to speak - it is in anyone’s best interest to stay in the team.Becoming a language coach of Team Academy, backgroundIn Finnish higher education there is a compulsory language component in the degreerequirements: 3 ECTS credits of English and 3 ECTS credits of Swedish. Earlier the TeamAcademy students took part in the ‘traditional’ language courses of the Jyvaskyla University ofApplied Sciences but gradually there was a need for Team Academy to have its own languagelearning programme that would be in accordance with the Academy’s learning philosophy.Three teachers of the Language Centre of the Jyvaskyla University of Applied Sciences acceptedthe task of constructing a language programme for the Academy. This was by no means a new andstrange situation for the centre because over the years it had already been challenged to adoptnew language learning methods such as distance learning, e-learning, portfolio learning, integratedlanguage learning and problem-based learning. Therefore, creating a language programme thatwould be consistent with the Academy’s philosophy and provide the students with meaningful andmotivating learning situations was just another new challenge.Some problems and questionsAs we started to plan the language courses, we, perhaps quite naturally, had the followingquestions running through our minds: Can we actually let the students decide what they want andneed to learn? How to create those learning needs? How about those with poor basic skills? Whatwill the quality of the learning outcomes be? We realised, however, that some of these questionswere, in fact, reflections of the more traditional approach to teaching and that most of them couldnot be answered until we had had our first ‘courses’ with the students. Hence, we decided to letthem linger at the back of our minds and patiently wait for an answer in due course.Moreover, we realised that the following set of questions might be more fruitful at the planningstage: What sort of (traditional?) activities could be used? Are there any real-life or any other kindsof practical language learning situations for the students in the regular life of the Academy? Cansome of the existing Team Academy activities be used for language learning? These questionswere actually the ones that led us to try with the following four learning paths: Guided learning,Dialogue learning, Project learning and Learning through experience.The purpose of the Guided learning path is to strengthen the students’ basic skills, grammar andvocabulary. In accordance with the principle of learning by doing the students were given learningtasks that included teaching the outcomes to the others. Here the teacher’s role was to focus onelaborating on the content and supporting the students. This approach worked well with studentsof at least the intermediate level. However, we soon found out that those with basic learning needsdid not seem to manage on their own and with them we decided to go back to a more traditionalapproach containing textbooks, homework, grammar revision etc. At the moment this seems towork well. However, our future challenge is to create ways of basic language learning that wouldbe based on Team Academy’s philosophy.Learning through Dialogue
  4. 4. This is the most valuable tool in Team Academy’s learning system and it woks very well inlanguage coaching as well. The students read books and reflect on their learning by way of givingpresentations and writing essays just as they would in their regular business learning. The onlydifference is that this time they do everything in English. Here, of course, the emphasis is on self-managed learning, reflections and critical thinking. These dialogue sessions work well withstudents of high intermediate and advanced levels. This learning path has become the bestfunctioning tool of the language programme. The only future challenge here is to motivate some ofthe students to work as hard as with similar assignments in Finnish.Project learningIn this path the students work on real-life projects that take place, at least partly, in English.One way of applying this method is related to the ever increasing number of foreign visitors toTeam Academy. As is the case with many other Team Academy functions, the students have amajor responsibility for hosting international guests. Planning the programme for the guests,preparing presentations and written material on Team Academy, contacting the visitors in advanceand, finally, conducting a debriefing situation to look back on how everything went are clearlyoperations that could be integrated with an element of language learning. It may, however, be thatthese ‘projects’ are usually so small that they do not amount to form the content of a whole coursebut they can at least be combined with dialogue learning.Another example of a more comprehensive application of the Project learning method was JPM-Winos, a student cooperative company that imports wines to Finland. They had a clear need tostudy cross-cultural issues as well as the principles of business communication. Therefore,learning of the language of telephoning, writing faxes, e-mails and other business documents aswell as getting acquainted with the business cultures of the clients’ countries took place with thelanguage coach. All the business communication was genuine and took place between thestudents of JPM-Winos and their foreign business associates. It is perhaps obvious that this typeof Project Learning works well with senior students who have a clear vision on what they need tolearn.Learning through experienceIn this path partnerships with learning communities around the world are set up and the studentsgo for 3-6-month exchange periods abroad where language learning is one of the objectives. Theonly thing is that at this point Team Academy’s international relations are still under developmentand so far there have been only a few opportunities for long exchange periods. However, as similarlearning communities are emerging in Europe, for example in France, the Netherlands, GermanyItaly, Spain and U.K., there will be more opportunities of this nature in the future.What has Team Academy given to us?We certainly have gained some new insights on learning by coaching at Team Academy. We havenoticed that this new approach can also be used with our traditional English groups. We have nowmore courage to break rules as we have started to question our traditional teaching methods. Onthe other hand, we have also acquired a new kind of faith in our professionalism by understandingthat even in this new environment language teaching professionals are needed.ConclusionTeam Academy is a challenge to traditional ideas of learning and teaching. Their idea of ‘learningby doing’ works with academic and business learning. We have also realized that becoming alanguage coach is a never-ending process where our teaching approach at this point is a mixtureof tradition and innovation. Hopefully the future will see us developing ways and methods oflanguage learning that are even more consistent with the novel approach to learning that TeamAcademy so strongly believes in.