Case study Nettilukio


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Nettilukio offers a comprehensive Finnish upper secondary school study programme online, using a learning platform, virtual classroom technology, wikis and blogs, which is aimed at adults aged 17-75...

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Case study Nettilukio

  1. 1. CASE STUDY Nettilukio by Thomas FischerThis document is part of the overall European project LINKS-UP - Learning 2.0 for an InclusiveKnowledge Society – Understanding the Picture. Further case studies and project results can bedownloaded from the project website This work has been licensed under a Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author(s), and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
  2. 2. Nettilukio offers a comprehensive Finnish upper secondary school study programme on- line, using a learning platform, virtual classroom technology, wikis and blogs, which is aimed at adults aged 17-75. In exceptional circumstances, younger students are also ac- cepted, for example Finnish students living abroad. The initiative started out as an ESF-project, which lasted from 1996 - 1999 and was then additionally supported by national funding. The first priority was the development of web-based learning material, with particular emphasis on upper secondary school con- tent. In 1997, the online study option was established in order to bring educational pos- sibilities to students in remote parts of Finland who were unable to travel long dis- tances. The initiative is now fully and officially integrated in the normal national school programme and financed by the national support for schools, which means that stu- dents have free access to the school. Case profile – Nettilukio in a nutshell NettilukioWebsite http://www.nettilukio.fiStatus active/running (1996 - ) Taru Kekkonen, Project ManagerInterviewed person Simon Heid, Senior Researcher Started as an ESF funded project (1996-1999), but established asFunded and promoted by… part of Otava Folk High School later onLocation of the Learning Activities Online virtual classroom platform Students, who cannot participate in the regular school systemTarget group(s) (parents, shift-worker, disabled persons)Number of users 500Educational Sector(s) Secondary School, Vocational Education & Training [VET]Category of the Learning Activities Blended learningWeb 2.0 technologies used... Virtual classroom, Forum, blogs, Time flexible and not stationary online studies suiting the stu-Methods to support inclusion dent’s preferences Short description and Key characteristics The initiative is based on a concept of pure online learning with no obligatory traditional classroom teaching sessions, although it is possible for students to attend classroom sessions in Otava. There are no periods or semesters and the courses are always open. Students can pick courses freely to suit their schedule and can start at any time in a non- stop course subscription system. This means that students have more autonomy and 2
  3. 3. can determine their own learning paths, rather than being governed by school rules andstructures. For some courses, however, there is a fixed schedule and communicationbetween students is facilitated by greater teacher involvement.Contents and courses for all subjects are available, with about 100 courses altogether.Students must take a minimum of 44 courses in order to pass the programme.Throughout the duration of the programme there are no tests, which shifts the focusaway from performance and accreditation based learning, to individualised learning.The idea is to trust the students instead of controlling learning through test structuresand adding additional pressure. Students build up a portfolio of coursework throughcompleting courses and supplement this by writing learning diaries/journals. Usually ittakes about 3 years to study the programme and at the end of their studies, studentshave to take the normal national test for upper secondary school level.The initiative opens up classroom teaching to the web and enables online communica-tion between students, providing them with the opportunity to create collaborative con-tent through wikis and blogs. An example for the use of blogs is a project that allowedthe students to document the presidential elections (, inwhich students took turns to follow the current developments and make contributionsto the blog. Through working collaboratively, the students were able to build up a pic-ture of and thereby understand the development of an important political and historicalphenomenon. Wikis are used to similar effect in history, mathematics and biology. A vir-tual classroom was also established at the end of last year.At the moment around 450 students take part in the programme. Within individualcourses, group sizes vary. Most of the student groups are very mixed and the parti-cipants have different reasons for studying with the programme: some are living abroad,some have shift-working jobs (e.g. in hospitals), some are parents of small children andsome may travel a lot, such as business people and athletes. There are also people withphysical and mental disabilities, including those who have difficulties interacting face-to-face with others, yet who may be very sociable on the internet when the physical barri-ers are removed. Users may also include people with negative experiences from earlierschools. For all these groups of people the school offers more flexibility than a tradition-al school as most of the participants are working full-time or part-time, a lot of themstudy during evenings and weekends, some even during night shifts. The project coversFinland, in individual cases also students from abroad (e.g. Fins working/living outsideFinland for a certain period of time)Dimension of learning and inclusionAll the course materials and social communication tools (e.g. discussions forums) can befound in the learning platform for self-learning and students follow personal learningplans. Web 2.0 technology has opened a window to the outside and has enabled com-munication between the school and other organisations. The students have access tothe wikis and the blogs from the learning environment, but these tools are also availableto non-school members.Every student belongs to a group of 20 students with a mentor/tutor who is responsiblefor that group. The mentor does not teach the subjects, but helps the students to devel-op personal learning plans, and will also contacts students who have been “invisible” forsome time to ask if help is needed. 3
  4. 4. Whenever students face a problem they can ask the teacher via email, although duringthe daytime it is also possible to call. If the teacher is online, students can ask questionsdirectly by chat. Some students use also Skype. The role of the teacher becomes moreimportant at the end of the course when they assess the portfolio of the student andprovide feedback.The online platform was designed within the Folk High School by technical expertsamong the staff. Teachers and students planned the learning environment together inorder to make sure that the needs of the students would be met. Overall, the platform isa standard LMS (Learning Management System) with some minor differences, includingthe use of Virtual Classroom technology, wikis and blogs.Recently, the project has introduced a virtual conference room where students have theoption to attend classroom teaching through the web in a synchronized online learningapproach. This can be accessed simply by entering a web address. There are web camer-as in the classrooms, which enable students to listen, watch, share documents (studentssee the same display as in the classroom) and talk via headset or online chat, all as theywould do in a normal classroom. There has been some technical issues with the virtualclassroom, such as the time it takes to load up and some problems with voice chat, butoverall it is running successfully. Figure 1: Homepage of Nettilukio Source: elements and key success factorsThe motives of students participating in the project are varied. Some students want tomaintain their learning skills, broaden their education or simply enjoy learning, others 4
  5. 5. are attracted by gaining formal accreditation and obtaining a diploma. Motivating stu-dents throughout the 3-4 year process is a challenge for both staff and the studentsthemselves. Some students find it difficult to commit themselves to distance onlinestudies as they have to manage their own time and “no one sets the clock”.The initiative is running successfully with high participant rates and it has been fully in-tegrated in the national school system. Special skills are acquired by the learnersthrough participation. ICT skills overall improve and students learn to be self-organisedand to take responsibility for their own learning.One of the main challenges encountered by the initiative is communication betweenstudents because of the high level of self-organization and time scheduling the systemoffers. As a solution for this problem, the school encourages communication and parti-cipation at a wider school level rather than simply on an individual course level. Throughintroducing the virtual conference room, efforts are being made to remove the commu-nication barrier between students present in the classroom in Otava and the online stu-dents, in order to create the feeling for the students that they all study together.Results of the case study survey among students:70 responses of students to our questionnaire have been collected. Overall, studentssee high benefits in taking part in the initiative. A significant result of the survey wasthat the learning platform and conventional communication tools are comparable interms of user rating of usefulness as the Web 2.0 toolsThe learning platform in general (3.95/5, n=37) and E-Mail (4.63/5, n=35) have beenrated as important tools. E-Mail apparently is regarded as the most important tool forcommunication within the programme. The wiki is seen as a useful tool for learning(4.00/5, n=37), whereas blogs are regarded as less useful (2.81/5, n=36) in comparison.Participants overall see very strong personal benefits from taking part in the initiative.The highest ratings received were “Improved my general knowledge” (4.64/5, n=33),“Improved my knowledge about particular subjects” (4.42/5, n=33) and “Improved mywriting, reading or foreign language skills” (4.64/5, n=33). Additionally, the improve-ment of computer skills and soft skills has been seen as a benefit.The additional qualitative feedback demonstrates that students reported increased mo-tivation. This is strongly associated with the benefits of using E-Mail communication:“E-Mail was the best, cause everything has to be asked by e-mail and every time I gotthe answer back very soon.”“The best thing for me is that I can find all the materials regarding my studies from in-ternet and that I can adjust my studies to my schedule.”“I am very motivated and motivation has been growing more during the activity.”“I was especially motivated in the end. In the beginning I did not have so much motiva-tion.”“I was extremely motivated cause I have found a way to educate myself without leavingmy job. Motivation still keeps in place.” 5
  6. 6. One success factor is certainly the full integration to national school system. The pro-gramme is officially recognized as a way to study in upper secondary school in Finlandand participants can obtain a degree just like at a normal school. This certification as-pect ensures good motivation of the participants and leads to higher number of parti-cipants in the programme. This popularity makes it more likely that the single coursesreach a critical mass of active members, which is a precondition for successful onlinecommunication and collaboration.Another point is, that the students are flexible in shaping their personal learning plan.There is a mix between an open course subscription system and scheduled courses. Ingeneral, there are no semester periods or fixed starting points for single courses. Stu-dents can subscribe to a course at any time they want and compose an individual courseand time schedule. However, for some courses which require greater input from tutors,there are fixed start dates. This makes it easier for teachers and tutors to provide sup-port, especially in the initial stages of a course.Outcomes, which are produced: Personal learning plans, learning portfolios (e-portfoli-os) and learning diaries. Student survey reports show clearly that the individual freedomthe programme offers to the students is the most important factor in its success. Thisteaching and learning style is especially effective for target groups with special needs.The individual scheduling of studies is supported by individually generated online learn-ing portfolios and personal learning diaries and journals. There are no tests at the end ofsingle courses. At the end of the programme students take part in the national test forgraduation.Teachers take over teaching and tutoring roles alternately and are supported by ment-ors. Teachers fulfil both teaching and support roles, responding to problems raised bytheir students through email and providing regular feedback, as well as assessing portfo-lios at the end of the course. Mentors help students to create learning plans as well askeeping students focussed.The learning material and all the social communication such as discussions forums in thelearning platform are open only to students and teachers and are password protectedfor privacy reasons. Now Web 2.0 technology has opened a window to the outsideworld from the learning environment and students also have access to the wikis andblogs from outside of the learning platform. This means that non-students can also par-ticipate in the wikis and blogs, and contribute to the collaborative knowledge base.Very important for successful learning is good balance between communication amongstudents versus self-organized learning schedules. The school recognises the importanceof balancing student autonomy and self-organisation with the need to encourage andmaintain communication between students in order for successful collaborative learningto take place. As students are following paths of self-directed learning, it is importantthat communication between students does not suffer. To achieve this, the school sup-ports communication between students on a wider school level, instead of just focus-sing on communication between students within course groups.Virtual classroom technology can successfully bridge the gap between different loca-tions Virtual classroom software is used to connect learners in classroom sessions inOtava with online learners. Online students can optionally attend the classroom teach-ing through the web in a synchronized online learning approach. Listening, watching,document sharing, communication between students and chat are possible. The virtual 6
  7. 7. classroom helps to remove the communication barriers between students present in theclassroom in Otava and the students present online.The case study demonstrates that it is possible for teachers to fulfil the role of theteacher and tutor at the same time. Due to the freedom afforded by virtual learningplatforms, staff are more easily able to balance their roles as a teacher (e.g. to give con-tent related feedback) and as a tutor (e.g. to help with questions). In case of NettilukioInternet Upper Secondary School there is additional support by others taking over amentoring role (e.g. to contact students who have not taken part in learning activitiesfor a while).Problems encountered and lessons learnedIn the beginning some technical problems with the virtual classroom technology oc-curred, but they could be solved sufficiently.One major aspect for successful learning is to keep up the student’s motivation for theperiod of studies. For some students it is difficult to commit themselves to distance on-line studies as it is a challenge to stay motivated throughout the 3-4 year course period.A supporting factor is adopting mentors to take responsibility for groups of students andensuring that they encourage them and support them to continue their learning. Per-sonal learning plans further help to keep students on track. 7
  8. 8. Collaborating institutions in LINKS-UP Institute for Innovation in Learning, Friedrich-Alex- ander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Erlangen, Germany Arcola Research LLP, London, United Kingdom eSociety Institute, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, The Hague, The Netherlands Servizi Didattici e Scientifici per l’Università di Firen- ze, Prato, Italy Salzburg Research Forschungsgesellschaft, Salzburg, Austria European Distance and E-Learning Network (EDEN), Milton Keynes, United Kingdom 8