Micro-revolutions in the open networks of teachers in Finland EdMedia paper
Micro-revolutions in the open networks of teachers in Finland
Anne Rongas, Anu Konkarikoski & Kaisa Honkonen-Ratinen
Association of Finnish eLearning Centre, Finland
Tavastia Vocational College, Hämeenlinna, Finland
Association of Finnish eLearning Centre, Finland
Abstract: Social media has opened the gateway to new types of learning communities.
Educators in Finland have found this power of social media. The small linguistic region and
uniform way of working are made into assets. Social media and the accompanying opportunity
to innovate in communities of practice across organisational boundaries are at the core of their
activity. Many teacher-networks, founded on voluntary activity, implement reforms both in
pedagogical practices and social activities. The driving forces include the development work
that takes place among peers and their learning from one another. We have good reason to
speak of micro-revolutions.
One of the first open national-level teacher-networks that emerged with social media was Sometu, which
was initiated in the fall of 2007 as an extension to a training event network, and gained hundreds of networkers
within a few years. Sometu organises open web events and other open activities that have led to many concrete
actions and strengthened the networks. Currently, there are almost 5000 members on Sometu's Ning platform, but in
a way, Sometu has completed its mission. During the past three years, teachers have established many groups for
mutual support and discussion – in Facebook, in particular. The current pedagogical movement manifests itself
through e.g. open activities (Tab 1).
Name URL Purpose
Sometu http://www.sometu.fi Social media in learning
Kiltakoulut (Guild Schools) http://kiltakoulut.fi Re-inventing the vocational
Kuumapop (Hot pop) http://www.kuumapop.fi Peer learning in ICT
Mielikuvituskoulu (School of
http://www.mielikuvituskoulu.fi Re-inventing the school
Aikamatka oppimiseen ja koulun
tulevaisuuteen (Time travel to learning
and the future school)
http://bit.ly/aikamatkaoppimiseen Creating the future of learning
Protokoulu (Proto school) http://protokoulu.fi Identifying problems in the
school system and solving
Opentunti (Teacher's hour) http://www.rusko.fi/opentunti Create a lesson planning and
sharing tool to all Finnish
Yksilöllisen oppimisen menetelmä
(Method of individual learning)
Reform of classroom teaching
Pop-up shool and School www.kouluschool.org Anyone can be a teacher
Table 1. Innovative teacher networks in Finland
Sometu showed the way
It is typical to all these initiatives that they started their activities openly through social media. Even though
the key participants are from certain organisations, levels of school or development projects, the activities are open
for external participants as well. Traditionally, teachers have worked very independently. The opening of
professional life is made concrete in these micro-revolutionary groups. Events and activities also involve students,
fans and other interested people.
Through their activities and with Sometu as the icebreaker, these action groups and networks have raised
the question of who actually is external. The feature that characterises all these groups is that the participants do not
work for one organisation. The type and intensity of participation vary. Because we have people even from
administrative organisations following the dialogue and participating in these grassroots-level initiatives, we can
truly speak of a minor revolution in the old way of working.
New ideas are generated in discussions in social media channels. When many people interested in a subject
matter and studying it from different perspectives participate in the dialogue, ideas and reflection are enriched in a
natural way that is often missing from the long-established ways of working within work communities.
A team of researchers from the University of Eastern Finland (Kantanen et al. 2014) used contents analysis
to study typical pedagogical discussions, conducted openly in the web under Sometu. The selected discussions were
carried out in 2009 and 2010. The analysis brought up fifteen different roles. One of the underlying theories was the
value creation theory by Wenger et al. (five cycles of value creation). The researchers found that the web discourse
followed the phases of value creation, or innovation development, as described by the theory. Typically, web
discussions began by a general-level chat in which ideas, experiences and pieces of information were thrown
around. Then these discussions proceeded to collectively analyse the subject in depth, to finally produce new ideas
For the Sometu network, for expert web communities in general and for discussions carried out in these
communities, the results of this study show the importance of tools and networks based on voluntary action and
social sharing of expertise. In addition, on the basis of these results, people participating in discussions and
moderators, in particular, can identify good practices and roles for web discussions that lead to high-quality
discourse. In this kind of virtual learning communities it is important that facilitators create a positive online climate.
Guild Schools present entrepreneurial features
The Kiltakoulut – Guild Schools project was initiated because there was a need to make teaching and
learning methods more modern and more motivating for students. The key principles in Guild Schools are working-
life orientation, sensibility of studies from the students' point of view, and the teachers' eager but still critical and
development-oriented approach to teaching. Peer learning and master-apprentice relationships occupy key roles in
this model. Work is conducted in different Guild Schools in slightly different ways, but the key principles are
always the same.
The Guild Schools model was developed in eager collaboration through social media and live meetings.
The developers of these learning environments and teaching methods have topped their previous performances time
after time. Students and teachers have been active and have worked towards common goals with the aid of lifelong
learning, research-orientation, team formation, project work and positive energy. Actually, nothing radically new is
being invented in Guild Schools, but good, old, familiar methods are investigated and free-of-cost social media tools
are applied to the storing and dissemination of information
Guild Schools show us a good example of the school system opening and its operating culture and
education methods developing, with the model spreading throughout the country. The initial cell was a vocational
school unit, the Surface Treatment Guild, http://pintakilta.fi/, at Tavastia Vocational College in Hämeenlinna. The
way of working got a good start, and fans and enthusiasts soon gathered to follow the work through a wiki and
blogs, sometimes even on live video.
The Guild School project network was formed around like-minded, development-oriented vocational
educators in all parts of Finland early in 2012. The arrangements needed for piloting in the fall were made during the
spring even though the funding to enable the development work was not certain before June. This got the work
underway without delay.
The most important tool has been the Facebook group Kiltakoulut-työmaa (Guild School FB site) on which
the participants have found each other irrespective of time and place in order to share good practices, ask for help,
In the spirit of Guild Schools, the virtual interaction has been constructive, encouraging and inspiring.
Face-to-face meetings have been possible only a few times a year, but they have been prepared for in advance in the
Facebook group. The pedagogical operational model was also worked on in online video meetings. The
dissemination rate of the model has been quick in the Finnish scale. The Surface Treatment Guild started in January
2011, and there are 24 Guild Schools now in spring 2014.
The direction of the development work was set from the preparatory stages onwards by the Finnish
National Board of Education, who required that Guild Schools become standard-form supplementary training places
for teachers. Therefore, in addition to their own fields and the application of the model to their own work, the
participants have had to consider the expansion and dissemination of the model in other fields as well.
With social media, the learning and application of new operating models are taken to new levels. The open
web sites of Guild Schools allow others to follow students' work and teachers' models concretely. It is also easier for
students to adopt new, modern ways of working if they can be shown how other schools in the same field or a
related field use e.g. mobile devices and social media to support learning.
A snowball effect of peer learning
Why is peer learning important just now? The pace at work has increased. The speed of development in
different fields has increased. How do we keep up with changes? How do we learn and renew ourselves, keeping
abreast with our times – at work, in various organizations and in our civic activities? While many people specialize
in increasingly narrow, in-depth fields, our society also needs people with comprehensive skills of wide scope,
capabilities for complex problem solving, and abilities to create something new and innovate.
The solution cannot be that every individual learns all there is to learn in his or her own field. That is not
enough. We need differently-skilled people and different people. We need the skills to combine the abilities of these
different people. We need an organic preparedness for action: just as the human body or parts of a plant function in
harmony and grow together, different people together can form something that nobody is capable of alone. We need
resources for renewal and creativity.
How do we coach and train people for organic, renewing work and civic participation? What we so often
miss today is creativity, enthusiasm, internal motivation, the ability to cope with the constant flux of information, the
ability to learn, and the ability to cooperate.
Networking activities produce virtual learning communities that may be momentary, lasting only for the
duration of a particular discussion string – or they may be long-term and even become movements. Colleagues and
help are easy to find. Peer groups in social media forums help Finnish teachers learn the use of iPads in music
education, ICT in arts and crafts, mobile devices in vocational education or what ever.
Peer learning does not usually take place when listening to the compulsory education provided by the
school – it takes place through questions and experimentation, exchanging roles as equals, listening and providing
support. Sharing good practices online in these virtual communities of practice and applying them to ones own
environment help Finnish teachers build a culture of daring that makes it possible for teaching and learning in
Finland to develop, opening new opportunities for the development of the competences that the Finnish school
system vouches to provide.
People are capable of achieving a great deal together, but invisible obstacles slow them down: the common
goals may not be clear, constant changes and demands stress people, and hurries at work kill creativity and
innovativeness. People wish to set free the skills and capabilities available in their organizations, but how can people
activate their resources?
An analysis of Sometu network, and its successors has highlighted the encouragement and creation of
collaborative learning atmosphere. A six-step training online programme, called Peer updating, has been developed
in the Finnish eLearning Centre in order to guide the participants in finding their resources and assuming active
roles in the development of their work communities and organizations. This training program has been tested twice
and it has worked well.
The combination of old tricks and new tools have much to offer in Peer updating training model for
working life and active citizen participation. This training model combines the long traditions of peer learning,
coaching and sociocultural animation. These three in combination with the possibilities enabled by social media and
mobile technologies form the core of this training model. Actually, in this model they are not usually talking of
training – but guiding, facilitating and enabling. The model helps provide the participants with the skills they need
for growing and developing into animators of their organizations and networks. They are the nodes that establish
and spread the culture of peer learning and doing together.
When people collaborate, change becomes associated with meaningful future goals. Instead of compulsory
change, they are allowed to encounter genuine visions and a desire to change. They may work to clarify issues
together with those that are walking the same road. We find ourselves empowered when there is a plan and a shared
goal. Collaboration among colleagues also strengthens professional identities, mutual trust and trust in ourselves. It
fortifies motivation and endurance in the face of uncertainty and obstacles that are, nevertheless, normal parts of our
Figure 1. Six steps of Peer updating –model
1. What do we do? Awakening: the present state and ideas concerning goals.
2. Why do we do it? Mental atmosphere and relations networks: finding the desired state for motivation and
3. What skills do we use to do it? Recognizing our own skills, self-knowledge, and the ability to assume a wider
perspective: discretion, intuition, empathy, motivating skills, research-oriented approach.
4. How do we do it? Skills to conduct dialogue and listen genuinely, reciprocity, planning, finding the right methods.
5. Who does it? Opening opportunities for participation, question-making skills, combining roles.
6. Towards the concrete. Trying out in practice, reflecting in groups, development cycles, an iterative mode.
Operating cultures change through action.
Peer updating model can be used in short and longer peer learning session. Social media and mobile
technologies are used in our training model as tools. Mobiles solutions enable new types of learning environments
founded on social interaction. These environments support knowledge creation and the formation of shared
understanding while they also provide the means to externalize thinking, investigate and test alternative solutions,
ask, explain, give grounds, self-assess, collectively assess work, and communicate with experts (Häkkinen, Arvaja
& Mäkitalo, 2004).
Meaningful discussions can be initiated in such communities only in which discussion is open and learners
feel that they are able to confidentially bring up incomplete ideas to thereby extend their own expertise. Social
relationships create a sense of belonging, support free expression and maintain cohesion, but this is not necessarily
enough for any professional development to take place (Garrison and Vaughan, 2008). Social interaction does not
suffice to maintain a goal-oriented approach to learning. High-quality learning requires reflection and expert support
as well as the application of the learning to problem solving. Different kinds of study paths and possibilities to test
learning in genuine problem situations are needed. And this happens in peer learning environments and in virtual
online learning communities.
Creativity, innovation, and the ability to think big – these require the liberation of human energies and
capabilities, openness, daring and bravery, and even the courage to fail. The problem in working life and often even
in free-time organizations and civic activities is the constant hurry. People may also consciously or unconsciously
compete with one another. Our need to cope on our own arises, partly, from our upbringing, which was based on
earlier ideals of independent personalities. Pressured from all sides, people feel left alone even though there are
networks and information within the reach of everyone.
More and more often, work is project work in character. We work under stress and more and more often
face problems that nobody has been required to solve before in that particular form. We need the experience and
competence of several individuals in order to resolve such issues. Renewals that take place at a quick tempo are
rarely accompanied by sufficient training: we need new ways to cope, and peer support seems to be an excellent aid.
We can find peers at our own workplaces and among the different parties with whom we network.
Telecommunication networks make it possible for us to find peers further away than our immediate circles.
Teacher’s online communities go up just for this situation. Savings, hurry and stress in the workplaces do
not lead to the desired atmosphere. Freedom, ingenuity, and creativity are blossoming in the social networking
groups. A small start will spread all over the country and grow to a movement.
In her doctoral thesis, Dr. Mirjam Virtanen specifies educational competences of teachers. The
development of teachers' team working and cooperation skills, in particular, receives less attention after graduation.
People who carry out peer work, especially those providing pedagogical or IT support, are often alone in their units.
Developers and support persons often feel lonely and believe they are considered overly enthusiastic.
Enthusiasm, success and high motivation make renewal at work possible and thereby also enable the
experience of meaningfulness. Spirits are currently high in the micro-revolutionary movements established by
teachers in Finland and others interested in learning. We find great hope in the fact that boundaries are crossed with
good feelings. Even though the field is experiencing cuts due to the economy, we are not short of ideas. We publish
them online instantly and find like-minded people to study, develop, experiment and learn together with us.
Because learning is becoming more and more significant as a success factor, we need competence
management and new types of learning methods. When learning is challenging, we need peers with whom we can
share experiences and build our knowledge. To a greater degree than before, learning must form a part of our daily
work, in which working and learning new things intertwine.
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and collaborating to learn (pp. 161–175). Nova Science Publishers: New York.
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